An Empire of War and Death – Ten Features of War, American Style – “We’re Number One!” – A Culture of War Porn and Snuff Films – 17 Agencies Chewing Up US$70 Billion a Year – America’s Death Squads – The Celebration of All Things Military – Thousands Killed Without Any Links to Plots Aganist America – 2016 Looking to be More Killing – All for the Ruling Capitalist Oligarchy
War, American Style
A common belief shared by U.S. political pundits and a compliant and complicit U.S. media is that America never chooses its wars: it’s dragged into them. Last October, I read an article in the “liberal” New York Times that caught the mood perfectly. It worried the U.S. was being “sucked into” wars in the Middle East, drawn in, inexorably, by forces the world’s lone superpower couldn’t control. As if America’s leaders had no choice. As if they (and we) couldn’t walk away whenever we so chose.
What foolishness. By choice the U.S. has been meddling in the greater Middle East for decades (consider the CIA-orchestrated coup in Iran in 1953, to cite only one example). America is not being “sucked in” by uncontrollable forces. Our leaders choose to meddle – most often in extremely violent and prejudicial ways – in regions of the world they understand poorly, if at all
And poor understanding comes despite a massive intelligence complex featuring 17 agencies chewing through $70 billion a year. Indeed, according to a Washington Post study, the U.S. has nearly 1300 government organizations and nearly 2000 private companies devoted to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence.
Let’s look at a tiny piece of that complex: the presence of 1500 intel operatives working daily to provide “actionable intelligence” for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida. Roughly the equivalent of a military regiment of high-priced intelligence operatives sits on its collective butt in Florida, gazing at computer screens, producing its own fog of war about the Middle East.
Indeed, much of war, American style has degenerated into watching people killed at a distance. Think of video footage from drone strikes that call to mind snuff films. Want explosive climaxes? As Peter Van Buren noted, they’ve got the war porn for you.
War, American style features lots of bragging about the military (We’re Number One!), lots of grinding in wars that last forever, but no satisfying climaxes, whether in Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya. Lots of steroidal militarism, but no clear military victories.
Donald Trump had a fleeting moment of sanity when he said in the last presidential debate that the U.S. after 9/11 wasted three or four trillion dollars on wars with nothing to show for it. That money should have been invested in America instead, he said, which caused Carly Fiorina to denounce him for sounding like Barack Obama!
Ergo I can suggest one safe bet for 2016: more war. At least we’re number one at something.
Update: I added this to the comments section below, but will also put it here for new readers.
Ten Features of War, American Style
1. Wars are no longer declared by Congress, and thus they are not waged in the name of the people.
2. Wars are now fought by “warriors” rather than by citizen-soldiers. Citizens are excluded from wars by choice and by design; they are reduced to cheerleaders and told to go shopping.
3. Wars no longer have a discernible end point. (How do you end a war on terror?)
4. Wars are supported by both parties and by the corporate-owned media as well. Dissenters to war are pushed to the margins and dismissed as unserious and/or misguided and/or unpatriotic.
5. War damage is confined largely to foreigners; American life continues on, undisturbed by war.
6. Major corporations continue to profit from war; similarly, the USA remains dominant in the world arms trade.
7. “Security” has become the byword of America, a security that is linked to a strong military presence overseas and a strong police presence at home. “Security” has become synonymous with guns and prisons in Lockdown USA. In other words, a war mentality has spread deeply into American consciousness, so much so that few people recognize its signs anymore. (Peace, love, understanding? Get thee behind me, Hippie!)
8. Related to (7): The celebration of all things military. Baseball uniforms with camouflage. Camouflage headsets for football coaches. Constant celebrations of military “heroes” in “private” venues, some of them paid for using public (taxpayers’) dollars.
9. No need for elites to risk their sons and daughters in war (no draft), thus apathy. When they do express some concern, they’re largely unable to critique war and U.S. foreign policy since they’ve been trained to defer to “experts.” Those experts? Mostly retired military officers, many with conflicts of interest, e.g. they work for defense contractors that profit from continuous war.
10. Fear. Fear is both a product of war and a generator of it. Fear is constantly stoked in the USA.
Chris Hedges, of course, is superb on this general question. Read his “War Is A Force that Gives Us Meaning.”
Washington’s Death Squads
By Bill Van Auken
Global Research , June 09, 2015
In a lengthy article published Sunday, the New York Times provided a glimpse into the criminal and grisly methods employed by Seal Team 6, a secret unit within the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
The unit was made famous by the phony accounts of its assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, cover stories that were blown last month by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, who exposed the operation as the cold-blooded murder of an unarmed and decrepit individual who had been fingered by Pakistani intelligence.
What the Times account makes clear—whatever the newspaper’s intentions and its undoubted vetting of its material with the Pentagon and the White House—is that in the pursuit of its global interests, the United States government has become ever more dependent upon the murderous operations of secret death squads.
The newspaper quotes a Pentagon spokesman as saying that the number of missions carried out by Seal Team 6 and other special operations units has risen to the “tens of thousands” since 2001. The victims killed by Seal Team 6, whose very existence the US military refuses to acknowledge, number in the thousands, the vast majority of them unidentified individuals with no link to any plot or threat against the US itself.
The report says the secretive unit has grown to 1,800 personnel and boasts a “ballooning” budget and an ever-expanding remit. It details Seal Team 6’s exploits in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2008, when it carried out continuous night raids, killing, on average, 15 individuals each night and frequently as many as 25, while in most cases finding no one identified as a target.
Neither those hunted nor the many more who were killed posed any threat to the American people. They were targeted because they were identified as potential impediments to US policy, specifically to Washington’s attempt to prop up the corrupt and unpopular regime under Hamid Karzai that the US installed in Kabul.
The Times provides a sanitized account of one of these raids, carried out on December 27, 2009, as part of the Obama administration’s Afghan “surge,” in which the American military death squad murdered eight schoolboys—ages 11 to 17—along with a 12-year-old shepherd boy and an Afghan farmer.
At the time, a local school principal recounted the massacre:
“First, the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them. Then they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students. Then they killed them. Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside. When they saw him, they shot him as well.”
Describing this period, a Seal Team 6 former officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated, “These killing fests had become routine.”
The Times reports that in Afghanistan, the Team 6 operatives “engaged in combat so intimate that they have emerged soaked in blood that was not their own.” It adds, “At times, Seals cut off fingers or patches of scalp from dead militants for DNA analysis.”
What is described here are not the actions of rogue soldiers or a band of lawless mercenaries, but rather a unit that is touted as the most elite within the US armed forces. Its methods and its crimes are the methods and crimes of the US government, the Obama administration and America’s capitalist ruling establishment.
The unit is given what amounts to blanket immunity for its crimes, with investigations of its activities almost invariably going no further than JSOC, itself a secretive command dedicated to “counter-insurgency” methods that routinely translate into war crimes.
Civilian officials at the Pentagon give these operations a wide berth, and, as Harold Koh, the State Department official who drafted pseudo-legal rationales for the Obama administration’s drone assassination program, told the Times, “This is an area where Congress notoriously doesn’t want to know too much.”
The Obama administration’s reliance upon these operations has become so pervasive that former US senator from Nebraska Robert Kerrey told the Times, “They have become sort of a 1-800 number anytime somebody wants something done.” Kerrey knows whereof he speaks, having participated as a Navy Seal in war crimes in Vietnam as part of the infamous Operation Phoenix program of torture, massacres and mass assassinations that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of men, women and children—the program on which much of today’s operations is modeled.
To the extent that the Times piece expresses any reservations concerning the operations of Team 6 and similar units, it is in regard to their efficacy. The newspaper complains that the wall of secrecy that surrounds this death squad operation makes it difficult “to fully assess its record and the consequences of its actions.”
Left unexplored is the far more significant question of what the ever-growing reliance on death squads, “kill lists” and assassinations says about the nature of the American government itself. The use of such methods is not new, and Vietnam was by no means exceptional.
In El Salvador, Washington trained and equipped death squads that carried out horrific violence against that country’s civilian population, accounting for a large share of the 75,000 people killed in the attempt to crush resistance to the US-backed dictatorship. This bloodbath is now touted within the Pentagon as a counterinsurgency success story.
But now these methods have become institutionalized as never before. They are the preferred method of the White House and Washington’s massive military and intelligence apparatus for the elimination of perceived enemies anywhere on the planet.
War crimes abroad go hand-in-hand with a frontal assault on democratic rights within the United States itself. Unprecedented levels of social inequality and a ruling capitalist oligarchy that is determined to reverse its economic decline at the expense of the working class are wholly incompatible with democratic forms of rule.
This already finds expression in the militarization of the police in the US and the routine use of violence and deadly force against the most oppressed layers of the population. How long will it be before units like Seal Team 6 are given “kill lists” of enemies of the state to be hunted down not in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Yemen, but rather at workplaces and homes within the United States itself?