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Don’t Walk Away From War

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Posted on Jun 12, 2014

Photo by Jayel Aheram (CC BY 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

2. American-style wars don’t solve problems.  In these years, you could argue that not a single U.S. military campaign or militarized act ordered by Washington solved a single problem anywhere.  In fact, it’s possible that just about every military move Washington has made only increased the burden of problems on this planet. To make the case, you don’t even have to focus on the obvious like, for example, the way a special operations and drone campaign in Yemen has actually al-Qaeda-ized some of that country’s rural areas.  Take instead a rare Washington “success”: the killing of Osama bin Laden in a special ops raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  (And leave aside the way even that act was over-militarized: an unarmed Bin Laden was shot down in his Pakistani lair largely, it’s plausible to assume, because officials in Washington feared what once would have been the American way—putting him on trial in a U.S. civilian court for his crimes.)  We now know that, in the hunt for bin Laden, the CIA launched a fake hepatitis B vaccination project.  Though it proved of no use, once revealed it made local jihadists so nervous about medical health teams that they began killing groups of polio vaccination workers, an urge that has since spread to Boko Haram-controlled areas of Nigeria.  In this way, according to Columbia University public health expert Leslie Roberts, “the distrust sowed by the sham campaign in Pakistan could conceivably postpone polio eradication for 20 years, leading to 100,000 more cases that might otherwise not have occurred.” The CIA has since promised not to do it again, but too late—and who at this point would believe the Agency anyway?  This was, to say the least, an unanticipated consequence of the search for bin Laden, but blowback everywhere, invariably unexpected, has been a hallmark of American campaigns of all sorts. 

Similarly, the NSA’s surveillance regime, another form of global intervention by Washington, has—experts are convinced—done little or nothing to protect Americans from terror attacks.  It has, however, done a great deal to damage the interests of America’s tech corporations and to increase suspicion and anger over Washington’s policies even among allies.  And by the way, congratulations are due on one of the latest military moves of the Obama administration, the sending of U.S. military teams and drones into Nigeria and neighboring countries to help rescue those girls kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram.  The rescue was a remarkable success… oops, didn’t happen (and we don’t even know yet what the blowback will be).

3. American-style war is a destabilizing force.  Just look at the effects of American war in the twenty-first century.  It’s clear, for instance, that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed a brutal, bloody, Sunni-Shiite civil war across the region (as well as the Arab Spring, one might argue).  One result of that invasion and the subsequent occupation, as well as of the wars and civil wars that followed: the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, while major areas of Syria and some parts of Iraq have fallen into the hands of armed supporters of al-Qaeda or, in one major case, a group that didn’t find that organization extreme enough.  A significant part of the oil heartlands of the planet is, that is, being destabilized.

Meanwhile, the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the CIA’s drone assassination campaign in the tribal borderlands of neighboring Pakistan have destabilized that country, which now has its own fierce Taliban movement.  The 2011 U.S. intervention in Libya initially seemed like a triumph, as had the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan before it.  Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and the rebels swept into power.  Like Afghanistan and Iraq, however, Libya is now a basket case, riven by competing militias and ambitious generals, largely ungovernable, and an open wound for the region.  Arms from Gaddafi’s looted arsenals have made their way into the hands of Islamist rebels and jihadist extremists from the Sinai Peninsula to Mali, from Northern Africa to northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram is entrenched.  It is even possible, as Nick Turse has done, to trace the growing U.S. military presence in Africa to the destabilization of parts of that continent.

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