Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell is given credit for popularizing the “Pottery Barn” rule of foreign policy. Though he denies using that exact phrase, in arguing against what became the disastrous 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq Powell made the point that, as in Pottery Barn, “if you break it, you own it.”
Bush and his neocons—ironically with the help of Colin Powell himself—did indeed break Iraq and the American people as a result “owned” Iraq for the subsequent 22 years (and counting). It was an idiotic war and, as the late former NSA chief Gen. Bill Odom predicted, turned out to be “the greatest strategic disaster in American history.”
Attacking and destroying Iraq—and executing its leader—not only had no value in any conceivable manner to the United States, it had negative value. In taking responsibility for Iraq’s future, the U.S. government obligated the American people to pick up the tab for a million ransacked Pottery Barns.
There was no way out. Only constant maneuvering and manipulation to desperately demonstrate the impossible—that the move had any value or even made any sense.
So it is with Ukraine. In 2014 the Obama/Biden Administration managed to finish what Bush’s neocons started a decade before. With the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Ukrainian government that year, the U.S. came to “own” what no one in their right mind would ever seek: an economic basket case of a country with a political/business class whose corruption is the stuff of legend.
Rather than admit what a colossal blunder the whole thing had been, the U.S. foreign policy establishment doubled down.
“Oh, this might be a neat tool to overthrow our own election: let’s pretend Trump is Putin’s agent!”
In fact Trump was impeached because a certain Col. Alexander Vindman—himself of Ukrainian origin and doing the bidding of a Ukrainian government installed by Washington—solemnly testified to Adam Schiff and his Democrat colleagues in charge of the House that Trump was clearly Putin’s puppet because his lack of enthusiasm for continuing to “own” Ukraine went against “the Inter-Agency Consensus.”
We “own” Ukraine and there is no way back—at least if the U.S. foreign policy establishment has its way.
That is why our hapless State Department today continues to peddle the fiction that Russia is about to invade – and thus “own”—Ukraine. U.S. foreign policy is one of projection: accuse your rivals of doing what you yourself are doing. No sane country would want to “own” Ukraine. Except the Beltway Think Tank class, thoroughly infused with military-industrial complex money.
That is why the U.S. government, though its Embassy in Kiev, is bragging about the arrival of $200 million in lethal aid, all pointed directly at Russia.
That is why the U.S. State Department is maintaining the fiction that Russia is about to launch a ground war to occupy Ukraine by dramatically announcing an “evacuation” of all “non-essential personnel” from its Embassy in Kiev.
It’s just too bad that we don’t share the opinion of who are really “non-essential” State Department personnel in Kiev: the last person out could be asked to turn off the lights.
By overthrowing an elected government in Kiev in 2014, the U.S. government disenfranchised millions of voters in eastern Ukraine who voted for the overthrown president. Those voters unsurprisingly came to view the U.S.-installed regime as illegitimate and sought self-rule under the concept of self-determination. As ethnic Russians, many of these successfully sought Russian passports.
Russia has been clear for a long time about Ukraine: it will not allow an armed invasion of eastern Ukraine that would result in the deaths of thousands of Russian citizens. Were the shoe on the other foot, the U.S.—and any country—could be expected to react the same way.
The U.S. is nearly the last country on earth that still holds to the WWII-era concept of war for territorial gain. Russia wants to “own” Ukraine like most people want to “own” a 2003 Saturn. That is why despite neocon/neo-liberal hype, magnified by the lock-step U.S. media, Russia is not about to invade Ukraine.
This fantasy is being pushed by those who desperately need to continue to gin up enthusiasm for a thoroughly idiotic and counterproductive imperial enterprise.
Biden while vice president sowed the regime change winds in Ukraine. Now his inept Administration will reap the whirlwind of that continuing train wreck and eventual dissolution of the country. No matter what Antony Blinken peddles to the contrary.
Even the comedian Zelensky knows this is a really bad joke.
Archival institutions are not known to be pioneers of technological innovation. They are preoccupied with the past, after all. That is why censors still often black out classified information physically, with a marker, a piece of paper or whatnot.
The Israeli State Archives, on the other hand, have apparently been experimenting with virtual censorship tools. In the minutes of a cabinet meeting of Israel’s provisional government during its “War of Independence,” released following requests of the Akevot Institute, digital blackouts were included to cover the more problematic statements made by the Zionist leaders present. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently found out, however, these comments could be unveiled with a simple click. Woops! (Perhaps due to a similar technical error, I was able to access the paywalled Haaretz article once. Fortunately, the details can be found at Middle East Eye, too.)
The technical malfunction put the war-time document, dated July 1948, suddenly in an entirely different perspective. The censored version had shown David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister of the brand-new State of Israel, as saying that “I am against the wholesale demolition of villages.” But then, once the blackout was removed, there followed a “but.” Indeed, he quickly elaborated: “But there are places that constituted a great danger and constitute a great danger, and we must wipe them out. But this must be done responsibly, with consideration before the act.”
These comments are testimony of the well-documented ethnic cleansing of Palestine during Israel’s foundational war.1Ilan Pappe, The ethnic cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld Publications, 2006). In fact, the ‘wiping out’ of Arab forces and the “expulsion” of the Palestinians was officially sanctioned policy during the conflict. The censorship, which the Israeli State Archives claims to have been unintentional, is only the latest attempt to obscure this historical crime against humanity.
The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing
David Ben-Gurion is widely celebrated in Israel as the country’s founding father who led the war effort during and after the declaration of independence of May 14, 1948. Travelers flying to Tel Aviv today are immediately reminded of this historic figure as they land in Ben Gurion Airport. But the airport in fact predates the founding of Israel. Established in 1934, Arab and European airlines used Lydda Airport, as it was called before World War II, for local and transcontinental travel. In July 1948, however, the same month as the above-mentioned cabinet meeting, the Israelis seized the airport and gave it a Hebrew name: Lod Airport. In 1973, after Ben-Gurion’s death, it was renamed again to its present name in honor of Israel’s first prime minister.
This is just one tiny example of how Palestinian land—and Palestinian history for that matter—was ‘wiped out’ as a result of the 1948 war. This process, as well as the massive expulsion of Palestinians that went along with it, was not a haphazard outcome of the war, however. Rather, as this article argues, ethnic cleansing was at the root of the Zionist project and was implemented as policy by Ben-Gurion in the late 1940s.
From the very beginning, political Zionism implied the “transfer” of the indigenous population to other countries. In their early efforts to gain support from Western nations, Zionist leaders proclaimed that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land.” In reality, they knew that the first part of that slogan was a lie. The Palestinian people were like “the rocks of Judea, obstacles to be cleared on a difficult path,” as Chaim Weizmann, a prominent Zionist figure and future first president of Israel, put it in 1918.2Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians: the concept of ‘transfer’ in Zionist political thought, 1882-1948 (Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992), 5-48. Quote at page 17.
This dismissive attitude towards the pre-existing civilization in Palestine perhaps explains the early Zionist optimism surrounding the “Arab question.” Theodore Herzl, the founding father of political Zionism, believed that the Palestinians could be uprooted with non-violent methods. In 1895, he wrote that “we shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country.” The property owners, on the other hand, could easily be tricked into giving up their lands according to Herzl. “Let the owners of immovable property believe that they are cheating us, selling us something far more than they are worth. But we are not going to sell them anything back.”3Idem, 8-9.
The free market turned out not to be a very good ally, however. Only 5.8% of Palestinian land was under Jewish ownership by December 1947, more than half a century after Herzl’s remarks. Realizing that Jewish immigration, establishing kibbutzes and buying property was not enough, Zionist leaders soon turned to political and military means.
Political help was secured first. During the First World War, a great-power patron was found in Britain, which pledged to put its weight behind “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” in the so-called Balfour Declaration of 1917. When the British secured a League of Nations mandate over Palestine in 1922, words were followed by deeds. During the Mandate period, the British allowed for the creation of a Jewish Agency to function as a semi-governmental body while denying similar advantages to the Palestinians. As such, the Palestinians had to bear the brunt of two colonial movements simultaneously: a settler-colonialist movement in Palestine, aided and abetted by the world’s foremost colonial power in London.4Rashid Khalidi, The hundred years’ war on Palestine: a history of settler colonialism and resistance, 1917-2017 (Metropolitan Books, 2020), 17-54.
The more extreme branches of the Zionist movement, such as the “Revisionists” led by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, were the first to resort to military means. As far back as 1925, Jabotinsky wrote that “Zionism is a colonizing venture and, therefore, it stands or falls on the question of armed forces.”5Idem, 51. Since he was open about an “Iron wall of bayonets” that needed to separate Jews and Arabs, there was little confusion about the purpose of the paramilitary militias that Jabotinsky endorsed. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Irgun and the Stern Gang launched a terror campaign against Palestinian civilians (and British officials towards the end of the Mandate period) that left hundreds of casualties.
Lest these extreme forms of intimidation be seen as evidence that the need for ethnic cleansing was solely a right-wing policy aim, it was actually accomplished under the leadership of the dominant “Labor” branch of the Zionist movement. With the help of sympathetic British officers, the Jewish Agency was allowed to expand its military arm, the Haganah, during the Great Palestinian Revolt of 1936-1939. Meanwhile, the mainstream Zionist leadership, too, was gravitating towards a military solution to the “Arab Question.” Ben-Gurion, for instance, told his compatriots of the Jewish Agency in June 1938—ten years before the ‘wipe out’ comment—that “I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it.”6Pappe, The ethnic cleansing of Palestine, XI.
The Execution of Ethnic Cleansing
But how was this “compulsory transfer” to be accomplished? How, indeed, did the Zionists gain control over the majority of Palestine by the beginning of 1949 if a little over one year earlier they owned barely 5% of the land, the majority of which was concentrated in the cities? Here, the political and military clout they had built up over the years converged.
This time, foreign political help came from the recently founded United Nations, which, bear in mind, before decolonization in Africa and Asia was in large part a club of the Western Great Powers. These nations felt obliged to compensate the Jews for the Nazi Holocaust. In February 1947, the British decided to turn the fate of Palestine over to the UN. On November 29 of that year, after nine months of deliberation, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, which envisioned the partition of Palestine into two separate states. 56% of the land was to go to a Jewish state, while the Palestinians were left with only 43%. (A small enclave around Jerusalem was to become internationally governed.)
The Palestinians were vehemently opposed to partition, however. They considered it unfair since they held almost all of Palestine and had lived on their lands for generations. Moreover, while only 10,000 Jews would end up under Palestinian governance, 438,000 Palestinians—as well as hundreds of villages and the most fertile land—would end up under Jewish rule overnight. Leaving these Palestinians in the hands of an ideology which had openly vowed to de-Arabize Palestine contributed to the fate that was to befall them.
Indeed, the Palestinian and Arab rejection of the UN plan allowed the Zionist leadership to claim the moral upper hand. Ben-Gurion was a good tactician; like many of his successors, he kept the most extreme Zionist elements at bay and made sure to demonstrate to the outside world that the Jewish side, contrary to the Arabs, did accept the UN plan. Behind closed doors, however, he knew that the borders of the Jewish state “will be determined by force and not by the partition resolution.”7Idem, 36-7.
Still, the two-state solution created a huge problem that preoccupies Zionists until today: the so-called “demographic balance.” Jews would constitute only a tiny majority in the future Jewish state, and this did not stroke with the exclusionary Zionist ideology. As Ben-Gurion said in a speech a few days after the publication of the UN partition plan, “there are 40% non-Jews in the areas allocated to the Jewish state. This composition is not a solid basis for a Jewish state. […] Only a state with at least 80% Jews is a viable and stable state.”8Idem, 48.
And thus, the plan to ethnically cleanse Palestine was born. By the end of the year, parallel to an escalation in terrorist attacks by Irgun and the Stern Gang (and later on also the Haganah), Ben-Gurion gave the green light for lethal assaults on Arab villages. The object was clear: “Every attack has to end with occupation, destruction and expulsion.”9Idem, 64. In early March, ethnic cleansing was adopted as official policy in Plan Dalet (or Plan D), which sanctioned operations aimed at “destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in their rubble). […] In case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state.”
It is difficult not to read “in case of resistance” here as a silly pretext. Indeed, in a letter to the commanders of Haganah brigades, Ben-Gurion stated unequivocally that “the cleansing of Palestine [is] the primary objective of Plan Dalet.”10Idem, 128. Moreover, although there was certainly Palestinian armed resistance (and at times acts of retaliation), the systematic ethnic cleansing of 531 villages and eleven urban neighborhoods and towns that followed happened regardless of the presence and activity of Arab armed forces. Hundreds of civilians were killed in dozens of cold-blooded massacres, which, as intended, drove more than 750.000 Palestinians to flee beyond the territory under control of the Israelis. These refugees would never be allowed back in.
The Memory-Holing of Ethnic Cleansing
Like all subsequent assaults on Palestine, Israeli propaganda has done its best to try to paint the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1947-1949 as a defensive war. Echoing later proclamations that the Jews were about to be “driven into the sea,” Ben-Gurion and company justified their military action as a desperate attempt to stave off a “second Holocaust.” In private, however, Ben-Gurion was well aware of the superior military power of the Zionist forces. In a letter from February 1948, for instance, he wrote that “we can face all the Arab forces. This is not a mystical belief, but a cold and rational calculation based on practical examination.”11Idem, 46.
The Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, and Jordanian forces that entered Palestine following Israel’s declaration of independence in May 1948 almost exclusively operated in the areas allocated to the Palestinians under the UN partition plan. For the Jordanians, not crossing the UN-proposed borders was even part of a secret deal with the Jewish Agency. But even at defending those borders the Arab forces did a bad job. Indeed, after the war was over the Israelis controlled 78% of historic Palestine, having conquered almost half of the land that was supposed to become part of a Palestinian state. What was left was the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the first two of which were annexed by Jordan and the last by Egypt. In 1967, finally, Israel conquered and occupied these areas (as well as the Egyptian Sinai and Syrian Golan Heights), too.
In the procrastinated peace process that has dragged on ever since, the acceptance of the State of Israel within the 1949 armistice lines (the so-called “Green Line”) has formed a sine qua non for the Israelis. Everything that happened before 1967 is considered a fait accompli and is simply not on the negotiating table. Israel, with diplomatic help from its new great-power patron, the United States, to this day ignores UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which affirms the right of return for the millions of descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians it expelled between 1947 and 1949. Meanwhile, under Israel’s 1950 Law of Return, every Jew in the world has the right to “return” to Israel and acquire citizenship.
The fate of the Palestinians that the Israelis failed to expel beyond the borders of historic Palestine is perhaps even more tragic. Palestinians inside the State of Israel, which today make up around 21% of the population, live under a system of Apartheid. Palestinians living in the West Bank continue to live under occupation. And Palestinians in Gaza are confined to what is often called “the world’s largest open-air prison,” suffering at the hands of a devastating fifteen-year-old Israeli-Egyptian blockade and intermittent Israeli bombing campaigns.
The hawks are openly discussing killing Russians again. The last time this happened Donald Trump was running for President against a largely despised, pantsuit sporting war criminal. Confronted with these two alternatives, assuming he was the lesser of two evils, the American people elected the wild card Trump. Although, by early 2018, the Donald was bombing Russian mercenaries in Syria and Americans hardly blinked an eye.
Almost four years later, the Biden administration, members of the Senate in both parties, the CIA, NATO’s Secretary General, at least two former NATO supreme allied commanders, and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense are now, in various ways, advocating that Washington begin killing Russians.
Senate Democrats—led by Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the jingoist chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—introduced a bill that contains measures which if implemented would virtually commence total economic war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The bill would further impose sanctions to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and increase military aid to Ukraine by a whopping $500 million. The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act has already authorized $300 million in military aid to Kiev.
The Democrats’ military-industrial complex wish list includes “anti-armor weapon systems, mortars, crew-served weapons and ammunition, grenade launchers and ammunition, anti-tank weapons systems, anti-ship weapons systems, anti-aircraft weapons systems, and small arms and ammunition.”
The bill states that these policies can be triggered if President Joe Biden simply determines Moscow is “knowingly supporting” a “significant escalation” in “hostile action in or against Ukraine prior to December 1, 2021.”
On Fox News, Republican Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) boasted about potential “military action” such as putting U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine and always keeping “first use nuclear action” on the table. Additionally, he proposes having ships “stand off” in the Black Sea to “rain destruction on Russian military capability.”
With talks ongoing between the U.S. and Russia at the highest levels, there are reasons for both sides to deescalate and make concessions. There is reportedly an opportunity to restore the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, limit the scope of NATO as well as Russian military drills in Europe, limit the NATO troop presence on Russia’s borders, and prevent accidents occurring in the air and sea.
Reflecting D.C. politics’ pro war bias, the White House immediately walked back the President’s statement. The Commander in Chief’s handlers clarified, “President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.”
Alongside some fellow GOP senators from the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, Wicker recently insisted that it’s time, with enhanced U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine, to ensure “Vladimir Putin will get a bloody nose.”
Multi-millionaire Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), was recently part of a delegation, including Wicker, visiting Kiev. Blumenthal pledged the U.S. would “impose crippling economic sanctions, but more importantly, we will give the people of Ukraine the arms, lethal arms they need to defend their lives and livelihoods.”
GOP war hawks in the Senate want to send more anti-tanks missiles to Kiev. As Fox News reported, the “United Kingdom delivered short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine Tuesday—a move GOP lawmakers applauded and called on the Biden administration to increasingly emulate.”
Reportedly, at a secret base in the southern U.S., the CIA is training Ukrainian paramilitaries to “kill Russians” and—in the event of Putin’s allegedly imminent invasion—even launch an “insurgency.”
According to a de facto Langley press release in the form of a Yahoo News report, the spooks have not only been overseeing this training program under our noses but also deployed ground unit advisors to Ukraine.
The American people should now realize the foreign policy establishment and the Biden administration are warning Moscow that if they go through with their supposed plans to invade Ukraine, which Russia has denied all along, the killing of Russian forces will begin. One former supreme allied commander of NATO could hardly contain his blood lust.
“If Putin invades Ukraine with a major military force, U.S. and NATO military assistance—intelligence, cyber, anti-armor and anti-air weapons, offensive naval missiles—would ratchet up significantly,” said James Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral who was the supreme allied commander at NATO. “And if it turned into a Ukrainian insurgency, Putin should realize that after fighting insurgencies ourselves for two decades, we know how to arm, train and energize them.”
He pointed to American support for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion there in the late 1970s and 1980s, before the rise of the Taliban. “The level of military support” for a Ukrainian insurgence, Admiral Stavridis said, “would make our efforts in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union look puny by comparison.”
Both Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have warned their Russian counterparts in recent telephone calls that any swift Russian victory in Ukraine would probably be followed by a bloody insurgency similar to the one that drove the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. In discussions with allies, senior Biden officials have also made clear that the C.I.A. (covertly) and the Pentagon (overtly) would both seek to help any Ukrainian insurgency.
For a point of reference, it is estimated that at a million people were killed during “Operation Cyclone,” the CIA’s dirty war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Keeping with the Cyclone theme, Wesley Clark, former General and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, recently signed a letter encouraging the U.S. to arm Kiev with stinger missiles.
On the eve of the recent U.S.-Russia talks in Geneva, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia of “severe costs.” He told the Financial Times that if negotiations failed, NATO was prepared for “a new armed conflict in Europe.” Russia sent security proposals to Washington that precipitated bilateral talks with the U.S. and multilateral talks with NATO as well. The proposals include, perhaps most prominently, a demand that NATO officially rescind its promises of future alliance membership received by both Ukraine and Georgia at the 2008 Bucharest summit. Before the ink dries, brining either country into NATO would start a war that could end in planetary devastation and nuclear winter. NATO and the Americans flatly rejected the request.
Such spokespeople for the merchants of death always claim to hold the moral high ground. But when reporters at Newsweek asked Farkas about the Nazi problem in Kiev’s security forces her response was shocking. “They have right now existential issues to deal with, and the far-right groups are helping defend Ukraine,” she explained. “So at this moment in time, the Ukrainian government needs all the help it can get from its citizens, regardless of their ideology.”
Farkas ominously declares the U.S. ”must not only condemn Russia’s illegal occupations of Ukraine and Georgia, but we must demand a withdrawal from both countries by a certain date and organize coalition forces willing to take action to enforce it.”
With this kind of rhetoric, Farkas will surely be there on the front lines, sword in hand, with a Braveheart speech prepared to rally the “coalition forces.”
This unhinged agitation for war is very much in the spirit of ultra-hawk Dick Cheney who as Vice President, during the brief August 2008 war in Georgia, wished to drop bombs on Russians.
Then Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili indisputably provoked that conflict by attacking Russian peacekeepers protecting the autonomy of the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Russian forces were there because of a European Union brokered deal.
As Scott Horton, Director of the Libertarian Institute, has explained, Saakashvili was “incentivized” by “vague security assurances the Bush government had given his government that spring.”
Andrew Cockburn elaborates, “[Saakashvili’s] confidence may have been buoyed by back-channel assurances from minions of Vice-President Richard Cheney that the U.S. would in the end come to his aid.”
It was only a few months earlier that NATO promised Tbilisi and Kiev their future alliance membership.
The Americans also installed Saakashvili in power during the 2003 “Rose Revolution” and had provided Georgia with military aid for years.
Saakashvili was keenly aware of how U.S.-styled democracy works. As Cockburn has written,
To bolster his standing in the American capital, Saakashvili hired Randy Scheunemann, a Republican lobbyist and the executive director of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a neocon group formed in 2002 under the chairmanship of none other than Bruce Jackson, a senior Lockheed executive and president of the Committee to Expand NATO.
Scheunemann was a “close advisor” to the mega hawk Republican Senator John McCain who supported the Ukraine coup as well as inducting Tbilisi and Kiev into NATO. Then-presidential candidate McCain announced he told Saakashvili—after he had already started the war in 2008—“…today, we are all Georgians.”
The authors of the recently published, and previously mentioned, New York Times article describe this “conversation” as having “revived the specter of a new Cold War and suddenly made real the prospect of the beginnings of a so-called great power conflict.”
But after the Red flag came down, the American sore winners’ economic “shock therapy” devastated Russia, lowered the life expectancy of the population by double digits, allowed gangsters and oligarchs to loot entire industries and liquidate everything. As Horton has said, “…it was an economic war against Russia. Larry Summers and the Harvard Boys, what they did was as bad as dropping a couple of nukes on them.”
Despite repeated Western promises to the precise contrary, NATO’s eastward expansion has been ongoing since the 1990s and the anachronistic time bomb itself has nearly doubled in size. The U.S. has launched a plethora of color-coded revolutions in Russia’s near abroad including overthrowing the Kiev government twice in ten years, installing a Nazi infested regime on Russia’s very border, and keeping the door open to its full NATO membership. NATO has been constantly deploying warships and bombers to the Black Sea. The warships are often participating in massive military war games. The U.S. has ships in the Baltic Sea carrying medium range missiles. Of course, myriad sanctions have been levied against Moscow. Critical arms treaties such as Open Skies, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the INF Treaty have been unilaterally killed by successive GOP presidents. In Poland and Romania, the U.S. has so-called anti-ballistic missile sites with MK-41 launchers able to fit hydrogen bomb-tipped Tomahawks. The two previous presidents created a severe crisis by conducting massive expulsions of Russian diplomats and the neocons’ vast political and media influence has criminalized any notion of détente. The very concept may as well be treasonous.
Maybe what flies most flagrantly in the face of the claim that we are witnessing the “the beginnings of a so-called great power conflict” is the 2018 National Security Strategy which plainly states the War Department’s policy is “great power competition” or put differently, conflict, with Moscow and Beijing.
One of the most powerful weapons in the US Navy’s arsenal made a rare port call in Guam…
The USS Nevada, an Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine carrying 20 Trident ballistic missiles and dozens of nuclear warheads, pulled into the Navy base in the U.S. Pacific Island territory on Saturday. It’s the first visit of a ballistic missile submarine—sometimes called a “boomer”—to Guam since 2016 and only the second announced visit since the 1980s.
Since the end of the previous Cold War, Washington has rigidly adhered to a neoconservative ideology bent on world domination and endless wars. To this end, the U.S. maintains more than 800 military bases globally and has been morally and financially bankrupted. Across multiple continents, this century’s American mass murder campaigns have killed and displaced millions of people. In Iraq alone, more than a million people were killed. Yet the U.S. public has not held the ruling class war criminals to account, there has never been a reckoning.
Months after the withdrawal, Afghanistan’s children are deliberately being starved. Biden’s current policy, freezing billions of dollars in the Afghan government’s assets and maintaining sanctions on the Taliban, amounts to a macabre economic war. As with the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran, humanitarian exemptions mean nothing since few if any international banks, businesses, medical companies, or aid groups will risk the U.S. Treasury Department’s wrath. This lays bare 20 years of cynical humanitarian interventionist propaganda supporting a multi trillion dollar war which killed an estimated 241,000 people. Those same women and girls we used to hear so much about are being starved to death at the hands of the sore loser American hegemon.
In December, Dave DeCamp, news editor at Antiwar.com, reported,
In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan is facing a dire humanitarian crisis, which is being exacerbated by U.S. economic pressure. Citing the UN’s World Food Program, The New York Times reported that about 22.8 million Afghans—more than half of the country’s population—are expected to face life-threatening hunger this winter, and 8.7 million Afghans are “nearing famine.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. wants to benefit the Afghan people without benefiting the Taliban. But whether the U.S. likes it or not, the Taliban is now the government of Afghanistan. And history shows that U.S. sanctions and economic pressure do little to change the targeted government and always hurt the civilian population.
Taliban leaders are still under U.S. and UN sanctions, which discourage international businesses and banks from doing business with the new Afghan government, something Psaki explained.
Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, continues to be terror bombed and blockaded in a genocidal war ceaselessly waged by the American Empire and its Gulf dictatorship satellites. The U.N. conservatively estimates 377,000 people, mostly children, have been killed in this almost seven-year war. Trump vetoed war powers resolutions to end the war, Biden said he would stop it and has not. Less than a year into Biden’s term, investigative reporter Alan Macleod after studying the Pentagon’s sales records wrote “the Biden administration has already approved 20 separate weapons contracts, worth just shy of $1.2 billion, to Saudi Arabia alone.”
By the Deep State’s self-fulfilling prophecy, Russia and China must remain our perpetual enemies. Designedly, the American people have readily accepted this premise. Our fellow citizens seem to either despise China or Russia. While you are free to take your pick, the most obedient citizens are hawkish on both the Russians and the Chinese.
With the American public evidently bored with brutalizing Muslim countries, though unfortunately not bored enough to stop, we seamlessly move on to the next enemies, the next build ups, the next wars. Trillions of dollars are continually diverted from peaceful and productive use and poured into what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern refers to as MICIMATT (the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex). This money funds the consensus that Washington’s sphere of influence extends the world over. Moscow and Beijing’s red lines be damned. It is common now to hear discussion of an impending war with China over Taiwan. Likewise, agreeing not to bring Kiev into NATO is viewed as “appeasement.”
Americans will have to soon give up their favorite drugs of apathy, partisanship, and blissful ignorance. The fights and wars our ruling elite are now picking threaten to kill us too. Last November, the U.S. brazenly simulated a nuclear attack on Russia, flying strategic bombers less than 13 miles off its borders. Voting will not suffice, we must recognize this global hostage situation for what it is, and make difficult decisions about how to finally end the American Empire.
The U.S. is giving Ukraine an additional $200 million in military aid that was approved by the Biden administration in December, a senior State Department official confirmed with reporters on Wednesday. The additional military aid was announced while Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv.
The official didn’t detail what military equipment would make up the new aid package. Since 2014, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with over $2.5 billion in military aid. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. started giving Ukraine lethal weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and armed patrol boats.
With the constant U.S. claims of a Russian invasion, Washington is eager to give Ukraine weapons. On top of the $200 million, the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes another $300 million for military aid to Ukraine. A group of Senate Democrats recently introduced a bill that would authorize an additional $500 million for Ukraine if the president determines Russia is being hostile towards its neighbor.
This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.
As we enter the third year of the pandemic, every child age 5 and up is eligible to receive a COVID vaccine in the United States. Oddly, this development has been accompanied by increased pressure on kids to wear masks in school. Some private schools have gone beyond cloth-masking and mandated N95 (or equivalent) masks for children as young as 4. The Berkeley Unified School District in California recently began transitioning students to N95-level masking. This isn’t a matter of protecting children, their teachers, or their grandparents; it’s delusional and dangerous cultlike behavior.
The way to reduce scientific uncertainty when it comes to practices like masking young children is to conduct randomized studies. When it comes to masking kids in schools, the global scientific community has launched no such studies during the pandemic. The U.K. government recently commissioned a report on the efficacy of masks in school settings, which failed to identify any clear evidence in favor of this practice. Moreover, the authors write:
“Wearing face coverings may have physical side effects and impair face identification, verbal and non-verbal communication between teacher and learner. This means there are downsides to face coverings for pupils and students, including detrimental impacts on communication in the classroom.”
It was 103 years ago, to the week, that the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified which made the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors a criminal offense. One year later its companion statute to enact and enforce the amendment, Volstead Act, went into effect.
Ask any American why only 12 years later the Twenty-first Amendment was passed, making it the sole example in the history of our constitutional republic where an amendment was ratified for the sole purpose of un-amending the Constitution. They will all give you a fairly similar and fairly accurate litany of reasons: you can’t legislate morality, you can’t escape the natural law of supply meeting demand, what you can’t buy honestly you will procure illicitly, it didn’t greatly reduce alcohol consumption but did increase public corruption and violent crime, people were regularly poisoned by the adulterants criminals added to moonshine or by denatured alcohol, disrespect for bad laws fosters disrespect for good laws, etc.
Despite this fairly universal comprehension of the failures of prohibition (which if you stop and think about it have everything to do with human nature and market forces) you will find a sizeable minority of people across the country who will insist our current drug prohibition is somehow different despite the fact you can find superfluous examples of the very same ills that brought prohibition to an end.
For brevity’s sake I will admit to my own bias here. These sorts of utilitarian arguments are, at best, superfluous.
All it takes to understand the follies of drug prohibition is a knowledge of the principles of libertarian ethics; individual liberty, self-ownership, and the non-aggression principle.
Since actions are the result of conscious choices, individuals have ownership rights in their person and they—and they alone—have the sole liberty to decide how to use their body. Applied practically, self-ownership manifests itself in the non-aggression principle (NAP) and the free market; that no individual, or group of individuals, may forcibly restrict liberty unless they themselves violate the NAP by aggressing against others (like theft, rape, murder, fraud, pollution). The NAP is universal, treats everyone as equals before the law, and does not excuse this rule even if you call yourself the IRS, the U.S. Marines, or a corporation.
A simple application of this philosophy says that drugs should be decriminalized not due to the horrendous legacies of drug prohibition, but because you own your body and have the right to put whatever you want into it. Not that you should consume hard drugs (or smoke, consume alcohol, drink soda, and eat fatty foods), but no one may legally deny you that right. Without choice, there can be no virtue. To tell someone what they can or can’t consume is like telling them what they can or can’t read.
Unfortunately, a priori reasoning is not as persuasive to others as it necessarily is for libertarians. Fortunately both the historical truth of alcohol prohibition and the current drug war support the wisdom of the libertarian position.
I doubt anyone can sincerely believe the unintended negative externalities of alcohol prohibition don’t apply to today’s drug war. But sincere or not, that doubt is still sometimes claimed.
To comprehend the enormity of the drug policy failure let’s look at a few statistics of self-evident importance:
The “War on Drugs” has cost American taxpayers $2.5 trillion
The annual costs alone is, at minimum $47+ billion
In 2018 arrests for violation of federal drug laws was 1,654,282
Of these arrests 1,429,299 were merely for possession (accounting for 86% of all drug law arrests)
In 2018 arrests for marijuana were 663,367 (that’s 40% of all arrests)
Of these 608,775 were solely for possession of marijuana (that’s 92% of all marijuana arrests)
Bear in mind that in 2018 nine states and the District of Colombia had made recreational marijuana legal, a further thirteen had decriminalized marijuana possession, and there were only four states that did not have laws allowing for medical marijuana.
The Failure of Prohibition
Prohibition, of course, did not stop drinking in the United States. Although per capita alcohol consumption did drop sharply during the early years of Prohibition, by the latter half of the 1920s tt had rebounded to 60-70% of its pre‐Prohibition level and remained steady before and after repeal. Certainly crime did not decrease. According to one study, crime in 30 major cities increased 24% between 1920 and 1921. In Philadelphia alone, drunkenness‐related arrests nearly tripled from 20,443 in 1920 to 58,517 in 1925. The national homicide rate climbed from about 7 per 100,000 people in 1919 to nearly 10 per 100,000 by 1933, and then it dropped sharply after repeal.
Domestic moonshine and industrial alcohol provided the majority of the alcohol consumed during Prohibition. Moonshiners would distill neutral grain spirits in hidden stills and then attempt to mimic the color and flavor of whiskey or gin with additives called congeners. Industrial alcohol, denatured by government order to make it undrinkable, was typically repassed through a still to remove the poisons, but not always successfully. Thus, between 1925 and 1929, 40 out of every 1 million Americans died from toxic liquor.
That these statistics are so readily available and many people remain baffled by the rise in fentanyl-related heroin overdoses is mind boggling.
Prohibition also failed on its own terms. Instead of putting a stop to problem drinking, it criminalized it, making it more dangerous in the process. Prohibition created a violent black market for alcohol that helped empower and enrich violent criminals. Problem drinkers continued to imbibe. Many drinkers switched from relatively low-proof beer to much higher-proof alcohol, which was easier to transport.
In early 1930, The Outlook and Independent magazine wrote:
The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company has published the fact that the alcoholic death rate among their nineteen million policy holders has increased nearly six hundred percent in the last ten years—double what it was in 1918, and approximately the same as in the years preceding. This removes the last doubt from the mind of any reasonable person that the time has come to move for the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.
During Prohibition, the death rate from acute alcohol poisoning (due to overdose) was more than 30 times higher than today.
Criminal Justice Reform
Criminal justice reform is a subject everyone left, right, and center claims it believes in. Research shows what would easily be the most beneficial single act of criminal justice reform: end the War on Drugs.
Our government has spent trillions of dollars trying to stop drug use. It hasn’t worked. More people now use more drugs than before the “war” began. What drug prohibition did is exactly what alcohol prohibition did a hundred years ago: increase conflict between police and citizens. “It pitted police against the communities that they serve,” says neuroscientist Carl Hart, former chair of Columbia University’s Psychology department, who grew up in a tough Miami neighborhood where he watched crack cocaine wreck lives. When he started researching drugs, he assumed that research would confirm the damage drugs did.
But “one problem kept cropping up,” he writes in his book Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, “the evidence did not support the hypothesis. No one else’s evidence did either.” After 20 years of research, he concluded, “I was wrong.” Now, he says, our drug laws do more harm than drugs. Because drug sales are illegal, profits from selling drugs are huge. Since sellers can’t rely on law enforcement to protect their property, they buy guns and form gangs. Cigarettes harm people, too, but there are no violent cigarette gangs—no cigarette shootings—even though nicotine is more addictive than heroin, says our government. That’s because tobacco is legal. Likewise, there are no longer violent liquor gangs. They vanished when prohibition ended.
Fortunately, there are some real-world alternatives to the dominant approach of criminalization and harsh enforcement in the United States. In 1999 Portugal had the highest rate of drug-related AIDS and the second highest rate of HIV in the European Union. In response it decided in 2001 to decriminalize drug use and the results have been dramatic. The number of people voluntarily entering treatment programs rose dramatically, while the number of HIV infections, drug overdoses, incarceration rates and AIDS have plummeted.
The Portuguese model, while falling short of full legalization for adults, does provide some empirical data to support a policy which treats drug use as a public health problem rather than a crime problem. Its approach is to offer treatment, rather than incarceration, and makes sterile syringes readily available. Possession for small amounts for personal use are non-prosecutable but trafficking in large quantities which cause death or serious bodily harm carry prison sentences.
To give some examples of how the Portuguese model has fared vs. the American one, consider the following statistics:
Overdose deaths in Portugal declined by over 80 percent after decriminalization
Incarceration rates for drug offenses in Portugal fell by over 40% between 1999 and 2016
In 2015 in Portugal there were only three overdose deaths per 100,000
In 2017 in the United States there were 21.7 deaths per 100,000 (totalling 72,000 people), an overdorse rate of more than six times that of Portugal
For today’s policymakers and policy influencers, Prohibition remains a cautionary tale about government overreach. It was a dysfunctional and badly run system predicated on ugly, populist notions and deluded ideas about the power of government to solve social problems. Not only did it fail to accomplish its goals, it created a host of unintended consequences that were worse than the problems it was supposed to solve.
The straightforward lessons of Prohibition are obviously applicable to any number of public policy issues making headlines today, from the opioid crisis to marijuana legalization to immigration, and our elected leaders would be wise to heed them.
So yes, the anniversary of Prohibition is a warning of all the ways that government policies can go wrong, and the lasting damage the worst of those policies can do. But its eventual reversal and tainted legacy also offer reasons for hope. Prohibition’s end is a reminder that the very worst policies, no matter their scale, aren’t locked in place, and we aren’t stuck with them forever.
This isn’t an original thought. For decades there has been competition for your mind and attention on a multitude of fronts. With the popularity of social media and the twenty-four-hour news cycle the efforts have only accelerated.
The speed at which information travels today is exhausting. Information overload is a real thing, and everyone is feeling it.
The other day, a young man approached me and said, “Man, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I used to have so much energy, but ever since COVID I feel so tired all the time.”
At twenty-five years old, he should be hitting his prime, but instead he’s burdened by the weight of the ever-changing narratives, lies, and gaslighting coming at him from every direction.
Even as I sit here, I know the message I wish to convey, but my mind is a jumbled mess of information that is peripherally relevant to the burdens of the modern age.
How does one discern what to pay attention to and what to ignore?
Over the last few years (after Trump’s surprising victory) the decision as to what information and news the masses ingest is being monitored by the elites and corporate press. The rise of alternative media, especially large podcasts, has fueled their panic, and pushed their attempts to control the narrative into overdrive.
The big tech companies took it upon themselves to determine what was allowable discourse. They ran mass censorship campaigns against anyone that said anything that challenged the power and prestige of the elites. What was once common speech among friends and colleagues is now hate speech. Comedians, politicians, and independent media personalities were depersoned and ostracized from the public square, social media platforms.
In their attempts to control the information the elites are creating more division among the citizens. Soon there will be parallel societies in operation in these United States.
In J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night an underground economy has been created by Agorists. The competing gray-market thrives while central planners destroy the nation’s economy. As the financial system crumbles the state attempts to crush the Agorists, but they’ve so effectively created a parallel marketplace that the state is helpless to stop the tidal wave. The state fails under the weight of its policies and the competing underground market.
All the while we were meant to believe that the virus made it too deadly for you to live your life while the rich got richer by the day, and if you questioned the motives of the COVID regime you were labeled a dangerous, science denying, right-wing conspiracy theorist that must be silenced.
This demonization of people, some very liberal, as right-wing, labeling half of the country as backwards hicks, and the unwillingness to allow people to choose their own risks created the environment for conservatives to become ever more rebellious to the regime. COVID transformed from a potentially deadly virus that people should be aware of to a political battle. One was either on the left, embracing the dictates of the political class and enrichment of their corporate masters, or they were on the right, battling the tyranny and carving out their own economic paths.
Unfortunately, the gaslighting didn’t start with COVID.
It would be impossible to trace back all of the propaganda of the U.S. government and how it has been utilized to rob people of their liberties, so I’m going to focus on the era at hand.
The modern era of gaslighting the public, and the way we see this psychological tactic used today was a response to Donald Trump’s presidency.
For years we listened to Democrats and media personalities decry Trump as a traitorous Russian puppet. When no charges were filed the pundits were in tears because the incompetent boob that couldn’t read presidential briefings had outsmarted the FBI. And though we’ve found out that the entire Russia investigation around Trump was a plot cooked up by the DNC and FBI there are those that still claim the most incompetent president ever is a brilliant criminal mastermind. (But you’re the crazy one.)
When you say they are counting “with” COVID as “because” of COVID, you are crazy.
When BLM protested the virus couldn’t spread, but when conservatives rally or protest it is a super spreader event.
Natural immunity is no longer a thing and locking yourself in a dark room with bonbons is much healthier than going outside and exercising.
Everything you thought you knew is wrong, and the new science of totalitarianism is the truth.
Etc…I could go on all day.
The point is, the facts are not the facts until those with the monopoly on facts tell you that the facts are in fact the facts, and if you dare read, think, question, or disobey you are a dangerous biological weapon wanting to kill grandma.
You Are Not Alone
The effects of COVID, political oppression, and the corporate press’ agenda are evident in the eyes of everyone I encounter. The average person that does not regularly engage in political discourse or question authority has been completely demoralized and feels like they have nowhere to turn. They feel alone. They feel silenced. They feel insane.
If you’ve read this far, I suspect you, like me, are looking for people that are witnessing and feeling the pressure of the regime and are ready to push back against the narrative.
The fact is you are not alone. Millions of people around the world feel just as you do.
So, how can you fight back?
It would be easy to write a rant that left you seething and not offer any solutions, but I refuse to do that. Before we get to the solution, we must identify the problem.
America was founded on the idea of self-governance. As imperfect as the founding of the country was it was the founding of an idea to move forward and progress into more freedom and liberty for its citizens. God, family, and country were the hallmarks, and order of importance for which we were to live our lives and build the nation.
Over the last century the myth (by myth I mean the origin story not the derogatory perversion of the term) of God has been corrupted and dismantled, the family has been destroyed, and the idea of country has come to mean that your well-being is given its value and purpose by those elected to represent you.
The political class of parasites that feed on your labor and successes have spent the last few generations selling out the future for their own gains and comforts. Your children and grandchildren are expected to be sacrificed on the altar of their desires.
Parents are no longer expected to sacrifice themselves for the well-being of the children’s future, rather, children are to be tortured and psychologically abused by society so that the boomer generation may have everlasting life.
The destruction of trust in the political system and the corporate press has trickled down and eroded trust among Americans. Even those that should be allies are suspect of each other.
There is no more community structure in which citizens feel like they belong. The illusion of power and respectability of government is the only thread holding any of this together; the same government selling out the future to corporate interests.
If we are to retain any semblance of civility and liberty it is up to us to begin to repair the fractures that have torn families, communities, and allies apart. We must begin to interact and engage in our local communities, boycott corporations like Amazon, Walmart, Costco, and the U.S. government. Involve yourself in local elections, buy from your local markets, seek out small, specialized companies, and reject the lazy one stop shopping with the goal of strengthening the bonds of your community.
As long as we allow ourselves to be secluded and divided for convenience the power reserved for the people will continue to be consolidated. You are not alone, but if you don’t work to build and strengthen the bonds with those that share your values, ideas, and desire for liberty you may as well be.
Twenty years ago, on January 11, 2002, the prison at Guantánamo Bay (GITMO) admitted its first round of post-9/11 terrorist suspects. Two recent films, The Mauritanian (2021) and The Forever Prisoner (2021), chart parts of the ugly history of the facility, during which acts of torture were rebranded by officials as “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT) and inflicted on at least 119 of the 780 men held at GITMO over the course of the Global War on Terror. The story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was cleared for release in 2010 but remained incarcerated for another seven years as the Obama administration appealed the decision, is relayed in director Kevin Macdonald’s film The Mauritanian. The story of Abu Zubaydah, who remains incarcerated still today, is covered by Alex Gibney’s film The Forever Prisoner.
Many other men were abused in prisons such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Bagram in Afghanistan, in addition to an array of “black sites” erected around the world in collaboration with “torture-friendly” governments. The CIA’s EIT program was commissioned and approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government, and deemed legal by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo. The practices included waterboarding (which mimics drowning), slamming detainees’ heads against the wall, rectal feeding, confining naked suspects in small boxes along with insects, depriving them of sleep for days on end, and forcing them to endure extremely cold temperatures while naked. Some of the victimized men died, and while a number of deaths were characterized by the powers that be as suicides, at least one prisoner was acknowledged to have died of hypothermia as a direct result of the conditions he was forced to endure.
The nightmarish series of abuses to which these men were subjected were claimed by the architects and orchestrators of the EIT program to be supported by “the science” and sure to save American lives. At least twenty-six of the victims of torture held in GITMO were later determined to have been captured in error in what were most charitably interpreted as overzealous efforts to thwart the next terrorist attack. Bounty hunter greed and/or penury appears also to have played a significant role in the erroneous capture of thousands of innocent men throughout the War on Terror.
A thorough investigation of classified CIA documents eventually culminated in the 2014 release of the “Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.” This 712-page document, which has come to be referred to colloquially as “The Torture Report,” includes a 500+ page executive summary of the thousands of pages of the original report instigated by committee chair Senator Diane Feinstein and prepared over a period of several years by her staffer Daniel Jones, among others. The investigation was undertaken in response to the revelation that the CIA had destroyed films of some of the detainees being victimized. The story of how The Torture Report was commissioned and eventually released is relayed in the 2019 film The Report (directed by Scott Z. Burns), which offers shocking insights into the lengths to which the CIA—including the director at the time of the report’s release, John Brennan—were willing to go in order to absolve themselves from allegations of wrongdoing.
Faced with the findings of the report, some of those involved, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former CIA Deputy Director for Operations José Rodriguez, continued to deny that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were morally repugnant forms of torture. Others employed by the U.S. government during that period, including John Brennan, claimed that they had expressed moral reservations about the program, although there is no written evidence to that effect, and the director of the CIA at the time, George Tenet, has publicly denied that he was ever approached with such objections. The EIT program proved in any case to be tactically nugatory, at best.
According to the report’s authors, none of the ghastly procedures deployed resulted in actionable intelligence used to thwart terrorist attacks. Some of the men were entirely innocent and so obviously had no information to share; others told interrogators only information which had already been obtained from other sources or which had already gone stale; and some of the men simply made up stories so as to call a halt to the torture. Most notoriously, the false claim that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Al Qaeda was obtained through torture and used to rationalize the misbegotten 2003 war on Iraq.
In response to the Senate committee’s report, President Obama, to his credit, publicly admitted that “We tortured some folks,” and issued Executive Order 133491, “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations.” The order references the Geneva Conventions and explicitly prohibits the barbaric activities perpetrated by U.S. government employees and contractors under the guise of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Notwithstanding Obama’s rhetorical efforts to restore the image of the United States as a beacon of human rights, the president never delivered on one of his primary campaign promises, to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. He also declined to prosecute any of the torturers. Obama did stop sending new prisoners to the facility, and some of the remaining prisoners were released and sent to other countries for processing and rehabilitation.
The primary obstacle to Obama’s closure of GITMO was claimed by his apologists to be the political opposition he encountered to the prospect of suspects’ standing trial in the United States, which was thought by some to risk the increased incidence of terrorist attacks in the homeland. Concerns were also raised that some of the prisoners may have been made more dangerous by the torture to which they were subjected. Indeed, it was thought by some that even men who were not previously connected to terrorist groups, having been captured and imprisoned on the basis of faulty intelligence, may have been radicalized by the dramatic proof of the evil nature of the U.S. empire which they themselves had personally witnessed.
The Guardian recently reported that some of the men removed from GITMO and relocated to other countries have been stuck in legal limbo for years, unable to return to normal life because they have not been cleared for release by the governments of those countries. Others have found themselves unemployable and therefore unable to reassimilate into civil society. But they are still alive, which cannot be said of the many suspects pegged during the eight years of Obama’s presidency and labeled “Enemy Killed in Action” (EKIA) after having been dispatched by missiles launched from drones on the basis of purely circumstantial evidence of possible future complicity in possible future terror plots. We have Daniel Hale, the drone program whistleblower now serving a federal prison sentence, to thank for sharing documents revealing that suspects were effectively defined by the Obama administration as guilty until proven innocent before being summarily executed.
A number of politicians in addition to Obama, including the instigator of the Torture Report, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam, spoke out against torture, agreeing with Obama that “That’s not who we are.” In addition to straightforward moral concerns about abusing human beings, some politicians and military officers aired concerns that such practices could also endanger U.S. troops, who when taken prisoner might be subjected to similarly cruel techniques.
Shockingly, however, some of the most vociferous denouncers of torture, including Senators Feinstein and McCain, continued enthusiastically to support the far more ghastly practice of summary execution without trial of suspects, often unnamed, on the basis of purely circumstantial evidence, even when the targets were neither bearing arms nor located in war zones. The Obama administration itself reported in 2016 that they had ended the lives of between 2,372 and 2,581 of such men “outside areas of active hostilities,” in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan (not the active war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria) where there were no uniformed U.S. soldiers on the ground to protect.
Having spoken out about the crimes committed by the Bush administration, Obama opted not to take as prisoners the suspects identified by his own administration using the very same forms of evidence which had served as the basis for capturing and imprisoning thousands of men during the first eight years of the War on Terror. It is therefore essential to observe here that 732 of the 780 men incarcerated at GITMO were eventually released without charges. Because the types of circumstantial evidence being used to peg suspects did not change under Obama, and continued to include intelligence obtained from bribed informants (human intelligence or HUMINT), and cellphone SIM card data and drone video footage (signals intelligence, or SIGINT), we have grounds for believing that many of the thousands of men executed rather than captured during Obama’s presidency, were, too, innocent.
President Obama had a choice to make in the light of the revelation that longterm detention and torture did not yield actionable intelligence. But rather than capture suspected militants and treat them humanely, detaining them in circumstances conducive to proper judicial processing, respecting their rights and acknowledging the very real possibility that they might in fact be innocent, his administration instead defined them as guilty until proven innocent and executed them using lethal drones.
Mentored by his drone-killing czar, John Brennan, Obama became known as the “drone warrior president,” who revved up a veritable “killing machine” to eliminate nearly all of the terror suspects identified as such during his eight-year term as president. Obama and Brennan (promoted to director of the CIA in 2013), opted to use lethal drones to execute suspects on hit lists generated by a vast network of government employees and private contractors who collected and analyzed HUMINT and SIGINT. These hit lists were reviewed by the president himself during what were termed “Terror Tuesday” meetings in which nominees for execution were evaluated on the basis of flash card presentations.
When the Obama administration located and executed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, the president was praised by many U.S. citizens. Later that year, he proceeded to act on the political capital he had garnered to take the drone program to a qualitatively new level, executing even U.S. citizens without indictment or trial. He authorized the killing of not only Anwar al-Awlaki, a formerly moderate Muslim cleric arguably radicalized by the War on Terror itself, and Samir Khan, a propagandist, but also, two weeks later, al-Awlaki’s sixteen-year-old son, Abdulrahman, along with a group of his teenage friends.
I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.
The gravity of this normalization of summary execution of suspects and their associates (including family members) appears to have escaped altogether those who throughout the Trump presidency waxed nostalgically about the “good old days” when mild-mannered, anti-torture Obama was president. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump vowed not only not to close GITMO, but also that he would fill up the facility with “bad dudes.” In reality, once president, Trump simply followed Obama’s lead, putting his newly appointed defense secretary, James “Mad Dog” Mattis on a very long leash and essentially allowing the killing machine—not only the drone program but also special operations forces—to eliminate anyone anywhere suspected of connections to “bad dudes.” Trump, like Obama, killed one of the children of Anwar al-Awlaki. In Trump’s case the victim was an eight-year-old girl, Nawar al-Awlaki, who was destroyed by U.S. special forces during a raid in Yemen, where both her father and her brother had been killed by drones.
Predictably enough, the norms governing state homicide were loosened yet again when President Trump, in his usual swagger-filled attempt to outdo his predecessor, openly vaunted his assassination of Qassim Soleimani, an Iranian general who was located in Iraq at the time. Before the War on Terror, assassination was widely regarded, even by U.S. officials, as illegal. President Bush may bear primary responsibility for the torture program, but we have President Obama to thank for having normalized the premeditated, intentional execution of persons believed by their killers to be dangerous, even when they are unarmed and located outside areas of active hostilities. This sleight of hand was accomplished through putting the CIA in charge of the drone program, ironically the very organization which had presided over the practices denounced in The Torture Report.
In the case of summary execution by drone of suspects, the CIA operated for years under its usual cloak of secrecy, allowing it to evade congressional oversight. As many critics of the drone program have observed (myself included), the decision to enlist the CIA to run the killing machine outside areas of active hostility was in all likelihood an effort to evade accusations of war crimes, to which the military itself would have been subject. In abject violation of the Geneva Conventions, the targets of drone strikes are not provided with the opportunity to surrender or lay down their arms, nor to defend themselves against allegations based on faulty intelligence. In other words, this slick rebranding of assassination as “targeted killing” also violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to which suspects are to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Instead, the “principle” governing the premeditated, intentional execution of specific persons at the caprice of the killers is tantamount to “Everything is permitted.”
Leaders rarely cede power unless forced to do so, and U.S. military leaders have long aimed to maximize both efficiency and lethality, so it should come as no surprise that President Joe Biden has taken up the drone-killing mantel to continue fecklessly on with the same policies vaunted by Obama as “smart war.” One horrifying example of the general laxity of standards in the use of lethal force by the U.S. government, regardless of who is in charge, was the incineration on August 29, 2021, of ten civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan, on the basis of intelligence according to which people who drive white Toyota Corollas and move stuff around town might be planning to bomb the airport. A Pentagon investigation into the case concluded that no wrongdoing had been committed, as the perpetrators had abided by standard protocols and followed their rules of engagement. As a direct result of the manner in which the drone program has evolved through four presidencies, the impunity long enjoyed by the CIA for what once were plausibly deniable acts of lawless killing has in this way been transferred to the military as well.
Torture is inhumane, barbaric, and immoral. It harms the victims both physically and psychologically, and it degrades the perpetrators, who are corrupted by their atrocious treatment of fellow human beings. We should accordingly welcome films such as The Mauritanian, The Forever Prisoner, and The Report, which aim to illuminate some of the many crimes committed in our names and using our tax dollars. Let us not, however, be distracted by the heartfelt denunciations of torture by some government officials from the even more egregious practices which some of them continue to champion.
As objectionable as torture may be, its perpetrators can still be conceptualized as having chosen misguided means to the acquisition of what they believed would be actionable intelligence needed to thwart imminent terrorist attacks. In contrast, the summary execution of unarmed suspects located outside areas of active hostilities, and identified as such on the basis of purely circumstantial evidence, serves no tactical or strategic aim whatsoever. It is evil, pure and simple: the intentional, premeditated annihilation of human beings denied all human rights, from the right to surrender, to the right to defend themselves against false claims that they have committed crimes.
Substituting drone killing of suspects for longterm detention and torture may seem superficially less objectionable to the untutored populace, but as is so often the case, appearance diverges starkly from moral reality. Through linguistic neologism and rebranding, conjoined with the development of technologies which have made it possible to kill anyone anywhere, through the push of a button from thousands of miles away, the atrocious practice of torture has been supplanted by the intrinsically evil and tyrannical practice of summary execution without indictment or trial. Is this who we are?
Scott is joined by the heroic whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg to talk about a recent press release he helped put out calling for the abolition of land-based nuclear missiles in the United States. Before getting to that, Scott and Ellsberg discuss how his Pentagon Papers leak contributed to the end of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg then draws on his experience as a nuclear war planner to explain the crazy and perilous thinking behind post-WWII nuclear deterrence plans. They also discuss his most recent leak of classified documents that show how close the U.S. came to starting a nuclear war over Taiwan in the late 1950s.
Discussed on the show:
“Organizations Call for Elimination of ‘Launch on Warning’ Land-Based Nuclear Missiles in the United States” (Common Deams)
“The enemy was nowhere, but everywhere.”- Dan Rather, CBS News Report, Saigon, 1968
As the world approaches a period of unmanned systems, automation, and perhaps in many fields human obsolescence, warfare marches into its own future of certain uncertainty. Despite the great leaps in technology, warfare is very much the domain of the imperfect human. Perhaps in the not too distant future artificial intelligence will guide and “man” killing machines against one another and human beings. Engineers and geniuses will create and devise such killing machines to ensure that governments stay standing and expand their reach while always ensuring that there is profit from the techno-violence. But technologically inferior humans will resist and perhaps overcome as they always have.
The Vietnam War has been described as a “technowar,” a war of managers and planners who utilized their technological supremacy against a peasantry and second class enemy that resisted despite many short comings. For the planners and engineers, technology and complicated systems were the answer. Technology and superior ideas and methods are often the wisdom and hubris by which great powers wage wars. At times they will achieve victory, eradicating the enemy and absorbing them into their nation or empire. And when the great fail against the weak, a litany of reasons are sought but never are the will and resilience, determination and conviction of those defending ever properly appreciated until it is too late.
Twenty years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the United States military went home and in many ways the status quo returned to the region despite so much effort and loss. A horrible war by any measure. The objectives of the invaders, whether Soviet in the past or NATO in the more recent era, were never truly distinct. The basic goal was to prevent the capitulation of a proxy government, one that was never popular, after which Kabul still fell. Wars where wisdom and hubris existed alongside each other, and those on the ground who were observing from afar could see in the living minutes what was wrong, but the experts and planners persisted regardless, ever so confident and certain of victory, despite the uncertain aims. The powerful empires, Soviet and American, wrapped in the armor of resources and armed with immense weapon systems, failed under the incompetence of their own arrogance. And a determined human enemy won.
Whether in the jungles of South East Asia or the caves of Central Asia, the objective was often simple for the defender: eject the invader and reject the invader’s puppet government. What brought the insurgents to such a cause may at first have been deviant self-interest or religious idealism but for many it was a patriotism that the invaders in their own histories had experienced and romanced. The Soviets had once been those ejecting a powerful invader while the Americans were once proud insurgents. Greatness changed both their perspectives.
The well-armed invaders viewed the native populace as threats or the enemy. Whether walking through a village or observing via screens far away, the natives are unfamiliar. Regardless of how benevolent the invaders claim themselves to be, the natives are often considered as being inferior. For the locals, the strangers from afar may as well have come from another planet, alienated by ignorance of local customs and language while heavily relying upon superior technology and academic central plans of subjugation. Their perspectives would have been as different even if they were from off planet.
During the 1968 Tet Offensive, it is argued that the U.S. did not lose militarily, only politically. It was a coordinated offensive between insurgents and North Vietnamese military personnel attacking key targets of the U.S. and their allies. The impressive and expensive U.S. embassy in Saigon came under attack while a handful of insurgents managed to infiltrate and give the U.S. government a symbolic bloody nose. The flea had bitten the dog.
The Gardener and the Warrior
There is a samurai saying; “Better to be a warrior in the garden than a gardener in war.” And while this may be true for individuals, it ignores the importance of will and perspective. The gardener is not always just a gardener. When circumstances call upon them, whether through vengeance or a need to defend the home and garden, they become the warrior. Ones craft is defined by how they ply it. Most great warriors did not commence their lives with the ambition of being a war fighter and many who practice the martial trades in peacetime do not necessarily achieve victory in war. Most warriors by trade serve a master; this is their duty. Often duty requires them to venture into the gardens and face a man defending his everything, regardless of any peacetime trade and his tools at hand.
There is footage of a slender man, perhaps in his early twenties, almost naked being dragged from a sewer drain. His body is drenched in slime, he is armed with a pistol and perhaps a grenade or explosives. He had been crawling through the narrow sewage pipes of Saigon. With great discomfort and risk, he did this in the hopes of gaining entry into the government buildings during the 1968 Tet Offensive. One could never imagine that a man would be able to make the journey through such filthy pipes, and would risk his life and health while enduring such discomfort in the hope that he may plant explosives or shoot a government official. That’s determination.
The great planners with their war games, think tanks, and millions of dollars in research and technological marvels could seldom conceive that such a factor is important. It is not calculable, you can not duplicate it in training and among academic discussions it is not understood. That is the will to overcome, not just to survive but to kill the enemy, to outlast and destroy him. Such will is important. It cannot be trained. It needs to come from purpose and perspective. While the insurgent captured in the sewer tried to crawl his way to fight, some of his comrades had blown holes in the U.S. embassy’s walls and rushed into the compound, fighting to the death. They did not destroy the U.S. embassy, but they had bitten an empire.
The many governments of the world often invest time and resources into training police and military units that then become the elite. The elites that train hard are made up of individuals of great will and skills. They are those who are often depicted in fiction as being nearly superhuman, the men of the special forces. Unique humans are expected to perform with inhuman ability, to act as tools for their government.
The modern overreach of many governments has exhausted and over utilized these elite warriors, expecting them to perform missions that are almost impossible and then requiring them to do it again. In retirement some become celebrities while others may be lost to the strain and injury of their profession and experiences. These men who can usually perform great tasks are expected to be both mathematicians and elite athletes, operate complicated weapon systems while also performing paramedical acts under great stress. They are the warrior to the gardener.
Their enemy usually do not have such training, skills, or logistics. The government elites usually have regular military forces on standby, ready to back them up with aircraft and maritime vessels to extract them and provide support. Their enemies may at best have converted trucks and in the past bicycles and mules. It is uncertain how skilled that man in the sewer was. What had he done before the war? perhaps he was a gardener. As he crawled the sewer he had become a “combat sapper.” In that moment he was the machete inside the jungle of conflict, his utility was his simplified focus. His logistics was resilience and will. Though captured, his failure was in some ways a victory. As he was filmed and dragged into custody, his pathetic state of sewage slick nudity contrasted with the uniformed men of the government.
Inside a decade Saigon fell.
In a recent episode of a Dan Carlin hosted podcast titled “Engineering Victory with Elon,” Elon Musk discussed the importance of the engineer in warfare and how the engineer was often ignored by the historians. Musk made some interesting and relevant points. Engineers are crucial, and they are often downgraded after the fact, compared to the strategists and political leaders of war. Musk went on to make the case that technological supremacy is the key to victory and that the U.S. government could have won in Vietnam if it had of “wanted’ to.” Musk claimed that the U.S. government fought the war with the aim of preserving civilian life. Carlin politely mentioned the fact that the U.S. had destroyed nearly every building and village in North Korea during that war. But the issue was not pressed. Carlin did not mention the extensive civilian death count, not only in Vietnam but in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia. Instead the conversation returned to the importance of technology and air supremacy.
The mindset that any great power could win any war if it really wanted to is one that is held by engineers like Musk and it is also the self-preserving declaration of the defeated imperialist. How does one win an insurgency? Wars between governments is one things but against the “people” it becomes a harder to define path to victory. If the goal is to kill every person in a region, to turn a nation into glass, then certainly the United States or any nuclear armed nation could do this. Is that victory though? And was that the aim and intention during the South East Asian war that the United States waged?
What were the actual goals in the wars on Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc? To kill so many people from that region that they would love the invader and assimilate? To kill those who opposed the presence of a foreign invader and anyone that fit the profile of such a defender? And then what? To turn the survivors into allies and proxies who must obey the ultimate aims of the invader? In that case then mass destruction and death is the antithesis to such aims. But to an engineer the problem is simple: to kill. To make weapons that kill as efficiently as possible. But to conquer and win an invader requires a degree of humanity and interactions with the population. There is more to it than lonely fortresses, checkpoints, and “firing lasers from space.”
If one can not define the war itself, it is hard to define who the enemy actually is. For the men and women driven by hatred, revenge, fear, ideology, faith, patriotism and even love, the aim is seemingly simple. They will endure so much just so that they can kill. To kill the invader becomes survival itself. By the end of the century drones and robots will likely dominate the future battlefield and their utility as a police and anti-insurgency weapon will be paramount. Those rejecting such control by an invader will fight with the ancient will that has stretched across all of human history. They will find a way, not through anticipation or academic conjuring, but in the moment, after gaining experience and loss.
For those who talk about war from afar, it is academic problem to be fixed by engineers and strategists. It is a comfortable and impersonal puzzle to be solved, where human lives are digits. To them technology alone is the crucial element, the trump card for dominance. Technology will not make the conquered love the invader and it cannot make them yield, only incarcerate or kill. Such defiance and determination, the crude ingenuity of the peasant, can and has overcome. If victory requires killing as many as possible then the serial killer is life’s champion. From the armchair or the tables of a think tank the blood and carnage is absent, so technical details are the fascination of calculation. For those on the ground it is never so simple. The engineer is important and often neglected but so is the human of purpose or seemingly no other choice.
A Stone’s Throw Away
It is not that the defender rejecting the invading warriors always succeeds; the past century is littered with examples of might being triumphant. In 1968, the same time that the U.S. was grappling for control in South East Asia, the Soviet Empire swallowed up those rejecting it in Czechoslovakia. A pin prick of defiance perhaps, but the spirit of ‘68 would remain decades later when then Soviet Empire collapsed along with communist rule in Czechoslovakia, succumbing to freer governance and independence. Other peoples are not so lucky and continue to suffer.
Young boys will stand in front of tanks and throw stones when they have nothing else to fight with. In occupied Palestine the Israeli government may some day soon utilize drones and non-human combatants to interact with those that it has conquered. Such technology may allow them to convert the region into the world’s largest prison. They may not be about to eradicate the Palestinians for fear of international condemnation, but they can at the very least imprison them in a dystopian city of walls, cameras, checkpoints, and tyranny. It is occurring elsewhere on Earth for those resisting the Chinese, Indian, and Venezuelan governments. There may only be a glimmer but the same instincts of defiance flicker on.
To the very bitter end, as the adults are imprisoned and killed, the children will go on fighting. It is a circumstance of misery and one where technology and an advanced military seeks to overcome an impoverished people. With an ancient spirit they will resist but they may not overcome. The reprieve in such a circumstance can only come from without, embracing the humanity of those inside. Understanding that one is not an anti-semite simply because they empathize with a Palestinian family who has lost everything due to the actions of the Israeli government. The child throwing the stone may do little damage to the tanks of the IDF but as a symbolic act of defiance it may as well be a boulder dropped from above. And when it is drone vehicles roaming the streets, children not yet born will cast rocks at them too so long as they are oppressed.
It is the enduring defiance and the yearning to be free that can give a small cadre of peasants the edge over a professional army of invaders. The drones and AI may not suffer the fatigue that a conscript or a professional soldier might, they may not suffer trauma or moral injury. The imperfections of the human killer will be removed and replaced by a synthetic one. That does not mean that the inevitable human replacement is superior or indestructible. These drones will have their own weaknesses and flaws and those fighting them will find it and exploit it because they have to. Unless of course winning means destroying everything and killing everyone.
There is no moral virtue in resistance alone, just as none exists in conquest. It is not a clear cut case of good and evil. It is the understanding that perspectives drive objectives. When objectives are intangible and unimaginable for those on the ground or among those who are charged with achieving them, it can become almost impossible to “win.” This is not limited to warfare but for most government policy. For those resisting, the victims or the others, the objective and goal are simple: an end to occupation, to be left alone, eject the invader, or even freedom itself.
To drop the bombs, run the check points, burn down villages and so on may be done in order to enforce security and support a “friendly” government.Over time one must realize that such actions lead to instability and disorder while feeding the resistance. While the frontiers were conquered, the “savages” were tamed and many aboriginal peoples have been subjugated or wiped away. The great nations have committed their genocides and replaced what was with their own. That was the victory those who claim “if we wanted to” accomplished. Modern technology also allows us to observe and challenge such a means of victory to shame and expose the violence for what it is. In both victory and defeat there will always be the warrior in the garden and the sapper in the sewer.
“Whether the primary cause of revolution is nationalism, or social justice, or the anticipation of material progress, the decision to fight and to sacrifice is a social and a moral decision. Insurgency is thus a matter not of manipulation but of inspiration.”
“I am aware that such conclusions are not compatible with the pictures of guerrilla operations and guerrilla motivations drawn by the counterinsurgency theorists who are so much in vogue today. But the counterinsurgency experts have yet to win a war. At this writing, they are certainly losing one.”
Their picture is distorted because their premises are false and their observation faulty. They assume–perhaps their commitments require them to assume–that politics is mainly a manipulative science and insurgency mainly a politico-military technique to be countered by some other technique; whereas both are forms of social behavior, the latter being the mode of popular resistance to unpopular governments.”
Around this time last year, nuclear weapons became illegal. Well, sort of.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an international agreement adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2017 after a majority of countries voted in its favor, entered into force on January 22, 2021 as Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the treaty. Overnight, the testing, development, production, possession and transfer of nuclear weapons was banned.
But here comes the rub. The treaty is only binding on those nations that joined. Unsurprisingly, the countries that actually possess or host nuclear weapons, as well as all NATO members, have boycotted the initiative, thereby rendering it powerless. The treaty is thus a bleak reminder of the Realpolitik considerations that inhibit powerful nuclear nations from relinquishing their weapons of mass destruction.
Yet, we must also not forget that ever since the height of the Cold War, both the number of and threat from nuclear weapons have been successfully reduced. However, big steps forward have come only when the West recognized its rivals as equals. Most importantly, this was the case in the period roughly between the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the end of the 20th century, when the realization of mutual assured destruction resulted in the adoption of a number of arms control treaties that slowed down the arms race and, in time, reduced the global nuclear stockpile.
Before and after this era, however, the United States and its allies were undeterred from projecting dominance and pursuing a more aggressive foreign policy, even if that dominance was based on dangerous illusions. At the same time, both in the early days of the Cold War and today, the blame for the nuclear threat is placed largely on others, be they the former Soviet Union or the 21st-century “Axis of Evil.” Because the rest of the world sees through this hypocrisy, most non-proliferation efforts spearheaded by Western countries are counterproductive. Instead, they actually incentivize nations at odds with the West to invest into nuclear weapons as a defense mechanism.
Eliminating the threat of nuclear war can therefore only be achieved if the West starts to lead by example and adopts a policy of non-interventionism. A brief revisionist history illustrates this argument.
As is well known, the first atom bomb was developed by the United States during the Second World War in the context of an arms race between Nazi Germany and the Allies. Less known, however, is that the mere idea of “strategic’ bombing,” which targets an enemy’s civilian rather than military population and infrastructure, in and of itself is a product of twentieth-century total war. Militaries started to experiment with strategic bombing during the First World War and the Spanish Civil War, but the casualties remained relatively limited. Demoralizing the enemy through massive terror bombing became only normalized on a massive scale during the Second World War. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of civilians perished in the Axis and Allied bombing of urban centers in the course of that cataclysmic event.
The tragic peak, of course, was the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Together with conventional firebombing in the months leading up to the nuclear assault, dozens of Japanese cities were razed to the ground and at least half a million Japanese civilians were killed. In the decades after the war, the horrific atomic bombings were justified on the basis that they had saved the lives of an equal number of American soldiers from the counterfactual scenario of a U.S. invasion of Japan.
In recent years, however, this myth has been blown out of the water. Samuel Walker, historian at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has written that “the hoary claim that the bomb prevented one-half million American combat deaths is unsupportable.” Rather, he pointed out in a 1990 review article that “the consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an [American] invasion of Japan and to end the war in a relative short time.” Since then, historians on both sides of the Pacific have argued that the Soviet entry into the war, which occurred in between the two atom bombs, had more to do with Japan’s surrender; and that geopolitical considerations about the post-war settlement were more decisive than military strategy in Harry Truman’s decision to pull the nuclear trigger.
In short, from the very beginning the atom bomb served much broader political purposes beyond military deterrence. For the West Europeans, in particular, the American atomic umbrella gave a sense of security and an easy excuse not to invest too much in their own defense. Behind the scenes, West European officials were adamant supporters of the so-called “first use” doctrine, which granted NATO the right to start a nuclear war in the face of a conventional—i.e., non-nuclear—threat. The Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy administrations in turn interpreted that policy quite liberally and contemplated a nuclear first strike on multiple occasions, including during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Berlin crises of both 1948 and 1961.
Sooner or later, however, the period of American nuclear dominance was bound to come to an end. But long before it did, phony fears about Soviet superiority stoked the arms race further. On the basis of an alleged imminent “missile gap” in intercontinental ballistic missiles, John F. Kennedy launched the largest and fastest military build-up in peacetime history in the beginning of the 1960s. But this effort proved to be misguided, because American spy satellites soon confirmed that the ICBM gap was in fact 10 to 1 in favor of the United States.
The cost of the paranoia amplified by the missile gap myth was higher than the wasted dollars that flowed into the coffers of the military-industrial complex, however. NATO’s first use policy, together with the encircling of the Soviet Union with medium range nuclear missiles in Europe and Asia, convinced Nikita Khrushchev to return the favor and attempt to install nuclear missiles in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the result.
A scenario similar to the twin events of the missile gap panic and Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded in the 1970s and 1980s. From Moscow’s point of view, the goal of détente was the nullification of American nuclear superiority and the achievement of strategic parity. Because the USSR kept lagging behind technologically, it sought to catch up in numbers. In Washington, however, the temporary military build-up that this goal necessitated was perceived as an attempt to gain nuclear superiority. Moreover, hawks inside and outside government claimed that the Soviets were bent on initiating—and winning—a nuclear war.
Like the missile gap, this assertion, too, was exploded as a myth after the Cold War. Interviews with former Soviet officials and archival research of Warsaw Pact military manuals demonstrated in the 1990s that unlike the U.S., the USSR never considered a first use option. In fact, the Soviets were paranoid of a Western first strike and repeatedly offered a mutual “no first use” commitment. NATO dismissed such proposals as propaganda, however, and stoked a new arms race in technologically advanced nuclear technology, which had always been Moscow’s weak spot.
Thus, when NATO deployed technologically advanced Pershing II and Tomahawk cruise missiles in Western Europe in the fall of 1983, which coincidentally coincided with yearly nuclear war drills, the paranoia in Moscow reached fever pitch. The Pershing II could reach Moscow in a record time of six to eight minutes, thus compromising the Soviets’ “launch on warning” system. The cruise missiles, for their part, were difficult to intercept because of their automated flying technology. On the basis of intelligence coming out of the then biggest military intelligence program in history, several party members and military officials were convinced that NATO was conniving a first strike. The Soviets readied their nuclear forces, but in the end, cooler heads prevailed when NATO did not respond in kind. The 1983 war scare is often considered the closest the superpowers came to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In the long term, however, important steps were taken to regulate, and eventually roll back, the arms race. After the recognition of mutual assured destruction in the 1960s, several arms control agreements, such as the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty were signed in the context of relaxing relations between East and West. Although the 1979 SALT II Treaty was never ratified by the American Congress due to a last uptick in the Cold War, the arms control regime regained the upper hand after the 1983 war scare. Indeed, according to historian Beth Fisher, the war scare had a profound personal impact on Ronald Reagan, causing the president to reconsider his previous hawkish positions.
Combined with the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR, Reagan’s change of heart paved the way for the 1987 INF and 1991 START Treaties, which for the first time went beyond mitigating the arms race and actually reduced the number of warheads. The INF Treaty even led to the elimination of a whole category of nuclear weapons, namely ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles, which included the above-mentioned Pershing II and Tomahawk cruise missiles. Under subsequent treaties, but also unilaterally, both superpowers continued to reduce their stockpiles drastically. As of 2021, the global nuclear stockpile is 19% of what it was during its Cold War peak.
Yet today nine nuclear weapon possessing countries still collectively sit on top of an arsenal of roughly 13,000 warheads, 91% of which are owned by Russia and the United States. Of these, more than 3,500 are operationalized on missiles and bomber bases, still enough to drag civilization into a catastrophic war. Worse, this militarized stockpile has actually started to increase again, whereas the pace of reduction of the overall global nuclear arsenal has slowed down. Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly, the concept of limited nuclear warfare with low-yield warheads, controversial even during the Cold War, has seen a resurgence in American military doctrine.
The new millennium marked the turning point in this alarming trend. When George W. Bush entered the White House, he brought with him a litany of neoconservatives who wanted to capitalize on Washington’s “unipolar moment” to reassert American global dominance and remake the world in their image. The disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are infamous testimonies of this interventionist ideology. But the Bush administration’s unipolar tendencies had reverberations that extended into nuclear weapons policy, too. In December 2001, in spite of Vladimir Putin offering early cooperation in the war in Afghanistan, Bush pulled out of the 1972 ABM Treaty.
This withdrawal has paved the way for the step-by-step construction of a NATO anti-ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe, a move that has often been harshly criticized by Moscow but has received very little attention in the Western press. Last summer, for instance, Putin drew a direct comparison with the Cuban Missile Crisis, arguing that the launching systems in Romania and Poland could carry offensive in addition to defensive missiles. If so, the flight time to Moscow is 15 minutes, roughly the same amount of time Soviet missiles would have needed to reach American shores if Khrushchev’s plan had succeeded in 1962. Furthermore, if Ukraine were to join NATO and host similar missile launchers, which the Russian president has recently confirmed to be an absolute red line, that flight time would drop to 7-10 minutes, almost the same as the Pershing IIs from the 1980s.
Unlike Bush, Barack Obama did not leave any of the Cold War-era arms control treaties. Better yet, he made the elimination of nuclear weapons a centerpiece of his early foreign policy agenda. To that end, New START, a treaty signed in 2010, reduced the Russian and American stockpiles of deployed nuclear weapon launchers further to nearly two-thirds of the original START Treaty. Yet, to placate critics of the agreement, Obama also pushed through a $1 trillion nuclear modernization program and in his second term backtracked on adopting a no first use policy. Finally, he continued the rolling out of NATO’s ABM system in Europe.
It is in reaction to these developments that Putin decided to respond. In March 2018, more than a decade and a half after Bush pulled out of the ABM Treaty and against the backdrop of new Cold War-like tensions, the Russian president announced the development of a number of nuclear-capable missiles that seek to circumvent NATO’s ABM system—either by flying over the South Pole, or with the help of innovative technologies that allow for hypersonic speed and automated “cruise” flying. All this talk about fanciful hypersonic and missile-intercepting weapons, the technological feasibility of which has always been questionable, has spurred a new arms race between the American and Russian military-industrial complexes.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump added even more oil to the fire. In spite of all the “Russiagate” accusations, the Trump administration pulled out of not one but two arms control treaties, while it almost let a third die. First, in late 2018 the U.S. announced that it would leave the 1987 INF Treaty. It did so on the basis that Russia had violated its “spirit and intent” by deploying a new ground-based cruise missile, ignoring warnings from both Moscow and independent scientists that the missile launchers in Poland and Romania might have violated the treaty as well. Instead of negotiating a solution, however, Trump simply pulled out.
The boldness of this move can perhaps be explained by the fact that the treaty had tied Washington’s hands in its strategic competition against China, which was not a party to the agreement. Indeed, it was reported that the fact that the treaty “constrained” Washington’s efforts to counter China was a contributing motive in the withdrawal decision, even though that country’s nuclear arsenal is just a fraction of those of the U.S. or Russia.
The second treaty the Trump administration left is the Open Skies Treaty, an important confidence building agreement between 36 nations that allows for unarmed air inspection. Finally, it also let Obama’s New START Treaty expire, rebuffing Russian proposals for extension. Fortunately, a year later Joe Biden reentered that treaty, which is now the only Russian-American agreement left to restrain the Cold War enemies from descending into a new nuclear arms race.
In short, there is a case to be made that throughout the old and new Cold War, America has been the main driving force behind the subsequent waves of the nuclear arms race. This does not mean that Russia is to be accused from any of the blame, of course. It does mean, however, that if Washington reverses its current course and returns to phasing out its nuclear arsenal, Moscow will likely follow suit. In time, this process would bring the American and Russian stockpiles more in line with those of the other nuclear weapon possessing countries.
In such a climate, the era of strategic parity would return in a multilateral form. Without any threatening hegemon, the nuclear bomb would remain in place only as an existential instrument of deterrence. A number of measures, such as the adoption of no first use policies, the liquidation of forward-based tactical warheads and the banning of limited nuclear warfare from military doctrines, could in this context contribute to more relaxed relations between the nine nuclear states.
In the long run, then, the leaders of these nations might come to understand the increasing irrelevance of nuclear weapons. After all, the UN General Assembly is not the only authority exerting pressure on the nuclear states. A growing number of former high-level U.S. officials, too, have argued that nuclear weapons are obsolete for the purposes of military defense.
Unfortunately, current American leaders have taken few steps in this direction. Worse, in the post-9/11 era they have given rival nations more—not less—reason to cling onto or even create new nuclear deterrents. This message can be most evidently illustrated by reviewing American foreign policy towards the three countries that Bush Jr. haphazardly lumped together in the so-called “Axis of Evil”: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. These countries were all signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2002, but that did not stop the US from accusing them from seeking weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and pushing for regime change in Baghdad, Tehran, and Pyongyang.
In the Middle East, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was in large part legitimized on the basis of the false pretext that Saddam Hussein secretly possessed WMDs, in spite of the fact that the contemporary information from intelligence agencies and UN weapons inspectors justified no such claims. Regarding Iran, too, the CIA and Mossad have on occasion agreed with the repeated confirmations of the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program. Yet, ever since the 1980s subsequent American administrations have claimed the contrary, even after both supreme religious leaders of the Islamic Republic have basically forbidden the procurement of WMDs on a religious basis.
In the last few years, Iran has actually shown how an effective conventional deterrent can be realized by arming regional allies with non-nuclear missiles and drones. The so-called “axis of resistance”—which is led by Iran and includes Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria’s Assad regime—is now firmly established as a balance against Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly and at least partially deters American and Israeli military action. In truth, Iran only ever enriched uranium beyond levels necessary for nuclear energy as a negotiating tactic to get sanctions relief and bring the U.S. to the negotiating table. This “enrichment diplomacy” was Tehran’s answer to Obama’s “maximum pressure” campaign in the lead-up to the 2015 nuclear deal, and it looks like the Iranians have resorted to the same strategy after Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018.
The blowback has been worst in North Korea, however. The DPRK became the first country to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty in January 2003, a year after Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech. True, the North Koreans’ commitment to the NPT was already in question before that, but Bush’s rhetoric might have pushed them over the edge. Since 2006, the DPRK has carried out six nuclear tests with increasing levels of expertise. Although the details are obscure, there is little reason to doubt that the North Korean regime today possesses a nuclear deterrent that can do significant damage and initiate a devastating nuclear war.
Unsettling as it might be, this means that Western leaders will have to learn how to treat Kim Jong-Un with a modicum of respect. Fortunately, there is a precedent: the world also survived other nuclear-armed dictators, such as Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. The problem is that the U.S. has long considered such leaders as uniquely irrational and continues to operate from the illusion that it can play the role of global policeman indefinitely.
Indeed, when Trump’s national security advisor and vice president made off-handed remarks about employing the “Libya model” in the lead-up to a historic meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-Un in 2018, they did not realize that they were actually reminding the North Koreans why it is wise to cling onto their nuclear deterrent. Indeed, when Muammar Qadhafi gave up his WMD program in 2003 in exchange for sanctions relief, he lost a deterrent that might have prevented the NATO-sponsored regime change war in 2011 that led to his downfall and brutal murder.
This brings us to the heart of the problem: America’s interventionist foreign policy does not prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, it enhances it.
Throughout much of the nuclear era, the U.S. has been the dominant global nuclear power—or has at least operated on the premise that it was. To maintain that position, the U.S. government has spearheaded several waves of nuclear arms races, maintained a vast global military empire, and intervened into the domestic affairs of other countries on a routine basis. In doing so, it has stimulated rival nations to obtain nuclear deterrents.
To believe that America’s foes are the main drivers of nuclear tensions instead, one has to believe in the benevolent merits of U.S. empire. But most of the world does not. International polls demonstrate that America is seen as the biggest threat to world peace, leaving other contenders far behind.
Further movement towards the elimination of the threat of nuclear war is therefore only possible if the U.S. government moves towards a non-interventionist strategy—in nuclear and other foreign policy matters alike. The good news is that a majority of Americans actually favors a less interventionist foreign policy that prioritizes domestic issues instead.
In time, a world without nuclear weapons is achievable. The nuclear bomb would not be the first class of weapons to be consigned to the dustbin of history. A number of nasty bombs, from landmines to chemical weapons, have been marginalized as a result of international prohibition agreements. From this perspective, the UN’s ban on nuclear weapons is a step in the good direction. It can be of service as a pressure tool to move the nuclear weapon possessing countries and their allies in the right direction.
Bas Spliet is a historian and PhD candidate at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. He writes about a variety of topics from a historical angle, all of which can be found on his Substack, (Re)writing history. You can follow him on Twitter.
On COI #211, Kyle Anzalone and Connor Freeman discuss Israeli apartheid and why Tel Aviv’s worries that awareness of their regime’s brutality will spread this year. Kyle and Connor then update the JCPOA talks, the slight potential for peace on the Korean Peninsula, and the latest on tensions in Africa highlighting Sudan’s unrest.
Connor details how a prisoner’s 141 day hunger strike is exposing Israel’s longstanding policy of indefinitely locking up Palestinians without charges or trials. Israel is buying more U.S. arms and bombing the Gaza concentration camp. Tel Aviv’s top diplomat is greatly concerned over the UN’s coming investigations into Israeli war crimes.
Connor also updates the Vienna talks and Israel’s latest threat to attack Iran without first warning the United States.
Kyle talks South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts, before his term ends, to work with Pyongyang, Washington, and Beijing to bring about the Korean War’s formal end.
Kyle covers Sudan’s ongoing turmoil since last year’s military coup. The Sudanese President has stepped down and the protesters are now demanding an end to Khartoum’s international military aid.
Kyle then breaks down the latest news on conflicts in various African countries including Somalia, the Congo, and Ethiopia.
Covid The Navy has now removed 45 sailors for failing to take the covid vaccine. [Link] The US donates 900,000 Pfizer covid vaccine doses to Laos. [Link] The US will send two million Pfizer covid vaccine doses to Kenya and Morocco. [Link] US News In the first half of...
Various evidence presented in studies I have authored, which has been echoed by many other Western scholars who research these issues, show that both of these narratives are inaccurate. Indeed, the question of which side carried out the “snipers’ massacre” is central...
“It’s my understanding that a guy can go out there and I mean, he can fall into a black hole,” Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr said of drivers getting entangled financially. “You know, we’ve had a lot of issues with Brookside.” Jefferson County Sheriff...
Courageously protecting the world from people who drive white Toyota Corollas and move stuff around town. https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/19/politics/military-releases-videos-august-drone-strike-killed-civilians/index.html
Scott is joined by Annelle Sheline of the Quincy Institute to discuss Yemen. Sheline wrote an article recently about the shifting balance of the war. One year after Biden announced an end to U.S. support for offensive Saudi operations, the bombing campaign remains as...
Scott interviews Richard Hanania of Defense Priorities. They discuss the reality of how the American military’s presence impacts global events. Hanania argues that, if it were true that the U.S. was out there defending its allies, you’d expect those countries to want...
Scott is joined by Clint Ehrlich who recently went viral after his appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show struck the nerve of a handful of foreign policy “experts.” So Scott invited him on the show to dive deeper into his arguments. They discuss why Ehrlich is nervous...
Scott interviews Zaher Wahab of the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education about the economic catastrophe taking place in Afghanistan. Although the U.S. Government claimed it was working to develop Afghanistan, Wahab explains that what it really did was prop...
On COI #222, Kyle Anzalone and Connor Freeman cover the hawks advocating the killing of Russians, the ongoing Cold War with China, and recent violence in Syria. Connor reviews his latest column discussing the Washington imperial elite’s calls for Russian blood during...
On COI #221, Kyle Anzalone discusses the Ukraine crisis. Biden has overextended American commitments and now must make concessions to defuse the crisis. Even if it leads to war, the Blob will demand that Biden hold firm against Putin. While the US continues to take...
On COI #220, Kyle Anzalone discusses the recent talks between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. While no deal was reached, the two diplomats were able to make progress on limited issues. However, after the talks ended,...
On COI #219, Kyle Anzalone is joined by Dave DeCamp - News Editor at Antiwar.com - to review Biden’s first year as president. Dave breaks down Biden’s Ukraine policy. At a recent press conference, Biden suggested, if there is a small Russian invasion of Ukraine, the...
https://youtu.be/jjzTu_joO1A ... universal education has in fact led to a general degradation of cultural and educational standards. Murray N. Rothbard, Ph.D., Economic Controversies, p. 566 Jason Bedrick is the director of policy at EdChoice and was a policy analyst...
https://youtu.be/fqbxcDjs15k In politics, whenever I hear the word “unity,” to paraphrase the famous words of a German politico of the 1930’s, “I reach for my revolver.” For almost always, “unity” is a scam, a call to abandon principle and follow the leader into some...
https://youtu.be/Nl1XqsSI_MI ... interventionism is not only immoral and aggressive; it doesn’t work. We must regain liberty at home, end all interventions in other countries, and return to the historic, forgotten “foreign policy” of serving as an example and a...
https://youtu.be/AJCUX3FwWkU One of the most vital struggles in the writing and publishing of history is the conflict between the government’s propaganda myths, enshrined in “official history,” and historical reality brought forward by “revisionism.” Murray N....
https://youtu.be/ffkZukAL2Rk Indeed, international establishment has long drooled over the prospect of a "Cyber 9/11." It would be a single catalyzing event to usher in the pre-planned response: a "Digital Patriot Act." If successful, this event could forever change...
https://youtu.be/bE8SGCFsYXk In December, the UN met in its second-ever "Special Session" to discuss what they are calling a "Global Pandemic Treaty." In this session, it adopted a road map called "The World Together." This road map sets deadlines for the production...
https://youtu.be/QfgZLNj31xY In this episode, I analyze the truth of the Vietnam war as it is covered up by Ken Burns' Vietnam PBS series. Episode 197 of the Liberty Weekly Podcast is Brought to you by: Join Liberty Weekly and tons of your favorite creators on Rokfin...
https://youtu.be/p9ycCASQohU In this episode, I uncover Wisconsin's leading role in the eugenics movement by exploring the "Wisconsin Home for the Feebleminded," a correctional institution that I rode by on the school bus every day growing up. Episode 197 of the...
Drew, The Clean Libertarian, joins me again. This time Drew has received a pardon and is working on legislation at the state level, so I wanted to catch up and have a more positive episode for y’all. Drew Twitter The Clean Libertarian Discord Libertarian Institute 19...
Brett Hawes joined me to discuss the history of South Africa, how it was the testing ground for the tyranny being rolled out today, the WEF corporate governance agenda, and how COVID has been taken advantage of to empower the parasite class and destroy the middle...
Michael Harris is back. In this episode we discuss COVID, the SCOTUS decision on the OSHA mandate, the mandate on healthcare workers, and Hoppe. Libertarian Institute 19 Skills Pdf Autonomy Course Critical Thinking Course Donate Patreon...
Patrick joined me again to discuss MK Ultra, CIA operations, and eugenics and how these programs may have been instrumental in educating the elites in the psychology of the masses. Patrick Twitter Liberty Weekly Libertarian Institute 19 Skills Pdf Autonomy Course...