No one remembers when
the eternity war began
though the elders will
whisper stories that the
young dismiss as fantasy
as they put on tan fatigues
assemble their carbines
and head into a land
they have never known
to meet a people
who know not
The long-anticipated Chilcot inquiry report was released today. It chronicled British government decisions leading to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The key points of the report state that Tony Blair and his close circle of advisors misled the public and failed to prepare for the consequences of invasion and occupation.
American neoconservatives laid the groundwork for unilateral intervention long before 9/11 and the War on Terror. A 1992 strategic outlook written by Paul Wolfowitz, who was a key figure in the Department of Defense for both Bush presidencies, defended unilateral American military action. From the NYT report linked:
The continuation of this strategic goal explains the strong emphasis elsewhere in the document and in other Pentagon planning on using military force, if necessary, to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in such countries as North Korea, Iraq, some of the successor republics to the Soviet Union and in Europe.
Nuclear proliferation, if unchecked by superpower action, could tempt Germany, Japan and other industrial powers to acquire nuclear weapons to deter attack from regional foes. This could start them down the road to global competition with the United States and, in a crisis over national interests, military rivalry.
and an excerpt from the report itself later in the article:
In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil. We also seek to deter further aggression in the region, foster regional stability, protect U.S. nationals and property, and safeguard our access to international air and seaways. As demonstrated by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, it remains fundamentally important to prevent a hegemon or alignment of powers from dominating the region. This pertains especially to the Arabian peninsula. Therefore, we must continue to play a role through enhanced deterrence and improved cooperative security.
While neoconservatives often talk about acting alone if necessary, their actions need collaborators to provide legitimacy and deflect accusations of American imperialism. Tony Blair and the British government, every step of the way, were willing to back the entire operation. Without vigorous British support, there would likely have been fewer European nations involved. As is, no country other than the US and UK provided more than a few thousand soldiers at any one time- Italy had the third-largest number of soldiers killed, with just 33.
The Chilcot report says that Blair told President Bush “I will be with you, whatever” in July 2002– over half a year before the invasion itself, while both countries ostensibly supported peaceful diplomatic means with regard to purported WMDs in Iraq. Four different questions were asked by pollster MORI before the invasion in 2003- with the question assuming no UN Security Council support and no UN evidence of weapons of mass destruction (the historical reality) having almost 70% opposed. Most of the largest anti-war marches were in Europe, including a massive march in London featuring address by Labour backbencher Jeremy Corbyn, who would take Blair’s job as party leader twelve years later (making Blair turn blue in rage).
Since Blair left office, the consequences of his decision to back invasion on tenuous pretenses continue to mount. Not only were none of the goals of the invasion met, but the rise of ISIS was built on the UK’s invasion of northern Iraq and the subsequent disbandment of the Republican Guard. Two car bombings this week add onto a large civilian death toll (at the very least 165,000).
I don’t know what the counterfactual is- would there still be an Iraq War, an insurgency, and an ISIS if the United Kingdom had turned President Bush down? The Chilcot report only documents that Blair decided on invasion, no matter the circumstances. And even if it wasn’t originally their idea, his circle supported it just as fervently as America.
The black church has been a nexus of power and hope for centuries. Urban congregations were the basis of the Civil Rights Movement; in 1963 in Birmingham, no matter how violent and chaotic it got, the 16th Street Baptist Church was home base where nonviolent protestors marched, were scattered and arrested, and came back to again and again. Shortly after the Campaign, the whole church was dynamited by KKK members, killing four girls. The symbol of black resistance was destroyed, part of a campaign of white supremacist terror.
Not only was the sanctuary of the church desecrated by the massacre of nine people in Charleston, this open wound has been salted by a string of church fires. As of writing, the number of fires is eight, with three confirmed arsons and four without a cause yet.
The lack of interest by many media outlets in the story spawned the hashtag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches. The answer is both “we have no idea” and “we have a very good idea”. Who specifically? Investigations are ongoing. Who generally? White domestic terrorists, the sort that have dominated the history of terrorism in America. While Islamic extremism has been the dominant focus in America for the past two decades, outside of September 11th, 2001, domestic terrorism by racist and “patriot” extremists has always been a more relevant threat- since 9/11 almost twice as many people in the US have died from right-wing attacks than by Islamic radicals. The 1990s had the Oklahoma City Bombing, which was the deadliest action before 9/11. Going back far into the past, America was defined by lynch mobs, church bombings, slave patrols, etc. Beware media stories that call this some kind of anomaly. Given the past, and American society’s lack of interest in confronting systemic racism, we should not be surprised that black institutions are defiled and destroyed.
The question “who is burning black churches?” reveals that the War on Terror has never directed resources into confronting the dark heart of domestic terror. The Obama administration and Congress seems to be more interested in bombing peasants in Yemen than in churches being destroyed in several Southern states. No big effort has emerged to systematically protect churches and the black communities that they reside in. As with many social problems, the oppressed groups are told to deal with it on their own.
At the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly last week, Dr. Cornel West stated that if all this violence was matched in the way that white establishments do, there would be no peace. Violence against black America happens so often that it would be a continuous civil war. What makes church burnings like this series strange is that few, if any comparable actions are taken against white-led churches or other institutions. When property is destroyed in racial conflict, like the CVS in Baltimore, there is a media obsession with it. Several historic churches, with great cultural and social importance, get nowhere near the same coverage- simply because the group that committed the crime and group who suffered it were different than they were in Baltimore.
I was born in 1990, about a full generation after the end of the capitalized Civil Rights Movement. Church attacks were taught to me as historical, emblematic of a hostile, racist society that no longer exists. But there is no separate, post-racial era. This is just a modified version of Jim Crow. Same inequality, same terrorism.
A conservative Facebook friend posted a story from the YoungCons website (you know it’s a great right-wing website when one of the top results is “is this site satire?”) about the battle of civilizations- America vs. Islamic fundamentalism. It suggested that the US take after Jefferson and his war against the pirates in Tripoli- use force against these Islamic powers, and don’t back down, surrender, or be held for ransom. Those three things being what the Obama administration is currently doing re: ISIS. Apparently.
Here was my reply, and a reply against the US policy in the Middle East since 9/11:
Islamic fundamentalism post-dates Jefferson. It is a creation in response to colonialism and perpetuated by Western anti-terror actions that lead to far more civilian casualties than militant ones.
We’ve been actively killing people in the Middle East for thirteen years and radical fundamentalism is stronger than ever. A secular leader in Iraq was overthrown, the armed forces disbanded, and a Sunni insurgency created by former officers let loose with their training and weapons. The strongest terror-backed entity is using American weapons to massacre civilians.
So when is America going to bomb the Islamic world into prosperity and peace? Or perhaps basic history shows that’s not the case, and we’re actually fighting a war against groups that would not exist without the weapons and instability from Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, the United States of America.
Now please note that I am not a Hussein apologist, but we need to be honest and see what the early-stage plan in Iraq was, and how in toppling one dictator we sowed the seeds for others to come.
With ISIS, we must stop the ongoing nationwide amnesia about the two main wars fought with 9/11 as justification, and confront the new, post-Coalition Iraq. Any additional use of force in the region has to be weighed against what has happened with past uses of force. ISIS may not be a direct creation of the United States (with an assist from early 20th century France and Britain), but its current structure and power is related to US actions, and the War on Terror philosophy that terrorism must be stomped out using overwhelming force.
This is a terror group which is now confirmed to have access to chemical weapons. Just this week another Iraqi Army base was overrun, giving ISIS access to huge amounts of US-provided weapons and transportation.
The biggest discussion since 9/11 that nobody in the government or national media doesn’t want to have is a huge one: what it terrorism, and how is it persisting despite sanctions and military action? Central to this indefinite War is the justification of force without the analysis of its consequences. The Sunni insurgency comes from how the initial invasion of Iraq was manage, and how the Shi’ite and Sunni constituencies have their own paramilitary groups that can act independently of governmental authority. ISIS is a product of dysfunction, and there is no way to remove Coalition action from that dynamic.
Patriotism is a cheap word these days. Only brash, simple action can be patriotic, and dissent is met with ambivalence, if not outright hostility. No matter what ideology you subscribe to, what the United States does or does not do in the Middle East has a body count attached to it. Its size is important, as well as how we take responsibility for collateral damage, if at all.
Several weeks ago, there was a small protest against Guantanamo Bay and indefinite detention in Palo Alto, near where I live. From what I could ascertain, it was mostly high school students who belong to an Amnesty International club, but the invitation was posted publicly. I showed up to offer support.
I ran into David, who was a key member in Occupy San Jose in the fall and winter of 2011. He spends much of his time counter-recruiting- going to schools and instead of convincing students to join the military, he encourages them to consider education and vocational training instead.. Because of the pressures of that job he’s a rare combination- both nice and completely impervious to any kind of threat or intimidation. It was nice to see him. He handed me a spare sign he had and we talked on the corner.
Another man, likely in his sixties, carried a pole topped with a cardboard cutout of a Guantanamo prisoner in cuffs and a black bag over their head. Listed beside were a series of government officials responsible for the prison and other war crimes. He and David had a conversation, where he said something rather profound.
The US has pursued “domestic terrorism” by practicing pre-emptive prosecution, that is, going after individuals who have committed no crime but are alleged to possess an ideology that might dispose them to commit acts of “terrorism”. Maintaining that it can -and should – be in the business of divining intent, the government decimates crucial elements of the US justice system. Thus, in cases where terrorism is charged, prosecutors need not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, only the defendant’s potential for committing a crime need be established in order to convict.
Consider the case of Tareq Abufayyad, a young Palestinian man and recent college graduate who was detained at San Francisco International Airport when he was on his way to unite with his family, all of them naturalised citizens of the US. Tareq was deemed inadmissible merely on the grounds that he had the potential to become a Hamas-operative.
FBI Agent Robert Miranda, the lead investigator into the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation, argued before the Immigration Judge presiding over Tareq’s case that, because he was a well-educated man from Gaza, a strong-hold of Hamas, Tareq would be “attractive to Hamas” as a future recruit.
Also touches on Occupy activists charged with terrorism and explosives charges- despite being urged to buy and being supplied activists by undercover FBI agents.
The events of September 11th, 2001 weren’t life-altering to me. I simply was too young- I had just turned eleven when it happened, and the odd circumstances of where I was (away from news, television for several days) means I don’t have the sense of solidarity that many other people had during that eventful Tuesday. The main feeling I felt was embarrassment- I had been so jubilant from the trip and finally being home; once home, I realized my enthusiasm was sharply at odds with the state of the country.
It is odd to believe that there are millions of Americans who have no memory of the attacks. Incoming college freshmen have only vague memories, in a few years they will have no memory at all. It seems strange that in a few years people will enter the military, perhaps serving in Afghanistan, and have nothing more than family and textbooks to tell them how we came to be there.
What September 11th did, quite starkly, is mark the end of my childhood, and was the initiation to the rest of my life. As the War on Terror began, I found that my sentiments were that of adults. I no longer had history wash over me, instead I interacted with it. I shared the same confusion in the run-up to the Iraq War. Some aspects of it I listened to, such as the dire world painted by the State of the Union in January, the inspectors finding nothing, and over the radio hearing Sec. Powell’s address to the United Nations. Rather than learning about these events at a later date, and forming a worldview from scratch, my opinions about the War on Terror are traced back to the very beginning, and are an evolution rather than a history lecture.
As each year passes, and the events fade little by little, it becomes a question of what September 11th will influence, and what it means. It cannot eternally be tears and three thousand candles. Neither can we move on entirely- partly because of its terrible scale, but because it has a deep impact on present day America. What has arisen is a national day of service, which I was involved in last year. I helped paint a fence for an American Legion post, with people my age and people fifty years my senior. It feels natural that a day of destruction move to become a day of rebuilding. Of making a better future while respecting the past. Of using our feelings about September 11th to make good in a world that needs it.
I started talking with my father about this in the context of ‘generations’ but since generations are an increasingly eroded concept, we just switched to our lives.
My father was born in 1952, and considered the most important events in his life to be from 1968-1974. More or less it went from the violence of the summer of ’68 to the resignation of Nixon in ’74. What he pointed out is that had he been a year older, he would have been in college when Kent State (for the non-Americans, this was a shooting of student protesters, four died) happened, and he noticed that those older than him were much more militantly political.
Personally, I was born in 1990. It is not September 11th that is reflected in my worldview, but rather that America has not known peace for over half my life, and almost all of what I remember well. For me and those of my age, war is not only in our minds, it is background noise.
I have for days forgot that the country of my birth has spent trillions in a war with no clear enemy. I am not alone for those people who are not, through family and friends, close to the soldiers that fight. If anything it is the chief difference between my father and I- I have lived through wars without a draft, and thus without serious, endemic opposition to the war.