By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune
Someone asked me to find war lies during the past few years. Perhaps they had in mind the humanitarian pretenses around attacking Libya in 2011 and Iraq in 2014, or the false claims about chemical weapons in 2013, or the lies about an airplane in Ukraine or the endlessly reported Russian invasions of Ukraine. Maybe they were thinking of the “ISIS Is In Brooklyn” headlines or the routine false claims about the identities of drone victims or the supposedly imminent victory in Afghanistan or in one of the other wars. The lies seem far too numerous for me to fit into an essay, though I’ve tried many times, and they are layered over a bedrock of more general lies about what works, what is legal, and what is moral. Just a Prince Tribute selection of lies could include Qadaffi’s viagra for the troops and CNN’s sex-toys flag as evidence of ISIS in Europe. It’s hard to scrape the surface of all U.S. war lies in something less than a book, which is why I wrote a book.
So, I replied that I would look for war lies just in 2016. But that was way too big as well, of course. I once tried to find all the lies in one speech by Obama and ended up just writing about the top 45. So, I’ve taken a glance at two of the most recent speeches on the White House website, one by Obama and one by Susan Rice. I think they provide ample evidence of how we’re being lied to.
In an April 13th speech to the CIA, President Barack Obama declared, “One of my main messages today is that destroying ISIL continues to be my top priority.” The next day, in a speech to the U.S. Air Force Academy, National Security Advisor Susan Rice repeated the claim: “This evening, I’d like to focus on one threat in particular—the threat at the very top of President Obama’s agenda—and that is ISIL.” And here’s Senator Bernie Sanders during the recent presidential primary debate in Brooklyn, N.Y.: “Right now our fight is to destroy ISIS first, and to get rid of Assad second.”
This public message, heard again and again in the official media echo chamber, might seem unnecessary, given the level of fear of ISIS/ISIL in the U.S. public and the importance the public places on the matter. But polls have shown that people believe the president is not taking the danger seriously enough.
In fact, awareness has slowly begun spreading that the side of the Syrian war that the White House wanted to jump in on in 2013, and in fact had already been supporting, is still its top priority, namely overthrowing the Syrian government. That has been a goal of the U.S. government since before U.S. actions in Iraq and Syria helped create ISIS in the first place (actions taken while knowing that such a result was quite likely). Helping this awareness along has been Russia’s rather different approach to the war, reports of the United States arming al Qaeda in Syria (planning more weapons shipments on the same day as Rice’s speech), and a video from late March in which State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner was asked a question that a good ISIS-fearing American should have had no trouble answering, but which Toner found too difficult:
REPORTER: “Do you want to see the regime retake Palmyra? Or would you prefer that it stays in Daesh’s hands?”
MARK TONER: “That’s truly a — a — um — look, I think what we would, uh, like to see is, uh, the political negotiation, that political track, pick up steam. It’s part of the reason the Secretary’s in Moscow today, um, so we can get a political process underway, um, and deepen and strengthen the cessation of hostilities, into a real ceasefire, and then, we . . . “
REPORTER: “You’re not answering my question.”
MARK TONER: “I know I’m not.” [Laughter.]
Hillary Clinton and her neocon allies in the Congress believe that Obama was wrong not to bomb Syria in 2013. Never mind that such a course would surely have strengthened the terrorist groups that brought the U.S. public around to supporting war in 2014. (Remember, the public said no in 2013 and reversed Obama’s decision to bomb Syria, but videos involving white Americans and knives won over a lot of the U.S. public in 2014, albeit for joining the opposite side of the same war.) The neocons want a “no fly zone,” which Clinton calls a “safe zone” despite ISIS and al Qaeda having no airplanes, and despite NATO’s commander pointing out that such a thing is an act of war with nothing safe about it.
Many in the U.S. government even want to give the “rebels” anti-aircraft weaponry. With U.S. and U.N. planes in those skies, one is reminded of then-President George W. Bush’s scheme for starting a war on Iraq: “The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.”
It’s not just rogue neocons. President Obama has never backed off his position that the Assad government must go, or even his highly dubious 2013 claim to have had proof that Assad used chemical weapons. Secretary of State John Kerry has compared Assad to Hitler. But it seems that dubious claims of someone possessing or using the wrong kind of weaponry don’t quite do it for the U.S. public anymore after Iraq 2003. Supposed threats to populations don’t inspire raging war fever in the U.S. public (or even support from Russia and China) after Libya 2011. Contrary to popular myth and White House claims, Qadaffi was not threatening a massacre, and the war that threat was used to start immediately became a war of overthrow. The burning need to overthrow yet another government fails to create confidence in a public that’s seen disasters created in Iraq and Libya, but not in Iran where war has been avoided (as well as not in Tunisia where the more powerful tools of nonviolence have been used).
If U.S. officials want war in Syria, they know that the way to keep the U.S. public on their side is to make it about subhuman monsters who kill with knives. Said Susan Rice of ISIS in her speech, which began with her family’s struggle against racism: “It is horrifying to witness the extreme brutality of these twisted brutes.” Said Obama at the CIA: “These depraved terrorists still have the ability to inflict horrific violence on the innocent, to the revulsion of the entire world. With attacks likes these, ISIL hopes to weaken our collective resolve. Once again, they have failed. Their barbarism only stiffens our unity and determination to wipe this vile terrorist organization off the face of the Earth. . . . As I’ve said repeatedly, the only way to truly destroy ISIL is to end the Syrian civil war that ISIL has exploited. So we continue to work for a diplomatic end to this awful conflict.”
Here are the main problems with this statement:
1) The United States has spent years working to avoid a diplomatic end, blocking U.N. efforts, rejecting Russian proposals, and flooding the area with weaponry. The United States isn’t trying to end the war in order to defeat ISIS; it’s trying to remove Assad in order to weaken Iran and Russia and to eliminate a government that doesn’t choose to be part of U.S. empire.
2) ISIS hasn’t grown simply by exploiting a war it wasn’t part of. ISIS doesn’t hope to halt U.S. attacks. ISIS put out films urging the United States to attack. ISIS uses terrorism abroad to provoke attacks. ISIS recruitment has soared as it has become seen as the enemy of U.S. imperialism.
3) Attempting diplomacy while attempting to wipe someone off the face of the earth is either unnecessary or contradictory. Why end the root causes of terrorism if you’re going to destroy the vile barbarous people engaged in it?
The points that focusing on Assad is at odds with focusing on ISIS, and that attacking ISIS or other groups with missiles and drones does not defeat them, are points made by numerous top U.S. officials the moment they retire. But those ideas clash with the idea that militarism works, and with the specific idea that it is currently working. After all, ISIS, we are told, is eternally on the ropes, with one or more of its top leaders declared dead almost every week. Here’s President Obama on March 26: “We’ve been taking out ISIL leadership, and this week, we removed one of their top leaders from the battlefield – permanently.” I consider the term “battlefield” itself a lie, as U.S. wars are fought from the air over people’s homes, not in a field. But Obama goes on to add a real doozie when he says: “ISIL poses a threat to the entire civilized world.”
In the weakest sense, that statement could be true of any violence-promoting organization with access to the internet (Fox News for example). But for it to be true in any more substantive sense has always been at odds with Obama’s own so-called intelligence so-called community, which has said that ISIS is no threat to the United States. For every headline screaming that ISIS is looming just down a U.S. street, there has not yet been any evidence that ISIS was involved in anything in the United States, other than influencing people through U.S. news programs or inspiring the FBI to set people up. ISIS involvement in attacks in Europe has been more real, or at least claimed by ISIS, but a few key points are lost in all the vitriol directed at “twisted brutes.”
1) ISIS claims its attacks are “in response to the aggressions” of “the crusader states,” just as all anti-Western terrorists always claim, with never a hint at hating freedoms.
2) European nations have been happy to allow suspected criminals to travel to Syria (where they might fight for the overthrow of the Syrian government), and some of those criminals have returned to kill in Europe.
3) As a murdering force, ISIS is far out-done by numerous governments armed and supported by the United States, including Saudi Arabia, and of course including the U.S. military itself, which has dropped tens of thousands of bombs in Syria and Iraq, blew up the University of Mosul on the 13th anniversary of Shock and Awe with 92 killed and 135 injured according to a source in Mosul, and just changed its “rules” on killing civilians to bring them slightly more into line with its conduct.
4) Actually useful steps like disarmament and humanitarian aid are not being taken seriously at all, with one U.S. Air Force official casually pointing out that the United States would never spend $60,000 on a technology for preventing starvation in Syria, even as the United States uses missiles costing over $1 million each like they’re going out of style — in fact using them so rapidly that it risks running out of anything to drop on people other than the food it has such little interest in dropping.
Meanwhile, ISIS is also the justification du jour for sending more U.S. troops into Iraq, where U.S. troops and U.S. weapons created the conditions for the birth of ISIS. Only this time, they are “non-combat” “special” forces, which led one reporter at an April 19 White House press briefing to ask, “Is this a little bit of fudging? The U.S. military is not going to be involved in combat? Because all the earmarks and recent experiences indicate that they will likely be.” A straight answer was not forthcoming.
What about those troops? Susan Rice told Air Force cadets, without asking the American people, that the American people “could not be more proud” of them. She described a cadet graduating in 1991 and worrying that he might have missed out on all the wars. Never fear, she said, “your skills—your leadership—will be in high demand in the decades ahead. . . . On any given day, we might be dealing with Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine [where, contrary to myth and White House claim, Russia has not invaded but the United States has facilitated a coup], developments in the South China Sea [apparently misnamed, as it belongs to the United States and its Philippine colony], North Korean missile launches [how, dare I ask, will an Air Force pilot deal with those, or the much more common U.S. missile launches for that matter?], or global economic instability [famously improved by bombing runs]. . . . We face the menace of advancing climate change.” The Air Force, whose jets are among the biggest producers of climate change, is going to attack climate change? bomb it? scare it away with drones?
“I know not everybody grew up dreaming of piloting a drone,” said Rice. But, “drone warfare is even finding its way into the upcoming Top Gun sequel. These [drone] capabilities are essential to this campaign and future ones. So, as you consider career options, know that [drone piloting] is a sure-fire way to get into the fight.”
Of course, drone strikes would be rare to nonexistent if they followed President Obama’s self-imposed “rules” requiring that they kill no civilians, kill no one who could be apprehended, and kill only people who are (frighteningly if nonsensically) an “imminent and continuing” threat to the United States. Even the military-assisted theatrical fantasy film Eye in the Sky invents an imminent threat to people in Africa, but no threat at all to the United States. The other conditions (identified targets who cannot be arrested, and care to avoid killing others) are bizarrely met in that film but rarely if ever in reality. A man who says drones have tried to murder him four times in Pakistan has gone to Europe this month to ask to be taken off the kill lists. He will be safest if he stays there, judging by past killings of victims who could have been arrested.
This normalizing of murder and of participation in murder is a poison for our culture. A debate moderator recently asked a presidential candidate if he would be willing to kill thousands of innocent children as part of his basic duties. In the seven countries that President Obama has bragged about bombing, a great many innocents have died. But the top killer of U.S. troops is suicide.
“Welcome to the White House!” said President Obama to a “wounded warrior” on April 14. “Thank you, William, for your outstanding service, and your beautiful family. Now, we hold a lot of events here at the White House, but few are as inspiring as this one. Over the past seven years, this has become one of our favorite traditions. This year, we’ve got 40 active duty riders and 25 veterans. Many of you are recovering from major injuries. You’ve learned how to adapt to a new life. Some of you are still working through wounds that are harder to see, like post-traumatic stress. . . . Where’s Jason? There’s Jason right there. Jason served four combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He came home with his body intact, but inside he was struggling with wounds nobody could see. And Jason doesn’t mind me telling you all that he got depressed enough that he considered taking his life.”
I don’t know about you, but this inspires me mostly to tell the truth about war and try to end it.
David Swanson’s new book is War Is A Lie: Second Edition.