Both Afghanistan and Iraq are about a twelfth the size of the United States. If we are to understand the damage we have done to both those countries over the last thirty years we would have to put things in proportion. Whatever the consequences of our actions have been, multiply it by twelve and that’s what it would be if it were done to us. Perhaps that in turn would put things in perspective for us. There are at least two things we should think about when considering the human toll: casualties and ethnic cleansing or “displacement” if you want to be polite about it. Of course things like the economic and health effects warrant close inspection, but for the purpose of this piece I will stick with those two simple things.
And before I do I want to point out what should be obvious. Iraq and Afghanistan are by comparison powerless, weak and defenseless. Unlike the US they don’t have a massive military. They don’t have a comparable air force and navy. They are not flanked by two massive oceans they dominate nor are they surrounded by friendly countries. The US is 5% of the world’s population but accounts for half the world’s annual military expenditures (Iraq accounts for 0.13% and Afghanistan 0.0122%). We have weapons we have never used and should never use. We have weapons we do use—probably the worst of which are cluster bombs, depleted uranium and white phosphorus—and should never use. We have over 1,000 foreign military bases. The idea that we are defending ourselves from Iraq and Afghanistan is a joke.
It was not Iraq whose secret intelligence agency oversaw a coup d’état that brought in the dominant political parties in the US as the CIA did with the Ba’ath Party in the late 1960s.
It was not Iraq who propped up our dictator. It was the other way around.
In 1975 it was not Iraq’s State Department who responded to our brutal murder and ethnic cleansing of Kurds by saying it “was to be expected.” That was us referring to “the Kurdish thing” and it was documented in a declassified cable. We knew Saddam Hussein was—as the British said in a cable to us in the late-1960s—a “presentable young man.” In the same year the British also noted his “emergence into the limelight” and that “if only one could see more of him, it would be possible to do business.” We agreed and did business with him. When Henry Kissinger testified to Congress about our policies he said, “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”
It was not Iraq who removed us from a list of states who sponsor “terrorism,” just so they could arm us nor was it Iraq who was providing us with weapons (conventional and chemical) while we were using it “almost daily.” We armed and supported Iraq in their war of aggression against Iran. When Donald Rumsfeld went to meet with Saddam in the early 1980s to check on his progress it was noted that Iraq was using chemical weapons on an almost daily basis.
And it was not Iraq who turned on us and invaded us and imposed sanctions on us and bombed us almost daily for more than ten years before waging another war of aggression against us that resulted in a bloody occupation and civil war. We did that to them. We were not defending ourselves in any of this.
Similarly in Afghanistan, it was not the government of Afghanistan who began arming and training religious zealots to provoke a Russian invasion. We did that. We called it the “Afghan trap” to give Russia their “Vietnam.” We used the people of Afghanistan as chess pieces and expendable bags of carbon. We were not defending ourselves.
Neither Iraq or Afghanistan had anything to do with the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. None of the training or funding was done in those countries and even if there were it wouldn’t change much. As awful as the terrorist attack was it was not an armed attack warranting our invasions and occupations. If we want to make the argument that it does then we must also accept that Kristallnacht was an appropriate response to the assassination of vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan.
Between the date of the attacks and October 7, 2001 and March 20, 2003, we were not attacked again. It’s not as if we were acting in self-defense. And it’s not as if the terrorist attack didn’t have a history. It has been our decades of imperialism and aggression that brought on the attack. Look at the targets: the pinnacles of American economic and military power: the Pentagon, World Trade Center and possibly Capitol Hill or the White House. The Pentagon has long known this and it was only a few years back when they admitted as much on why we are “hated”:
American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.
• Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
• Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that “freedom is the future of the Middle East” is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World — but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
• Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim selfdetermination.
• Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack — to broad public support.
• What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of “terrorist” groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.
• Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic — namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is — for Americans — really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game.
This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves.
Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of “dissemination of information,” or even one of crafting and delivering the “right” message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none . . .
Iraq was destroyed by our “genocidal sanctions” (see Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck if you need more details) and Afghanistan was one of the poorest and most defenseless countries in the world . . . and we attacked, invaded and occupied them over bogus claims (i.e. WMD, liberation, bringing democracy, fighting terrorism, etc).
And what has come of it?
In Afghanistan about 3 million people have been killed and 5 million displaced as a direct consequence of the wars we have provoked or waged.
In Iraq about 4 million have been killed and 5 million displaced, another term for ethnic cleansing.
That’s seven million killed, ten million ethnically cleansed from their homes and neighborhoods or their country altogether.
Remember, Iraq and Afghanistan are both about a twelfth the size of us so if we were to take what we have done to them and apply it to ourselves and keep in mind proportion then we are talking about 84 million Americans killed and 100 million ethnically cleansed. Most of them civilians, but many of them resistance fighters, or “terrorists” as the occupiers call them.
Keep in mind that in this alternate reality we are the weak and they are the strong. They account for half of global military spending and have foreign bases sprinkled all over the globe while we don’t even account for a quarter of a percent and have no such bases. We have never attacked them. Our leaders have attacked neighboring countries while genuflecting to them, but our leaders never bit the hand that fed them. We don’t have the military strength like they do. Our lives have been shaped by their foreign policies, and not the other way around. When one of them was attacked by less than two dozen terrorists, we paid for it despite having nothing to do with the attacks. We have suffered through war and sanctions and ethnic cleansing. Eighty-four million of us have seen our lives smashed out by bombs, disease or starvation, and one hundred million of us have been forcibly removed from our homes by gangs and militias with ties to the Iraqi and Afghani governments who invade and occupy us.
Meanwhile they have their “Veterans Day” and “Memorial Day” where the denizens of their states proudly wave their flags and put yellow ribbons on their trees and cry while they sing patriotic songs and thank their soldiers for the sacrifice they made to protect their freedoms that were never endangered by us. And all the while it is their governments who are spying on them, harassing their activists and cutting their social benefits and doing almost nothing to stop the economic crises that are costing them their jobs and pensions. And rather than rise up against their government who is bringing death and destruction to the world and exploiting them, they wave their flags and say “Thank you” to the soldiers that obey orders.