The Perils of Endless War

War tends to perpetuate itself. As soon as one brute gets killed, another takes his place; when the new guy falls, another materializes.

Consider Richard Nixon’s intensification of the American war on Cambodia. In hopes of maintaining an advantage over the Communists as he withdrew American troops from Southeast Asia, Nixon ravaged Vietnam’s western neighbor with approximately 500,000 tons of bombs between 1969 and 1973. But instead of eliminating the Communist menace, these attempts to buttress Nguyen Van Thieu’s South Vietnamese government and then Lon Nol’s Cambodian government only transformed it. The bombings led many of Nixon’s early targets to desert the eastern region of the country in favor of Cambodia’s interior where they organized with the Khmer Rouge.

As a CIA official noted in 1973, the Khmer Rouge started to “us[e] damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda.” By appealing to Cambodians who were affected by the bombing raids, this brutal Communist organization, a peripheral batch of roughly 10,000 fighters in 1969, had expanded by 1973 into a formidable army with 20 times as many members. Two years later, they seized control of Phnom Penh and murdered more than one million of their compatriots in a grisly genocide.

The following decade, when war erupted between the forces of Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the United States hedged its bets by providing military assistance to both governments as they slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people. But when Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, ousted the emir, and ultimately assassinated about 1,000 Kuwaitis, the United States turned on its former ally with an incursion that directly killed 3,500 innocent Iraqis and suffocated 100,000 others through the destruction of Iraqi infrastructure. Throughout the 1990s, the US also maintained an embargo against Iraq, a program that contributed to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqis and that UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Dennis Halliday deemed “genocidal” when he explained his 1998 resignation.

The newly restored Kuwaiti government, for its part, retaliated against minority groups for their suspected “collaboration” with the Iraqi occupiers. The government threw Palestinians out of schools, fired its Palestinian employees, and threatened thousands with “arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, and murder.” Beyond that, Kuwait interdicted the reentry of more than 150,000 Palestinians and tens of thousands of Bedoons who had evacuated Kuwait when the tyrant Saddam took over. Thus, years of American maneuvering to achieve peace and security – by playing Iran and Iraq off of each other, by privileging Kuwaiti authoritarians over Iraqi authoritarians, by killing tens of thousands of innocent people who got in the way – failed.

The chase continues today as the United States targets the savage “Islamic State,” another monster that the West inadvertently helped create by assisting foreign militants. History suggests that this war against Islamism, if taken to its logical extreme, will prove to be an endless game of whack-a-mole. Yes, our government can assassinate some terrorists; what it cannot do is stop aggrieved civilian victims of Western bombings from replacing the dead by becoming terrorists themselves. Furthermore, even if ISIS disappeared tomorrow, there would still exist soldiers – in Al-Qaeda, for instance – prepared to fill the void. That will remain true no matter how many bombs the West drops, no matter how many weapons it tenders to foreign militias, no matter how many authoritarian governments it buttresses in pursuit of “national security.”

So what are we to do when foreign antagonists, whatever the source of their discontent, urge people to attack us? We should abandon the Sisyphean task of eradicating anti-American sentiments abroad and invest in security at home. Gathering foreign intelligence is important when it allows us to strengthen our defenses here, but bombing people in Iraq and Syria, enabling the Saudi murder of Yemenis, and deploying troops to Cameroon are futile steps when enemy organizations can constantly replenish their supply of fighters by propagandizing among natives who deplore Western intervention.

This understanding, though underappreciated in contemporary American government, reflects a noble American tradition. John Quincy Adams, for his part, loved an America that “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Decades later, Jeannette Rankin doubted the benefits of American interventionism, contending that “you can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”  Martin Luther King Jr. warned that “violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” These leaders adamantly rejected an American politics of unending aggressive war. It is time for us to do the same.

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Violence at Spring Valley High School

I invite people to listen to the attached recording in which I share several of my thoughts regarding the recent attack at Spring Valley High School.

Spring Valley High School

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My Interview with Ralph Nader on Left/Right Coalitions Against Militarism

Please check out my recent interview with Ralph Nader! Many thanks to the Center for Study of Responsive Law and the Amherst Political Union for making it possible.

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Malcolm X Understood Empire

It is interesting that Americans do not invoke Malcolm X the way they invoke other civil rights leaders.  Where ideas about American militarism go, X’s contributions were piercingly insightful but lamentably overlooked when the man lived. For that they deserve greater attention today.

But first a word on X’s sporadic anti-Semitism and anti-white fulminations, both of which lead some people to ignore everything else X had to say. If we believe it fair to judge historical figures on the basis of their most contemptible sympathies alone, then X is indeed irredeemable.  But then, so too are Gandhi, Plato, and Aristotle irredeemable for some of their nefarious beliefs. For that matter, the ideas of four of the United States’ first five presidents are worthless, and for much greater reason than X’s are; after all, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe all owned human beings, whereas X did nothing so barbaric.

If we instead opt to examine X in his nuanced totality, we find not a kook but a winsome human rights activist with a lot of wisdom to share. As a black nationalist during the Cold War, he took no stock whatever in American militarists’ humanitarian pretensions. When many others did not, X questioned the “integrity” and “sincerity” of leaders who tackled problems that were not theirs to solve. Even “liberal” interventionists who genuinely desired progress in foreign lands were not heroes in X’s book. The American meddlers “minding somebody else’s business way over in South Vietnam,” X declaimed, were unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.

Malcolm saved his admiration for Africans vying to “establish their own independent nations” and working to “create a future for their people” without the involvement of intruders. He noted positively that when “the people in Africa and Asia get some power of their own, they get a mind of their own. They start seeing with their own eyes and listening with their own ears and speaking with their own mouth.” He admired leaders like Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, a CIA target whose anti-colonial disposition disturbed the departing Belgians in 1960. X went so far as to call Lumumba “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent,” for Lumumba “didn’t fear anybody. He had those people so scared they had to kill him.” X also commended members of the Organization of African Unity for trying to extinguish colonial “vestiges of oppression and exploitation being suffered by African people.”

Nearly 40 years after X’s death, the Organization of African Unity gave way to the African Union, a Pan-African organization at one point chaired by the Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. As we know, that same Gaddafi fell prey to NATO fighters who decided to “rescue” Libya during the 2011 uprising. Malcolm certainly would have bemoaned that development. America and her allies had no more of a right to dethrone the despot Gaddafi and to deliver Libya to Jihadists than Gaddafi would have had to bomb the United States and to unseat an American president for the political benefit of domestic terrorists.

But Malcolm knew how “Pax Americana” operated, and he probably would have taken recent interventions in Libya, Somalia and Yemen as par for the course. As he understood, and as Randolph Bourne before him indicated, habits of American imperialism can thrive among Democrats, Republicans, “liberals” and “conservatives” who here manage to find common cause. Truculent jingoists relish the opportunity to consolidate their country’s power overseas, and self-styled humanitarians jump aboard in hopes of saving foreigners from tyranny. Civilian casualties, devastated infrastructure, lawlessness, and exploitation generally follow.

To be sure, Malcolm made some unpalatable choices of his own. Some of his language was caustic, some of his tangents were bizarre, and some of his comrades were vulgar. But whatever X’s flaws, one must savor the temerity of a man who, in the face of hegemonic calls for Western militarism – to “save” Vietnam, to assassinate Fidel Castro, to protect the Congo from Communism, to civilize Kenya – called bogus on the whole enterprise. “Athwart history,” as William F. Buckley might put it, Malcolm unabashedly denounced the imperial doctoring, maceration, and dubious “improvement” of foreign societies. He repudiated the American government for its “criminal activity” and took note of the United States’s “ignorance, her blindness, her lack of foresight and hindsight” in foreign affairs. Many people labeled X an “extremist” for that, and surely he was an extremist. Malcolm was extremely opposed to governments that pay lip service to other people’s freedom but ultimately promote authoritarianism and bloodshed throughout the world.

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American Meddling in Yemen Means Aggression at Home

If the onsite horrors of the war and embargo against Yemen are not reason enough for us to advocate an American withdrawal from that foreign conflagration, hopefully this is: our government’s support for the Saudi war in Yemen entails aggression in the United States.

I am not here referring to anti-American blowback from bereaved Yemenis, although that sort of aggression could very well materialize in the future. I am instead talking about the ongoing and presently verifiable aggression against all American taxpayers forced to subsidize our government’s adventurism in the Arabian Peninsula. As common sense tells us, every bomb, every missile, and every tracer that the United States sends to the Saudi coalition is a bomb, a missile, and a tracer for which somebody somewhere will be compelled to pay. That “somebody” will probably be an American taxpayer who, given the nature of taxation, will risk imprisonment or property seizures should she ever decide not to genuflect to the unshackled military apparatus.

The American war in Yemen therefore extends all the way back home, albeit in a substantially diluted form. Pursuant to its military objectives, the American government threatens to aggress against any of its taxpaying citizens who refuse to aggress against Yemeni civilians. In what world is this not an abomination?

In the world of gung-ho militarists, apparently, who dragoon American taxpayers into shouldering the burden of the Pentagon’s profligacy. By the end of FY 2015, $12 billion from the United States will have buttressed foreign militaries in places like Saudi Arabia. $64 billion will have sustained the United States’ Overseas Contingency Operations. The Pentagon will have taken hundreds of billions more for its “base” supply, a fund that excludes additional resources for nuclear upkeep.

Surely our country should be equipped to defend itself. But our current government’s exorbitant military expenditures and reckless warmongering are far from defensive. The Yemeni Houthis, a foreign group mired in a foreign war with the hope of destroying Al-Qaeda, pose such a small threat to us that the United States’ overwhelming attempts to neutralize them can only make matters worse by intensifying anti-American sentiments. The truly defensive move in this case is for the United States to stop antagonizing people.

That includes Americans themselves who have done nothing to deserve threats from the American war state. There is no good reason that any private worker, as a precondition for receiving an income here at home, should have to bankroll the murder of Yemenis.

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Yemenis: Fish in the Tyrants’ Barrel

American-aligned leaders keen to wage war for “humanitarianism” now have a prime opportunity to prove their humanitarian bona fides. Let them withdraw their support for the Saudi suffocation of Yemen, a country starving from months of debilitating airstrikes and a lethally tight embargo.

If there exist true humanitarians in their ranks, they will understand why generations of bereaved Yemenis simply cannot wait any longer for freedom. Under Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose soldiers received American military training and $300 million worth of American-supplied weaponry between 2006 and 2011, Yemeni civilians for years abided a congeries of indiscriminate military bombardments, extrajudicial executions, and heinous government crackdowns on journalists. Saleh’s ouster during the Arab Spring and the disturbingly easy ascent of Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi yielded only a fleeting respite, after which San’a’s gridlock and aimlessness thrust the country back into mayhem. Amidst the commotion, the Shiite Houthis consolidated power in the north and lunged for Yemen’s capital in September 2014. Encircled and enfeebled, Hadi left for Aden in February 2015 and named it Yemen’s provisional capital, after which the rebels stormed the country’s southern territory and prompted Hadi’s departure from Yemen.

At that point, the Saudis, with assistance from Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the United States, initiated Operation Decisive Storm to reinstall Hadi’s government. The March campaign ushered in a slew of Saudi airstrikes and a severe blockade devised to restore peace by preventing the Houthis’ acquisition of Iranian weapons. The theory belies the reality, however, as the nominally “peaceful” blockade continues to take a calamitous toll on innocent Yemenis who need foreign imports to survive. By the onset of July, Yemen’s water sources were faltering en masse, and by the end of that month, approximately 2.3 million Yemenis were struggling to eat due to Saudi-induced food shortages and a consonant rise in food prices. Yemen’s paltry access to foreign fuel shipments, down to nearly a tenth of what it was before the Saudi intervention, has also impelled the closure of Yemeni health centers previously tasked with feeding over 400,000 destitute youngsters and providing medical assistance to almost 500,000 others.

In addition to the blockade, the threat of direct Saudi violence continues to plague ordinary Yemenis. On April 21, the Saudis terminated Operation Decisive Storm to pave the way for Operation Renewal of Hope, a “civilian-protecting” mission designed to cap off Decisive Storm’s subversion of Houthis’ weapon stockpiling. Pursuant to this new operation, the Saudi coalition has launched anti-Houthi airstrikes with reckless imprecision. In one failed attempt to assassinate Saleh’s family members in June, for instance, the Saudis inadvertently killed five non-targets nearby. In an attack on Taiz the following month, the Saudis assassinated 120 noncombatants and maimed more than 150 others.

All told, the escalating war and injurious embargo have already left millions of people hungry and are every day depriving an additional 20,000 Yemenis of food. The few civilians equipped to flee the country are doing so, while the remaining Yemenis still vigorous enough to protest are praying and marching for an end to the Saudi assault.

Meanwhile, the Saudi potentate’s blithe American friends make excuses for their chum’s monstrosities. Such statesmen as Secretary of State John Kerry recycle nauseating insinuations about the danger of Iranian support for the Houthis, even though the Houthis have considerable religious differences with the Iranian regime, receive no compelling instructions from Tehran, and use hardly any Iranian supplies. Like a mindless robot, he doubles down on “our” commitment to “our alliances and our friendships,” as if the United States’ dubious “friendship” in this case actually counts for anything palpable or moral, as if it does not merely sow the seeds of discontent that will inevitably engender ill will towards the United States. And, quite ironically, Secretary Kerry still fulminates against Islamist terrorists, even while his government tenders weapons, military intelligence, and naval supplies to buttress Arabian attacks on Houthis arrayed distinctly against Al Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen.

All of this sloganeering, all of this diplomatic and humanitarian posturing, all of these barefaced inconsistencies would be risible were they not so utterly putrid and ultimately fatal. Let there be no mistake: the Saudi massacre is destroying a society before our very eyes, enervating its market, attenuating its familial bonds, and otherwise extinguishing any simulacrum of order, justice, or fairness within it. If the military states complicit in this atrocity harbor one iota of a humanitarian impulse, they will retract their support for the Saudi onslaught straight away and demand an end to the killing. Yemen has no time left.

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No Support for Turkey’s War

Now that NATO officially supports Turkey’s revitalized war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the Turks might soon request American weapons, intelligence and diplomatic assistance for their onslaught. When that time comes, we should say no.

Those who would again have us commit American resources to Turkish authoritarians ought to examine the historical repercussions of their longstanding policy. From 1985 to 1995, the US government granted $5.3 billion worth of military “protection” to the Turkish government, endowments that at one point accounted for more than three-quarters of Turkey’s imported weaponry. In reality, this “protective” assistance facilitated the brutal repression of innocent Kurds in a state that prohibited the use of Kurdish languages in public spaces and accosted Kurdish civilians for their involvement in dissident political parties. In its effort to eradicate the PKK, the Turkish government incinerated Kurdish homes and wielded Western weapons to extirpate communities, to torture people wantonly, and to assassinate political opponents without trial.

The Turkish government’s illiberal streak still exists today. Over the past couple of weeks, the authorities have attacked antiwar protesters with water cannons and have detained hundreds of Kurdish activists upon the resurgence of Turkey’s war with the PKK. As people who often use Kurdish suffering to justify Western attacks in the Middle East, American statesmen should find this situation appalling.

But they do not. Instead, the Obama administration acquiesces to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in what appears to be a de facto exchange for American access to Turkish military bases. This tradeoff, ironically defended as a necessary hedge against ISIS and anti-American terrorism, will likely produce the exact opposite of what its purveyors intend. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, after all, have been stalwart opponents of ISIS in Syria. If the West effectively invigorates the Turkish war against the PKK, the People’s Protection Units might very well join their Kurdish brethren in Iraq, leaving ISIS free to fill the newfound void.

Some Americans will not care though. Cognizant that ISIS lacks the military capacity to foment a successful invasion of the United States, they will sit idly by as our government consolidates its support for the Turks and undercuts some of ISIS’s most potent enemies. American-induced deaths and emboldened terrorist factions are foreigners’ problems, they say, not ours.

I urge them to think again. If they do not find it discomfiting that their tax dollars finance people’s suffering abroad, they should at least find it discomfiting that their money finances policies likely to induce the sort of anti-American sentiments that bred the atrocities of September 11, 2001. Lest we forget, Al-Qaeda affiliates detested all infidels but targeted the United States specifically because of the American government’s interventionist policies. They castigated “the protracted blockade” against Iraq, which Osama Bin Laden later called “the oppressing and embargoing to death of millions.” They came to resent the American military presence in the Arabian Peninsula, the US war in Somalia, American support for the war on Chechnya, and the United States’ aid to multiple Middle Eastern leaders perceived to be anti-Muslim.

Warmongering, then, only fans the flames of animus that motivate people to become anti-Western terrorists. Therefore, if we wish to maintain the goodwill of the Kurds, if we truly respect their bodily autonomy, and if we desire to preserve our own, let us resist Turkish attempts to mire us further in the pandemonium unraveling in Western Asia. This fight is not ours.

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