5729 S. Dorchester Ave.
Chicago, IL 60637
Tel: 773.324.0654
Fax: 773.324.6426
Email: blyttle@igc.org

January 11, 2012

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Barack Obama,

It is always a nice feeling to know that the President of the United States is a Hyde Park neighbor of mine, has taught at the University where I studied English Literature and political science, where his wife worked at the hospital that saved my life when I suffered a heart attack in 2003, and whose children attended the Laboratory School where I also went to school (in the 1930s), and which is about two/thirds of a block from my home. A U.S. president with this provenance cannot help but be reasonable. This expressed, I would like to make the following comments and suggestions concerning your administration.

First, I would like to thank you for ending the War in Iraq, as you said you would. This war was a mistake from the first. There is no way in which its cost in lives and treasure can be justified. The Iraq War shows how important it is to avoid war. Lives lost can never be regained. Money spent is wasted. Who knows how long it will take to repair the political damage of the war? I do hope that you will be very, very, careful before getting this country into war anywhere.

I wish that the rest of this letter could be complimentary. Unfortunately, much is critical.

I am sorry that the war in Afghanistan continues. I went to Afghanistan in March, spent a week in Kabul, visited the Panjshir Valley, and talked with a number of Afghans. One of my main impressions of the country is how dangerous it is. The United States military is supposed to control Kabul. Yet, almost no westerners, and certainly almost no Americans, walk about the city, in daytime or at night. While we were in Kabul, seven U.S. workers were killed by a suicide bomber in Mazar-e-Sharif. The reason given by the terrorists was that it was in retaliation for the burning of the Koran by an American clergyman in Florida. Just after we left Kabul, six American soldiers were gunned down in the Kabul airport. A Catholic relief worker who has worked in Afghanistan for eight years said that he just wouldn’t go to Kandahar. How can the country be so insecure after it has supposedly been under U.S. control for nine years?

After considering my experiences, and studying the U.S. military strategy there, I do not see how the U.S. can bring peace to Afghanistan. Our strategy seems to be based on establishing bases in valleys throughout the country, and carrying out “night raids” to capture or kill alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. This strategy supposes that there are a limited number of terrorists to be captured or killed. But, thousands of madrasas (schools) in Pakistan and other Islamic countries are continually turning out young men who are trained in fundamentalist Islam, and have a tendency to hate us. They can easily infiltrate Afghanistan from Pakistan, and the other countries that surround Afghanistan, and join the Taliban. Under these circumstances, the reservoir of our enemies is nearly bottomless. We cannot win. The Taliban can simply wait us out. It is their homeland, not ours.

Another aspect of our strategy is drone warfare. Despite all of our precautions, our drone attacks kill many more innocent people than “terrorist leaders.” Think of the 24 Pakistani soldiers who recently were killed “by mistake.” Drone warfare may be safe and comfortable for us, but it means death and destruction for thousands of people, mostly innocent, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries. It means that more and more people come to hate us.

The negative consequences of the War in Afghanistan are so great that we should end it, too. Afghanistan is a poor coutnry. We should be helping the people with medical, food, and educational programs, not waging a futile and endless war there. We should be trying to make the people like, rather than hate, us.

I wish that you would not pursue Al Qaeda leaders and other people who have, or wish, to hurt us, with assassination squads like the Navy Seals. Assassination does not express “The Rule of Law.” It represents a form of primitive, international anarchy; the use of naked force, that is a bad example for all rulers, and can come back to “haunt” us. We are not invulnerable. One terrorist with an atomic bomb can cause us almost unimaginable harm. If we believe that certain individuals have attacked us and are criminals, we should try to bring them before the world court. This can be done by undertaking intelligence work to find out where they are, and offering rewards for their capture. Once in custody, they should have their “day in court.” It would be better to risk their being found innocent than to summarily execute them, or indefinitely confine them without trial. Capturing and having them tried in an international court would be accepted by almost everyone in the world as a just procedure, and would generate little or no hatred toward us.

In the same vein, I wish that you would close Guantanamo (As you promised to), and bring to civilian trial all people accused of “terrorism.” Every person accused of a crime has the right to an expeditious, fair and public trial. Indefinite imprisonment is a form of torture, and, as you have said, the United States should not be involved in torturing people. The well being of our country depends on maintaining a high level of civil liberties for everyone, not holding in prison indefinitely a few people accused of being terrorists.

And, I am sorry that you signed the National Defense Authorization Act. It gives the military the power to indefinitely detain and interrogate anyone the government calls a “terrorist.” It undermines the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. Our civil liberties and freedom should not be erased in the name of “national security.” You may not invoke these undemocratic provisions of the Act, but presidents who follow you may.

I am distressed that you seem more and more to be coming to believe that military power is the highest value there is, and that everything should be sacrificed to maintain it. The truth about military force is that it is a “Faustian bargain” that starts out offering security and freedom, and ends up delivering tyranny and war. Think of Imperial Japan, Myanmar (Burma), China, Egypt, Argentina under the junta, and even Israel (the plight of the Palestinians). When military policies dominate, freedom and peace suffer. Be wary of the attraction of power through being “Commander in Chief.”

I am happy that you see the need for “zero nuclear weapons,” and that you have worked out an agreement with the Soviet Union to reduce the number of nuclear weapons that both countries have. However, I am dismayed that the United States continues to make and “refurbish” H-bombs. About a year ago, I became aware that these activities were going on at Y-12, a huge industrial complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In order to protest this situation, I joined with more than a dozen other peace activists in trespassing nonviolently in protest on Y-12. We were arrested, and tried in the Federal Court in Knoxville. At the trial, defending myself pro se, I had the opportunity to question Theodore Sherry, the manager of Y-12. Mr. Sherry said that, by 1985, Y-12 had made about 30,000 H-bmbs, and that it was still “refurbishing” about 5,000. These are appalling figures. 5,000 H-bombs can kill every human being on earth. Mr. Sherry assured us that our nuclear arsenal is “incredibly safe.” But the fact is that, no matter how safe Mr. Sherry and the other engineers at Y-12 may make them, they eventually will be used. That is what the science of mathematical probability analysis (stochastic analysis) tells us. Nuclear deterrence and nuclear weapons have not guaranteed us perpetual peace. As long as they exist, they guarantee our eventual destruction, by accident, or war. Your policy of no nuclear weapons needs to be implemented by doing all that you can to deactivate all nuclear weapons, not constantly make and “refurbish” them at Y-12 and other nuclear weapons installations.

Also in this regard, I wonder what actually is going on at Y-12? Is Y-12 making our H-bombs more powerful while refurbishing them? I hope that the U.S. is not trying to get around our arms reduction agreement with Russia by doubling, tripling, and quadrupling the power of our H-bomb warheads at the same time that we are reducing their number. I do hope that you will give high priority to looking into this.

In your legislative programs, I wish that you had used the great majority that voters give you in 2008 to pass the best possible legislation. I wish that you would regard compromise as sometimes regrettably necessary, not a good in itself. I do not understand the great value that you place on “bipartisanship.” What is needed is good legislation that will benefit most of the people in this country, not necessarily laws passed in a bipartisan manner. Consider the medical care bill. What we should have is a single-payer medical program that will give everyone access to good medical care. I do not understand a medical bill that requires everyone to buy medical insurance. Such a bill benefits mainly the CEOs and other officers of the insurance companies, not people who need medical care. It should be the government that directly insures good medical care for everyone. Medical care insurance companies are not needed.

I hope that you will continue to postpone and even cancel the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The construction and operation of this pipeline will endanger the environment, and is contrary to your stated desire to reduce dependency on oil. We do not need more oil well drilling, shale and oil sand development projects, and mountaintop removal, open-pit, and deep mining coal mining. All of this development of fossil fuel resources will pollute, and add to greenhouse gasses, and global warming. Also, it burns up valuable organic molecules that future generations will need for making pharmaceuticals, plastics, and other things. To meet our energy needs, we need a crash program in solar power development, the national promotion of wind farms, solar panel fields, and solar-reflection boiler/generator plants. To dispense the electrical energy created by these means we need a network of high-tension, direct current transmission lines, and the development of a wide range of electrical storage systems.

We certainly do not need more nuclear power, and it is to our interest to shut down all of our existing nuclear power plants; to follow the lead of Germany in this regard. Nuclear power production inevitably produces radioactive by-products with extremely long half-lives, as long as 20,000 and two billion years. There is no way to safely store these radioactive materials. Also, nuclear power plants continually produce plutonium and U-235, the ingredients of nuclear weapons. The more of these materials there are around, the greater the likelihood that someone will obtain enough of them to make an atomic bomb. Such bombs pose the greatest threat for our nation and civilization itself.

I do not understand why it is necessary for the government to prop up financial institutions that have misused the trust that people have in them, and badly invested and wasted tens of billions of dollars. If these institutions are failing, let them fail. Most of what they do is lend money. The Federal Reserve could lend money either directly, or through banks and other lending institutions that are honest, and do not engage in irresponsible speculation.

In regard to the deficit, it is due mainly to decades of enormous military expenditures. I know that the Pentagon has proposed reductions in expenditures for specific military programs and hardware, but we need much more. As President Eisenhower suggested, every dollar spent for the military is a tragic waste, and denies people the food, housing, education and other things that they need.

These are a few of my thoughts about your administration. Perhaps I am being overly critical, and unaware of all the good legislation that you have achieved, and certain other positive realities. In any event, I hope that you and your family will have a healthy and happy new year, and that, somehow, the United States will extricate itself from all of the wars that it is fighting. Nonviolent solutions to human conflicts exist, and should be explored and pursued.

A copy of my 2012 Holiday Newsletter is enclosed.
Bradford Lyttle