Syria Is Just the Latest Example of the US Gov’t Pretending to Be Dragged Into War

(FAIR) — A recent headline in The Atlantic (6/9/17) earnestly pondered if the US was “Getting Sucked Into More War in Syria.” “Even as Washington potentially stumbles into war…” was how the article’s discussion began.

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One of the most common tropes in US media is that the US military always goes to war reluctantly—and, if there are negative consequences, like civilian deaths, it’s simply a matter of bumbling around without much plan or purpose.

Syria War

This framing serves to flatter two sensibilities: one right and one vaguely left. It satisfies the right-wing nationalist idea that America only goes to war because it’s compelled to by forces outside of its own control; the reluctant warrior, the gentle giant who will only attack when provoked to do so. But it also plays to a nominally liberal, hipster notion that the US military is actually incompetent and boobish, and is generally bad at war-making.

This is expressed most clearly in the idea that the US is “drawn into” war despite its otherwise unwarlike intentions. “Will US Be Drawn Further Into Syrian Civil War?” asked Fox News (4/7/17). “How America Could Stumble Into War With Iran,” disclosed The Atlantic (2/9/17), “What It Would Take to Pull the US Into a War in Asia,” speculated Quartz (4/29/17). “Trump could easily get us sucked into Afghanistan again,” Slate predicted (5/11/17). The US is “stumbling into a wider war” in Syria, the New York Times editorial board (5/2/15) warned. “A Flexing Contest in Syria May Trap the US in an Endless Conflict,” Vice News (6/19/17) added.

Sliding,” “stumbling,” ”sucked into,” “dragged into,” ”drawn into”: The US is always reluctantly—and without a plan—falling backward into bombing and occupying. The US didn’t enter the conflict in Syria in September 2014 deliberately; it was forced into it by outside actors. The US didn’t arm and fund anti-Assad rebels for four years to the tune of $1 billion a year as part of a broader strategy for the region; it did so as a result of some unknown geopolitical dark matter.

Syria especially evokes the media’s “reluctantly sucked into war” narrative. Four times in the past month, the Trump administration has attacked pro-regime forces in Syria, and in all four instances they’ve claimed “self-defense.” All four times, media accepted this justification without question (e.g., Reuters, 6/19/17), despite not a single instance of “self-defense” attacks occurring under two-and-a-half years of the Obama administration fighting in Syria. (The one time Obama directly attacked Syrian government forces, the US claimed it was an accident.)

Why the sudden uptick in “self-defense”? Could it be because, as with the bombing of ISIS (and nearby civilians), Trump has given a green light to his generals to adopt an itchy trigger finger? Could it be Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has a decades-long grudge against Iran, want to blow up Iranian drones and kill Iranian troops? No such questions are entertained, much less interrogated. The US’s entirely defensive posture in Syria is presented as fact and serves as the premise for discussion.

When US empire isn’t reluctant, it’s benevolent. “Initially motivated by humanitarian impulse,” Foreign Policy‘s Emile Simpson (6/21/17)  insisted, “the United States and its Western allies achieved regime change in Libya and attempted it in Syria, by backing rebels in each case.”

“At least in recent decades, American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy,” the New York Times editorial board (2/7/17) swooned.

“Every American president since at least the 1970s,” Washington Post’s Philip Rucker (5/2/17) declared, “has used his office to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.” Interpreting US policymakers’ motives is permitted, so long as the conclusion is never critical.

In contrast, foreign policy actions by Russia are painted in diabolical and near-omnipotent terms. “Is Putin’s Master Plan Only Beginning?” worried Vanity Fair (12/28/16). “Putin’s Aim Is to Make This the Russian Century,” insists Time magazine (10/1/16).

Russia isn’t “drawn into” Crimea; it has a secret “Crimea takeover plot” (BBC, 3/9/15). Putin doesn’t “stumble into” Syria; he has a “Long-Term Strategy” there (Foreign Affairs, 3/15/16). Military adventurism by other countries is part of a well-planned agenda, while US intervention is at best reluctant, and at worst bumfuzzled—Barney Fife with 8,000 Abrams tanks and 19 aircraft carriers.

Even liberals talk about war in this agency-free manner. Jon Stewart was fond of saying, for example, that the Iraq war was a “mistake”—implying a degree of “aw shucks” mucking up, rather than a years-long plan by ideologues in the government to assert US hegemony in the Middle East.

War, of course, isn’t a “mistake.” Nor, unless your country is invaded, is it carried out against one’s will. The act of marshalling tens of thousands of troops, scores of ships, hundreds of aircraft, and coordinating the mechanisms of soft and covert power by State and CIA officials, are deliberate acts by conscious, very powerful actors.

Media shouldn’t make broad, conspiratorial assumptions as to what the bigger designs are. But neither are they under any obligation to buy into this mythology that US foreign policy is an improvised peace mission carried out by good-hearted bureaucrats, who only engage in war because they’re “sucked into” doing so.

By Adam Johnson / Creative Commons / FAIR.orgReport a typo

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  • Jasmina Peev

    The indiscriminate use of bombs by the US, usually outside a declared war
    situation, for wanton destruction, for no military objectives, whose
    targets and victims are civilian populations, or what we now call
    “collateral damage.”

    Japan (1945)
    China (1945-46)
    Korea & China (1950-53)
    Guatemala (1954, 1960, 1967-69)
    Indonesia (1958)
    Cuba (1959-61)
    Congo (1964)
    Peru (1965)
    Laos (1964-70)
    Vietnam (1961-1973)
    Cambodia (1969-70)
    Grenada (1983)
    Lebanon (1983-84)
    Libya (1986)
    El Salvador (1980s)
    Nicaragua (1980s)
    Iran (1987)
    Panama (1989)
    Iraq (1991-2000)
    Kuwait (1991)
    Somalia (1993)
    Bosnia (1994-95)
    Sudan (1998)
    Afghanistan (1998)
    Pakistan (1998)
    Yugoslavia (1999)
    Bulgaria (1999)
    Macedonia (1999)

    US Use of Chemical & Biological Weapons
    The US has refused to sign Conventions against the development and use of
    chemical and biological weapons, and has either used or tested (without
    informing the civilian populations) these weapons in the following
    locations abroad:

    Bahamas (late 1940s-mid-1950s)
    Canada (1953)
    China and Korea (1950-53)
    Korea (1967-69)
    Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (1961-1970)
    Panama (1940s-1990s)
    Cuba (1962, 69, 70, 71, 81, 96)

    And the US has tested such weapons on US civilian populations, without
    their knowledge, in the following locations:

    Watertown, NY and US Virgin Islands (1950)
    SF Bay Area (1950, 1957-67)
    Minneapolis (1953)
    St. Louis (1953)
    Washington, DC Area (1953, 1967)
    Florida (1955)
    Savannah GA/Avon Park, FL (1956-58)
    New York City (1956, 1966)
    Chicago (1960)

    And the US has encouraged the use of such weapons, and provided the
    technology to develop such weapons in various nations abroad, including:

    Egypt
    South Africa
    Iraq

    US Political and Military Interventions since 1945
    The US has launched a series of military and political interventions since
    1945, often to install puppet regimes, or alternatively to engage in
    political actions such as smear campaigns, sponsoring or targeting
    opposition political groups (depending on how they served US interests),
    undermining political parties, sabotage and terror campaigns, and so forth.
    It has done so in nations such as

    China (1945-51)
    South Africa (1960s-1980s)

    France (1947)
    Bolivia (1964-75)

    Marshall Islands (1946-58)
    Australia (1972-75)

    Italy (1947-1975)
    Iraq (1972-75)

    Greece (1947-49)
    Portugal (1974-76)

    Philippines (1945-53)
    East Timor (1975-99)

    Korea (1945-53)
    Ecuador (1975)

    Albania (1949-53)
    Argentina (1976)

    Eastern Europe (1948-56)
    Pakistan (1977)

    Germany (1950s)
    Angola (1975-1980s)

    Iran (1953)
    Jamaica (1976)

    Guatemala (1953-1990s)
    Honduras (1980s)

    Costa Rica (mid-1950s, 1970-71)
    Nicaragua (1980s)

    Middle East (1956-58)
    Philippines (1970s-90s)

    Indonesia (1957-58)
    Seychelles (1979-81)

    Haiti (1959)
    South Yemen (1979-84)

    Western Europe (1950s-1960s)
    South Korea (1980)

    Guyana (1953-64)
    Chad (1981-82)

    Iraq (1958-63)
    Grenada (1979-83)

    Vietnam (1945-53)
    Suriname (1982-84)

    Cambodia (1955-73)
    Libya (1981-89)

    Laos (1957-73)
    Fiji (1987)

    Thailand (1965-73)
    Panama (1989)

    Ecuador (1960-63)
    Afghanistan (1979-92)

    Congo (1960-65, 1977-78)
    El Salvador (1980-92)

    Algeria (1960s)
    Haiti (1987-94)

    Brazil (1961-64)
    Bulgaria (1990-91)

    Peru (1965)
    Albania (1991-92)

    Dominican Republic (1963-65)
    Somalia (1993)

    Cuba (1959-present)
    Iraq (1990s)

    Indonesia (1965)
    Peru (1990-present)

    Ghana (1966)
    Mexico (1990-present)

    Uruguay (1969-72)
    Colombia (1990-present)

    Chile (1964-73)
    Yugoslavia (1995-99)

    Greece (1967-74)

    US Perversions of Foreign Elections
    The US has specifically intervened to rig or distort the outcome of foreign
    elections, and sometimes engineered sham “demonstration” elections to ward
    off accusations of government repression in allied nations in the US sphere
    of influence. These sham elections have often installed or maintained in
    power repressive dictators who have victimized their populations. Such
    practices have occurred in nations such as:

    Philippines (1950s)
    Italy (1948-1970s)
    Lebanon (1950s)
    Indonesia (1955)
    Vietnam (1955)
    Guyana (1953-64)
    Japan (1958-1970s)
    Nepal (1959)
    Laos (1960)
    Brazil (1962)
    Dominican Republic (1962)
    Guatemala (1963)
    Bolivia (1966)
    Chile (1964-70)
    Portugal (1974-75)
    Australia (1974-75)
    Jamaica (1976)
    El Salvador (1984)
    Panama (1984, 89)
    Nicaragua (1984, 90)
    Haiti (1987, 88)
    Bulgaria (1990-91)
    Albania (1991-92)
    Russia (1996)
    Mongolia (1996)
    Bosnia (1998)

    US Versus World at the United Nations
    The US has repeatedly acted to undermine peace and human rights initiatives
    at the United Nations, routinely voting against hundreds of UN resolutions
    and treaties. The US easily has the worst record of any nation on not
    supporting UN treaties. In almost all of its hundreds of “no” votes, the US
    was the “sole” nation to vote no (among the 100-130 nations that usually
    vote), and among only 1 or 2 other nations voting no the rest of the time.
    Here’s a representative sample of US votes from 1978-1987:

    US Is the Sole “No” Vote on Resolutions or Treaties
    For aid to underdeveloped nations
    For the promotion of developing nation exports
    For UN promotion of human rights
    For protecting developing nations in trade agreements
    For New International Economic Order for underdeveloped nations
    For development as a human right
    Versus multinational corporate operations in South Africa
    For cooperative models in developing nations
    For right of nations to economic system of their choice
    Versus chemical and biological weapons (at least 3 times)
    Versus Namibian apartheid
    For economic/standard of living rights as human rights
    Versus apartheid South African aggression vs. neighboring states (2 times)
    Versus foreign investments in apartheid South Africa
    For world charter to protect ecology
    For anti-apartheid convention
    For anti-apartheid convention in international sports
    For nuclear test ban treaty (at least 2 times)
    For prevention of arms race in outer space
    For UNESCO-sponsored new world information order (at least 2 times)
    For international law to protect economic rights
    For Transport & Communications Decade in Africa
    Versus manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction
    Versus naval arms race
    For Independent Commission on Disarmament & Security Issues
    For UN response mechanism for natural disasters
    For the Right to Food
    For Report of Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination
    For UN study on military development
    For Commemoration of 25th anniversary of Independence for Colonial Countries
    For Industrial Development Decade in Africa
    For interdependence of economic and political rights
    For improved UN response to human rights abuses
    For protection of rights of migrant workers
    For protection against products harmful to health and the environment
    For a Convention on the Rights of the Child
    For training journalists in the developing world
    For international cooperation on third world debt
    For a UN Conference on Trade & Development

    US Is 1 of Only 2 “No” Votes on Resolutions or Treaties
    For Palestinian living conditions/rights (at least 8 times)
    Versus foreign intervention into other nations
    For a UN Conference on Women
    Versus nuclear test explosions (at least 2 times)
    For the non-use of nuclear weapons vs. non-nuclear states
    For a Middle East nuclear free zone
    Versus Israeli nuclear weapons (at least 2 times)
    For a new world international economic order
    For a trade union conference on sanctions vs. South Africa
    For the Law of the Sea Treaty
    For economic assistance to Palestinians
    For UN measures against fascist activities and groups
    For international cooperation on money/finance/debt/trade/development
    For a Zone of Peace in the South Atlantic
    For compliance with Intl Court of Justice decision for Nicaragua vs. US.
    **For a conference and measures to prevent international terrorism
    (including its underlying causes)
    For ending the trade embargo vs. Nicaragua

    US Is 1 of Only 3 “No” Votes on Resolutions and Treaties
    Versus Israeli human rights abuses (at least 6 times)
    Versus South African apartheid (at least 4 times)
    Versus return of refugees to Israel
    For ending nuclear arms race (at least 2 times)
    For an embargo on apartheid South Africa
    For South African liberation from apartheid (at least 3 times)
    For the independence of colonial nations
    For the UN Decade for Women
    Versus harmful foreign economic practices in colonial territories
    For a Middle East Peace Conference
    For ending the embargo of Cuba (at least 10 times)

    In addition, the US has:
    Repeatedly withheld its dues from the UN
    Twice left UNESCO because of its human rights initiatives
    Twice left the International Labor Organization for its workers rights
    initiatives
    Refused to renew the Antiballistic Missile Treaty
    Refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty on global warming
    Refused to back the World Health Organization’s ban on infant formula abuses
    Refused to sign the Anti-Biological Weapons Convention
    Refused to sign the Convention against the use of land mines
    Refused to participate in the UN Conference Against Racism in Durban
    Been one of the last nations in the world to sign the UN Covenant on
    Political &
    Civil Rights (30 years after its creation)
    Refused to sign the UN Covenant on Economic & Social Rights
    Opposed the emerging new UN Covenant on the Rights to Peace, Development &
    Environmental Protection

    Sampling of Deaths >From US Military Interventions & Propping Up Corrupt
    Dictators (using the most conservative estimates)
    Nicaragua
    30,000 dead

    Brazil
    100,000 dead

    Korea
    4 million dead

    Guatemala
    200,000 dead

    Honduras
    20,000 dead

    El Salvador
    63,000 dead

    Argentina
    40,000 dead

    Bolivia
    10,000 dead

    Uruguay
    10,000 dead

    Ecuador
    10,000 dead

    Peru
    10,000 dead

    Iraq
    1.3 million dead

    Iran
    30,000 dead

    Sudan
    8-10,000 dead

    Colombia
    50,000 dead

    Panama
    5,000 dead

    Japan
    140,000 dead

    Afghanistan
    10,000 dead

    Somalia
    5000 dead

    Philippines
    150,000 dead

    Haiti
    100,000 dead

    Dominican Republic
    10,000 dead

    Libya
    500 dead

    Macedonia
    1000 dead

    South Africa
    10,000 dead

    Pakistan
    10,000 dead

    Palestine
    40,000 dead

    Indonesia
    1 million dead

    East Timor
    1/3-1/2 of total population

    Greece
    10,000 dead

    Laos
    600,000 dead

    Cambodia
    1 million dead

    Angola
    300,000 dead

    Grenada
    500 dead

    Congo
    2 million dead

    Egypt
    10,000 dead

    Vietnam
    1.5 million dead

    Chile
    50,000 dead

    Other Lethal US Interventions
    CIA Terror Training Manuals
    Development and distribution of training manuals for foreign military
    personnel or foreign nationals, including instructions on assassination,
    subversion, sabotage, population control, torture, repression,
    psychological torture, death squads, etc.

    Specific Torture Campaigns
    Creation and launching of direct US campaigns to support torture as an
    instrument of terror and social control for governments in Greece, Iran,
    Vietnam, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama

    Supporting and Harboring Terrorists
    The promotion, protection, arming or equiping of terrorists such as:

    . Klaus Barbie and other German Nazis, and Italian and Japanese fascists,
    after WW II

    . Manual Noriega (Panama), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Rafael Trujillo
    (Dominican Republic), Osama bin Laden (Afghanistan), and others whose
    terrorism has come back to haunt us

    . Running the Higher War College (Brazil) and first School of the Americas
    (Panama), which gave US training to repressors, death squad members, and
    torturers (the second School of the Americas is still running at Ft.
    Benning GA)

    . Providing asylum for Cuban, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Haitian, Chilean,
    Argentinian, Iranian, South Vietnamese and other terrorists, dictators, and
    torturers

    Assassinating World Leaders
    Using assassination as a tool of foreign policy, wherein the CIA has
    initiated assassination attempts against at least 40 foreign heads of state
    (some several times) in the last 50 years, a number of which have been
    successful, such as: Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Rafael Trujillo (Dominican
    Republic), Ngo Dihn Diem (Vietnam) Salvador Allende (Chile)

    Arms Trade & US Military Presence
    . The US is the world’s largest seller of weapons abroad, arming
    dictators, militaries, and terrorists that repress or victimize their
    populations, and fueling scores of violent conflicts around the globe

    . The US is the world’s largest provider of live land mines which, even in
    peacetime, kill or injure at least several people around the world each day

    . The US has military bases in at least 50 nations around the world, which
    have led to frequent victimization of local populations.

    . The US military has been bombing one Middle Eastern or Muslim nation or
    another almost continuously since 1983, including Lebanon, Libya, Syria,
    Iran, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq (almost daily bombings since 1991)

    This, then, is a sampling of American foreign policies over the last 50
    years. The FBI uses the following definition for Terrorism: “The unlawful
    use of force or violence committed by a group or individual, who has some
    connection to a foreign power or whose activities transcend national
    boundaries, against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a
    government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance
    of political or social objectives.” This sounds like the terrorism we just
    experienced. It also sounds a lot like the US policies and actions since
    1945 that I’ve just described.