Escalation in the 'War on Terror' continues...
By Ernest A. Canning on 1/3/2010, 8:03am PT  

Guest essay by Ernest A. Canning

In "Beyond Afghanistan," I responded to President Obama's Dec. 1 Afghan escalation speech by quoting from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Beyond Vietnam" speech: "Somehow this madness must cease."

I directed readers’ attention to King’s assessment that our obsession with war and occupation was but a symptom of “a far deeper malady within the American spirit;" that our presence in Afghanistan and so many other conflicts over the past 60 years was not the product of a desire to insure our safety; that it was the product of a military-industrial complex and a U.S.-led, corporate Empire whose core purpose is to feed the insatiable greed of the privileged few.

In the short time since I wrote “Beyond Afghanistan,” we have witnessed an expansion of the absurd...

Obama and Orwell

The same President who opted for escalation of a "war of absurdity" has now given us an Orwellian Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in which he sought to bring the ongoing wars of choice in Afghanistan and Iraq within the concept of "just wars" and war as a "last resort."

Obama quoted Dr. King [emphasis added]: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." The President then added, ironically, "The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace" --- an assertion that is analogous to one of the three major slogans in George Orwell's 1984: "War is Peace."

The President's words, set against photos of burned out sections of Baghdad, call to mind the remarks of the ancient Roman historian, Tacitus: "They created desolation and call it peace."

The Tacitus reference can be found in the seldom heard words of our "objectified enemy," Taliban commander Mullah Sangeen, who, in asserting that the Taliban still occupy 80% of Afghanistan, said of the U.S. invasion and occupation:

They turned Afghanistan into ruins. Thousands of Afghans were killed and their houses bombed in the name of the War on Terror. The US still does not understand the complexity of the situation. It wrongly considers the Taliban are furthering somebody else’s agenda. Now is the time for the US to understand that we are Afghans and are fighting for the freedom of our homeland.

While this by no means erases the oppressive nature of the Taliban's religious fundamentalist ideology, especially as it applies to women, it does help to explain why the desolation wrought by our presence, along with the corrupt nature of the drug-lord infested Karzai regime, have driven so many ordinary Afghans into the ranks of the Taliban --- just as the desolation, along with an equally corrupt South Vietnamese government, swelled the ranks of the Viet Cong.

Imperial conquest is not self defense

The President's subtle linking of Iraq, Afghanistan and 9/11 in order to bring these two wars of choice within the UN Charter, which establishes that nations, individually or collectively, can resort to armed conflict only as a means of self-defense is especially disturbing. [The UN Charter also authorizes humanitarian intervention to prevent genocide. Neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration claimed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were launched to prevent genocide.]

Even under the official version of 9/11, we were the victim of an especially heinous crime carried out by a stateless organization, whose very existence was the product of past U.S. policies in which the Reagan administration happily supplied the Mujahideen, dubbed "freedom fighters," with stinger missiles in order to snare the former Soviet Union in an Afghan quagmire.

Afghanistan proved to be the last Soviet imperial adventure before that Empire collapsed like a wet taco --- a result that, according to Gore Vidal, had been predicted at the outset of the Cold War:

We shall have an arms race, said one of the high priests, John Foster Dulles, and we shall win it because the Russians will go broke first.

And, as we previously reported, "By the mid-80's, Reagan's Afghan 'freedom fighters'...with the aid of Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency, turned Afghanistan into the world's single largest exporter of opium and the source of half the heroin consumed in the US."

Of course, none of that was mentioned during the President's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. It doesn't square with the President's "innocent victim" card.

As I also noted in "Beyond Afghanistan," the rational course would have been, and still is, to seek to bring the 9/11 perpetrators before the bar of justice at the World Court by application of international law with devastating economic sanctions imposed under the aegis of the United Nations against any nation that harbors the fugitives. Yet, the very idea of a legal response to 9/11 failed to so much as enter the consciousness of most Americans, for whom war (hot or cold) has been a constant since Pearl Harbor.

You doubt it? Here's a partial list of post World War II U.S. interventions, either through overt military engagement or covert CIA actions --- this in addition to the Cold War, 1945-1991, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis:

1947-49, U.S. directs extreme right-wing takeover of Greece. 1948-54, CIA-directed war against Huk rebellion in the Philippines. 1950-53, Korean War. 1953 & 1954, CIA-backed overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala. 1958, Marines deployed to quell rebellions in Lebanon and Iraq. 1960-75, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. 1961, CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba. 1965, CIA-backed military coup in Indonesia leads to the death of more than one million. 1965, U.S. invades the Dominican Republic. Sept. 11, 1973, CIA-backed ouster of the democratically elected President Salvador Allende in Chile leads to Allende's murder and a brutal reign of repression under General Agosto Pinochet. 1976-1992, CIA backs Angolan rebels who are proxies for the South African apartheid regime. 1981-90, Nicaragua falls victim to CIA-backed, "Contra" terrorists, and the U.S. mines its harbor. 1982-84, U.S. naval bombardment of Muslim positions in Lebanon. 1983, U.S. bravely invades the tiny island nation of Granada. 1987-88, U.S. overtly and covertly supplies Saddam Hussein with weapons and intelligence in his war with Iran. 1989, U.S. invades Panama. 1991, Gulf War I in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. 1992-94, Somalia. 1993, Bosnia. 1994, Haiti.

Is it any wonder that Dr. King described his own government as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today?"

Where numerous historians and former "economic hit man," John Perkins, expose a 60-year history of a brutal corporate Empire, erected through fraudulent manipulation, corruption, covert subversion, assassinations, torture and military conquest --- an Empire which is maintained by a global military presence, during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the President described that reality as simply a benevolent attempt to "underwrite global security" as the product of American "enlightened self-interest."

In "Beyond Afghanistan" I noted that 9/11 could well be a case of "blow back" for our past geopolitical gamesmanship and continued imperial presence in the Middle East. I noted that our willingness to sink further into the Afghan quagmire portends to a total collapse of the U.S. economy, adding:

But who knows what deadly future consequence will arise from the obscene brutality our nation unleashed across the globe in the aftermath of 9/11.

During his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the President, perhaps unwittingly, seconded those observations [emphasis added]:

In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred.

With that recognition, it should not have come as a shock that on Christmas day, 2009, a suicidal Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on a flight bound for Detroit attempted to blow up a passenger plane --- an attempt that was thwarted not by the billions of dollars spent on airport security but by the resourcefully quick response of a passenger, Dutch film director, Jasper Scuringa, who leaped across the seats, separated Abdulmutallab from an already melting explosive device, as the crew arrived to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher.

Waging war "over there" by no means makes us safe "over here." To the contrary, as revealed by a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, the so-called "War on Terror" only served to strengthen al Qaeda. War "over there" makes us less safe "over here;" yet our response is to escalate war?

If the absurdity is not readily apparent, consider Brad Friedman's observation, courtesy of Nate Silver, that you have a far greater chance of being struck by lightning than you would have in being on a plane that is attacked by a terrorist. Does that mean we should declare war on lightning?

More guns; less butter

The predominance of the military-industrial complex is reflected by the second item that occurred in the short time since I wrote "Beyond Afghanistan."

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $636 billion military budget, which includes $128.3 billion for war in Afghanistan and Iraq. It increased the U.S. debt ceiling to $12.394 trillion. The measure was approved by the Senate on Dec. 19 by an 88-10 vote. On Dec. 22, President Obama signed the appropriation into law. The FY 2010 military budget is nearly three times the amount ($289 billion) the U.S. devoted to the Pentagon in FY 2000.

The debt ceiling only partially reflects the enormous sums already wasted not only wars in Iraq and Afghanistan --- estimates ranging from the President’s $1 trillion to Joseph Stiglitz’s $3 trillion by 2008 in Iraq alone --- but countless lives and many trillions of dollars devoured by the Pentagon over the past 60 years. And, as Naomi Klein astutely observed, there is the additional billions we pour into the "stunningly inept" task of "reconstruction," ostensibly to repair the damage wrought by the U.S. war machine, as shock and awe serves as the harbinger for Empire's "radical social change and economic engineering."

The marriage of these two symbiotic sectors of the corporate elite, the merchants of death and desolation and those engaged in "reconstruction," was perhaps best symbolized by the fact that while Vice President Richard Cheney was Halliburton’s CEO, wife Lynn was serving on the Board of Directors of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons manufacturer.

No doubt about it, 9/11 and the "War on Terror" have proved a profitable venture for the merchants of death, but as Bob Dylan so aptly observed, addressing those merchants in Masters of War:

Let me ask you one question.
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness?
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
when your death takes its toll.
All the money you made
will never buy back your soul.

As for the rest of us, there is Gore Vidal's “The Day the Empire Ran Out of Gas,”:

The Pentagon is like a black hole; what goes in is forever lost to us, and no new wealth is created.

'Wind down,' but never leave

During his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the President suggested that the war in Iraq was "winding down" --- this against the backdrop of the Dec. 8 explosion of "car bombs" that killed at least 112 people in Baghdad, "leaving pools of blood, charred buses and scattered body parts."

Truth be told, once U.S. troops occupy a country, they dig in like ticks on a hound --- a point attested to by the fact that nearly 65 years after the end of World War II, more than 75,000 U.S. troops still occupy massive military bases in Germany.

When the President announced the withdrawal in February, 2009, there were 140,000 troops inside Iraq. 130,000 are expected to still be there in April 2010. Even when "combat troops" are drawn down, the plan is to indefinitely leave a residual occupation force of 35,000 to 50,000 troops, plus an estimated 50,000 private contractors --- an indefinite occupation of a nation, Iraq, that was the victim of an unprovoked U.S.-led "war of aggression."

As noted by Global Research on July 1, 2007, the U.S. occupies between 700 and 800 military bases in 63 countries. It has 255,065 US military personnel deployed in 156 countries --- a number that does not include private mercenaries who make up, for example, 60% of the forces in Afghanistan.

No other nation has so much as a single military base inside the U.S.

Still locked within the 'War on Terror' frame

When it comes to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the so-called "War on Terror," neither George W. Bush nor President Obama has been able to identify a point at which those wars could be "won." But that is because "winning" was never the goal --- a point made clear as early as 9/27/01 when Donald Rumsfeld penned a New York Times editorial asserting that “this will be a war like none other our nation has faced;” that there was no point in even thinking about an “exit strategy.”

In Fixed Ideas Joan Didion critiqued “the insistent use of September 11 to justify the reconception of America’s correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war.” In The Bush Agenda Antonia Juhasz adds that this perpetual war envisions an omnipresent “phantom menace” involving “shadowy networks of individuals;” a threat that is to be met “anywhere at any time, or everywhere all the time” thereby serving as the ideal excuse for a perpetual expansion of profits for the merchants of death.

These and the salient critique of retired Gen. William Odom which exposed the impossibility of waging and winning a war against a "tactic" ("terror," "night attacks") led to an abandonment of the formal use of the phrase, "War on Terror," but not to an abandonment of perpetual war on a global stage, which was the true purpose behind the coining of the Orwellian "Global War on Terror" by the Bush/Cheney cabal. Thus, we find yet another example of this exercise in global insanity in the recent revelations that the U.S. secretly bombed targets in Yemen while simultaneously pouring $70 million in military aid into that country.

As Glenn Greenwald astutely observed during his Dec. 31, 2009 appearance on Democracy Now (video below):

The myth, from the beginning, has been that there is a certain group of...intrinsically evil people called “the terrorists,” and the key to beating them is to just kill them all. And once you kill them all with bombs and other air attacks and the like, or if you lock them up forever, once you do that to the finite group known as “the terrorists,” there will be no more terrorists, and we will have won the "War on Terror."...

And, of course, what we actually have been doing over the last nine years --- and we don’t ever learn our lesson --- is we’re actually expanding the pool of terrorists.

But let's assume, for the moment, that there is such a thing as "winning" the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and in all of the innumerable countries in which al Qaeda seeks to hide.

With numerous American states teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, with unemployment, home foreclosures and bank closures reaching levels not seen since the Great Depression, with most of the U.S. manufacturing base (save weapons manufacturing) outsourced in search of cheap foreign labor, with our middle-class dwindling, our infrastructure crumbling, our schools overcrowded and the cost of health care and a higher education increasingly out of reach, and with our civil liberties steadfastly under assault in the name of national security, the time has come for the average American to ask him or herself just what "prize" they will receive if, somehow, these irrational wars could be "won"?

While pondering that question, one might also ask whether the U.S., or the world, can ever truly experience peace so long as the global inequities wrought by capitalist Empire remain in place? Whether or not it was intended, our President's Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech provides a resounding "no!"

The President said:

For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

Amen to that, Brother Barack.

In a world where the "American dream" has become for so many a "global nightmare," the end of Empire's capitalist exploitation and constant quest for environmentally destructive fossil fuels, along with a significant roll-back of the military-industrial complex Empire spawned, may well prove vital to the very survival of our species.

So once again, I leave the reader with Dr. King's words: "Somehow this madness must cease."

Epilogue In a thoughtful comment, Richard Rogers suggests that my article had been inaccurate in one respect --- that during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance President Obama never "explicitly" said that our presence in Iraq is justified as a means of self-defense.

In examining this issue, accuracy dictates that one apply the same standards to a speech by the current President as one would apply to those of the last President.

Recall that while President Bush never "explicitly" said that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11, he laced 9/11, al Qaeda, WMD, mushroom clouds and "terrorists" together so often within the same speeches, that Robert Scheer, in The Five Greatest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq observed that it was little wonder that so many Americans mistakenly believed that Saddam was linked to 9/11.

The strategy was especially effective on those citizens with the least access to a counter-narrative --- our own troops serving in Iraq, nearly 90% of whom, as late as Feb. 28, 2006 --- long after President Bush admitted there was no link --- mistakenly believed, the U.S. mission in Iraq was intended “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks.” But then, this is somewhat understandable given the fact, attested to by Steve Tatham, who had headed the British Royal Navy’s Media Operation in Iraq from November 2002 to April 2003, “the only TV station that was broadcasting continuously into military accommodations, the eating areas, the living spaces, even on the ships, was Fox News."

Careful examination of President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech reveals a similar subtle methodology for placing our presence in Iraq within the 9/11 and "War on Terror" frames.

In examining the content of the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, keep in mind that the speech was carefully prepared and presented by a Harvard-educated President who fully understands context.

The President said:

I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries --- including Norway --- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

He later said:

The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense.


The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait --- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

In the first instance, the President swiftly slipped into and out of Iraq with the words "winding down," yet included Iraq within a paragraph that discusses "self-defense." In the third paragraph, the President makes express reference to 9/11. He then again slipped in Iraq --- this time with respect to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

Setting aside the question as to whether the U.S., through Ambassador April Glaspie, may have encouraged the invasion of Kuwait before the Bush I administration utilized that event as an excuse to initiate Gulf War I, the plain and simple fact is that the invasion of Kuwait had absolutely nothing to do with the reasons why we invaded Iraq in 2003. So why did the President's prepared text reference the invasion of Kuwait in the same paragraph that he discussed 9/11 and Afghanistan?

The President, of course, also subtly ignored the fact that the U.S. was not attacked on 9/11 by Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or the Taliban.

What Obama was really implying is that the so-called "Global War on Terror" is a war of last resort that is essential to our self-defense, a point alluded to when he described al Qaeda as on par with Nazi Germany, adding:

Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.

While it is probable that the U.S. could not negotiate an end to the "War on Terror" with al Qaeda, since there has never been a serious effort to engage that criminal organization in talks designed to mutually disarm al Qaeda and end the U.S. imperial presence in the Middle East, the President's suggestion that it "cannot" be done reflects an overstatement. But the more important fact is that the choice is not limited to negotiations or endless war. There is a third way; a legal response to 9/11, which would have saved the lives of thousands of U.S. service personnel who have already perished in these conflicts, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed by our awesome war machine in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Yemen.

Consider the world-wide outpouring of sympathy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Imagine the esteem with which the U.S. would be held today if, rather than satisfying a blood lust desire for revenge, our response had been to seek the criminal arrest and prosecution of all who were complicit in 9/11 through the auspices of the World Court and the U.N. Think of the esteem that is still available should the President abandon the insanity of perpetual war and, belatedly, seek justice.

No, Mr. President, aside from the fact that it will only increase the risk of retaliation, killing innocent civilians in Arab nations to avenge 9/11 is neither rational, expedient nor just. You quoted Dr. King's words, but did you understand them? "Violence never brings permanent peace." War is not the answer.

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Glenn Greewald, during 12/31/09 appearance on Democracy Now, explains how war increases the risk of reprisal...


Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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