War with Iran

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Let me add my comments to the many articles already online that analyze Trump’s decision to murder General Soleimani in Baghdad. Here they are, under their original headings.


The chicken hawks finally have the war they have wanted for so long:

Pity Iraqis, who find themselves host to both Iranian and American military forces. Remember when one of our main military goals was to defend the Baghdad airport, to keep it open and protect it from aggressive militias? Now we assassinate a commander of those militias at the airport.

Aimless Warfare

Will someone please tell me, to use one of the internet’s challenges, how Soleimani’s behavior differed from behavior of U. S. leaders. Assassination, torture, killing civilians, surprise attacks, aggressive war – we call it terrorism when our enemies do it. What do we call these things when the United States undertakes these actions? Terrorism lite?

I don’t like what-about arguments. I try to avoid them. They are a staple of Washington bickering, so common that even the bickerers avoid them. Yet the articles that came out a few days after we whacked Soleimani, to tell us what a bad person he was, are hard to stomach. Predictably, the news machine starts to crank these pieces out a few days after the assassinaton. We used to have a saying for this kind of argumentation: pot calling the kettle black. Jesus said something about getting your own house in order first.

Let’s say the Iranians manage to assassinate our army Chief of Staff James McConville in retaliation. Suppose Iranian media followed up with articles titled “The Bloody Legacy of James McConville” to tell Iranians what a terrible person he was. We would call the assassination a terrorist act without thinking twice, and we would dismiss Iranian propaganda on the subject. Yet our main news outlets seem to be falling into line behind Trump and his military advisors, with plenty of favorable press about how this sort of warfare is justified. He even said, “We should have killed him long ago.” Well why didn’t you?

We could write a lot about how opposing military forces treat each other’s military leaders. To assassinate the leader of a force you are not actually fighting is way, way out of bounds. Strong practical prohibitions have always ruled it out. It essentially says, “You thought we weren’t at war, but surprise, we are.” Yet American leaders say they assassinated Soleimani in order to stop war, not start one.

How deluded can you get? In fact, though, we have reached a point where you cannot separate delusion from propaganda. You cannot even tell any more whether these pronouncements arise from delusion, mendacity, belief in the audience’s gullibility, carelessness, or some poisonous mixture of all four.

I think a lot of people don’t want to think of themselves as cynics. Therefore when they read what I write about government officials, they may think, “I’m not that cynical.” I do not think I am more cynical than the next person. My attitudes toward dishonesty from our leaders grow from a rational response to their cynicism. They ask, even expect us to believe outlandish claims – a Goebbels level of outlandishness.

We cannot change social and political milieux that lend themselves to acceptance of outlandish claims. By the time that he was done, Goebbels not only blamed German Jews for defeat in the Great War, but managed to make people believe something that, by Goebbels’ own evidence, had to be false. Similarly, Washington officials feed us lies, accusations, justifications, and aims that, by their own evidence, not even credulous people would believe.

Thus all we can do is subject individual claims to a reasonable level of skepticism. When leaders tell us they knocked off a senior Iranian general in order to stop war, what do we do with a justification like that? We can simply dismiss it, but that lets the leaders think we believe it. That is apparently what has been happening for some time. A certain portion of the audience believes this nonsense, and another portion dismisses it. A third portion generally doesn’t pay attention. That gives leaders an impression that they are doing just fine: put anything out there, and some people will swallow it. The rest don’t matter.

Back around the time we assassinated Osama bin Laden, and dumped his body in the ocean with full honors, Glenn Greenwald observed that U. S. armed forces have proven themselves good at one thing, “producing dead bodies.” The phrase hits the mark, as it suggests aimless warfare, where we measure success by the number of dead bodies. Vietnam should have corrected that misconception.

Yet we have carried the same practice into a new realm, the Global War on Terror, where the more leaders we can assassinate, or kill at funerals, or otherwise wipe out from the air, the better. Plainly, revenge, retaliation, and intimidation serve as sufficient justification for the authors of this war. The rest of us still ask, “What do they want to accomplish?” We still cannot grasp that these decision makers do not know what they are doing.

Here’s a final comment, where I have to mention the unmentionable name of Hitler, after I avoided it in discussion of Goebbels above. A lot of people believed in him, passionately. Then he declared war on Russia, lost his sixth army at Stalingrad, and not so long after that found Russian tanks rolling into a totally destroyed Berlin. At that point, people began to think, “What happened? I guess we should not have believed him.”

A time will come when many Americans may have a similar response to the way we have waged war since 2001. The eastern Roman empire based in Constantinople fought quite a number of successful battles and campaigns against Persians in the east, but over the long run they lost every costly war. As Constantinople displayed its weakness, large groups from the steppes of eastern Europe and deserts of south Asia poured in.

As leaders in Washington launch a new war against modern day Persians in Iran, have they contemplated the consequences of yet another loss in the Middle East and South Asia? We have already lost in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, and numerous other places less well known. Moreover, we managed to betray our Kurdish allies and lose Turkey’s friendship at the same time. What will they say when we lose against Iran? Our leaders won’t say anything, except naturally you’ll hear Democrats and Republicans blame each other, if they pause for any recriminations at all. No one is responsible when everything is permissible.

Casual War

Another notable thing about the latest war is how casual we have become about them. How they start, why they start, reasons for fighting after they start, the way decision makers talk about them: all of it carries the same strong smell of callow cruelty we came to expect from W. and the army of arrogant pea-brains that surrounded him.

We have two models for war: (1) assassination from the sky; (2) regime change on the ground. Neither of them work. If they worked, we would not witness endless wars. Because they do not work, we station garrisons in various places, to train local military forces to fight on their own. That does not work, either. None of these operations ever attains goals stated for them by their sponsors and directors. In fact, they usually achieve the opposite of their stated aims. When officials tell us why we fight, we do not believe them – partly because they lie to us all the time, but also because we know they have no faith in their own reasons. They want to fight because they have nothing else to do, then they convince themselves their actions have good effects.

That brings us to the principal reason our leaders give for the latest assassination in Baghdad: “We want to deter future terrorist acts, and all other military operations we do not like.” That reason is so obviously false, you wonder why they bother. Qasem Soleimani’s murder is a revenge killing, part of a blood feud. U. S. officials know retaliation will follow. They don’t need to tell us they killed him in order to end the conflict. We know that’s not the reason they blew him up, and they know we know.

The conflicts that follow these episodes of violence are beneath our notice now. How many people knew about the American contractor’s death from Iranian rockets, until news outlets told us that attack and its result were immediate causes of this week’s assassination? Congress, meantime, continues its partisan patter from the sidelines, when in fact its legal role is at the center of all decisions related to war. And speaking of law, it’s interesting to hear people actually assess whether this assassination was legal or not, for if not, it is a war crime. In other contexts, it would be a significant question. In the context of habitual, casual cruelty, it is significant only for legal analysts and historians.

That brings us to one more question, the broadest one that no one cares to pose: what would it take to stop meaningless wars? Meaningless wars are ones where participants no longer know why they are fighting. We call them endless wars not only because they drain the treasury and kill large numbers of people. They cease to be of any interest because they have no purpose. Yes, Russians, Kurds, Turks, Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis may all have interests to defend. They may be aware of their interests. Significantly, Americans do not know why they should fight Iranians. If you were to ask them why this fight ought to happen, they might say, “Because they hate us, and we hate them. Have you seen the signs? DEATH TO AMERICA!”

A blood feud needs no propaganda. We had plenty of propaganda in the run-up to the Iraq war before it began in 2003. Now government officials don’t bother to rouse public support, just as they do not bother to give a credible reason for going to war. Just push the button that fires the drone’s missile. It’s too much trouble to justify these acts, because after Iran retaliates, the state will have all the support it needs.

Updates

Analysts point out that officials used “razor thin” intelligence to support the claim that Soleimani had to be killed to prevent “imminent attacks” on Americans, which is a polite way of saying the intelligence does not exist. Interesting that Trump loves the intelligence when it supports something he wants to do. The standard for a public pronouncement seems to be, “What can we say that doesn’t sound like total bullshit?” Officials ought to understand, everything they say sounds like total bullshit.

As an example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani’s murder makes Amerians safer. Next, Pompeo’s State Department warns Americans to leave Iraq “immediately.” As all those oil field workers and others book their flights, they might wonder, “Didn’t he just tell us we’re safe now?” State Department comes back, “Yes, you’re safe, but we issued the warning out of an abundance of caution.” More bullshit.

Last item in this category: the claim that Soleimani was a “bad guy” with “blood on his hands.” We have been in conflict with Iran since a U. S. – sponsored coup overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh in the late 1940s. The 1979 hostage crisis kindled an open, low-level feud between the two countries. What political or military leader in this long conflict is not responsible for deaths in the enemy camp? Who is not a bad guy or Great Satan in the enemy’s eyes? We have never, never before ordered the execution of a foreign leader because we could plausibly call him a “bad guy.”


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