During the first Gulf War I was surprised by the wild and obscene enthusiasm for the war displayed by a colleague of mine whom I considered to be one of the most liberal Americans. He was a brilliant engineer who after completing his Ph.D. had briefly worked at the MIT. In the late 1980s when I moved from the beautiful and sunny Los Angeles to the colder northeastern part of the USA, he and his wife were the first ones to invite me for a dinner at his newly bought modest home. He appeared genuine and wiser than others. We developed a very cordial relationship and he would seek out my advice on any problem that he could not personally solve. I was his go-to guy for complex problems. Even though we don’t work together any more for almost two decades he would pick up his phone once in a while to call me from Boston to ask for my opinion on problems.
Seeing the gory pictures of the war in which the fleeing unarmed Iraqis were bombed in what was described as the Highway of Death or more properly the Highway of Slaughter, Greg was so happy and joyful that I was simply shocked. I could not picture him as a cheerleader for a war in which the civilians were killed like the mosquitoes or pulverized!
Well, war brings out the worst in us, and unmasks the other side of our humankind, which under ordinary peaceful circumstances may not reveal its ugliness. In its global crusade against terror, the USA has ignored the early generation of American statesmen who warned of the corrupting influence of standing armies and war.
Mach 19 marks the tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. In his short television address that evening (which was dawn of March 20, 2003 in Iraq) President George W. Bush outlined the goals: “to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” He promised the result: “We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.”
It did not take too long for everyone to find out that Bush Jr. and his administration had lied about the WMDs. There was none in Iraq. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of this war. The country – economically and politically – is in ruins. After a brief pause, the sectarian violence is back. An estimated 16,000 Iraqis have gone missing in the 10 years since the U.S. invaded the country. Iraq is now a failed state much like what Afghanistan has been since the Soviet days.
While the Taliban regime, which provided shelter to OBL, has been replaced with a friendly collaborating regime, the experts are saying that America has essentially lost the war in Afghanistan.
As recently noted by Harvard Professor Stephen Walt in the Foreign Policy, the U.S. objectives in Afghanistan could not be achieved without a much larger commitment of resources. According to him, “Troop levels in Afghanistan never approached the ratio of troops/population observed in more successful instances of nation-building, and that deficiency was compounded by Afghanistan’s ethnic divisions, mountainous terrain, geographic isolation, poor infrastructure, and porous borders.” [Among other reasons, Professor Walt mentions Pakistan’s continued support of the Taliban where they could always slip across and live to fight another day. Successful counterinsurgencies require effective and legitimate local partners; however, Karzai was not that partner.]
I have difficulty believing that even another hundred thousand troops would have made much difference. All other earlier invaders have learned that billion-dollar bitter lesson that battles could be won in Afghanistan but not the war. However, the American arrogance seemed to blindside its own leaders about their technical and tactical superiority. Nation-building of the war-ravaged Afghanistan was never a priority for the U.S. government. Contrary to Prof. Walt’s observation, Islamabad has been very accommodating to U.S. war efforts inside Afghanistan; more Pakistani soldiers have died fighting in the autonomous FATA region than Americans.
Truth is often the first casualty in war. What is not discussed inside the USA is that its government policies have contributed not only to the tragedy of 9/11 but continue to foster extremist reactions (or ‘terrorism’) to this very day, and probably will do so for a foreseeable future. In spite of world-wide condemnation, the Obama administration refuses to stop its highly controversial drone attacks in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa, which are counter-productive and are known to radicalize a whole new generation, thereby perpetuating the problem of ‘terrorism’ in the region. Inside Pakistan alone, at least 400 civilian deaths were caused by U.S. drone attacks.
Recently a United Nations team investigating civilian casualties from drone strikes concluded that the US drone war in Pakistan is illegal because it violates Pakistani sovereignty. Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, who visited Pakistan with a team of investigators, found that Pakistani authorities did not (and do not) consent to drone strikes on their territory, contrary to the claims made by the US officials. According to Emmerson, “As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”
It should be noted here that Emmerson, along with several other colleagues at the UN, formally announced an investigation into civilian casualties in US drone strikes last year, warning that some US drone strikes in Pakistan may amount to war crimes. It is highly doubtful that the U.S. would be deterred by the recent findings of the UN team.
Professor Walt concluded, “In short, the U.S. was destined to lose because it didn’t go all-out to win, and it shouldn’t have. Indeed, an all-out effort would have been a huge mistake, because the stakes were in fact rather modest. Once the Taliban had been ousted and al Qaeda had been scattered, America’s main interest was continuing to degrade al Qaeda (as we have done). That mission was distinct from the attempt to nation-build in Afghanistan, and in the end Afghanistan’s importance did not justify a substantially larger effort. … Thus, the real failure in Afghanistan was much broader … The entire national security establishment failed to recognize or acknowledge the fundamental mismatch between 1) U.S. interests (which were limited), 2) our stated goals (which were quite ambitious), and 3) the vast resources and patience it would have required to achieve those goals. … Given this mismatch between interests, goals, and resources, it was stupid to keep trying to win at a level of effort that was never going to succeed. Yet no one on the inside seems to have pointed this out, or if they did, their advice was not heeded. And that is the real reason why the war limped on for so long and to such an unsatisfying end.”
The fact is the case involving U.S. accusations of OBL’s involvement with the tragedy on 9/11 should have been fought and settled in an international court, and not in Afghanistan, whose people had nothing to do with it. When war becomes means for ulterior motives, however, such sensible things are either forgotten or ignored.
In his well-researched book “The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism (Ig Publishing), journalist Trevor Aaronson, brilliantly shows the reality in the post-9/11 United States. His book exposes the dubious tactics the FBI has used in targeting Muslim Americans with sting operations since 2001. Many Americans have heard about several alleged conspiracies to attack skyscrapers, synagogues, or subway stations, involving either individuals whom the FBI calls “lone wolves” or small cells. But what they may not know is that these terrifying plots were almost entirely concocted and engineered by the FBI itself, using corrupt agent provocateurs who often posed a far more serious criminal threat than these dimwitted amateurs.
Aaronson noted that the agency has adopted an “any means necessary” approach to its terrorism prevention efforts, regardless of whether real terrorists are being caught. To the FBI, this imperative justifies recruiting informants with extensive criminal records, including convictions for fraud, violent crimes, and even child molestation. In addition to offering lenience, if not forgiveness, for heinous crimes, the FBI pays these informants tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, creating a vicious incentive for them to trap dupes into terrorist plots. Aaronson quoted an FBI official defending this practice: “To catch the devil you have to go to hell.”
What is more disturbing is the revelation that the targets in most of these sting operations posed little real threat. They may have had a history of angry anti-government rhetoric, but they took no steps toward terrorist acts until they received encouragement and resources from government agents.
As noted by Michael German, an ex-FBI agent who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Prior to September 11, 2001, if an agent had suggested opening a terrorism case against someone who was not a member of a terrorist group, who had not attempted to acquire weapons, and who didn’t have the means to obtain them, he would have been gently encouraged to look for a more serious threat. An agent who suggested giving such a person a stinger missile or a car full of military-grade plastic explosives would have been sent to counseling. Yet in Aaronson’s telling, such techniques are now becoming commonplace.”
This expose of the FBI is very disturbing and shows how ordinary Americans are duped. Sadly, however, the FBI-manufactured terrorists must now serve at least 25 years in prison. German notes, “Even more unsettling is the flawed reasoning that drives the use of these methods. FBI agents have been inundated with bigoted training materials that falsely portray Arabs and Muslims as inherently violent. The FBI also has embraced an unfounded theory of “radicalization” that alleges a direct progression from adopting certain beliefs, or expressing opposition to U.S. policies, to becoming a terrorist. With such a skewed and biased view of the American Muslim community, the FBI’s strategy of “preemption, prevention, and disruption” results in abusive surveillance, targeting, and exploitation of innocent people based simply on their exercise of their First Amendment rights.”
The Capitol Hill is controlled by the lobbies that are affiliated with the War Party – the military-industrial complex. With the forces of militarism ever important and vocal, it is doubtful that the FBI’s tactics would change any time soon. Funny that the Republicans complain about statism, but fail to see their pro-war stance as a tacit endorsement of statism! Until they rectify the incompatibilities at the heart of their ideology, the drums of war will march them into obscurity.
As the early 20th century writer Randolph Bourne famously warned, “War is the health of the state.” War corrupts a nation’s moral fabric and especially its intellectuals. It blurs the lines that separate the State from Government and from society. Filled with emotion, the patriot, according to Bourne, loses “all sense of the distinction between State, nation and government.” He/she joins “the herd.” He/she becomes an active amateur agent of the Government in reporting spies and disloyalists, and in raising Government funds, or in propagating such measures as are considered necessary by officialdom. The individual became a “child on the back of a mad elephant” that he/she could neither control nor abandon, but was compelled to ride until the elephant decided to halt.
In times of war, the State attempts to draw upon the powerful force of individual choice by appealing to the patriotism of people and asking them to make the “choice” to enlist and otherwise support the war effort. In times of peace, people are mostly defined by their society and they interact with Government, giving little thought to the State. In times of war, the hierarchy and the power of these concepts is reversed. The Government practically becomes the State, and society is subordinated to both. Consequently, the erosion of civil liberties and the suppression of dissent and free speech become the norm.
Bourn’s essay was written nearly a century ago in opposition to World War I. It was written before the time of the all-powerful ‘Amen Corner’ in the Capitol Hill and the military-industrial complex, and their corrosive effects in fostering yellow journalism, propagated by embedded journalists and the media moguls. But the crux of his message remains as relevant as ever. Our intellectuals have forgotten that the real enemy is WAR and not the manufactured-terrorists, or the people of Iraq or Afghanistan of today, and Iran of tomorrow.
Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored 10 books. His latest book – Devotional Stories – is now available from A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.