President Trump’s order to withdraw American troops who created a buffer zone between Turkey and Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq was a controversial movie seen as a betrayal of a long-time American ally. But there’s a long history of US forces making extravagant promises to local forces, then withdrawing and leaving them to the wolves.
Americans vote their pocketbooks. It’s the economy, stupid. Absent a war or recent terrorist attack, conventional wisdom believes that voters prioritize domestic issues. Right now, conventional wisdom is correct. According to the latest Pew Research poll, the five most important issues for Democrats are healthcare, education, Medicare, poverty and the environment.
So it’s not surprising that the major Democratic presidential contenders’ campaigns are focusing on economic and other America-centric issues. Nor is it shocking that the news media, never more anemic or less willing to question the candidates, is ignoring their stances on foreign policy. You could watch 5 hours and read 50 pages of news every day and never learn where a top Dem stands on issues of war and peace, defense spending, assassination drones, Guantánamo, NSA surveillance of Americans, foreign adventurism or human rights. Trust me, I know.
Still, voters deserve to know the would-be presidents’ positions on issues that extend beyond U.S. borders. Here’s what I found.
The Democrats on Our Crazy Defense Spending
The military sucks up 54% of discretionary federal spending. Pentagon bloat has a huge effect on domestic priorities; the nearly $1 trillion a year that goes to exploiting, oppressing, torturing, maiming and murdering foreigners could go to building schools, college scholarships, curing diseases, poetry slams, whatever. Anything, even tax cuts for the rich, would be better than bombs. But as then GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said in 2015, “The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” If you’re like me, you want as little killing and breaking as possible.
Unfortunately, no major Democratic presidential candidate favors substantial cuts to Pentagon appropriations.
Current frontrunner Joe Biden (33% in the polls) doesn’t talk much about defense spending. He reminds us that his son served in Iraq (so he cares about the military) and that we shouldn’t prioritize defense over domestic programs. Vague. Though specific programs might get trimmed, Lockheed Martin could rest easy under a President Biden.
“Since he arrived in Congress, [runner-up] Bernie Sanders [19%] has been a fierce crusader against Pentagon spending, calling for defense cuts that few Democrats have been willing to support,” The Hill reported in 2016. “As late as 2002, he supported a 50 percent cut for the Pentagon.” Bernie is still a Pentagon critic but he won’t commit to a specific amount to cut. He wouldn’t slash and Bern. He’d trim.
Elizabeth Warren (8%) wants “to identify which programs actually benefit American security in the 21st century, and which programs merely line the pockets of defense contractors — then pull out a sharp knife and make some cuts.”
Neither Pete Buttigieg (8%) nor Beto O’Rourke (6%) have articulated any firm foreign policy positions whatsoever. Buttigieg brags about having served in the Navy Reserve. Unlikely that either man would change much.
Kamala Harris (5%) has not weighed in on military spending. She has received substantial campaign contributions from the defense industry, though.
The Democrats on Wars for Fun
Sanders voted to invade Afghanistan. His comment at the time reads as hopelessly naïve about the bloodthirsty Bush-Cheney regime: “The use of force is one tool that we have at our disposal to fight against the horror of terrorism and mass murder… it is something that must be used wisely…and with great discretion.” Sanders voted against invading Iraq, favored regime change in Libya (albeit nonviolently) and voted to bomb Syria.
There have been no major new wars since 2013, when Warren joined the Senate so her antiwar bona fides have not been tested. Like many of her colleagues, she wants an end to the “forever war” against Afghanistan. She also wants us out of Syria.
Harris too is new to the Senate (2017). Statements on various conflicts indicate that she is a foreign policy hawk in the Hillary Clinton mold. Harris favors the U.S. bombing campaign against Syria, blank-check approval for Israel and sabre-rattling against North Korea. She buys into the discredited Russiagate narrative.
Warren is the only high-level antiwar candidate but she could be BSing.
Democrats on Drones
The assassination drone program begun by Bush and expanded upon by presidents Obama and Trump have killed thousands of innocent people in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, almost all innocent. Drone strikes have demolished America’s moral standing. “Just about everywhere else in the world, opposition to drone strikes is sweeping,” The Washington Post reported in 2014. Anti-American terrorists often cite drone strikes as justification for attacking the U.S. It’s only a matter of time before other countries, and non-state actors like Hezbollah and ISIS, use them against us.
Though generally skeptical of large ground invasions like Iraq, Biden is a fan of drone assassinations. Sanders acknowledged in a 2015 interview with me that drones make killing “too easy” but nevertheless said he would continue terror-by-air as president. Warren doesn’t talk about drones. Neither does Harris.
None of the major Democratic candidates would cancel the drone program.
Democrats on Gitmo
Opened shortly after 9/11, the U.S. concentration camp at Guantánamo is a nasty blotch on America’s human rights record that terrorists use to justify killing Americans and put the lie to every pronouncement the government issues about human rights abuses in other countries. Torture, rape and even murder are routine at this notorious facility.
Kamala Harris always refuses to comment—a stance that speaks volumes.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the only two who have consistently argued that Gitmo should be closed. “We look like hypocrites and fools to the entire world,” Sanders said in 2016.
Democrats on NSA Spying Against Americans
The mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden continue to scoop up every email, text message, phone call and every other form of communication you can think of within and into the United States. Whether the NSA and other agencies will be allowed to continue will determine whether we can avoid an Orwellian dystopia.
Joe Biden, though to the right on other foreign-policy issues, was a critic of NSA spying for years, going back at least to 2006. Under Obama, however, he backtracked. Even worse, Biden called the president of Ecuador in 2013 to request that he deny asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Bernie Sanders alone would end warrantless mass surveillance and said Snowden “did this country a great service.” Warren doesn’t discuss it much except to say it would be nice to have “an informed discussion.” Harris favors some limits but generally keeps quiet.
Except for Biden, the Democratic presidential field is dominated by progressives and progressives-come-lately—on domestic issues. When it comes to foreign policy, there isn’t as much difference as progressive voters would like between the Democratic and Republican parties.
(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
President Trump keeps coming under attack for his foreign policy, predictably by Democrats but also by legacy Republican leaders.
“I’m very concerned,” Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said about Trump’s plans to bring troops home from the Middle East.
“It makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries,” said Marco Rubio.
Trump’s late-2018 announcement that he planned to withdraw 2000 US troops from the meatgrinder of Syria’s brutal civil war prompted bipartisan dismay. Next the new Doha peace framework to end US involvement in Afghanistan had establishment politicos and pundits reviving their hoary, false canard that America’s “abandonment” of Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew in 1989 led to 9/11. Now he’s getting attacked for trying to reach a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea (possible bonus: a formal end to the Korean War).
Deescalation? Why, that could cause peace! What could be a more dangerous threat to American interests?
Meanwhile, Trump is still in Syria. He’s expanded Obama’s drone assassinations. He wants to spend even more on defense. The pro-war wise men of the media have zero problem with hawkishness, no matter how stupid or immoral.
Conventional wisdom holds that this criticism will cost Trump. I disagree. While the president’s America First foreign policy has no constituency within the leadership caste of either party, it has one he cares about more: the voters.
Interestingly, a high percentage of Americans (65%) disapprove of Trump’s handling of international affairs generically. No doubt they’ve been influenced by “Trump is a child on foreign stuff” coverage.
Yet when it comes to specifics, Americans mostly approve of his moves to deescalate tensions overseas and reduce foreign entanglements.
77% of Americans approved of the first summit between Trump and Kim. 54% thought it went well. That’s significantly more than the portion of Americans who approved of his presidency in general, indicating that on this issue he enjoyed support from many Democrats.
Afghanistan is a no-brainer for the president. Most Americans want immediate withdrawal and a whopping 70% say that we never should have invaded in the first place.
Trump’s disentanglement policies are popular. The reason that his overall numbers on international matters run low has more to do with the tone and image he projects than the policies he has promulgated. People like what he’s doing but not how he looks and sounds as he does it.
Trump got elected in large part by ignoring GOP dogma and selling his ideas directly to the American people. Voters were tired of an immigration crisis created and prolonged by both parties and they were angry about deindustrialization and vicious “free trade.” Trump’s proposed solutions—the Wall and a trade war—might not be intelligent or effective. But he addressed both issues when others, especially Hillary Clinton, would not. Voters prefer a president who does something stupid to fix a problem to one who pretends it doesn’t exist.
With foreign policy, Trump is trying to pull off a similar trick as he did with domestic issues in 2016: addressing the “endless war” problem that spun out of control under Bush. If not for Trump neither major party would have touched a Pentagon with so many bases abroad it can’t give you an exact number. The question for 2020 is whether voters — who traditionally decide how to vote based on the state of the economy — will give Trump credit for nibbling at the edges of America’s militaristic bloat.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Originally published by ANewDomain.net:
Supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are plotting to assassinate Australian and American cartoonists, Foreign Policy magazine is reporting.
As an American cartoonist who prefers not to get assassinated, I believe this is an extremely worrisome story.
As you can probably imagine, I have been giving a lot of thought to the possibility that Australian and American cartoonists might get blown away à la Charlie Hebdo, and even more consideration to the possibility that I might be one of them.
As a result of said thinking, I have this to say: If some ISIS asshole kills me, it’s totally Obama’s fault.
Since at least a year ago, the Obama Administration has pulled out all the stops to stop wannabe jihadi American citizens and residents from traveling to Syria, typically via Turkey, to join the Islamic State.
In October, the FBI arrested Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. He faces 15 years in prison for trying to go to Syria to join ISIS. They grabbed Adam Dandach, 20, at Orange County California’s John Wayne airport, of all places, for the same thing. This past February, it was three guys from Brooklyn of Central Asian ethnic descent, this time at JFK. In April, four Somali-Americans in Minneapolis. Scores of Americans have been arrested by federal authorities while trying to join ISIS.
To which I, possible future dead cartoonist, ask: WTF?
Why not let them leave?
As I wrote recently, the legal basis for these arrests is skimpy. But never mind the morals or the law. What about common sense?
I thought the idea was to fight them over there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here, right? So, about these self-radicalized guys — why not let them go to Syria?
The word is already getting out among ISIS fans that it’s getting hard to travel from the U.S. to Syria, and that you might get slammed with a “material support to a terrorist organization” charge if the feds learn about your plans. Those who are stuck here in the States will naturally turn to Plan B: carrying out attacks here in the — yuck on this word — “homeland.”
Before he was accidentally blown up by an American drone this past January, Al Qaeda spokesperson Adam Yahiye Gadahn, a.k.a. Azzam the American, advised English-speaking would-be terrorists to think globally, kill locally:
“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”
I’ve followed politics and U.S. foreign policy my whole life, yet I can’t imagine the rationale for this policy of apprehending Americans for wanting to join ISIS. If they want to go, let them — hell, give them a first-class plane ticket.
Garry Trudeau, creator of the comic strip “Doonesbury,” gave an acceptance speech for a Polk journalism award at which he criticized the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists for creating work that was insensitive to Islam, crossed the line, and thus brought a “world of pain” upon France.
Secretary of State John Kerry has signaled that the United States is reversing its policy of supporting the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because the opposition became dominated by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Now the U.S. wants to keep Assad in power as a bulwark against the (previously) US-backed rebels.
Originally published by ANewDomain:
As a frequent traveler to and author of several books about the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, I was surprised by the news that the FBI arrested a citizen of Kazakhstan along with two men from Uzbekistan for attempting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Although Kazakhstan has a majority Muslim population, it is a highly secular culture where radical Islamism has had less success attracting adherents than in neighboring countries. Walk the streets of major cities like the capital of Astana and the intellectual center Almaty and you will see casinos, bars, men smoking and drinking beer and vodka, and countless women in miniskirts and tightfitting blouses.
These troubling arrests – they practically fit the dictionary definition of entrapment, the federal government’s definition of “material assistance to a terrorist organization” is overly broad, and anyway, why should it be illegal to go and fight for a foreign army that isn’t legally at war with the United States? – are still a developing story, so what follows necessarily relies upon speculation.
Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, is the youngest of the three. The feds intercepted him at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City early Wednesday morning, while trying to board a flight to Istanbul. Turkey is a typical transit route for would-be ISIS recruits trying to get into Syria.
My off-the-cuff assumption was that his radicalization must have been influenced by his fellow suspects, both of whom are from Uzbekistan, particularly his roommate and former fellow restaurant worker, 24-year-old Abdurasul Juraboev. But that may not be the case.
Saidakhmetov is from the southern Kazakh city of Turkistan. He left for the United States at age 16 and has not been back.
According to the Kazakhstani Foreign Ministry, however, he is listed as an ethnic Uzbek.
The third man, Abror Habibov, 30, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida.
If the Uzbek connection turns out to be a central thread in the three men’s desire to join the Islamic State, a Taliban-style attempt to reboot the caliphate eliminated at the end of World War I and establish a medieval interpretation of sharia law in the Middle East, it would not be surprising to those of us who pay attention to Central Asia. When I heard that the three were all ethnic Uzbeks, I immediately thought:
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The Fergana Valley is a mountainous geographical knot connecting Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Long a hotbed of Islamic extremism, particularly among ethnic Uzbeks, Fergana is the center of power of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The IMU, whose members attended Afghan training camps during the Taliban era in the late 1990s, is dedicated to the overthrow of Islam Karimov, the authoritarian dictator of Uzbekistan.
Given their ages, it’s unlikely that any of the three men, including Habibov, were members of the IMU. In the age of radical jihad, however, self-radicalization is inspired by the ideology in the air around you. If you’re fundamentalist and Muslim and radical in Uzbekistan, or still have ties to that country, the IMU comes with the territory the same way that growing up Irish and Catholic in the 1970s, and resenting the British occupation forces, necessarily leads one to embrace, if not join, the IRA.
All of the Central Asian republics are seriously screwed up, and all of them are run by authoritarian despots, but none are nearly as heinous or universally despised by their citizenry as Karimov.
Karimov, a Communist Party boss who kept his job after the fall of the USSR, runs one of the most violent and corrupt dictatorships in the world. Among other atrocities, he has personally supervised the massacre of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and ordered political dissidents to be either boiled or frozen to death. Central Asia watchers have long expected Karimov-related blowback.
When I traveled in Uzbekistan, everyone I met – secular or religious, regardless of ethnicity, wherever they stood on the spectrum of political ideology, young and old, male and female, rich or poor – despised Karimov, and wished for his speedy painful death. Unfortunately for the people of Uzbekistan, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. That’s because he is one of America’s best friends in the so-called global war on terror.
It is not difficult to imagine three young Uzbek men, struggling to make their way in New York City, feeling resentment against the West and in particular against the United States, which has long propped up a regime which has looted spectacular amounts of wealth from and abused their countrymen. Was this a case of chickens coming home to roost, or simply three guys who were led astray?
Sooner rather than later, I suspect that we will find out. Whatever the case, US foreign policy has contributed to radicalization in a Central Asia that, after 1991, could have easily gone the other way had we simply let their domestic political situations sort themselves out, rather than insist upon supporting a group of ruthless tyrants who were wildly unpopular among their own people, simply to cut deals for cheap oil or natural gas or to lease airfields for American military operations.
“Although Central Asian governments have attempted to crack down on extremism within their borders, analysts suspect that ISIS has effectively targeted Central Asian nationals for recruitment,” reports the Christian Science Monitor. That’s what happens when you alienate people by giving them nothing to lose: the beneficiaries are inevitably the most extreme groups, like the Islamic State. “A report published last month by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group claimed that up to 4,000 recruits from Central Asia had joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Many of these recruits are from the Fergana Valley, an ethnically diverse region that includes eastern Uzbekistan. The Kazakh National Security Committee estimates that about 300 from that country, about half of them women, are fighting in Syria for ISIS.”
Until a few weeks ago, the United States was sending weapons and money to the Islamic State in Syria, and providing covert training both directly through the CIA and indirectly through the Gulf Arab states. Now the US is seriously considering bombing ISIS not only in Iraq, but in Syria, where we supported them in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad. At some point, this gets confusing, no?
“Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once,” The New York Times noted about Obama on July 23rd. What the paper didn’t/won’t/can’t say is: Rarely has a president caused so many of his own crises.
This summer, most of Obama’s problems follow from his unwillingness to respect democracy overseas.
The U.S. government supports democracy in other countries — but only if the elections go its way. If not, anything goes to obtain a favorable outcome: economic sabotage, backing violent coups d’état, installing dictators to replace democratically-elected leaders, even ginning up all-out war.
Three recent examples showcasing U.S. contempt for electoral democracy include Egypt, and two places making news this week, Palestine and Ukraine.
Egypt’s 2012 election, the first after the overthrow of U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is a recent case of American perfidy that’s embarrassing going on tacky. Mohamed Morsi of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party, won the presidency in elections international observers called as fair and transparent as could be expected in a nascent democracy.
The thing to do, of course would have been to congratulate Morsi, the Brotherhood and the Egyptian people, and offer assistance upon request.
Rather than accept the results, however, the Obama Administration “channeled funding … [that] … vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt.” A year later, Morsi was overthrown by a coup that restored Mubarak’s military junta minus the ailing former tyrant. Ignoring American law, Obama continues to finance General Abdel Fata al-Sisi’s violent, oppressive regime, which many human rights groups describe as even more brutal than Mubarak’s. Morsi, a democratically-elected leader whom a principled American president should demand to be restored to power, rots in a prison whose jailers are paid by American taxpayers.
To add Orwellian insult to neocolonialist injury, Secretary of State John Kerry is still saying that Egypt’s post-Morsi junta is “transitioning to a democracy.” Kerry’s mouthfart came a day after al-Sisi sent three foreign journalists away for long prison terms.
Overshadowed by Israel’s latest brutal swat-a-fly-with-laser-guided-missiles invasion and bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip is the fact that, as in Egypt, the United States got the elections it demanded in Palestine, only to succumb to buyer’s remorse after the ballots were counted.
The Palestinian elections of 2006 are hardly the most thrilling story ever told, so I won’t be surprised if you decide to look at this story about the guy who sent his wife a spreadsheet detailing all the excuses she gave him for not having sex and never look back.
Still here? Here’s an abridged recounting of an episode that not only sheds some light on the current conflagration between Israel and Palestine, but reveals the methods used by Israel and its allies to undermine Palestinian self-governance — and belies America’s loudly proclaimed commitment to democracy to boot.
Israeli leaders like to complain that the Palestinian side doesn’t offer them a viable partner with whom to negotiate peace. Read the following, however, and Israel’s right-wing government’s real agenda becomes clear: to demoralize and divide the Palestinian people in order to sap their resistance to economic and military oppression.
In the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, held both in the West Bank and Gaza in response to pressure from the United States, Hamas beat Fatah (Yasir Arafat’s more moderate party), 44.45% to 41.43%, entitling it to 74 seats in parliament over Fatah’s 45. (The current split, in which Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah has the West Bank, followed a later internal military clash.)
Israel’s interference with the 2006 elections began during campaign season, when it preemptively arrested and jailed 450 members of Hamas because they were involved in the elections as candidates or campaign workers. Despite this and other acts of sabotage, including trying to ban residents of East Jerusalem from voting, the elections went off well. The European Parliament’s spokesperson called the vote “extremely professional, in line with international standards, free, transparent and without violence.”
The thing to do would have been to congratulate Hamas and the Palestinians, and offer assistance upon request.
Instead, the Bush Administration and its allies cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, ended diplomatic relations and imposed trade and other economic sanctions. Three months after Hamas formed its first government, in June 2006, Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank, demolished and bombed civilian and government infrastructure, and arrested 25% of the members of parliament “because technically they were members of a terrorist organization although they may not be involved in terrorist acts themselves.” The U.S., which supplied the weapons used in the attacks, cited Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
Hamas, U.S. government-controlled media frequently reminds readers and viewers, is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. So to people who don’t hold tickets to the Way Back A Decade Ago Machine, the actions of America, Israel and their allies vis-à-vis Hamas, which rules Gaza, seem reasonable. They’re terrorists! They shoot rockets at Israel! (Really lame rockets, but still.)
Hamas remains boxed in and desperate under Obama. Israel and Egypt’s al-Sisi regime, the two largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid military hardware, have shut the territory’s land crossings to Israel and Egypt and imposed a naval blockade on the Mediterranean coastline. Despite dozens of tunnels built to smuggle in goods, the West’s sanctions regime has been successful; Gaza’s economy has tanked, and unemployment among its 1.8 million people has risen to 38.5%. (The highest rate in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s was 25%.) Shooting rockets at civilians isn’t a great way to make friends — but desperation makes people do stupid things.
What the U.S. media doesn’t want you to know is: Hamas is popular. They won the last election, and they’d probably win again if one were held now. By pushing regime change in Gaza, therefore, the U.S. wants to replace a popular government with an unpopular one…in other words, subverting democracy.
Ukraine is yet another case of a democratically-elected ruler overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup.
Viktor Yanukovych won the Ukrainian presidency in 2010 elections that were widely believed to have conformed to international standards according to foreign observers. The thing to do would have been to congratulate him and the Ukrainian people on a fair election, and offer assistance upon request. But the U.S. was wary of Yanukovych, worried he might not easily be tamed. (Sample American punditry at the time: “The Ukrainians need to expand their relationship with the International Monetary Fund.”)
He didn’t. Finally, in November 2013, Yanukovych sealed his fate by siding with neighboring Russia over a pending EU association agreement — thus rejecting closer ties to the West and the United States. Street protests that led to Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014 were likely indigenous, but would almost certainly not have succeeded in driving the president into exile without the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in covert U.S. funding to the Maidan organizers.
Though more of a money-motivated oligarch than a creature of the far right, current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to accommodate right-wing factions, including neo-fascists, in Ukraine. Moreover, whatever you think of Poroshenko, he is not the legitimate ruler of the country. Nevertheless, President Obama has recognized him as such and offered economic and military hardware in his civil war against Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern part of the country.
I’ll close with a quote from Noam Chomsky: “For Washington, a consistent element is that democracy and the rule of law are acceptable if and only if they serve official strategic and economic objectives. But American public attitudes on Iraq and Israel/Palestine run counter to government policy, according to polls. Therefore the question presents itself whether a genuine democracy promotion might best begin within the United States.”
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
If you’re reading this, you probably follow the news. So you’ve probably heard of the latest iteration of the “crisis at the border”: tens of thousands of children, many of them unaccompanied by an adult, crossing the desert from Mexico into the United States, where they surrender to the Border Patrol in hope of being allowed to remain here permanently. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention and hearing system has been overwhelmed by the surge of children and, in some cases, their parents. The Obama Administration has asked Congress to approve new funding to speed up processing and deportations of these illegal immigrants.
Even if you’ve followed this story closely, you probably haven’t heard the depressing backstory — the reason so many Central Americans are sending their children on a dangerous thousand-mile journey up the spine of Mexico, where they ride atop freight trains, endure shakedowns by corrupt police and face rapists, bandits and other predators. (For a sense of what it’s like, check out the excellent 2009 film “Sin Nombre.”)
NPR and other mainstream news outlets are parroting the White House, which blames unscrupulous “coyotes” (human smugglers) for “lying to parents, telling them that if they put their kids in the hands of traffickers and get to the United States that they will be able to stay.” True: the coyotes are saying that in order to gin up business. Also true: U.S. law has changed, and many of these kids have a strong legal case for asylum. Unfortunately, U.S. officials are ignoring the law.
The sad truth is that this “crisis at the border” is yet another example of “blowback.”
Blowback is an unintended negative consequence of U.S. political, military and/or economic intervention overseas — when something we did in the past comes back to bite us in the ass. 9/11 is the classic example; arming and funding radical Islamists in the Middle East and South Asia who were less grateful for our help than angry at the U.S.’ simultaneous backing for oppressive governments (The House of Saud, Saddam, Assad, etc.) in the region.
More recent cases include U.S. support for Islamist insurgents in Libya and Syria, which destabilized both countries and led to the murders of U.S. consular officials in Benghazi, and the rise of ISIS, the guerilla army that imperils the U.S.-backed Maliki regime in Baghdad, respectively.
Confusing the issue for casual American news consumers is that the current border crisis doesn’t involve the usual Mexicans traveling north in search of work. Instead, we’re talking about people from Central American nations devastated by a century of American colonialism and imperialism, much of that intervention surprisingly recent. Central American refugees are merely transiting through Mexico.
“The unaccompanied children crossing the border into the United States are leaving behind mainly three Central American countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The first two are among the world’s most violent and all three have deep poverty, according to a Pew Research report based on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) information,” reports NBC News. “El Salvador ranked second in terms of homicides in Latin America in 2011, and it is still high on the list. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the poorest nations in Latin America. Thirty percent of Hondurans, 17 percent of Salvadorans and 26 percent of Guatemalans live on less than $2 a day.”
The fact that Honduras is the biggest source of the exodus jumped out at me. That’s because, in 2009, the United States government — under President Obama — tacitly supported a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. “Washington has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades,” The Guardian noted at the time. “During the 1980s, the US used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighbouring Nicaragua.”
Honduras wasn’t paradise under President Manuel Zelaya. Since the coup, however, the country has entered a downward death spiral of drug-related bloodshed and political revenge killings that crashed the economy, brought an end to law, order and civil society, and now has some analysts calling it a “failed state” along the lines of Somalia and Afghanistan during the 1990s.
“Zelaya’s overthrow created a vacuum in security in which military and police were now focused more on political protest, and also led to a freeze in international aid that markedly worsened socio-economic conditions,” Mark Ungar, professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, told The International Business Times. “The 2009 coup, asserts [Tulane] professor Aaron Schneider, gave the Honduran military more political and economic leverage, at the same time as the state and political elites lost their legitimacy, resources and the capacity to govern large parts of the country.”
El Salvador and Guatemala, also narcostates devastated by decades of U.S. support for oppressive, corrupt right-wing dictatorships, are suffering similar conditions.
Talk about brass! The United States does it everything it can to screw up Central America — and then acts surprised when desperate people show up at its front gate trying to escape the (U.S.-caused) carnage. Letting the kids stay — along with their families — is less than the least we could do.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM