Teach In on War Remarks By David Swanson, April 29, 2010
If we could establish that funding an escalation of war in Afghanistan was illegal, immoral, against the public will, economically catastrophic, counterproductive on its own terms, and a cynically motivated intentional failure, well then nothing would change. Unless people use that information in pressuring their representatives to vote No. Because most of this is pretty easily known. Nonetheless I think it’s a good place to start, so let me take these points one at a time.
1. IS IT ILLEGAL?
Under domestic law, funding the escalation may be legal. Even if the war was never constitutionally declared, and even if the funding is off the books, one might be able to argue successfully that the funding itself constitutes a declaration of war. But under the UN Charter, which is the supreme law of the land under Article VI of our Constitution, war is a crime. The only exceptions are for self-defense or UN Security Council authorization. The invasion of Afghanistan fit neither exception. Whatever cover is given to the ongoing occupation, it is the continuation of an illegal war.
Revenge is not a legal ground for war and makes very little sense on its own terms. The 9-11 hijackers were already dead and not from Afghanistan. Much of the planning had been done in Europe and this country. And Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan. We’re fighting a war against the Taliban that, because it is a foreign occupation and there are no other jobs, fuels the extremely unpopular Taliban, which wouldn’t invite Al Qaeda into Afghanistan if it could. And Al Qaeda in Afghanistan would not make the United States less safe than Al Qaeda in the locations it’s in now, except to the extent that we enrage the people of Afghanistan against us.
The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg concluded that aggressive war is “not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” This one is no exception. Our crimes include using weapons that kill large numbers of civilians, targeting civilians, using cluster bombs and depleted uranium, assassination, imprisoning people without charge, abusing and torturing. The United Nations has warned the United States about its growing illegal use of drones. A former assistant secretary of state during Bush’s presidency wrote in the Washington Post this April 2nd that if the International Criminal Court begins prosecuting crimes of aggression this year, potential defendants will include members of congress who fund aggressive wars.
If we do not prosecute crimes or even investigate them, they are repeated, by our nation and others. As recently as February the White House press secretary said the President was open to attacking Iran. In fact, President Obama asserted his power to make war in a peace prize acceptance speech in Oslo, and recently created a policy of never using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, with the exception of Iran.
2. IS IT IMMORAL?
To believe our media outlets, the killing of civilians is a political or public relations problem. But to those people killed and their loved ones it’s a little more serious than that. And what exactly do we mean by civilians? If our own nation were occupied would we consider it legal to kill those who fight back but illegal to kill those who don’t? It can be helpful to see things for a moment the way the rest of the world does. But even by our own definition of civilians, most of the people we kill with drones are civilians. On Monday, the Washington Post’s stenographer published a CIA claim that with a new smaller missile they killed a man while killing only nine others. But even the one man targeted is usually guilty only by assertion, and usually guilty of resisting a foreign occupation, which is actually legal.
We probably kill more people in night raids now than with drones, kicking in doors and shooting at anyone who comes running to help. If the shootings of handcuffed students are an exception, if digging bullets out of pregnant women with knives while others lie bleeding to death is an exception, lying about what’s happening has by now been established as the norm. And apologies and compensation for killing the wrong people, as if there could be right people, is commonplace. General McChrystal says that of all the people we’ve killed at checkpoints, not a single one has been a threat. Killing the people of Afghanistan is the mission of the U.S. military. Responses to the recent video released by wikileaks from Iraq included both that it showed a freak incident and that what it showed was perfectly within the rules of engagement. In fact the incident was typical of what has always happened in foreign occupations, and of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as described by veterans of those wars in their Winter Soldier testimony available on the website of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
We are killing thousands of civilians per year, plus non-civilians, plus over 1,000 US troops with over 5,000 wounded, plus mercenaries, plus those diagnosed with brain injuries after leaving Afghanistan, plus suicides which are now probably higher than combat deaths, plus the violence to others that troops bring home, plus anyone damaged by heroin during our occupation of Afghanistan. Arguing that the other guys kill more civilians than we do is not the point, and clearly not a point the people of Afghanistan weigh heavily. From their point of view, we are killing their brothers, whether civilian or not, and we are foreign occupiers. Imagine if Afghanistan were to institute an Arizona-like law requiring identification papers from people who looked like they might be foreign. Guess who would fit the profile.
3. IS IT AGAINST THE PUBLIC WILL?
A recent survey of Kandahar, the area where the escalation is planned, found that 94% of the people there prefer peace negotiations to U.S. attacks, and 85% see the Taliban as “our Afghan brothers.” The survey was funded by that radical pacifist organization, the United States Army.
Back in December, U.S. pollsters asked Americans if they supported funding an escalation, and in several polls a majority said No. So a lot of congress members voted for more war funding but promised to oppose the escalation funding in the spring. Then the White House began the escalation, and the pollsters (apparently assuming that our servile congress would fund anything the president had already begun, even if the people opposed it) stopped polling on the escalation. Polling just on the war, pollsters find the US public evenly split or leaning slightly in support. But they ask whether people support the president, not how much longer they want the war to last or whether that’s their top choice for where to spend a trillion dollars. Many Americans think they are required to say they support the president, and others choose to support a political party, but both big parties support the war (which, by the way, will cause a lot of Democrats to stay home in November).
When Democrats.com funded polling on Iraq that no one else would do, we found a majority in favor of Congress cutting off the funding. I’m confident we could find that on Afghanistan at least following the coming rise in deaths. And this supplemental is not to keep the war going but to escalate it, which the American people opposed when asked.
Now, it is hard for us to know what’s happening in Afghanistan. But no one can claim that 94% of Kandaharis are ignorant of Kandahar.
Yesterday, the Pentagon issued a new report finding that one in four Afghans in important areas support Karzai’s government, violence is up 87% in the past year, European allies are bailing out, corruption runs rampant, insurgents still control Marjah, the Taliban is growing, and the Afghan government is getting weaker.
4. IS IT ECONOMICALLY CATASTROPHIC?
The money we are spending to take away lives could be spent to save even more lives. So the casualty figures must be more than doubled. We could save millions from starvation and disease around the world or in Afghanistan or our own country. We could have 20 green energy jobs paying $50,000 per year for every soldier sent to Afghanistan: a job for that former soldier and 19 more, and reduced demand for the oil and gas and pipelines and bases. We’re spending as much as $100 per gallon to bring gas into Afghanistan where the US military used 27 million gallons of the stuff last month. We’re spending hundreds of millions to bribe nations to be part of what we pretend is a coalition effort. We’re spending at least that much to bribe Afghans to join the right side, an effort that has recruited 646 of the Taliban’s 36,000 soldiers, but then lost many of them who took the money and ran back to the other side.
We’ve spent $268 billion on making war on Afghanistan, and using Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz’ analysis of Iraq we need to multiply that by four or five to get a realistic cost including debt, veterans care, energy prices, and lost opportunities. Public investment in most other industries or in tax cuts produces more jobs than investment in military. In fact, military spending is economically, as well as morally, the worst thing Congress can do. And this is economically the worst time in many decades to be doing the worst thing you can do.
5. IS IT COUNTERPRODUCTIVE ON ITS OWN TERMS?
During the global war of terror we have seen a global increase in terrorism. The supposed tools for fighting terrorism may fight it, but their net impact is almost certainly to increase it.
A RAND Corporation study just released looked at 89 of what it called insurgencies. With a weak government, like that of the Mayor of Kabul, the insurgency won 90% of the time. On top of which we are, again, talking about a foreign occupation. Even in our own country, if President Obama really were a foreigner, then there really would be a revolt.
Our military experts including the retired 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps say we would need hundreds of thousands of troops to do what we’re attempting. And General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency manual says that civilian operations must be 80% of what you do. That would be millions of civilians.
The National Security Advisor says more US troops could just be “swallowed up.”
6. IS IT A CYNICALLY MOTIVATED INTENTIONAL FAILURE?
Last summer a majority of the Democrats in the House voted for a so-called exit-strategy. A simple truth has been lost. You do not exit a war by escalating it.
We did not exit Iraq by escalating it. We have not exited at all, and the escalation does not explain the decrease in violence. And if it did, we would still need those hundreds of thousands of troops to do it in Afghanistan. We have 198,000 troops and mercenaries in Iraq. And violence is down there because so many people are dead and displaced, because a complete withdrawal date has been announced, and primarily because the troops have pulled back from urban areas. When they stopped patrolling for violence, the violence went down, because the violence was being driven by the occupation.
Violence will go down in Afghanistan too if the US troops pull back, even if they launch a murderous and counterproductive assault first. And perhaps that is the cynical plan, to pull back and reduce (but not end) the occupation after a pointless battle fought for U.S. political purposes or to please the military industrial congressional complex. We know that last year President Obama sent 21,000 more troops and 5,000 more mercenaries to Afghanistan, and that violence increased as a result. What’s staggering is that the president said he was going to send those troops first and then figure out a plan for Afghanistan later. Sending the troops was an end in itself.
We know that a pipeline and major military bases are part of the desired plan, but so is winning elections back home, which is where war opposition comes in.
7. WHAT DO WE DO? (SIN OF OMISSION)
No matter how awful Afghanistan is when the U.S. military leaves, it can never become a decent place to live during a foreign occupation. And the post-occupation Afghanistan is likely to be worse the longer the occupation has lasted. That’s the opinion of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Our chief obligation is to cease committing the crime of aggression and get out of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq, and stop giving weapons to Israel and Egypt. And if we cannot find a way to fund reparations and aid and development without control and domination, then we need to leave well-enough alone.
But there is no reason our troops could not employ their bravery to clean up cluster bombs before they leave. There is no reason we cannot fund non-drug agriculture as our ambassador to Afghanistan advises us to do instead of escalating the war. Ron Fisher, who helped plan this event, has a plan available on the table. Jobsforafghans.org recommends spending $5 billion for jobs through the National Solidarity Program, which is run by local elected leaders.
Americans are attempting such efforts without their government. Soldiers are refusing illegal orders. Whistleblowers are risking their careers and freedom. Protesters are going to jail.
What can Congress do?
In one view, Congress can only influence the president. So a toothless request to end the war is just as good as voting No on the funding. But in another view, not only do presidents respond better to real threats, but Congress needs to build a caucus large enough to vote down war funding whether or not the president approves. Doing so puts the power of war where our Constitution so wisely put it and prevents future wars while ending a current one.
So I want to see members of Congress join Dennis Kucinich and Jim McGovern in urging their colleagues to vote No on $33 billion. We saw 32 congress members vote No on war funding last June, and that was before the war had worsened, before the president had lost that new car smell, and while people still believed that would be the very last war supplemental bill. And that was a vote to maintain current levels, whereas this is to escalate. So, nonsense about abandoning troops was more applicable then than now but is always nonsense. Votes to cut-off war funding historically have always provided for orderly withdrawal. The chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, who has probably learned more about the troops than any other congress member, plans to vote No.
These commitments to vote No need to be regardless of what is added into the bill or attempted. Aid for Haiti can be passed separately and provides no excuse. An attempt to request a non-binding timetable is no excuse for funding an escalation. And if they add in free kittens for children we still want No votes. And we only need the House. The Senate and the president can do as they please, they just can’t escalate a war without our money.