US forces accused of firing white phosphorus into Mosul and Raqqa

By James Cogan
12 June 2017

Videos published by the Amaq news agency show artillery exploding over Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria that analysts believe could be white phosphorus rounds. Amaq, which often publishes information provided by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sources, claims that the areas which are shown being bombarded are ISIS-held sectors of the cities still populated by large numbers of civilians.

One video was posted on June 4, showing a daytime barrage on what is said to be the Zanjiji district of western Mosul. An ISIS flag is flying at the top of one of some multistory buildings in the foreground of the area being bombarded. The artillery shells explode in the fashion of white phosphorus munitions, igniting fires.

A second video, dated June 8, shows several explosions, again consistent with white phosphorus shells, over the surrounded ISIS “capital” of Raqqa. The artillery also appears to immediately trigger intense fires.

Many militaries around the world still use white phosphorus munitions, ostensibly as a means of rapidly creating a dense smoke screen. It can, however, be used as an incendiary weapon. The “smoke” it produces sets alight combustible materials and causes horrific burns to human flesh. It was used extensively during World War II by US and allied forces to attack enemy troop concentrations and set areas ablaze. It was widely used during the American wars in Korea and Vietnam.

In 1980, the use of white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon to target civilians was ruled a war crime under international law.

It has continued, however, to be used to set ablaze urban areas and terrorize civilian populations. Documented or alleged cases include: the 1994 Russian assault on Grozny in Chechnya; the April and November 2004 US attacks on the Iraqi city of Fallujah; the 2006 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon; the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on the Palestinian city of Gaza; and by American forces in Afghanistan during the so-called “surge” ordered by the Obama administration in 2009.

There is overwhelming evidence that the US Marines—commanded by now secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis—used white phosphorus as an incendiary, not smoke-creating, weapon over civilian-populated areas of Fallujah. The Bush administration and Pentagon dismissed allegations of criminality, asserting that it was legitimate as American forces were seeking to force armed insurgents out of their defensive positions.

In a widely cited statement in November 2005, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable explained US military tactics regarding its use as an antipersonnel weapon: “When you have enemy forces that are in covered positions that your high explosive artillery rounds are not having an impact on, and you wish to get them out of those positions, one technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position because the combined effects of the fire and smoke—and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground—will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives.”

US Marine artillery batteries, fielding 155mm howitzers and equipped with white phosphorus rounds, are participating in the assaults on both Mosul and Raqqa. An estimated 200,000 civilians are trapped in the ISIS-held areas of both cities.

Upon taking office in January, the new administration of President Donald Trump signaled that it had ordered the lifting of “restrictions” on American forces fighting ISIS that were purportedly limiting civilian casualties. Over the months since, the number and intensity of US air strikes on Mosul and Raqqa have dramatically increased, along with the toll of civilian deaths and injuries.

Secretary of Defense Mattis has stated on several occasions that the US and its local Iraqi and Syrian proxies are now implementing “annihilation tactics” against ISIS.

Prior to the allegations of war crimes relating to the use of white phosphorus, evidence had already emerged in Mosul of the torture and extrajudicial murder of alleged ISIS fighters by US-backed forces.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/12/wpho-j12.html

Understanding the geopolitics of terrorism

8 June 2017

The latest in a long series of bloody terrorist attacks attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unfolded in Iran early Wednesday with coordinated armed assaults on the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) and the mausoleum of the late supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini. At least 12 people were killed and 43 wounded.

The reactions of the US government and the Western media to the attacks in Tehran stand in stark contrast to their response to the May 22 bombing that killed 22 people at the Manchester Arena and the London Bridge attacks that claimed nine lives last Saturday.

The Trump White House released a vicious statement that effectively justified the killings in Iran, declaring, “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” an attitude that found its reflection in the relative indifference of the media to the loss of Iranian lives. It is clearly understood that terrorism against Iran serves definite political aims that are in sync with those of US imperialism and its regional allies.

For its part, Tehran’s reaction to the attacks was unambiguous. It laid the responsibility at the door of the US and its principal regional ally, Saudi Arabia. “This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the US president (Donald Trump) and the (Saudi) backward leaders who support terrorists,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement, published by Iranian media. The attack was understood in Tehran as a political act carried out in conjunction with identifiable state actors and aimed at furthering definite geostrategic objectives.

The same can be said of the earlier acts of terrorism carried out in Manchester and London, as well as those in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere before them.

The Western media routinely treats each of these atrocities as isolated manifestations of “evil” or religious hatred, irrational acts carried out by madmen. In reality, they are part of an internationally coordinated campaign in pursuit of definite political objectives.

Underlying the violence on the streets of Europe is the far greater violence inflicted upon the Middle East by US, British and French imperialism, working in conjunction with right-wing bourgeois regimes and the Islamist forces they promote, finance and arm.

ISIS is itself the direct product of a series of imperialist wars, emerging as a split-off from Al Qaeda, which got its start in the CIA-orchestrated war by Islamist fundamentalists against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. It was forged in the US war of aggression against Iraq that killed close to a million Iraqis, and then utilized in the 2011 war to topple Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Fighters and arms were then funneled with the aid of the CIA into the war for regime change in Syria.

The latest round of terror has its source in growing dissatisfaction among Washington’s Middle Eastern allies and its Islamist proxy forces over the slow pace of the US intervention in Syria and Washington’s failure to bring the six-year war for regime change to a victorious conclusion.

The people giving the orders for these attacks live in upper-class neighborhoods in London, Paris and elsewhere, enjoying close connections with intelligence agencies and government officials. Far from being unknown, they will be found among the top ministers and government officials in Damascus if the US-backed war in Syria achieves its objectives.

Those who carry out the terrorist atrocities are expendable assets, foot soldiers who are easily replaced from among the broad layers enraged by the slaughter carried out by imperialism in the Middle East.

The mass media always presents the failure to prevent these attacks as a matter of the security forces failing to “connect the dots,” a phrase that should by now be permanently banned. In virtually every case, those involved are well known to the authorities.

In the latest attacks in the UK, the connections are astonishing, even given the similar facts that have emerged in previous terrorist actions. One of the attackers in the London Bridge killings, Yousseff Zaghba, was stopped at an Italian airport while attempting to travel to Syria, freely admitting that he “wanted to be a terrorist” and carrying ISIS literature. Another was featured in a British television documentary that chronicled his confrontation with and detention by police after he unfurled an ISIS flag in Regent’s Park.

The Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was likewise well known to British authorities. His parents were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who were allowed to return to Libya in 2011 to participate in the US-NATO regime-change operation against Muammar Gaddafi. He himself met with Libyan Islamic State operatives in Libya, veterans of the Syrian civil war, and maintained close connections with them while in Manchester.

What has become clear after 16 years of the so-called “war on terrorism”—going all the way back to the hijackers of 9/11—is that these elements move in and out of the Middle East, Europe and the US itself not only without hindrance, but under what amounts to state protection.

When they arrive at passport control, their names come up with definite instructions that they are not to be stopped. “Welcome home, sir, enjoy your vacation in Libya?” “Bit of tourism in Syria?”

Why have they enjoyed this carte blanche? Because they are auxiliaries of US and European intelligence, necessary proxies in wars for regime change from Libya to Syria and beyond that are being waged to further imperialist interests.

If from time to time these elements turn against their sponsors, with innocent civilians paying with their lives, that is part of the price of doing business.

In the aftermath of terrorist actions, governments respond with stepped-up measures of repression and surveillance. Troops are deployed in the streets, democratic rights are suspended, and, as in France, a state of emergency is made the overriding law of the land. All of these measures are useless in terms of preventing future attacks, but serve very well to control the domestic population and suppress social unrest.

If the mass media refuses to state what has become obvious after more than a decade and a half of these incidents, it is a measure of how fully the linkage between terrorism, the Western intelligence agencies and the unending wars in the Middle East has become institutionalized.

Innocent men, women and children, whether in London, Manchester, Paris, Tehran, Baghdad or Kabul, are paying the terrible price for these imperialist operations, which leave a trail of blood and destruction everywhere.

Putting a stop to terrorist attacks begins with a fight to put an end to the so-called “war on terrorism,” the fraudulent pretext for predatory wars in which Al Qaeda and its offshoots are employed as proxy ground forces, operating in intimate collaboration with imperialist intelligence services and military commands.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/08/pers-j08.html

The Great Unraveling: The crisis of the post-war geopolitical order

2 June 2017

Less than a week after US President Donald Trump returned to the United States from his overseas tour of the Middle East and Europe, it is clear that a shift in world politics with vast implications is underway. Global relationships and institutions that for decades set the framework for international economy and public life are rapidly unraveling.

The rising threat of trade war and the resurgence of the military ambitions of all the imperialist powers are signs of the advanced state of collapse of the international institutions created after the United States emerged from World War II as the dominant imperialist power.

This collapse is the product of processes that have matured over decades. In 1991, when the Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union deprived the NATO alliance of a common enemy, tensions between the imperialist powers were already surging. As US strategists declared a “unipolar moment,” in which the disappearance of the Soviet Union eliminated any immediate military rival, they aimed to use this military advantage to counterbalance the declining economic position of the United States.

A 1992 Pentagon strategy paper asserted that Washington had to convince “potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture,” and to “discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order.”

A quarter century later, this policy has failed. It led to a series of imperialist wars and interventions by the NATO powers, led by the United States, that shattered Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and other countries. While costing millions of lives, destroying entire societies, and creating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, these acts of militarism have produced debacles and failed to reverse US imperialism’s fortunes. Now, a new stage of the crisis has been reached: The United States’ imperialist rivals are preparing direct, far-reaching challenges to US imperialism’s global primacy.

Trump’s attempts at the G7 and NATO summits to secure better economic terms for the United States from Europe have backfired. He had blamed the Europeans for “not paying what they should be paying” for military spending in the NATO alliance, and denounced Germany as “terrible,” adding, “We will stop” German car exports to the US. Europe’s response was not sympathy and financial aid, however, but a series of actions indicating that the continental European powers are preparing for a political and military break with America.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a Munich beer tent rally Sunday, referred to both Trump’s performance at the summits and Britain’s vote to exit the European Union (EU): “The times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over—I experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.” Going forward, she added, “we have to fight for our own future ourselves.”

Events in Europe over the past week confirmed that Merkel’s statement reflected a deep crisis in the NATO military alliance founded in 1949 between America and Europe. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel declared that under Trump, Washington had cast itself outside the “Western community of values.” He added that this signaled “a shift in global power relations.”

Then newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron, a close ally of Berlin, invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to a high-profile summit at Versailles. Standing next to Putin in a joint press conference, Macron criticized all the main US-EU foreign interventions in recent years. He called for an end to the conflict in Ukraine provoked by the 2014 US- and German-backed coup in Kiev, called for closer economic and intelligence cooperation with Russia and even floated the possibility of re-opening France’s embassy in Damascus, Syria.

Also this week, a new EU military headquarters in Brussels went into operation. Britain, which had blocked it in line with US fears that the EU would become a rival to NATO, could no longer veto it due to its exit from the EU.

Among US foreign policy strategists, it is widely acknowledged that these events mark a historic setback for Washington. “Every American administration since 1945 has tried to work closely with Germany and NATO,” Jacob Heilbrunn wrote in The National Interest, but America under Trump is “pushing Merkel to create a German superpower.”

Heilbrunn added, “Now that France has elected Emanuel Macron president, Merkel is moving to fashion a Franco-German axis that will pursue a common economic and military path. This will signal a significant diminution in American prestige and influence abroad. Imagine, for example, that Merkel decided to defy Trump’s push for sanctions and isolating Iran by establishing trade ties with North Korea, including selling it weapons.”

These tensions are not simply the product of the extreme nationalist policies of the current occupant of the White House, however. Indeed, as the Democratic Party relentlessly demonizes Russia and accuses it of subverting American democracy, it is ever clearer that a victory of Hillary Clinton in last year’s US presidential election would not have resolved the conflicts with Europe. Rather, the tensions are rooted in deep contradictions between the interests of the major imperialist powers, which twice in the last century led to world war.

This is underscored by the escalating rivalries between the imperialist powers in Asia. Last month, as China inaugurated its so-called Belt and Road Initiative—designed to build a web of energy and transport infrastructure integrating China, the Middle East, and Europe—Washington was reduced to a role on the sidelines, as China and the EU developed their ties. The response of Japan and India, Washington’s allies in its “pivot to Asia” aimed at isolating China, is not, however, fundamentally friendlier to US imperialist interests than that of the EU powers.

Last week, Tokyo and New Delhi released a “vision document” for an “Asia Africa Growth Corridor,” aiming to present an alternative to China’s Belt and Road that would develop India as a production-chain hub and military counterweight to China. The goal of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his supporters in the ultra-nationalist Nippon Kaigi organization is not only to outstrip China, but also to rearm Japan and supplant America as Asia’s dominant power.

Abe, whose government is pushing aggressively for the elimination of the constitutional ban on Japanese overseas wars imposed after its defeat in World War II, has repeatedly declared that an Indo-Japanese alliance has “the most potential” of any “in the world.”

The events surrounding Trump’s trip to Europe reflect a crisis not only of American imperialism, but of the entire world capitalist system. None of Washington’s rivals—neither the EU, despised at home for its austerity policies, nor the economically moribund, right-wing regime in Japan, nor the post-Maoist capitalist oligarchy in China—offer a progressive alternative.

Anyone who asserted that a coalition of these powers will emerge to stabilize world capitalism, and block the emergence of large-scale trade war and military conflict, would be placing heavy bets against history. As Trump demands trade war against Germany, Berlin and Tokyo re-militarize their foreign policy, and a new French president comes to power who supports restoring the draft, everything indicates that the ruling elites are tobogganing eyes closed towards a new global conflagration on the same—or an even greater—scale as the world wars of the last century.

The force that will emerge as the alternative to the collapse of bourgeois politics is the international working class. It is being driven into action by intolerable conditions of life, mass unemployment, and social misery after decades of austerity and war. And as corporations like Amazon and Apple, with vast workforces spread over dozens of countries, predominate in a globalized world economy, the working class is increasingly conscious of its character as an international class, whose interests are fundamentally separate and opposed to those of the financial aristocracies that rule in every country.

The collapse of international capitalist relations goes hand in hand with the discrediting of the various social democratic and liberal parties and trade union bureaucracies that emerged to contain the class struggle in the post-World War II era. The surprise vote for Brexit, the election of Trump and the disintegration of France’s two-party system in the recent presidential election testify to the collapse of the old ruling establishments. A global eruption of the class struggle is being prepared.

The crisis that has emerged has vindicated the International Committee of the Fourth International’s (ICFI) insistence that the Stalinists’ dissolution of the Soviet Union did not signify the end of the struggle of the international working class for socialism. Capitalism had not overcome the fundamental conflicts identified by the great Marxists of the 20th century—the contradictions between global economy and the nation-state system, and between socialized economic production and the private appropriation of profit—that led to war and to social revolution.

The way forward for the working class is revolutionary struggle on an internationalist and socialist program in the tradition of the October Revolution a century ago. Workers cannot support the militarist policies of any of the contending imperialist powers. The necessary response to the deepening crisis of global capitalism is the unification of the working class in struggle against imperialism through the building of a world socialist anti-war movement.

Alex Lantier

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/02/pers-j02.html

Chelsea Manning released amid growing attacks on democratic rights in the US

18 May 2017

Chelsea Manning walked out of the US military’s maximum security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in the early morning hours Wednesday after serving a sentence of more than seven years, marked by brutality and ill-treatment tantamount to torture.

Manning’s supposed “crime” was that of exposing to the people of the United States and the entire planet the criminal atrocities carried out by the US government in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Washington’s conspiracies around the world.

It is ironic that the release of the US Army private imprisoned for leaking classified documents received minimal coverage from the corporate media, even as it churned out endless stories covering President Donald Trump’s alleged exposure to Russian officials of classified secrets.

The political crisis in Washington is the product of a bitter internecine struggle between rival factions within the ruling political establishment and the US state apparatus, which are equally hostile to the democratic principles and antiwar sentiments for which Chelsea Manning sacrificed her freedom and nearly lost her life.

Days after her sentencing in August 2013, Manning came out as a transgender woman, but the military held her in an all-male prison, subjecting her to sexual humiliation and denying her treatment for her well-documented gender dysphoria. Much of her imprisonment was spent in punitively imposed solitary confinement. The predictable result was extreme mental anguish, depression and attempted suicide.

Manning’s seven years of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the US military represented the most draconian punishment ever imposed for leaking classified documents in the United States. She was originally sentenced to 35 years in prison in a drumhead military court martial, in which the prosecution pressed for a “treason” conviction, a charge that carries the death penalty.

Whom did Manning “betray”? Certainly not the American people, to whom she helped expose crimes being carried out behind their backs. Rather, her actions cut across the interests of the American capitalist ruling class, which is waging endless predatory wars and building up a police-state apparatus to suppress social unrest and popular resistance at home.

Working as a 22-year-old military intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning became increasingly opposed to the US war and occupation in that country. In early 2010, she provided WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents exposing Washington’s crimes.

Among the first pieces of this classified material to catch the attention of a wide public was the chilling “Collateral Murder” video. Viewed by millions, the video, recorded through the gun sight of a US Apache helicopter, provides a gut-wrenching exposure, not only of a deliberate massacre of over a dozen unarmed civilians, including two Iraqi reporters working for the Reuters news agency, but of the criminal character of the US war as a whole.

Other documents provided by Manning made it clear that the US was vastly underreporting the number of civilians being killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Manning also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world, which exposed official US lying, efforts to subvert governments, and dossiers on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, showing most of them had no significant role in terrorist operations.

The exposure of these crimes provoked a vindictive reaction from the Obama White House and the State Department, then headed by Hillary Clinton. The persecution of Manning was part of a broader crackdown on whistleblowers—the Obama administration prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined. This crackdown went hand-in-hand with the buildup of a state repressive apparatus that extended from the massive spying on the US and world population to the president’s invoking of the power to order the drone missile assassination of anyone, anywhere in the world.

If Obama commuted Manning’s sentence on his final day in office (adding 120 days onto her time served), it was not out of any last-minute sympathy for the imprisoned soldier’s suffering, or any newfound democratic convictions. It was a calculated political act, aimed at sanitizing the filthy record of his administration and currying favor for the Democratic Party. The conviction and the draconian sentence remain on the books, a brutal warning to anyone thinking of following in the persecuted private’s footsteps.

During the seven years that Manning spent enclosed behind cement and iron bars, the government’s witch-hunt and persecution against those daring to expose its crimes has only intensified.

Julian Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, threatened by a US federal grand jury. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated last month that Assange’s arrest was a “priority,” adding that the US government was “stepping up our efforts on all leaks … whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” This was accompanied by an extraordinary speech by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who branded WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” He declared that Assange “has no First Amendment freedoms” and that anyone who reveals the secrets of the US government is an “enemy” guilty of “treason.”

Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA’s illegal wholesale spying operations, has been turned into a man without a country, living in forced exile in Moscow. Both Trump and Pompeo have publicly called for his execution.

If Manning, Assange and Snowden are compelled to face the threat of imprisonment and even death for lifting the lid on Washington’s dirty secrets, it is in large measure because the corporate media in the United States is fully complicit in these crimes, functioning more and more openly as a propaganda arm of the US government.

In a revealingly hostile response to Manning’s pending release, the New York Times buried an article deep inside its printed addition Wednesday under the headline “Manning Is Set to Be Freed 28 Years Ahead of Schedule.” Presumably the newspaper of record would have preferred she serve her full term.

The Times’s former executive editor, Bill Keller, expressed his attitude toward the WikiLeaks revelations in 2010, while Manning was being brutalized in a Marine Corps lockup in Quantico, Virginia. He described himself as “uncomfortable” with the notion that the Times “can decide to release information that the government wants to keep secret,” a practice that in an earlier period was regarded as the most essential function of the so-called Fourth Estate. He made the Orwellian declaration that “transparency is not an absolute good” and that “Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”

Today, the Times’s editorial pages are under the direction of James Bennet, a figure with the closest ties to the state apparatus and the top echelons of the Democratic Party. (His father is a former head of USAID, a front for the CIA, and his brother is the senior senator from Colorado.) The Times churns out war propaganda, while news coverage is, by the paper’s own admission, vetted by the US intelligence agencies. These practices set the tone for the corporate media as a whole.

The suppression of freedom of the press and free speech in the US—epitomized by the relentless persecution of Manning, Assange and Snowden—is driven by the needs of America’s ruling oligarchy, as it seeks to extricate itself from deepening economic and political crises by means of ever more dangerous acts of military aggression abroad, while confronting rising hostility and anger from masses of working people in the US and around the world.

The defense of these rights and the fight against state repression can be waged only as part of the struggle for the independent political mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/05/18/pers-m18.html

The American War Machine: Never Has a Society Spent More for Less

The American way of war is a budget-breaker.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army/Flickr Creative Commons

When Donald Trump wanted to “do something” about the use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria, he had the U.S. Navy lob 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield (cost: $89 million). The strike was symbolic at best, as the Assad regime ran bombing missions from the same airfield the very next day, but it did underscore one thing: the immense costs of military action of just about any sort in our era.

While $89 million is a rounding error in the Pentagon’s $600 billion budget, it represents real money for other agencies.  It’s more than twice the $38 million annual budget of the U.S. Institute of Peace and more than half the $149 million budget of the National Endowment of the Arts, both slated for elimination under Trump’s budget blueprint. If the strikes had somehow made us — or anyone — safer, perhaps they would have been worth it, but they did not.

In this century of nonstop military conflict, the American public has never fully confronted the immense costs of the wars being waged in its name.  The human costs — including an estimated 370,000 deaths, more than half of them civilians, and the millions who have been uprooted from their homes and sent into flight, often across national borders — are surely the most devastating consequences of these conflicts.  But the economic costs of our recent wars should not be ignored, both because they are so massive in their own right and because of the many peaceable opportunities foregone to pay for them.

Even on the rare occasions when the costs of  and war making are actually covered in the media, they never receive the sort of attention that would be commensurate with their importance.  Last September, for example, the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute released a paper demonstrating that, since 2001, the U.S. had racked up $4.79 trillion in current and future costs from its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, as well as in the war at home being waged by the Department of Homeland Security.  That report was certainly covered in a number of major outlets, including the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic, and U.S. News and World Report.  Given its importance, however, it should have been on the front page of every newspaper in America, gone viral on social media, and been the subject of scores of editorials.  Not a chance.

Yet the figures should stagger the imagination.  Direct war spending accounted for “only” $1.7 trillion of that sum, or less than half of the total costs.  The Pentagon disbursed those funds not through its regular budget but via a separate war account called Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).  Then there were the more than $900 billion in indirect war costs paid for from the regular budget and the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs. And don’t forget to add in the more than half-trillion dollars for the budget of the Department of Homeland Security since 2001, as well as an expected $1 trillion in future costs for taking care of the veterans of this century’s wars throughout their lifetimes.  If anyone were truly paying attention, what could more effectively bring home just how perpetual Washington’s post-9/11 war policies are likely to be?

That cost, in fact, deserves special attention.  The Veterans Administration has chronic problems in delivering adequate care and paying out benefits in a timely fashion.  Its biggest challenge: the sheer volume of veterans generated by Washington’s recent wars.  An additional two million former military personnel have entered the VA system since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Fully half of them have already been awarded lifetime disability benefits. More than one in seven — 327,000 — suffer from traumatic brain injury. Not surprisingly, spending for the Veterans Administration has tripled since 2001.  It has now reached more than $180 billion annually and yet the VA still can’t catch up with its backlog of cases or hire doctors and nurses fast enough to meet the need.

Now imagine another 15 years of such failing, yet endless wars and the flood of veterans they will produce and then imagine what a Cost of War Project report might look like in 2032.  Given all this, you would think that the long-term price tag for caring for veterans would be taken into account when a president decides whether or not to continue to pursue America’s never-ending wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa, but that, of course, is never the case.

What a Military-First World Means in Budgetary Terms

Enter Donald Trump. Even before he launches a major war of his own — if he does — he’s loosed his generals to pursue with renewed energy just about all the wars that have been started in the last 15 years. In addition, he’s made it strikingly clear that he’s ready to throw hundreds of billions (eventually, of course, trillions) of additional tax dollars at the Pentagon in the years to come. As he put it in a September 2016 interview on Meet the Press, “I’m gonna build a military that’s so strong… nobody’s gonna mess with us.” As he makes plans to hike the Pentagon budget once more, however, here’s what he seems blissfully unaware of: at roughly $600 billion per year, current Pentagon spending is already close to its post-World War II peak and higher than it was at the height of the massive 1980s military buildup initiated by President Ronald Reagan.

On the dubious theory that more is always better when it comes to Pentagon spending (even if that means less is worse elsewhere in America), Trump is requesting a $54 billion increase in military spending for 2018.  No small sum, it’s roughly equal to the entire annual military budget of France, larger than the defense budgets of the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan, and only $12 billion less than the entire Russian military budget of 2015.

Trump and his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, have pledged to offset this sharp increase in Pentagon funding with corresponding cuts in domestic and State Department spending.  (In a military-first world, who even cares about the ancient art of diplomacy?)  If the president gets his way, that will mean, for instance, a 31% cut in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and a 29% cut in the State Department’s.  Eliminated would also be $8 billion worth of block grants that provide services to low-income communities, including subsidies for seniors who can’t afford to heat their homes, as well as any support for 19 separate agencies engaged in purely peaceable activities, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Legal Services, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps, and the Appalachian Regional Commission, which invests in economic development, education, and infrastructure projects in one of the nation’s poorest regions.

Overall, as presently imagined, the Trump budget would hike the Pentagon’s cut of the pie, and related spending on veterans’ affairs, homeland security, and nuclear weapons to an astounding 68% of federal discretionary spending. And keep in mind that the discretionary budget includes virtually everything the government does outside of entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. You undoubtedly won’t be surprised to learn that perpetual war and the urge to perpetuate yet more of it leaves little room for spending on the environment, diplomacy, alternative energy, housing, or other domestic investments, not to speak of infrastructure repair.

Put another way, preparations for and the pursuit of war will ensure that any future America is dirtier, sicker, poorer, more rickety, and less safe.

Taking the Gloves Off When It Comes to the Costs of War

The biggest beneficiaries of Pentagon largesse will, as always, be the major defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, which received more than $36 billion in defense-related contracts in fiscal 2015 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available). To put that figure in perspective, Lockheed Martin’s federal contracts are now larger than the budgets of 22 of the 50 states. The top 100 defense contractors received $175 billion from the Pentagon in fiscal year 2015, nearly one-third of the Department of Defense’s entire budget.  These numbers will only grow if Trump gets the money he wants to build more ships, planes, tanks, and nuclear weapons.

The Trump administration has yet to reveal precisely what it plans to spend all that new Pentagon money it’s requesting, but the president’s past statements offer some clues.  He has called for building up the Navy from its current level of 272 ships to 350 or more.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the construction costs alone of such an effort would be $800 billion over the next three decades at an annual cost of $26.6 billion, which is 40% higher than the Navy’s present shipbuilding budget.

To put this in perspective, even before Trump’s proposed increases, the Navy was planning major expenditures on items like 12 new ballistic-missile-firing submarines at a development and building cost of more than $10 billion each.  As for new surface ships, Trump wants to add two more aircraft carriers to the 10 already in active service.  He made this clear in a speech on board the USS Gerald Ford, a new $13 billion carrier that, as with so much Pentagon weaponry, has been plagued with cost overruns and performance problems.

President Trump also wants to double down on the Pentagon’s preexisting program to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years on a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and land-based missiles.  While that plan is politely referred to as a “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, it already essentially represents Washington’s bid to launch a new global arms race.  So among a host of ill-considered plans for yet more expenditures, this one is a particular ringer, given that the United States already possesses massive nuclear overkill and that current nuclear delivery systems can last decades more with upgrades.  To give all of this a sense of scale, two Air Force strategists determined that the United States needs just 311 nuclear warheads to dissuade any other country from ever attacking it with nuclear weapons.  At 4,000 nuclear warheads, the current U.S. stockpile is already more than 13 times that figure — enough, that is, to destroy several planet Earths.

And don’t forget that Trump also wants to add tens of thousands more soldiers and Marines to the military’s ranks.  By the most conservative estimate, the cost of equipping, training, paying, and deploying a single soldier annually is now close to $1 million (even leaving aside those future VA outlays), so every 10,000 additional troops means at least $10 billion more per year.

And don’t forget that the staggering potential costs already mentioned represent just the baseline for military spending — the costs President Trump will set in motion even if he doesn’t get us into a major war.  Not that we’re not at war already. After all, he inherited no less than seven conflicts from Barack Obama: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.  Each of them involves a different mix of tools, including combat troops, trainers, Special Operations forces, conventional bombing, drone strikes, and the arming of surrogate forces — but conflicts they already are.

Based on his first 100-plus days in office, the real question isn’t whether Donald Trump will escalate these conflicts — he will — but how much more he will do. He’s already allowed his military commanders to “take the gloves off” by loosening the criteria for air attacks in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia, with an almost instant increase in civilian casualties as a result. He has also ceded to his commanders decision-making when it comes to how many troops to deploy in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, making it a reasonable probability that more U.S. personnel will be sent into action in the months and years to come.

It still seems unlikely that what must now be considered Trump’s wars will ever blow up into the kind of large-scale conflicts that the Bush administration sparked in Iraq.  At the height of that disaster, more than 160,000 U.S. troops and a comparable number of U.S.-funded private contractors were deployed to Iraq (compared to 7,000 troops and more than 7,800 contractors there now).  Nor does the talk of increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 3,000 to 5,000 suggest that the 8,400 troops now there will ever be returned to the level of roughly 100,000 of the Obama “surge” era of 2010 and 2011.

But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.  Given Trump’s pattern of erratic behavior so far — one week threatening a preemptive strike on North Korea and the next suggesting talks to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear program — anything is possible.  For example, there could still be a sharp uptick in U.S. military personnel sent into Iraq and Syria when his pledge to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS doesn’t vanquish the group.

And if we learned anything from the Iraq experience (aside from the fact that attempting to use military force to remake another country is a formula for a humanitarian and security disaster), it’s that politicians and military leaders routinely underestimate the costs of war.  Before the invasion of Iraq, Bush officials were, for instance, citing figures as low as $50 billion for the entire upcoming operation, beginning to end. According to figures compiled by the Congressional Research Service, however, direct budgetary costs for the Iraq intervention have been at least 16 times larger than that — well over $800 billion — and still counting.

One decision that could drive Trump’s already expansive military spending plans through the roof would be an incident that escalated into a full-scale conflict with Iran. If the Trump team — a remarkable crew of Iranophobes — were to attack that country, there’s no telling where things might end, or how high the costs might mount.  As analyst Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group has noted, a war with Iran could “make the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts look like a walk in the park.”

So before Congress and the public acquiesce in another military intervention or a sharp escalation of one of the U.S. wars already under way, perhaps it’s time to finally consider the true costs of war, American-style — in lives lost, dollars spent, and opportunities squandered.  It’s a reasonable bet that never in history has a society spent more on war and gotten less bang for its copious bucks.

William Hartung is director, Arms and Security Project, Center for International Policy.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/american-way-war-budget-breaker?akid=15544.265072.g-8V8Y&rd=1&src=newsletter1076764&t=14

How Trump and Obama are Exactly Alike

Not until faithfulness turns to betrayal
And betrayal into trust
Can any human being become part of the truth.

— Rumi

Trump won the 2016 nomination and election largely because he was able to pose as a populist and anti-interventionist “America Firster”.

Similarly, Obama won the 2008 election in good part because he promised “hope and change” and because he had given a speech years earlier against the then-impending invasion of Iraq.

Short of disclosure of diaries or other documents from these politicians, we can’t know for certain if they planned on reversing much of what they promised or if the political establishment compelled them to change, but they both eventually perpetrated a massive fraud.

What is perhaps most striking is actually how quickly each of them backtracked on their alleged purpose. Particular since they were both proclaimed as representing “movements”.

Even before he took office, Obama stacked his administration with pro-war people: He incredibly kept Bush’s head of the Pentagon, Robert Gates; nominated Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, who he beat largely because she voted for giving Bush authorization to invade Iraq. Other prominent Iraq War backers atop the administration included VP Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Richard Holbrooke. Before he was sworn in, Obama backed the 2008 Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. See from 2008: “Anti-War Candidate, Pro-War Cabinet?

Predictably, the Obama years saw a dramatic escalation of the U.S. global assassination program using drones. Obama intentionally bombed more countries than any other president since World War II: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. Obama talked about a nuclear weapons free world, but geared up to spent $1 trillion in upgrading the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. At the end of his administration, attempts at the UN to work toward banning nuclear weapons were sabotaged, efforts that the Trump administration continues. At his first news conference as president, Helen Thomas asked Obama if he know of any country in the Mideast that had nuclear weapons. Obama passed on the opportunity to start unraveling the mountain of deceits that constitutes U.S. foreign policy by simply saying “Israel” and instead said that he didn’t want to “speculate” about the matter.

As many have noted recently, Trump seemingly reversed himself on Syria and launched a barrage of cruise missiles targeting the Assad regime. It’s part of a whole host of what’s called “flip-flops” — Ex-Im Bank, NATO, China, Russia, Federal Reserve — but which are in fact the unraveling of campaign deceits.

Fundamentally, Obama and Trump ran against the establishment and then helped rebrand it — further entrenching it.

And of course it’s not just foreign policy. Obama brought in pro-Wall Street apparatchiks Tim Geithner and others around Robert Rubin, like Larry Summers. Some were connected to Goldman Sachs, including Rahm Emanuel, Gary Gensler and Elena Kagan and Obama would back the Wall Street bailout. Trump campaigned as a populist and brought in a litany of Goldman Sachs tools, most prominently Steven Mnuchin at Treasury Secretary and Gary Cohn as chief economic advisor.

The nature of their deception is different. Obama is lawyerly and, like jello, hard to pin to the wall. Many of his broken promises are actually violations of the spirit of what he said, not the letter. He can promise to withdraw “all combat troops” from Iraq — but doesn’t inform voters that “combat troops” in his parlance is not the same as “troops”. And most certainly many of his backers were utterly infatuated with him and seemed incapable of parsing out his deceitful misimpressions. Obama did however outright violate some promises, most obviously to close the the gulag at Guantanamo Bay in his first 100 days.

Trump triangulates by being an electron. He can say X and not-X in the span of a minute. Like an electron, he can be in two places at the same time. Trump is just an extreme example of what should be evident: It’s largely meaningless if a politician declares a position, especially during a campaign. The question is: What have they done? How have they demonstrated their commitment to, say, ending perpetual wars or taking on Wall Street?

These people are largely salesmen.

Nor are these patterns totally new. George W. Bush campaigned against “nation building” (sic: nation destroying); Bill Clinton campaigned as the “man from Hope” for the little guy; George H. W. Bush claimed he was a compassionate conservative. All backed corporate power and finance. All waged aggressive war.

In both the cases of Obama and Trump, the “opposition” party put forward a ridiculous critique that pushed them to be more militaristic. Obama as a “secret Muslim” — which gave him more licence to bomb more Muslim countries while still having a ridiculous image of being some sort of pacifist. Much of the “liberal” and “progressive” critique of Trump has been focusing on Russia, in effect pushing Trump to be more militaristic against the other major nuclear state on the planet.

One thing that’s needed is citizens aided by media that adroitly and accessibly pierce through the substantial deceptions in real time.

Another thing that’s needed is that people from what we call the “left” and “right” need to join together and pursue polices that undermine the grip of Wall Street and the war makers. They should not be draw into loving or hating personalities or take satisfaction from principleless partisan barbs.

Only when there’s adherence to real values and when solidarity is acted upon will the cycles of betrayal be broken.

Sam Husseini is founder of the website VotePact.org

COUNTERPUNCH

59 Tomahawks and 5,900 years of slaughter: A brief history of Syria

Trump is leading us into another buzz saw war and, once again, we are not prepared to win the fight or the peace

59 Tomahawks and 5,900 years of slaughter: A brief history of Syria

A Kurdish Syrian woman walks with her child past the ruins of the town of Kobane (Credit: Getty/Yasin Akgul)

 

I visited the killing grounds in December of the third year of the 60th century.

It was back in 2003, and I was staying with the Bastogne Bulldogs, the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division out at Q-West, an Iraqi air force airfield west of Qayyarah, a town of about 15,000 souls sitting on top of a field holding an estimated 800 million barrels of oil along the Tigris River south of Mosul. There is so much oil under Qayyarah, it comes bubbling up out of the ground in the middle of the oil refinery there, so you have to walk on carefully laid out paths in order to not get stuck and it’s bubbling up alongside the roads and it’s bubbling up down by the Tigris River, that’s how much oil there is. But the Qayyarah oil field had nothing to do with the presence of the 5,000 or so heavily armed paratroopers of the 1st Brigade exactly 10 miles west at the airfield. No sir, as we shall see, they were just out there sightseeing, visiting the ruins at Hatra, stuff like that.

One chilly morning as the sun rose over the sands of Nineveh governorate, the brigade commander sent a Spec 4 to my bunk with the news that we would be flying into town for a big meeting of all the sheikhs in the region. The commander of the 101st Airborne Division, (then) Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, already somewhat famous by virtue of his quote in The New York Times asking, “Someone tell me how this ends?” would be chairing the meeting. So a bunch of us piled into a pair of Blackhawk helicopters and flew over to Qayyarah and landed in a field near the town hall and joined a large roomful of sheikhs in various tribal attire.

Up on a low dais, Petraeus and several Iraqi men in suits sat at a table along with a guy who translated Petraeus’ remarks to the gathered sheikhs. The place was packed, standing room only, but a young Iraqi guy made room for me to join him on a bench at the very back of the room. He was grinning ear to ear, and I had no idea why. Nothing funny seemed to be going on. The room, in fact, fairly crackled with tension. Sheikh after sheikh rose to his feet and yelled at the men on the dais, including Petraeus, something to which I had to assume the general was unaccustomed.

It had been advertised as a meeting where the region’s leaders could air their concerns. Petraeus had flown down to Qayyarah from his headquarters in a Saddam summer palace up in east Mosul as part of a listening tour around the region occupied by the 101st. It was an area stretching from just north of Tikrit to the south all the way up to the Turkish border in the north, from the Syrian border in the west, to a line between Irbil and Kirkuk in Kurdistan to the east. Petraeus and his 30,000 soldiers of the 101st occupied a landmass about the size of Connecticut, which was by any sane military measure absolutely ridiculous. New York City has a police force of 34,000 to take care of 304 square miles. The area the 101st was assigned to police was about 5,500 square miles. Absurd, right?

Well, Petraeus had come up with an answer that had more or less worked for the past six months — making up for what he lacked in soldiers by liberally spreading money around, most of which had been glommed up when his troops had blown away Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay and seized millions in cash from the house in Mosul in which they were hiding. But now the money had dried up and the sheikhs were restless. Some guy with a big mustache in a suit was trying his best to calm them, but the sheikhs kept jumping up one after another yelling at the guys on the dais and at one another.

The young Iraqi I was sitting next to kept cracking up, and I asked him what he was laughing at. “These fucking guys — they are all from different tribes and they all hate each other, but they hate the guys up there even more!” he exclaimed, pointing to Petraeus and his officials on the dais. I kept asking him questions, so he started translating for me — and not only translating, but telling me who was who, which sheikh led which tribe, what tribes hated which other tribes, the few that were allies, which sheikhs had been colonels and generals in Saddam’s army, who had been in the now-outlawed Baath party and who hadn’t.

My new friend was giving me a short course in local politics Iraqi-style. It wasn’t merely confusing. It was bewildering, and this was just the Qayyarah region, a tiny slice of greater Iraq. The best part of the whole thing to him was that four of the five guys on the dais with Petraeus, who had been elected to some sort of regional council some months previously, had all been prominent in the outlawed Baath party, and Petraeus didn’t know it. “Baath party guys weren’t supposed to be eligible to be on the regional council,” he told me. “They were banned from politics! But look up there! Four of them were Baath party leaders! The whole place is full of Baath party guys!”

One of the older sheikhs, a gray-haired guy with a long gray beard, stood up and suddenly the rest of them fell silent. “This guy is a big leader,” the young Iraqi whispered. “And he is pissed.” The old sheikh didn’t yell, but you could hear the anger in his words. My friend translated: The Americans had screwed everything up. They banned the Baath party. They disbanded the Iraqi military and fired all of its officers. There was no one in Mosul to run any of the departments in the Nineveh governorate because all of the bureaucrats had been in the Baath party. No one working in the department of power knew anything because the professionals were gone. There was no one competent to run the water system. There was no one in charge of sanitation. The police had all been in the Baath party, and now a bunch of idiots were walking around in police uniforms doing nothing. Traffic was crazy. Crime was everywhere. The courts were broken because the judges and prosecutors had been in the Baath party. Everything had fallen apart.

There were murmurs of assent as he made each of his points. “You know what he’s saying?” asked my new friend. “He is saying, What is wrong with you Americans? You came in here and you beat us and now look what you’re doing! You’re fucking everything up! When you are conquerors, you are supposed to co-opt the power structure, not disband it! He is asking, What’s going on? Are you crazy!”

The answer then was yes, and looking back from the perspective of 14 years, it’s hell yes. We did something very, very crazy when we invaded Iraq. And then we did something even crazier when we didn’t have any idea what to do once we owned the place. The reason these Iraqi sheikhs couldn’t understand what we had done to their country was because they were inheritors of a long, long history of conquering or being conquered and collaborating with the winners until they could drive them out. This had to be the first time that their ancient history had not repeated itself, the first time the conquerors, instead of acting like any sane conqueror was supposed to — kicking ass and taking names and ruling the roost and ordering people to do stuff — were instead spazzing around and making things up on the fly.

The old sheikh was exactly right. The Americans were crazy. Petraeus was standing up there representing a country that had not only lost its way, but lost its mind, and from the looks of him, his mind was going, too. He’s not a big guy. He has a slight frame, and even his custom-made BDUs looked a little big on him, and his head seemed to be sinking down a little further into his collar with each verbal blow. You could see on his face that he couldn’t wait for January, only a month away, when orders would arrive to pick up the whole 101st Airborne Division and get out of the Nineveh governorate and go home. Which is exactly what he and the 101st did.

They took all their Humvees and howitzers and M240 and .50-caliber machine guns and Blackhawks and Apache gunships and they loaded them up and they went back to Kentucky’s Fort Campbell, where they could drive down the road a few miles and find not an oil field but a Burger King, where they could order a Whopper or they could hie themselves over to the O-Club and slap back a double shot of Jack or they could stop off at the local Clarksville Gentleman’s Club and ogle a few pairs of inflatable boobs. Yessir, heaven on earth, and fuck all those sheikhs back there in Qayyarah in their weird head wraps and shower clogs yelling and complaining and shit. We’re out of there.

And now here we go again. Fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles without a military strategy, without a plan for what comes next, without really even knowing who the hell we fired the damn things at.

Wouldn’t it be useful to know who those sheikhs were back in Qayyarah? What makes them tick? Why do they do stuff like chop enemy heads off and gas their own people? You think a little down and dirty history might help? Iraq? Mosul? Nineveh Governorate? Syria? Idlib, the town Bashar al-Assad gassed? Anybody know anything around here? No? Well, pay attention because it’s time you learned what the hell has been going on over there for the last 5,900 years.

First, however, we’re going to travel back to that day in December of 2003 when I visited the big meeting between Petraeus and the sheikhs in Qayyarah because that wasn’t all we did.

Later that day we loaded back into the Blackhawks and flew out to Hatra, in the desert about 30 miles west of Qayyarah. The ruins at Hatra are famous as the site of the archaeological dig shown in the first few moments of that classic horror movie “The Exorcist.” Remember? They’re digging around in these stone ruins and somebody comes up with a little amulet depicting the devil himself, a rendering of the Numero Uno evil one, which becomes important later in the movie. Anyway, Hatra was an ancient city that was probably built sometime in the second or third century B.C. surrounded by a wall about a half mile in diameter that once had temples and holy buildings supported by some 160 columns. The Great Temple of Hatra had walls nearly 100 feet tall, one of which was used when night fell as a stone screen on which soldiers from the 101st’s public affairs office projected a slideshow of photos telling the story of the division’s six-month stay in the Nineveh governorate.

To say it was a bizarre scene is to do the word “bizarre” an incalculable injustice. Images of tanks and Humvees and soldiers handing candy bars to Iraqi children and helicopters landing in huge clouds of dust, all of it playing to Phil Collins singing “In the Air Tonight.” I mean, this is going on with about a hundred Iraqis standing around watching and another gathering of even more sheikhs from other towns, and some younger Iraqi men and even a few women in long, ankle-length black garb, and moving through all of them, Maj. Gen. Petraeus with a coterie of aides and a translator, shaking hands and greeting sheikhs and assuring everyone that all they had to do was be patient because the month before, in November, the Congress of the United States had passed an enormous supplemental appropriations bill of $70 billion for the Iraq War and only one month hence, in January, the money would begin to flow into northern Iraq and All Would Be Well.

Before the sun set, I set up my camera on a little tripod and climbed up on the wall around Hatra and took a picture of myself surrounded by all that ancientness — columns and stone walls and stone steps leading down through narrow tunnels to hidden vaults. It all seemed so old that nothing could be more ancient, more historic, more beginning of it all than Hatra.

But that’s how stupid I was because it had all begun about 4,000 years before Hatra 300 miles south in Lower Mesopotamia in the Uruk IV period, which refers to the truly ancient city of Ur, way back at the time the first known historical writings were scratched in sandstone in pictographs. It would be another thousand years before the words and deeds of dynastic kings would be recorded in an actual early language on cuneiform tablets. But even back then, even in the land of Ur, they were drawing pictures of wars on the wall because that’s pretty much what they did. They went to war and they either won or they got beaten, and then they went to war again.

Sometime in the third millennium, about 500 miles north and west of Ur around the city now known as Idlib but then known as Ebla, a long war was fought with Mari. Now listen up: We’ve got Sargon of Akkad and some goddamned grandson of his called Naram-Sin, and they pounded Ebla over and over again in the 23rd century B.C. until they could make Ebla a part of Mesopotamia under the Akkadian Empire. And man, they were off and running. One century after another, one ruler after another, one war after another. By 21 B.C., some guys called the Hurrians moved into the northeast part of Syria and the town of Mari — remember Mari? conquered by Ebla? — made a comeback until it was conquered by a ruler known as Hammurabi of Babylon.

Then along came Yamhad — now better known as the destroyed city of Aleppo — which controlled northern Syria around the 19th and 18th centuries B.C., when eastern Syria was ruled by Shamshi-Adad I, king of the Old Assyrian Empire, which was then taken over by the Babylonian Empire. You following me? Yamhad was famous for having even more slaves than Babylon, and those dudes in Yamhad ruled the roost up in Syria until it was conquered, along with Ebla, by the Hittites around 1600 B.C. Idlib and Aleppo couldn’t catch a break even back then.

So here we are, we’re only halfway to A.D., and we’re already waist deep in blood and kings and wars and cities and conquered peoples and up comes the Assyrian Empire, and it’s a goddamn battleground for the Mitanni, the Egyptians, something called the Middle Assyrians, and up comes Babylonia again! Around 900 B.C., along came Adad-nirari II and he took Assyria into Anatolia, the Levant, ancient Iran and back down to goddamned Babylonia again, and he was followed by some butcher called Ashur-nasir-pal II in the mid-800s B.C., who pushed even further south into Mesopotamia and got himself into Asia Minor until Shalmaneser III came along a couple of decades later and unsatisfied with how much land that lazy Ashur-nasir-pal II conquered, cranked up his armies and marched right into Israel, Damascus, Canaan and the goddamned foothills of the Caucasus.

And then along cams a real mother whomper, Adad-nirari III, son of Queen Shammuramat, and this guy started slaughtering Phoenicians, Philistines, Neo-Hittites, Persians, Israelites, Medes and Manneans, and he was just getting started. He went down to Babylon and beat the shit out of the people there, and he basically enslaved all of eastern Mesopotamia. Then about 700 B.C., the Egyptians and a whole bunch of locals got together and decided to teach the Assyrians a lesson. So King Lule and King Hezekiah and King Sidka and the king of Ekron teamed up with the Egyptians, and they took on this new Assyrian King Sennacherib, who had relocated to Nineveh (Mosul). That pissed off Sennacherib, who slashed his way through the lot of them and kept on going for Jerusalem, taking out 46 towns and villages along the way. Then he turned east and took out Babylon again. Then a couple of Babylonian guys took it back until King Sennacherib got pissed enough to go after Babylon one final time, this time diverting the canals around the city and flooding Babylon, turning it into a swamp.

You with me? No? Well, who we have been talking about all this time are the murdering, thieving, slave driving butchers who ran Syria when modern butcher Assad wasn’t even a quark in some future molecule. Before we come within a few centuries of the birth of Christ, the ancestors of today’s Syrians had conquered and basically enslaved 28 nation-states and occupied all of what is now Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Cyprus and large parts of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, Armenia, Libya, Azerbaijan and Georgia. They still had to face Alexander the Great and the Romans and then the Byzantines and then came the Aramaeans and the Jews and the Christians and then the invasion of Duma by Muhammad and then came the Arabs followed by the Crusades and occupation by Germans, French, Italian armies and then some Turco-Mongol dude called Timur-Lenk took over and then came the Ottoman Empire and a period of comparative peace until the Ottomans made the mistake of taking the side of the Germans in World War I.

After the war, a couple of the winners, England and France, in the persons of Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot secretly agreed to divvy up the Ottoman Empire and drew the infamous Picot-Sykes line creating the modern Middle East and present-day Syria, including, of course, the descendants of the murdering, thieving, enslaving monsters we’ve been talking about.

So my pals, the sheikhs over in Qayyarah and Hatra and the ancestors of all the various tribes and religious factions and ethnic minorities and majorities in northern Iraq and all over Syria and the Sunnis and the Shiites and the Kurds and the Yazidis and the Turkmen and the goddamned Persians of Iran and the Turks of Turkey for crying out loud have been at one another’s throats for 5,900 years and we’re going to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at some deserted airbase in the middle of a Syrian desert that has seen more bloodshed than a goddamned Kansas City slaughterhouse and we expect these fuckers to pay attention?

I keep thinking of Petraeus up there on that little dais in Qayyarah listening to those sheikhs yelling at him and he’s looking all confused and then when he got out of there and was heading over to his Blackhawk that already had its rotors turning he looked positively giddy with the thought that in about two months he would have his ass and the asses of all 30,000 of his soldiers in the 101st out of that sandy hell and back on the heavenly clay soil of Kentucky, and I keep thinking, Who the hell do we think we’re fooling? We sent a few hundred thousand troops over there in rotating shifts of one-year deployments and then we shipped them right back home, which is where they remain today — all but the 5,000 troops we’ve got over there slogging through the wastelands and looking around and wondering what they’re doing.

We’ve got the Iraqis around Mosul, which is rapidly on its way to being in ruins, and the Syrians over there around Aleppo which is a maze of heartbreak and rubble, and Idlib which just got hit by poison gas killing 100 of its citizens, and their ancestors have been slaughtering each other and various invading armies using everything from rocks to sticks to knives to swords to spears to bows and arrows to muskets to AK-47s to RPGs to mortars to Russian-made jet fighters and high explosive and gas bombs. And they’ve been doing it pretty much around the clock for almost 6,000 years, and you know what they haven’t been doing? They haven’t been out on the hustings campaigning and running political ads, and they haven’t been voting, and they haven’t been doing shit like going on shows like “The Apprentice” and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and they haven’t been playing “Naked and Afraid” and “Survivor.”

What they have been doing is just hoping to survive, and as usual, their ruler of the moment has been killing them by the hundreds of thousands without pausing for breath and that’s who we’re supposed to impress with 59 Tomahawks and three talking heads on “Morning Joe” babbling about freedom and our national credibility and how we’re the bulwark of liberty?

God help us, for we know not what the fuck we do.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives on the East End of Long Island and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. He can be followed on Facebook at The Rabbit Hole and on Twitter @LucianKTruscott.