Fifteen years ago, on October 19th 2001, Donald Rumsfeld addressed B-2 bomber crews at Whiteman AFB in Missouri, as they prepared to fly halfway across the world to wreak misdirected vengeance on the people of Afghanistan and begin the longest war in US history.
15 years later, our wars have changed the way millions of people live and killed about 2 million people who had nothing to do with the crimes of September 11th. The most basic principle of justice, that only the guilty should be punished for a crime, was quickly lost and buried in America’s rush to war.
President Bush’s military spending set a post-WWII record, an average of $635 billion per year in 2016 dollars, compared with an average of $470 billion per year throughout the Cold War. Now President Obama has done what would have seemed impossible in 2008, outspending Bush by an average of $20 billion per year.
Clearly it has not enabled the US to win any wars. The only wars we have won since WWII were over the tiny neocolonial outposts of Grenada, Panama, Kuwait and Kosovo. Hillary Clinton derided those operations as ‘splendid little wars’ in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2000, as she urged its members to support more ambitious uses of US military force. Clinton got what she asked for, but she seems to have learned nothing from the catastrophic results.
The danger of investing so much of our country’s wealth in military forces and weapons of war is that it gives our leaders the illusion that they can use war to advance our national interests or solve international problems.
Instead of making good on the ‘peace dividend’ Americans hoped for at the end of the Cold War, US leaders were seduced by the mirage of a ‘unipolar’ world in which the threat and use of US military force would be the final arbiter of international affairs. In pursuit of this mirage, we have used force in violation of the UN Charter against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and now Syria. Our military and civilian leaders have systematically violated the laws of war, ordering US troops to kill civilians, torture prisoners, ‘dead-check’ or kill wounded enemy combatants, and to misidentify murdered civilians as combatants killed in action, deliberately undermining the distinction between combatants and civilians that is the basis of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
President Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war has expanded US Special Forces operations from 60 countries when he took office to 150 countries today. Under President Obama, US special forces night raids in Afghanistan exploded from 20 raids per month when he took office to over 1,000 a month two years later. Senior officers have admitted to the Washington Post that at least half these raids target the wrong person or house, killing thousands of innocent people.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s expansion of special forces operations has not led to any reduction in US air strikes.
The world faces huge problems that must be addressed and resolved in the next few decades. We have depleted many of the natural resources that our present way of life has been built on, and now climate change is turning our use of fossil fuels into a slow form of mass suicide. The question facing us is this: will the allocation of increasingly scarce resources and the necessary transformations of the 21st century be directed by international cooperation for the benefit of all and the survival of human civilization? Our country’s current war policy offers only one answer to that question. We must find a different and an effective political strategy to impose it on our deluded leaders while there is still time.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Delusion of Worthy Wars’.