No Pacifists Allowed on News Shows

Ever notice how, when there is a foreign policy crisis, the discussion is always between intervention and more intervention? There’s never anyone at the table on TV news discussion shows who is a pacifist who is simply is against war, or even someone who suggests that this particular crisis is something the US ought not to be involved in.

How to Stop the Next Stupid War before It Starts

News - Afghan War - President Bush Announces Start of War - 7 Oct 2001 - CNN - YouTube

            Americans are politically fractured but they agree that our longest war was a mistake. 77% of Americans, including many Republicans, told a recent CBS News poll that they agree with President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. That’s a reversal from the conflict’s early days, when between 85% and 90% of Americans supported the invasion.

            What changed? We were lied to; now we know it. The Taliban were characterized by the news media as primitive religious fanatics, a fringe group that ruled by fear in a power vacuum created by our abandonment of the anti-Soviet mujahedin in the late 1980s. In fact they were a popular, homegrown phenomenon perfectly situated to frame themselves as a nationalist resistance organization. To whatever extent that Afghans felt “abandoned,” they wanted cash and infrastructure with no strings attached. Instead we imposed a corrupt puppet regime that they viewed as a humiliation.

            The main casus belli, revenge for 9/11, fell apart after the world’s most wanted man was found and assassinated in Pakistan in 2011. If Osama bin Laden had been living in Pakistan for years, why were we still looking for him in Afghanistan? Why were we paying his Pakistani hosts billions of dollars? Voter support for the war evaporated after the killing of bin Laden.

            Barack Obama said “we took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq,” which he called the “dumb war.” He argued that “our real focus has to be on Afghanistan.” Now most people agree that they were both dumb.

            How do we avoid fighting more stupid wars in the future? How can we stop ourselves from wasting trillions more dollars and thousands of more lives?

First we must remember how most wars start—with government lies. From the Tonkin Gulf non-incident to fairy tales about Iraqi soldiers yanking Kuwaiti babies out of ventilators to Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, American presidents, generals and media stenographers have conned one gullible generation after another into killing and being killed. The truth eventually comes out. By then, though, it’s too late.

            The next time a president goes on TV to tell us we ought to go to war, we should turn our skepticism dial up to 11. After all, we’ve been lied to so often in the past—why give them any benefit of the doubt?

            Ironically for a country whose values center around free-thinking and rugged individuality, naïvely going along with the call to war is hardwired into our political culture, no matter how outlandish the justification. If the president asks us to sacrifice our lives in a war, we’re expected to comply, no questions asked.

Consider the infamous Supreme Court decision in which chief justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously wrote that “protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre.” In the case in question, Holmes continued, “the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger…”

In Schenck v. United States the court ruled that, when it comes to war, there is no room for vigorous debate, much less dissent—First Amendment be damned.

 The subject of that case is lost to history: Socialists Charles Schenck and Elizabeth Baer were jailed for the crime of mailing out flyers urging men to resist the military draft during World War I. The “clear and present danger” was not to the country itself. It was to pro-war propaganda. What if the leftists’ argument were to succeed? What if the government had to work harder in order to convince young men to fight and die in the charnel house across the Atlantic?

Holmes came to regret his decision and Schenck was partly overturned and discredited. Yet schoolchildren are still taught that the First Amendment runs into limits with “shouting fire in a theatre.” Those who ought to know better, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, went so far as to write that “while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, no one has a right to falsely shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater,” in an op-ed favoring gun control in 2012.

 As Christopher Hitchens noted, the governments of Europe and the United States lit and fanned the flames of a war most of its combatants believed to have been pointless. The socialist pacifists were trying to restore sanity.

            Someday, no doubt sooner rather than later, this president or the next will take to the airwaves in order to ask us to support another war. War is the most serious undertaking that a nation-state ever considers. It is therefore the highest duty of every citizen to carefully weigh the evidence and justification given to attack a foreign adversary with an open mind including the jaundiced knowledge that such arguments often unravel after the spilling of a lot of blood.

            If we had lived up to our civic duty back in 2001, we would have done a little digging ourselves. We would have paid attention to the fact that none of the 19 hijackers was from Afghanistan. We would have noted the news reports that bin Laden was already in Pakistan and that the majority of Al Qaeda’s training facilities were also in that country, not in Afghanistan. We would have listened to academic experts and veterans of Russia’s failed occupation during the 1970s and 1980s, who warned that Afghanistan was the “graveyard of empires” because the one thing that pulled its people together was hatred of foreign invaders.

            We should not have given George W. Bush a blank check to invade a sovereign state that never attacked us and never meant us harm. We should have withheld our support and tacit consent. We should have protested and demanded that Congress stop the war before it began.

            We should never again take a presidential call to war at face value.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


This Is What the Cult of Militarism Looks like

Fortunately, president Joe Biden followed through on last year’s peace deal with the Taliban and has ordered a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. A war we never should have been in in the first place is coming to an end. But militarists are waiting in the wings with new ideas for mayhem for profit.

The Taliban’s Dramatic Military Victory

            Now that President Biden has pulled the U.S. military out of Afghanistan, it’s clear that we have little to show for more than $2 trillion and thousands of soldiers killed over two decades of occupation. We will soon be back where we were on September 10, 2001, when the Taliban governed Afghanistan.

Afghan government troops have neither the will nor the training to protect their corrupt leaders in Kabul. Defeat of an Afghan government sinking in passivity and denial will occur within months or weeks.

Soldiers of the regime installed by the administration of George W. Bush and propped up by his successors are deserting and fleeing across the border to Tajikistan. Taliban troops have surrounded and briefly taken over both Kunduz, a city whose wobbly back-and-forth allegiances make it an Alsace-like wartime bellwether, and Herat, long considered unconquerable because it was controlled by Ishmail Khan, a former Northern Alliance warlord long considered the nation’s fiercest and most competent opponent of the Taliban. The Taliban can and will return for good.

They recently captured key border crossings with Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. The Iran border post alone generates about $20 million per week in customs duties—revenue that now belongs to the Taliban.

Kabulis await the inevitable triumph of the Taliban, resigned to whatever fate awaits them.

Even tongue-shaped Badakhshan province on the remote northeastern border with China is “on the verge of falling completely” to the Taliban. Badakhshan was the Northern Alliance’s last redoubt, the only section of the country that successfully resisted the Taliban when the militants ruled between 1996 and 2001.

Media coverage about the coming transition will focus on the plight of women, the role of ISIS, reprisals and the return and style of sharia law. What will be lost, but deserves to be noted as well, is that the Taliban have just achieved a stunning military victory.

Never in recent history, not even in Vietnam or in Afghanistan against the British in the 19th century, has a rural guerilla army achieved such a dramatic defeat against a colossus that held every military, political and economic advantage.

With the most sophisticated fighter jets in the world, hundreds of cruise missiles and a huge fleet of assassination drones, the U.S. enjoyed complete dominance of the skies throughout the war. The Taliban didn’t have a single plane. Whereas the Viet Cong were enthusiastically armed and trained by China and fought alongside the nation-state of North Vietnam, poorly-sourced reports allege that the Taliban may have received—at best—sporadic, extremely limited support from Iran and Russia. They were forced to live underground, constantly hiding from American forces.

Not only did the Taliban win a protracted war against the world’s biggest superpower, that superpower is leaving them a brand-new nation built from the ground up. Twenty years ago, Afghanistan was a failed state with 14th century infrastructure. Roads, all unpaved, didn’t even have names. There was no electricity, no phones, no sewage, no running water. There wasn’t even a banking system.

The United States is leaving them $8 billion worth of roads and highways, a $1 billion power grid, dams, canals, levees, drainage systems, bridges, tunnels, airports, the Internet, you name it. 85% of the country’s population is covered by cellphone service; that’s not true of the Hamptons.

We have gifted the Taliban $36 billion in infrastructure spending.

You’re welcome.

Military historians will study the Taliban insurgency for years to come. In the meantime, empires like the U.S. and resistance movements like the Taliban can each draw important lessons.

Whether they are an indigenous movement like the Taliban resisting foreign invasion or a revolutionary organization seeking to overthrow a domestic government, anyone who seeks to take on a state with superior manpower, training and weapons should take the failure of the U.S. invasion of  Afghanistan as proof that an inferior force need not be intimidated by such daunting disparities. From the revolutions in France, Russia and China to the anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Asia, many notable regime changes have succeeded despite the odds. If you have the support of the people and relentless dedication to fight steadfastly through countless setbacks, you can prevail in an asymmetric conflict. This is particularly true if your adversary is foreign and requires domestic political will and to maintain long and expensive supply lines.

Big powers like the U.S. can impose their will overseas, but within limits. It is possible to imagine an alternative scenario in which the U.S. might have succeeded in Afghanistan. First and foremost, the United States should have allowed Afghans, a fractious people united only by their opposition to foreign domination, to choose their own leaders rather than sidelining the exiled king at the 2002 loya jirga. Installing Hamid Karzai, a paid CIA operative, as president, was a catastrophic misstep. Brazenly interfering with Afghanistan’s internal politics re-legitimized the Taliban’s message that Westerners are corrupt and exploitative hypocrites and exposed our rhetoric about self-determination as hollow.

Allowing democracy to run its course would have been risky but smart. Walking our talk and keeping our thumb off the scale would have outweighed the downside risk that Afghans might have elected the “wrong” leaders.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), author of the books “To Afghanistan and Back” and “After We Kill You We Will Welcome You as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” is also the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Abandon Afghanistan and Don’t Look Back

Uncertainty Surrounds US Pullout From Afghanistan | Voice of America - English

            Joe Biden deserves nothing but praise and support for his decision to honor America’s commitment, negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban, to finally withdraw from Afghanistan. After more than 20 years of wasted lives, endless property damage and squandering of billions of U.S. tax dollars that would have been better spent on just about anything else you could think of, it’s incredible that corporate media is still giving airtime to the idiots and warmongers who want to keep troops over there. “I have heard general after general, as you have, say, just give us a little more time,” ABC’s Martha Raddatz said July 4th.

It’s been two decades. There was no legal or moral justification for the war to begin with. They’ve had too much time as it is.

For those of us who have been closely connected to America’s longest war last week’s abandonment of Bagram airbase, the biggest U.S. facility in occupied Afghanistan, makes the long-promised withdrawal feel real.

And the hand-wringing over what comes next has built to a fever pitch. Will the Taliban come back? Will it be like 1997 all over again, with women subjugated and horribly oppressed? Will the Taliban kill the translators, fixers and other Afghans who worked for U.S. occupation forces? Will Afghanistan once again become a staging ground for terrorist attacks like 9/11?

Some of these questions are reasonable. Others couldn’t be less so, based as they are on assumptions fed by lies.

What’s important to remember is the motivation for sewing these doubts. The military industry and its pet media outlets want to change our minds about withdrawal or, if they fail to do so for now, to set the stage for ground troops to invade again in the near future.

Afghanistan will not “again” become a staging ground for terrorist attacks against the United States or any other Western power because it was hardly one in the first place. In 2001 there were four Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan; there were 6,000 in Pakistan. On 9/11 Osama bin Laden was almost certainly in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The attacks were planned by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan. Most of the funding came from the royal family of Saudi Arabia, as did 15 of the 19 hijackers; none came from Afghanistan. It is true that the hijackers all trained in Afghanistan but that’s a distinction without a difference; they could just as easily have picked up the same education in Pakistan, where 99% of Al Qaeda’s infrastructure and personnel had been situated.

There is good reason to worry about the immediate future after we leave. It is likely that the Taliban will quickly topple the militarily inferior and wildly unpopular U.S. puppet regime installed by the George W. Bush Administration. Neighboring countries are bracing for flows of Afghan refugees; hundreds of Afghan government soldiers have already fled to Tajikistan. Violence is inevitable: military casualties in the civil conflict, reprisals against political opponents and repressive acts against women and other targets of Muslim fundamentalists. But nothing can change the truth: Afghanistan is not a U.S. colony. It is a sovereign nation. As such, it has the right and duty of self-determination. The Afghan people must sort out amongst each other what kind of future they want to have.

In the event of a Rwanda-scale genocide, intervention could be justified in conjunction with an international force under the auspices of the U.N. At this writing, however, that seems unlikely. The Taliban are far more sophisticated, younger and modern than the regime that took over Kabul in 1996. So is the population that they seek to govern. Afghans are interconnected with the wider world and its culture via the Internet and cellular phones. They are Muslim extremists, but they are far more pragmatic than ISIS. Afghanistan under the Taliban will feel more like Pakistan than ISIS-held Syria. As is currently the case, rural areas will be more conservative—burqas, girls banned from schools, the occasional stoning—than the cities.

Certainly the United States has the moral obligation not to repeat its habit of discarding its local employees after withdrawal. We should offer green cards and economic support to our Afghan collaborators on an expedited basis rather than the shameful foot-dragging that has been reported. Otherwise the Taliban may execute them as traitors.

Be prepared, as Biden’s September 11, 2021 deadline for withdrawal of the last U.S. troops draws closer, for a rising chorus of voices calling for him to change his mind. Don’t abandon Afghanistan again, the war pigs will cry.

Don’t listen to their siren song of imperialism. The invasion was a mistake, the occupation was a mistake, and so was our propping up of our corrupt puppet regime. We never should have been there in the first place and it has taken 20 years too long to get out.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Maybe We Can Use Her Incompetence

Kamala Harris is more than the vice president of the United States, she is clearly the president in waiting for someone who is too old and infirm for the job. He keeps handing off responsibilities to her but she doesn’t seem able to fulfill her many jobs so far.

No More False Equivalence: Israel Chooses War Over Peace

Israeli warplanes reportedly strike targets on Syria-Lebanon border; Israel on high alert over Syrian WMD - Joel C. Rosenberg's Blog | Fighter jets, Israel defense forces, Fighter

            No one is blameless in the ongoing violent conflict between Israel and stateless Palestinians. Both sides target and kill civilian noncombatants. But let’s put an end to false equivalence. “A pox on both houses” is not a morally or politically appropriate response to the one-sided war between Israel and Hamas.

            Israel wants war. If it wanted peace, it would have it.

Any attempt to assign all or most of the blame to one side in a long-running drama like the crisis in the Middle East is inherently pointless. No matter what arbitrary date or event in history you begin with in order to argue that it all started with this or that atrocity, someone can point to an earlier episode to which said act was a justifiable retaliation. Then there’s reality. Practicality and geography dictate that Israeli Jews and Palestinians (who are not all Arabs) have to live in the same country or (future) pair of countries are economically intertwined and therefore must figure out a way to get along. The question for them and for the part of the world vested in the issue is: which side has to compromise—and how—in order to achieve lasting peace?

            In any conflict between the strong/rich and the weak/poor the burden of compromise falls disproportionately upon the former for a simple reason. The latter have fewer concessions—financially, territorially, militarily—to make. The ongoing deluge of Israeli propaganda doesn’t obscure the obvious truth: if there is to be peace, Israel will have to meet the representatives of a future Palestinian nation-state 95% of the way.

            Israeli citizens have fallen victims to Hamas rockets. Every death is a tragedy. No one should die that way. Unlike its citizens, however, the State of Israel is no victim. In this struggle Israel is the clear aggressor.

Israel enjoys every advantage over its adversary. It has a seat at the United Nations, formidable moral authority created by its founding by the U.N. as a refuge for victims of the Holocaust and it has the most powerful ally on earth, the United States, which gives it $4 billion a year. Israel’s GDP is 13 times that of Palestine. The 15-year-old Israeli naval blockade of Gaza has driven the unemployment rate to a staggering 49%. Israel’s is 5%. Though many countries recognize Palestine as a state it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to travel between the three Palestinian territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, much less overseas. Israel agreed to allow travel between Palestine’s noncontiguous regions in 2005 but has always ignored its commitment. Israel is a fully-integrated part of the international community.

Israel steals Palestinian land. “Israel’s settlement enterprise and related infrastructure, including roads that are off limits to Palestinians, cover approximately 42% of the occupied West Bank,” according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding. No Palestinian has stolen a single square millimeter of Israeli territory since 1949.

Israel’s F-35 jet fighters and sophisticated missile guidance systems reflect its extraordinary military prowess. Neither Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, nor Fatah, which runs the West Bank, has any air force. Hamas’ Qassam rockets are unguided pieces of crap that are easily intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. As a result, death counts between the two sides are always lopsided. In the summer of 2014 “more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians in Israel,” according to the BBC. At this writing 192 Gazans and 10 Israelis have been killed in this month’s battles.

            Regardless of where you stand on the existence of Israel as a Jewish state or who is more to blame (see first paragraph above), it is important for the sake of logic and reason to ignore the silliest and most intellectually bankrupt lines of propaganda used by the wealthy and powerful Israelis to justify bombing the desperately poor people who live in the most densely populated place in the world.

            Foremost among these is the human shield argument used to give cover to actions like destroying four high-rise buildings in Gaza that Israel claimed were used by Hamas. “Those buildings also contained homes and the offices of local and international news media organizations,” noted The New York Times. “The building contained civilian media offices, which Hamas hides behind and deliberately uses as human shields,” the IDF explained in a tweet, which probably doesn’t much miss the coverage of the Associated Press or Al Jazeera disrupted by the blasts.

            Occupiers from the Nazis in Europe to the Americans in Iraq always complain that resistance fighters hide among the civilian population. Why, they bitch, don’t these cowards put on proper military uniforms, build easy-to-see military bases and come outside to fight like real men? The question is so prima-facie silly that leftists dismiss it with an eye roll. But right-wing corporate media repeatedly gives the human-shield argument so much currency that it requires a direct response. So here it is.

            Outarmed and outmanned, indigenous resistance organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not “hide” within the civilian population. They live among the people, as Mao wrote in 1937, as a fish swims in the sea. Che Guevara echoed the sentiment, noting that “the guerrilla fighter needs full help from the people” or he will be ratted out to the authorities. Hamas fighters often are civilians, driving a taxi or teaching school during the day and fighting at night.

If an oppressed people like the residents of Gaza could support a regular army and had the manpower, training and materiel to construct and protect a military base, they wouldn’t be oppressed or occupied. Israeli troops couldn’t invade them. They could defend their territory from airstrikes and retaliate effectively.

If the Palestinians were able to fight “fairly” as the IDF and its allies in the media say they would prefer, they would be full-fledged citizens of a fully-sovereign Republic of Palestine, they would have a seat at the U.N. and none of this would be happening again.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Abused Dogs Revel in Newfound Freedom

A few things are being handled somewhat the way that they should be, including the conviction of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after he was videotaped suffocating a man on video for over nine minutes. The fact that we are pleasantly surprised by the guilty verdict speaks volumes about our lack of faith in the justice system.

Billions for Terrorists, No Tribute to Americans

There’s always a sense that the government is broke when it comes time to help ordinary Americans in distress. But when it comes to militarism, even when it comes to paying out enemies, there’s an endless supply of cash.