voices of reason at a time of war: Ilhan Omar, Joe Glenton & Thomas Massie

On Tuesday 8th, as US Congress considered imposing a ban on Russian oil in its sanctions war, Democracy Now! spoke with Minnesota Congressmember, Ilhan Omar, who reminded us of the historical precedent after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s. Under a CIA programme codenamed Operation Cyclone the US had armed, trained and financed the Mujahideen Islamist insurgency prior to and during the Soviet intervention opening the way for the Taliban and al-Qaeda:

“It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening in Ukraine. We obviously want to help the Ukrainians defend themselves, but I have cautioned my colleagues on what, you know, could be the catastrophe that awaits us if we continue to send billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine instead of really thinking about what kind of weapons we’re sending. You know, if we continue to give small arms and ammunition, those can ultimately get in the hands of the wrong people and can have a lasting effect. We have to be able to learn something from history. We did this in Afghanistan when Afghanistan was fighting against the Soviet, and we ultimately saw what happened with the resources that we gave, the support that we gave in that country, and who we ultimately ended up propping up. And so, I do hope that my colleagues, obviously, learn from history and that we respond in a measured way.”

*

Regarding the imposition of economic sanctions, Omar said:

“It’s hard to see a principle at play here. If our issue is that we don’t want to buy oil from a powerful country that is conducting a devastating war on its weaker neighbour, I just don’t see Saudi Arabia hardly being a principled solution. We know that MBS [Mohammed bin Salman] is obviously going to try to take advantage of this opportunity to once again whitewash his reputation and present himself as a reformer, and we shouldn’t fall for that. The truth is, our dependency on oil means that we depend on tyrants, and that has always been true. So, if we are, obviously, serious about what we need to do in regards to the Ukraine context, we should be supporting and defending democracy and human rights, and we should certainly move away — then we should certainly move away from our dependency on fossil fuels and not be cozying up once again to another tyrant.”

Adding:

“I mean, we are sanction-happy as a nation. And, you know, ultimately, it is important for us to support some sanctions on Putin and his allies to make sure that they feel the pain and the consequences of their actions. But what I do want the American people and everyone around the world to understand is that as we urge, you know, Russians who are antiwar, that these sanctions that we are cheering for and implementing will ultimately have an impact on the very people that we want to rise up and make sure that they are speaking against this illegal, immoral and unjust war on a sovereign country.”

Omar also questioned the growing demand for a ‘no-fly zone’:

“A no-fly zone is not something that, you know, is just implemented. It’s something that has to be militarily defended. And that ultimately means the United States and our NATO allies will be a part and parcel to this war. And when we get involved in this war, it’s not that less Ukrainians are going to die. More Ukrainians are going to die. And we have to be able to have an honest conversation about what an escalation in this war could ultimately mean, not just for Ukrainians but for the rest of the world.”

Click here to watch the interview and read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

***

On the same day, ex-soldier Joe Glenton spoke frankly to Double Down News about the media war porn which now escalating is the risk of nuclear war over Ukraine. A full transcript is provided:

“I’m not a stranger to war. I served in Afghanistan which was itself a particularly brutal conflict, but it is like a bar fight compared to what can happen if the nuclear powers escalate the war which is currently playing out in Ukraine.

“It feels like the most dangerous situation in my lifetime: a nuclear threat; a threat to everybody is very apparent. It feels like we’re teetering on the edge of that and yet we have people who seem to be viewing it as a kind of football match who are painting their faces and cheerleading where all kinds of particularly war-horny takes have been emerging about no-fly zones, about different forms of intervention.”

*

Joe Glenton continuing: “Particular sets of journalists are always fairly war horny. They have an ambient level of war horniness because they think war is glamorous and cool.

“War is appealing for some journalists, particularly the journalists who haven’t experienced it, because with war can go a particular boost to your career – a higher level of attention, more Twitter followers, more likes on Twitter. And I think that is a bad metric by which to measure the need for war.”

“I can remember people talking about Donald Trump: how he could start a nuclear war on Twitter. Many of those same people of the blue tick species are using the platform to lobby for a no-fly zone that could lead to nuclear war. The kind of people who would formulate themselves as the grown-ups in the room are treating the risk of nuclear war as if it is just a kind of tit-for-tat in Westminster or in Washington DC.

“This is not just Labour source says – This is not just handbags in the House of Commons. This is not that. This is bigger.

“Nuclear war doesn’t mean anything good for the world. You could survive potentially, but you wouldn’t want to.

“We actually had some training about this when I was in the army. We have to get togged up in our NBC (nuclear biological chemical) warfare suits with respirators, and we’d be made to run up and down and occasionally there would be CS gas, and we’d be told how to survive a nuclear apocalypse.

“The slogan was used in the videos, which were all from the ’80s would “survive to fight”. So you survive the nuclear apocalypse: the positive blast wave comes and you all lay down (assuming you see it coming), and then you stay down for a bit, because then the negative blast wave comes back and that passes over you, and then you are alive to fight – and all I could think about during these training processes was fight over what? Fight over the mutant wastelands become f—king Mad Max and cut around in your Nissan Micra, or a Ford Escort with a gun on top – what is there left?

“That’s the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction: that everybody is destroyed. I mean that’s the underpinning thing: everybody dies!

“The problem with Twitter and Twitter war hysteria and all the social media stuff. It guides you towards just rapid urgent reaction. It’s very often a kind of appeal to emotion: that something must be done instantly. And clearly things need to be done, because people are dying in Ukraine. But I do think we need to be cautious. We need to be exercising reason rather than emotion.

“I understand why there are a set of people who are kind of like “let’s bomb the 40-mile convoy”. I understand why that is an appealing idea that we can just go and stop that happening, but we need to steer away from the immediate emotional payoff and be reasoned. Doing that is an act of war on top of the war that’s already going, and it would potentially escalate this. It would bring into conflict one nuclear power with another nuclear power, and there is a bigger picture; the biggest picture of all, which we have to consider here.

“World War One kicked off when one guy was murdered and that led to 20 million deaths, because it triggered a series of events which led to gigantic slaughter. When you look at wars historically there are domino effects and there are so many moving parts in the conflict in Ukraine and each part has its own range of moving parts. So we have to be extremely careful when we’re talking about how we intervene and what can be done.

“In our search for clarification and clarity, it may be the case there’s more to be learned from the cold war warriors than there is from the kind of keyboard warriors. It’s definitely worth revisiting what people said who are involved in the periods of extreme tension between the old Soviet bloc and the West.”

[Excerpt of Ronald Reagan speech] “To preserve our civilization in this modern age, a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. [from 4:25 mins]

Joe Glenton: “I’m absolutely down with the Ukrainian right to resist invasion. It’s a war of aggression. Russia have invaded. It’s not their country and they should get out and I respect the Ukrainian right to resist. I think we have to. I think that’s the moral position. The Russians should go and leave the Ukrainians to decide their own future.

“Of course, it’s more complex than just that. There are lots of different moving parts. Nato has expanded East [and] that for Putin is used by him to say “Nato is kind of pushing into our sphere of influence”, and he talks about ‘buffer zones’. At the same time that does not justify what Putin does, and he doesn’t justify the Putin regime.

“We’ve heard a lot of stuff about the Azov Battalion and that the National Guard neo-Nazi elements [which] to some degree were integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces. But the idea espoused by some on the left that because there are neo-Nazis in Ukraine somehow everyone in Ukraine is in neo-Nazi is just wrong. There are also other forces in Ukraine. There are various anarchists and progressive left libertarian militias who resist Russian occupation and fascist forces in Ukraine.”

“I think if we’re interested in people’s safety and security, I think we have to look past this seductive thing. To kind of look to Nato, or look to Russia and try and find on the Nato side all kind of liberal democratic values, or on the Russian side anti-imperialist or anti-fascist thing. I think we have to look for another narrative, which doesn’t internalise ‘Nato good’ or ‘Russia good’.

“We have to have a much more sophisticated analysis of what’s going on here. I have no illusions as some census commentators do that Nato is kind of wooferendum or FBPE with guns and missiles. It’s not what it is.

“Nato’s interest is stability in the sense that it’s stability for western capitalism. The bosses club. Wealthy nations, who are the original founder members, and then increasingly, it’s other countries who’ve sought Nato membership. If they’re countries which are in the kind of what would have been the Soviet sphere of influence, I can understand their rationale for wanting to be involved in that, because they’ve been occupied by the Soviets. But again, I find myself just increasingly calling for kind of nuance.

“I have the dubious honour of having a Nato medal. It’s a little thing with a blue ribbon and it says in English and French “in the service of Peace and Freedom” and always jumped out at me because I left it with my little cousin with my granddad’s medal, which is a Great War medal which says “the war to end all wars” and in both cases that’s not very accurate.

“My experience of Nato is in Afghanistan. I was involved in the early stages of the Nato mission in Afghanistan. I understand and recognised Nato’s part in bringing huge amounts of violence in Afghanistan against Afghan people. I have comrades particularly who served in the Royal Air Force who were in Italy attaching bombs to the fighters which would fly over and bomb Libya and destroy Libya. We can see the results in both those countries of Nato’s mission.

“I suppose I find myself in a weird position where I’m not a fan of Nato or of Putin’s regime. I don’t see the need to pick between these two polls. While everyone’s posturing and virtue signalling and doing their uptakes on Twitter, the people who are dying here are working class Russian conscripts and members of the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian civilians. That’s the tragedy in all this.

“There’s an element almost of smugness – like Brits and Americans, of all the people on the planet, Brits and Americans are kind of smugly looking on, going: “oh, he’s going to get bogged down – he’s going to get bogged down in the country – get caught up in insurgency with people who don’t want him.” It’s like why are you laughing about this? You’ve literally just done this. The Kabul airlift was last year to 20 years when you got booted out, and historically this has happened all over the world. So I’m not sure why you’re being so smug about it.

“Condoleezza Rice was asked if you invade a sovereign country it’s a war crime…

[Excerpt of Condoleezza Rice interviewed recently on Fox News] “When you invade a sovereign nation that is a war crime… Well it is certainly against every principle of international law and international order.” [from 7:50 mins]

Joe Glenton: “You’ve done all those things yourself and never been held accountable, and yet you can just go on TV and say that. At the level of just sheer neck to do that. I guess part of it is how these people have been reconditioned. We kind of saw it with George Bush where now he’s a harmless old man who just paints a bit, rather than a war criminal. We see with Alastair Campbell, out there Tweeting away about how terrible Vladimir Putin is, and he helped make the case for Iraq. And it astonishes me that these people are still allowed on television and are not pariahs. They can just kind of nod along like they didn’t do the same thing themselves easily within living memory.

“But this is happening in a civilized part of the world…

[Clip of CBS News correspondent recently reporting from Kiev] “But this isn’t a place, with all due respect, um you know, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. You know, this is a relatively civilized, uh relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully too – A city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”

JG: “How could this happen here?

[Clip from a different mainstream news report] “This is not a developing third world nation. This is Europe.”

JG: “But there’s no reflection on like why in those places which are ‘uncivilized’; why there is conflict there, or war there; why there is authoritarianism and dictatorship there; and in many cases, it’s because they were colonised – government were imposed because they’ve been brutally oppressed; because different sides have been played off against each other, funded by foreign powers. I find myself in a strange position of liking something before it was cool: being anti-war – and now all of a sudden loads of people who’ve never uttered a word about Yemen, or Palestine, or Afghanistan, are invoking like Tony Benn-type speeches.”

[Excerpt from a speech by Tony Benn] “Responsibility we have too for our fellow citizens and for the human race wherever the war takes place, and now we’re on the eve of nuclear warfare and that would be the end of the human race.”

JG: “It could be a kind of entry point for people to question wars more generally, because the things which are happening in Ukraine now were done in Iraq – in some cases worst things over a much longer period. I mean we’re six/seven days into this illegal invasion by a foreign power and that is what happened in Iraq.”

“We had a weird spectacle of some very mainstream media channels almost celebrating how do you make a Molotov cocktail in five easy steps.”

[Clip from another recent news story] “Really glad you’re able to join us, because we want to show you something that’s pretty extraordinary actually. They’ve sort of grated the styrofoam and they’re now putting it into the bottles. The styrofoam works to make the Molotov cocktail sticky: to help it stick to vehicles to other targets as well… you can see them grating it. It’s really quite extraordinary.” [from 10:05 mins]

Note that: similar news footage was shown at the time of the Maidan as I reported in a previous article from 2014.

JG: “I have friends who are from Derry in Northern Ireland and they’re doing that kind of you know that kind of monkey meme where it’s awkward. Like people who lived through British occupation [and] who would be out throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at occupying troops, who were like “oh, this is cool now”. And I think you could take that lesson and extrapolate it and you could look at Palestine. You could look at people resisting occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a lot of those people are like: “what? why was it not okay where we did it?” And I think that it’s a fair point to make.

“Why is it that now it’s celebrated in what are news pieces? Why is it suddenly tolerable, even good and moral, to do that?

[Sky News clip] “Hello yeah we’ve come to um to join the Ukrainian army or whatever they’re called – what are they called Tom?” [from 11:00 mins]

JG: “We’ve seen a steady procession of characters turning up at the Ukrainian embassy. Jim Bros with no military training going: “I want to go and fight in Ukraine, fight Putin for the for the Instagram likes”! But I don’t know maybe like I understand there are other examples in the past of people going to Spain to fight Franco. I understand the motivation. I would suggest if you have no military training it’s probably a bad idea. I would stay at home and do like your back and buyers or whatever. And there’s a broader point, I think there to be made, about I really agree with the solidarity that people are showing Ukraine. I approve of them kicking Russian teams at Champions League. I’m kind of down with a lot of the sanctions and stuff, but I can’t help but question where that was for Iraq, where that is for Yemen, where that is for Palestine?

“There’s someone we really need to stop and look at there: about why these degrees of solidarity and sanction are being applied to Russia. They never tried to do that with Tony Blair and George Bush in the Iraq War, and I think we have to have a little bit of self-reflection about why that is.

“We’ve seen it just in the last seven days: the lack of nuance and the presence of misinformation, one-sided media and it’s more important than ever to support independent media and alternative voices which can highlight the nuances of big political events that are going on around the world.”

***

“They [the Ukrainian people] have a right to self-defence, but the American people shouldn’t be conscripted. Not only should their kids not be conscripted to put boots on the ground, but their tax dollars shouldn’t be conscripted to engage in that war, and, by the way, just kind of summing this all up —

“This shouldn’t be a custody battle for Ukraine. It shouldn’t be whether they’re going to be part of the European Union or the Soviet Union. It’s they should have the right – the people of Ukraine have the right – to self-determination and what that means is without undue influence from the West or from Russia and that’s what I would like to see as an outcome here.” [from 11:45 mins]

This is the view of libertarian Republican Thomas Massie, who was just one of three members of Congress to oppose the March 2nd ‘Stand with Ukraine’ resolution that called for the US and its allies “to deliver additional and immediate defensive security assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats Ukraine is currently facing from Russian forces.” The Senate also passed a similar resolution last month in support of Ukraine ahead of the invasion. 1

As a consequence of holding firm to an anti-interventionist ‘America first’ position, Massie has since been subjected to widespread condemnation and attacks, and has been branded a friend to Russia. On the eve of another vote in Congress which called for a massive package of weapons to Ukraine and Nato, he told Max Blumenthal in an interview for The Grayzone again on March 8th:

“First of all, I support the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their destiny, to have a sovereign country free from invasion. But this bill I feel was counter to the purposes of supporting the people of Ukraine… the bill calls for basically overthrowing the government of Belarus. I mean why should that be in a resolution supporting the Ukrainian people? Why should we expand this conflict to Belarus? Yes, it’s true that Russia has come through Belarus, but did they have much say in it? So that shouldn’t have been in the resolution.”

In fact the resolution explicitly “commits [the US] to ensuring the illegitimate dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is held accountable for permitting the use of Belarusian territory for, and committing Belarusian forces to, Putin’s unprovoked renewed full-scale invasion against Ukraine.”2

Thomas Massie continues:

“But probably the most troubling part of this resolution was it called for open-ended military assistance. It didn’t say only equipment. It didn’t say that there wouldn’t be a no-fly zone. I mean because people are calling for no-fly zone voted for that resolution, I have to assume that resolution would support such a thing; the way that it was worded, or even boots on the ground, which we should never have there.” [from 1:00 mins]

*

Asked whether a no-fly zone would be “a recipe for conventional war”, Massie continues:

“A no-fly zone would mean American pilots shooting down Russian pilots in jets, and the next step – I mean there aren’t many escalations above that – but certainly it leads to (and if it weren’t an American plane it would be a Nato plane) and now that country would be the target of Russia presumably. Probably a missile launch that would drag twenty other countries into the conflict expanding this globally. This is not a global conflict at the time and we should do everything we can to keep it localised and not become a global crisis.” [from 2:00 mins]

Max Blumenthal points out that polls appear to show about 73% of Americans now support a no-fly zone even though most probably don’t understand the full implications. He asks Massie how this compares to the mood in Congress and whether we are edging towards nuclear conflict with Russia. Massie replies:

“Well I hope we’re not edging closer, but there’s a vote to send more money to Ukraine and to our Nato allies. In fact it’s to finance troops in Eastern Europe. Two things can’t simultaneously be true: if the news reports that are coming back would lead you to believe that Russia is getting crushed; they’re being devastated by Ukraine, and Ukraine alone. It can’t be a fact that Russia is a paper tiger and they’re being destroyed by the Ukrainian army and National Guard and at the same time we need to send billions of dollars more in weapons and troops to Nato to subsidise the defence of socialist countries.

“I mean that should be polled. We should ask the American people: do you think with 30 trillion dollars of debt that you should be funding the defence of socialist countries in Europe?” [from 2:50 mins]

Max Blumenthal corrects him, saying “you mean like subsidising the social democracy of Germany or the Western European countries, but the Eastern European countries certainly are not socialist. I mean this seems to be a geopolitical play and the arms industry is benefitting.”

On the question of sanctions, Massie says:

“Well there’s two kinds of sanctions. There are those that are meaningless: for instance, Netflix on their own has decided to cancel subscription. It’s in Russia. It might be a good thing, I don’t know it. Might be good for the Russians, but, you know, in all honesty, it was their glimpse into the Western world, and how capitalism works, and how we live. And so shutting that off – they probably shut it off because the credit cards were shut off and they probably weren’t getting any money – so there’s the virtual signalling kind of sanctions that Biden and some private companies have undertaken. And then there are the crippling sanctions. Okay, but who are they crippling?

“They’re not crippling Putin per se. He’ll find a market for his oil. They’re crippling the people here in this country first of all. We’re going to see higher prices. The low income people are being pinched the most by inflation. We’ve got gasoline is about to go to five dollars a gallon at the pump, and it’s not going to stop there.

“And there are lots of other things we bring from Russia like fertilizer; over a billion dollars. Try not putting a billion dollars of fertilizer on the fields in America this year and see what that does to food prices and supply chain issues. So if you think all of these things through there’s two kinds of sanctions: the sanctions that would Russia but it would cripple us as well: it’s kind of mutually assured sanctions economic devastation.” [from 4:00 mins]

Finally, Blumenthal asks “are you able to form any coalition or partnership with the progressives in Congress against escalating this war”, pointing to the example of Ilhan Omar’s outspoken opposition to the sanctions on oil. Massie replies:

“I would have hoped to get some to vote against that resolution, but we didn’t get any. I thought that the true progressives were against war and I have formed coalitions with them in the past – opposing the war in Afghanistan for instance, and getting that to come to an end. I haven’t seen it yet. I don’t know when we’ll see it. I have seen them become strong supporters of the right to keep and bear arms though in Ukraine at least, so I’m encouraged by that coalition. […]

“I mean there’s people who can’t see through their partisan lens. Madison Cawthorne’s objection to war is genuine and my objection towards war’s genuine, but I’m gonna admit to you right now, there are some Republicans who object to it solely because it’s what Biden wants to do, and that’s a problem. And there are Republicans who actually want war. I mean you’ve seen them call for war. You’ve seen them call for assassination of… [Max Blumenthla interjects: “Lindsey Graham?”] Yeah, not mentioning names, those are his initials! Uh calling for assassination, that’s insane. Calling for no-fly zone, that’s not wise. That’ll escalate it. So if there is a coalition, it’s for war and it’s on the left and the right and it’s disappointing.” [from 8:20 mins]

*

1 From an article entitled “House passes resolution backing Ukraine; Three Republicans vote ‘no’” written by Cristina Marcos, published in The Hill on March 2nd. https://thehill.com/homenews/house/596601-house-passes-resolution-backing-ukraine

2 https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-resolution/956/text

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine

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