On Memorial Day, time for another game plan

Juan Cole posted that, “Memorial Day, in my view, should be a time of reflection not only on the sacrifices made for the nation in war but on whether our wars are necessary and whether they are being fought in the right way.” And he criticized the war in Afghanistan (as well as the war in Iraq, while maintaining his endorsement of the war in Libya),[1] writing,

The protests in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, against yet another alleged killing of 14 women and children in an airstrike that went awry, reminds us that the big counter-insurgency effort in that country still has not produced social peace, still has not yielded a government capable of taking over security duties. NATO has had to issue an apology. If Afghan police and soldiers could project authority and force in local areas, air strikes would be unnecessary. And after nearly 10 years since the overthrow of the Taliban, it is legitimate to ask when and how exactly local troops can be expected to take up this slack?[2]

I replied (at this writing, the comment is pending moderation),

The war in Afghanistan could never have accomplished anything but to exacerbate the United States’ problems with the Muslim world. Only extremists can say that an unbalanced approach in favor of Israel, that sanctions against Iraq that raised the mortality rate in the under-five age group, that disrespect for holy places, that Islamophobia in the West, that drone attacks around the world–but mostly against Muslim nations–all contribute to Al Qaeda and other Islamist group recruitment. War begets more war, and only justice can end the cycle of violence.

"Maybe the best way to honor the fallen... ... would be to find more ways to not send others to join them"
Fig. 1: Memorial Day 2011
But John Cole of the Scranton Times-Tribune said it more poignantly (fig. 1).

A condition of endless war is justified on grounds of national security, which the political elite of both factions swear to uphold. Yet, as I wrote last month,

Then there’s the continuing matter of our endless wars and interventions that have engaged our military in all but sixteen years of our history since 1775.[3] It’s impossible in asymmetric conflict, where an insurgency faces a technologically far-superior power, for the latter to avoid atrocities that historically have turned the tide of world opinion against colonizers. Such wars are thus inherently criminal under international law, but in addition, we support Israel not only in such acts as Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip but in a blockade of that territory that is in contradiction to the obligations of occupying powers.[4] Reports of Israeli abuses in the West Bank are so common I’m frankly at a loss as to how to begin citing sources. And even Obama has acknowledged that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict costs the U.S. “significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”[5] This conflict cyclically generates asymmetric war after asymmetric war as our crusades continue both overtly and covertly.[6] What Obama—and our entire power elite—fail to acknowledge is how phony our outrage is when distant wars come home, as with the 9/11 attacks in the United States and with the July 7 attack in London,[7] and particularly when these attacks serve as excuses for yet more wars, violating the rights of ever more humans.[8]

And for what? Egypt has opened the border at Rafah, allowing Gazans to travel in and out of the Strip.[9] The United Nations General Assembly appears set to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state despite U.S. and Israeli objections.[10] Iraq may well be drifting into Iranian orbit,[11] Pakistan has engaged in a burst of activity upgrading its relations with China,[12] the conflict in Libya is in a stalemate,[13] and, as Cole observes, the war in Afghanistan is a failure.[14]

In short, “America’s enemies,” enemies largely of its own making, have every reason to believe that U.S. power is declining. From a realpolitik perspective, our failure to distinguish our own interests has led us into a quagmire. And from a human perspective, the United States is the world’s number one terrorist organization. A strategy of endless war is a strategy of bloody futility.

Several years ago, when I was active in StarFleet International, a Star Trek fan club, I found myself in a flame war with a friend, who has served for decades with the California National Guard. In asserting that the military had been misled into war in Iraq, I spat—in his view—on his career, his life. We have not spoken since. There are a few reasons I am no longer active with that organization, but one was that the organization seemed dominated by people who seemed remote from what I understood to be Gene Roddenbury’s vision of peace, who seemed caught up in militaristic aspects, even going so far as to create a suborganization called the StarFleet Marines. It seemed to me that there was and is a real sickness in which the people I encountered in that organization reveled in violence, in killing human beings in the name of patriotism.

As another former friend put it, he wanted the United States to be on top of the dung heap (not his precise words).

We’ve killed a lot of people, including a lot of noncombatants. And when one looks at the outcome, one can only suggest that we are doing it for no reason save to kill. And all of us in this country bear responsibility for failing to stop that killing.

Lennon Wall, "Imagine," in Prague, Czech Republic.
Fig. 2: Lennon Wall, "Imagine," in Prague, Czech Republic.
  1. [1]Juan Cole, “Time to Begin Leaving Afghanistan,” Informed Comment, May 30, 2011, http://www.juancole.com/2011/05/time-to-begin-leaving-afghanistan.html
  2. [2]Cole, “Time to Begin Leaving Afghanistan.”
  3. [3]David Benfell, “A peace loving nation,” DisUnitedStates.org, October 18, 2009, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=738
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Goldstone caves,” DisUnitedStates.org, April 5, 2011, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=2294; United Nations, “The International Human Rights System 11/11″ [2004], http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/comp210.htm
  5. [5]Barack Obama, “Press Conference by the President at the Nuclear Security Summit,” White House, October 11, 2010, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/press-conference-president-nuclear-security-summit
  6. [6]David Benfell, “With allies like Israel, who needs enemies?” DisUnitedStates.org, March 9, 2010, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=1531; Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe, “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role,” Washington Post, June 4, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/03/AR2010060304965.html; Jeremy Scahill, “Obama’s Expanding Covert Wars,” Nation, June 4, 2010, http://www.thenation.com/blog/obamas-expanding-covert-wars; Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, and Robert F. Worth, “Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents,” New York Times, August 14, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/world/15shadowwar.html
  7. [7]Robert Fisk, “The reality of this barbaric bombing,” Independent, July 8, 2005, http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-the-reality-of-this-barbaric-bombing-497971.html
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Hypocrisy in human rights,” DisUnitedStates.org, April 10, 2011, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=2737
  9. [9]Kevin Flower, “Egypt reopens border with Gaza,” CNN, May 28, 2011, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/05/28/egypt.gaza.border.crossing/index.html
  10. [10]PressTV, “PA expecting global recognition in Sep.,” January 10, 2011, http://www.presstv.ir/detail/159511.html
  11. [11]Michael Knights, “Iran’s influence in Iraq: Game, set but not match to Tehran,” Guardian, October 17, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/17/iran-influence-iraq-tehran
  12. [12]Agence France-Presse, “Growing China-Pak ties worry India,” Dawn, May 22, 2011, http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/22/growing-china-pak-ties-worry-india.html
  13. [13]Jonathan Marcus, “Libya stalemate leaves Nato without ‘Plan B’,” BBC News, May 11, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13358885
  14. [14]Cole, “Time to Begin Leaving Afghanistan.”

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