Bombing Kills Lots of Innocents: Who Knew?

W.J. Astore

Extensive U.S. bombing overseas kills lots of innocent people: who knew?

So this blinding statement of the obvious popped up in my email today from the New York Times:

A five-year Times investigation found that the U.S. air wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan led to thousands of civilian deaths.
Hidden Pentagon records show a pattern of failures in U.S. airstrikes — a sharp contrast to the American government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.
The military’s own confidential assessments of over 1,300 reports of civilian casualties since 2014, obtained by The Times, lays bare how the air war has been marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children. None of these failures resulted in a finding of wrongdoing. We are making these Pentagon records public.
This is the first of a two-part investigation. Here are the key takeaways.

Finally, at the end of 2021, the Times is willing to speak up against America’s murderous regimen of bombing overseas. I wrote about this myself at this site in 2016 and 2017, and I’m hardly the only person to have pointed this out. At TomDispatch.com, Tom Engelhardt has been reporting for years and years on wedding parties being wiped out by U.S. bombing missions based on “faulty intelligence.” The mainstream media have largely played down these atrocities until now, when the war in Afghanistan is finally (mostly) over, at least for the U.S.

As I wrote in 2013 for TomDispatch.com, airpower is neither cheap nor surgical nor decisive. Indeed, because it provides an illusion of effectiveness, and because America dominates the “high ground” of the air, all of this “precision” bombing serves to keep America in wars for far longer than is tenable on tactical grounds. Imagine how long the Iraq and Afghan wars would have lasted if America didn’t dominate the air, if the U.S. military had to rely exclusively on ground troops, and thus had suffered much higher casualties in ground combat. My guess is that these wars would have ended earlier, but “progress” could always be faked with all those statistics of bombs dropped and alleged “high value targets” eliminated.

I suppose it’s good to see the “liberal” New York Times cover this issue of murderous bombing after 20 years of the global war on terror. The question remains: why did it take them two decades to cover this issue in depth?

Presidents become “presidential” when they bomb other countries. Meanwhile, Julian Assange rots in prison. Maybe he needs to bomb a few countries?

Update (12/21/21)

More notes on U.S. bombing and the Times report, courtesy of ReThink Round Up:

“Not a single file [from the military about the bombings] includes a finding of wrongdoing. An effort within the military to find lessons learned to prevent future civilian harm was suppressed. An analyst who captures strike imagery even told the Times that superior officers would often “tell the cameras to look somewhere else” because “they knew if they’d just hit a bad target.”

Responding to the report, a Pentagon spokesperson acknowledged that preventing civilian deaths is not just a “moral imperative” but a strategic issue because civilian casualties can fuel recruiting for extremist groups. [New York Times/ Azmat Khan]”

*****

Again, to state the obvious here:

1. There’s no accountability in the system. Murderous mistakes are covered up and no one is held responsible (“tell the cameras to look somewhere else”).

2. The bombing attacks were counterproductive. Guess what? Killing innocents creates more “terrorists.” Who knew?

Murderous inaccuracy, making matters worse, with no accountability: WTF? So much for America’s “awesome” military, as Andrew Bacevich writes about today at TomDispatch.com.

How Awesome Is “Awesome”?

Fox News and The New York Times Agree: America is Weak!

W.J. Astore

Did you know that the world’s lone surviving military superpower, the one that spends more than a trillion dollars yearly on all things military, is weak?

Fox News would have you think that. And so too would the New York Times (NYT).

Over at Fox News, the headline suggests Biden’s weakness is inviting “the next Pearl Harbor,” even as the article focuses mainly on alleged weakness vis-a-vis Russia-Ukraine and China-Taiwan. Meanwhile, my daily summary from the NYT agrees that “U.S. weakness emboldens Moscow and Beijing.” So what does the NYT suggest America should do to show strength?

With respect to Russia and Ukraine, this is the sage advice of the New York Times:

On its own, Ukraine’s military seems outmatched by Russia’s. And a full-scale U.S. military response seems doubtful, given a weariness of foreign wars that Biden and many American voters share.
But Biden still has options. The U.S. can increase its military support to Ukraine, which could make a potential invasion look bloodier and more costly for Russia. (The U.S. is pursuing a related strategy in Taiwan.)
Biden can also threaten sanctions on Russia, as he did on the call with Putin yesterday, according to Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser. “He told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures,” Sullivan told reporters. If Russia does attack Ukraine, Biden said that the U.S. would react more strongly than it did to the 2014 takeover of the Crimean Peninsula.
But sanctions might not be enough to deter Putin.

In sum, here’s the tough-minded advice of the “liberal” New York Times: Sell more expensive weaponry to Ukraine (as well as Taiwan). Threaten the most violent economic warfare possible. And, since sanctions “might not be enough” to deter Russia or China, there’s more than a hint that America may need to go to war, despite “weariness” of wars allegedly shared by Biden and “many American voters.”

A show of hands here: How many Americans think it’s wise to risk nuclear war if Russia attacks Ukraine or China attacks Taiwan?

Even if the risk of nuclear war is discounted (which it shouldn’t be), how many Americans think it’s wise for the U.S. military to get involved in a land war in Asia or against Russia in Ukraine?

Maybe patient diplomacy is the answer here? After all, what does the “defense” of Ukraine or Taiwan by U.S. forces have to do with defending our country and our constitution?

America doesn’t lack toughness — it lacks smarts. Selling more weapons to Ukraine or Taiwan isn’t the answer. Nor are constant threats.

Sun Tzu taught that the best way to win is when you can achieve your objectives without even having to fight. Guile is not weakness, nor is restraint. But Fox News, joined by the New York Times, would have us think that toughness is mostly about weaponry and a willingness to wage war. Because, you know, it’s worked so well for America in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and so many other places around the globe.

The Truth Needs Its Own Channel

POW_MIA_LOGO_FOR_TRIAD_400x

W.J. Astore

Today’s article is a potluck of observations.  Please fire away in the comments section if I stimulate some thoughts!

  1. My wife today noticed how the weather is now militarized.  An “arctic invasion” of cold air is coming our way, or so the Weather Channel warned.  Do we need a new “Weather Force” to meet this “invasion”?
  2. The other day at the gym, I was watching the impeachment drama on two TVs tuned to Fox News and MSNBC.  For Fox News and its parade of Republican guests, the impeachment was a “hoax.”  For MSNBC, it was a foregone conclusion Trump is as guilty as sin.  I mentioned this to my wife and she had the perfect comment: “The truth needs its own channel.”
  3. A reader wrote to me about a piece I wrote in 2008 about all the “warrior” and “warfighter” talk used by the U.S. military today.  It got me to thinking yet again about the rhetoric of war.  Back in World War II, when we fought real wars and won them, we had a Department of War to which citizen-soldiers were drafted.  After World War II, we renamed it the Department of Defense, and after Vietnam we eliminated the draft, after which you began to hear much talk of warriors and warfighters.  In the 75 years since 1945, America has fought many wars, none of them formally declared by Congress, and none of them “defensive” in any way.  The longest of those wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) have been utter disasters.  Which is not surprising, since wars based on lies and fought for non-compelling reasons usually are losers.  So, how do you buck up the morale of all those volunteer troops while encouraging them not to think about the losing causes they’re engaged in?  Get them to focus on their warfighter identities, their warrior “cred,” as if it’s a great thing for democracies to fight constant wars.
  4. The New York Times endorsed Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar today as the Democrats best prepared to serve as president.  Looks like Jimmy Dore is right: establishment Democrats would rather lose to Trump than win with a true progressive like Bernie Sanders.
  5. The other day, I went to my local post office and saw the POW/MIA flag flying.  It got me to thinking: Who are the POWs/MIAs we need to remember today?  Don’t get me wrong.  As a retired military officer, I think we should remember America’s POWs and MIAs.  But I see no reason to fly flags everywhere to remind us of those veterans who were prisoners of war or missing in action.  Sadly, the POW/MIA flag is associated with conservative activism and reactionary views; it also can serve as a distraction from the enormous damage inflicted overseas by the U.S. military.  As Americans, we are constantly told by our leaders to focus on American victims of war; rarely if ever are we encouraged to think of war itself as a disaster, or to think of the victims on the receiving end of American firepower.

More on the POW/MIA issue: In the early 1990s, when I was a young captain, there were persistent rumors of American POWs who’d been deliberately left behind by our government.  These rumors were strong, so strong that the George H.W. Bush administration had to issue denials.

What are we to make of this?  One thing strikes me immediately: an often profound mistrust of our government exists within the military.  Our government has lied to us so often that some of my fellow officers believed it was lying again when it said there were no POWs remaining in Southeast Asia.  We just assumed our government was so wretched and dishonest that it would abandon our troops to their fate.

This is nearly 30 years ago but it’s stayed in my memory — the suspicion back then that those commie bastards still held U.S. troops and our own government was part of the cover-up.  (All those Chuck Norris and Rambo movies didn’t help matters.)

For more on this: The POW/MIA issue is still very much alive and is discussed by H. Bruce Franklin in his article,  “Missing in Action in the 21st Century,” available at hbrucefranklin.com.  As Franklin noted recently to me, “What we now think of as the Trump base was organized originally in this [POW/MIA] movement.”  Now that’s a fascinating comment.

What say you, readers?

The “Liberal” Media Narrative on Bernie Sanders

Bernie
Keep fighting, Bernie

W.J. Astore

Bernie Sanders has won yet another primary against Hillary Clinton, this time in West Virginia.  He’s likely to win more, perhaps even California in June.  Yet what is the headline at the “liberal” New York Times?

Top News
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont campaigning Tuesday in Salem, Ore. His victory in West Virginia's Democratic primary on Tuesday was less about policy differences with Hillary Clinton than about the state's demographics.

Bernie Sanders Wins West Virginia, Prolonging Race With Hillary Clinton

By TRIP GABRIEL

The primary victory by the senator from Vermont will force his Democratic rival to continue a distracting nominating fight.

Can you believe the nerve of that man?  Bernie Sanders is “forcing” his rival, Hillary Clinton, “to continue a distracting nominating fight.”

I suppose Democrats should just hand the nomination to Hillary, uncontested. Now that’s true democracy in action.

Without the “superdelegates,” i.e. without the support of the establishment within the Democratic Party, Hillary and Bernie would be running neck-and-neck.  You’d think the media would love a close horse race like this.  But no: the media is slavering for a Trump versus Hillary race.  Bernie is already an afterthought, even as he keeps winning.

Bernie’s victories highlight Hillary’s weaknesses.  Progressives don’t trust her. Independents are not impressed.  Young people are turned off (her politics as usual is uninspiring, to say the least).  Working-class whites find little of appeal in her message and record.

Yet the media, even the so-called liberal media, has already declared victory for Hillary, looking ahead to the joys of months of mud-slinging between Hillary and Trump.

Please stay in the race, Bernie. You have nothing to lose — and the country has much to gain.

The U.S. Military’s Limited Critique of Itself Ensures Future Disasters

War is political, human, and chaotic.  Who knew?
War is political, human, and chaotic. Who knew?

W.J. Astore

In the New York Times on July 20, Major General H.R. McMaster penned a revealing essay on “The Pipe Dream of Easy War.”  McMaster made three points about America’s recent wars and military interventions:

1.  In stressing new technology as being transformative, the American military neglected the political side of war.  They forgot their Clausewitz in a celebration of their own prowess, only to be brought back to earth by messy political dynamics in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

2.  Related to (1), the U.S. military neglected human/cultural aspects of war and therefore misunderstood Iraqi and Afghan culture.  Cultural misunderstandings transformed initial battlefield victories into costly political stalemates.

3.  Related to (1) and (2), war is uncertain and unpredictable.  Enemies can and will adapt.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these points, or in the general’s broad lesson that “American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.”

The last sentence is a dig at the Air Force and an argument for the continuing relevance of ground forces, which is unsurprising coming from an Army general who commands Fort Benning in Georgia.

But the sum total of McMaster’s argument is remarkably banal.  Yes, war is political, human, and chaotic.  Did our military professionals and civilian experts really forget this before making their flawed decisions to go to war after 9/11?

McMaster ends his critique with a few words of praise for the U.S. military’s adaptability.  The usual refrain: We messed up, but we learned from our mistakes, and are ready to take on new challenges, as long as the department of defense remains fully funded, and as long as America puts its faith in men like McMaster and not in machines/technology.

If those are the primary lessons our country should have learned since 9/11, we’re in big, big trouble.

So, here are three of my own “lessons” in response to McMaster’s.  They may not be popular, but that’s because they’re a little more critical of our military – and a lot more critical of America.

1.  Big mistakes by our military are inevitable because the American empire is simply too big, and American forces are simply too spread out globally, often in countries where the “ordinary” people don’t want us.  To decrease our mistakes, we must radically downsize our empire.

2.  The constant use of deadly force to police and control our empire is already sowing the deadly seeds of blowback.  Collateral damage and death of innocents via drones and other “kinetic” attacks is making America less safe rather than more.

Like the Romans before us, as Tacitus said, we create a desert with our firepower and call it “peace.”  But it’s not peace to those on the receiving end of American firepower.  Their vows of vengeance perpetuate the cycle of violence.  Add to this our special forces raids, our drone strikes, and other meddling and what you get is a perpetual war machine that only we can stop.  But we can’t stop it because like McMaster we keep repeating, “This next war, we’ll get it right.”

3.  We can’t defeat the enemy when it is us.  Put differently, what’s the sense in defeating the enemies of freedom overseas at the same time as our militarized government is waging a domestic crackdown on dissent (otherwise known as freedom of speech) in the “homeland”?

Articles like McMaster’s suggest that our military can always win future wars, mainly by fighting more intelligently.  These articles never question the wisdom of American militarization, nor do they draw any attention to the overweening size and ambition of the department of defense and its domination of American foreign policy.

Indeed, articles like McMaster’s, in reassuring us that the military will do better in the next round of fighting, ensure that we will fight again – probably achieving nothing better than stalemate while wasting plenty of young American (and foreign) lives.

Is it possible that the best way to win future wars is to avoid them altogether?  As simple as that question is, you will rarely hear it asked in the halls of power in Washington.