As the world marks the centennial of World War I, the guns of August are again being oiled by comfortable politicians and the fawning corporate media, both bereft of any sense of history. And that includes much more recent history, namely the deceitful campaign that ended up bringing destruction to Iraq and widened conflict throughout the Middle East. That campaign went into high gear 12 years ago today.
On August 26, 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney – who remains something of a folk hero on Fox News – formally launched the lies leading to the U.S.-UK attack on Iraq seven months later. And on August 30, 2013, Syria was 20 hours away from a similar fate after Secretary of State John Kerry claimed falsely – no fewer than 35 times – to "know" that the government of Syria was responsible for using sarin nerve gas in an attack outside Damascus on August 21, 2013.
Unlike twelve years ago, when the Pentagon was run by Field Marshal Donald Rumsfeld and the military martinets who called themselves generals but danced to his tune, war with Syria was averted last year when Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey talked sense into a young President who was on the verge of making a terrible mistake by bending to the Cheneyesque hawks now perched atop the State Department.
The Obama Admniistration has for months been railing against Russian “interference” because the Russian Federation has been advocating a federal system in Ukraine as a way of increasing regional autonomy in the face of secessionist rebellions.
Never let it be said they won’t be openly hypocritical.
Vice President Joe Biden penned an entire op-ed today in which he pushed for a federal system to be declared in Iraq, and that the US would “help” Iraq in implementing it.
The US efforts is the mirror of the Russian effort, trying to satisfy its allied factions in the nation while tamping down a civil war that those factions are likely to lose.
Before dawn broke in Washington on Saturday, “Ukrainian pro-Russian separatists” – more accurately described as federalists of southeast Ukraine who oppose last February’s coup in Kiev – unloaded desperately needed provisions from some 280 Russian trucks in Luhansk, Ukraine. The West accused those trucks of “invading” Ukraine on Friday, but it was a record short invasion; after delivering their loads of humanitarian supplies, many of the trucks promptly returned to Russia.
I happen to know what a Russian invasion looks like, and this isn’t it. Forty-six years ago, I was ten miles from the border of Czechoslovakia when Russian tanks stormed in to crush the “Prague Spring” experiment in democracy. The attack was brutal.
Once back in Munich, West Germany, where my duties included substantive liaison with Radio Free Europe, I experienced some of the saddest moments of my life listening to radio station after radio station on the Czech side of the border playing Smetana’s patriotic “Ma vlast” (My Homeland) before going silent for more than two decades.
I was not near the frontier between Russia and southeastern Ukraine on Friday as the convoy of some 280 Russian supply trucks started rolling across the border heading toward the federalist-held city of Luhansk, but that “invasion” struck me as more like an attempt to break a siege, a brutal method of warfare that indiscriminately targets all, including civilians, violating the principle of noncombatant immunity.
In a brilliant August 17 segment of Last Week Tonight, HBO host John Oliver ripped into small towns that have equipped their police with warlike military equipment. One town was Keene, New Hampshire, where their military-grade armored personnel truck was acquired to protect critical targets – like the annual Pumpkin Festival. Another was Doraville, Georgia. Oliver showed a wild video clip from the Doraville Police Department’s website, with a Ninja-dressed SWAT team going for a joyride in a souped-up armored personnel carrier, all set to a heavy metal song called "Die MotherF***er Die."
In a visit to Doraville last week, I asked Officer Gene Callaway why his sleepy town of 8,000, which hasn’t had a murder since 2009, needed an armored personnel carrier (APC). "The vehicle provides Doraville with a scalable response and ensures the safety of police officers," he answered. Scalable response? Safety of police officers? Doraville has never been a crime-ridden town. "We at Doraville are proud to be ranked 39th in safest cities in Georgia," Callaway himself bragged. It seems the most useful task the APC performed was pulling 18-wheelers back onto the salted lanes of Route 285 during snowstorms. Oh, and let’s not forget that "the kids love playing on it" when it rolls up to the county fair, Callaway told me.
Doraville’s armored vehicle is a gift from Uncle Sam, as part of the billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment now flowing from the federal government to state and local police departments. Not only is it an incredible waste of taxpayer money, but it gets people – including children – accustomed to seeing military vehicles on their streets. Worst of all, it is causing police to act like soldiers, especially since one of the stipulations of getting this equipment is that it must be used within one year of receipt.
“And believe it or not, entertainment is part of our American diplomacy. It’s part of what makes us exceptional, part of what makes us such a world power.” – US President Barack Obama at the DreamWorks Animation facility, November 2013.
As sensational as that pronouncement was, at least it shed light on how the people of the United States have been sucked into accepting another war in Iraq, and possibly one in Syria, too.
And in a larger context, American’s infatuation with Hollywood-like fantasy helps explain how so many people still believe that Obama and the Democratic Party are less egregious than the Republican Party on issues of foreign policy, civil liberties, the environment and much more.
We’ve seen this movie before
Hollywood is notorious for telling the same story over and over – just packaged with different titles, villains and celebrity heroes. Washington does the same.
In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations told the American public that the US was simply sending "advisers" to Vietnam, but the alleged threat posed by Communism had to be resolved by Vietnamese themselves.
"In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it," Kennedy stated in 1963. Sound familiar?
If anyone wants to know what Afghanistan will look like whenever the United States finally gives up its meaningless occupation, take one look at Iraq. After 24 years of perpetual American war in Iraq – an invasion, a decade long no-fly zone, international sanctions, a second invasion, an occupation, the overthrow of a dictator and the installation of a puppet democracy – Iraq is anything but stable. Is this really any surprise? Over the past few months the international community has watched a group of Islamic thugs (ISIS) completely overrun the artificial Baghdad government, take possession of millions of dollars’ worth of American-made war material, and stage a number of gruesome public executions. The fact that there are people in the world who behave in such ways is a disgusting tragedy, but the chain of events that has led to such an outcome got a running start with the perpetual meddling in the region. The same recipe has been brewing in Afghanistan for the last 13 years and I expect that whenever the United States finally turns over the country to its inhabitants, parallel chaos will not be far behind it.
When you step off the plane at Bagram Air Base in Northern Afghanistan the first thing you notice (besides the mountains) are the sheer numbers of permanent structures, the hundreds of tons of concrete, and the immense inventory of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that now litter the ground. Tent city and many of the plywood basic huts have long been replaced by rows of three-story steel buildings and permanent structures – what a difference a decade makes! Without question, the present situation is night and day from that of the horse soldiers whose original intent was at least morally justifiable – capture the man allegedly behind September 11th – Osama Bin Laden. Although the second invasion of Iraq sidelined the search for half a decade, it has now been more than three years since Bin Laden was executed and the continued American presence makes one wonder when the referendum on making Afghanistan the 51st state will be. So why hasn’t the United States left and what happens if the United States government ever does decide to come home?