Julian Assange

Assange in Court: What I Saw

I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated aging. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Until yesterday I had always been quietly skeptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and skeptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

I had been even more skeptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defense was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offenses were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

The reasons given by Assange’s defense team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defense.

Furthermore, the defense argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defense against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters.

The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings.

For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defense to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offense excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, 25 February, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defense to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the US government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.

After the recess the defense team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind”. It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the US Embassy. Lewis received his American instructions and agreed that the defense might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defense. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defense ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.

The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defense, what makes the February date so important to the USA? I would welcome any thoughts.

Baraitser dismissed the defense’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorized what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offense– if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.

Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defense should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defense. The defense had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

(SPOILER: Baraitser is going to do as Lewis instructs and cut the substantive hearing short).

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh.

Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra American government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protesters around a hearing in which were present senior US officials. The move to Belmarsh may be an American initiative.

Assange’s defense team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk.

Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. Then he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court.

The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognizing anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.

I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonization and dehumanization against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster, human rights activist, and former diplomat. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. The article is reprinted with permission from his website.

Hypocrisy on Syria

Crackpot Congress: The Hyper-Hypocrisy of the Syria Vote

We are through the looking glass, Alice. For years now I’ve lambasted the U.S. Congress for shirking it’s constitutionally mandated duty to actually declare and oversee America’s wars. Now, in a cruel joke of sorts, it has finally decided to do so, symbolically voting to condemn the president for pulling troops out of a Syrian war it never sanctioned in the first place. In a rare, bipartisan vote this past week, the House overwhelmingly approved H.J. Res. 77, “Opposing the decision to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria.”

If ever proof was needed that Congress is inextricably linked to the military industrial complex and the forever warfare state, it’d have to be this bill. It demonstrates that the people’s representatives in Washington, normally asleep at the war-making wheel, will only weigh in to continue the nation’s endless wars. Their hypocrisy, it seems, knows no bounds. When a president (Obama, in this case) unilaterally sent American soldiers to combat in a new theater (Syria), Congress looked the other way. The same was true in Yemen, Libya, Iraq 3.0, and across West Africa. However, should a president (Trump) dare try end one of the plethora of endless wars, well that same Congress will assert itself in a New York minute. The lesson: true antiwar activists now know, once and for all, not to look to Capitol Hill for salvation…ever.

Nevertheless, this vote was historic and instructive, worthy of a far more detailed analysis than any mainstream media outlet has dared attempt. First of all, it passed by a landslide, 354-60. Remarkably, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans voted for it, proving that forever war is the only truly bipartisan issue in tribally divided Washington. Furthermore, not a single Democrat opposed the legislation, yet another demonstration of the stark reality that this is about Donald Trump, at its root, and the Dems can’t claim any sort of antiwar bonafides. Even three-quarters of the “squad” of celebrity progressive Democrats – including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – voted to prolong the US military deployment in the Syrian Civil War (Rep. Ilan Omar didn’t vote), a rather abrupt about face from their normally sensible antiwar rhetoric. I suppose even they bowed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the hyper-interventionist mainstream of the Democratic Party that veritably defines itself in opposition to Trump.

In yet another baffling turnabout, all 60 of the representatives that stood by the president’s – admittedly imperfect – attempt to end an unsanctioned and thus illegal war were Republicans. Sure, they were most likely motivated by loyalty to their president, but this still illustrates that the old rules of the game, where Democrats are the, at least vaguely, antiwar party, no longer apply. One thing remains constant, however. Congress, at least since the end of the Second World War, overwhelmingly tends to roll over and support ill-advised presidential war-making, even under false pretenses.

After all, the House voted 414-0 to support President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that essentially green-lighted America’s tragic war in Vietnam. And this week, in a particularly bizarre and ahistoric analogy, Obama’s former National Security Adviser Susan Rice claimed that the decision to pull a handful of troops out of Northeast Syria constituted “Trump’s Saigon.” Yes, Susan, and like failed American intervention in South Vietnam, the war in Syria was from the start illegal, unsanctioned, and unwinnable. No matter, no one in the corporate media bothered to critique Rice’s absurd and uninformed assertion. That’s because she’s one of them, a polite, “respectable” Washington war hawk in the most classic sense.

Just as predictably, no one in the mainstream press, and hardly anyone in Congress, questioned the wisdom or practicality of indefinitely securing and protecting a Kurdish mini-state in Northeast Syria, or whether that was really Washington’s motive in the first place. No, crocodile tears for the Kurds was and is nothing more than a convenient tool to maintain perpetual military presence in an Arab state and bash Trump’s foreign policy. Here, too, all sense of historical context was absent. In a exasperated note this week, my former interpreter in Iraq – a holder of two relevant Master’s degrees who now drives a truck in New York City – reminded me that the US has a long history of supporting ethnic and religious minority separatism in the Arab World. As such, Uncle Sam has backed Jewish Israelis, Lebanese Christians, and now the Kurds in order to maintain a military foothold in the Mideast.

So, to truly dig into the motives and stunning cynicism of the US House of Representatives, I thought it prudent to compare the only two recent examples in which it officially – if symbolically – criticized this president’s war policies. Which brings us to Yemen, more specifically H.J. Res. 37 in February of this year, which “Directed the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” In other words, a bill to end US support for a devastating Saudi terror war that has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and starved at least 85,000 children to death.

Leave aside for the moment the glaring irony that in the latest Syria vote the House called for continuing a war there that was itself, “not authorized by Congress.” The two bills provide an instructive comparison precisely because they each dealt with undeclared American wars involving the actual or ostensibly potential genocide against a minority group, the Houthis in Yemen and the Kurds in Syria.

If our representatives’ sincere motive was to halt human rights abuses or a massacre, then one would expect consistency in voting patterns. So too if the motivation was to truly end US involvement in any unsanctioned Mideast wars. Even a cursory look demonstrates, indisputably, that neither was the case. With respect to Yemen, every voting Democrat called for a halt to US support for the Saudi terror war, while all but 18 Republicans stuck with the president and backed continued intervention there.

That time the “squad” stood tall and voted as a bloc to end the war. On the other hand, more than 100 Republicans voted to continue atrocities against the Houthis but protect against potential or predicted genocide against the Kurds by maintaining a US military presence in Syria. The point is that actions speak louder than words, and the actions of most congressmen indicate not just inconsistency, but the paramountcy of partisan politics, even when it comes to matters of life and death.

Finally, let us drill down and look at one highly adulated and illustrative subgroup in the House – post 9/11 combat veterans. There are a paltry 28 such representatives currently serving in that chamber, 20 Republicans and 8 Democrats. After all, Americans love veterans, or so they say, and there’s a prominent myth that more vets in Congress would solve all the problems on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, the voting habits of this small group – particularly on Yemen and Syria – put that fantasy to rest. In reality, these congressional veterans are not only out of step with the American people, but – by overwhelmingly supporting perpetual war – not reflective of the military rank and file, two-thirds of whom believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the military engagement in Syria were “not worth it.” It seems even wildly venerated congressional combat veterans are themselves rather partisan creatures.

So here we are, by the numbers: On Yemen, 19 of 20 Republicans voted to continue US support for the genocidal war (one abstained), while all eight Democrats condemned that war, and by extension President Trump. In Syria, on the other hand, 23 of 28 congressional vets backed continued US military presence in the country’s northeast, with only five Republicans sticking with the president on both counts. Democratic presidential contender, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, interestingly, did not vote.

All that esoteric analysis leads to a few rather salient conclusions. First off, combat veterans in Congress aren’t particularly antiwar by any measure. Not a single one (Tulsi came closest) voted against US war-making in both instances, i.e. a Yea vote on the Yemen resolution and a Nay vote on the Syria resolution. And 14 of 20 Republicans, even willing to break with their president on the Syria decision, supported more war in both cases. Those 14, apparently, have sympathy for Kurdish victims but not Yemeni bomb-targets – a macabre reminder that, so far as Uncle Sam is concerned, some foreigners’ lives are worth more than others. So hawkish are these Republican vets that they’ll risk continuing ceaseless war in Syria, despite polling that indicates 56% of their conservative base approves of Trump’s withdrawal.

Most disturbingly, if altogether predictably, the supposedly – and repeatedly self-touted – “apolitical” military veterans in Congress are anything but, and regularly choose party over country through their wildly inconsistent voting habits. Twelve of these folks are even nakedly so, always voting for (five Republicans) or against (7 of 8 Democrats) a person – a polarizing Donald Trump – over policy. Indeed, all the Democratic veterans besides Tulsi Gabbard are apparently only against wars that The Donald supports. Wars this president doesn’t seem to like, well, those ought to rage on and on, even if these congressmen’s former comrades-in-arms will continue to die in hopeless combat in faraway lands.

Maybe consistency is just too much to ask for from 21st century American legislators. Maybe these folks – even the “best and brightest” young combat vets – are already bought and sold by the national security power apparatus, and far too busy “dialing-for-dollars” in campaign contributions to craft dependable and prudent foreign policies for the nation they once served. If all that is true, and I fear it is, than the entire legislative branch of this republic cannot be trusted or relied upon to preserve the lives of the beloved American soldiers these veteran congressmen once commanded.

When I was a young army officer, we used to joke that once a superior was promoted to the rank of major he’d receive a mandatory “field-grade lobotomy,” and transform into a sycophantic monster. When it comes to the sacred choice to send American troopers to kill and die in nearly two decade old, unwinnable wars in the Middle East, it seems that even elected combat veterans have long since received their “congressional lobotomies…”

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen

Ritter on the Syrian Kurds

Why the Syrian Kurds Aren’t Necessarily Our Friends

As usual, Beltway hawks and the media hive have oversimplified reality to advance their agendas.

A Syrian refugee holds a banner depicting Donald Trump and a PYD fighter, during a protest against PKK/PYD organization by Syrian refugees, including Syrian Kurds, at the Syrian border next to the Syria’s Ras al-Ayn town, in Ceylanpinar District of Sanliurfa, Turkey on September 17, 2017. (Photo by Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced the commencement of “Operation Peace Spring,” a military incursion by the Turkish armed forces into northern Syria. The target of the offensive, according to Erdogan, are “terrorists” from the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is comprised of Turkish Kurds fighting for independence from Turkey, and Syrian Kurds from the YPG, or People’s Protection Units. Erdogan is also pledging to combat residual ISIS elements.

The Turkish move comes with an ostensible green light from President Trump, who cleared the way for the Turkish action by precipitously ordering the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area.

Trump’s actions have been widely condemned as a betrayal of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, an American-trained and -equipped force of Syrian Kurds who played a lead role in the fight against ISIS in Syria, suffering thousands of casualties in the process. That Turkey, an American NATO ally, is waging war against the SDF (which the Turks label as YPG/PKK—more on that later), while at the same time targeting ISIS, the archenemy of the all these Kurdish groups, underscores the complexity of the regional politics at play in northern Syria today. Deciphering this alphabet soup goes a long way towards explaining why the Turkish actions are justified and why President Trump will ultimately be vindicated for pulling the troops out. 

Truly understanding the complex history of the Kurds in the Middle East would require several Ph.D.’s worth of research, and even then questions would remain. My own opinions are, in large part, shaped by personal experience. When I was in high school, my father was assigned to the Joint U.S. Military Mission for Aid to Turkey, or JUSMMAT. My family accompanied him, and we settled in the Turkish capital of Ankara. One of the perks of this assignment was a very active Rod and Gun club, which my father and I took full advantage of. The Ankara club had a long-standing relationship with a Kurdish tribal leader named Reshad Bey, who would organize excursions into central Anatolia where we would hunt on lands owned by Kurdish villagers.

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During one such hunt, our party (which consisted of a half-dozen Americans and a similar number of Kurds) was confronted by a platoon of Turkish Jandarma, or internal security troops. It was clear these troops had been lying in ambush for our group, and had it not been for the presence of the Americans, mischief would have followed.

That was my first experience with the difficult dynamic between Turkey and its Kurdish minority. Official Turkish policy prohibited one from calling the Kurds by their name; the Turks referred to them as “Mountain Turks” (as Americans, we did not comply with this absurdity). Moreover, the Kurds were prohibited from speaking their own language, although on the hunts, that was the way they communicated with one another. There was a discernible tension between the Kurds and the Turks, as witnessed by the presence of the Jandarma patrol. My family left Turkey in 1977, and a year later, the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, was founded in eastern Turkey, precipitating a struggle for Kurdish independence from Turkey that continues to this day.

Since then, I’ve keenly followed the conflict between Turkey and the PKK. My personal interest became professional during the Gulf War, when I helped monitor Turkey’s activities in northern Iraq, the PKK having established itself there, which prompted Turkish military incursions into Iraq. I was surprised to learn that Turkey was aided in part by Iraqi Kurds opposed to the PKK.

The complexity of inter-Kurdish politics was driven home when, in 1992, I led a team of UN weapons inspectors to inspect the area around the Bekhme Dam, located some 40 miles northeast of the city of Irbil, considered to be the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. At that time, Iraqi Kurdistan had freed itself from Iraqi governmental control, and Irbil was controlled by a faction of Iraqi Kurds known as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. The territory around Irbil was contested between the PUK and another Kurdish faction, the Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP. These two factions did not get along.

In order to get to Bekhme Dam, my team was flown in by helicopter to a remote landing zone located in no-man’s land between the PUK and KDP, where we negotiated our transit to the site to be inspected. We were turned over to KDP Peshmerga, or fighters, who accompanied us on our drive through the Zagros mountains. Before we got to Bekhme Dam, however, our convoy was stopped at a roadblock manned by the PKK; the Bekhme Dam fell under their span of control.

Scott Ritter on the satellite phone negotiating access to Bekhme Dam in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq in August 1992. (credit: Henry Arvidsson/UNSCO)M.

There was discernible unease between our KDP escorts and the PKK fighters manning the roadblock. It turned out that it was the KDP who had been helping the Turks fight the PKK. Through some deft diplomacy on my part, my team was able to gain access to the inspection site, although the PKK was far less impressed with my being an American than they were with my U.N. credentials. By 1994, the PUK and KDP were in open war against one another, and the KDP was cooperating with Iran and Turkey to oust the PKK from Iraqi territory.

The Kurdish proclivity for infighting is a historic fact, underscoring the reality that while the Kurds dream globally, they act locally, especially when it comes to the issue of independence. The Kurds of the Middle East are spread across the region, their homeland divided by the territorial borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. My experience in Iraq underscored the reality that Kurds will turn on Kurds when it comes to protecting their regional interests. This was underscored by the experience of the Kurdish Regional Government, or KRG, formed in northern Iraq in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

A large part of the political viability of the KRG, which represented an uncomfortable alliance between the KDP and the PUK, was dependent upon income derived from the sale of oil produced on Kurdish-controlled territory. To maximize their profits, the Kurds sold their oil to Turkey, cutting out the Iraqi government as a middleman. The Turks used this relationship as a vehicle for controlling the political appetites of the Kurds, restraining any call for independence that might resonate among them. The extent of this relationship is demonstrated by the fact that Turkey employed fighters from the KDP to help in its struggle against the PKK. Oil, however, proved to be a double-edged sword—when the KRG undertook to hold a referendum on independence in 2017, it incurred the wrath of both Turkey and the Iraqi government. The Iraqi military seized control of the Kurdish oil fields, ending the KRG’s independent source of income, and subordinating Iraqi Kurdistan to Baghdad.

If the dream of Kurdish independence was quashed in Iraq, it still lingered in Syria, where the Kurds there took advantage of the war that’s ravaged that country since 2011 to impose a regional autonomy in 2012 known as Rojava. A key element of Rojava was the creation of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, as the de facto armed forces of the Kurdish political entity. While ostensibly a Syrian entity, Rojava has a parallel function as an expatriate front of the PKK, with its political arm, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, serving as little more than the Syrian affiliate of the PKK.

Turkey has expressed dissatisfaction with the creation of Rojava and the formation of the YPG, rightly recognizing that there was nothing to distinguish them from the PKK, which it views as a terrorist organization. Turkey’s anti-Rojava animus was held in check by the expansion of ISIS in 2014 and the role played by the YPG in combatting the terrorist group. The United States made common cause with the YPG in the larger war against ISIS but, recognizing Turkey’s sensitivities, had that organization rebrand itself as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This rebranding fooled no one. Turkey views the SDF—and rightly so—as nothing more than a front for the YPG/PKK.

The American embrace of the SDF was always a temporary solution to the problem of ISIS. The United States never has supported a greater Kurdish nation. And while there’s been much lip service to the idea of using the SDF as a vehicle to destabilize the government of Bashar al-Assad, regime change has never been seriously pursued by the United States in Syria. Today there is widespread recognition that, following the intervention of Russia in 2015, Assad is here to stay.

Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from the Syrian border zone makes perfect sense: it avoids a damaging conflict with Turkey, a strategic NATO ally, and sidesteps a potential major power confrontation with Russia. This was always in the cards, since the United States was never a guarantor of the Syrian Kurds’ objective of autonomy. But the precipitous way that the American redeployment was announced, and the fact that it was done void of any coordination with either the Kurds or other U.S. regional allies, sets the stage for more geopolitical chaos in a region already wracked by conflict.

The United States and Syria

America Doesn’t Belong in Syria

The war hawks will whine but we’ve been there long enough and must honor our commitments to Turkey.

A poster of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad hangs in front of a shop in the old city of Damascus. By serkan senturk/shutterstock

When Syria tragically collapsed into brutal civil war in 2011, Americans had two contending reactions. One was to stay the hell out since there was little they could do other than offer aid to relieve suffering. The other was to intervene big time in order to transform the Middle East.

Naturally, the president, leading congressional Republicans and Democrats, and virtually the entire foreign policy community chose the second option. Never mind American interests, public opinion, fiscal responsibility, practical capabilities, and common sense. It was Washington’s job to reorder the world. What could possibly go wrong?

Without seeking congressional approval, the Obama administration embarked on a multi-faceted campaign: oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who had not attacked or threatened America; find, train, and empower moderate insurgents to create a liberal democracy in Syria; use radical extremists, such as al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, against really radical extremists, such as the Islamic State; expel Iranian forces, even though they represented a government with far more at stake in the conflict than America and had been welcomed by Damascus; convince Moscow, a Cold War ally of Syria, to advance Washington’s agenda; employ Syrian Kurds to act as America’s shock troops against ISIS; persuade Turkey, which profited greatly from the illicit ISIS oil trade, to combat the Islamic State; pacify Turkey while arming Syrian Kurds, which Ankara viewed as an existential threat; and occupy sovereign Syrian territory until the foregoing objectives had been achieved.

It was the plan of a madman—or an arrogant, officious, ignorant social engineer with no understanding of human nature, the Middle East, or America. Predictably, the result was almost complete failure. The Islamic State was at least defeated, but it was also opposed by Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Israel, Russia, European governments, the Gulf States, and America. Just some of those countries could have done the job, yet they had little need to contribute much once Washington had taken responsibility.

In spite of all that, today, Assad is still in power, and aided by the Iranians and Russians. There were never many moderates and democrats, and they never had much chance of winning. Most of the insurgents, radical and more radical, are gone, courtesy the Syrian military, other than around the city of Idlib. Ankara has occupied and ethnically cleansed Kurdish territory in northern Syria and is preparing to seize more borderlands containing Kurds.

Until recently, around 1,000 American military personnel had been left in Syria, stationed among Kurdish forces that occupy around a third of Syrian territory. The occupying Americans’ job, explained Washington policymakers, was unchanged: oust Assad, bring democracy to Syria, get rid of the Iranians, bring sense to the Russians, and, until Sunday anyway, stop the Turks from harming the Kurds. Washington’s ambitions remained ever fantastic even as after its means shrank to near nothingness.

Moreover, the mission remains entirely illegal, without congressional or international warrant. On his own authority, the president entered a foreign war, occupied a foreign country, dismembered a foreign nation, established a foreign security commitment, and threatened war against a foreign government along with its long-time foreign allies. This is the sort of behavior that the British king engaged in, which the nation’s founders sought to curb by placing the power to declare war in congressional hands.

Of course, there remains much to criticize about the president’s decision to move U.S. forces away from the border and presumably exit entirely. Even when he does the right thing, he usually does so for the wrong reason and in the wrong way. Still, his previous efforts to end U.S. participation in Afghanistan and Syria generated frenzied opposition from the war hawks who dominate Congress and even his own staff. Again and again he gave in to those prophesying doom if the smallest deployment anywhere was curtailed to the slightest degree. Perhaps the only way he can set policy is by acting without warning, essentially by fait accompli.

None of the arguments for remaining in Syria are serious, let alone persuasive. Wishing for a different result does not a viable alternative make. By means more foul than fair, Assad has won: no minuscule American military presence is going to oust him, force him to hold fair elections, or make him send home the Iranians and Russians who sustained him. Even a vastly expanded American commitment wouldn’t achieve what eight years of civil war failed to do. And there is no popular or political will for such an effort.

The U.S. military is not the only force standing between Americans and a globe-spanning ISIS empire. Every Middle Eastern country is threatened by the Islamic State, and each of them has a greater interest than the U.S. in ensuring that the group does not again metastasize. Indeed, an expanded Syrian military presence in areas occupied but not populated by Kurds—currently opposed by Washington—would create an important barrier to an Islamic State revival.

The greatest outrage against the president’s decision is over his leaving the Kurdish autonomous region of Rojava vulnerable to Turkish attack. Yet the Kurds had good reason for battling the Islamic State, which threatened them as well. Washington did not force them to act and provided them with aid, arms, and protection. Nothing entitled the Kurds to a permanent American security guarantee, especially protection from neighboring Turkey, an American ally.

Moreover, the Kurds had little reason to believe in America’s sponsorship. In the 1970s, Washington worked with Iran’s Shah to use them against Iraq, before abandoning them. In 2017, Kurdistan held an ill-advised independence referendum, and the Trump administration unhesitatingly backed Baghdad—which closed the airspace over Erbil and forcibly reclaimed non-Kurdish areas, including Kirkuk and nearby oil fields.

Nor should anyone confuse a potential Kurdish homeland with liberal, democratic, and moderate values. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in Turkey, is no friend of the West. Kurdistan is a family-run state. The Syrian Kurdish movement is neo-Marxist and linked to the PKK. The U.S. can, and should, have sympathy for the Kurdish people and work with their authorities when appropriate. But Washington should act without starry-eyed illusions. Ankara’s concerns are overblown and its treatment of the Kurds at home and abroad has been outrageously brutish, but neither do Kurdish politicians win medals for humanitarianism.

As for issues of credibility, it is far worse to needlessly risk lives and resources to fight an unnecessary and foolish war than to walk away from a bad promise or deal. No one will judge America’s willingness to defend against existential threats by its willingness to sustain a marginal wartime commitment that generates few benefits. Virtually all great powers put their own peoples and interests first, as assorted American allies and friends have learned to their detriment over the years.

More important, but lost in the analysis, is the fact that Turkey, a member of America’s premier military alliance and treaty ally of almost 68 years, has a higher claim to credibility than the Kurds. Discomfort with Ankara notwithstanding—a good case can be made for expelling the Islamist, repressive Erdogan regime from NATO—as of today, Turkey remains an alliance member in good standing and Washington remains committed to that government’s defense. If the U.S. won’t prioritize Ankara’s security claims, what nation can rely on Washington? If credibility is the issue, then Turkey wins any dispute with the Kurds.

Perhaps the most dangerous attitude in Washington is the certainty that today’s policymakers can succeed where yesterday’s policymakers failed. Consider Uncle Sam’s disastrous record in foreign civil wars. Ronald Reagan’s greatest mistake was taking the U.S. into the Lebanese Civil War, with its more than a score of contending factions. Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan, 18 years after joining an internecine conflict that had begun years before.

The U.S. and Europe intervened in Libya’s civil war, and after eight years of combat and chaos, featuring the rise of ISIS and the murders of Egyptian Copts, fighting continues. More than four years of American backing for Saudi and Emirati depredations in Yemen have yielded tens of thousand of civilian casualties, horrendous famines and epidemics, and increasing attacks on the Saudi homeland, with no end in sight.

Then there is Syria. As that conflict raged, Samantha Power, one of the chief advocates of promiscuous military intervention, complained that war supporters were being held accountable for their previous blunders, especially in Iraq: “I think there is too much of, ‘Oh, look, this is what intervention has wrought’…one has to be careful about overdrawing lessons.” How unfair: destroy a nation, in the process empowering Islamist radicals and terrorists, wrecking minority religious communities, and triggering conflict that kills hundreds of thousands, and people are less inclined to listen to you. Is there no justice?

Imagine what American foreign policy might look like if officials were judged on the results of their actions. Who in power today could withstand scrutiny? Whatever would they do in Washington?

These are the people who are most upset over President Trump’s apparent decision to bring home U.S. forces from Syria. He should ignore the carping. He promised to stop the endless wars. Syria would be a good place to start putting America and Americans first.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.

Winning Iran

Please, Mr. President, We Don’t Want To Win Anymore

Donald Trump at the UN (lev radin via Shutterstock)

by Derek Davison

We’re going to win. We’re going to win so much. We’re going to win at trade, we’re going to win at the border. We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning, you’re going to come to me and go “Please, please, we can’t win anymore.” You’ve heard this one. You’ll say “Please, Mr. President, we beg you sir, we don’t want to win anymore. It’s too much. It’s not fair to everybody else.” And I’m going to say “I’m sorry, but we’re going to keep winning, winning, winning, We’re going to make America great again.”

That was reality TV star-turned-presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaking at a campaign rally in Billings, Montana, in May 2016. Having now survived over two years of Trump’s presidency—which still seems at times more like another TV series than real life—we have a pretty good sense of what “winning” looks like with him at the helm, and there’s really only one thing to say:

Please, Mr. President, we beg you sir, we don’t want to win anymore. It’s too much. You’re going to get us all killed.

Perhaps that’s hyperbolic. After all, for as much as he’s blustered about U.S. military might and as much as he’s bungled U.S. foreign policy since taking office, Trump seems to have assessed (correctly) that he will pay a heavy political price in the event of a full-blown military conflict and has tried to avoid one.

Of the multiple overseas crises Trump has manufactured or helped manufacture in a bit over half a term in office, the only one that really risked the loss of a great number of U.S. lives was his 2017 dust-up with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. That multi-episode arc saw our protagonist threaten with “fire and fury” a state that would in short order test both a thermonuclear bomb and an intercontinental ballistic missile, but the danger was averted after Kim sent Trump the first in a series of “beautiful letters” and the two leaders held the first-ever (and first of three so far) summit between a North Korean leader and a U.S. president.

Winning So Much

But the thing about being president of the United States, a nation with pretensions to global hegemony that spends as much on its military as the next seven countries combined, is that your actions don’t just affect the people of the United States, and your wars—if you start any—don’t just harm the United States. And in the Middle East, a region that wasn’t especially stable before he came to office, Trump has driven all concerned to the brink of war. It’s a war nobody seems to want—least of all Trump himself—but one that edges ever closer as the president and this season’s antagonist, Iran, continue raising the stakes.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Although it is the September 14 attack against Saudi oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais—claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels but widely presumed, whether directly or via proxies, to have been an Iranian operation—that has the Middle East on edge at the moment. No matter what’s happened since or what comes next, the Trump administration fired the first shots in this conflict. Trump’s decision last year to violate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) and impose crippling economic sanctions against Iran got this ball rolling. Because the United States has the power—through its effective control of international financial networks—to levy penalties against foreign, as well as U.S., individuals and companies for trading with Iran, the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign amounts to an economic blockade. And an economic blockade is, under international law, an act of war.

The effect of the campaign is also akin to war. Missiles may not be striking Iranian cities, and U.S. soldiers may not be landing on Iranian beaches—yet—the Iranian people are suffering nevertheless, for lack of basic human needs like medicine and food. The Trump administration continues to insist that its sanctions are not meant to apply to such humanitarian goods, but their practical effect has been to block the sort of financing that Iranian importers would need in order to pay for the importation of critical items. And despite repeated warnings about the impact of its sanctions on the Iranian people, the administration continues—seemingly with malicious intent—to make it harder for them to survive.

Sick and Tired of Winning

What have the Trump administration’s punitive measures wrought? In a recent Foreign Policy article, Ilan Goldenberg and Kaleigh Thomas from the Center for a New American Security declared Trump’s Iran policy to be a “failure.” But the more salient question is: what Iran policy? Going all the way back to the days of candidate Trump, what has he ever said or done with respect to Iran that’s constituted a definable goal, let alone a coherent plan for achieving it?

The one thing candidate Trump seemed to know about Iran was that Barack Obama had negotiated the JCPOA and that the JCPOA was bad. Why was it bad? As far as it was possible to tell, Trump’s main objection was that it had been negotiated by Obama. He never displayed any grasp of the deal’s substance, and, on those occasions when he tried to explain the deal, he invariably got the details seriously wrong. But it was the “worst deal ever negotiated,” he was sure of that, and “dismantling” it would be his “number-one priority.” Trump would “revise” the agreement, his advisers said, after “negotiating” either with Iran directly or with the multilateral group that had negotiated the original deal.

Then Trump took office, and…did nothing. His path toward renegotiating it was closed off because the other five parties to the accord—Iran above all—had no interest in reopening what had been a grueling negotiations process simply to appease the new U.S. president. There’s no indication that it ever even crossed Trump’s mind that he might be the only one interested in talking, and so, for the first 16 months of his administration, Trump chafed against the deal but left it grudgingly in place.

Then, in early May 2018, after appointing ultra-Iran hawk, John Bolton as his national security adviser, Trump took the step that, more than anything else, has led us to the present moment: he pulled the U.S. out of the JCPOA and reimposed sanctions against Iran. Indeed, the Trump administration has gone further than the Obama administration ever dared in terms of the degree to which it has closed off virtually all Iranian economic activity, driving its oil exports nearly to zero and, crucially, designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Since the IRGC is a government institution and plays a considerable role in the Iranian economy—an artifact of the Obama-era sanctions regime—that designation has given the administration the latitude to essentially criminalize the Iranian government and vast swathes of the Iranian economy.

The administration has taken these steps in violation of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA and against the positions of virtually the entire international community—Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain excepted. It’s little wonder that virtually nobody in Iran still sees much value in remaining in the JCPOA, nor do they have much faith that the U.S. can be trusted to keep its word under any similar agreement moving forward.

It’s been over 16 months since Trump announced that he was running the JCPOA through the White House shredder, and still his aim in doing so remains unclear.

Was it to force Iran to capitulate? That certainly seemed to be the intent behind Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s list of 12—later 13—“demands” to which the Iranians were supposed to capitulate simply to open the door to new talks with the U.S. More recently, however, the administration has been practically tripping over itself to insist that it wants to talk with Iranian leaders with “no preconditions.”

Was the aim, then, simply to bring the Iranians back to the table to negotiate a new deal—either an augmented nuclear accord or something broader? Because the Iranians have been offering the possibility of new talks, provided the United States returns to the JCPOA and resumes upholding its obligations under the deal. They’ve even suggested that they’d be willing to negotiate a deal that goes beyond the scope of the JCPOA, provided the U.S. “pays more” for it. But the Trump administration clearly isn’t happy with those offers.

Was the goal to weaken Iran? To make Tehran retreat from its involvement in regional affairs and ultimately contain its foreign policy? In that case then, the policy has been a clear and total failure, and that’s without including the recent strikes in Saudi Arabia—assuming Iran really was responsible for those.

Was the intent to so badly immiserate the Iranian people that they would rise up as one and overthrow their government? Because the pressure campaign is striking out there as well.

Winning, Winning, Winning

The truth is that the Trump administration’s Iran policy has achieved none of these possible goals, and yet there’s no sign it’s considering a course correction. Which means one of two things: either it has another goal in mind, or it has no goal in mind.

The obvious assumption is that the maximum pressure campaign is meant to provoke a war with Iran. But, despite surrounding himself with long-standing advocates for such a war (Pompeo, his now-former National Security Advisor Bolton, and hanger-on Rudy Giuliani to name but three); outsourcing much of his Middle East policy to Iran foes Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates; and accepting considerable financial support from Iran war advocate Sheldon Adelson, Trump himself continues to insist that he doesn’t want a military conflict.

So, then, what does he want, and how does he imagine that staying the course on a dismally failed policy will achieve it? Whether intentional or not, what now seems clear is that the maximum pressure campaign is both means and end. Cruelty has become the goal. And this isn’t just true with respect to Iran. In case after case—from North Korea to the Palestinian people to Venezuela to the southern U.S. border and inside the U.S. itself—the Trump administration has adopted policies marked by what can at best be described as callous indifference to the tremendous suffering it has caused.

Is that ultimately Trump’s objective? Simply to inflict as much misery on as many people as possible while he’s in office? Or is that the unintentional effect of electing a president who has no goals, or at least no idea how to accomplish them?

Amid this wanton cruelty, Trump seems not to have realized that the pain he inflicts brings consequences, and one of those consequences can be retaliation. As a wounded animal may lash out in self-defense, so too may a country straining under international isolation, to make its adversaries feel some of its pain and raise the costs for those who continue to maintain that isolation. Iran is lashing out now. Every time it does, and every time the United States responds by tightening its sanctions regime just a little more, the Persian Gulf moves closer to war. A war that, to reiterate, nobody wants–least of all Trump himself.

The one positive thing that can be said about Donald Trump’s foreign policy is that for all of its cruelty, all of its inconsistency, all of the chaos it’s created, he hasn’t started a full-scale war yet. But the haphazard mess that is Trump’s Iran policy now threatens to breach even that low bar. The president may not want a war, but unless he changes course quickly, war may be what he gets.

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DEREK DAVISON

Derek Davison is the editor of LobeLog and an analyst covering U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. His writing has appeared at LobeLog, Jacobin, and Foreign Policy in Focus. He has Master’s degrees in Middle East Studies and Near Eastern Civilizations from the University of Chicago and in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

US Empire at War

 

The US Empire at War: Some Thoughts About the Consequences

Eddie J. Girdner (Retired Professor)

(Published in Third Concept Journal, July 2019)

From all indications, the United States is preparing for a new war against Iran, using almost exactly the same script that was used to drum up a war against Iraq in 2002 and 2003. Perhaps the officials believe that people will not remember how the neo-conservatives in the George W. Bush Government lied the United States into that war. A new war is apparently being drummed up by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Thousands of additional US troops are being sent to the Middle East in June 2019.

It is said that President Donald Trump does not want a new war in the Middle East. But with Congressmen in Washington, such as Representative Tom Cotton and others, things may spin out of his control. It seems that nothing is easier for the USA than going to war. The country certainly has a lot of experience at it.

The United States of America has been continuously at war now for almost thirty years. Since the US invasion of Iraq in 1991 under George H.W. Bush, the father of George W. Bush the country has been at war. That is twenty-eight years.

So a person younger than thirty years old in the USA has never known their own country to be at peace. Of course, the USA was at war continuously from 1961 to 1975 in Vietnam. (Fourteen years)

Go back sixty years. Over that time period (1959 till 2019), the USA has been at war for at least forty-two years out of sixty. This does not count all the proxy wars that the USA carried out in Central America, as in Nicaragua and Grenada. Also Afghanistan, and other countries. Indeed, in many places all across the globe where the US Central Intelligence Agency destabilized governments.

This means that a person in the US who is sixty years old has only known eighteen years of peace in his or her lifetime.

There is no other country in the world that I can think of that has engaged in so much war over the last sixty years. If the US mission is to preserve the peace in the world, that is a hell of a way to do it.

Fighting for peace is like having sex for virginity, as we used to say in the sixties about the Vietnam war. It is still largely true.

But the USA will keep on keeping on waging war all over the world. I am confident of that. The officials in Washington will keep on drumming up needless wars as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are now doing with Iran and Venezuela. So far US efforts in Venezuela have failed, which is good.

It seemed, at one point, that US President Donald Trump might end some of the continuous wars and bring some troops home, like he promised to do. But if he was serious about that, he has been defeated by the deep state that insists on keeping the wars going. Trump said that he would get US troops out of Syria a few months ago in 2019, but that did not happen.

The military industrial corporate complex wants war profits. They don’t need them, but they do want them. The roads, bridges, and other infrastructure in the US are falling into a state of collapse. But the US Government prefers to print money for wars, rather than putting money into fixing the roads and airports.

There are many other things besides war that the USA could have done over the last sixty years.

It was trillions of US dollars down the drain in Vietnam. Like Marx said, war is like dumping a portion of the national wealth into the sea. The US lost the war there. After 1975, Vietnam unified, tried socialism for a few years, then began shifting to the successful East Asian Model of state-guided capitalism. This model was followed by Japan, Taiwan, and then China after Deng Xioping moved toward state-guided capitalism. The Vietnamese saw that this model was successful, far more than the American liberal model. Chalmers Johnson on Japan and all that. US economists claimed that the model did not work, but this was wrong as Johnson pointed out in his writings. The model successfully developed the countries of East Asia. China became the great work house of the world with massive exports to the USA.

So all of that destruction and chaos, the killing of three million Vietnamese and sixty thousand American soldiers in Vietnam, many more wounded, many more suicides of veterans and so on, was completely unnecessary. Except, that is, for the making of war profits.

The war did contribute to the development of South Korea, just as the war in Korea in the early 1950s contributed to the development of Japan.

When it comes to the war in Iraq, hardly anybody now claims that this war was a good idea. That is, except for a few people like Bolton, Pompeo, Dick Cheney (thr former US Vice President) and so on.

And then there is the war in Afghanistan. Don’t even mention it. The Taliban were still winning, the last time I checked. But the war goes on now, after about eighteen years. It keeps pumping out war profits for the ruling class in the USA. The US Generals know that they whole thing is a farce, but they have to wait till they retire to tell what is really going on. What a waste on an international scale.

So, I will put it bluntly. It would have been difficult to devise foreign policies more destructive than those followed by the USA over the last sixty years. Destructive of both life in the USA and around the world. That is, if one wanted to have a peaceful world. It takes real talent!

But the guys in Washington are not about to let the world down! They can provide new wars. And, of course, every US president has to have his own war. If not, then they are seen as a failure. Remember Jimmy Carter. Poor guy. He never started a war anywhere. So he was sent back to grow peanuts on his farm in Plains, Georgia.

But he probably saved a lot of people from dying in useless wars.

There are many things that the USA could have done if the country had been a democracy that served the people instead of only the One Percent and US corporations.

The USA could have had a wonderful world-standard health care system that was available to the whole population, like most of the developed world has. Even Turkey has guaranteed health care for citizens at a very small cost.

The USA could have had a university system that was free and available to all, like Germany, Slovenia and many other countries. Now university graduates are saddled with debt and cannot find jobs. Some end up leaving the USA to teach in China. Salaries are much smaller in China, but they find themselves a lot better off than they would be in the USA.

The US could get rid of the crippling student debt of over one and a half trillion dollars in the USA. This would be a great help to young people trying to start their careers. Not a chance of it ever happening, however.

Surely, providing some benefits for the people was not out of reach for the USA. After all, dollars for the wars have been created out of thin air by the US Federal Reserve and just added to the US debt tab. The USA has not even pretended to pay for any of these multi-trillion dollar wars. The debt just generates more profits for the bankers.

Why not print a little money for social welfare? Not a chance of it ever happening, unfortunately.

The US didn’t have to pay for the wars because it had the world’s reserve country. It just shift the debt off onto other countries in inflated dollars.

So money was not the problem.

The USA could have built one of the best high-speed rail systems in the world, as France, Japan, China and some other countries have done. It would not be difficult. Much of the USA landmass is relatively flat. The technology exists for building tunnels through mountains. It is old technology. The Chinese or Japanese could have shown them how to do it. Even Turkey has high-speed trains.

Now much of the infrastructure in the USA is old and falling into a state of decay. But the US is not doing much to repair the systems, while spending massively on new wars.

People who do not fly in the USA are travelling on the old slow Amtrak trains. Actually, I love them. Personally, I love old, slow trains. But they do not get people anywhere fast. The US needs an alternative to airports and personal cars. People have to drive or fly everywhere to travel. Such travel is difficult for the elderly. High speed rail is the answer, but it would threaten the auto and airline industries.

The USA could have had a capitalist economic model that provided good jobs and benefits, like the European model of stakeholder capitalism that allows workers to share the profits. Not a chance of it happening, unfortunately. Wall Street corporate interests are too strong for that under stockholder capitalism.

The USA could have been a great place to live and a model for the whole world. Instead, the politicians in the USA just warn people to be careful or they might end up being just like Europe. Actually most people would love to be just like Europe, if they only had a clue about the benefits people enjoy in Europe!

In the event, the USA missed the boat over the last sixty years. That was the price of being the oligarchy that it is.

Today, the USA is losing the war. Not only in hearts and minds, but in real democracy and social welfare for its people. Just look at the many thousands of homeless young people living in tents in Los Angeles and other places in California. Official figures are way over one-hundred thousand just in California alone. Surely, the scenes of degradation one sees on the streets of Los Angeles is shameful for a country as rich as the USA.

It would be a shame for any country.

The lack of a national health care system in the United States is a national disgrace. One wonders how the officials believe that one can run a country without taking care of the health care needs of the people. It boggles the minds of those in most developed countries, such as Europe.

Again, politicians in the US warn Americans to be careful. They could end up being just like those in Europe. This would be funny if it was not so absurd.

Some Americans have started leaving the USA for a better life elsewhere and find that they are better off.

Some go to universities free in Europe, such as in Slovenia, Germany or France. Some young Americans find it easier to live well and pay off their student loans by teaching English and other subjects in China. So much for the so-called evils of communism!

Americans have started to retire abroad because their small social security checks give them a higher standard of living in Mexico and many other countries than they would have in the USA.

Wall Street and the corporate oligarchs in the USA, on the other hand, are mostly happy. Today, that is obviously the top priority.

The US Empire is not yet over, but on the down-side of history. Perhaps that is the bright spot on the horizon.

How many more imperialist wars will it take to finally bring down the American Global Empire? That is the historical question.

Eddie J. Girdner

June 18, 2019