The Middle East for Dummies

The first point I’d like to touch on is the idea that the Middle East is a culturally violent place that can be made less violent by bombing it. The first problem with this is that bombing places makes them more violent, not less. Nobody is shocked or awed into nonviolence, not 14 years ago and not for the past century. The second problem is that the Middle East’s violence cannot be compared with that of other cultures without figuring out how to factor out the influence of the West. A hundred years ago, Britain and France carved up Western Asia, and not to spread democracy.

The West has been propping up brutal kings and dictators ever since. Outside of Israel, which is essentially a Western colony, the Middle East does not manufacture weapons. Just as the West once pushed opium on China or alcohol on the native peoples of this land we’re sitting on, the West pushes weapons on Western Asia, and the top weapons dealer to the world, to poor nations, and to the Middle East is the United States — with records set under President Obama likely to be smashed under Trump. Virtually all the weapons used in all the wars around the world — and all the major wars around the world, apart from Afghanistan and Mexico, are in the Middle East and Northeast Africa — come from six nations. They are the five permanent members and saboteurs of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. These are the nations that will be working hard to defeat and disrupt the treaty negotiations beginning Monday in New York to ban nuclear weapons. They are also the nations whose weapons dealers profit from the blood of millions of innocent people too far away to see and too valueless to be reported on U.S. television.

Yesterday a racist drove up to New York to kill black men, thinking that would make big news. He forgot that someone white might be attacked in London. At the same time, the U.S. government was busy murdering scores of people in the Middle East. Guess which of these three killing sprees is labeled terrorism, and which other two see the media slander the victims and completely ignore the terror and trauma to the survivors. Imagine being a black man walking in Manhattan today. Imagine being anyone living in the Middle East today. U.S. weapons flow to Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Turkey, not to mention Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and to non-governmental organizations that the U.S. government itself calls terrorists in places like Syria. Most if not all forces against which these weapons are used also use U.S. weapons previously given, sold, traded, or stolen. The U.S. military brings its own weapons to Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, and in fact every single nation of the region, plus the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the skies above, with the possible exception of what’s left of Palestine to which genocidal cause the United States philanthropically donates billions of dollars of weapons to the Orwellianly named Israeli Defense Forces. Each overthrow that the U.S. leads, including those in Iraq and Libya, leads to massive proliferation of weapons, creating chaos and death as far off as places like Mali. But of course the people of the region appreciate the effort, right? Yeah, about as much as the people of Fergusson appreciate the police.

The global policeman headquartered in Arlington is less popular in the places policed than a congressman at a healthcare rally. In December 2013, Gallup surveyed 65 countries around the world, and most said the United States was the greatest threat to peace on earth. In eight countries in or near the Middle East, four said the United States was the greatest threat to peace, three placed the U.S. second behind Israel, and in Afghanistan those surveyed placed the U.S. second behind Pakistan. It’s nice to be appreciated. It wouldn’t take much to actually be appreciated. Stop selling weapons. Stop giving weapons. Stop bringing weapons. Withdraw troops. Send food, medicine, farm equipment, clean energy equipment. Doing that would cost a tiny fraction of what it costs to keep making everything worse.

Trump says the U.S.-initiated wars of the past 16 years have made everything worse, so we should have more of them. He’s drone murdering at 4 times Obama’s pace. He’s moving more troops into Syria and Kuwait. And he wants to defund everything else to fund a yet more expensive military. Charlottesville City Council to its great credit has opposed this, but one of its five members would only do so if the resolution pretended that all the killing protects U.S. rights. When we get to Q&A I’d love someone to explain to me how murdering Yemeni children gives me more rights, and how demonstrating inside a free speech cage instead of in the open the way we used to constitutes an expansion of freedom. The mayor of Charlottesville refused to support the resolution because it mentioned the U.S. military, and he wants to have some higher office purchased for him some day. Several weeks back both the ACLU and the Council on American-Islamic Relations on the same day sent out national fundraiser emails quoting a Gold Star father from Charlottesville claiming that U.S. warmaking in Iraq serves to protect the Bill of Rights. These are organizations whose entire purpose is to oppose some of the symptoms of the wars, yet they promote the wars because they have so internalized the propaganda that they literally cannot imagine questioning it.

That’s the purpose of my book War Is A Lie, which Helena’s company was good enough to publish, to encourage questioning — questioning of the sort that stopped a bombing of Syria in 2013 and supported a treaty with Iran in 2015, but completely fell apart and inserted its head into its posterior the moment an ISIS video was shown on television. Mike Signer is not the only coward among us. Our entire foreign policy and public budget are shaped by irrational fear. More likely than ISIS killing you are each of the following: a U.S. police officer killing you, the stairs in your house killing you, pollutants in your environment killing you, a toddler who finds a gun killing you, or Donald Trump retweeting you. I make no comment on which of those fates would be the worst.

As you’ve heard about Yemen and Syria, let me add a couple of comments about Afghanistan and — if there’s time — Iraq. The current U.S. war in Afghanistan is well into its 16th year, though U.S. violence there began much earlier. The U.S. military now has approximately 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan , plus 6,000 other NATO troops, 1,000 mercenaries, and another 26,000 contractors (of whom about 8,000 are from the United States). That’s 41,000 people engaged in a foreign occupation of a country 15 years after the accomplishment of their stated mission to overthrow the Taliban government. Afghanistan is the most heavily bombed country of all current U.S. wars, the bulk of that bombing done under President Barack Obama, who also tripled the level of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, before reducing them. During each of the past 15 years, our government in Washington has informed us that success was imminent. During each of the past 15 years, Afghanistan has continued its descent into poverty, violence, environmental degradation, and instability.

The United States is spending $4 million an hour on planes, drones, bombs, guns, and over-priced contractors in a country that needs food and agricultural equipment. Thus far, the United States has spent nearly $800 billion with virtually nothing to show for it except the death, injury and displacement of millions of Afghans, and the death of thousands of U.S. soldiers plus the injury of tens of thousands and the endangerment of people in the United States, the erosion of our rights, the shame of Guantanamo, and destruction of the earth’s environment.

Before Faisal Shahzad tried to blow up a car in Times Square, he had tried to join the war against the United States in Afghanistan. In numerous other incidents, terrorists targeting the United States have stated their motives as including revenge for the U.S. terrorism in Afghanistan, along with other U.S. wars in the region. In addition, Afghanistan is the one nation where the United States is engaged in major warfare in a country that is a member of the International Criminal Court. That body has now announced that it is investigating possible prosecutions for U.S. crimes in Afghanistan. Over the past 15 years, we have been treated to an almost routine repetition of scandals: hunting children from helicopters, blowing up hospitals with drones, urinating on corpses — all fueling anti-U.S. propaganda, all brutalizing and shaming the United States. U.S. and allied soldiers now being ordered into Afghanistan were in pre-school on September 11, 2001. Ordering young American men and women into a kill-or-die mission that was accomplished 15 years ago is a lot to ask. Expecting them to believe in that mission is too much. That fact may help explain this one: the top killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is suicide. The second highest killer of American military is green on blue, or the Afghan youth who the U.S. is training turning their weapons on their trainers. Candidate Trump said: “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghans we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.” President Trump is acting contrary to every part of that.

At 14 years since the launch of Operation Iraqi Liberation (to use the original name with the appropriate acronym, OIL) and over 26 years since Operation Desert Storm, there is little evidence that any significant number of people in the United States have a realistic idea of what our government has done to the people of Iraq, or of how these actions compare to other horrors of world history. A majority of Americans believe the war since 2003 has hurt the United States but benefitted Iraq. A plurality of Americans believe, not only that Iraqis should be grateful, but that Iraqis are in fact grateful.

A number of U.S. academics have advanced the dubious claim that war making is declining around the world.  Misinterpreting what has happened in Iraq is central to their argument.  By the most scientifically respected measures available, as of some years ago, though the death and destruction has continued, Iraq had lost 1.4 million lives as a result of OIL, had seen 4.2 million additional people injured, and 4.5 million people become refugees. The 1.4 million dead was 5% of the population. That compares to 2.5% lost in the U.S. Civil War, or 3 to 4% in Japan in World War II, 1% in France and Italy in World War II, less than 1% in the U.K. and 0.3% in the United States in World War II. The 1.4 million dead is higher as an absolute number as well as a percentage of population than these other horrific losses. U.S. deaths in Iraq since 2003 have been 0.3% of the dead, even if they’ve taken up the vast majority of the news coverage, preventing U.S. news consumers from understanding the extent of Iraqi suffering.

In a very American parallel, the U.S. government has only been willing to value the life of an Iraqi at that same 0.3% of the financial value it assigns to the life of a U.S. citizen.

The 2003 invasion included 29,200 air strikes, followed by another 3,900 over the next eight years. The U.S. military targeted civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances  It also made use of what some might call “weapons of mass destruction,” using cluster bombs, white phosphorous, depleted uranium, and a new kind of napalm in densely settled urban areas.

Birth defects, cancer rates, and infant mortality are through the roof. Water supplies, sewage treatment plants, hospitals, bridges, and electricity supplies have been devastated, and not repaired. Healthcare and nutrition and education are nothing like they were before the war. And we should remember that healthcare and nutrition had already deteriorated during years of economic warfare waged through the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever imposed in modern history.

Money spent by the United States to “reconstruct” Iraq was always less than 10% of what was being spent adding to the damage, and most of it was never actually put to any useful purpose. At least a third was spent on so-called “security,” while much of the rest was spent on corruption in the U.S. military and its contractors.

The educated who might have best helped rebuild Iraq fled the country.  Iraq had the best universities in Western Asia in the early 1990s, and now leads in illiteracy, with the population of teachers in Baghdad reduced by 80%.

For years, the occupying forces broke the society of Iraq down, encouraging ethnic and sectarian division and violence, resulting in a segregated country and the repression of rights that Iraqis used to enjoy, even under Saddam Hussein’s brutal police state.

Without Bush and Obama there would be no ISIS. Obama shifted to air war, and dropped more bombs and missiles on Iraq than Bush did. Obama set records for military spending and for weapons sales and gifts abroad. He created drone wars including in Pakistan and Somalia and Yemen. He ended the idea that presidents need Congress for wars, with his war in Libya fueling the violence in Syria and Iraq among other places. He put more troops in more countries. He bombed eight countries and bragged about it. He firmly established warrantless spying, baseless imprisonment, torture, and assassination as policy choices rather than crimes. He wrote secret and public so-called laws that his successor is picking and choosing from without input from the legislature. He created a new cold war with Russia. He did these things willingly or he permitted his subordinates to do them.

Now Trump says he’ll destroy ISIS, and the U.S. Secretary of Exxon-Mobil said yesterday: “Hard-fought victories in Iraq and Syria have swung the momentum in our coalition’s favor, but we must increase the intensity of our efforts and solidify our gains in the next phase of the counter-ISIS fight.” We’re winning so we need more war is a stand-by. In distant second is, of course, We’re losing so we need more war.