How appeal to national ideals sold Operation Iraqi Freedom

Drawing on sources from political science, history, media and the psychology of nationalism, this paper explains how the Bush administration used what Americans perceive as the virtues of their nation and its foreign policy–freedom, democracy, peace, humanitarianism and God–to win support for its invasion of Iraq.

The encirclement of Iran

Thousands of US troops are deploying to Israel. The Israeli military announced it as a major missile defense exercise with its ally. The reason for this “defense” preparation is the big, scary country on the other side of the Middle East.

CBS news reports the Israeli military as saying the drill had been long anticipated and was unrelated to recent events. The article explained the drill would take place “as tension between Iran and the international community escalates”, as if Iran is defiantly taking on the world, rather than being pummeled into submission. If we are not sure who the aggressor is in this conflict, let us review the facts.

  • Iran is, at present, surrounded by US military bases. If everyone in your neighbourhood were armed to the teeth and yelling about how dangerous you were, would you feel threatened?
  • In recent years, the US has invaded and occupied two of those neighbours, Afghanistan and Iraq, for all the same reasons it may want to occupy Iran. Iran has oil; it is strategically located; it is a manufactured enemy; Americans do not know anything about the country except that it’s evil, and will thus give the green light to their politicians.
  • Israelis have been subjected for years to media bombardment about the perils of an Ahmadinejad-led, nuclear-armed Iran. There seems to be broad consensus in the Israeli right wing and other circles that the Islamic Republic cannot wait to “wipe Israel off the map”. Again, the enemy is largely manufactured and sold by elites who want more war.

John Tirman of the MIT Center for International Studies points out the “peculiar” time for the march to war: the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Is it time for Operation Iranian Liberation? The foolishness with which the US stumbled into Iraq in 2003 is repeating itself.

Politicians in the US and Israel are screaming about the need to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities before Iran attacks the countries with the two most dangerous militaries in the world. The think tanks, who said US troops would be treated as liberators and that the oil would pay for the war, and media commentators, who did not question the government’s assessments of the threat from Iraq, are helping bring public opinion in line once again.

The US and the EU (“the international community”) are ramping up economic sanctions (but why?). Most recently, EU politicians have willingly endangered the European economy by moving toward choking Mediterranean countries’ oil supplies. Paul Stevens of Dundee University in Scotland says that Greece, which imports 30 percent of its oil from Iran, would be pushed off the cliff on which it is already perched. “It would utterly destroy the Greek economy.” Tough enough sanctions on Iran will not stop it from producing a nuclear weapon, which is, in fact, a very rational exercise for a state expecting to be attacked. (In fact, Iran has been under attack for thirty years. They may, however, repeat the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, as the sanctions on Iraq did to that country during the 1990s.

Needless to say, full-blown war with Iran would be devastating. The war on Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of people and rendered the country intractably unstable for a long time to come for no other reason than to please the Washington power elite. And what is the desired outcome? National security? Can national security ever be achieved by waging endless wars? No, suggest the history of Israel and the 9/11 attacks. The entire Middle East and Central Asia could be engulfed in war.

Warmakers are not merely shortsighted, though. They understand the consequences. More devastation, more instability, more religious extremism, more terrorism, more pain: these are all foreseen and desired outcomes. More instability in western Asia will mean two things that keep the powerful happy: higher oil and gas prices, and more enemies to fight and justify more military intervention. If the elites can benefit, the war with Iran will no longer be clandestine, and millions of people could die as a result.

The strongest police state in history: We are all terrorists now

In case they are unaware of the laws some people are imposing on them, Americans should be furious about the latest legal grab at their last freedoms. A new law, cunningly woven into the annual defense appropriations bill and passed overwhelmingly, enables the US military to apprehend you anywhere in the world and detain you indefinitely. This law gives the strongest military the world has ever seen total power over you. You may want to reread that last sentence. It is true. The provisions target US citizens, giving every one of them the rights of a suspected terrorist with no recourse. As Guantanamo Bay prison has demonstrated, citizens of other countries had no rights to begin with. Therefore, due to its habit of picking up citizens of other countries, the US government can now wield its power over anyone in the world. That means you. They can detain you indefinitely without charge if they say you are a suspect. And no one will be punished if you are innocent (except you). No one will be held accountable, no matter what happens. This law is perhaps the most frightening in a long line of legal takeovers of your freedom.

Did I say this will be the strongest police state in history? Surely not, you say? Well, the totalitarian states have been strong, but they have rarely had the opportunity to catch people outside the state’s borders. And they did not have military bases all around the world. Remember, it is the trillion-dollar, million-man military that is now authorised to detain anyone anywhere for any length of time.

How did our liberties slip away? Anthony Gregory explains.

Ten years of the war on terror, decades of the war on drugs, and a century of growing government power in general, particularly in the presidency and various police authorities, have perhaps desensitized Americans to what is at stake here. As the proverbial frogs in the pot of water, we are accustomed to rising temperatures and so do not notice when our flesh begins to boil. Yet when the Senate overwhelmingly accepts the principle that the military should displace civilian courts even for citizens captured on American soil, it has adopted a standard of justice remarkably tyrannical even compared to America’s very rocky history.

A hundred years of encroaching control over our minds and bodies plus one spectacular terrorist attack and freedom somehow seems like a luxury to Americans who do not realise they are frogs.

Needless to say, these laws are unconstitutional, like so many other laws that a small minority of the people who swore to uphold the constitution tried to stop. The Bill of Rights, a wonderful idea in its time, lies in tatters. (See here for the history of the gutting of the constitution and limiting of Americans’ freedoms over the past decade.) Now that the government has such power and employs it every day, there is no reason to believe it will hold back. The tired, old canard that, if you just keep your head down and do not commit any crimes, you will be fine, is clearly untrue. Even if this bill had not passed, the US government (though of course not just the US one) can already spy on you from anywhere in the world by listening to your phone calls and reading your emails; has drones circling the skies in the US and all around the world, looking for anything anyone with any power at all deems “suspicious”; can lock you up and torture you in one of its many prisons (and not just ones you have heard of), as it already has with Bradley Manning and foreign journalists (Barack may be even worse than Bush with regard to torture); and can assassinate you without due process. Thus, as any informed libertarian already knew, these despicable practices have been going on for some time. The powerful are merely trying to make them easier.

Continuing the War on Terror will do that. The bill says that suspects will be held only until the end of hostilities. So, as Jon Stewart says, when terror surrenders, you’ll be free to go. For those who do not understand statist war, you must know that war is the health of the state, and the state exists to take your freedom. The more war, the more power the state has; the more power the state has, the less freedom you have. That is a consistent pattern in history. The War on Terror is not so much a war as a series of military operations designed to expand US government power everywhere it can, but the effect is the same. To stir up instability in Central Asia, secure supplies of natural resources and keep restive people down are its goals. This law will help win that war for the powerful.

War creates terrorists, as occupied people facing brutality from foreign powers have peaceful modes of resistance taken away from them. If terrorism is on the rise, blame the dictators and warmongers. (Oh, and when there is not enough terrorism and the hype dies down, the FBI will still arrest people for it.) Likewise, if crime is indeed rising in the US, it could be because of the fallout from the financial crash, which was of course the fault of the elites, and it could be because the criminalisation of and atrocious crackdown on drugs despite all logic incentivises the formation of gangs. Wars, whether on terrorism, drugs or the poor, create the conditions that politicians can use to justify accumulating ever more power. To think that the government exists to keep you safe is now obviously a myth.

But it is not just the Department of Defense that has been amassing power. The police and the courts have always been the tools of the elite, but are now conducting a war on liberty in the US. If you think I am exaggerating, please see my post on police here. Here is a preview. A man was recently sentenced to 75 years in jail for filming police. (Here is that link again.) The law, the police, the courts all tear society apart and destroy lives by criminalising victimless acts and subjecting innocent people to endless captivity. With its multiple layers of security apparatus, from the police to the FBI to the CIA to the DEA to Homeland Security to the military, not to mention the help of friendly governments around the world, the US federal government has enormous resources for violence at its disposal. It has already targeted Antiwar.com, Greenpeace and PETA under the pretext of investigating terrorism; who will be next? (Find more incredible facts about how the US is becoming a giant prison here.)

The main reason the government wants all this power (inasmuch as power is not an end in itself for many of the people involved, and aside from the large amounts of money politicians make from prison and related lobbies) is that dissent against government and the elites is growing. (Find a more developed argument here.) The protests that have gone global since Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest corruption and repression have threatened the elites’ position and they are not happy. Most recently, we have seen unnecessary brutality against people demonstrating peacefully at Occupy sites around the world. The photos of tear gas sprayed casually into the faces of the young and old; the arrests of thousands of people for nothing. Democracy or dictatorship, state brutality is everywhere. The elites are sending a message: do not question authority or you will be punished. The only cure for this disease that I know of is to disobey their command. I would like to see more people to join in occupations until this unjust, parasitic institution crumbles to dust.

The lion’s share of the blame for this state of affairs goes to the psychopaths and fools (these are not insults; they are reality) who have been running the US for so long. The US federal government has trillions of dollars that it forced out of the pockets of millions of people. Think how many wars, how many full-body scanners, how many drones, soldiers, police, jails, surveillance systems, tons of tear gas and pepper spray it can buy with that money. And that means that the money it takes from people is used to oppress them. The government does not obey its own laws, so we should not, either. Laws are nothing more than institutionalised control over people, arbitrary interpretations of morality and handouts to lobby groups at the barrel of a gun.

But while most of the blame belongs with the state who forcibly takes everyone’s freedom away, Americans have let their government get away with it all. Ignorant people who do not understand government, war, terrorism and crime continue to believe the government looks out for their best interest. Most of them have not demanded change, content to amble slowly along some meaningless path with their heads down and their fingers in their ears. Others are so scared of crime, terrorism and illness that they gladly give the government as much power as it wants. Sure, we are subject to humiliation whenever we get on an airplane; sure, the US has the biggest prison population in the world; sure, the upper 1% owns a third of the nation’s wealth; and sure, my neighbours are losing their homes; but at least we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Not anymore, you don’t. The most dangerous thing is to believe we are free when we are not. It is impossible to escape from a jail we do not realise we are in.

Syria’s Uprising: Ethnic Conflict and National Unity

Protests against the regime of President Bashar al Assad began on January 26, but did not turn violent until March 15, when security forces attacked protesters in the southern city of Deraa and Damascus held demonstrations in a “day of rage”. The UN estimates that 5000 people have been killed since then. Tens of thousands have been arrested, including some 14,000 reporters.  Some observers of Syria are speculating that we are seeing the beginnings of a civil war. The bolder among them believe that it will be an ethnic civil war, with the Sunni majority pitted against the ruling Alawi sect. My final paper of the semester holds that the forces dividing Syria are matched by the forces uniting it.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/75781642/Syria-s-Uprising-Ethnic-Conflict-and-National-Unity

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Your troops are not helping Afghanistan

The trend in warfare for the past hundred years or more has been to involve civilians gradually more in every conflict. Many of today’s wars, such as those in Iraq, Turkey, the Palestinian territories, Sri Lanka and Chechnya, pit a government against one or more terrorist organisations who consider their territory occupied by the government. The government, usually a democracy, is attempting to project its power over a wider territory than the people of that territory consider legitimate, with the added bonus of providing the government’s constituents with an enemy around which they can rally, distracting them from the government’s other crimes. They spend millions of dollars buying PR in order to paint themselves as the moral side in the conflict. (Indeed, the Israeli government and its supporters never tire of repeating that it has “the most moral army in the world”, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.) The enemy kills babies. We build homes. Because the organisations resisting occupation are non governmental, they are not militaries and are usually called “terrorists” (or more recently “insurgents”). Particularly since 9/11, soldiers have been the good guys who fight terrorists, and terrorists have been, in George W.’s mindless phrasing, “the evildoers”. Terrorists, insurgents and so on mix with the people, their base of support, which means that when militaries go after them, civilian casualties result. The occupying troops want to convince the locals that they are there to help, and the locals do not really buy it. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan epitomises this trend.

It seems that the ideal outcome of the mission in Afghanistan is the following. First, decimate the Taliban and al Qaeda, and the other insurgent groups, or at least lop their heads off. That should lead to the outcome of ending tyranny in Afghanistan once and for all. (Officially, as of March 2009, the ISAF is there “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.” Voters like that mission: the bad guys are mean, sexist, Islamist dictators; and even though we messed up Iraq, maybe we have learned something from it?) Second, help the local population build up infrastructure, improve their health and education, etc., both to win hearts and minds and for the good it would do them. Third, reduce terrorist attacks on Western and other targets. Sorry if this looks like a straw man. I am under the impression it is the vision of ISAF commanders and the public.

The first point regards the difficulty the foreign militaries face in fighting their chosen enemies. First, there is al Qaeda, which is highly resistant to decapitation because it does not really have a leader or a centre. (I suggest not buying into the Zawahiri or Awlaki hype. They are not terrorist masterminds. Let them actually succeed  again before we start fearing them.) I do not know if it is possible to drop a bomb that would kill more than five of them. More centralised groups like Hamas and the PKK have survived the loss of leaders, partly because this kind of group is highly adaptive (more so than large, hierarchical militaries). Then there is the indigenous anti-occupation resistance. As far as I know there are three large groups fighting the foreign troop presence (not including a number of Afghanis recruited for government security forces who have turned on the ISAF). The Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin are (I think, though I am by no means an expert on Afghanistan) examples of organisations that it would be very hard to destroy, because they are made up of locals banded together by the cause of ejecting foreigners. They are different from Iraqi resistance organisations, because many of the latter engaged in street warfare, whereas Afghan resistance groups populate the many villages of Afghanistan. In journalist Nir Rosen’s words,

It is impossible to live among the people the way the Americans did during the surge in Iraq, because there is no population concentration, and every home in a village is so far away from another, and there are few roads. You can rumble along a road for a few hours to shake hands and drink tea with some elders only to head back to the base to get a burger and ice cream before the chow hall closes, but the Taliban own the night and can undermine any deal you will make. They are part of the community.

There are some defections from these groups to national troops, but when that happens the defectors are usually enticed by the money. We could probably get most Afghans on our side for, say, $10 trillion over 5 years, but is Afghanistan really worth it? It is even worth the $10m in aid some say is being siphoned out of the country every day (that might be going to anti-ISAF militias)?

(I will not go too far into the regional instability that governments are only exacerbating, but insurgencies in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan give support to the Afghan resistance and render all attempts to “stabilise” Afghanistan impossible. Even the best “regional strategy” imposed from the top is likely to fail.)

No less significantly, according to Gen. Stanley McChrystal (and all other sources), the Taliban get a big part of their funding from the drug trade. Until the main drug consuming countries (mostly the US, but Canada too) legalise drugs and let legal competitors enter the market, the price of drugs will remain high, Afghanistan will continue to provide the vast majority (about 70%) of the world’s heroin and the Taliban will continue to make millions of dollars off it. Many supporters of the push against the Taliban and other bad guys is their claim that the Taliban are bad, therefore we must fight them. But this argument begs the question. What is missing is the major premise: if someone is bad we should fight them. However, that is not the case. Sure, another 20 years of killing and trillions more dollars and maybe the war could be won for the “good guys”. But besides being a waste of money and lives, I seriously doubt the political will exists for it. The fact is, Afghanistan will go to whomever wants it more, and the indigenous resistance have already shown who that is.

Second, helping the locals. Gordon Brown mapped his vision in 2009: “build basic services — clean water, electricity, roads, basic justice, basic health care, and then economic development.” What a warm feeling taxpayers must get from such a selfless and charitable mission. I am sure some local Afghans have benefited from what the ISAF governments have given them. (See some of those things here.) However, photos for Stars and Stripes tend to obscure reality. Journalist William Dalrymple describes the situation on the ground.

[T]here have been few tangible signs of improvement under the western-backed regime. Despite the US pouring approximately $80bn into Afghanistan, the roads in Kabul are still more rutted than those in the smallest provincial towns of Pakistan. There is little health care; for any severe medical condition, patients still have to fly to India. A quarter of all teachers in Afghanistan are themselves illiterate. In many areas, district governance is almost non-existent: half the governors do not have an office, more than half have no electricity, and most receive only $6 a month in expenses. Civil servants lack the most basic education and skills.

This is largely because $76.5bn of the $80bn committed to the country has been spent on military and security, and most of the remaining $3.5bn on international consultants, some of whom are paid in excess of $1,000 a day, according to an Afghan government report. This, in turn, has had other negative effects. As in 1842, the presence of large numbers of well-paid foreign troops has caused the cost of food and provisions to rise, and living standards to fall. The Afghans feel they are getting poorer, not richer.

The locals are not yet on their way to prosperity. In fact, they are suffering. (See Kate Brooks’ photo essay here.) The situation of women is not getting better, either. The cover of Time a year ago portrayed a frightening picture of an Afghan girl whose husband had cut off her nose, saying that this would happen more if “we” left Afghanistan. What it overlooked was that 9 years of occupation had still not ended the abuse of women. Neither the ISAF nor the Karzai government have brought education or rights to women, and they cannot unseat the people who are taking them away, and they have no credible plan to do so. Moreover, there is something larger that NATO is taking away from Afghans.

The very presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan results in civilian deaths, either in the crossfire of firefights, misplaced (or just really big) bombs, drone attacks that have killed a number of civilians that is still unknown, or when foreign troops go on a killing spree. For example, on May 19, 2011, the Taliban killed 35 people working on US-financed road projects which, at least according to journalist Hashim Shukoor, “the insurgents believe threaten their access to refuges in the tribal regions of Pakistan.” They would not have killed these people had the US not been in the picture. Foreign troops attempting to protect civilians from the Taliban tend to increase civilian casualties directly or indirectly. Brutal weapons are systematically destroying innocent people: they are not as discriminating as those who order their use would have us believe. A tribal elder told William Dalrymple, “How many times can they apologise for killing our innocent women and children and expect us to forgive them? They come, they bomb, they kill us and then they say, ‘Oh, sorry, we got the wrong people.’ And they keep doing that.” The recent escalation of the war is presumably why risk to minorities grew more in Afghanistan this year than in any other country (“Civilian deaths have climbed every year for the past five years, totaling nearly 3,000 in 2010 according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.”), and almost certainly why so many Afghans are angry with the foreigners and can’t wait to see the back of them. People tend not to fall for the “throw off your oppressors and we’ll stop bombing you” approach. Rightly or wrongly, people tend to blame the foreigners for their plight, turning to the devil they know to protect them from the one they don’t. As long as the madness of the occupation persists, Afghans will not be turned against the indigenous oppressors in favour of the foreign ones. How many civilians need to die before “the country” is “free”?

The intervening powers might be even less welcome in Pakistan. The ISAF has pushed some of Afghanistan’s problems into Pakistan, and as a result, Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan have become “AfPak”, a stronghold of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Pakistani army has lost many soldiers fighting what many Pakistanis complain (ever more frequently with bombs strapped to their chests) is the US’s war. The US has been using drones, an unmanned airplane controlled from the other side of the world. In doing so, it is able to target suspected militants for assassination while exposing no Americans to danger. The number of drone attacks has increased dramatically under Barack Obama, and drones are killing civilians. How many is uncertain, but the painstaking work of Noor Behram suggests that for every 10 to 15 people killed, one militant goes down. (The Brookings Institute finds roughly the same proportion, though it encourages the strikes as a way to prevent al Qaeda terrorism.) One report identified 168 children killed in drone strikes as of August 2011. The strikes injure countless more and “radicalise” (which I believe means “infuriate to the point of violent retaliation”) the locals. There are also certain legal questions regarding drone attacks that have not been resolved, and unsurprisingly the Barack administration does not seem interested in them. As a result of all this unthinking intervention, Pakistan, a country riddled with Islamic extremism and terrorism, armed with nuclear warheads, is becoming less stable by the day. Anatol Lieven fears not so much the Islamist terrorist threat but that a portion of the Pakistani army will mutiny, and the state of Pakistan will collapse. The US destabilised Cambodia while fighting in Vietnam, and we can only hope the fate of Pakistan is less bad than that of Cambodia.

The other thing the ISAF is inflicting on the locals is the single most corrupt and ineffectual government in the world, the government of Hamid Karzai. I know a Taliban or whoever government would be bad, but I don’t really see what good the present one is doing anyone. Karzai knows his people see him as a foreign puppet, and has attempted to distance himself from his backers. He accused the US, UK and UN of orchestrating an election fraud, called NATO an “army of occupation” and threatened to join the Taliban. Attempts to strengthen the central government will not work, as, according to Professor Paul Staniland, “there is very little evidence that winning hearts and minds through legitimate state-building is a path to victory. Building a strong state is often in direct opposition to the will of the population (or at least a significant part of it).” (That should not be surprising to anyone reading this blog. Governments fail to win hearts and minds not because of lack of money or posters but because they are self-interested, violent and irretrievably rapacious.) The Afghan state is not likely to retract its hand from poppy money any time soon, however much control the ISAF governments think they have over it. (Find more on the Afghan drug business and corruption here.) Any government with any hand in Afghanistan is likely to do whatever it can to take the trillion dollars’ worth of minerals reportedly lying under the ground from the locals. Attempts to train locals in being the military or police of a central Afghan state (and the $9b spent on it in 2010) are, needless to say, not going according to plan. More and more “inside attacks” are occurring as Afghans the ISAF trusted turn on the coalition. If the foreign militaries really want to help the people, my suggestion is to help people defend themselves from oppression on the local level and don’t try to prop up or take down any kind of government.

Regarding terrorism, I do not think foreign occupation will reduce terrorism anywhere in the world. There are a few things to note here. Though terrorism itself has various motivations in various situations, a major cause is perceived foreign occupation. In Dying to Kill and Cutting the Fuse, Robert Pape explains a clear pattern in suicide bombings leading to that conclusion, among others. (I’ll let you read those books—they are excellent.) And on the whole, suicide bombings are deadlier than other forms of terrorism. There were no real terrorist attacks by foreign nationals on Western soil until 9/11. After the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, there were a bunch.

Terrorism is designed to send a message. When the recent invasion of Libya began, my parents said, “good: get the guy who orchestrated the Lockerbie bombing.” I was initially surprised that they did not realise that Lockerbie had been in retaliation for the attempt on Gaddafi’s life that killed his adopted daughter. Apparently the news, which my parents watch every night, does little to explain that terrorism has causes. In 2006, 18 young Muslims were arrested in Toronto for plotting to detonate truck bombs, storm the Canadian parliament and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and behead the PM. According to Mubin Shaikh, one of the two guys who infiltrated the group, the ringleader’s main point of contention was that “troops are in Afghanistan raping Muslim women”. In 2004, bombs went off in Madrid three days before a general election that were obviously a protest of Spain’s involvement in Iraq. With little regard to Spanish politics at the time, some accused the Spanish people of caving in by electing a new government and immediately ending Spain’s commitment to Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, pre-election polls suggested Spanish voters had been at best lukewarm on the war and the government who had led them to war. For two days following the Madrid bombing, the government tried to manipulate information and blame the Basque militant group, ETA; the public’s finding out it was in fact an offshoot of al Qaeda added anger to shock. A few days after the election, Martin Wolf of the Financial Times wrote an article headed “The world must unite against terrorism”, in which he called the removal of Spanish troops from Iraq a victory for the terrorists. Whether or not that is true is irrelevant. A more important question is, was it the right thing to do? He proceeded to conclude that Britain must not follow suit. A year later, Britain suffered its own terrorist bombing, almost definitely in protest of the UK government’s killing and debasement of Muslims in Iraq. There is no reason to believe that foreign interventions will reduce terrorism.  In fact, as Anatol Lieven points out, “U.S. and British soldiers are in effect dying in Afghanistan in order to make the world more dangerous for American and British peoples.” One possible reason for ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and so on is to increase the foreign terrorist threat that elites can use to take away more of your freedom. It has worked out that way so far.

But there are other, less official but nonetheless very good reasons for being in Afghanistan.

One is that the US military and its political sponsors have come to regard failure as inconceivable, not an option. This is partly due to the fact that a superpower abhors defiance (which was one reason for Operation Iraqi Freedom), and partly because the military-civilian establishment of the US sees military power as a solution to everything from flexing muscles in order to menace rival powers to staying in power by continuing to supply Americans with cheap consumer goods so they do not have to ask them to lower their standards of living and pay off their credit cards.

Remember how Unocal was trying to build a pipeline through Afghanistan in the 90s? Did you know about that? Well anyway, a natural gas pipeline is still being built. It is a long pipeline, about 1700km long, from Turkmenistan south through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. It is not owned by Unocal but is still expected to supply gas to the US and Europe, bypassing Russia and Iran, the traditional routes. The US and its allies have an interest in protecting the pipeline.

Even bigger is Afghanistan’s $1 trillion in mineral deposits: “huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world”. Do you think ordinary Afghans will benefit from this find? Finding billions worth of diamonds in Sierra Leone didn’t help the people. Let’s ask Libyans and Nigerians how much of their countries’ oil revenue they got. I think fighting over these minerals will make things worse for them.

It almost seems futile to protest the war, because every few months politicians promise they are about to end the mission and draw down troops. Every year they say that this will be “the decisive year”. Then things get more violent, as the opponents of the occupation get more desperate and recruit more people, and the politicians say “just a little bit longer”, like children asking their parents’ permission to stay up late. But the parents are unaware how devious their kids are, and what their kids are doing when the parents’ backs are turned. There is no reason to believe the occupiers and their sneaky, underhanded attempts to hide the truth from those funding the war. The ISAF has 700 bases in Afghanistan, with a $100m expansion of Special Operations headquarters approved only last year. Do you think they are about to leave any time soon? The best we can hope for is enough reporters on the scene who exposes the abuses of all sides, as violence by any party in the name of this war is an indictment of it.

Why do you think Afghanistan is the way it is? It is because war has been imposed on it for decades. Desperate people under pressure for so long do not turn out like us rich-world people. The most competent NATO general will never understand what it is like to be an Afghani. What hearts-and-minds strategy could he possibly contrive? Now we have these self-important democracy promoters, who could do a little better than to prop up the least effective government in the world, and who seem to think we just need a little bit more war before Afghanistan will be fine again. Governments of the ISAF have given no vision—that’s something leaders do—for what Afghanistan should look like, and have no plans that have worked so far. And the heads of state shuffle their national security teams and nothing changes. Now, you can say that the troops are in Afghanistan helping people, but they are also killing people. So whom are they really helping? If foreign troops are there and Afghans who do not like them try to kill them—I know, such ingrates, right?—regular people will get caught in the crossfire. That means the presence of those troops is a cause of the violence. It does not matter who pulled that particular trigger. But these people who think democracy is so important it is worth keeping up this kind of war believe that we have to win and impose our values on these ignorant yokels, and that if some die in the meantime, well, that’s the price you pay. Little bit more war, then we’ll defeat the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and any other groups that pop up in the meantime, and Afghanistan will be on the road to democracy! Some roads are so bumpy you are better off not driving on them.

Saigon fell to bad guys and the world did not end. Stop trying to control everything. Stop chasing the illusion of stability through dictatorship or military force. It is having the opposite effect.

Why war is wrong, part 4: why do we still go to war?

“Necessity is the excuse for every infringement of human freedom.” – William Pitt

Because some people have a strong interest in war, because people are so easily manipulated by flags and photos, wars continue. We are given all manner of reasons why we should go to war, from the self-preservation motive and the argument from fear, to the humanitarian ideal that speaks to our highest morals. We even think that we have to go to war because humans are a warlike species. Let us look at some of these arguments in greater depth.

First, defense of the realm. Who is trying to attack you and your country? Most enemies are manufactured, like the “radical Muslim” spectre champing at the bit to kill as many Americans as it can. The CIA consistently overestimated the threat from the Soviet Union. They used the threat to con the public into approving of taxes and debt to pay for huge military and intelligence budgets, and until the late 1960s had people scared to dissent. By then, they had already killed thousands of Vietnamese (who also posed no threat to anyone outside Vietnam), and were in too deep to get out without killing a million more. Hundreds of thousands of young men were drafted—a euphemism for military enslavement—to fight this war, and tens of thousands of them died or went crazy. If anyone is trying to use force against you, it is your own government.

But perhaps a foreign government wants to attack you and steal your oil supplies. The existence of government in the past has not prevented imperialism, as any kingdom that is stronger than the next one might attack it and take its resources. (No less significant is that national governments take those resources just like foreign ones.) Governments can be subdued if more powerful ones want to do so. Imperialism is an option for enrichment in the absence of free trade. When there is free trade, however, the costs of maintaining a war machine are likely to be greater than the costs of simply buying the resource in question. Wars like Iraqi Freedom are good to ensure that a select few corporations with connections in the government of the invading power do not have to pay premiums for access to resources that were previously in the hands of a despotic government, and thus the costs are passed on to the taxpayers instead, but after their cowardly army ran away, Iraqis still put up a fight. And in a place like the US, where every second house has a couple of guns in it, the people could put up that much bigger a fight. There is no reason to believe people would not willingly come to each other’s rescue if they were being victimised; unless of course some powerful government with a persuasive tone had taken away their means to defend each other. If they owned an oil field, they could hire private security to protect it. Again, a big military could break through, but it would impose big costs on the aggressors when they could just buy it at market prices.

Moreover, as Stefan Molyneux points out in Everyday Anarchy, one reason to invade another country is to control its state functions. If there is a state apparatus there to take over, an invader can just move in, like a new president moving into the White House. Everything is already set up to take from people and control them through police and intelligence services. But in the absence of a state, how could they tax and control people? Go door to door? They would have to start from scratch to recreate something that took years to develop and this time the population would be hostile. An anarchist society would also probably be far richer, because there would be no parasite class to appropriate and destroy wealth. They would not need the enormous military forces large states have, because most of those forces have offensive capabilities an anarchist society, which would be purely defensive, would not need (think stealth bombers and missile-launching submarines).

Control of territory and resources for the sake of power to rulers or profit for well-connected corporations is one reason we are familiar with. That includes imposing neoliberal policies, or forcing open markets on behalf of large corporations. The military-industrial complex has always benefited from war, since before Smedley Butler. I wonder why people get so upset when the military outsources its functions to corporations. People complain that corporations only do things for profit, ignoring the human side of things. Right. Like governments at war are so concerned about people. Would it somehow be better if governments took the reins? How about we just don’t go to war at all?

Elites have non-monetary reasons to start wars as well. Since people who are interested solely in attaining power (usually psychopaths) can be found in abundance at the top of governments, we should not be surprised how often wars are caused by lust for power. Many wars have something to do with maintaining the balance of power. Do you care about the balance of power? Does it matter to you if another government has more power than your own? Does it affect your life if Iraq is more powerful than Israel? But to those who view the world as a playground, relative power is everything. No one can control the sandbox but me.

Arms races lead to war as well. When one state builds its military, whether surreptitiously or overtly, other states feel threatened they will be invaded. They might fight preemptive wars, going to war when they believe an attack is imminent; or preventive wars, initiating force when they believe the other party will be more powerful in the future. Military build ups are again the prerogative of the elite and the ignorant nationalist. Strong militaries do not make nations strong. They invite suspicion, fear and preventive war.

Massive military buildup did not prevent the world wars; in fact, they enabled deadlier killing than the world has ever known. Whenever you read history about the World Wars, the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide and the Cold War, just remember that none of those things would have been possible without the state. Then you have Costa Rica, Panama and Iceland with virtually no armies, and no one is attacking them. So why do we need bigger, stronger militaries? To project the government’s power beyond its borders.

These days, saving others is a popular reason to invade. Humanitarian intervention has a mixed record, from Bosnia and Kosovo to Afghanistan and Libya. In its modern form, it is quite new and admittedly has some promise. Unfortunately, given the promise it does hold and the successes its followers claim for it, humanitarian intervention can easily be abused. It is the fool who forgets that military intervention of any kind will leave innocent casualties in its wake. It will cost money that taxpayers should be allowed to control as they see fit, no matter what the outcomes of the war. And any successful humanitarian operation might be followed by ten that use the first as a pretext for more violence. With government, the temptation for abuse is too great. People who want to engage in humanitarianism of any kind should take such matters into their own hands, without forcing others to pay and die for their utopian dreams.

Two reasons to retain some helicopters and planes are first perhaps for self defense, depending how people perceive threats from outside, and second probably for search and rescue missions. But in both cases, the free market could find a solution. If there are people who want to rescue hikers trapped on mountains, no question a noble profession, and hikers who might get trapped who are willing to pay for their services, we have a market. It could be required to buy insurance to enter the privately- or communally-owned mountain. And why would they refuse service to people who somehow had no insurance? Doctors take a hippocratic oath; let the search and rescue teams discuss if they want do something similar.

It is not out of the question to maintain a military of some form. I am a strong believer in the effectively unlimited potential of humans. It is possible we could reach a stage where we could maintain constructive militaries who work solely to protect the innocent. Indeed, such militaries may already exist, in a few small countries no one will ever invade without becoming a global pariah. But where governments with coercive power exist, the potential for abuse exists.

Now, this problem might still exist in the stateless society, as communities might arm themselves threateningly in the manner of small, native villages, and the cycle of violence may rage. However, there are a few reasons to believe that would not happen in a modern, stateless society. First, communities would not live in isolation. Residents would continue to live and work next to each other, with little distinction between them. Not only would they be friends and family, they have economic interests in maintaining friendly relations. Second, our world has made great strides in communication. If one group feels threatened by another, its members could visit the other and discussing things. Third, if communities make the choice to become stateless, it will be because they realise aggression is wrong and counter productive. They would have made choices based on moral principles to never attack innocents for personal gain.

Many make the claim that war is deeply embedded in human nature and is an unavoidable constant. The evidence is not as clear as they believe, though. Ashley Montagu says war can be traced to social factors and childhood socialisation. Judith Hand says hyper alpha males are the instigators of most wars, and that war only emerges when cultural conditions enable it. If we could elminate the conditions of war, we could eliminate war. If we are not at war all the time, then human nature is probably just as useful for explaining peace as war. The widespread (not universal) occurrence of warfare does not mean engaging in warfare is adaptive or provides reproductive benefits. Moreover, it seems to have occurred only very recently in human history, and was not present hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The media distort our perceptions of the amount of violence in society because so much of what we watch features violence. And yet, most adults spend almost every day without purposefully inflicting injury on others, being the victim of aggression or even witnessing someone else’s victimisation. Not only is this true of us in our culture, but the same holds even for the most statistically violent cultures in the world. The cross-cultural data show that violence is the exception among the countless peaceful solutions we find to our conflicts such as negotiating, agreeing to provide compensation for damages, reaching compromises, forgiving and reconciling with friends and strangers alike. Douglas Fry reminds us that “[h]umans have a solid capacity for getting along with each other peacefully, preventing physical aggression, limiting the scope and spread of violence, and restoring peace following aggression.” These findings should not only change our understanding of war but our ideas about the necessity of standing armies, the purpose of military intervention and the possibility for non-violent conflict resolution.

Studies show that nonwarring societies do exist. The very fact that they exist seems to disprove, or at least call into question, the idea that man is naturally warlike. All human societies have believers in the supernatural, music and property, as well as rape, revenge and murder. Not all societies have warfare. In fact, at least 70 cultural groups do not engage in war at all. Apart from many smaller groups such as the Semai of Malaysia or the Amish, one could cite Sweden and Switzerland, having gone many years without war, Iceland, 800 years without war, and Costa Rica.

One of many examples of cultural groups who have not developed war is Australian Aborigines. Aborigines, under very different conditions from our own, developed relatively peaceful cultures. Bands that could have fought traded instead. They tended to respect each other’s territory. Band membership was open and fluid, and people had relatives and contacts in other groups (which is one reason I doubt the US and China will go to war). They also had advanced dispute-resolution mechanisms, such as duels, contests, meetings and reconciliation ceremonies.

Since male aggressivity is flexible, and can manifest itself in sports, business, and so on, it is the environmental conditions under which violence and war occur that need to be taken into account when considering human nature and violence. Saying that we are inherently warlike means there is no point trying to reduce or eliminate war. Why attempt the impossible? But these are simply cultural beliefs that we are socialised to hold.

Fry suggests war can be replaced by “more effective, less brutal ways of seeking security, defending rights and providing justice for the people of this planet.” All humans seek justice, though their methods vary. Some favour violence and some don’t. Much of the violence humans inflict on each other, which may have been called “senseless” or “evil”, is a consequence of the desire to right wrongs.

Not only is war unnecessary and lethal, it is possible to change our behaviour. Humans are so flexible that they can do various jobs in all kinds of societies and cultures. As long as we know it is possible to end war and make peace, we are capable of it.

The fact is, governments may at one time or another have a reason to go to war, and when they find that reason, they have a powerful, modern military to use in it. They will spend millions in taxpayer dollars to sell the war, using so many lies that are uncovered too late that there is little reason to consider what governments say about their wars much more than propaganda.

But if you really believe so strongly in military intervention, if you actually believe politicians’ and generals’ reasons for killing thousands of people, wounding and displacing thousands more, destroying houses and the natural environment, go do it yourself. I don’t, so I won’t be joining you, and I won’t be financing your war either. War is built on lies, theft and muder. I urge everyone to join me in rejecting and resisting all wars.

(See more on libertarian theory of war here.)

Why war is wrong, part 3: support the troops

“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” – Napoleon

Soldiers  are agents of the state and agents of war. As such, they are outside of peaceful society. Soldiers are trained to follow orders unquestioningly and kill people without knowing who they are. They have their most important human qualities, such as compassion, squeezed out of them through indoctrination. They are put into uniforms to strip them of their individuality and thus their ability to act independently of orders. They are forced to conform. They are chosen when they are young: able to kill but less able to think critically about killing. After they kill, they turn into nervous wrecks. Saddest of all, they believe they are keeping us safe. Well, some of them do.

I wonder what the “Support the Troops” people think when they find out some soldiers have been killing civilians for sport. (See here and here.) And though most are isolated incidents, like collateral damage (a euphemism for killing civilians accidentally, such as these nine children killed from a helicopter in Afghanistan), friendly fire (a euphemism for soldiers’ killing their fellows) and rape (See here and here.) (sometimes a deliberate policy of intimidation or ethnic cleansing), they are inevitable in war. Do you know why? Because when people are given the kind of power over others that a big gun or an army grants you, many of them will choose to use that power however they want. We call soldiers brave, but how brave is it to beat, rape and kill unarmed men, women and children? How brave is dropping bombs on or shooting cruise missiles at people? These people are heroes?

Let us briefly examine the killing of innocents. It occurs in every war. The soldiers and civilians in the country prosecuting the war have been told that they are at war with an entire country, and as such, civilian casualties are easier to stomach. Their media report little in the way of dead innocents, and use a variety of euphemisms to soften the blow when they do. In Afghanistan, for instance, thousands of innocent people have died from air strikes (3000 in the first six months alone, though estimates vary).  (It makes one wonder if there is really such a thing as targeted, “smart” weapons; and if not, what it is we are paying billions of dollars to develop.) How many newspapers reported the figures at the time? Perhaps they were afraid of looking unpatriotic. If patriotism means dropping bombs on people, or letting it go unreported, you can have it. However, we could still kill people who are harming innocents—the only enemies we should ever have—and leave innocents alone. We do not need a state to have special ops teams that get into tight spots to cut the head off the snake. We will always have people who want to do this type of work. Large-scale wars are just not necessary. But while they continue, expect hundreds of innocent people to get caught in the crossfire every year from it.

I also wonder what “Support the Troops” really means. Which troops? All of them? What about the racist ones? What about the ones who are just mindless killers? We should support even the ones who deliberately kill innocent civilians and take trophy photos with them? Putting a sticker on your car is cute and all, but the idea “Support the Troops” lacks all nuance. (A politician’s idea of supporting the troops is to use them and get photographed next to them.) Besides, are these the same troop-supporting people who do not take their governments to task for reducing funding for body armour, pensions, medical and psychiatric treatment for veterans? Did you know that 17.4% of soldiers in Afghanistan report acute stress? Did you know that some 20% of suicides in the US are veterans, even though they make up less than 1% of the population? Between 100,000 and 200,000 Vietnam vets have killed themselves. Plenty of suicides take place among current soldiers as well. Posttraumatic stress disorder is believed to afflict up to 30 percent of close to 2 million active-duty soldiers and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Unemployment among young male veterans is now more than 22 percent, and hundreds of thousands of US military vets are homeless or at risk of homelessness. I don’t think we should have any troops, but while we have them, how about they get what they were promised and what they need? Is that what it means to support the troops? Because that is not what is happening. Don’t expect government to make it happen, either. Government is bankrupt, morally and now economically. Finally, if you really want to support the troops, take away the government’s ability to send them to their deaths in pointless imperial wars.

What is the difference between soldiers and terrorists? Or insurgents or enemy combatants or whatever word the propaganda machines are using this week. Well, let’s see. First, soldiers are employed by a state and terrorists are not. That means soldiers are pursuing the state’s interests and terrorists are pursuing private interests. Most wars are concocted by elites and wrapped in flags and slogans. Flags lend wars and the actions of soldiers legitimacy in the eyes of nationalists. They get it: soldiers=good, terrorists=bad. Terrorism, on the other hand, is usually born of desperation. Therefore, in general, terrorists have real grievances and soldiers take for granted that their commanding officers have the best interests of the country at heart. To argue that terrorists are less moral than soldiers because they target civilians is wrong because soldiers sometimes target civilians, sometimes as an aim of war and sometimes for fun; and those branded as terrorists sometimes target agents of the state (as when al Qaeda attacked the USS Cole, and Bill Clinton declared it “an act of terrorism”).

And when there are such abuses, we rightly call for the guilty soldiers to be prosecuted. What tends to happen, though, is that the military will throw the book at a few soldiers whose abuses have been made public, and it will attempt to cover up any more so the military’s image remains professional and just (much like they try to cover up images of coffins with flags draped over them). (The Iraq War Logs have revealed plenty of examples.) One point of the book The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo is that individual responsibility, asking who did the crime, should not be the only consideration when apportioning blame. An additional question is, who created the conditions where all this was allowed to happen? Donald Rumsfeld’s deliberate sidestepping of international law and basic human morality trickled down to his army in Iraq, which is how we got Abu Ghraib.

Soldiers are lied to. They are told that their actions, whether occupying a foreign country, shaking down a village, killing whomever they are told to kill without question, are all in the service of a good cause. Soldiers are not only taught to kill, and that killing is right, but to believe in the utmost honourability of their organisation and their superiors, and thus the uncritical, unquestioning acceptance of their orders. That’s called indoctrination. But I guess since we are mostly taught not to question through government-run schools, what would we expect? Besides, many people who go into the military want to follow authority and want to kill. But why should we pay for their training, their guns, tanks and bombs?

But not all soldiers want to kill. Most are persuaded, much like the public is, that, in extreme circumstances, it is noble to kill. I am not a big fan of killing anyone, but of course I can understand that killing can be the right thing to do: if you are defending your own life or the life of an innocent, it may be necessary to kill someone. But states do not fight defensive wars very often anymore. The US has not fought a defensive war for 200 years. (Contrast that with the evil Iran, which has not fought an aggressive war in 200 years.) Wars against terrorism are usually results of state, not terrorist, aggression. Every war for humanitarian ideals (if there has ever truly been one) has just set the intervening powers further down the road to the next imperial war by enlarging the state, legitimising aggression and spreading the lie that war is not so bad on the people. Soldiers need to begin to think very critically about their role as agents of the lies, the plunder and the killing.

One problem is that the US, British, Canadian and other public constituencies do not care enough about the turmoil abroad caused by their governments’ policies. Most of them will never fight in a war, nor will they see the war brought home to them (until the next terrorist attack, at any rate; and then they will not realise the war was the cause of it). Many of them do not care what happens abroad, as long as they can keep the car full of gas. Many others support these wars, believing they are self-sacrificial and good for everyone. When the public is not exposed to the bloodshed and the costs of war, it can give its seal of approval willingly.