Part 4: The Long War
It’s no accident that all state sponsors of jihadi terrorism are vassals of the United States. Londonistan’s existence as a sovereign nation is a fiction. It is so thoroughly annexed by the US that its head of government was addressed by his US counterpart as “Yo, Blair.” France is less so but much more than under the Gaullists, who at one point exited NATO when US spooks teamed up with the OAS to assassinate De Gaulle (and failed). Those days are long forgotten. Pakistan, which harbors the Taliban and whose ISI controls the Taliban’s Haqqani Network that brought the US and NATO to its knees in Afghanistan, remains a US “ally,” even if it’s been downgraded to frenemy. Saudi Arabia, whose contribution to remodeling the New York skyline is buried in the censored 28 pages of the 9/11 report, is another such ally.
So what gives? Is the US so far gone it can’t control its wayward vassals? Far from it. “Yo Blair” and his successors are entirely at the beck and call of the US, let alone being wayward. Had the US wished them to shut down Londonistan, one phone call would have been more than enough. Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty is just as fictional as the UK’s, as the high concentration of US military bases on its territory and in its immediate vicinity demonstrates. As for Pakistan, all that the US would need to do to make the Paks behave is swing its guns around from those Afghan wedding parties to the mansions of Pakistan’s rich and corrupt rulers. Instead, it fought and lost its longest war with the wrong country, Afghanistan. Nonetheless, there is a method to all this American madness.
From Cold War to “Long War”
To understand the apparent madness behind the US’s “war on terror,” or “long war,” as it has been relabeled, we need to look back at that other long bout of apparent American insanity, the Cold War. It was a frightful, hugely expensive 50 years of fear, paranoia, and genuine danger of nuclear holocaust, but it made the US a superpower. Astronomical levels of deficit-financed military spending made possible by “scaring the hell out of the American people” with the Red Menace kept millions of Americans employed, dotted the globe with thousands of US bases that leveraged US multinationals into controlling key sectors and resources while pressuring “allies” to abandon socialist or nationalist policies that might impede the fulfillment of US aims.
Those who failed to be persuaded were simply regime-changed: Mosaddegh who nationalised Iran’s oil, Arbenz in Guatemala who upset United Fruit, Sukarno in Indonesia who interfered with Big Oil’s interests, Lumumba to whom the mineral wealth of the Congo could not be entrusted, Allende the socialist, the list is too long to recite or even remember. “Fighting communism” became a pretext for just about anything the US government felt like doing, from toppling foreign leaders who wanted to wrest control of their own natural resources from US multinationals to collaborating with the criminal underworld to prevent political movements critical of the US from gaining power.
Because the vast budgets and often covert actions of the US’s Cold War apparatus were hidden under the cloak of of national security, some called it the national security state. Dwight D. Eisenhower, as fervent a Cold Warrior as any, was so alarmed by the way that corporate interests overrode and controlled the nation’s elected representatives behind those veils of secrecy that he called it the Military-Industrial Complex and warned Americans of its dangers:
“we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. . . .In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.
The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
-Eisenhower’s farewell address, January 17, 1961
When the Berlin Wall came down, that vast machine of government pork ladled out behind a curtain of secrecy threatened to come down with it. The military bases and industries that had made the prosperity of much of America’s rural south began to close down. Vast boondoggles like Star Wars that would have kept corporate boardrooms rich and happy for decades were shelved. NATO began to question its purpose: Someone forgot to tell it that it existed to buy overpriced US weaponry and allow US intelligence to control the governments of NATO countries.
Luckily, 9/11 happened in the nick of time-the 9/11th hour, as it were-to rescue the US from the Clintonian hall of mirrors in which it had got lost, distracted from its core business of expanding and maintaining its global hegemony, which had just lost its cover story of “fighting Communism.” The “war on terror” would now pick up where the Cold War had left off. Instead of keeping the world safe from Communism, the US would henceforth keep it safe from terrorists. The US’s global protection racket was safe.
Ditching counterterrorism to make room for war
Prior to 9/11, the Bush-Cheney cabal had done everything possible to impede the work of US counterterrorism, notably by forcing the country’s top Al Qaeda expert John O’Neill to leave the FBI in frustration for a gold-plated sinecure offered to him at the WTC, which fell on top of him on his second day on the job: one of the many mysteries of 9/11. However the US government’s antipathy for counterterrorism didn’t begin and end with the Bush-Cheney neocons. When Sudan offered to hand over Bin Laden and a huge trove of intelligence on Al Qaeda, it was Bill Clinton who responded by firing Cruise missiles at the country’s only pharmaceuticals plant. The US media continue to conjure up excuses for the US government’s blatant and endemic rejection of the counterterrorism approach in dealing with Islamic terrorism.
Ditching counterterrorism, Bush-Cheney chose to militarize the issue by declaring a “war on terror,” sending armies after a handful of jihadis, whom they studiously “failed” to catch, destroying entire countries in the process. War on terror turned into counterinsurgency as the mayhem wrought by rampaging US militarism provoked widespread popular resistance from its victims and the US suddenly had two new Vietnams on its hands: Afghanistan and Iraq. Predictably, it lost both, but not before giving Boeing, Raytheon, the Koch brothers and the rest of the usual suspects a bracing shot in the arm, as well as to some new ones like Cheney’s Halliburton and Blackwater.
Two men provided the new cover story for US imperialism: The first was George Bush, of course, who rammed his War on Terror inanity into the already logically-challenged public discourse of the US. However when Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” turned into flag-draped coffins, the US momentarily woke up from that faith-based daze to the unpleasant light of reality.
“War on Terror” thereafter bore the stigma of Bush’s humiliation and it was an Australian counterinsurgency veteran and scholar brought by Rumsfeld into his inner circle, Dr. David Kilcullen, who coined the new catchword to replace it. Kilcullen could come up with nothing more imaginative than “Long War,” but the scholarly and pseudo-worldly cachet he brought into the Pentagon’s idiocracy of yes-men and ass-coverers sufficed to make it stick.
Kilcullen ghost-wrote Petraeus’s COIN manual, leading outsiders to think “Wow, so Dave isn’t a total moron, who knew?” He was the eminence grise behind the Iraq and Afghanistan troop surges. He was at General McChrystal’s elbow as the idiot lost the war faster than he could pile troops into Afghanistan, talking about protecting civilians while unleashing volleys of savage night raids on them that were nothing short of a huge recruitment campaign for the Taliban.
COIN is a scam
The US military’s own carefully concealed Afghanistan war statistics proved without a shadow of a doubt that the Afghanistan “surge,” i.e. increased US kinetic action, acted as a Taliban force multiplier, invariably resulting in an increase of “security incidents” wherever night raids and other aggressive US military actions had been ramped up.
“Because of CivCas [civilian casualties], I think we have just about eroded our credibility here in Afghanistan,” said McChrystal in 2010, according to the Marine Corps Times. Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall, then an aide to McChrystal, estimated roughly that every civilian killed creates an additional twenty insurgents. Hall noted that before the US military “went very, very kinetic”—i.e., before it intensified its violence—there were 1,500 to 2,000 insurgents; four years later, there were 30,000 to 35,000. As the Marine Corps Times reported, “Breaking the numbers down further, Hall said that when ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force] inflicts civilian casualties, the result is a 25 percent to 65 percent increase in violence in that area during the next five months.”
–How the US War in Afghanistan Fueled the Taliban Insurgency | The Nation
It’s “insurgent math,” as he calls it – for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.
–“The Runaway General: The Rolling Stone profile of Stanley McChrystal that changed history”
At this point you may be wondering if there’s a point to all this ranting against the US. Here it comes: You just read that Stan McChrystal, the US’s point man in the “Long War” knew perfectly well that the sort of aggressive counterinsurgency that is his trademark has the exact opposite effect than the purported objective of defeating global terrorism, yet he pursued it relentlessly and cyncically, hastening the US defeat in Afghanistan:
To put pressure on the Taliban, he has upped the number of Special Forces units in Afghanistan from four to 19. “You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight,” McChrystal will tell a Navy Seal he sees in the hallway at headquarters. Then he’ll add, “I’m going to have to scold you in the morning for it, though.” In fact, the general frequently finds himself apologizing for the disastrous consequences of counterinsurgency. In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent from the same period in 2009. . . . “We’ve shot an amazing number of people,” McChrystal recently conceded.
–General Stanley McChrystal: The Runaway General by Michael Hastings | Rolling Stone
What happened there wasn’t just one psycho killer general deceiving the POTUS and the nation with his hearts-and-minds malarkey while going on an Operation Phoenix-style assassination and torture rampage. It wasn’t even about McChrystal’s boss David Petraeus deceiving everybody. It was a much bigger agenda.
When McChrystal’s predecessor McKiernan was fired from the ISAF command by Obama shortly after he took office-an almost unprecedented dismissal of a commanding general by a civilian-the decision wasn’t really Obama’s but that of the military brass and the secretary of defense that he inherited from Bush, who all urged him to appoint McChrystal. So McChrystal’s treachery was backed by the entire defense establishment.
The Pentagon foisted McChrystal on Obama because he was raising a new monster that would serve them all: the Joint Special Operations Command, which he headed. This new entity answered only to the president, was impervious to congressional oversight, and superseded even the joint chiefs of staff. So who were these secretive super-warriors that they should be granted such enormous powers and total lack of accountability? A glance at McChrystal’s entourage, highly esteemed in military circles, should give you an idea:
The general’s staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There’s a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America…
–General Stanley McChrystal: The Runaway General by Michael Hastings | Rolling Stone
Before McChrystal and his “Team America,” JSOC was just a hostage-rescue outfit subordinated to SOCOM. Once “Stan the Man” took over, it became something else entirely: A gang of killers outside of the chain of command, in civilian clothes with long hair and beards, slaughtering civilians with abandon, running torture prisons, and defying the law and civilian authority every step of the way. The Army Times lamented the change, saying that the “Ranger mafia” had taken over.
“Stan the Man” and his boss Petraeus worked the media to perfection, presenting the carnage that they had wrought, which they knew full well was a veritable incubator for terrorists and insurgents, as the long-awaited emergence of the superwarriors who would finally turn things around for Team USA. America, ever in thrall to the myth of the Herculean hero, the more so if he is bedecked with the military toys that the country has a collective fetish for, lapped it up.
McChrystal in turn was fired from the ISAF command after barely a year, his gigantic troop surge having produced nothing but a higher body count of NATO troops and civilians, as well as some Pakistani ones, creating an international incident in the process. Not content with that, he also made fun of his civilian bosses in the White House in a Rolling Stone interview. Nevertheless, JSOC continued to go from strength to strength because it was Petraeus who took his place. Suddenly JSOC spread around the globe and by 2015, 135 countries were targeted by covert, lawless, and unaccountable cowboy killers with the full might of the US military and intelligence agencies at their beck and call.
All of this was happening with the full awareness that JSOC’s actions were creating more terrorism, not less:
retired US Lt. General Michael Flynn, who quit as head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in August 2014, said “there should be a different approach, absolutely” on drones.
“When you drop a bomb from a drone… you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good.”
Flynn was a senior intelligence officer with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which is responsible for the US military’s secretive and controversial drone program in countries like Yemen and Somalia.
Asked by Al Jazeera English’s Mehdi Hasan if drone strikes tend to create more terrorists than they kill, Flynn – who has been described by Wired magazine as “the real father of the modern JSOC” – replied: “I don’t disagree with that”, adding: “I think as an overarching strategy, it’s a failed strategy.”
After the Obama administration came up with “disposition matrix” as the new smokescreen-label for the kill lists, a much-quoted Washington Post story muddied the issue by falsely suggesting that the lists would “expand and contract with the pace of drone strikes,” that “the kill list in Pakistan has slipped to fewer than 10 al-Qaeda targets, down from as many as two dozen,” and although the killing would go on indefinitely, it was merely a question of “mowing the grass when it grows back.” In other words, not at all like cutting off the heads of the Hydra. This optimistic depiction of a supposedly manageable process shamelessly concealed from the public the exponential, runaway growth of the assassination program:
In May 2009, before McChrystal arrived, US SOF were carrying out 20 raids per month. But by November, McChrystal had stepped up the pace to 90 per month, and by the following spring, he had increased the number again to nearly 250 a month – a 12.5-fold increase in one year.
Finally, during the transition from McChrystal to Gen. David Petraeus in the summer of 2010, the number increased to nearly 600 raids a month. In just two years, the monthly total of night raids had been expanded by a factor of 30. But in April 2011, a US military source told researchers for the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Center that as many as 40 raids were being carried out every night – a rate of more than 1,000 raids per month.
The method in the madness
So is the US’s fondness for consorting with its sworn jihadist enemies and creating millions of new ones by laying waste entire countries a mere “blunder” or “failure,” as the mainstream media would have us believe in the rare moments when it acknowledges its existence? Or is it some form of collective insanity? It’s neither.
The ever-spreading octopus of JSOC assassination operations and the CIA’s drone killing program serve many of the traditional purposes that were originally those of the Cold War military-industrial complex: Pork-barrel subsidisation of the US economy, a veil of “national security” to cover up the manifold dirty, undemocratic, belligerent, and criminal things that make up the business of empire, allowing the US to maintain the fiction that it isn’t one, a level of provocation against designated “enemies” that ensures that they will react suitably threateningly, and a global military presence backed by “security” treaties that enable the US to dictate to its “allies” i.e. vassals what their “security” needs are and how much cash and sovereignty they will hand over to the US to ensure it.
The US’s post-9/11 assassination program does all those things plus one: It erodes the respect for both international and national law, by exploiting the largely artificial global terrorist emergency to undermine civil liberties at home and the laws of war, the principle of non-belligerence, the respect of national sovereignty, and other fundamental principles of international law abroad.
Why is the US tearing down the international system, so much of which is its own postwar creation, starting with the UN? Because its two main strategic rivals, Russia and China, are no longer the pariahs they were during the Cold War and are increasing their global clout daily even among the US’s “allies.” The international system that heretofore served the purpose of amplifying the US’s power can now be used against it. Its many war crimes can be prosecuted, it can be forced to curb its appetite for planet-destroying hydrocarbons, and above all, its eagerness to extend its empire by force, taking advantage of Russia’s temporarily weakened state, will come across exactly as what it is: lawless imperialist plunder. Without the erosion of international law that has taken place, our indignation against international lawlessness would be much greater today and we would be calling US “unilateralism” by a much stronger word.
Hence, while Russia constantly hammers on about the importance of international law, the US has since 9/11 been in the habit of creating faits accomplis, waging war and toppling governments with novel self-bestowed rights like that of “pre-emption” or “humanitarian intervention.” Our conception of international law has been blurred to the point where we are discussing if Gaddafi or Assad are/were evil enough to justify war without considering for an instant that any war that is not in self-defense is illegal, regardless of the good or evil of the opponent. The American public, once so adamant that the CIA be prevented from assassinating people or funding covert operations without congressional approval, now applauds gung-ho Rambo types secretly killing and torturing on an industrial scale with total abandon. “We shot an amazing number of people,” as McChrystal confessed.