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On American Foreign Policy


[The following is a response to a friends comments on American foreign policy.]
 
One of the first questions we should ask on beliefs is why we hold them. Do we cling to beliefs because of truths based on knowledge or because they are self-serving? The issue of beliefs being self-serving versus true should be an important consideration. In the face of uncomfortable truths do we show bravery and stand up for what is right and true or do we delude the truth in order to massage our collective egos?
 
During the 1950s and 1960s whites in the US justified adverse racial relations on the grounds that the blacks were "trouble makers" and we were protecting order and tradition.
 
I will assume that a rational, decent person will do two things: seek the truth whatever it is, and hold themselves or groups they identify with to the same standards as others. For Christians this should be easy since the moral is wrapped up in the book of Matthew (chapter 7, verses 1-5).
 
From what I have gathered this is the general picture I think you paint and which I want to address: "We are good guys trying to bring freedom and democracy to the world and to ensure the rule of law, but inevitably people will die in our noble pursuit to do so."
 
I think this is self-serving propaganda. This completely turns reality on its head, and glosses over our actions. Despite the near historical truism that every aggressor and their apologists have always tried to paint their crimes in a benevolent light (i.e. when Imperial Japan was laying waste to Asia they claimed it was to bring an "earthly paradise" or as the recently released Saddam Hussein interviews with the FBI shows even Saddam had a benevolent excuse for every single crime he ever committed, and even Hitler claimed to be fighting for a new and better Europe and that he was resisting the "wild terror" plaguing Europe), it is still helpful to look at the facts.
 
So, let’s go line by line and explore some relevant facts and laws that relate to the US.
 
Amy, Afghans have died, and will continue to do so while our troops continue to fight the Taliban…
 
But the question is: Why? Where was our concern for the people of Afghanistan when the Carter administration started secretly funding, arming and training Islamic fundamentalists to overthrow a Marxist government? Where was our concern when the Soviets were driven out and we bailed? How is our concern authentic when we are propping up warlords and drug lords from the Northern Alliance?
 
Here is what concerns me: We are exploiting the welfare of others to justify our own misdeeds, our crimes. We don’t care for the people of Afghanistan or anywhere else. Our concern for them is purely a rhetorical device to be used to justify our violence at home or abroad. Before the war in Iraq we constantly talked to ourselves about every bad thing Saddam ever did but we routinely left out this vital fact: he did so with our help, when he was our ally, when he was serving our interests.
 
What does the Afghan women’s group RAWA have to say on the US/NATO war and occupation of their country?
 
In 2001, the U.S. and its allies occupied Afghanistan under the beautiful slogans of "war on terror," "women’s rights," "liberation" and "democracy." But when they installed the brutal and criminal warlords after the fall of the Taliban, everyone knew that Afghanistan had once again become a chessboard for world powers. They have their long-term plans in Afghanistan, and the plight of our people, and especially of women, has been misused to legitimize the foreign military presence in our country. 
 
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan to fulfill its geo-political, economic and regional strategic interests and to transform Afghanistan into a strong military base in the region. In the past seven years, these troops have even further complicated the situation of Afghanistan. Not only have they pumped millions of dollars into the pockets of savage warlords but the Taliban and other terrorist groups are more powerful today. They have turned Afghanistan into the opium capital of the world, and one of the reasons for invading Afghanistan was to get hold of this multi-billion-dollar drug business. 
 
Afghan people have been badly betrayed by the U.S. and NATO in the past few years. Despite billions in of aid, Afghan people are living under awful conditions that are worse than they were under the Taliban medieval rule. Afghanistan still faces a women’s rights tragedy, and the everyday hardships of our masses are beyond imagination. 
 
The U.S. and NATO have imposed a corrupt mafia, puppet government on the Afghan people, a government which is mostly comprised of warlords and drug lords. And now efforts are underway to share power with the Taliban and Islamic Party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
 
The U.S. and NATO are killing thousands of our innocent people, while at the same time their operations have no impact on the Taliban, because as they are not really interested in peace and in stability in Afghanistan. The presence of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups is in fact necessary for the U.S. and NATO in order to have a reason for their permanent presence in Afghanistan. Everyone knows that the U.S., a superpower, together with the biggest military pact in the world, NATO, could it is a matter of days, if not hours, defeat the Taliban and arrest Mullah Omer and Osama. But today they need such enemies to justify keeping their military machine in Afghanistan. 
 
[...]
 
The troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible. This is the first step. They should adopt less bloody alternatives. We don’t want their so-called liberation and democracy. If these troops do not withdraw, we are sure that the Afghan people will have no other option but to rise up against them. Our people are already deeply fed up with the situation. The jokes being made in Afghanistan are that the Taliban are getting the most from this situation.
 
RAWA supports the call for the withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO troops because occupation is not a solution. They are constantly killing civilians, even at a wedding party. Do you think we are not human beings and don’t have hearts? What would Americans do if an occupier were killing so many civilians in the U.S.?
 
Before going on here are some things to remember: the war and occupation is illegal. This is important to consider when, as you state later, we are the world’s police trying to uphold the law… apparently by violating it. There was no UN Security Council authorizing the use of force when we launched the attack in October of 2001, which like the Iraq War, is a violation of the UN Charter and the Nuremberg Principles. Also consider that our own constitution (article six) has a supremacy clause that shows that our violation of international law was also a violation of domestic law, in fact "the supreme Law of the Land."
 
But let’s go back to the Nuremberg Principles for a second. These principles were established to try the Nazi’s for war crimes, and the "supreme international crime" that our own supreme court justice, Robert Jackson, who was also the chief prosecutor for the US at the tribunals said was "aggression." Aggressive wars are wars launched not for defensive purposes. This principle became enshrined in the UN Charter in chapter seven. There are only two ways the use of force can be legal: (1) in self-defense of an attack and (2) authorization by the UNSC.
 
Afghanistan, and Iraq and Bosnia and Vietnam and Panama and Grenada, neither attacked us nor did the UNSC give us authorization to use force.
 
Here is something else to keep in mind in regards to Afghanistan. We did not launch the war to topple the Taliban. That was an excuse presented only after the bombings began. We wanted Osama bin Laden and on more than two occasions the Taliban offered to hand him over but Bush rejected the offers.
 
And also in late-October 2001 over 1,000 Afghani tribal leaders trekked to Peshwar, Pakistan to hold a conference on the post-Taliban future. They disagreed on many things but the one thing they agreed on unanimously was their opposition to US/NATO bombing of their country. They felt it did more harm than good, and this was reported in USA Today.
 
Furthermore we had no proof of who was behind the attacks and that is why in June of 2002 the FBI Director, Robert Mueller, was publicly saying we only "thought" we knew. So we illegally bombed one of the poorest countries in the world despite offers to turn over bin Laden and despite not knowing who was behind the 9-11 attacks (we have since learned that none of the planning, financing or training occurred in Afghanistan, yet they paid the price for the world’s belligerent juggernaut who felt it needed to flex his muscles).
 
But let’s move on and come back to other important things later.
 
There are always human casualties on all sides in a war, but maybe you should ask how many more will die under the oppressive rule of the Taliban regime should we just decide to bail out…
 
Or we can go back to see what RAWA says on this very question.
 
If there is a withdrawal, there will probably be a civil war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, but that would not be any worse than what is going on now. When these troops pull out at least we will then no more be an occupied country. It is the duty of Afghan people to get rid of the internal enemies, but today, our internal enemies are backed and supported by the external enemies that are the U.S. and NATO.
 
I just don’t believe you sincerely care about their welfare. Were you an activist organizing for their welfare before the US bombed them or is your concern only a facet in the effort to justify "our" violence? Do you have anything to say on our past involvement or our current support for the Northern Alliance? What about RAWA?
 
It’s really interesting to note that NATO still exists. Here is a war outfit from the Cold War created to "fight" the Soviet Union that ceased to exist twenty years ago. Back during our aggression against Bosnia, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton said our attack was necessary to sustain NATO’s "credibility" and here we are using it to unload the world’s largest military – that spends half of the world’s military budget – on one of the poorest countries in the world and all in the name of "defense" and other lofty excuses. This isn’t noble or funny. It’s sad and sickening.
 
Weather you like it or not, the USA being the lone superpower in the world has the responsibility to promote democracy and freedom abroad because it is good for us, and it is good for the rest of the world.
 
We are not bringing or "promoting democracy and freedom abroad" which is apparent by our support for dictatorships like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. We supported the brutal tyrant in Uzbekistan until he kicked us out. Here was a man who ruled like Stalin and boiled his victims alive and sent elderly women to labor camps for speaking out.
 
In fact, our history of foreign policy has had an interesting pattern: supporting authoritarian tyrants against popular movements for national liberation. We even have historical phrases like "gunboat diplomacy" and "manifest destiny." Every time Marines were sent to Haiti, Nicaragua, etc that claim of "promoting democracy and freedom" has been undermined. We kicked Spain out of Cuba just to impose the Platt Amendment (which helps explain why we are torturing illegally held prisoners at Guantanamo Bay) and supported the Batista dictatorship up until a popular revolution overthrew and them and after that we responded with various assassination plots, terrorist operations (MONGOOSE), coups (Bay of Pigs, Operation ORTSAC – Castro spelled backwards – and Swiftstrike) and an embargo which the UN General Assembly has been voting on annually to have removed (each year the world votes something like 180 – 2 with the lonely two voting to sustain the embargo being the US and Israel).
 
There is the history of Operation Gladio where the CIA had "stay-behind" missions to subvert democracy in places like Italy and some of those acts of subversion were terrorist attacks. And what we did to Greece from the end of WW2 through the 70s was criminally outrageous.
 
And let’s not forget the "rat line" the US used to funnel out Nazi war criminals like Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons, to South America where they helped train Brazilian generals with US aid.
 
We have supported Apartheid in South Africa, overthrown the democratically-elected leader Patrice Lumumba in Congo and supported Mobutu, and former-CIA agent John Stockwell has exposed his dirty deeds in Angola.
 
Phillip Agee, another former-CIA agent exposed a lot of his dirty deeds in Latin America in his diary that named names, places and deeds. The CIA helped organize coups in Guatemala and Chile to overthrow democratically leaders (like it did in Iran in 1953 and Iraq a few years later and Congo a few years after that). During the 1980s we backed the Duvalier dictatorships (Papa Doc and Baby Doc) until a popular uprising overthrew them and democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who we have overthrown twice! When Nicaraguans overthrew the Somoza dictatorship the US armed, trained and guided the Contras in attacking "soft targets" (i.e. civilians, labor union organizers, etc). In fact, the World Court even ruled on the matter and condemned us for "unlawful use of force." All of this continues to the present, as in the case of Honduras.
 
So this idea that we are "promoting democracy and freedom abroad" is an embarrassing untruth.
 
The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not only an American right, but a God given one (if you believe in that sort of thing).
 
Actually, that is not a right. That is part of the Declaration of Independence, which has no legal bearing on our legal system. When the fifty-something wealthy white men got together to write our constitution they left out a lot of the populist things in the DoI that were used to garner public support for their revolution. Historian Howard Zinn recently wrote on this,
 
It was not all the common people getting together to fight against England. They had a very hard time assembling an army. They took poor guys and promised them land. They browbeat people and, oh yes, they inspired people with the Declaration of Independence. It’s always good, if you want people to go to war, to give them a good document and have good words: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, when they wrote the Constitution, they were more concerned with property than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You should take notice of these little things.
 
The American historian, Charles Beard, wrote a book on the economic influence at the constitutional convention back in the early 1900s. It is still a popular book and a good reference on understanding the topic.
 
The fact is, without a strong America, there is no rest of the world. Weather you like it or not, we are the global backbone of this earth, and while our system is not perfect it is the best one that exists today.
 
Again, our record of involvement in the world shows a different story and it is upheld by global opinion. Do you think there is a reason why the majority of the world sees us as a bigger threat than Iran and North Korea?
 
The "global backbone of this earth" is not the country using military dominance to have its say in political and economic affairs. The backbone is the Global South and the peasants and farmers and working class the world over who are exploited by the political and economic issues we impose ourselves on. That is why popular uprisings occur at G-8, World Bank, IMF, WTO and so-called "Free Trade" meetings the world over.
 
We have a strong record of supporting elitists and authoritarians over the working class.
 
Until humans figure out how to live in harmony, and how to love and serve each other there will always be class warfare, tyranny and oppression.
 
We know how to live it, but the problem is that states and private tyrannies, like the US government and corporations whose interest they serve, won’t allow it.
 
Let’s talk about class warfare. The US government has taken sides and it is not ours, Daniel. Tyranny, oppression? Again, the US government has taken sides and the side isn’t pretty. How much of our taxes go to the Colombian government who kills more trade unionists than any other country? How much of our taxes goes to Egypt to finance their despotic police state? How much of our taxes went to Indonesia to finance the Suharto coup, dictatorship, genocide of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians and East Timorese? How much of our taxes went to Turkey during the 1990s when they were rounding up and killing tens of thousands of Kurds? How much of our taxes went to Saddam to help him gas his own people, attack Iran and prop up his despotic regime before he became too much of a liability? How much of our taxes goes to Israel to attack, occupy and oppress Palestinians and Lebanese in a racist country that only affords democratic rights to those who practice the "right" faith?
 
And, with that comes the need for law and government and war to try to police the goings on in the world, to try to keep as many people possible out of the hands of evil.
 
Don’t you think that statement is a bit paternalistic and jingoistic, Daniel? It assumes we know what is right for others and are justified to use unlawful force to impose it on them. You can’t really believe that, do you? Does this privilege apply to others too? Remember that biblical quote above.
 
Former-State Department personnel, William Blum once wrote,
 
For some Americans, belief in the nobility of US foreign policy may have taken a kick in the stomach by the release of the photos in the spring of 2004 showing abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners, but for most a lifetime of inculcated loyalty, faith, and conviction does not crumble without a great deal of resistance. Such people should be asked this question: "What would the United States have to do in its foreign policy that would cause you to forsake your basic belief and support of it? In other words, what for you would be too much?" Most likely, whatever dreadfulness they might think of, the United States has already done it. More than once. Probably in their own lifetime. And well documented in an easily available publication.
 
I extend this question above to you, Daniel – what for you would be too much?
 
Perhaps you should move to Iran where your views will get you stoned to death and then tell me if we have the right to fight for the people who can’t fight for themselves.
 
But how does that change the facts of our actions? Don’t you think this is a diversion? I don’t think you are even exploring the legitimacy of the "views."
 
So what is the purpose of this note/message? What is the significance of beliefs and knowledge? What is their ethical and social significance?
 
The bedrock of my views, and that of Amy and many others, is that what is right for one is right for the other, and what is wrong for one is wrong for the other. That if we are to take such ideas like democracy, freedom, law, and government, and so on seriously then we must hold ourselves to the same standards as we do others. And that we do these ideas no justice to gloss over them or exploit them to fit agendas that violate them. So when President Bush told Saddam in 1990 "this aggression against Kuwait won’t stand" then we should know he is a hypocrite and that his son is a hypocrite and that nearly every president before him and certainly every one after him are hypocrites and criminal thugs.
 
But what is democracy? What is freedom? In many ways I think the two are synonymous in that they both have to do with people’s abilities to manage their own lives. Democracy/freedom is not the ability to do whatever one wants regardless of its affects on others, and neither is it the ability to choose between options pre-chosen for us. It is the ability to have a functional say in the making and deciding of decisions that affect us.
 
In Iran we rightly criticize the electoral system because an unelected group called the Guardian Council chooses what candidates can run. So whereas hundreds petitioned to run, only four were permitted. And in many ways that is not very different from our electoral process. In the US unelected leaders – from the business community – consider the views and positions of candidates and throw their money behind their campaign and predictably the candidate with the most campaign funding stands a chance to win. In other words, you can only be President in this country if the rich approve of you and finance your campaign. We all know that politicians will say whatever they want to get elected but once in office they will cater to the interests of those who financed their campaigns. So considering that Goldman Sachs and other banks financed Obama’s campaign is it any wonder that he has more closely served the interests of banks than the working class?
 
Our foreign policy is not righteous or good, nor is it upholding the rule of law. More often than not (and I am not familiar with ANY "nots") it has been oppressive and illegal.
 
I do not rally around our government and our leaders simply because they are "ours." I hold them to the very same standards as I do our "enemies," and being that this is a relatively free country it is also our duty and obligation to not blindly serve and worship our leaders as if they can do no wrong. The crimes and misdeeds they perpetrate in our names and with our taxes should be opposed and resisted.
 
In the mid-90s President Carter’s National Security Adviser, said this in an interview on our involvement in Afghanistan before and during the Soviet invasion,
 
According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
 
[...]
 
That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap… What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?
 
Think about that, Daniel. We knowingly financed, armed and trained religious fundamentalists with not only the belief that it would cause a Soviet invasion that would cause human suffering but with the aim that that would be it. We used the people of Afghanistan as a "trap" and could care less if it resulted in the Taliban or "stirred-up Moslems" that would later fly planes into a couple of towers in NYC. If we can get rid of competition and augment our power then to hell with the world. And this is coming from the liberal end of the American establishment of policy makers!
 
Afghanistan and Iraq were not and are not threats to us. The solutions are not wars of aggression unless we dare to admit to being the equivalents of the Nazi regime, or any other government who thinks aggression is a solution (i.e. Josef Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic).
 
In your original comment that Amy responded to you mentioned the absurdity of what the media chooses as stories. On this, I agree. That the memorial of Michael Jackson took precedence over some of the most horrendous injustices in the world is an indictment to the integrity of our media. But I disagree that focusing on a dozen US soldiers who died while violating their enlistment oaths and participating in wars of aggression and deluding ourselves with the notion that they are heroes or promoting democracy and freedom or protecting our freedoms is preferable.
 
In the US, excluding the world, we are distorting the reality of issues like homelessness, poverty, unemployment, the economy, our health care system, our social infrastructure, our schools, and so on. The real life situation of the class war being waged in this country is largely ignored. When Congress refuses to let single-payer advocates testify on health care reform, or when the "liberal media" fails to give them space in their papers, but give plenty of space to insurance companies, and all the while too many of us are crushing under the weight of a greedy insurance industry then something is wrong. Over half of the Americans who file bankruptcy file over medical bills and well over half of them have insurance! Kaiser Family Foundation did a study on healthcare costs between 2001 and 2007 and found that the arbitrary prices set by insurance companies accounted for the bulk of the cost. We pay twice as much per capita in health care than other developed countries with single-payer programs and yet we have a lower quality of health and nearly 50 million without insurance. American car manufacturers spend more on healthcare per car than they do steel but this sad reality is largely ignored in our government and our press. Nearly 20,000 Americans die every year due to lack of insurance – and therefore lack of treatment. This is vastly more deserving of our attention than a dozen soldiers who died in a war that is not legal or just and that they were obliged to resist.
 
But don’t get me wrong. I don’t think those soldiers deserved to die. Not one bit. Dissent is not equal to hatred or so-called "anti-Americanism" (on a side note why do we equate our country with the policies of our leaders? Don’t you find it offensive that our rich history and culture get suppressed, and we get defined by the actions of our government – I mean, if you criticize the city government of Fort Worth would it make sense to call you "anti-Fort Worth"? Do legitimate concerns and criticism have no place in our society or is total submission required?). Those soldiers deserved to NOT be sent. And neither do I think they were doing their job or protecting us. Opposing them for their actions doesn’t mean I think they deserve what they get, but that also doesn’t mean we should glorify them based on lies. These wars are illegal, unjustified and immoral. Our victims don’t want us there. Our soldiers, who are our people from our communities, should come home where they belong.
 
Last month the New York Times reported that the referendum the Bush administration agreed to in the last "status of forces" agreement we signed in Iraq is quietly being opposed by the Obama administration. The referendum gives the people of the Iraq the right to vote on our early and complete withdrawal, and the Obama administration fears we will be kicked out sooner than we want to (assuming we would ever comply), at the same time General Casey is saying we could be there past 2019.
 
If we are the global police "promoting democracy and freedom" then who elected us, and why do we violate international law to impose our "justice" on the world against their will? What kind of police officer acts that way? Not one who should be a police officer.
 
Before I end this note I want to say something on our soldier’s obligations and "enlistment oath." They took an oath to support and defend the constitution, not the President, Congress or ExxonMobil. They are also required to follow orders per the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Now the UCMJ is based on the Nuremberg Principles and this means soldiers are only obligated to follow "lawful orders." This means any orders that are unlawful – like orders sending them to participate in wars of aggression in Iraq or Afghanistan – should be resisted unless a soldier chooses to violate his or her oath.
 
Earlier I referenced Justice Robert Jackson. At the Nuremberg Trials he said something that was an important ethical standard that applies here too when judging others and ourselves,
 
We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.
 
He also said,
 
If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.
 
If only it were true. During the trials Germans routinely had charges dropped if they could show the Alliance did the same thing (i.e. Karl Dönitz), and in modern times we routinely violate international law with impunity.
 
Here are our "views" in a nutshell: We Americans are no better than the rest and we should be held to the same standards as the rest, and we certainly should not be allowed to act criminally with impunity. We do not glorify or gloss over our actions, nor do we worship and serve power and authority. We reject and resist jingoism.

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