“It was 8 a.m. and the sleepy Afghan sergeant stood at what he called the front line, one month before the city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban. An unspoken agreement protected both sides. There would be no shooting.
That was the nature of the strange war the Afghans just fought, and lost, with the Taliban.
President Biden and his advisers say the Afghan military’s total collapse proved its unworthiness, vindicating the American pullout. But the extraordinary melting away of government and army, and the bloodless transition in most places so far, point to something more fundamental.
The war the Americans thought they were fighting against the Taliban was not the war their Afghan allies were fighting. That made the American war, like other such neocolonialist adventures, most likely doomed from the start.
Recent history shows it is foolish for Western powers to fight wars in other people’s lands, despite the temptations. Homegrown insurgencies, though seemingly outmatched in money, technology, arms, air power and the rest, are often better motivated, have a constant stream of new recruits, and often draw sustenance from just over the border.
Outside powers are fighting one war as visitors — occupiers — and their erstwhile allies who actually live there, something entirely different. In Afghanistan, it was not good versus evil, as the Americans saw it, but neighbor against neighbor.
When it comes to guerrilla war, Mao once described the relationship that should exist between a people and troops. “The former may be likened to water,” he wrote, “the latter to the fish who inhabit it.”
And when it came to Afghanistan, the Americans were a fish out of water. Just as the Russians had been in the 1980s. Just as the Americans were in Vietnam in the 1960s. And as the French were in Algeria in the 1950s. And the Portuguese during their futile attempts to keep their African colonies in the ’60s and ’70s. And the Israelis during their occupation of southern Lebanon in the ’80s.
Each time the intervening power in all these places announced that the homegrown insurgency had been definitively beaten, or that a corner had been turned, smoldering embers led to new conflagrations.
“The 20th century muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair once opined that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” With this in mind, it is easy to understand why a small but powerful class of war profiteers might not acknowledge or seek to educate the public about the nefarious nature and immorality of U.S. empire.
Furthermore, members of the military-industrial complex certainly have no interest in the rest of us gaining understanding of the truth of U.S.-inflicted violence. However, for the majority of Americans whose finances are not dependent on violent global domination, this wall of ignorance provides no benefit and, thus, needs to be dismantled.
The reality is that the fortress of American exceptionalism rests on a foundation of assumptions that are easily disproved with the application of basic interrogation. Serious consideration of the following questions will go a long way to disabuse U.S. citizens of the altruistic nature of U.S. hegemony.
1. Does the United States Actually Oppose the Behaviors It Claims to Oppose?
This question is especially important because U.S. aggression toward weaker nations is often justified through allegations of nefarious actions committed by the targeted country. However, the idea that the U.S. government actually opposes these transgressions crumbles when examining the behavior of U.S. allies as well as the actions of the United States itself.
An analysis of U.S. violence, along with the stated reasoning by U.S. officials for those actions, is revealing. Take the 1991 Gulf War, perpetrated by the George H.W. Bush administration on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This was launched because Iraq had invaded Kuwait, violating the UN principle of respect for territorial sovereignty. While Iraq’s incursion into Kuwait—though rooted in disputed colonial borders—was an affront to international law, the outrage of the U.S. was extremely selective. Both before and after, the U.S. regularly supported far more destructive invasions than Iraq’s into Kuwait.
Just a few years years before being deemed a pariah by the U.S., Iraq itself had enjoyed U.S. support in the form of arms, intelligence and diplomatic support when it invaded the Islamic Republic of Iran, resulting in more than a million deaths.
Even more egregiously, just a year prior to Iraq’s venture into Kuwait, the U.S. itself earned the condemnation of the UN for invading Panama for the purpose of making a drug arrest of former CIA asset Manuel Noriega. That war, curiously dubbed “Operation Just Cause,” killed up to 3,000 civilians as the U.S. military pummeled Panama City with air power.
In 2018, the United States bombed Syria over the (highly disputed) claims that the government of Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons within the context of the Syrian civil war. Again, even a superficial review of recent U.S. history reveals a very narrow objection to this alleged crime. One would be hard-pressed to find a more destructive example of chemical warfare in the human record than the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administration’s use of Agent Orange in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.
Equally abhorrent was the United States’s use of depleted uranium encased ammunition in the 1999 war on Serbia and the 2003 war in Iraq.
The devastating toll of this practice can be seen in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. In the years since depleted uranium was deployed in the 2004 U.S. attack on the city of nearly 300,000, cancer rates have skyrocketed.
Additionally, birth defects have risen to levels higher than those seen in Nagasaki in the years following the atomic bombing of 1945. Contrary to objecting to the use of chemical weapons, history shows that the U.S. simply prefers that it maintain a monopoly on the practice.
Often taken for granted is the assumption that the United States government desires peace. Just as individuals, governments’ values are best indicated not through rhetoric but by behavior. If peace were truly a priority, one would expect the United States to take every possible opportunity to avoid war. The evidence overwhelmingly contradicts this notion. Most strikingly refuting this notion is the fact that the United States has been at war in all but 11 years of its 245-year existence. Far from defensive violence, nearly all of these wars have been aggressive wars of choice.
Furthermore, if peaceful coexistence with the world’s people were a goal, one would expect that, when periods of international tension arose, the U.S. government would exhaust every possible option before initiating violence. Far from this, historically the United States has often employed violence when other choices were available. Prior to George W. Bush launching the 2003 war on Iraq based on false pretexts, Saddam Hussein’s government offered diplomatic solutions.
In the month preceding the invasion and destruction of their nation, Iraqi intelligence attempted to satisfy the United States by offering a variety of overtures to the superpower. These were concessions that the Iraqis believed would alleviate any need for violence on the part of the U.S. They included offers of:
Providing full cooperation with the U.S. in combatting terrorism;
Allowing U.S. law enforcement unlimited access to conduct inspections for weapons of mass destruction;
Holding UN-supervised elections;
Assisting with the Arab-Israeli peace process; and
Giving the U.S. first priority in oil and mining rights.
Hussein’s government must have been under the misguided assumption that the United States would only choose war as a last resort, one of the most basic principles of the millennium-old Just War theory. However, the 2003 war on Iraq had been desired and planned for by the neo-conservative clique in the U.S. government since the late 1990s.
No diplomatic offer was going to assuage the bloodlust of the Bush administration. This was illustrated in response from Pentagon adviser Richard Perle upon being notified of Iraq’s attempts at diplomacy: “Tell them that we will see them in Baghdad.”
Had Hussein been a more informed student of U.S. history, he would have understood that war has always been the preferred path for the superpower. Just two years earlier as the War on Terror began, the Taliban of Afghanistan had offered to give up Osama bin Laden numerous times. The United States refused those offers, electing to launch a 20-year war on the impoverished people of Central Asia instead.
Prior to that, in 1999 the U.S. and NATO sabotaged a potential peace process in the former Yugoslavia. As tensions had erupted into violence between the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević and ethnic Kosovars, the West saw an opportunity. Preferring war to peaceful negotiation, the “peace” proposal offered by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright all but guaranteed war.
The Rambouillet Agreement contained stipulations that Serbia would allow for a military occupation of the country by NATO troops, a condition that no sovereign government on earth would accept. The deal crafted with the purpose of ensuring war was indeed rejected. Serbia was subsequently subjected to a 78-day NATO bombing campaign which killed hundreds of civilians and completed the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.
The above examples are demonstrative of a larger pattern of the U.S. consciously avoiding peace while starting or continuing wars. The list of such occurrences is long and extends to more recent occasions, such as in Libya in 2011 and Syria in 2012. In both of these cases, the U.S. was again granted offers for cessations of violence but declined to take the opportunities.
The seeming allergy to peaceful behavior also includes examples where bellicose actions short of outright war could have been avoided. Crippling sanctions on Iran continue on the basis of Iran’s (alleged) pursuit of nuclear weapons and destabilizing actions around the Middle East (a hypocritical accusation made by the power that has recently attacked seven nations in the region).
The U.S. was given an off ramp from the path of aggression toward Iran in 2003 when the Islamic Republic offered what was referred to as the “Grand Bargain.” This included offers to negotiate its (civilian) nuclear program, cooperate in the U.S. War on Terror, and a reconsideration of its regional relationships with groups including Hezbollah. The offer was left unanswered and aggression toward the Iranian people continues to the present day.
The same phenomenon is evident in the U.S. relationship with Russia.
The current cold war with Russia can be attributed to U.S. aggression in the form of NATO expansion to the Russian border. However, back in 1990, as the USSR collapsed, Secretary of Defense James Baker promised former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev that the North Atlantic military alliance would not advance “one inch” to the East of the former East German border.
The anti-Russian military alliance has since expanded more than 1,000 miles right up to the Russian doorstep. Along the way the military alliance has incorporated Poland, the Baltic states, and has even threatened to absorb Ukraine and Georgia.
One need only imagine how the United States would react were the Russians to develop a Warsaw Pact 2.0 that included Mexico, Canada or any of the Caribbean nations. Needless to say, the common view amongst U.S. officials in that scenario would not be that Russia is simply pursuing peace.
Lastly when discussing a nation’s priorities, how it allocates funds within its budget is instructive. No reasonable person could draw the conclusion that the United States values peace when presented with the reality of its military spending.
The United States dedicates roughly half of its discretionary spending to war. The $753 billion dedicated to the Pentagon is equal to the sum of military spending of the next ten nations combined. This starkly contrasts with the spending on the entity which is supposed to be dedicated to diplomacy; the U.S. Department of State receives a comparatively miniscule $58.5 billion.
Combine that with the fact that the United States is, at $175 billion, by far the largest exporter of arms in the world, and the assumption that the superpower seeks peace seems downright absurd. Rhetoric from U.S. leaders proclaiming aspirations for peace are simply not matched by the historical record, current behavior, or allocation of resources.
3. Does the United States Care about Democracy?
The “D” word is often brandished by U.S. leaders while pursuing aggression against the people of the Global South. Criticisms of the undemocratic nature of governments have been used to justify interventions in a plethora of nations, including Venezuela, Panama, Grenada and Haiti. However, once again this rhetoric is out of sync with the historical record of the actual behavior of the United States.
For a nation whose leaders have self-appointed themselves as the defenders of democracy, the United States seems to keep some rather undemocratic company. To start with, the United States currently provides arms to 73% of the world’s dictatorships. This provision of weaponry is often also accompanied by the training of military or security forces of these undemocratic governments.
Needless to say, the U.S.-trained security forces of dictatorships are frequently deployed against their own populations, committing atrocities against civilians in what is often referred to as “counterinsurgency.” U.S.-trained security forces also have a nasty habit of perpetrating coups. In the period from 1970 to 2009, 275 (decidedly undemocratic) military-backed coups took place globally. Of those, U.S. trained forces carried out 165 of them.
A brief examination of the U.S.’s closest allies and partners in the Middle East and North Africa should also dissuade one of the notion that democracy is an animating value in U.S. policy making. Across the region the U.S. has found useful imperial surrogates in a variety of autocracies, military dictatorships, apartheid states, and monarchies.
In Egypt the U.S. has proved a consistent ally to undemocratic governments, first supporting the dictator Hosni Mubarak for decades until his downfall due to popular uprising in 2011. Since 2013, the military dictatorship of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi had enjoyed the backing of the superpower, even after his forces brutally massacred more than 800 citizens in 2013.
The United States currently provides an unconditional 3.8 billion dollars along with ceaseless diplomatic coverage at the UN to the apartheid state, Israel. Given this fact, it should not come as a shock that the U.S. had previously supported apartheid-era South Africa. This relationship even saw the U.S. classify anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela as a terrorist. This characterization was maintained by the State Department until 2008.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the last remaining monarchies on earth repress their internal populations, and wage war on their neighbors with U.S. complicity. The royal families of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates enjoy immense privilege and wealth while their domestic populations suffer in destitute poverty.
The right of a nation’s people to select their own government via elections would seem to be a basic tenet of democracy. Yet in its time as a superpower since 1945, the U.S. has constantly interfered in foreign elections in an effort to assure a favorable result.
Since World War II, Uncle Sam has attempted to meddle in electoral contests in more than 81 nations. The imperial mindset of U.S. leaders was revealed in 2006 after elections in Gaza resulted in Hamas winning over the U.S.-preferred Fatah party.
Regarding the Palestinian electorate’s having defeated the self-anointed right of the U.S. to pick their leadership, then New York Senator Hillary Clinton lamented, “if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.”
With this comment, the eventual Secretary of State was exemplifying the Mafia Don mentality that is the dominant orthodoxy of the U.S. elite.
In other cases wherein the collective will of the citizenry of foreign nations triumphed over U.S. desires, more drastic forms of sabotage were employed.
This has most often occurred when the popular governments of nations of the Global South have had the audacity to implement policies in favor of the poor, such as land reform or nationalization of their natural resources.
In such cases, the U.S. has resorted to the most undemocratic of practices, using subversive means to overthrow democratically elected governments around the world.
The people of Iran,Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Honduras and a host of other nations are more than familiar with the asymmetry that exists between speech and action when it comes to the United States and its alleged concern over democratic practices.
Revealing Hypocrisy Is Not an End on Its Own
The ability to answer the above questions is useful in the sense that it highlights the contradiction between commonly held assumptions and the truth about U.S. policy.
However, drawing the (correct) conclusions that U.S. foreign policy is not animated by concerns about human rights abuses, a desire for peace or a mission to “make the world safe for democracy,” is only a starting point in developing a vibrant anti-imperialist movement in the United States.
This initial act of challenging and eradicating the foundational assumptions that form American exceptionalism is an imperative step.
The mythology of U.S. magnanimity is one of the primary psychological barriers to further confronting imperialism. These walls of fiction are erected in most Americans’ minds through a lifetime of propaganda that is disseminated through education, entertainment, and news media, and thus are difficult to penetrate.
However, once these walls are breached, a systemic analysis of capitalism and the military-industrial complex becomes possible. Indeed, no one is likely to engage in boycotts, protests, or other forms of direct action against the empire without first reducing its wall of mythology to rubble. With a critical mass of people attuned to its flawed ideological foundations, the violent hegemony of the U.S. cannot persist.”
“We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing because we remember nothing.”
― Gore Vidal
Donald Trump committed war crimes, Where is accountability?
We have two dominant parties concerned with power and greed, wanting to enrich the billionaires on their team.
Trump committed crimes when he bombed Syria and Iraq, he…
• continued the illegal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, across Africa, Syria and other places, arming criminals around the world [such as Saudi Arabia’s crimes in Yemen]
• continued the illegal torture of prisoners,
• continued the illegal spying on Americans,
• continued the illegal killing of civilians and increased the drone assassinations
• illegally threatened wars against N. Korea and Venezuela,
• illegally threatened nuclear war against N. Korea, and
• worked to illegally overthrow governments around the world and distributed weapons across the planet into the hands of criminals and human rights abusers.
Joe Biden is beginning to do much the same, but then the self-proclaimed “Zionist” has been a servant of imperialism much of his career. There are differences, yes, but this is not a popularity contest.
This is rule of law. This is protecting human rights. It should be. However, with each living president, they have each used violence and aggression against other nations. They each armed forces in civil wars [terrorists looking to overthrow leaders that the US was looking to depose.] The politicians and pundits point at the suffering in other nations, then they make it worse.
Let us work toward rule of law, and rise above the team games and tribalism. Stop the war machine and honor the rights and liberties of all.
Some law links
~ Charter of the United Nations ~
Chapter VII — Action with respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression
Today Phi Runkel, Catholic Worker Archivist and I were convicted of trespassing on the Volk field military base in Juneau County, Wisconsin on November 12, 2019. The court procedure reminded me of the military training of soldiers, to kill reflexively without the use of conscience.
Volk Field is a training base for the RQ-7 shadow drones base. These are small drones that set up the operation of Killer Drones and the killing by Apache Helicopters in the eight wars that the US is engaged in presently. A statement we gave at the time when we entered the base is attached.
Five of the seven of us who entered the base, due to serious Covid 19 concerns were not present for the trial at Juneau County Courthouse. Those not present had sent the judge statements of why they were not there and why they entered the base that day. The Judge quickly dismissed their concerns and order them convicted of trespassing and they were fined.
The district attorney then presented the case against Phil and me. He had two defense witnesses, a security chief for the base and a Sheriff’s deputy who had issued the trespassing citations. He also showed on a large screen a body cam the deputy had taken of our arrest.
When it came to our testimony we were warned by the Judge that he would show some leeway but that he should stick to the issue of trespass as he narrowly defined it. Both our testimonies were based on religious convictions of conscience. Phil tried to bring in international law and testimony of others, including Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general of the USA. Our testimonies were constantly interrupted by the Judge and considered not relevant. We both got about ½ to ¾ of our testimony (attached below)
During our testimonies and after the Judge kept saying how he agreed with some of our values and convictions but they were not relevant to the trial. This reminded me of my research on “reflexive killing” the practice of training a soldier to kill on instinct or, command orders without consideration for conscience. Now I know why a panel of military command officers refused to consider a Catholic West Point’s ethic teacher’s plea to have them state that “reflexive killing was justified. Despite the terrible toll this type of killing played on the minds of returning veterans they could not admit of the harm this practice played. They just ignored it as we largely ignore the killing by drones in the eight US wars of today. When Phil tried to state that the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg declared that “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual State” he was cut off. The Judge said over and over again that he understood and sympathized with our views but that they had nothing to do, like reflexive killing with our trial. Society, politicians and media ask us, like the Judge to separate our conscience from our action of killing on reflex or by drone. We had just witnessed the court version of reflexive killing, Justice without conscience. I pray for all drone operators, their victims and all of us who are silent to drone killing.
WISCONSIN JUDGE REFUSES TO DELAY NOVEMBER 16 TRIAL DUE TO COVID-19
November 10, 2020
In a letter dated November 2, 2020, Judge Stacey Smith of the Juneau County District Court in Mauston, Wisconsin, denied the motions made by seven antiwar activists to adjourn their trial scheduled for November 16.
The seven, Bonnie Block, Joyce Ellwanger, Joy First, Bob Graf, Jim Murphy, Phil Runkel, all of Wisconsin and Brian Terrell, of Iowa, had been arrested for trespass on November 12, 2019, in a protest at Volk Field, a Wisconsin Air National Guard base that trains personnel to operate the RQ-7 Shadow Drone.
Since, the opposition to the atrocities of the Vietnam war crimes, the US government does its best to stop Americans from seeing the bodies of our dead victims.
Representing themselves in separate motions, the activists called Judge Smith’s attention to the recommendation of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that “COVID-19 is still spreading across our Wisconsin communities. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick. We recommend Wisconsinites cancel or postpone all travel, including travel within the state,” and asked that the trial be postponed “until such a time as travel is considered safe.”
Denying the motions, Judge Smith dismissed the COVID -19 concerns of the defendants, all of whom are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, assuring them that the court’s response is “proactive,” and encourages washing of hands, mask wearing and social distancing.
Judge Smith took special exception to Brian Terrell’s request that he consider the fact that for him to come to court from his home in Iowa “would require two days of interstate travel” and so his “presence in the court on November 16 would put court personnel and my co-defendants, several of whom are at high risk on multiple factors, at increased danger of exposure to COVID-19.” “I don’t understand how it is relevant that Mr. Terrell lives in Iowa or any other state in the union,” wrote Judge Smith, “I treat everyone in a reasonable and fair manner, no matter where they live.” In a letter to Judge Smith, Terrell clarified that his concern is not about being treated unfairly. “For me to travel to Mauston, Wisconsin, from my home in Maloy, Iowa, I would be on trains and busses for over ten hours in close proximity to other passengers, strangers traveling from all points. I would be waiting in stations from up to a few hours to overnight, depending on unreliable connections before getting a bus to Madison,” he wrote.
A further request to have the trial via Zoom was also denied, and the different circumstances of each defendant has made their original intention of a unified trial impossible.
Defendant Bonnie Block, a retired attorney of Madison filed a motion on November 9 to dismiss her case, citing that on that day the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced over 7,000 new COVID-19 cases, the most of any day. “It appears clear the current methods of dealing with the virus in the Juneau County Courts (and elsewhere) are not sufficient. Rather appearing in person on 11/16 carries a great deal of risk for everyone. And since I’m 79 years old, I am at even greater risk both of contracting COVID-19 and of it being fatal. Thus the refusal to postpone the trial until this pandemic is over, gives me an untenable and unconscionable choice to appear at the risk of possible death or to give up my constitutional right to a day in court… Because I have a responsibility to my husband, children, and grandchildren, as well as extended family, friends, and fellow citizens to do my bit to prevent further spread of this deadly virus; I cannot appear in Court on November 16, 2020. And since the Court denied a postponement, I believe the only just solution is for the Court dismiss this matter.”
Joyce Ellwanger, of Milwaukee, does not intend to appear in court but is concerned that she would be barred from volunteering in Wisconsin prisons if she has outstanding court fees or a warrant. She is asking the judge to accept a written statement in hopes that it will be accepted in lieu of appearing and will pay a fine if found guilty. Brian Terrell has informed the judge “as a courtesy,” that he will not appear (“for me to appear in your court as ordered on November 16 would be an irresponsible act of reckless disregard for the public safety”) or make any motions. Joy First of Madison, Jim Murphy of Highland along with Bob Graf and Phil Runkel of Milwaukee intend to go to trial on November 16, as scheduled.
Citing the crowded court calendar and the fact that the case had already been postponed once, Judge Smith’s letter said, “I understand the times in which we live and you might be thinking, ‘What’s the big deal?’” He justified his refusal to delay the case any longer because “Justice that is untimely is no justice at all.” The defendants do not disagree that untimely justice is no justice at all, but they wonder when there will be justice for the many victims of drone wars, and that question draws them back to Volk Field.
Far from thinking “what’s the big deal?” the seven take their actions and the consequences with deadly seriousness. Catholic pastor Jim Murphy recognizes protests at other drone sites, “we need to carry our weight in Wisconsin and speak up-we have tried other options letters to three commanders, letters to US Senators with no response.” Bob Graf cites Martin Luther King, Jr, “Never again will I be silent on an issue that is destroying the soul of our nation…” A statement from the group delivered to Volk Field on November 12, 2019, reads “We come because we mourn the children who have died from attacks by U.S. military drones. We remember these children, whose lives have been cut short while also remembering their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and grandparents who continue to mourn the deaths of these beautiful children” and “We come because the personnel working with and training with the RQ-7 Shadow Drones at Volk Field are an integral part of and are complicit in the whole US drone warfare program.”
Judge Smith’s unreasonable dismissal of the COVID-19 health and safety concerns of the seven defendants along with the court’s blind eye to the crimes perpetrated at sites like Volk Field, are clearly occasions where acting with responsibility and with regard for the wellbeing of others comes into conflict with the law, when it is too narrowly understood.
The Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars
For more information contact:
Joy First (608) 239-4327
Brian Terrell (773) 853-1886
“What difference does it make to the dead,
the orphans and the homeless,
whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism