Why the Power Houses Invade Weaker
A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has nothing to gain and all to lose – especially their lives.
Few nations have such extensive borders or coasts as the United States. Few have borders as blessedly uncontested and unthreatened. Why, then, is the US so contemptuous of international law? Why does the US intervene in, and invade, other lands, often far from our shores, with such alarming frequency?
Why does this nation squander trillions of dollars on “security” and “defense”? Why does this nation maintain fleets and hundreds of costly military bases all over the globe? Why does this nation dissipate its treasure deploying the world’s most massive killing machine?
We may never solve these riddles unless we better understand both human nature and the nature of war. Toward that end, here I’ll pose some questions; these may imply some answers, if only fragmentary ones.
Let’s start with “human nature” (whatever that means). Why does “human nature” seem often to lead to destruction of others and of ourselves? [To really explore this issue, see Erich Fromm’s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, published in 1973 during the Viet Nam War.] Is brutality just part of who we are? Does militarism — highly organized violence — stem from our mammalian or primate pedigree? Or, as some might plausibly suggest, is it a male thing? Would women-led societies be steeped in militarism?
Who “volunteers” to be the cannon fodder and why? Don’t many enlistments – mostly male — stem from the “poverty draft” and from chauvinistic indoctrination? What impact does war have on those who serve and fight? How many come home intact? When the warriors come home, how do they and their families fare?
But maybe human nature – and men — get a bad rap. Perhaps war isn’t human or even male, but a reflex or emanation of power structures. Such structures aren’t persons: most humans have no say in the power structures’ callous indifference to life. These structures – mostly regimes and corporations — tend to be machines with connected but blindered parts.
Each nut and bolt plays its little role often oblivious to its contribution to the machine’s malign functioning. Usually those who have risen to positions of oversight and command internalize the machine’s inhuman dynamics. Consciously or not, malevolently or not, these leaders tend to make policy detrimental to the 99%. The logic of their positions calls for achieving short-term gains with little consideration of anyone out of sight, whether socially, geographically or generationally.
Historically, did militarism loom as large as it has over the past century? Was human governance more — or less — warlike before the rise of agriculture millennia ago and before the rise of industrialism two or three centuries ago? Was the power structure as warlike before capitalism turned greed into an MBA program and a science?
On a finite planet, does exponentially rising population lead to exponentially rising aggression? Along with population pressure comes two quantitatively and qualitatively distinct types of consumption – that needed for human survival (essential consumption) and that merely sought for status, comfort or self-indulgence (excessive consumption).
Excessive consumption is at least an order of magnitude greater than essential consumption. But those consuming little more than what is necessary greatly outnumber we who consume far too much. Together both the haves and the have-nots – the over-developed and the not-so-developed nations — wreak havoc on the planet and severely tax its habitats.
Our dependence on increasingly scarce resources (especially fossil fuel) spurs the national and imperial rivalries that intensify militarism. [See Michael T. Klare’s excellent Resource Wars.] And note: within the global power structure much of the world’s limited resources are devoured maintaining the war machine(s). War, itself, is a major engine of ecological mayhem.
Can war – especially offensive or “pre-emptive” war – ever be morally justified? When has resorting to violence, rather than negotiation ever served broad human interests? Doesn’t violence usually or always generate more violence? Doesn’t war corrupt? (What, for example, has become of the billions of dollars the Pentagon can’t account for?)
War and Empire
Who benefits from the organized violence of war? War is enormously profitable for US “defense” industries. These industries shape US governance and foreign policy. This is true whether the target was Viet Nam or the Pentagon’s current land and air wars elsewhere in Asia.
Despite the recent and projected drawdown of troops, will the US imperium ever voluntarily loosen its grip – all those bases! — on regions that corporations and the Pentagon deem strategic? Or must we wait until, like the Soviet empire, impending bankruptcy forces our full withdrawal and demilitarization?
Without designated “bad guys,” corporate war profiteering would wither. Negotiation risks leading to a peace settlement; peace is the enemy of the war industry. The war industry, through lobbying and by financing election campaigns, buys and sells Congressional representatives. These kept men and women, in cahoots with the Pentagon and with the Executive branch, keep the war pot boiling.
Just look at all the manufactured frenzy about Iran – as if modern Iran has ever invaded its neighbors; as if Iran itself wasn’t totally flanked by saber-rattling nuclear powers; as if Iran had a fraction of the air (or land or sea) power of the US and Israel.
Nationalism and Patriotism
What is the role of nationalism and patriotism – each a type of tribalism, each promoted by imperialism — in fostering war? Considering how many of the victims are non-white or Islamic, what role does white racism and “Christianity” play in the mindsets that make mass killing so casual?
By refusing to close Guantanamo and by authorizing the Reaper drone’s extrajudicial and civilian killings, Congress and the Pentagon assure that whole swaths of the Middle East and Central Asia will long remain hostile to the US. Since US contempt for the “other” isn’t a policy calculated to “win hearts and minds”; i.e., to quell hostilities, what is it calculated to do?
We can imagine why the 1% don’t embrace nonviolence. But why do the insights of prophets like Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. elude so many of the 99%? Is it “false consciousness”; how has Debs’ subject class come to be so misled and dumbed down? Is critical thinking so absent from school curricula and university courses? Are our minds so colonized and compartmentalized that we can’t see the consequences of our actions?
To mobilize the US population to support its interventions and invasions, the Bush administration eagerly seized on 9/11 as a pretext for its phony “war on terrorism.” I say “phony” because many questions about 9/11 are studiously avoided. For example, the official 9/11 commission failed to investigate leads suggesting that elements of the Bush administration, despite pointed warnings, chose not to take measures preventing that holocaust. [For a quick video on some of the gaps in the official narrative, see www.corbettreport.com/911-a-conspiracy-theory/].
Although “terrorism” is incessantly invoked by politicians and the corporate media, defining the word seems to be taboo. Surely such a taboo will persist as long as the Pentagon – with its gunships, napalm, Reaper drones, white phosphorus, cluster bombs, hellfire missiles, cruise missiles, etc., etc. – keeps raining terror on poorly defended peoples.
Weakness or Strength?
Do militarism and the imposition of a surveillance state make a nation safe and strong — or vulnerable and weak? The “war on terrorism,” it turns out, has been a wonderful device for stifling dissent and ratcheting up surveillance and social control here in the US — witness the Patriot Acts and the recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act. Witness the prosecution of Dr. Rafil Dhafir and the calculated intimidation of Muslims here in Syracuse – a pattern repeated across the country.
Why do we refuse to see what the Pentagon does, not only over there, but here? The trillions squandered on US land and air wars provide the rationale for class-targeted domestic budget cuts. Such cuts help heighten the privilege precious to the 1%, and to those who curry their favor or aspire to join their ranks.
Such cuts decimate the safety nets that reduce human despair and help assure domestic tranquility. The ensuing social discord is then used to justify the further militarization of our police. With that domestic militarization the US itself insidiously becomes an occupied territory. Unlike people of color, middle class white folk seem blithefully unaware of the process. As the middle class shrivels that ignorance will diminish.
And can’t we see our complicity in our own oppression? Don’t we contribute to militarism through the federal taxes we pay – about half of which goes to the Pentagon? The Pentagon, of course, then funnels much of this swag to its corporate cronies.
Are we so caught up in personal debt, are our lifestyles too snared in addiction, distraction and co-optation, that we can’t think straight? Are we so snared that our hearts have gone AWOL?
Don’t we give a damn that our children are inheriting an increasingly depleted and dangerous world? Or that our nation’s much vaunted democracy – like our proud Judeo-Christianity – risks becoming a soulless sham.…
Did the U.S. Create a Civil War in Iraq?
At he Fort Bragg ceremony honoring the return of U.S. troops from Iraq, President Barack Obama boasted that the U.S. had accomplished “an extraordinary achievement nine years in the making.”
“Everything that the American troops have done in Iraq–all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering–all of it has led to this moment of success,” Obama said. “[W]e’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.”
Such claims are a lie. None of this rhetoric can disguise the terrible waste of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq–as many as 1 million Iraqis dead, millions more driven from their homes, along with 4,500 U.S. soldiers killed, 32,000 wounded and nearly $1 trillion gone.
Obama’s claims about America’s “extraordinary achievement” in Iraq are Orwellian. In reality, the U.S. war and occupation further wrecked an already devastated country, left it in a shambles rather than rebuild it and stoked sectarianism between Iraq’s three main groups–Kurds, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims.
The U.S. already precipitated one civil war between Sunnis and Shias in 2006. And now, sectarian conflicts are threatening to explode again.
Shortly after the U.S. withdrawal, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia, attempted to arrest Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni. Hashimi fled to the Kurdish region for sanctuary. Sunni Salafists, who view Shias as infidels, have launched a wave of attacks that killed scores of Shia during their religious holiday of Arbaeen.
Post-occupation Iraq may be poised to descend into three-cornered warfare.
In the 1970s, Iraqis–though living under the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein’s regime–had achieved economic development and living standards on a par with Greece.
Over the last three decades, the U.S. has wrecked the country.
The U.S. launched the 1991 Gulf War to prevent Iraq from becoming a regional power that could threaten American control over the Middle East and its strategic oil reserves. The first Gulf War killed 300,000 Iraqis and destroyed the country’s infrastructure. Afterward, sanctions crippled Iraq’s economy, prevented reconstruction of the country, and led to the deaths of as many as 1.5 million more people.
In 2003, the Bush administration justified its invasion of the country with fabricated claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. In reality, Bush hoped the invasion would begin a series of regime changes in the region, including in Iran and Syria. With allied regimes in place in these countries, the U.S. would be able to dominate the region, control access to oil and thereby assert power over its international rivals, especially China.
The invasion quickly succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein. But in short order, the Iraqi resistance to occupation destroyed Bush’s imperial fantasies.
Nevertheless, the U.S. occupation inflicted a terrible price on Iraqis. The Lancet medical journal estimated that between the invasion in March 2003 and June 2006, there were 650,000 civilian deaths directly and indirectly attributable to the war. Opinion Research Business, a British polling agency, used the Lancet‘s methodology to estimate over a million civilian deaths between March 2003 and August 2007.
Far from rebuilding Iraq as promised, Iraq remains in worse shape today, eight years after the invasion, than it was Saddam Hussein.
Outside of the Kurdish north, most Iraqis still go without regular electricity and don’t have reliable supplies of potable water. The Iraqi economy is in disastrous shape, with sky-high levels of unemployment and poverty. Journalist Juan Cole reports that the number of Iraqis living in slums jumped from 17 percent before the occupation to 50 percent today.
Instead of leaving behind a stable democracy responsive to its people, the U.S. established a corrupt state similar to that in Lebanon. Kurdish, Sunni and Shia ruling classes compete, via their political parties, in a three-way battle for the spoils of the national government. According to Transparency International, Iraq’s new government is the eighth-most corrupt in the world.
Perhaps the single-worst aspect of the entire legacy of occupation is the sectarianism and ethnic chauvinism that the U.S. consciously stoked and then used as the basis of the country’s new political system.
Iraq had a history of ethnic and religious oppression–though nominally secular, Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime was predominantly Sunni. It repressed Kurdish aspirations for self-determination, and crushed Kurdish and Shia uprisings at the end of the first Gulf War.
Iraq, however, did not have a history of mass sectarianism and ethnic cleansing. But the U.S. occupation magnified and militarized these divisions, eventually triggering a full-blown civil war between Sunnis and Shias in Baghdad during 2006.
Iraq’s three major groups–Shia, Sunni and Kurds–reacted differently to the 2003 invasion.
The Sunni ruling class saw the U.S. war as an attack on its historic control over the country–confirmed by the occupation authorities’ “de-Baathification” program that hit Sunnis the hardest–and it went into resistance right away. The Kurdish ruling class, on the other hand, saw the invasion as a chance to consolidate its autonomous zone in the North, established after the first Gulf War.
The Shia ruling class and its religious parties Dawa and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) tried to use the invasion to gain control of the new government. Since the Shia were a majority of Iraq’s population, Dawa and the ISCI pressed hard for elections to consolidate their dominance–which encouraged Sunnis to view them with hostility. Only the Shia nationalist Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army organized protests against the occupation.
When the U.S. targeted Sadr and his followers with repression, it raised the possibility of an Arab opposition uniting Sunnis and Shia against the occupation. In response, the U.S. turned to the oldest trick in the imperialist book–divide and conquer.
When the U.S. appointed up an Interim Governing Council, it used the Lebanese model, assigning each community representatives in proportion to their percentage of the population. But the pressure continued for elections. When they came, the U.S. had designed them in a fashion that cemented the religious and ethnic divisions in Iraqi society.
As author Nir Rosen wrote:
Iraq’s election law itself seemed designed to promote civil war. Although the diverse country is divide into 18 province, it had only one electoral district…Ethnic and religious blocs preferred one district because they were nationally known, and they would be able to avoid challengers who had genuine grassroots local support.
Faced with impending defeat, the Sunni elite called for a boycott of the elections, which culminated in the victory for a succession of Shia-dominated governments. Sunni Salafist forces organized in various formations, including Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The Salafists staged a series of bombings and attacks on Shia civilians. Even the Sadrists turned against the Sunnis then.
A civil war between Shia and Sunni exploded in 2006, with Baghdad as the chief battleground.
Instead of using its occupation forces to stop the conflict, the U.S. fueled it. Washington’s Ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, had made his mark during the Reagan administration, backing death squads in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua against left-wing movements and governments.
Negroponte implemented the so-called “Salvador Option” of backing Shia death squads against the Sunni resistance. He encouraged the Shia ISCI party to incorporate its militia, the Badr Brigades, into the Interior Ministry’s security forces. He then encouraged them to target not only the Salafists, but also the Sunni resistance itself.
The Shia-dominated Badr Bridgades and sections of Sadr’s Mahdi Army launched a massive counter-attack against Sunnis in Baghdad. Entire neighborhoods were ethnically cleansed.
In the end, according to the UN Refugee Agency, the fighting drove 4.7 million from their homes. Over 2 million mostly Sunnis fled the country, half of them to Syria, and another 2 million were internally displaced.
“There is no national identity any longer,” Ghassan al-Attiyah, an Iraqi political scientist and commentator, told journalist Patrick Cockburn. “Iraqis are either Sunni, Shia or Kurd.”
Negroponte and the U.S. had another twist in store. In 2007, the U.S. made overtures to sections of the Sunni elite–as part of the so-called “surge” of troops into Iraq–with the aim of exploiting divisions between the broader Sunni resistance and the Salafist groups. Over the protests of the Maliki government, the U.S. hired 100,000 Sunni resistance fighters and paid them $300 a month to form the Awakening Councils to fight a proxy war against the Salafists.
U.S. policies enflamed the sectarian conflict not only in Iraq, but across the Middle East.
The U.S. had planned to move on from Iraq to take down the Shia-dominated regime in Iran and Iran’s allies in power in Syria. But bogged down by the Iraqi resistance and the civil war, the U.S. hand in the Middle East was growing weaker. Iran gradually became as influential in Iraq as the U.S. itself.
The U.S. responded by raising the specter of a “Shia Crescent,” headquartered in Iran and extending through a Shia-dominated Iraq to Syria and the forces of Hezbollah in Lebanon. As Nir Rosen wrote, “The Bush administration contributed to regional sectarianism, seeking to bolster the so-called ‘moderate Sunni regimes’ (dictatorships like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, viewed as moderate because they collaborated with Israel and the United States) against Iran or Hezbollah.”
U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia were only too happy to respond to the call for a network of Sunni states aligned with the U.S. against Iran and its influence in Iraq. The Saudis, along with the U.S. and Turkey, poured money into Iraqiya, an Iraqi party led by the secular Shia Ayad Allawi, but which had won 80 percent of the Sunni vote in recent elections. Iran, on the other hand, backed the Shia formations, from ISCI to Dawa and the Sadrists.
The battle over control of the Iraqi state came to a head in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Because of disagreements among them, the Shia parties didn’t put up candidates as part of a united slate, and Iraqiya was able to win the largest block of seats in parliament. Nevertheless, Maliki was able to unite the Shia parties to form a government.
The Sadrists agreed to participate–but on the condition that Maliki refuse to renegotiate the Status of Forces Agreement that the Bush administration had struck with the Iraqi government in 2008. Under the agreement, the U.S. was required to withdraw completely from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Despite pressure from the Obama administration to allow some number of U.S. military troops to remain in Iraq, with immunity from prosecution, Maliki refused to go along, and the U.S. was forced to pull its last soldiers out of Iraq in the middle of the night on December 18.
With the U.S. left with only a force of mercenaries in Iraq working for the State Department out of the giant Baghdad embassy, the situation in Iraq has reached a new stage–and the sectarian conflict threatens to explode once again into civil war.
Each of the sections of Iraqi ruling class is angling for full or partial control over the state, leadership of Iraq’s 900,000 military troops and police, and access to the country’s huge oil revenues.
The Kurdish ruling class, represented by Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, aims to consolidate its autonomous province and seize control of the contested city of Kirkuk, with its large oil reserves. Sunni politicians, represented in parliament by Allawi’s Irakiya party, want to establish a Sunni autonomous zone. Meanwhile, Shia leaders in Nuri al-Maliki’s coalition government aim to consolidate their rule over the country as a whole.
These schisms have detonated a political crisis.
Less than 24 hours after U.S. forces withdrew, Maliki, responding to an assassination attempt, ordered the arrest of Hashimi, the Sunni vice president of the coalition government, on terrorism charges mainly relating to the 2006-07 period. Hashimi fled to the autonomous Kurdish territory, where he remains. Maliki’s forces were able to arrest the vice president’s bodyguards, who were coerced into confessing to terrorist activities on national television.
Thousands of Sunnis have protested in various cities against the threatened arrest of Hashimi. The Iraqiya Party is now boycotting parliament and cabinet meetings to protest what it describes as Maliki’s attempt to consolidate dictatorial power, particularly over the security forces. Iraqiya is calling for Maliki to step down or face a no confidence vote.
At the same time, Sunni Salafist guerillas have launched a wave of attacks on Shia civilians and religious pilgrims. The Salafists have killed 145 Shias on a pilgrimage during the Arbaeen holidays. In one horrific attack on January 5, Salafists killed 78 pilgrims in Nasiriyah.
It is hard to predict whether the political crisis will descend into a full-blown civil war, but there are certainly dynamics driving in that direction.
For their part, the Salafists are intent on causing this. Leaders among the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish ruling classes also have an interest in playing the sectarian card to divert the anger of a desperate working class and urban poor onto other religious and ethnic groups.
The flashpoints are clear. Maliki’s attempt to consolidate a Shia state is a provocation to both Sunnis and Kurds. As Nir Rosen writes, “Government buildings are decorated with Shiite flags, banners and posters, and these can be seen even on Iraqi Army and Police vehicles and checkpoints. Not only is there no separation of church and state, there is no separation of state and sect.”
The Sunni elite’s demand for a Sunni autonomous zone could lead to another round of ethnic cleansing. Any such zone would contain a significant Shia minority who would be second-class citizens. No doubt the Salafists would take the opportunity to target the Shia, and this would provoke counter-attacks on Sunni minorities in predominantly Shia areas.
The Sunni Awakening Councils could also turn against the Shia government. The U.S., which had been bankrolling the Awakening Councils, has pressured Maliki into continue the payments and incorporating the councils into the Iraqi military. But Maliki has only hired one-sixth of these fighters. The well-armed Awakening Councils could be the basis of Sunni military attacks on Maliki’s ramshackle army.
Meanwhile, the long-simmering conflict between Arab and Kurdish rulers in Iraq could explode over control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Kirkuk sits on key oil reserves that would be a bonanza for whoever rules over it. A long-running, low-intensity conflict between Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Arabs could reignite at any time.
On the other hand, there are interests and dynamics that could prevent the slide toward civil war.
The Shia, Sunni and Kurdish ruling classes have a stake in maintaining access to the national state and its oil profits. If the conflict goes too far, this would undermine their ability to continue to enrich themselves through state office.
As journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote:
Disaster may come, but perhaps not yet. Iraqi politics can be misleading because, with the country so violent at the best of times, furious political confrontations do not necessarily lead to all-out conflict. Each side has a lot to lose from the final disintegration of the state.
Sunni rulers also recognize that they lost the last battle with Shia forces, and that they would likely lose any fight with either the Kurds, who have their own military forces in the Peshmerga, or the Shia, who control Iraqi military as well as a network of their own militias.
Among the Iraqi masses, there is also a deep weariness after three decades of war, sanctions, occupation and civil war. There is mass discontent with the entire government and distrust of national political parties that are widely perceived as corrupt, and only out to stuff their own pockets with government cash.
But no national political force has emerged to galvanize a united resistance among workers and urban poor against the government and the sectarian and chauvinist parties that dominate it. At various points, Iraqi oil workers seemed to point a way forward, but they have yet to create a national union movement nor a political party of their own that can break out of the stranglehold of communalist politics.
The U.S. and regional powers like Iran and Saudi Arabia will also be a factor in whether or not Iraq erupts in another civil war.
Each side in Iraq is weak in important ways, and so it looks to international sponsors for money and support. The Kurds look to the U.S. The Sunnis look to Saudi Arabia. And the Shia look to Iran and Syria. Thus, the growing schisms between the U.S. and the Sunni regimes it is allied with on the one hand, and Iran and its Shia allies on the other, will rebound into Iraq.
The U.S. remains the key player in all this. It has suffered a major defeat by having been forced to withdraw its military forces from Iraq. As a result, Iran has emerged as the principal victor of the Iraq war, with increased influence in the region. It now has a government dominated by Shia parties in control of Iraq to add to its historic relationship with the regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The U.S. also faces a threat from below in the form of the Arab Revolutions, which have toppled two U.S. allies in Tunisia and Egypt and shaken other regimes in Washington’s network of Sunni monarchies and dictatorships.
But the U.S. is determined to shore up its declining influence in the region. It wants to maintain its power in Iraq itself. It still retains a large military base in the country, otherwise known as the U.S. Embassy. This facility is the size of 80 football fields and employs 16,000 staff, 5,000 of whom are military contractors. The U.S. hopes to be the broker between the various forces inside Iraq, using its alliance with the Sunnis and Kurds to prevent the full consolidation of a Shia state aligned with Iran.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is escalating its conflict with Iran, using the cover of Iran supposedly developing–does this sound familiar?–nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Washington’s allies Israel and Saudi Arabia are also important actors in a conflict that revolves around the same imperial interests at stake in the invasion of Iraq–control of Middle East oil and geopolitical dominance.
Thus, the sectarian conflict that the U.S. stoked in Iraq is being reproduced on a regional level–with the U.S., Israel and a network of Sunni regimes confronting Iran’s Shia government and its allies. The catastrophe that took place with the civil war in Iraq–and that threatens to break out again–could play out regionally, with horrifying consequences.
The hope amid this horror is working class solidarity across the ethnic and religious divisions. This is not a fantasy, but has been demonstrated at the high points of the Arab revolutions, such as the efforts to unite Muslims in defense of the oppressed Christian Copt minority in Egypt.
In reality, only the ruling class benefits from such communalist divisions. Sectarianism cannot provide jobs, electricity, food nor housing for working people and the poor. The working class in Iraq and throughout the Middle East will have to combat sectarianism, religious oppression and national oppression on the road to uniting the Arab working class in a struggle for a new Middle East.
Only such a struggle can stop the horrors that imperialism has unleashed in the form of ethnic cleansing, civil war, and regional war.
The US War against Iraq
The Destruction of a Civilization
The US seven-year war and occupation of Iraq is driven by several major political forces and informed by a variety of imperial interests. However these interests do not in themselves explain the depth and scope of the sustained, massive and continuing destruction of an entire society and its reduction to a permanent state of war. The range of political forces contributing to the making of the war and the subsequent US occupation include the following (in order of importance).
The most important political force was also the least openly discussed. The Zionist Power Configuration (ZPC), which includes the prominent role of long-time, hard-line unconditional Jewish supporters of the State of Israel appointed to top positions in the Bush Pentagon (Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz ), key operative in the Office of the Vice President (Irving (Scooter) Libby), the Treasury Department (Stuart Levey), the National Security Council (Elliot Abrams) and a phalanx of consultants, Presidential speechwriters (David Frum), secondary officials and policy advisers to the State Department. These committed Zionists ‘insiders’ were buttressed by thousands of full-time Israel-First functionaries in the 51 major American Jewish organizations, which form the President of the Major American Jewish Organizations (PMAJO). They openly stated that their top priority was to advance Israel’s agenda, which, in this case, was a US war against Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, occupy the country, physically divide Iraq, destroy its military and industrial capability and impose a pro-Israel/pro-US puppet regime. If Iraq were ethnically cleansed and divided, as advocated by the ultra-right, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the ‘Liberal’ President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and militarist-Zionist, Leslie Gelb, there would be more than several ‘client regimes’.
Top Zionist policymakers who promoted the war did not initially directly pursue the policy of systematically destroying what, in effect, was the entire Iraqi civilization. But their support and design of an occupation policy included the total dismemberment of the Iraqi state apparatus and recruitment of Israeli advisers to provide their ‘expertise’ in interrogation techniques, repression of civilian resistance and counter-insurgency. Israeli expertise certainly played a role in fomenting the intra-Iraqi religious and ethnic strife, which Israel had mastered in Palestine. The Israeli ‘model’ of colonial war and occupation – the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 – and the practice of ‘total destruction’ using sectarian, ethno-religious division was evident in the notorious massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, which took place under Israeli military supervision.
The second powerful political force behind the Iraq War were civilian militarists (like Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney) who sought to extend US imperial reach in the Persian Gulf and strengthen its geo-political position by eliminating a strong, secular, nationalist backer of Arab anti-imperialist insurgency in the Middle East. The civilian militarists sought to extend the American military base encirclement of Russia and secure control over Iraqi oil reserves as a pressure point against China. The civilian militarists were less moved by Vice President Cheney’s past ties with the oil industry and more interested in his role as CEO of Halliburton’s giant military base contractor subsidiary Kellogg-Brown and Root, which was consolidating the US Empire through worldwide military base expansion. Major US oil companies, who feared losing out to European and Asian competitors, were already eager to deal with Saddam Hussein, and some of the Bush’s supporters in the oil industry had already engaged in illegal trading with the embargoed Iraqi regime. The oil industry was not inclined to promote regional instability with a war.
The militarist strategy of conquest and occupation was designed to establish a long-term colonial military presence in the form of strategic military bases with a significant and sustained contingent of colonial military advisors and combat units. The brutal colonial occupation of an independent secular state with a strong nationalist history and an advanced infrastructure with a sophisticated military and police apparatus, extensive public services and wide-spread literacy naturally led to the growth of a wide array of militant and armed anti-occupation movements. In response, US colonial officials, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agencies devised a ‘divide and rule’ strategy (the so-called ‘El Salvador solution’ associated with the former ‘hot-spot’ Ambassador and US Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte) fomenting armed sectarian-based conflicts and promoting inter-religious assassinations to debilitate any effort at a united nationalist anti-imperialist movement. The dismantling of the secular civilian bureaucracy and military was designed by the Zionists in the Bush Administration to enhance Israel’s power in the region and to encourage the rise of militant Islamic groups, which had been repressed by the deposed Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. Israel had mastered this strategy earlier: It originally sponsored and financed sectarian Islamic militant groups, like Hamas, as an alternative to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization and set the stage for sectarian fighting among the Palestinians.
The result of US colonial policies were to fund and multiply a wide range of internal conflicts as mullahs, tribal leaders, political gangsters, warlords, expatriates and death squads proliferated. The ‘war of all against all’ served the interests of the US occupation forces. Iraq became a pool of armed, unemployed young men, from which to recruit a new mercenary army. The ‘civil war’ and ‘ethnic conflict’ provided a pretext for the US and its Iraqi puppets to discharge hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police and functionaries from the previous regime (especially if they were from Sunni, mixed or secular families) and to undermine the basis for civilian employment. Under the cover of generalized ‘war against terror’, US Special Forces and CIA-directed death squads spread terror within Iraqi civil society, targeting anyone suspected of criticizing the puppet government – especially among the educated and professional classes, precisely the Iraqis most capable of re-constructing an independent secular republic.
The Iraq war was driven by an influential group of neo-conservative and neo-liberal ideologues with strong ties to Israel. They viewed the success of the Iraq war (by success they meant the total dismemberment of the country) as the first ‘domino’ in a series of war to ‘re-colonize’ the Middle East (in their words: “to re-draw the map”). They disguised their imperial ideology with a thin veneer of rhetoric about ‘promoting democracies’ in the Middle East (excluding, of course, the un-democratic policies of their ‘homeland’ Israel over its subjugated Palestinians). Conflating Israeli regional hegemonic ambitions with the US imperial interests, the neo-conservatives and their neo-liberal fellow travelers in the Democratic Party first backed President Bush and later President Obama in their escalation of the wars against Afghanistan and Pakistan. They unanimously supported Israel’s savage bombing campaign against Lebanon, the land and air assault and massacre of thousands of civilians trapped in Gaza, the bombing of Syrian facilities and the big push (from Israel) for a pre-emptive, full-scale military attack against Iran.
The US advocates of sequential and multiple simultaneous wars in the Middle East and South Asia believed that they could only unleash the full strength of their mass destructive power after they had secured total control of their first victim, Iraq. They were confident that Iraqi resistance would collapse rapidly after 13 years of brutal starvation sanctions imposed on the republic by the US and United Nations. In order to consolidate imperial control, American policy-makers decided to permanently silence all independent Iraqi civilian dissidents. They turned to the financing of Shia clerics and Sunni tribal assassins, and contracting scores of thousands of private mercenaries among the Kurdish Peshmerga warlords to carry out selective assassinations of leaders of civil society movements.
The US created and trained a 200,000 member Iraqi colonial puppet army composed almost entirely of Shia gunmen, and excluded experienced Iraqi military men from secular, Sunni or Christian backgrounds. A little known result of this build up of American trained and financed death squads and its puppet ‘Iraqi’ army, was the virtual destruction of the ancient Iraqi Christian population, which was displaced, its churches bombed and its leaders, bishops and intellectuals, academics and scientists assassinated or driven into exile. The US and its Israeli advisers were well aware that Iraqi Christians had played a key role the historic development of the secular, nationalist, anti-British/anti-monarchist movements and their elimination as an influential force during the first years of US occupation was no accident. The result of the US policies were to eliminate most secular democratic anti-imperialist leaders and movements and to present their murderous net-work of ‘ethno-religious’ collaborators as their uncontested ‘partners’ in sustaining the long-term US colonial presence in Iraq. With their puppets in power, Iraq would serve as a launching platform for its strategic pursuit of the other ‘dominoes’ (Syria, Iran, Central Asian Republics…).
The sustained bloody purge of Iraq under US occupation resulted in the killing 1.3 million Iraqi civilians during the first 7 years after Bush invaded in March 2003. Up to mid-2009, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has officially cost the American treasury over $666 billion. This enormous expenditure attests to its centrality in the larger US imperial strategy for the entire Middle East/South and Central Asia region. Washington’s policy of politicizing and militarizing ethno-religious differences, arming and encouraging rival tribal, religious and ethnic leaders to engage in mutual bloodletting served to destroy national unity and resistance. The ‘divide and rule’ tactics and reliance on retrograde social and religious organizations is the commonest and best-known practice in pursuing the conquest and subjugation of a unified, advanced nationalist state. Breaking up the national state, destroying nationalist consciousness and encouraging primitive ethno-religious, feudal and regional loyalties required the systematic destruction of the principal purveyors of nationalist consciousness, historical memory and secular, scientific thought. Provoking ethno-religious hatreds destroyed intermarriages, mixed communities and institutions with their long-standing personal friendships and professional ties among diverse backgrounds. The physical elimination of academics, writers, teachers, intellectuals, scientists and professionals, especially physicians, engineers, lawyers, jurists and journalists was decisive in imposing ethno-religious rule under a colonial occupation. To establish long-term dominance and sustain ethno-religious client rulers, the entire pre-existing cultural edifice, which had sustained an independent secular nationalist state, was physically destroyed by the US and its Iraqi puppets. This included destroying the libraries, census bureaus, and repositories of all property and court records, health departments, laboratories, schools, cultural centers, medical facilities and above all the entire scientific-literary-humanistic social scientific class of professionals. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi professionals and family members were driven by terror into internal and external exile. All funding for national, secular, scientific and educational institutions were cut off. Death squads engaged in the systematic murder of thousands of academics and professionals suspected of the least dissent, the least nationalist sentiment; anyone with the least capacity to re-construct the republic was marked.
The Destruction of a Modern Arab Civilization
Independent, secular Iraq had the most advanced scientific-cultural order in the Arab world, despite the repressive nature of Saddam Hussein’s police state. There was a system of national health care, universal public education and generous welfare services, combined with unprecedented levels of gender equality. This marked the advanced nature of Iraqi civilization in the late 20th century. Separation of church and state and strict protection of religious minorities (Christians, Assyrians and others) contrasts sharply with what has resulted from the US occupation and its destruction of the Iraqi civil and governmental structures. The harsh dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein thus presided over a highly developed modern civilization in which advanced scientific work went hand in hand with a strong nationalist and anti-imperialist identity. This resulted especially in the Iraqi people and regime’s expressions of solidarity for the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli rule and occupation.
A mere ‘regime change’ could not extirpate this deeply embedded and advanced secular republican culture in Iraq. The US war planners and their Israeli advisers were well aware that colonial occupation would increase Iraqi nationalist consciousness unless the secular nation was destroyed and hence, the imperial imperative to uproot and destroy the carriers of nationalist consciousness by physically eliminating the educated, the talented, the scientific, indeed the most secular elements of Iraqi society. Retrogression became the principal instrument for the US to impose its colonial puppets, with their primitive, ‘pre-national’ loyalties, in power in a culturally purged Baghdad stripped of its most sophisticated and nationalistic social strata.
According to the Al-Ahram Studies Center in Cairo, more that 310 Iraqi scientists were eliminated during the first 18 months of the US occupation – a figure that the Iraqi education ministry did not dispute.
Another report listed the killings of more than 340 intellectuals and scientists between 2005 and 2007. Bombings of institutes of higher education had pushed enrollment down to 30% of the pre-invasion figures. In one bombing in January 2007, at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University 70 students were killed with hundreds wounded. These figures compelled the UNESCO to warn that Iraq’s university system was on the brink of collapse. The numbers of prominent Iraqi scientists and professionals who have fled the country have approached 20,000. Of the 6,700 Iraqi university professors who fled since 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported than only 150 had returned by October 2008. Despite the US claims of improved security, the situation in 2008 saw numerous assassinations, including the only practicing neurosurgeon in Iraq’s second largest city of Basra, whose body was dumped on the city streets.
The raw data on the Iraqi academics, scientists and professionals assassinated by the US and allied occupation forces and the militias and shadowy forces they control is drawn from a list published by the Pakistan Daily News on November 26, 2008. This list makes for very uncomfortable reading into the reality of systematic elimination of intellectuals in Iraq under the meat-grinder of US occupation.
The physical elimination of an individual by assassination is an extreme form of terrorism, which has far-reaching effects rippling throughout the community from which the individual comes – in this case the world of Iraqi intellectuals, academics, professionals and creative leaders in the arts and sciences. For each Iraqi intellectual murdered, thousands of educated Iraqis fled the country or abandoned their work for safer, less vulnerable activity.
Baghdad was considered the ‘Paris’ of the Arab world, in terms of culture and art, science and education. In the 1970’s and 80’s, its universities were the envy of the Arab world. The US ‘shock and awe’ campaign that rained down on Baghdad evoked emotions akin to an aerial bombardment of the Louvre, the Sorbonne and the greatest libraries of Europe. Baghdad University was one of the most prestigious and productive universities in the Arab world. Many of its academics possessed doctoral degrees and engaged in post-doctoral studies abroad at prestigious institutions. It taught and graduated many of the top professionals and scientists in the Middle East. Even under the deadly grip of the US/UN-imposed economic sanctions that starved Iraq during the 13 years before the March 2003 invasion, thousands of graduate students and young professionals came to Iraq for post-graduate training. Young physicians from throughout the Arab world received advanced medical training in its institutions. Many of its academics presented scientific papers at major international conferences and published in prestigious journals. Most important, Baghdad University trained and maintained a highly respected scientific secular culture free of sectarian discrimination – with academics from all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
This world has been forever shattered: Under US occupation, up to November 2008, eighty-three academics and researchers teaching at Baghdad University had been murdered and several thousand of their colleagues, students and family members were forced to flee.
The Selection of Assassinated Academics by Discipline
The November 2008 article published by the Pakistan Daily News lists the names of a total of 154 top Baghdad-based academics, renowned in their fields, who were murdered. Altogether, a total of 281 well-known intellectuals teaching at the top universities in Iraq fell victim to the ‘death squads’ under US occupation.
Prior to the US occupation, Baghdad University possessed the premier research and teaching medical faculty in the entire Middle East attracting hundreds of young doctors for advanced training. That program has been devastated during the rise of the US-death squad regime, with few prospects of recovery. Of those murdered, 25% (21) were the most senior professors and lecturers in the medical faculty of Baghdad University, the highest percentage of any faculty. The second highest percentage of butchered faculty were the professors and researchers from Baghdad University’s renowned engineering faculty (12), followed by the top academics in the humanities (10), physical and social sciences (8 senior academics each), education (5). The remaining top academics murdered at Baghdad University spread out among the agronomy, business, physical education, communications and religious studies faculties.
At three other Baghdad universities, 53 senior academics were slaughtered, including 10 in the social sciences, 7 in the faculty of law, 6 each in medicine and the humanities, 9 in the physical sciences and 5 in engineering. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s August 20, 2002 pre-invasion joke, “…one has to assume they (scientists) have not been playing ‘tiddlywinks’(a child’s game)” justifying the bloody purge of Iraq’s scientists in physics and chemistry. An ominous signal of the academic bloodletting that followed the invasion.
Similar bloody purges of academics occurred in all the provincial universities: 127 senior academics and scientists were assassinated at the various well-regarded universities in Mosul, Kirkuk, Basra and elsewhere. The provincial universities with the highest number of murdered senior faculty members were in cities where the US and British military and their Kurdish mercenary allies were most active: Basra (35), Mosul (35), Diyala (15) and Al-Anbar (11).
The Iraqi military and allied death squads carried out most of the killing of academics in the cities under US or ‘allied’ control. The systematic murder of academics was a nation-wide, cross-disciplinary drive to destroy the cultural and educational foundations of a modern Arab civilization. The death squads carrying out most of these assassinations were primitive, pre-modern, ethno-religious groups ‘set loose’ or instrumentalized by US military strategists to wipe out any politically conscious intellectuals and nationalist scientists who might pursue an agenda for re-building a modern, secular society and independent, unified republic.
In its panic to prevent the US invasion, the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate provided a list, which identified over 500 key Iraqi scientists to the UN on December 7, 2002. There is little doubt that this list became a core element in the US military’s hit list for eliminating Iraq’s scientific elite. In his notorious pre-invasion speech to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited a list of over 3,500 Iraqi scientists and technicians who would have to be ‘contained’ to prevent their expertise from being used by other countries. The US had even created a ‘budget’ of hundreds of millions of dollars, drawn from the Iraqi ‘Oil for Food’ money held by the United Nations to set up ‘civilian re-education’ programs to re-train Iraqi scientists and engineers. These highly touted programs were never seriously implemented. Cheaper ways of containing what one American policy expert termed Iraq’s ‘excess scientists, engineers and technicians’ in a Carnegie Endowment Paper (RANSAC Policy Update April 2004) became clear. The US had decided to adopt and expand the Israeli Mossad’s covert operation of assassinating selected key Iraqi scientists on an industrial scale.
The US ‘Surge’ and ‘Peak Assassination’ Campaigns: 2006-2007
The high tide of terror against academics coincides with the renewal of the US military offensive in Baghdad and in the provinces. Of the total number of assassinations of Baghdad-based academics for which a date is recorded (110 known intellectuals slaughtered), almost 80% (87) occurred in 2006 and 2007. A similar pattern is found in the provinces with 77% of a total of 84 scholars murdered outside of capital during the same period. The pattern is clear: the murder rate of academics grows as the occupying US forces organize a mercenary Iraqi military and police force and provide money for the training and recruitment of rival Shia and Sunni tribesmen and militia as a means of decreasing American casualties and of purging potential dissident critics of the occupation.
The terror campaign against academics intensified in mid-2005 and reached its peak in 2006-2007, leading to the mass flight of tens of thousands of Iraqi scholars, scientists, professionals and their families overseas. Entire university medical school faculties have become refugees in Syria and elsewhere. Those who could not afford to abandon elderly parents or relatives and remained in Iraq have taken extraordinary measures to hide their identities. Some have chosen to collaborate with the US occupation forces or the puppet regime in the hope of being protected or allowed to immigrate with their families to the US or Europe, although the Europeans, especially the British are disinclined to accept Iraqi scholars. After 2008, there has been a sharp decline in the murder of academics – with only 4 assassinated that year. This reflects the massive flight of Iraqi intellectuals living abroad or in hiding rather than any change of policy on the part of the US and its mercenary puppets. As a result, Iraq’s research facilities have been decimated. The lives of those remaining support staff, including technicians, librarians and students have been devastated with few prospects for future employment.
The US war and occupation of Iraq, as Presidents Bush and Obama have declared, is a ‘success’ – an independent nation of 23 million citizens has been occupied by force, a puppet regime is ensconced, colonial mercenary troops obey American officers and the oil fields have been put up for sale. All of Iraq’s nationalist laws protecting its patrimony, its cultural treasures and national resources, have been annulled. The occupiers have imposed a ‘constitution’ favoring the US Empire. Israel and its Zionist flunkies in the Administrations of both Bush and Obama celebrate the demise of a modern adversary… and the conversion of Iraq into a cultural-political desert. In line with an alleged agreement made by the US State Department and Pentagon officials to influential collectors from the American Council for Cultural Policy in January 2003, the looted treasures of ancient Mesopotamia have ‘found’ their way into the collections of the elite in London, New York and elsewhere. The collectors can now anticipate the pillage of Iran.
Warning to Iran
The US invasion, occupation and destruction of a modern, scientific-cultural civilization, such as existed in Iraq, is a prelude of what the people of Iran can expect if and when a US-Israeli military attack occurs. The imperial threat to the cultural-scientific foundations of the Iranian nation has been totally absent from the narrative among the affluent Iranian student protesters and their US-funded NGO’s during their post-election ‘Lipstick Revolution’ protests. They should bear in mind that in 2004 educated, sophisticated Iraqis in Baghdad consoled themselves with a fatally misplaced optimism that ‘at least we are not like Afghanistan’. The same elite are now in squalid refugee camps in Syria and Jordan and their country more closely resembles Afghanistan than anywhere else in the Middle East. The chilling promise of President Bush in April 2003 to transform Iraq in the image of ‘our newly liberated Afghanistan’ has been fulfilled. And reports that the US Administration advisers had reviewed the Israeli Mossad policy of selective assassination of Iranian scientists should cause the pro-Western liberal intellectuals of Tehran to seriously ponder the lesson of the murderous campaign that has virtually eliminated Iraqi scientists and academics during 2006-2007.
What does the United States (and Britain and Israel) gain from establishing a retrograde client regime, based on medieval ethno-clerical socio-political structures in Iraq? First and foremost, Iraq has become an outpost for empire. Secondly, it is a weak and backward regime incapable of challenging Israeli economic and military dominance in the region and unwilling to question the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian Arabs from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Thirdly, the destruction of the scientific, academic, cultural and legal foundations of an independent state means increasing reliance on the Western (and Chinese) multinational corporations and their technical infrastructure – facilitating imperial economic penetration and exploitation.
In the mid 19th Century, after the revolutions of 1848, the conservative French sociologist Emil Durkheim recognized that the European bourgeoisie was confronted with rising class conflict and an increasing anti-capitalist working class. Durkheim noted that, whatever its philosophical misgivings about religion and clericalism, the bourgeoisie would have to use the myths of traditional religion to ‘create’ social cohesion and undercut class polarization. He called on the educated and sophisticated Parisian capitalist class to forgo its rejection of obscurantist religious dogma in favor of instrumentalizing religion as a tool to maintain its political dominance. In the same way, US strategists, including the Pentagon-Zionists, have instrumentalized the tribal-mullah, ethno-religious forces to destroy the secular national political leadership and advanced culture of Iraq in order to consolidate imperial rule – even if this strategy called for the killing off of the scientific and professional classes. Contemporary US imperial rule is based on supporting the socially and politically most backward sectors of society and applying the most advanced technology of warfare.
Israeli advisers have played a major role in instructing US occupation forces in Iraq on the practices of urban counter-insurgency and repression of civilians, drawing on their 60 years of experience. The infamous massacre of hundreds of Palestinian families at Deir Yasin in 1948 was emblematic of Zionist elimination of hundreds of productive farming villages, which had been settled for centuries by a native people with their endogenous civilization and cultural ties to the soil, in order to impose a new colonial order. The policy of the total deracination of the Palestinians is central to Israel’s advise to the US policymakers in Iraq. Their message has been carried out by their Zionist acolytes in the Bush and Obama Administrations, ordering the dismemberment of the entire modern Iraqi civil and state bureaucracy and using pre-modern tribal death squads made up of Kurds and Shia extremists to purge the modern universities and research institutions of that shattered nation.
The US imperial conquest of Iraq is built on the destruction of a modern secular republic. The cultural desert that remains (a Biblical ‘howling wilderness’ soaked in the blood of Iraq’s precious scholars) is controlled by mega-swindlers, mercenary thugs posing as ‘Iraqi officers’, tribal and ethnic cultural illiterates and medieval religious figures. They operate under the guidance and direction of West Point graduates holding ‘blue-prints for empire’, formulated by graduates of Princeton, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Chicago, eager to serve the interests of American and European multi-national corporations.
This is called ‘combined and uneven development’: The marriage of fundamentalist mullahs with Ivy League Zionists at the service of the US.
Afghanistan: It’s Not a Just War
President Barack Obama delivered a rather odd speech Dec. 10 when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize at ceremonies in Oslo. In the name of peace, he sought to justify former President George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, as well as his own decision Dec. 1 to vastly expand this unnecessary and essentially lost endeavor by ordering another 30,000 troops to the war zone.
In the process, Obama misinterpreted the “Theory of Just War,” the subject of this article, which argues it is not a just war.
Most Republicans, especially the neoconservatives, strongly approved of the speech, largely because of its bellicosity and its justification for Bush’s foray into Afghanistan. Sarah Palin “liked what he said.” Newt Gingrich “thought the speech was actually very good.” Karl Rove defined it as “superb,” “tough” and “effective.” The pro-war Wall Street Journal offered a “Congratulations, Mr. President.”
Antiwar Democrats and the peace movement were critical, but many liberal Democrats praised it, though seemingly less for its rationalization of war and imperialism and more for its smooth intellectual style and philosophical wanderings, as when Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the liberal flagship weekly The Nation, focused on the president’s “humility and grace.”
Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald put it this way: “Much of the liberal praise for Obama’s speech yesterday focused on how eloquent, sophisticated, nuanced, complex, philosophical, contemplative and intellectual it was. And, looked at a certain way, it was all of those things — like so many Obama speeches are. After eight years of enduring a president who spoke in simplistic Manichean imperatives and bullying decrees, many liberals are understandably joyous over having a president who uses their language and the rhetorical approach that resonates with them. But that’s the real danger. Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal policies.”
Obama had little option but to express humility in accepting the Nobel Committee’s award that he himself knew was entirely undeserved and an embarrassment, coming as it did just after his big move to widen the Afghan war. Under the circumstances, he carried off the necessary humility sequence quite well, noting that “Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight.”
About half the Nobel speech was devoted to justifying the Afghan war, while most of the rest was a spirited, idealized, and mendacious defense of the U.S. role in foreign affairs since the end of World War II. Obama’s foreign policy resembles a combination of that put forward by Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush (the elder). It continues the dubious tradition embraced by American presidents since 1945 consisting of seeking hegemony and world supremacy based on overwhelming military power.
In attempting to legitimize Bush’s Afghan war, Obama declared:
Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a ‘just war’ emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence…. The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense…
I believe that all nations, strong and weak alike, must adhere to [just war] standards that govern the use of force…. Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength.
President Obama is incorrect when he suggests that the Afghan war conforms with the theory of just war. Here’s why:
Over the last 1,500 years, secular and religious ethicists have developed the theory of just war. The Roman Catholic Church is a major organizational upholder of the just war concept, but the theory enjoys universal application and is embraced in international law and the UN Charter. This is not a pacifist theory because it finds some wars just and some unjust. For instance, U.S. participation in World War II against German and Japanese imperialism is considered just, but its role in Iraq is termed unjust. Justness, not nonviolence, is the international criterion.
There are nuanced differences in the interpretation of just war theory, but there is general agreement on its six principal stipulations — all of which be must honored for the resort to war to be considered just. Four of the points are relevant to Afghanistan, the most important being “Just Cause.” This means war is permissible to confront “a real and certain danger” — either an attack or imminent attack from another country — and includes self-defense or the defense of others from external aggression.
Afghanistan neither attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, nor was it threatening an imminent attack. This rules out the just cause of self-defense. We will explain this before moving to the other three points.
Al-Qaeda, a small decentralized fundamentalist religious organization on the fringes of Islam was responsible for the attack, not the state or government of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was formed in Afghanistan by Osama bin-Laden, a Saudi exile, in 1988. Its members were drawn from foreign Muslim jihadist fighters taking part in the Afghan civil war (1979-1996) against a left wing government in Kabul that was being defended by Soviet troops, followed by a war between the various Afghan factions after the left was overthrown in 1992. The U.S. financed the anti-government civil war, as did Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on a lesser scale. Al-Qaeda was among the beneficiaries of Washington’s support.
Most al-Qaeda recruits returned to their own countries in the Middle East and Europe after the war. Some set up small branches of the organization where they lived. A sector of al-Qaeda, including bin-Laden, remained in Afghanistan with the approval of the fundamentalist Taliban government, which emerged victorious from the civil war in 1996.
No Afghan was among the 19 Al-Qaeda suicide operatives, armed with box cutters, who hijacked four airliners on 9/11 and slammed one of them into the Pentagon and two others into New York’s World Trade Center, killing about 3,000 people.
Much of the planning for the attack evidently took place in Europe and then in the U.S. There has never been any proof that Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar was aware of the Sept. 11 plan, much less a party to it. Just hours after the Washington and New York City destruction, the Taliban authorities denounced the attacks. At the same time, Afghanistan’s Taliban ambassador to Pakistan stated to the media “We want to tell the American children that Afghanistan feels your pain. We hope the courts find justice.”
President Bush immediately rejected suggestions for a major international police effort to apprehend the leaders of the attack. Instead, after conferring with his neoconservative advisers, he defined this small-group terrorist raid as an act of war carried out from Afghan territory with the connivance of the Taliban government. This allowed Bush to declare an open-ended “War on Terrorism,” paving the way for his Oct. 7 bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, and then Iraq in March 2003.
Another of the just war points is “Last Resort. This means a country may resort to war only after exhausting every other possible alternative. This is reflected in the UN Charter, which calls for serious efforts to resolve differences nonviolently through diplomacy or the courts, before the resort to military means. Bush rejected an offer by the Taliban to produce bin-Laden if the U.S. wouldn’t invade. Its only stipulation was that Washington provide proof that the al-Qaeda leader actually committed the crime, as would any country asked to surrender a suspect to another country. Bush swiftly refused, ruled out any negotiations, and began a bombing campaign and invasion. President Obama said in Oslo that “America did not seek” the Afghan war, but war was Bush’s first resort, not last, as was the case 18 months later when he attacked Iraq.
A third stipulation is “Right Intention” — i.e., fighting only on behalf of an expressed just cause without a trace of ulterior motivation such as the acquisition of power, land, resources, riches, etc. Bush’s ulterior motivations were to interject U.S. military power into Central Asia in proximity to Russia, China and resource-rich former Soviet republics, and also to occupy a territory adjacent to Iran, another neoconservative target for regime change at the time.
The last point is “Proportionality,” meaning that the quantity of violence, damage and costs is proportionate to the expressed reason for resorting to war. Given the violation of the Just War standards of just cause, last resort, and right intention, the disproportion involved in Bush’s bombing, invasion, occupation and continuing warfare is self-evident. In any event, Bush’s expressed reason for war was that the Afghan authorities did not hand over bin-Laden, but that was compromised by the U.S. refusal to provide the evidence required for extradition or to even discuss with the Kabul government the question of the Taliban’s alleged complicity in the terror attacks.
Thus, despite President Obama’s efforts to define Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan as just, he has decided to send another 30,000 troops, on top of approximately 30,000 sent earlier in this year, to fight in a manifestly unjust war.