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April 7 2017, 7:43 a.m.
WN: “The first casualty of war is truth“, is an adage proved invariably true throughout human history under all kinds of regimes: not least democracies. Or, as author/activist David Swanson tirelessly and convincingly argues: War Is a Lie – not only title of his most recent book, but a reality as true as motherhood and apple pie. One can assert as accurately that “War is as American as motherhood and apple pie“.
The Trump White House is preliminarily indicating that this was a limited strike, designed to punish Assad for his use of chemical weapons, rather than a new war to remove him. But such aggression, once unleashed, is often difficult to contain. The Russian and Iranian governments, both supportive of Assad, have bitterly denounced Trump for the attack, with a Putin spokesman calling it a “significant blow” for U.S.-Russian relations. Russia already announced retaliation in the form of suspending cooperation agreements.
Even if it is contained, there are endless implications from Trump’s initiation of military force against the Syrian Government. For now, here are ten critical points highlighted by all of this:
- New wars will always strengthen Trump: as they do for every leader.
The instant elevation of Trump into a serious and respected war leader was palpable. Already, the New York Times is gushing that “in launching a military strike just 77 days into his administration, President Trump has the opportunity, but hardly a guarantee, to change the perception of disarray in his administration.”
Political leaders across the spectrum rushed to praise Trump and support his bombing campaign. Media coverage was overwhelmingly positive. One consummate establishment spokesman accurately observed:
Among US political establishment, attacks on Assad the most popular action Trump has taken to date as President.
New wars trigger the worst in people: their jingoism, their tribal loyalties, their instinct to submit to authority and leaders. The incentive scheme here is as obvious as it is frightening: great rewards await political leaders who start new wars. In Federalist 4, John Jay warned of all the personal benefits a leader obtains from starting a new war – which is the reason it was supposed to be difficult for U.S. Presidents to do it:
It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.
Trump is going to see – and feel – the establishment and media respect he craves, the sensations of strength he most lacks, by dropping bombs. Every person, let alone Trump, would be tempted to keep pursuing war as a result of this warped incentive framework. Indeed, Trump himself has long been aware of this motivation as he accused Obama in 2012 of preparing to start a new war in response to falling poll numbers:
Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.
Those who instantly fall in line behind Trump as he bombs people are ensuring that he will keep doing it. As the instantly popular post-9/11 George W. Bush showed, those praising Trump for bombing Syria are also building him up in general so that he becomes stronger with everything else he wants to do.
4. Trump’s bombing is illegal, but presidents are now omnipotent.
It should be startling and infuriating that Trump is able to order a new attack on the Syrian Government without any democratic debate, let alone Congressional approval. At least when Obama started bombing Syria without Congress, he had the excuse that it was authorized by the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, since his ostensible targets were terrorist groups (even though ISIS did not exist until years after that was enacted and is hardly “affiliated” with Al Qaeda). But since there’s no self-defense pretext to what Trump just did, what possible legal rationale exists for this? None.
But nobody in Washington really cares about such legalities. Indeed, we have purposely created an omnipotent presidency. Recall that in 2011, Obama went to war in Libya not just without Congressional approval, but even after Congress rejected such authorization.
What happened to Obama as a result of involving the U.S in a war that Congress had rejected? Absolutely nothing, because Congress, due to political cowardice, wants to abdicate war-making powers to the President. As a country, we have decided we want an all-powerful president – one who can bomb, and spy, and detain, and invade with virtually no limits. That’s the machinery of the imperial presidency that both parties have jointly built and have now handed to President Trump.
Indeed, in 2013, Obama explicitly argued that he had the right to bomb Assad without Congressional approval – a precedent the Trump White House will now use.
During the [election] campaign, Trump explicitly vowed to commit war crimes: to torture detainees and purposely murder the families of terrorists. Back in April of last year, I summarized Trump’s mindset this way: “he favors fewer wars, but advocates more monstrous, war-criminal tactics for the ones US does fight.”
Given everything that has been claimed about Trump by his critics, how can any of them justify cheering for a bombing campaign led by him? Do they experience no cognitive dissonance at all in having spent months depicting Trump as a lying, deceitful fascist, only to now turn around and trust him to bomb other countries with care, humanitarianism and efficacy?
But the psychological comfort of believing that the only reason your government bombs more countries by far than any other is because your country is just so uniquely devoted to humanitarian love is so powerful that it overrides all rational faculties. That’s why all wars – even the most malicious and aggressive – are wrapped in humanitarian packaging. And no matter how many times we see that this packaging is a lie – in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Libya – we keep wanting to believe that, this time, our bombs will be filled with love, help and freedom.
The same is true – indeed even more so – of this horribly toxic premise long endorsed by the world of U.S think tanks that a President must go to war to preserve “credibility” – meaning that he must drop bombs and kill people to show the world that he, and the country he leads, is “strong.” To see that hideous premise in action, look at how the New York Times gloriously depicted Bush 41’s senseless invasion of Panama in the above article, or how the NYT yesterday described the view of “experts” about Trump’s need to bomb Syria:
There may be some things more evil and immoral than starting a new war based on the desire to avoid “looking weak,” but it’s hard to think of many things that qualify. And yet this belief continues to be gospel among America’s war-loving think tank and Foreign Policy Community.
Ultimately, what is perhaps most depressing about all of this is how, yet again, we see the paucity of choice offered by American democracy. The leadership of both parties can barely contain themselves joining together to cheer the latest war. One candidate – the losing one – ran on a platform of launching this new war, while the other – the victor – repeatedly vowed to avoid it, only to launch it after being in office fewer than 100 days.
The one constant of American political life is that the U.S. loves war. Martin Luther King’s 1967 denunciation of the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” is more accurate than ever.
UPDATE: While Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday urged an investigation before any action is taken, once Trump’s bombs fell, he issued a statement expressing full support, directly contradicting his earlier statements: “President Assad’s use of chemical weapons and the crimes the Syrian regime has committed against its own people cannot be ignored.”
Please click on: The Spoils of War
Please also see my piece: War and Hell.
- Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.↩
- It continued:
‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.” The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed. It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.↩
- Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.↩
-  The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.↩
- A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
In June , the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.↩