Weekly Letter to the President
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ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
October 27, 2017 (posted October 31, 2017)
Mr. President: Four US soldiers died in Niger on October 4, and the president's
insensitive phone call to the widow of one has brought the subject of the military in
every corner of the world back in the news.
The US has over 240,000 troops in at least 172 countries, a few of which have us
embroiled in what The New York Times describes as 'forever wars'. How many people
knew it had a contingent of more than 1,000 in Niger? Chuck Schumer, the Senate
Minority Leader and thus the highest ranking Democrat, did not. Neither did Senator
Lindsey Graham, a Republican who serves on the Armed Forces Committee. Or,
Senator Rand Paul who wants the post 9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force
(AUMF) to be reviewed.
It is now 16 years since the AUMF was passed, and the US is no longer responding to
an attack on the mainland nor is it in any immediate peril, but it continues its 'forever
wars.' So why this flagrant insult to the Constitution, which wisely reserved the power
to declare war for Congress alone. Yes, we live in a different world; yes, we are
confronted with non-state actors. At the same time, we also live in a world of instant
communication. How difficult could it be then for Congress to respond quickly when
In September, the Senate voted two-to-one against Senator Rand Paul's AUMF
amendment calling for another look. He denounced it as a recipe for 'unlimited war,
anywhere, anytime, any place upon the globe,' adding 'I don't think one generation
should bind another generation to war.'
In the House, Representative Barbara Lee's (D-California) repeal amendment last
July was stripped off the defense authorization bill by Speaker Paul Ryan according to
her in the 'dead of night' in a move she called, 'underhanded and undemocratic.'
Barbara Lee is a uniquely principled and courageous lady. In 2001, at the height of
the patriotic mania gripping the country, she was the lone voice in the House who
opposed AUMF that passed 420-1. Brave as well as prescient she called it (in an
oped in the San Francisco Chronicle) 'a blank check ... to attack anyone' that 'runs
too great a risk that more innocent men, women and children will be killed.'
Berated and vilified in the press including The Wall Street Journal and called a traitor,
she was deluged with angry letters and threats. She has since been proven correct
... repeatedly. The rape of Libya, the ravaging of Syria, and why could not Somalia
have been left in its brief solace after years of conflict. If the Union of Islamic Courts
was theocratic, then so has been Iran without any attack on the US. The result of
interference has been insurgencies, and the terrorism that was supposed to be
suppressed, in Somalia spreading south, and in Libya radiating outwards to include
Niger, where on October 4 the four soldiers lost their lives.
In 2013, Ms. Lee asked the Congressional Research Service to look into actions
taken under AUMF authority. It 'located 30 occurrences of a publicly disclosed
presidential reliance on the AUMF,' 18 under Bush, and 12 during the Obama
Administration through June 2013. An appendix lists the AUMF presidential
notifications from September 24, 2001 to June 14, 2013. Its use continues under
Donald Trump, as we have seen in Niger and in the carpet-bombing of Raqqa for
which the Russians accuse the US of wiping it 'off the face of the earth' like Dresden
After 16 years of war in Afghanistan and an Iraq war initiated through lies, is the US
any safer? Before the war, the Taleban were, in a way, beholden to the US for
assistance in driving out the Soviets; now they are enemies. Iraq, while not quite the
friend of the 1980s, was contained. At present, it is a junior partner of Iran, the two
allied with Syria, and all three wary of the US -- to which number can be added a
recently disaffected Turkey being romanced by Russia.
The cost of the wars runs north of $5 trillion, the dead soldiers about 7,000 plus a
slightly lesser number of contractors, and the wounded at least over 50,000. The
forever wars continue exacting their drip, drip toll. The dead, injured and displaced in
the blighted countries too numerous for a fair count.
In Africa, Niger is not alone for there is an American presence in 53 of 54 countries.
The latter is to counter Chinese economic penetration who avoid interfering politically
focusing on trade, traders and economic projects, remaining a friend to all. The
shortcomings of a military response which becomes associated with the leadership
drawing enemies, particularly in civil war or insurgency, is in stark contrast to the
Chinese interacting at most levels of society.
The destruction of Libya also destroyed an economic magnet that drew temporary
African labor wanting to supplement family income. Some of these now venture north
to Europe. And when Raqqa's population of 200,000 is reduced to a quarter, the
displaced find shelter wherever they can, even Europe. The strains to European
unity are evident. Such are the unintended consequences of an unchecked military