This week brings another round of one-sided battles between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. I think many Americans are like my 10-year-old self, thinking of Israel as an innocent democracy surrounded by implacable enemies. And no doubt 1973 saw the very existence of Israel threatened. But now it’s Israel as the region’s Goliath, backed by the military and financial might of the United States. The blank check of support that the U.S. gives to Israel emboldens the Israeli state to take the harshest measures against the peoples of Gaza. I read articles that say the Biden administration has to intervene and broker a peace, but how is this possible when the U.S. is so clearly on the side of Israel? Palestinian voices just aren’t heard in the mainstream media here; even alternative media sites tread carefully, knowing the power of Israeli lobbies and fearing the stigma of being labeled anti-Semitic.
I understand the trauma of the Jewish people. For several years I taught a course on the Holocaust, after attending a seminar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC. Of course, the Jewish people have a right to exist. But so too do the Palestinians, who have legitimate grievances of their land being stolen, among other crimes.
Fear, hatred, aggression, and more and more bombs are not going to bring peace. That’s one thing I do know.
When I was a kid, I was a big admirer of Israel. I saw Israel as being surrounded by implacable enemies bent on its destruction. Israel was the plucky underdog, David against Goliath, with Goliath being Arab countries like Egypt and Syria, having militaries trained and equipped by the Soviet Union, sworn enemy of the U.S. during the Cold War (or so my ten-year-old mind saw it). I recall keeping a scrapbook of articles on the Yom Kippur War of 1973. I cheered the Israeli “blitzkrieg” (What an odd term for a daring Jewish armored attack!) that crossed the Suez Canal and isolated the Egyptian Third Army, as well as the Israeli riposte on the Golan Heights against Syria.
That was 1973. Forty-one years later, Israel is engaged in yet another assault on Gaza and the Palestinians. Compared to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the Palestinian militants…
The Big Lie is common in America today. The election was stolen from Trump. Climate change is a hoax. Biden is the new FDR. America can’t afford a $15 minimum wage or health care for all. The biggest lies of all involve wars. Take the Afghan War. The U.S. military is already preparing a new stab-in-the-back myth. You know the routine: We were on the road to victory until Biden pulled out the troops. As you can see from this article that I posted five years ago, America clearly was losing in 2016, and things have only grown worse as the Taliban has grown in power and influence.
Isn’t it time we stopped lying to ourselves? The truth, harsh as it may prove, really will help to set us free.
Hannah Arendt, cigarette in hand (Arendt Center, Bard College)
(This is part 2 of 2 of an essay dealing with lying, politics, and war, inspired by Hannah Arendt’s writings on The Pentagon Papers. For part 1, click here.)
After the Vietnam War, the U.S. government oversaw the creation of a post-democratic military, one that was less tied to the people, meaning that the government had even less cause to tell the truth about war. Unsurprisingly, then, the hubris witnessed in Vietnam was repeated with Iraq, together with an even more sweeping ability to deny or disregard facts, as showcased best in a statement by Karl Rove in 2004. The actions of the Bush/Cheney Administration, Rove suggested, bypassed the fact- or “reality-based” community of lesser humans precisely because their premises (the need to revolutionize the Middle East and to win the War on Terror through violence) were…
In my latest article for TomDispatch, I write that America is programmed for war. It’s a feature of our polity and our politics and our culture, not a bug. In some sense, we are a country made by war, and that’s not a good feature for a self-avowed democracy to have. Here’s an excerpt:
I know, I know: President Joe Biden has announced that our combat troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 9/11 of this year, marking the 20th anniversary of the colossal failure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to defend America.
Of course, that other 9/11 in 2001 shocked us all. I was teaching history at the U.S. Air Force Academy and I still recall hushed discussions of whether the day’s body count would exceed that of the Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day of the Civil War. (Fortunately, bad as it was, it didn’t.)
Hijacked commercial airliners, turned into guided missiles by shadowy figures our panicky politicians didn’t understand, would have a profound impact on our collective psyche. Someone had to pay and among the first victims were Afghans in the opening salvo of the misbegotten Global War on Terror, which we in the military quickly began referring to as the GWOT. Little did I know then that such a war would still be going on 15 years after I retired from the Air Force in 2005 and 80 articles after I wrote my first for TomDispatch in 2007 arguing for an end to militarism and forever wars like the one still underway in Afghanistan.
Over those years, I’ve come to learn that, in my country, war always seems to find a way, even when it goes badly — very badly, in fact, as it did in Vietnam and, in these years, in Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed across much of the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa. Not coincidentally, those disastrous conflicts haven’t actually been waged in our name. No longer does Congress even bother with formal declarations of war. The last one came in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. During World War II, Americans united to fight for something like national security and a just cause. Today, however, perpetual American-style war simply is. Congress postures, but does nothing decisive to stop it. In computer-speak, endless war is a feature of our national programming, not a bug.
Two pro-war parties, Republicans and Democrats, have cooperated in these decades to ensure that such wars persist… and persist and persist. Still, they’re not the chief reason why America’s wars are so difficult to end. Let me list some of those reasons for you. First, such wars are beyond profitable, notably to weapons makers and related military contractors. Second, such wars are the Pentagon’s reason for being. Let’s not forget that, once upon a time, the present ill-named Department of Defense was so much more accurately and honestly called the Department of War. Third, if profit and power aren’t incentive enough, wars provide purpose and meaning even as they strengthen authoritarian structures in society and erode democratic ones. Sum it all up and war is what America now does, even if the reasons may be indefensible and the results so regularly abysmal.
Support Our Troops! (Who Are They, Again?)
The last truly American war was World War II. And when it ended in 1945, the citizen-soldiers within the U.S. military demanded rapid demobilization — and they got it. But then came the Iron Curtain, the Cold War, the Korean War, fears of nuclear Armageddon (that nearly came to fruition during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962), and finally, of course, Vietnam. Those wars were generally not supported — not with any fervor anyway — by the American people, hence the absence of congressional declarations. Instead, they mainly served the interests of the national security state, or, if you prefer, the military-industrial-congressional complex.
That’s precisely why President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his grave warning about that Complex in his farewell address in 1961. No peacenik, Ike had overseen more than his share of military coups and interventions abroad while president, so much so that he came to see the faults of the system he was both upholding and seeking to restrain. That was also why President John F. Kennedy called for a more humble and pacific approach to the Cold War in 1963, even as he himself failed to halt the march toward a full-scale war in Southeast Asia. This is precisely why Martin Luther King, Jr., truly a prophet who favored the fierce urgency of peace, warned Americans about the evils of war and militarism (as well as racism and materialism) in 1967. In the context of the enormity of destruction America was then visiting on the peoples of Southeast Asia, not for nothing did he denounce this country as the world’s greatest purveyor of violence.
Collectively, Americans chose to ignore such warnings, our attention being directed instead toward spouting patriotic platitudes in support of “our” troops. Yet, if you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize those troops aren’t really ours. If they were, we wouldn’t need so many bumper stickers reminding us to support them.
With the military draft gone for the last half-century, most Americans have voted with their feet by not volunteering to become “boots on the ground” in the Pentagon’s various foreign escapades. Meanwhile, America’s commanders-in-chief have issued inspiring calls for their version of national service, as when, in the wake of 9/11, President George W. Bush urged Americans to go shopping and visit Disney World. In the end, Americans, lacking familiarity with combat boots, are generally apathetic, sensing that “our” wars have neither specific meaning to, nor any essential purpose in their lives.
As a former Air Force officer, even if now retired, I must admit that it took me too long to realize this country’s wars had remarkably little to do with me — or you, for that matter — because we simply have no say in them. That doesn’t mean our leaders don’t seek to wage them in our name. Even as they do so, however, they simultaneously absolve us of any need to serve or sacrifice. We’re essentially told to cheer “our” troops on, but otherwise look away and leave war to the professionals (even if, as it turns out, those professionals seem utterly incapable of winning a single one of them).
Please read the rest of my article here at TomDispatch.com.
Yes, the Democratic leadership is still bankrupt of principles, even as it’s rolling in donor money. Joe Biden, for example, promised a $15 federal minimum wage. He abandoned that promise. He promised a single-payer option for health care and lower prescription drug prices. Cue the sound of crickets here. A $2000 Covid relief check became only $1400 and was means-tested. Student debt relief is a non-starter. And yet a compliant and complicit media is trying to present Joe as a visionary, the next FDR. Meanwhile, Trump lurks in the wings, waiting for his chance to announce he’s running again in 2024.
A fraud and charlatan like Trump should never have had a chance in American politics. Sure, the Republican Party is complicit, but so too are establishment Democrats, who love the status quo because it serves their needs and interests. It enriches them, in short, while impoverishing most of America. Nevertheless, when it comes to ideas and principles and integrity, the DNC and its leaders remain bankrupt, which may yet provide Trump with another opportunity to sell his snake-oil “solutions” to desperate Americans.
Why did Donald Trump win the presidency? A big reason is that he was willing to take unpopular stances. He criticized the Afghan and Iraq wars in the strongest terms. He attacked Wall Street. He called for closer relations with Russia. Of course, to cite one example, when he became president, Trump willingly embraced Wall Street — no surprise here. Trump is not about consistency. The larger point is that he appeared authentic, or at the very least not tied to traditional politics of the mealymouthed, which involves focus groups and think tanks and polls and triangulation before any policy position is taken.
The Democratic Party has learned nothing from Trump’s success, nor for that matter from Bernie Sanders’s rise. It’s rejecting the energy and popularity of Sanders’s progressive platform for the tired bromides of economic competitiveness, moderate tax increases on the rich, and infrastructure…
A quick Google search reveals that, “According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it would cost $20 billion to end homelessness in the United States.” That’s roughly the cost of a few dozen ICBM interceptor missiles (estimated cost: $18 billion) that are unlikely to work and which may encourage potential adversaries to build more nuclear missiles to overcome them (assuming they do work, but hitting a bullet with a bullet is truly a long shot). Another cost comparison: ending homelessness in America could be done for the cost of roughly 150 F-35 jet fighters. Another: ending homelessness in America could be done for less than half the yearly cost of America’s Afghan War. Yet we’d rather build interceptors, fighter jets, and continue wars than house the homeless.
I’m seeing predictions by America’s generals that Afghan national forces will likely collapse if U.S. combat troops are withdrawn by 9/11. Yet the U.S. military has been training those same Afghan forces for nearly twenty years, all the while making “progress” according to those same generals. What gives? If after two decades Afghan forces don’t have the wherewithal to defend themselves despite untold billions in U.S. assistance and aid, isn’t it logical to assume they will never have the wherewithal?
Of course, it’s an effective strategy for U.S. generals to warn of an impending collapse after Biden’s troop withdrawal. For when it comes, they can say “we told you so” and shift the blame for the loss to Biden and the politicians. Sorry, folks, Afghanistan was never ours to win to begin with. It wasn’t even ours to lose, because we never “had” it. Never mind that: Whenever the U.S. military loses anywhere (including Vietnam), there is always someone else to blame.
The NFL draft concluded this past weekend, and once again I was astonished by the media coverage: the sheer amount of resources dedicated to it. Just go to ESPN, for example, which has “draft cards” on every player with all their vitals, including video highlights. If only the media devoted a tenth of the resources to covering America’s various wars across the globe! With verifiable metrics and video highlights (or lowlights). It’s good to know that sports are much more important to our nation than the military’s global presence and actions.
And now to return to the beginning: Why not act to end homelessness? WWJD: What would Jesus do? I always remember from Catholic mass how Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, and helped the poor. Where’s that Jesus nowadays? He seems to have been replaced, at least in America, by Prosperity Gospel Jesus, who shares good news and money only with the richest and most fortunate of Americans.
Can I please have “old” Jesus back? The one who helped lame people to walk and blind people to see?
President Joe Biden favors ending major speeches with an invitation or invocation to God to protect “our” troops, as he did last night in his address to Congress. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the sentiment, but would it not be far better for Biden himself to protect those same troops by ending all of America’s needless wars?
U.S. Presidents traditionally favor asking God (there’s a sense that God would never deny this ask) to bless America as a way of ending speeches. Biden’s new “ask” of God goes a big step further by specifically identifying troops for special protection.
As a friend of mine, a retired military officer, put it about Biden’s rhetoric:
“This is new programming and it hits me like a scratched record every time I hear it—even his most militant predecessors stopped at ‘God bless America.’ It’s unclear to me whether he’s signaling that we’re all in danger all the time and that the troops will always have to be out there or if he thinks it’s the shibboleth he needs to use to gain some support from unaware Midwesterners and Southerners. Regardless, it engraves a new precedent into our political thought: a constant reinforcement that we are always in danger and you can watch your 70” TV only because the troops are out there.”
To be clear, my friend and I have nothing personal against the troops, seeing that we’re both career military. But why single out the troops for God’s protection? Why not ask God to protect the poor? The sick? The vulnerable and needy and suffering?
Most Americans know that Joe Biden lost a beloved son, Beau, to brain cancer, and that he’d served in Iraq, where he possibly contracted his illness due to exposure to toxic chemicals in burn pits there. One can understand a father’s grief for his son, and his desire for Beau’s fellow troops to be protected from harm.
As a human sentiment, it resonates with me. But I share my friend’s unease with those who would beseech God for special protection for troops whose reason for being is centered on the use of deadly force around the globe. Especially when the sentiment was used in a campaign ad to court voters.
Perhaps we should leave it up to God to decide whom He wishes to protect, and even which country or countries He wishes to bless.
Ever since that fateful day of 9/11/2001, Americans have been trying to process what can only be termed a colossal defeat. Showing our usual capacity for denial, we’ve rebranded it as a day for patriotism. We built the Freedom Tower, exactly 1776 feet high, on the ruins of the Twin Towers. We “got” Osama bin Laden. Yet the first victims of our collective rage, the Taliban in Afghanistan, have somehow emerged triumphant in a long destructive war against U.S. and NATO forces.
With his usual powerful prose, careful research, and keen eye for telling details, Tom Engelhardt has written a compelling introduction to Rajan Menon’s latest article on the Afghan War. It’s reposted here with Tom’s permission.W.J. Astore
It started with three air strikes on September 11, 2001. The fourth plane, heading perhaps for the Capitol (a building that wouldn’t be targeted again until last January 6th), ended up in a field in Pennsylvania. Those three strikes led to an American invasion of Afghanistan, beginning this country’s second war there in the last half-century. Almost 20 years later, according to the New York Times, there have been more than 13,000 U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan. Call that payback after a fashion. There’s only one problem: the greatest military on the planet, with a budget larger than that of the next 10 countries combined, has visibly lost its war there and is now in full-scale retreat. It may not be withdrawing the last of its forces on May 1st, as the Trump administration had agreed to do, but despite the pressure of the American military high command, President Biden “overrode the brass” and announced that every last American soldier would be gone by the 20th anniversary of those first airstrikes against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
At this late date, consider it grimly fascinating that the generals who all those years kept claiming that “corners” were being turned and “progress” made, that we were “on the road to winning” in Afghanistan, as the present Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley insisted back in 2013, simply can’t let go of one of their great failures and move on. Under the circumstances, don’t for a second assume that the American war in Afghanistan is truly over. For one thing, the Taliban have not yet agreed to the new withdrawal date, as they did to the May 1st one. Instead, some of its commanders are promising a “nightmare” for U.S. troops in the months to come. Were they, for instance, to attack an air base and kill some American soldiers, who knows what the reaction here might be?
In addition, the Pentagon high command and this country’s intelligence agencies are still planning for possibly making war on Afghanistan from a distance in order to “prevent the country from again becoming a terrorist base.” As Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper of the New York Timesreported recently, “Planners at the military’s Central Command in Tampa, Fla., and Joint Staff in Washington have been developing options to offset the loss of American combat boots on the ground.”
In other words, the American war in Afghanistan may be ending but, as with so much else about that endless experience, even the finale is still up for grabs. In that context, consider the thoughts of TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon on what has, without any doubt, been the American war from hell of this century. Tom
President Biden has announced that all U.S. combat troops will be out of Afghanistan by 9/11 of this year. So why is the Pentagon budget increasing? Only in America do wars end and war budgets go up.
Arguing against Biden’s pullout plan, more than a few commentators have expressed concern about the status and safety of Afghan women under Taliban rule. As if America went to war to secure the rights of women in Afghanistan. So, I’d like to ask these commentators, what about the status and safety of women in America? What about equal pay? What about protecting women from domestic violence and other forms of assault? What about reproductive rights for women? Before you pontificate about securing rights for Afghan women, you should work to secure them for American women.
Speaking of which: Are these commentators in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment for women?
Speaking of which: Are these commentators in favor of a $15 federal minimum wage? Because a boost in the federal minimum wage will help women and minorities, who are more likely than white men to be stuck in low-paying jobs
It’s unlikely that the Afghan War will end on 9/11. It’s just being turned over to the mercs, spooks, and drones. In other words, private military contractors (mercenaries), the CIA (spooks), and bombing via remotely-piloted aerial vehicles (drones).
A friend of mine has a theory. As long as Americans have plenty of cheap 70-inch TV screens available to them, as well as plenty of tawdry and violent entertainment, they couldn’t care less about the Afghan War and similar issues. I think he’s right. All these gigantic screens remind me of “Fahrenheit 451.” Except in our future, the “firemen” won’t have to burn the books since no one will want to read them.
America’s “defense” experts always tout various “gaps” that we must fill with more weapons to counter our imagined enemies. We’ve had bomber and missile gaps in our past, and the movie “Dr Strangelove” famously imagined a “mine shaft gap.” Today we hear about cyberwar, hypersonic missiles, and the like, yet the biggest and most dangerous gap that America has is empathy. It’s shown quite well by this profane cartoon, sent along by a friend:
Back in 2019, here’s what I wrote about America’s empathy gap: Despite our size, we are a remarkably insular nation and suffer from a serious empathy gap when it comes to understanding foreign cultures and peoples or what we’re actually doing to them. Even our globetrotting troops, when not fighting and killing foreigners in battle, often stay on vast bases, referred to in the military as “Little Americas,” complete with familiar stores, fast food, you name it. Wherever we go, there we are, eating our big burgers, driving our big trucks, wielding our big guns, and dropping our very big bombs. But what those bombs do, whom they hurt or kill, whom they displace from their homes and lives, these are things that Americans turn out to care remarkably little about.
Perhaps that’s because we’re too enthralled with our new 80-inch super-high-def TV. Want to play a (war) game?
Imagine you’re President Joe Biden. You’re looking for nearly $2 trillion to fund vital repairs and improvements to America’s infrastructure. You learn of a warplane, the F-35 Lightning II, that may cost as much as $1.7 trillion to buy, field and maintain through the next half century. Also, you learn it’s roughly $200 billion over budget and more than a decade behind schedule. You learn it was supposed to be a low-cost, high-availability jet but that through time, it’s become a high-cost, low-availability one. Your senior Air Force general compares it to a Ferrari sports car and says we’ll “drive” it only on Sundays. What do you do?
Your first thought would probably be to cancel it, save more than a trillion dollars, and fund America’s infrastructure needs. Yet instead, the U.S. military is turning on the afterburners and going into full production. What gives?
When 60 Minutes reported on the F-35 in 2014, the plane was already seven years behind schedule and $163 billion over budget. Since then, it has weathered a series of setbacks and complications: Engines that are unreliable and in short supply. An ultra-expensive software system to maintain and repair the plane that doesn’t work. Higher operating costs — as much as 300% higher — compared to previous planes like the F-16 or the A-10. An overly loud engine that creates a noise nuisance to nearby population centers. The list goes on, yet so, too, does the F-35 program.
Why? Because of the power of the military-industrial-congressional complex. The F-35’s lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, used a tried-and-true formula to insulate the plane from political pressure, spreading jobs across 45 states and 307 congressional districts. In essence, the F-35 program has become “too big to fail.” At the Pentagon level, the plane is supposed to fulfill the needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps for a “fifth generation” stealthy fighter. There is no alternative, or so you’re told.
Yet, as America’s commander-in-chief, you must always remember there are alternatives. Think about it. Why buy a deeply troubled weapon system at inflated prices? Why reward a military contractor for woeful failures to deliver on time and within budget?
Congress rarely asks such questions because of the corrosive power of corporate lobbyists, the military’s insatiable demands for tech-heavy wonder weapons, and thinly-veiled threats that program cuts will cost jobs — meaning members of Congress might face electoral defeat if they fail to safeguard the F-35 pork apportioned to their districts.
But you’re the president — you should be above all that. You take a wider view like the one President Dwight D. Eisenhower took in 1953 in his “cross of iron” speech. Here Ike, a former five-star Army general, challenged Americans to prioritize instruments of peace over tools of war. Schools and hospitals, Ike wrote, were more vital to a democracy than destroyers and fighter jets. Ike was right then — and even more right today. He famously invested in an interstate highway system that served as an accelerant to the U.S. economy. He knew that warplanes, especially overly pricey and operationally dicey ones, were much less vital to the common good.
The Pentagon tells you it’s the F-35 or bust. But for you as president, it’s the F-35 and bust. You begin to realize that so many of the experts advising you to stay the course on the F-35 stand to profit if you do so.
And then you realize as America’s commander-in-chief that no weapon system should be too big to fail. You take heart from Sen. John McCain. In 2016, that ex-naval aviator declared the F-35 program was “both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance.”
Why continue that scandal? Why not end that tragedy? You can decide to send the strongest and clearest message to the military-industrial-congressional complex by cancelling the F-35. You can vow to reform the flawed system that produced it. And you can fund your vital infrastructure programs with the savings.
William J. Astore is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and history professor. He is currently a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network.
President Biden has announced that all U.S. military combat troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 9/11/2021. That date was chosen deliberately and cynically. Recall that 15 of the 19 terrorist hijackers of 9/11 were Saudi. Recall that Osama bin Laden was Saudi. Recall that it was Al Qaeda, not the Taliban in Afghanistan, that was behind the 9/11 attacks on America. Yet America’s Afghan War has always been falsely advertised as both preemptive and preventative, i.e. America went to war to preempt another 9/11-style attack and has continued that war to prevent similar attacks coming from Afghanistan. It’s a false narrative that has largely worked to sustain the Afghan War for twenty years, and Biden is reinforcing it.
Another critical issue: What does it really mean when Biden says those combat troops will be withdrawn? What it doesn’t mean is that the war will end. Doubtless the CIA and similar intelligence operatives will remain behind, shrouded in secrecy. Doubtless some special forces units will stay. Doubtless private contractors, many of them ex-military, will stay. Doubtless America will reserve the “right” to continue to bomb Afghanistan and to conduct drone strikes from halfway across the world, ostensibly in support of the Afghan “national” government in Kabul. So is the war really ending?
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is getting what it wants: a boosted budget (even above what Trump requested) and a future defined by plans for war with China and Russia (and perhaps Iran as well). I’ve seen plenty of articles screaming that China is building a powerful navy, that China is building dangerous missiles, that China is building advanced fighter jets, and so on, which is exactly what the Pentagon wants: a “near-peer” rival to justify even more military spending, especially for big-ticket items like aircraft carriers, fighters, bombers, missile defense systems, and so on.
Biden’s linking of the failed Afghan War to 9/11 and its forthcoming 20th anniversary is yet another exercise in pernicious lying by America’s vast national security state. Once again, we’re reminded that the first casualty in war is truth. And perhaps the last casualty of the Afghan War (whenever it really ends, at least for America) will also be truth.