True Strength, in Lyla’s Prayer and Song, and How I Came to Mine Quite Late

Lyla June Johnson joined us last month at the Lincoln Memorial from her ancestral homeland of Diné Tah, what the Mexican-American War, through violent conquest, defined and delineated for us as the states of the American Southwest. The Mexican-American War was a war that American general and president Ulysses Grant would describe in his memoirs as: “one of the most unjust [wars] ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation” and “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war…I thought so at the time…only I had not moral courage enough to resign.” I’m convinced that Grant’s life and soul were irrevocably and forever wrecked by the moral injury he sustained from his participation in the Mexican-American War. However interesting it would be to think on how that war effected Grant and drove him in the years before, during and after the Civil War, Grant is not the purpose of this post, Lyla is, and by extension, my own inability to act fully on my own feelings and beliefs for too many years.

Lyla spoke after I did at the Lincoln Memorial. In contrast to my speech, which was filled with anger and sorrow, and offered only bitter reflection, Lyla offered healing and hope, and a path forward for all of us, even the diseased war-makers, as she aptly, and compassionately described them. Please take the time to hear her words, her prayer and her song:

Here is my speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Please listen/watch both and note the difference. I’d like to be more like Lyla.

Thank you to Chris Smiley for filming all the speeches and music performances at the Lincoln Memorial and at the White House. You can watch all the videos here at Chris’ Youtube channel.

Note that the title of this post is True Strength. I see that strength in Lyla, as I see it in so many of my comrades in the Peace and Justice community, so many of them women, I would say most of them women. Not discounting my brothers, but many of the most influential people on me, these past years of my life, have been women, my sisters.

I see that strength so especially when women like Lyla are willing to see the war-mongers and war-profiteers and pray for them, when people like Lyla seek to heal those whom I decry and detest. Where I want to tear down, set ablaze and destroy, where I want to let loose and satisfy an anger, a hate, a desire for bloody and savage revenge that haunts and cripples me, Lyla looks to comfort, to fix and to sooth; her way brings peace. Inside of me the cycle of violence is still spinning, and that weakens me so that I can never be strong, so that I can never recover, so that I can never find relief and rest. Only when that cycle of violence is truly broken, and to do so, the entire cycle must be embraced and touched, as Lyla demonstrates, can peace and justice be achieved. In order to do so, to break the cycle of violence, both within ourselves and within our societies, True Strength must be had.

With that in mind, this notion of strength and the unfortunate, and all too frequent absence of it, I want to share a talk I gave at the semi-annual conference for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee in St. Louis last month.

For a long time after my resignation from government service and the war in 2009, I hedged on my actual feelings of aversion to the war, my sincere moral disgust with the killing, and my honest intellectual rejection of war and violence as a solution overseas and at home. I had harbored these feelings and beliefs for a long time before 2009. I hadn’t believed in the necessity of the war in Iraq in 2003, my colleagues in the Secretary of the Navy’s office can attest to that, but I was overtly agnostic at best, and I certainly was not filled with any principled degree of resistance, as I had not been personally touched by that vicious cycle of violence that was yet to come, so my connection to the war was abstract and academic.

As I explain in the video below, and in the video I talk about some personal history I have not shared before, some things I discuss go back to high school and the first Gulf War, my ability to lie to myself during my time in the Marine Corps, during the wars, to make excuses, to justify and incur responsibilities and obligations that required me to look past the immorality, the illegality, the lies, the simple WRONGNESS of the wars, in retrospect, was breathtaking. For example, if I were not to take command of Charlie Company, 4th Combat Engineer Company in 2006 when that opportunity came about, then other, less capable, less competent officers would take command which would risk Marines and Sailors to get killed; so I volunteered, accepted the command, went to Anbar Province and back to a war I knew was corrupt and was wrong. And on and on the justifications and excuses would go on, for years they went on, cloaked, camouflaged, and be-knighted with responsibility and obligation for the lives of others, all this moral justification in my head to allow my participation in an immoral war.

What my point in that reflection at the war tax resistance conference in St. Louis was how after I left the war and government service is that I continued to hedge my actions in relation to the wars. That rather than being set free, as I thought I might have been, I still aspired to be a part of the establishment, to be a part of something that “mattered” because I wanted to influence and have an effect on a peace process in Afghanistan, something that if I had the courage to look at what really existed in my mind and in my heart I would have known did not not exist from the American government’s perspective.

I was aware of a desire for peace within elements of the insurgency, as well as other parties within Afghanistan, including Hamid Karzai’s government, however our own government was, by far, the biggest obstacle to peace in Afghanistan – this was one of several reasons for my resignation in 2009. I, however, held out hope that, concurrent with the escalation of the war or after the escalation had failed, by 2011, when it had been agreed between President Obama and Gates/Clinton/Petraeus/et al. that a draw down in Afghanistan would begin, that serious negotiations would take place to end the war in Afghanistan. I was shockingly naive on two counts: 1. that someone who had been so disloyal as me would ever be allowed back in again, and 2. that the escalation of the war in Afghanistan was ever anything more than a stage play to make it look like Obama had done all he needed to do to “win” and allow the US to retreat, the same feat Petraeus had performed for Bush in Iraq just a few years prior. As in Iraq the same held true for the Afghans, once we were gone whatever happened to them could be pinned on them as the Afghans being too corrupt, not brave enough, not up to to the task, too sectarian, falling back on centuries old conflicts, or whatever specious soundbite the media talking-heads would gleefully regurgitate on the evening news. The president would be a war time president, Gates and his generals would get a chance to win and redeem themselves for Iraq, and Clinton would be a hawk for her presidential run in 2016, and the defense budget would keep going up – as I was recently reminded, the defense industry spent $27 million lobbying Congress in just those last three months of 2009 – and there I was thinking I might accomplish something by hanging out with Ron Paul and John Murtha in Congress and going on the Today Show

 

However, at the time, my thoughts were that I could somehow play a role as an outsider and go back into government service at a later point, as many who resigned in protest of the Vietnam War did. I thought maybe I could play a role in the negotiations that I suspected may be occurring, although I had no idea to the level that they were actually occurring with the Taliban, although with American involvement – again our government, the United States, being the greatest obstacle to peace in Afghanistan. I kept my true feelings about war and violence in check, determined to be a realist and a professional, but only contributing to and engaging in a fraudulent and rigged game, perpetuating an industry of war and a phony intellectual foreign policy and defense establishment in Washington, DC, a community whose only requirement for entry, promotion and prominence is allegiance and a pronounced demonstration to the greater good, or should I say God, of the war industry.

In my earliest talks and writings upon my resignation from the war, I believe I was more earnest in speaking for US withdrawal from the war, but as my belief in possible reconnection with the establishment, and my position with a think tank began, my views became more moderate, more reasonable, more sensible…i.e.. more palatable to Washington, DC and to the money that keeps the city and its people afloat.

I’m no longer in DC. I’m no longer captive to those interests. I also don’t make a ton of money any more, more like no money ;), and I now live with my family again in NC. But I have strength in my heart, in my mind and my soul.

I owe that strength to many people. A lot of it to one lady in particular: Diane Baker; who may be the strongest person I’ve ever met. It was meeting her in Dallas in the summer of 2012, staying with her and her husband Tom that really shook me and made me realize that I was a coward for not embracing and articulating what I actually knew and believed about violence. It was never anything Diane specifically said, but just who she was. Her presence, the dignity with which she spoke and carried herself, and her commitment to life and peace. I haven’t been the same since I met her. Now, to be sure, Diane was no magic potion for me, and there is certainly still LOTS wrong with me, but I feel the last many years I have written, spoken and acted much more forcefully and honestly than I did prior to staying with her. If you have had someone like that in your life, and I believe we all have many people who have influenced us in many different ways, make sure you tell them.

IMG_4983
With Diane Baker (middle) at VFP convention in Asheville, NC, 2014

Here is my talk at the War Tax Resistance Conference on hedging on my own morality. I hope this will help and maybe inspire some other people. Please take this talk for what it is worth, but at the very least for an understanding that life is very truly a journey. Today, typing this in a coffee shop in Durham I am living the values I imagined living as a 17 year old high school student.

Wage Peace.

 

The Lies Don’t End: Afghanistan and Palestine

Just a short post with links to interviews I did on the war in Afghanistan with The Real News Network and on the occupation in Palestine with Scott Horton. The transcript for the interview with TRNN is included at the bottom of this post. Also, the trailer for the documentary feature on the Veterans For Peace delegation to the popular resistance in Palestine is pasted below, please give it a watch. Wage Peace!

TRRN interview: 

5/3/17 – Matthew Hoh, a military veteran and diplomat who resigned his State Department post in protest of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, says the 16-year Afghan war won’t end until the U.S. drops its strategy of sporadic escalation and insistence on Taliban surrender, with Afghan civilians suffering the worst consequences – TRRN

Scott Horton interview:

04/19/17 – Matthew Hoh on his experiences protesting for human rights in occupied Palestine – The Scott Horton Show

Matthew Hoh, a Marine veteran and former State Department official, discusses his recent activism on Palestinian rights issues; the common myths recited to Americans to keep them from learning the truth about Israeli apartheid; the new generation of Palestinian and American non-violent activist leaders; and why Gaza is shaping up to be one of history’s greatest human catastrophes.

Finally, here is the trailer for the documentary film Chris Smiley is producing on the recent Veterans For Peace delegation to the Palestinian popular resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank:

Transcript for TRNN interview on Afghanistan:

Aaron Maté: It’s “The Real News,” I’m Aaron Maté. The 16-year war in Afghanistan is deadlier than ever. A new US government report says, “Last year was the worst so far for Afghan civilians and soldiers. A recent Taliban attack killed more than 160 Afghan recruits and the violence could grow as the spring fighting season begins. In a recent visit, Defense Secretary, James Mattis, said he expects a tough year ahead.James Mattis: And I’d say that we’re under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission. 2017’s going to be another tough year for the valiant Afghan security forces and the international troops who have stood and will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan against terrorism.Aaron Maté: The White House is now considering a request for more US troops. At a hearing earlier this year, the US commander in Afghanistan, said he needs several more thousand.John McCain: How many more do you need to get this stalemate reversed?General Nicholson: Mr. Chairman, I have adequate resourcing in my counter terrorism mission. In my train, advise and assist mission however, we have a shortfall of a few thousand.Aaron Maté: So with the potential of more US forces, what is next for this never-ending war? Well joining us is Matthew Hoh. He served as a Marine in the Iraq war and later resigned from the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of US policy there. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, welcome.

Matthew Hoh: Hello and thank you for having me on.

Aaron Maté: Thanks for joining us. So talk to us about what is now being considered. There’s about 9000 US forces on the ground in Afghanistan right now. The White House is considering adding what is said to be a few thousand more. What do you make right now of the current US strategy?

Matthew Hoh: The policy and the rhetoric for the Americans in Afghanistan have remained the same. Basically, since the Americans and NATO have started the military escalation of the war, which predates the Obama escalation. I mean, this goes back to the NATO escalation in Afghanistan, which begins about 2005, 2006, which if people remember, is when President Karzai was being criticized for being only the mayor of Kabul and for the humanitarian interventionists out there are the folks in the western part of the world who wanted to see democracy flourish, who felt that we had to prove that the Western way was the right way, that couldn’t be allowed.So what you had in 2005 was this escalation of the NATO presence in Afghanistan and that’s when you really start to see the insurgency start to re-flourish the Taliban, rather than reentering forcibly into Afghanistan in many cases being pulled back into Afghanistan. And so, much of what we’re seeing Aaron is the same rhetoric, the same policies, the same type of things we’ve seen over and over again on the American side, on the NATO side of, “We’re going to send in more troops, more money, we’re going to help the Afghans build, we’re going to help them stand up,” but the reality is, is that we’re just fueling the same type of corruption. We’re keeping the same warlords and drug lords in place and we’re seeing the conflict continue to grow because all we’re doing is continuing the bloodshed.

Aaron Maté: Okay Matthew, so if the US wanted to seriously change course, what would some tangible options be? There have been some fitful attempts at something resembling a peace process, including negotiations with the Taliban, or indirect negotiations, but those never seem to pan out. And part of the conventional thinking on that is that the Taliban isn’t seriously interested in an accommodation because they are doing well.

Matthew Hoh: Well that’s been a complete and total lie on behalf of the American government and I think that’s very clear now in late … I mean that’s part of the reason why I resigned. I mean, my story is a minor story. I was a US State Department officer in Afghanistan, I was a mid-level one but part of my … When we were approached by Taliban surrogates my instructions from the embassy was, “Do not talk to them. Negotiation is not what we’re here for.” It is now certainly clear that what General Petraeus did in Iraq say, was not to negotiate peace in Iraq, was negotiate an exit for the Americans in Iraq, was to negotiate a retreat. A way to get President Bush right out of Iraq. The same thing is true for what he did for McChrystal, was going to do for President Obama in Afghanistan; escalate the war, make it look good enough for the Americans to withdraw and then blame it on the Afghans that they couldn’t handle it. Same with the Iraqis. In our case, was there was no interest in negotiations on the Americans’ part and this has been shown over and over again. If you look at various press from the Middle East from Western Central Asia, you can see that throughout 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, there were overtures. 2011 even. There were overtures by the insurgency to negotiate. The American media, unfortunately, never really picked up on this. Most importantly though, and there are other figures too who were commenting on this from the United Nations. Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was the UK and the NATO senior diplomat in Afghanistan has spoken about this, a complete absence, a complete lack of desire on the part of the Americans for anything resembling peace, only wanting victory, only wanting a military win in Afghanistan, only demanding surrender from the insurgency. But most importantly, most recently, at the end of 2016 the New York Times reported on the Norwegian attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. It lasted for three years, from 2007 up until 2011 when the United States put 100,000 more American troops into Afghanistan and escalated the war dramatically. Said, “We’re not going to negotiate. We’re going to beat you. We’re going to force you to surrender.” The Norwegians actually met with Mullah Omar. Up until last year there was no indication that no Western or no non-Muslim had ever met with Mullah Omar. Now we learn that Norwegians had actually met with him to discuss peace in the years up to the American escalation of the war and Americans had no interest. My government, your government, our government … had no interest in talking about peace in Afghanistan. We only wanted a military victory.

Aaron Maté: Is the current approach of relying so heavily on the Afghan forces to fight the Taliban, is that sustainable? Because already in the first six weeks of this year, according to that report that we talked about, more than 800 Afghan forces have been killed and every year about one third of the Afghan military and police desert their post, which is a dynamic very similar to what happened in Iraq before the time that Isis took over control of towns like Ramadi and Mosul. They would do so in part because the Iraqi military just fled.Matthew Hoh: I think it’s sustainable as long as the American Congress continue to spend three and a half, four billion dollars a year propping up the Afghan military, that’s what we’re doing right now. So as long as we continue to do that, it’s sustainable because the Afghan economy has nothing else. There is nothing else in the Afghan economy. Of course, with the exception of the Afghan drug trade, with the exception of the opium trade. So as long as that’s continuing, there will be people who are desperate enough to go into the military or into the police services or into the intelligence services but as you said Aaron, 1/3 of them are getting into it and realizing that, one, “I don’t want to die for this.” But there’s another part of why they’re also leaving. Part of it is, “I don’t want to die for this, it’s not worth it.” The other part is what they’re seeing. What they’re seeing is obscene.One of the reports that came out recently from the United Nations is the prevalence of torture that is used by the Afghan security forces across the board, whether it be the Afghan army, the Afghan intelligence or the Afghan police forces, torture is so widespread in use by the Afghan security forces. It is used by every branch of the Afghan security forces and it is used on a common and routine basis. Anywhere from 25 to 50% of detainees are reporting torture being used against them by various branches of the Afghan security forces. So many of these recruits, many of these Afghan recruits who are entering and then leaving the Afghan security forces, certainly are doing it because they say, “Hey, I don’t want to die for this corruption. I don’t want to die for these drug lords and warlords ultimately who I’m working for on behalf of the Afghan army.” But a lot of them are also leaving Aaron, I believe, because of what they’re seeing.

Aaron Maté: Finally Matthew Hoh, Pakistan, Afghanistan’s neighbor. Can you talk about this strange dynamic we have where there are elements of the Pakistani government that support the Taliban inside Afghanistan but at the same time, Pakistani military getting huge amounts of support and aid from the US every single year. So can there be a solution to the Afghan war without a serious change in policy inside Pakistan?

Matthew Hoh: Well none of these wars. Whether they be in Asia or Africa or the Middle East or the Americas or wherever will stop until the Western world, in particular the United States, as well as Russia, stops exporting arms as well as stops funneling money into these conflicts. Pakistan, this is probably maybe one of the heights of absurdity and the heights of obscenity, because we do. We don’t have as many troops in Afghanistan as we once did and we’re certainly not taking a little [inaudible 00:10:38] as we once did, but we did for many years. We were having our young men and women being killed by the people who were being funded and trained by the military that we were giving billions of dollars in assistance and aid and intelligence and support and who are generals were going out for cocktails with them, Washington DC, with their generals and above the surface there was some cat-fighting going on and maybe when Admiral Mullen left office he said some nastiest things about the Pakistanis but for the most part, they got along. But yes, there is this very real and the word “obscene” keeps coming to mind because I’m not sure how to describe it, but that is what we’re dealing here with Aaron. We’re dealing with this conflagration, this unholy mixture of the arms industry, of these politicians, of these generals, who are willing to trade various interests in order to get their way, in order to see their career ambitions fulfilled, in order to see the maps on the board colored the way they want. And so if that means young men and women from Florida, Arkansas get killed in a country 9000 miles away by a bomb-maker who was trained by an intelligence operative who is funded by money appropriated by the U.S. Congress, but if that means that that country is then going to buy our F-16s, then so be it. Because they’re not going to buy, you know, MiG-31s from the Russian then. I mean this is the reality of what happens in Washington DC.

Aaron Maté: Matthew Hoh, former US Marine and State Department official, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, thanks.

Matthew Hoh: Thank you Aaron.

Aaron Maté: And thank you for joining us on “The Real News.”END

The Afghanistan Quaqmire and the Individual Costs of War

I did an interview with Scott Horton a couple of weeks back on Afghanistan and then the United States dropped the largest non nuclear bomb ever to be used against life in the history of mankind a couple of days later.

I know the district it was used in. I was close to Achin in 2009, maybe just a couple dozen miles away, but never in that district. Our media, the same media that drones on about Afghanistan repeating the same absurdities about the war, year after year, for 16 years now without self awareness, implies the area was near barren, desert like almost, a warren of just caves and tunnels, but that district is far from being empty of life, far from being devoid of parents and children, sisters and brothers, lovers, aunts and uncles, teachers, neighbors, and all the other sundry living beings that inhabit your own heart, your own soul and your own memories.

Like most of eastern Afghanistan, Achin’s mountain and river valleys are farmed upon and trafficked through, and as many as 100,000 people live in Achin. How many were killed, incinerated, melted and immolated in that super heated air burst from the Mother of All Bombs? We will not know any time soon enough. The US and Afghan governments are not reporting anything other than the typically specious body counts of dead ISIS fighters. Journalists from Reuters who visited the site reported no bodies, but such bodies, the bodily remains left that had not been incinerated by the fire ball created by the blast, would have been collected and buried by surviving local Afghans, or collected and disposed of by American and Afghan troops to hide their murders. That has certainly been done enough times during these wars and previous wars, I’m sure, if necessary, it was done again.

And the notion that the bomb was used against the tunnels? The lies just don’t stop in these wars, or in any wars. You don’t use a bomb that detonates above ground against a tunnel system. You use a weapon that will penetrate through the dirt, that will detonate below the surface to break apart the tunnels and cause them to collapse. Those journalists from Reuters found the tunnels intact, as they would from the MOAB blast, because the MOAB detonates above ground and would have had no effect on a tunnel system, no matter what our government and military says in their lies to us after they kill people. That bomb explodes above the surface, it is meant to kill people who are out in the open, people who are unprotected, and who are vulnerable; its purpose is simple: to punish people. There is no other reason for it. An American soldier was killed not far from there recently. We dropped the largest bomb ever to punish them. That is war. That is who we are as a people. Accept it.

Below is my interview with Scott, where we speak about Afghanistan and where we also speak about the costs of war to those who wage it. Not looking for any pity or sympathy here. The pain I experience is just, I think many of those who share in such guilt and who know the anguish of those in Achin and in all those places around the world, so many places, where the men, women and children cannot scream because of the oxygen snuffing heat, fire and pressure of our bombs, will agree.

More importantly, below that is a letter from my friend Kadir. Kadir fought with the Mujahadin in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s. He’s since lived in Michigan, but has always fought for his country and his people, has always fought against Afghanistan’s occupation and for Afghanistan’s peace. Below is the heartbreaking text of a letter he wrote after the United States dropped that bomb on the people of Achin. Please read it.

Interview with Scott Horton

Letter from Kadir:

Breaking this Cycle of Imperial Violence

I was grateful for the opportunity to author a guest post over at the Strategies and Tactics for the Anti-War Blog at the Veterans Reparations Project. The Veterans Reparations Project is a joint project between Veterans For Peace and the Islah Reparations Project and is something very meaningful to me, something with which I hope to become more and more involved. Please visit the Veterans Reparations Project’s webpage to see how you can be involved and how you can help with the grassroots reparations process.

Breaking this Cycle of Imperial Violence:

I’m in my local Starbucks—yeah I know corporate evils and all that, but at 5pm on a Sunday in Wake Forest, NC you take what you can get, and I can walk here. So you take all the good you can get with the bad. Here in Wake Forest we’re not far from Ft. Bragg, home to the US Army’s paratroopers and special operations forces. Thousands of them have been ordered to deploy to Kuwait, where they will be sent into Iraq and Syria to make their own contributions to a decades long folly that has brought death, mental and physical mutilation, and societal destruction to the peoples of Iraq and Syria, profits to American defense corporations, corporate board memberships and university professorships to retired generals, and thousands upon thousands of new recruits to foreign terrorist groups; if there is something else these wars have brought, please leave a reply below, because I certainly can’t think of anything.

There is a large, neon green sign, hand written, like you would see announcing the homecoming dance in the high school hallway or your neighbor’s kid’s lemonade stand on your intersection’s stop sign: “Our Troops Are Deploying, Help Us Thank Them With Coffee.”  A large cardboard box is about a 1/3 of the way full of bags of coffee and boxes of k-cups, hopefully no decaf for those young paratroopers.

I’m not lying to you when I tell you I’m wearing a t-shirt with a Howard Zinn quote on it that reads “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people” as I stand next to that box of coffee bound for the Persian Gulf. I linger for a bit hoping that maybe someone will read the shirt and the sign, that maybe something will register, someone will say something to me, something to medicate me, numb me, tell me that this cycle isn’t starting all over again for several thousand young men and women, barely more than an hour’s drive from me, about to travel halfway around the world to do irreparable harm to people they’ve never met and irredeemable harm to their own souls, hearts, and minds.

I’ve been involved in this war effort since before it even had a name, taking part in training exercises with Indonesian, Malaysian, Philippine, and Thai counterparts that actively engaged in fighting Muslim insurgents in their own countries prior to 9/11. Whether as a willing participant of the wars or as a vocal war opponent, as an occupier or now as someone who hopes to do more to support those who are occupied, I’ve seen very little explained as to how to right the wrongs done in war and even less done to repair, to rebuild, to resuscitate, or to resurrect. Surely, I have never walked into anyplace in America since we began killing more than 1 million people overseas in response to the attacks of 9/11 and seen a box asking for coffee for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, or Yemen.

Now, of course, reparations may be the proverbial bridge too far at this point, as all the nations for which we have transgressed against are still receiving the blows of our aggressions, and those of others, from both internal and foreign belligerents and villains. However, I do recognize that waiting for our government to act in the future to administer some form of restorative justice to the people of the Greater Middle East may be as great a sin as the original acts of violence themselves, because we know that our government, the United States, will never do such a thing, and if our government ever does act the list for such reparations will be a long and worthy one.

So, I am extremely grateful for what the the Veterans Reparations Project is doing. Through grassroots reparations projects we can make a difference, we can begin to help rebuild and repair, and we can begin to fix some of what we destroyed.

Nothing we do will absolve us of what we have done in these wars, I am clear on that; the spot is on and always will be on our hands, to use one of my favorite allusions from high school English class. So be it and so it goes. However, we don’t have to go along with the killing any longer and we don’t have to go along with sitting idly by either and not helping to rebuild and repair. We can and we must do what we can to help those who we hurt. I do not believe we have any other choice.

Seeking Atlas; a Q&A with Telesur on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria

 

Following the news the US would be expanding airstrikes in Afghanistan I was interviewed by Charles Davis of TelesurCharles’ article, which puts my comments into excellent context can be found here, while my full answers to Charles’ questions are below.

Are airstrikes likely to have a tangible impact?   

-The renewed airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan will have the same effect as the thousands and thousands of previous airstrikes we have conducted against the Afghan insurgency. American airstrikes will make for triumphant press releases from the US military in Kabul, and it will kill many Taliban fighters, and also many civilians, but, strategically and long term, the airstrikes will not significantly weaken the Taliban, and, very likely, may strengthen them by providing more public support due to the civilian casualties the air strikes will cause. Under General Petraeus, starting in 2010, the US initiated scores of airstrikes, as well as dozens of nighttime commando raids, daily against Afghan insurgent targets. Many of these strikes hit legitimate targets, but many more of them hit civilians. The surge in the increase of public support for the Taliban in the areas of the air and commando strikes is undeniable. Similarly, this surge in American attacks only saw an increase in Taliban attacks. Rather than weakening the Taliban, the Taliban’s ability to fight, judged by nearly all indicators (number of Americans killed and wounded, number of assassinations, number of IEDs, etc) increased, year by year. There should be no doubt as to the effectiveness of American air power against the Afghan insurgency in the achievement of strategic and political goals in Afghanistan: at best there is no evidence the air strikes had a positive strategic effect pursuant to American goals, except to provide political cover for the American withdrawal; and at worst the evidence is that the airstrikes were entirely counter-productive. In Afghanistan, during our nearly 15 year occupation, there has been no reliable, non-corrupt, non-predatory, local Afghan forces that have been able to hold ground against the Afghan insurgency, let alone claim the support of the Afghan population, primarily Pashtun, in the East and South of Afghanistan. Without a militarily capable and locally endorsed Afghan ground force, no amount of American air power will be successful.

In concert with local proxy forces they appear to be helping reduce ISIS’s hold on land in Iraq and Syria… does that mean they could work against the Taliban?

-In Iraq and Syria US airstrikes have had a role in pushing back the Islamic State and its allied Sunni fighters, but the overwhelming reason for this has been increased success by sectarian forces, Kurdish in Syria and Shia in Iraq, on the ground against the Sunni forces. It is very important to realize the sectarian nature of this conflict and to note that all sides are committing atrocities, as noted by the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Those atrocities, in turn, motivate continued sectarian conflict and provide an existential reason for Sunnis, Kurds and Shia to support their respective sides. You’ll note that in the cities in Iraq from where the Islamic State has been forced to retreat from, Ramadi and Tikrit particularly, the cities have been massively destroyed, widely looted and are mostly empty of their previous Sunni residents due to the occupation of the Shia militias. The Shia militias are the primary reason for the success of the counter-offensive against the Islamic State, as the Iraqi Army is still very corrupt and ineffective. American air strikes in Iraq and Syria are a supporting mechanism only and on their own cannot push the Islamic State from the (Sunni) territory they hold.

Is this a slippery slope that will lead to US troops eventually returning to a combat role?

-In terms of US troops going into full scale ground conflict in either Iraq or Syria, I don’t believe it will occur for any military reason, but rather will occur for a political reason such as the American president making a “red line” statement or due to an atrocity, both of which were the reasons offered by the Obama Administration to enter into the Syrian civil war in 2013 (in a manner that would have placed American forces in a position where their objectives and goals were directly aligned with those of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist groups). Regardless of the rationale, the reasoning will be political and it will be because the US president feels she or he needs to strengthen their display of American resolve in the Middle East, which would be in line with President Johnson’s decision(s) to escalate the Vietnam War and President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan in 2009. By saying there is no military reason, I mean that no mid- or long-term outcome can come out of American troop involvement in the civil wars in Iraq and Syria other than American boys and girls once again patrolling hostile city and village streets in a country half a world away they do not understand while being under constant guerrilla war attack. I think the biggest impetus on US troop involvement would be in protection of the Kurdish oil and gas fields in northern Iraq, particularly if the planned attack on Mosul, by the Iraqi government, Shia militias and Kurdish forces, fails (if the attack ever happens), and the Kurds, and the large number of American and European energy firms resident in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, feel threatened as they did in 2014.

Does the US even have a strategy?

-The US does not have a strategy in any way that any person who has ever put together a plan of action or strategy for a business, construction project or even a kids’ soccer game would expect. Rather the US is simply reacting to events in Syria and Iraq that failed to meet the hopes and aspirations of politicians and politically inspired planners in Washington DC over the last decade and a half. This really has been and continues to be a foreign and military policy based upon allegiance to neoconservative ideology, whether carried out by a Democratic or Republican administration, and propelled by “hope” that things will fall in line with expectations due to an unwavering belief in American superiority and faith in the righteousness of American supremacy. The US has found its role in both Iraq and Syria by unleashing sectarian conflict in Iraq and Syria and then being disappointed when those sectarian forces have ignited civil wars that cannot be controlled. For example, since 2011, in Iraq the US hoped to use the Shia dominated government to control Sunni discontent and to keep the violence of the Islamic State in check, while in Syria, right across the border, the US hoped to utilize Sunni discontent and the Islamic State’s violence to overthrow the Syrian government.

What is apparent is an American strategy in the Middle East that is astonishingly detached from reality, let alone history, both this and last century’s. The success of such a policy as America’s would require the intervention of a determinist deity, such as Atlas, to hold together the badly fracturing Middle East that had previously been held together, in definition, by America’s massive arms and financial support to despotic monarchies, revolutionary groups, and unquestioned support of Israel. Such a house of cards could never stand.

Two People Discuss War; formerly titled: A Marine and an Iraqi Discuss War

Last week, as part of Ralph Nader’s four-day conference in Washington, DC, Breaking Through Power, my friend Raed Jarrar, a Palestinian-Iraqi-American, and I gave a talk on the horrors of war. My perspectives of combat, occupation, colonial administration and war time politics, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Washington, were set besides Raed’s experiences of living in Baghdad following the Gulf War, through the years of sanctions, into the American invasion, yes, the glory of Shock and Awe, and for the first year of occupation. Raed left Baghdad in 2004, but returned to Iraq to help rebuild, before becoming a full-time peace and anti-war activist.

The video is below. I want to thank Ralph Nader and the Center for Study of Responsive Law for allowing Raed and I to share how we both came to the same understanding of our lives, our world, our leaders, our people, our wars and the need for peace, from the different ends of a rifle.

Also, my apologies to the brave and fantastic Alli McCracken for giving the equally brave and fantastic Medea Benjamin credit for trying to, rightfully, arrest Henry Kissinger last year. Thank you Alli and Code Pink.

The remainder of the day’s talks and conversations can be found on Youtube.

Big Sexy Does the Impossible…

 

“Bartolo has done it! The impossible has happened!”

If you’re a Mets fan, a baseball fan, a sports fan, a fan of fellow dudes in their 40s still playing sports with gusto and swagger, or just anyone who is not cynical, miserable or self-loathing, Philadelphia sports fans I am referencing you, you are most likely still smiling and possibly cheering over Mets pitcher, Bartolo Colon, aka Big Sexy, hitting his first professional home run at the age of 42.

In 1969, another Mets pitcher, Tom Seaver, a young man in the midst of just his third year in his eventual Hall of Fame career, still young enough to have more guts than savvy, and more heart than fear, declared:

“If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.”

The Amazins did beat the Orioles to win the World Series that year, but the Americans stayed in Vietnam for another four years. Over those four years nearly 15,000 US soldiers would be killed in that far away land, tens of thousands would be wounded, many of them permanently, hundreds of thousands would be psychologically injured, and tens of thousands, more likely hundreds of thousands, would die, as they continue to die, by the never ending after effects of war, most especially the Rainbow Herbicides (Agents Blue, Orange, White, etc.) and suicide.

As the Mets did the impossible and became World Champions, President Nixon continued his secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos and escalated the bombing of Vietnam. By the time Nixon, Kissinger, Abrams, et. al admitted the war in Vietnam could not be won millions more men, women and children had been killed and wounded, countless families shattered, and an entire eco-system destroyed. The Killing Fields in Cambodia were set to begin and half the Cambodian population would be murdered.*

As with our veterans of Vietnam here at home, the war still goes on in that far away land. Meant to destroy lives decades ago, bombs and landmines today kill or maim an estimated 1,000 people each year, many of them born after the war ended. And the Rainbow Herbicides with which we soaked and saturated the Vietnamese fields, mountains, rivers, lakes, jungles, crops, livestock, schools, temples, churches and homes? The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates almost 5 million people were exposed to the 20 million gallons of chemicals dispersed aerially over 5 million acres, it was, after all, the largest chemical weapons program in history. Estimates are 1 million people are currently living their lives disabled in South East Asia because of the chemicals sprayed over four decades ago, and that includes 100,000 children. Those children, monstrously deformed, are still being born today. Read and look here and, when your eyes are dry and your stomach settled, please visit Project Renew and the Vietnam Agent Orange Responsibility and Relief Campaign to help, and then call your members of Congress and tell them to support Barbara Lee’s H.R. 2114.

Not long before Tom Seaver contravened conventional and accepted sports and political wisdom another New York sports legend, Joe Namath, famously predicted his New York Jets would defeat Johnny Unitas and the Colts. David and Goliath never played out so theatrically and athletically as Namath, and his long hair and sideburns, made good on his guarantee of victory – the folks in Baltimore had it tough in 1969. Of course, the cultural significance of Namath’s boast and win is not lost on anyone with a knowledge of 1960/70s American societal upheaval and by comparing side by side photos of Broadway Joe and Johnny U.

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The Jets can’t win, the Mets can’t win, overweight 42 year old pitchers can’t hit home runs, the US can’t get out of Vietnam, the hippies can’t win, love can’t win…Peace can’t happen…

From those who know: those in uniform with tin medals; those in residence at Langley, at Foggy Bottom, or in a think tank office paid for by defense industry dollars; and those on the campaign trail who, craven, wicked and desperate, are happy to wave the Bloody Shirt, we hear, with endless certitude and authority, that we can’t get out of the Middle East, we can’t get out of war, we can’t, we can’t…What happens if we don’t?

I am certain, the answer to that is, simply, more death, including here in the US, more suffering, more shattered families, a poisoned world, and, eventually, the end of man.

We can put an end to our wars and we must put an end to our wars. It is possible. We can choose not to aid dictatorships that repress their own people, monarchies that fund terror and massacre neighbors, or democracies that wantonly commit war crimes. We can not send troops and cash to prop up governments that hold fraudulent elections and which are composed of war and drug lords, and we can stop invading and bombing countries like Iraq and Libya. Additionally, we can stop shipping weapons from one war zone to another war zone, and we can stop trying to use terrorist groups, the very terrorist groups our invasions create, to achieve our political objectives. We could even stop being the planet’s largest arms merchant. We may say we want peace and stability, but it’s hard to demonstrate such when we sell the world the implements and ingredients that go into so much chaos, suffering and death.

In 2003 a majority in our Congress and our President thought invading Iraq had to be done. They were wrong. In 2009 a majority in our Congress and our President believed escalating the war in Afghanistan had to happen. They were wrong then too. More recently it has been a disbelief in a nuclear weapons deal with Iran and a cease fire in Ukraine. In both cases, majorities in Congress favored war with Iran and potentially war in Europe over talking with either the Iranians or the Russians. Well, today, we have a nuclear agreement with the Iranians, which the Iranian people endorsed, and there has been a cease fire in Ukraine that, while shaky, has held and has brought levels of violence down quite dramatically over the last 15 months (I am not linking to any polls to prove Ukrainians are happy their family members and neighbors have stopped being killed, although we have people, appropriately referred to as chickenhawks, war profiteers and psychopaths, in Washington, DC who would argue otherwise…).

What if we tried for peace? What if we empowered diplomacy and strengthened our role in constructive engagement, forgetting the boundaries, the ideologies and the allegiances of the past? What if we pursued policies of reconciliation among religions, ethnicities and sects, rather than trying to manipulate them to turn maps the colors and shades we want them? And what if we prioritized our problems at home, worked to rebuild our country and fixed our own democracy? I know, I know, I know, that’s silly, that’s trite, that’s naive….that’s impossible…Such thoughts and ideas, based on the realities of American foreign and military policy failures and rooted in morality and principle, aren’t allowed in Presidential Debates or in Republican or Democratic party platforms.

It appears that no matter who we elect in November our devotion to militarism, measured in trillions of dollars, and interventionist adventurism, measured in millions of dead and mutilated people, will not change, but will continue because to do otherwise is deemed impossible by our ruling political class.

The possibility of peace will not occur unless we force it to occur, until then, we might as just watch Bart defy the impossible. This time en espanol.

*For more information on the petty fear and lies that motivated the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations to begin, escalate and prolong the war in Vietnam please read Frederik Logevall’s Embers of War, David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, and Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie. Not only do these books illustrate the malfeasance that dominated American policy making in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but they illuminate and illustrate the same gross failures, incompetencies and deceits of American foreign policy decision makers in our current century.