Bombing A La Mode
leadership and elite are ready, willing, and often eager to drop bombs on the lesser
peoples of the world. They can do this without fear of retaliation because of the huge
military advantage of a superpower and the subservience of the "international
community." U.S. leaders are also never constrained by any sense of embarrassment or
shame at using advanced weaponry against essentially defenseless people.
One factor explaining this readiness to bomb is the
elite’s long-standing sense of racial and cultural superiority, and self-serving
assumption of the right to police, rule, and exterminate. Its classic expression was
Secretary of State Richard Olney’s 1895 proclamation that "the United States is
practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it
confines its interposition." But from Teddy Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson and his
successors, Olney’s arrogance is matched by a stream of racist putdowns of the
"niggers" and "gooks" we were killing and pacifying. Furthermore,
throughout the post-colonial wars of our age, the increasingly high tech, capital
intensive warfare we have employed has been openly designed to reduce our casualties,
while increasing the civilian as well as military toll imposed on our enemies. Enemy
casualties are given zero weight in the calculus of U.S. military-political planners, a
dehumanizing process reflected in the frequency with which war casualty enumerations
entirely ignore those of the enemy.
makes bombing easy, but the key factor in stimulating the bombing activity is no doubt the
U.S. imperial role. Military forces with global reach, as demonstrated by bombing, serve
the interests of the U.S.-based transnational corporations dominant in the globalization
process, by showing what can happen to countries that are slow to open markets or to
install friendly regimes in power. Using boycotts and bombs to punish "rogues "
who somehow presume to control their own markets and resources has been an integral
feature of U.S. and western policy since 1917. Periodic bombing forays also help justify
the large military establishment and allow it to reduce old inventories and display and
experiment with new weapons.
A further and
related factor in the readiness to bomb is that bombing is a political winner at home,
with the media always getting on the chauvinistic bandwagon, and the public also regularly
rallying around the flag and in support of our boys. George Bush’s poll ratings rose as he
bombed Iraq in 1991, with the reporters and public enthralled at our new clean war.
With the right-wing and mainstream media helping
demonize anybody standing in our way, U.S. presidents are also regularly under pressure to
drop bombs as a display of macho "character" and "leadership." Weak
presidents are especially prone to bomb in order to quiet their critics and protect and
improve their poll ratings. Clinton’s 1993 attack on Baghdad in the wake of an alleged
Iraqi assassination plan against George Bush was a model case of a bombing response to
media/right-wing political pressure. The rapid bombing response to the attacks on the U.S.
African embassies in August 1998 was also based heavily on the need to do something
forceful to forestall political criticism. Of course, in the official explanations and
mainstream media the bombs are allegedly dropped only after "agonizing choices,"
but this is apologetic propaganda that glosses over the exclusively political
considerations involved in the decisions and the miniscule weight given "collateral
damage" and international law.
evidence assembled after the 1998 bombing of the pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan
showed that the U.S. claims justifying the attack were false and based on incompetently
gathered and evaluated data, there was very little if any criticism in the mainstream
media. For the media, the U.S. has a right to bomb another country if it thinks it has any
kind of case–it doesn’t have to be sure of the facts, or rush to compensate the victims
of its errors, any more than it is obliged to abide by international law.
of the Bombing Game
The rules of the bombing game are simple: if you
are a friend and useful ally, you automatically possess legitimate "security
concerns" and can cross borders, kill, and ravage, free of any bombing threat; but if
you are an enemy or otherwise obstruct the achievement of our objectives, your crossing of
borders and killing, at home or abroad, cannot be tolerated and you are bombable.
There is even
an obligatory and droll tendency to exaggerate the crimes and threats of the bombables.
Thus, just months before the U.S. attack and proxy invasion of Guatemala in June 1954, the
National Security Council described the virtually disarmed victim country as
"increasingly [an] instrument of Soviet aggression" in Latin America, as if it
rather than the U.S. was about to engage in an armed attack. Similarly, tiny Nicaragua,
under U.S. attack in the 1980s, was alleged to be carrying out a "revolution without
frontiers," and when it pursued U.S.-sponsored terrorists across the border into
Honduras, was declared by the U.S. government (and media) to be carrying out an
"invasion." Neither of these bombable countries was allowed the right of self
defense. The governments of both were removed by U.S. bombs and other forms of violence,
although the Nicaraguan government’s final exit was engineered by an election held under
conditions of blackmail after years of devastating terrorist attack.
Iraq, of course, became eminently bombable after
its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It had crossed us, and there were other important reasons
to bomb: the right-wing pundits were screaming for blood, Bush was in political trouble,
and the military establishment needed a post-Soviet military budget rationale and had
large inventories of bombs to run down and weapons it wanted to put on display. With the
help of the media, the long appeasement and support of Saddam Hussein was ignored, and the
many efforts to allow him to withdraw from Kuwait with dignity were brushed aside. So
enlightening that Iraq was not bombable before the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, despite its
doing some pretty awful things, like attacking Iran and using chemical weapons against its
indigenous Kurds in 1986. As Saddam Hussein was then a U.S. friend, a recipient of U.S.
aid, and performing a desired service–killing Iranians, when Iran was a high-ranking
enemy–these matters could be overlooked by us and by the "international
community." Never let it be said that principle and the need for policy consistency
would stand in the way of pursuit of our short term interests.
exception to bombability occurred following Suharto’s 1975 invasion and occupation of East
Timor. This involved ethnic cleansing far beyond anything the Serbs or even Saddam Hussein
have ever perpetrated. But as our friend, with an open door and providing an investors
paradise, not only was Suharto not bombed, he was supplied the arms to kill, diplomatic
protection, and the necessary eye aversion in the U.S. and other western media.
In the midst of the western furor over the Serbs in
Kosovo, in October 1998 the Turkish army launched another pacification drive against the
Kurds in Eastern Turkey. In 1995 the New York Times acknowledged that the Turkish
army had been "using the F-16s and other American weapons to strafe Turkish
villages…killing thousands of civilians and leaving millions homeless" (ed.,
October 17, 1995). Turkey has also repeatedly invaded northern Iraq in extended campaigns
of pacification, not only killing alleged Kurdish "terrorists" but with its
troops "frequently reported to murder Kurdish villagers at random," engaging in
"beatings, looting and destruction of homes and property" of the civilian
population (Financial Times, August 8, 1995). Turkey is also notorious for the
institutionalized use of torture on prisoners of all kinds.
The Turkish torture, ethnic cleansing and invasions
have been an "embarrassment" to its allies (NYT, September 7, 1992), who
have urged Turkey to be nicer. Although the Turkish attacks on the Kurds have caused far
more death and destruction than Serb repression of ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo, have
been going on for years, and have also involved repeated invasions of another country
(Iraq), there has never been any call for bombings or even for monitoring of Turkish
actions by the U.S. or international community. In accord with the rules of the bombing
game, as a friendly power, with an open door and regularly obeying orders, Turkey has
"security concerns" that must be acknowledged, and it is not only not bombable,
it continues to receive U.S. aid and diplomatic support. In the midst of its further
assault on the Kurds, the European Commission has proposed giving Turkey an aid package of
$182 million "to help it prepare for European Union membership and strengthen a
customs union" (Financial Times, October 23, 1998). The Clinton administration
has exerted no pressure whatsoever on Turkey to stop killing Kurds. It goes without saying
that the mainstream U.S. media have given the Turkish ethnic cleansing minimal attention
and indignation and have failed to note the remarkable double standard.
Israel, of course, is even more closely allied to
and protected by the U.S. than Turkey, and is freer still to engage in ethnic cleansing
and cross-border invasions and raids, without fear of international sanction. For decades
Israel has been pushing Palestinians out of their homes in favor of Jewish settlers, and
has maintained a system of discriminatory housing and land ownership that has been
compared unfavorably to South African apartheid in the Israeli (but not U.S.) press (see Ha’aretz,
February 10, 1991). The homes of Palestinian protestors throwing stones are regularly
demolished, but following his murder of 29 Palestinians Baruch Goldstein’s home was left
intact. Torture has been used on a systematic basis for decades, the New York Times
acknowledging in passing (August 14, 1993) that 400-500 Palestinians were being so treated
per month. Well over a thousand Palestinians were killed and over 130,000 injured during
the Intifada protests against discrimination, in which Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin
instructed the Israeli army that they were free to enter Palestinian homes and beat men,
women, and children without fear of prosecution. No action against Israel was taken by the
international community in response to this brutal repression.
The state of
Israel has also repeatedly invaded Lebanon, relentlessly bombing and killing many
thousands of civilians and putting hundreds of thousands into flight. It has for many
years maintained a terrorist army in South Lebanon to serve its pacification interests
there. And Israel has felt free to make periodic punitive raids into Lebanon and to bomb
the country at its discretion.
cleansing within Israel, persistently violating international law as well as UN Security
Council resolutions, and the regular invasions and cross-border attacks against Lebanon,
have never led to Israel being threatened with bombing. It has never even been subjected
to any reduction in U.S. aid or the flow of supplies of bombs and other weapons to carry
out its repression and invasions. Although Israel has had towering military superiority
over the Palestinians and the neighbors which it has periodically invaded, Israel’s
behavior is justified by its allegedly serious "security concerns," whereas its
victims have none. Israel is also declared to be a victim of "terrorism" and its
massive ethnic cleansing and discrimination, and cross-border attacks, are
counter-terrorism and retaliation, by virtue of its status as a U.S. client state (even if
a case where the tail wags the dog). These truths are institutionalized in the U.S.
mainstream media, so that Israel can obtain subsidies to do things that would make an
enemy power extremely bombable.
Serbs are the latest in a long line of demonized bombables. Its president Slobodan
Milosevic is furiously denounced by editorialists as a world class villain, and
cartoonists can portray "the Serbs" as pigs without being reprimanded for
racism. The crimes for which the Serbs must be severely chastised, however, are frequently
equalled or exceeded by that of U.S. client states, who can remain beneficiaries of
western aid even while engaging in genocide in an invaded territory (Indonesia’s Suharto
regime in East Timor). Mass murder alone is not enough to merit demonization and
bombability. Behind the carefully channeled outrage lies the geostrategic interest of the
U.S. and its leading Western allies.
understanding is displayed for the "security concerns" that drive U.S. clients
to violence, instances of violence by the bombables are attributed to a defiant and
perverse desire to "test the resolve" of Western leaders. This unlikely motive
is played up, while any genuine fears of a country that finds itself singled out for
pariah treatment are ignored.
post-World War II leader Tito may have been a communist dictator, but his quarrel with
Stalin turned him into an ally of the West. Yugoslavia was relatively open and prosperous,
and received lavish Western credits. The resulting debt burden was a major factor in
splitting the country along economic and ethnic lines in the 1980s. Once the Soviet Union
collapsed, Yugoslavia lost its strategic interest to the U.S. The newly reunited Germany,
along with Austria, could resume its traditional hostility to a unified Yugoslavia,
sponsoring Croatian and Albanian nationalism against the Serbs. German clout forced rapid
international acceptance of an unnegotiated breakaway of Slovenia and Croatia, turning the
Yugoslav army into an "aggressor" on its own territory. For the Serbs, who had
seen Nazi German conquerors carve Yugoslavia into separate pieces in 1941, it was deja vu
all over again.
from media always on the lookout for villains, the U.S. soon got on board this
destabilization bandwagon, largely to reassert its leadership role in Europe, and also to
forge new ties with its closest Near Eastern allies (Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia) by
creating a new area of domination in the Balkans at the expense of what had been a
relatively autonomous and less amenable power. Yugoslavia, after all, had been known both
for its own special brand of "self-management socialism," in contrast to the
Soviet model, and for its international role as co-founder of the Non-Aligned Movement,
with close ties to Third World countries. These were aberrations that U.S. leaders were
only too happy to get rid of once and for all.
As ethnic Serbs
had been targeted for liquidation in the "Independent State of Croatia" (which
included Bosnia) run by the Nazi-backed Croatian Utasha movement during World War II,
German support for the breakaway of Croatia under a nationalist leadership openly
sympathetic to the Ustasha tradition, posed a real security threat to the large Serb
population in Croatia. This could only strengthen nationalist forces in Serbia. In various
ways, Western policy encouraged Croatian, Slovenian, and Albanian nationalist movements to
seek to exit from the Yugoslav state. By thus endorsing ethnic identity as the basis for
territorial sovereignty, the West encouraged all factions in Yugoslavia to seek spatial
domination–which entailed pushing out members of rival ethnic groups, often by murdering
them to scare the rest. The Serbs participated aggressively in this terrible process, but
they were not alone. Leaving aside the question of who started what and who killed and
drove out more people in the "ethnic cleansing" in Croatia and Bosnia between
1991 and 1995, what is certain is that the U.S. media focused on Serb crimes and played
down those committed by Croats and Muslims. There was no great display of moral
indignation in the media and from Western leaders when a quarter of a million Serbs in
Krajina were driven out of their homes by Croatian forces in August 1995 (with substantial
killing). In fact, those Croatian forces had been (illegally) rearmed with German weapons,
trained by U.S. "retired" generals and given the green light by the U.S.
ambassador. Moreover, it was just as this was happening that NATO designated the Serbs as
their first bombable target on the European continent since the end of the Cold War.
flared this year in the Serbian province of Kosovo, the most difficult trouble spot in all
the troubled Balkans, the West immediately reverted to its stance in Bosnia: the Serbs are
to blame and must be bombed. Knowing this, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which seeks
to detach Kosovo from Serbia and form a Greater Albania has a simple strategy. Depend on
Serbian repression to bring in NATO forces to attack the Serbs and allow the KLA to take
has been obvious and predictable from the start. For several years the KLA assassinated
not only policemen and Serbian officials, but also ethnic Albanians who opposed the
violent secessionist movement. In the summer of 1998 the Serbian security forces finally
took the bait and went into the Kosovo countryside to root out the KLA. As usual in such
cases, hapless civilians suffered and the guerrillas simply regrouped. Untold thousands of
civilians were driven from villages believed to be sheltering KLA fighters before security
forces battered down walls and set family compounds on fire. Between 500 and 1,000 people
have been killed in this conflict. Both sides have massacred civilians, with the stronger
Serb army very likely responsible for a disproportionate share. But only the Serb side is
threatened with any kind of NATO action.
In this way,
the U.S. propensity to bomb becomes an instrument that can be wielded even by a relatively
small armed rebellion to break up a recognized nation. The KLA may be the first
"liberation" movement in history to consider NATO its virtual air force. This
opens up new horizons for the uses of NATO.
armed forces have generously offered to take time off from destroying Kurdish villages in
and beyond Turkey’s borders to participate in NATO’s humanitarian crusade against the
Serbs for having done roughly the same, but on a much smaller scale and only within
of the West’s humanitarian concern is blatant. And in this case, Western policy has
actually fanned the flames of conflict. Whereas fair and friendly mediation is called for,
the West’s bias toward one side, and contradictory signals have made it virtually
impossible for the Serbs and Albanians to work out a solution among themselves.
Albanians say they want to secede. The West rules that out, as it would set a bad
precedent for the Bosnian Serbs who want to secede from Bosnia. Some Serbs suggest
partitioning Kosovo between Serbia and the Albanians. The West rules that out, as it would
set a bad precedent for Macedonia, where Albanians would then also want to secede. The
Serbs offer to negotiate without preconditions, the Albanians refuse to sit down at the
table, and the West thereupon threatenss to bomb the Serbs "to force them to the
provoked, Serbian security forces are almost surely guilty as charged of "using
excessive force." In its righteous indignation, NATO has assembled a mighty armada of
warplanes, stealth bombers, and cruise missiles which threaten to wipe out Yugoslavia’s
entire national defense capacity, including command and control centers. This is because
NATO abhors the use of "excessive force."