At this time of great conflict in the world, U.S. foreign/military policy seems to be intimately connected to virtually everything that’s going wrong.
The United States insists on throwing its formidable weight around and being recognized as world hegemon, but refuses to take any responsibility for the great number of negative results that emanate from its constant military and political interventions in the affairs of other states and regions.
At this time of great conflict in the world, U.S. foreign/military policy seems to be intimately connected to virtually everything that’s going wrong. Like the bull in a china shop, Uncle Sam’s blundering wreckage is left behind but the rich superpower emerges relatively unscathed to enter into yet another perceived trouble spot requiring its dubious interference.
Following is an assessment of current U.S. interventions, and failures, in the Middle East (Syria-Iraq, Gaza-Israel), Ukraine-Russia, and other topics.
1. The Middle East is afire with ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, now called the Islamic State (IS). This religio-fascist movement occupies portions of Iraq and Syria and is threatening much of the Middle East. This is the latest of the unintended but inevitable consequences of European and later primarily U.S. aggressive intervention in the region for well over 100 years, escalating rapidly when British and French imperialism enjoyed the spoils following the defeat the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.
In modern times the U.S. has protected many regional dictatorships, launched wars and attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, western Pakistan, Libya, and Yemen, and supported regime change in Syria. It not only sanctions Iran but keeps the possibility of war “on the table” should nuclear talks fail with Tehran.
In recent decades, Washington’s endless military and other interventions in the region may seem to have succeeded at first but they all blow up in Uncle Sam’s face sooner than later.
Iraq is the textbook example. All those years of war, resulting in death to up to a million people and four million displaced internal and external refugees cost the U.S. trillions of dollars and the embarrassment of a stalemate against a much weaker country. Now Washington is sinking into another quagmire by having to deal with the blowback from the 2003 Iraq misadventure — the Islamic State. The U.S. has a unique relationship to Iraq. Four U.S. presidents in a row have bombed the country.
The invasion of Afghanistan, after 13 years, has become an utter fiasco.
The invasion of Afghanistan, after 13 years, has become an utter fiasco. After the Pentagon pulls back, the country will largely be in the hands of various warlords and the Taliban, regardless of who becomes the elected president ruling from a virtual fortress in Kabul.
The Obama Administration’s three-year support for the overthrow of the Syrian government with the Free Syrian Army as its vehicle on the ground is a major failure. The secular FSA was largely backed by pro-U.S. exiles, not the Syrian people. Despite being armed by the Gulf States, Turkey and others, including the U.S. (which gave politically, financially, and militarily with basic weapons), the FSA could never compete with the Sunni Islamist groups that assumed command of the war.
The Islamists included IS, al-Qaeda, and several other jihadi fighting groups seeking the overthrow of the Damascus regime and the installation of a Sunni Islamist regime. All of them are identified with the ultra-conservative Salafi movement. The Islamist State is the most powerful and fights with the others to acquire control over the struggle.
U.S. intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria not only facilitated the creation of IS. In the 1970s-‘90s Washington’s extensive backing and financing of warlord and jihadist groups in Afghanistan against a left-wing government in Kabul and its Soviet backers resulted in the birth of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Meanwhile, the regime change brought about by U.S. military engagement in Libya, along with several members of the NATO foreign legion, has resulted in chaos leading to the possibility of civil war. Various militias are fighting each other in Tripoli, the capital, and the country can only be described as in the process of falling apart. Egypt is now facilitating air attacks on some Islamist groups in Libya by jet fighters from the United Arab Emirates. The U.S., which has supplied the tiny UAE with a world-class air force, said it was not told of the attacks. Egypt evidently allows the planes to take off from its own airfields. This is one more unanticipated result of U.S. intervention.
America’s strong support and financial backing for resource rich southern Sudan in northeast Africa to break away from Sudan proper in 2011 has backfired, causing extreme punishment for the nation’s people from mass killings in an unexpected and murderous civil war tearing apart the new state of South Sudan. Washington thought its intervention urging secession from Sudan would enlarge the U.S. footprint in Africa as well as provide a big economic payoff for U.S. corporations.
After the downfall of President Mubarak in Egypt — Washington’s favorite dictator in the Middle East — the U.S. hypocritically decided to intervene in the Arab Spring, welcoming to power the then Gen. Abdel el-Sisi, who subsequently led a popular coup against the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government. The White House fawns even more upon Sisi now that he is president and governs like the dictator he is. The White House won’t call the overthrow of the Brotherhood a coup and continues subsidizing the Egyptian army despite the murder of over a thousand supporters of the previous government.
2. U.S. foreign policy strongly supports Israel financially and politically. Washington’s latest backing of the Gaza slaughter, as well as earlier wars in 2008-9 and 2012, is proof of its moral and political bankruptcy, not to mention support for the police state occupation of the West Bank. Had the U.S. years ago adopted a critical stance toward Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinian people, threatening to end its support, a resolution to the crisis could have been forthcoming. History cannot but judge Washington’s policies regarding the Israel-Palestine crisis as a failure.
Both U.S. ruling political parties compete to determine which will more deeply bend the knee to the far-right colonial regime led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, overwhelmingly supporting economic subsidies, backing Israel regardless of its continual violence toward the Palestinians, and, most recently, financing the expensive Iron Dome semi-protection against homemade rockets. This includes Democrats from President Obama and Vice President Biden to liberal icons Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders (an Independent but he blocs with the Dems), New York’s Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand and its pandering and opportunistic Gov. Cuomo, the Congressional Black Caucus and just about all progressives in the Senate and House. The Republicans are arguably a trifle more slavish in their veneration.
America’s leading politicians appear to take pleasure in cheering for Goliath because David dared retaliate with his slingshot.
America’s leading politicians appear to take pleasure in cheering for Goliath because David dared retaliate with his slingshot against almost seven decades of colonial repression and pain. These powerful political paragons are so privileged they can even get away with judgments that omit the distinction between oppressed and oppressor and brush off the matter of disproportion in evaluating blame.
Armed-to-the-teeth Israel, the world’s fourth largest military, has the right to “defend” itself; the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, without the semblance of an army or proper military equipage, do not.
It is a real insight into Washington that neither President Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry or any leading American politician has expressed criticism of the Israeli government for killing about 2,142 Palestinians — 1,800 estimated to be babies, children, teenagers, women, and seniors — since its offensive began in July. Israel is said to have lost 72 people including four civilians.
Israel has committed serious war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank for which it should be charged by the UN and other international jurisdictions. Only American veto power in the UN has prevented this, as it often has in the past. The Obama Administration, too, shares responsibility for these crimes. In just circumstances, such support for the settler state would be defined as a moral failure surpassing its years of backing for South African apartheid.
3. The Ukraine crisis erupted because Washington decided months earlier to encourage and support a coup that took place this February against the country’s democratically elected president, Viktor Yanukovich, who was about to develop closer relations with the country’s longtime Russian neighbor. The U.S. and EU wanted to minimize Russian influence and maximize their own by separating the two historic associates. The U.S. did the same 10 years ago with the so-called “Orange Revolution,” which ultimately failed.
Washington assumed it had Russia in its pocket back in the 1990s, applauding as the newly minted oligarchs looted the economic patrimony of the former socialist working class. Today, Washington is engaged in an effort to reduce Russia’s sphere of influence and undermine its economy enough to weaken Moscow geopolitically. (See “What really happened in Ukraine” by Jack A. Smith, The Rag Blog, April 3, 2014.)
Moscow’s main goals in supporting Russian separatists against the Kiev government are twofold: (1) The U.S. and NATO must declare unambiguously that Ukraine will not be invited or permitted to join the Washington-dominated cold war military alliance, which now deploys its tentacles around the world. (2) The eastern Russian language sector of Ukraine should become federalized, i.e., to have its own fairly autonomous local government within Ukraine. These sectors strongly opposed the coup against Yanukovich, and deeply opposed the elevation of fascist organizations — the vanguard of the overthrow — to power within the state.
The U.S. and NATO, which supported the February putsch, have been gravitating ever closer geographically to the former USSR with evident ill intent since the Soviet implosion over two decades ago. Crimea’s decisive 97% vote to join Russia was exploited by Washington and its European Union allies to justify increasingly aggressive sanctions against Moscow, the military strengthening of former members of the Soviet Union now within NATO, and the formation of what the September 4 New York Times referred to as “a rapid deployment force intended to respond to future Russian military threats.”
At present the UN reports that some 2,600 civilians have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian troops and heavily armed separatists.
At present the UN reports that some 2,600 civilians have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian troops and heavily armed separatists in the rebel redoubts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, as well as elsewhere. Russian President Vladimir Putin demands a humanitarian ceasefire and negotiations, but clearly intends to aid the rebels in the meanwhile. The U.S.-influenced Ukrainian government of President Petro Poroshenko declines. Most of the civilian casualties died from heavy shelling of pro-Russian territory by the Ukrainian government. Kiev declared that Moscow has sent troops to “invade” southern Ukraine, but Moscow denied the charge.
Russia Direct reported Aug. 28:
What is the real evidence of any “invasion” in Ukraine? All previous Ukrainian statements about the alleged invasion of Russian armored vehicles marching through Ukrainian territory turned out to be unproved. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) denies that there has been any military intervention and even U.S. officials have been careful not to call it an invasion.
On August 29 the Russian leader publicly sent a message of support to the pro-Russian fighters for their recent successful offensive, this time calling for a “humanitarian corridor” to be established to permit trapped Ukrainian soldiers to retreat. Two days later, Putin called on the Kiev government to begin immediate talks leading to a political solution of the crisis.
Just before an important NATO conference to sharply intensify its opposition to Russia began in Wales September 4, President Putin issued an unexpected seven-point peace plan that caused pause if not a settlement. Obama continued with his increasing condemnation of Moscow but it was clear neither he nor the European Union wanted the situation to get completely out of hand.
Even though NATO is strengthening its military position throughout Eastern Europe, it is most unlikely the two sides will collide in a war. It is also unlikely at this point that President Obama will soon take serious action to resolve the crisis. At this stage Washington undoubtedly believes it has the stronger hand and that its incessant criticism of Russian action is isolating and weakening Moscow.
It is true that the economic sanctions are painful for Russia — but Moscow is clearly taking the initiative and calling the shots in this situation. Putin may end up with an agreement Moscow and the eastern Ukrainians can live with. After all, Ukraine is governed by an oligarchy influenced by the right wing and its U.S. advisers. Economic conditions are dreadful, its people are hardly anxious for an enlarged conflict with a powerful and determined Moscow, and a substantial minority of the population leans toward Russia in the first place.
Moscow prefers a restoration of old ties with the Kiev government, and it may well settle for a neutral Ukrainian buffer between itself and NATO Europe as long as the ethnic Russian population of Ukraine is protected with a large degree of autonomy. But it will not accept the post-February status quo, with Ukraine a dependency and puppet of the U.S./EU bloc that seeks to weaken Russia geopolitically.
4. The only good thing about the latest Mideast, Israeli and Ukrainian crises is that the Obama Administration has once again had to delay important non-military aspects of its pivot to Asia, which is intended to prevent China from exercising leadership within its own sphere of influence. The Imperium does not appreciate erosions of its regional management lest this dilute its global hegemony.
The military aspects continue, the latest being President Obama’s decision to send 2,500 U.S. Marines to their new base in western Australia, with proximity to the South China Sea, instead of the original 1,150. These forces complement much larger U.S. land, sea, or air bases stationed in Japan, South Korea and Guam, Afghanistan, and soon the Philippines.
5. Lurking in the background, intimately associated with foreign/military policy, is a specter much of the world would prefer not to think about. Technology has created the possibility of generating a third world war worse than the combined World Wars I and II. At this stage the Pentagon would be derelict if it did not have dozens of detailed battle plans for every aspect of a third world war, and dozens more for any variety of wars on land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. How could it not? That’s the Pentagon’s job.
No one wants another global conflict, but who wanted the first two world wars as they ultimately turned out?
No one wants another global conflict, but who wanted the first two world wars as they ultimately turned out? Getting in was easy. It is folly to think this could not happen again. Tens of thousands of nuclear weapons continue to exist, many on a hair-trigger alert at U.S. and Russian bases primarily, but several other states possess such armaments as well. Any one of them could ignite a war.
Washington has been a member of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons for almost five decades, but it has totally ignored the treaty’s provision that genuine efforts must be taken by nuclear nations to attain the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.
The Pentagon’s ability to wage devastating wars greatly improves every few years, based on new technology compounded by enormous expenditures. Einstein rightly said: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
The next world war — unless it can be prevented by an entirely new U.S. foreign/military strategy — would be far more deadly than past wars. In 1914, just before World War I, the global population was 1.8 billion. The war resulted in 18 million deaths of soldiers and civilians, and 20 million wounded. In 1939, just before WWII, global population was 2.3 billion and by the end of the war there were up to 85 million dead. By 2050 world population is expected to reach 9.6 billion — the big difference in addition to population, bigger wars, and more devastating weapons will be the existence of developed climate change.
6. Although the global ecological crisis is not often thought to be a foreign policy issue, it is in practice since what the big industrialized nations do and do not do about this impending calamity impacts every country on Earth. Right now, though it demands to lead the world, U.S. policy is moving at a turtle’s pace to take the steps required to inhibit the growth of global warming.
In terms of climate change, the capitalist economic system and the political leadership that caters to that system refuses to take the swift emergency measures necessary to curtail global climate change and stricter protection of natural resources. The reason is that it depends for survival on the expansion of consumption, profits and standing in the marketplace. Big corporations, the banking system, Wall Street and related interests are not convinced a major transformation from fossil fuel to solar, wind, and other renewable sources over a couple of decades will protect and expand their assets. The world’s assets always come in second.
Human well being and survival depend upon several crucial international transformations that are basically ignored by Washington as it functions as global hegemon and leader of all nations:
- Massive reduction of fossil fuel use to prevent ever higher proportions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
- Strict regulations to protect the global ecological system.
- Nuclear and general world disarmament.
- Serious international efforts to rid the world of war, poverty, exploitation, and oppression, vast social and economic inequality, imperialism, neocolonialism, and militarism.
- Leadership by cooperative countries working for the good of all, not a single self-interested military superpower that insists upon ruling unilaterally, rewarding its friends, punishing all others, and living at the top of the social order.
The United States, undoubtedly the most influential country on Earth as well as history’s deadliest martial juggernaut, is an arch offender in all these categories. Combined with Washington’s numerous counterproductive interventions in complex world affairs, creating more havoc than order, it is time for Washington to focus upon its own mounting tribulations in America and leave the governance of the globe to the countries and peoples of the world who look upon it as their home, too.
Read more articles by Jack A. Smith on The Rag Blog.
[Jack A. Smith was editor of the Guardian — for decades the nation’s preeminent leftist newsweekly — which closed shop in 1992. Smith now edits the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter.]