zaterdag 2 januari 2021

Why I left the cult

 

Why I left the cult

All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
–From Easter, 1916, by WB Yeats

Dear Israel and Israeli Jews,

Maybe it’s pointless writing to you, and I guess I am not expecting a response. I am writing because I feel a certain sense of duty. After all I come from you, so maybe, maybe some of you might listen to me, might get curious, take a risk and entertain what is currently unthinkable to you.

I left what seems like a very long time ago, twenty-five years. I don’t think you’ve changed much since, except for the worse maybe. Psychologies like yours have the nasty habit of getting worse if left untreated. I always remember you as harsh, defensive, hot around the collar and ready to explode at every opportunity, loud and unforgiving. You had pockets of calm and maybe even kindness, but they were reserved for those who lived in the nicer greener places, and they had more money than we did.

I grew up in Bat-Yam and it was terrible there. It was an endless dense noisy mass of concrete; clumps of heavily populated blocks of thin-walled flats as far as the eye could see, separated only by bitumen roads. It’s not what you usually like to show the rest of the world, and it’s not what the rest of the world think of when they think of you. I grew up on Hashikma Street. What a cruel joke that was, naming that awful concrete dessert, Hashikma… ‘The Sycamore’. There were no trees there. During my childhood I had no idea what a shikma tree even looked like. Whoever these people were, did they think that by naming the street sycamore it would somehow make it better for those of us destined to spend our childhoods there? Did they think they could fool us into thinking it was nicer, more idyllic than it really was? All it did was tease and torment. The name of my street spoke to me of something I had no access to and that I thought I could never have.

This schizophrenic split between the name of the place and the reality of it is symbolic of your entire existence. Where I grew up wasn’t much different to many working class neighbourhoods elsewhere in the world, but I was always told that we were not the same as everyone else. We were special, we were better: more moral and ethical, more civilised. Don’t tell me you didn’t say that. I remember very well! I actually paid attention at school.

But with the mind of a child, I kind of sensed that we weren’t special at all. I suspect a lot of children who suffer abuse within their own families at the hands of their own people, develop doubts about their group. If you protected me better, maybe I would still be a part of you. But you couldn’t protect me or other children like me precisely because you are not who or what you say you are, a more enlightened and ethical people. You are a group of humans with gifts and with flaws, and with plenty of cowardice like every other group. You are no different from any human society that hides and even enables crimes against its own children, and that fails to protect the vulnerable in their midst.

A few years after I left you, I gradually began to realise that I was the same as any cult leaver. It was a shock, but looking back I wonder why I hadn’t seen it before. Then again, rarely can people inside a cult see where they are. If they could, the cult wouldn’t be what it is. They think that they are members of a special group that has a special destiny, and is always under threat. The survival of the cult is always the most important principle. Cult members are taught from birth that the world outside is dangerous, that they have to huddle together for safety. Every member of every cult is a recruit.

At this point you are probably going to say that cult or no cult, this was entirely justified. Have I forgotten the holocaust? No. Of course not. Persecution of Jewish people throughout history was very real indeed. Whatever Jewish identity is, Jews were a hated and despised group among many cultures in Europe, and Jews have always had an uneasy co-existence with non-Jews. Any marginalised or persecuted group has an uneasy relationship with the dominant culture. Once you have been discriminated against it’s hard to trust.

But two big things bother me about you. One, this history of persecution is so inseparable from your identity, you can’t see beyond it. Not even your most talented artists, academics, intellectuals and writers, can see beyond. You all seem to be caught up in it, except for a very small and extraordinary minority of people who can see Zionism for what it is. Anyone who has suffered trauma tends to feel separate and different. It’s human psychology once you have been abused, to feel that you are no longer the same as everyone else. But anyone who was abused and traumatised has a duty to get better and not allow the fear and the victimhood to become their identity. Those of us who were abused and traumatised have this duty because if we don’t heal, we either hurt ourselves or others, or both. That’s where you are and that’s what you are doing. You have not only allowed trauma to become your very identity, you have glorified it and are worshiping it as a god.

The second and even more important thing that bothers me is the crime you have committed and are still committing in the name of ‘our’ survival. You wanted a solution to the persecution of your group, and herein lies the problem. You decided to create a Jewish ghetto that you think of as a safe haven, on a land that was fully populated. You came in and took it, committed ethnic cleansing and are continuing to do so as we speak. I know you would not feel that you have completed your mission until you have all the land without the people.

You are a product of settler-colonialism, a state created through the removal and the elimination of the people who lived in the territory before you. The relationship you developed with your victims, the Palestinians, bears all the hallmarks of a relationship between settler-colonisers and those they wish to eliminate from existence. Settler-colonisers don’t just remove people off their land. They remove their historical places, monuments, evidence of their history oral and physical, all traces of their existence… If there is no victim, there is no crime. If the territory is cleansed of the character given to it by those who lived there, it is open to take on a new one.

I know what it’s like to be blind to the fact that you are settler-colonisers, people who are committing a terrible crime. You cannot see yourself as the ‘bad guy’ here. You are so steeped in your self-created myth, that you always were and always will be the most tragic victim in the story of humanity. I once was one of you and I know that it is practically impossible to see through your reasoning: ‘We merely returned to our ancestral home. We just want to live in peace with our own people. What’s wrong with that? Why don’t others let us live in peace?’

There is a powerful force field, some kind of a lead-lined shield inside you, that protects your belief from the truth, from reality. You don’t deny that you ‘came back’ and settled the land, you just can’t see what it means. So let me spell it out for you one more time. When a group of people comes into a territory (no matter their reason), removes the indigenous people and takes their land and resources, it’s called settler-colonialism. Settler-colonialism is immoral and it is a crime against humanity. Victims don’t always go silently into the night, so crimes have to continue to be committed until the victims’ resistance and defiance are crushed and they disappear from view and memory. There is nothing original or special about what you are, or what you are doing. You are like all other settler-colonisers before you. Not even your capacity for self-deception and your deception of others are particularly special. It’s been done before. There is nothing special about you at all.

Let’s say you did ‘return home’ as your myths say, that Palestine really was your ancestral home. But Palestine was fully populated when you started to covet it. In order to take it for yourself you have been following quite closely the Biblical dictate to Joshua to just walk in and take everything. You killed, you expelled, you raped, you stole, you burned and destroyed and you replaced the population with your own people. I was always taught that the Zionist movement was largely non-religious (How you can be Jewish without Jewish religion is perplexing in itself). For a supposedly non-religious movement it’s extraordinary how closely Zionism — your creator and your blueprint — has followed the Bible. Of course you never dare to critique the stories of the Bible. Not even the secular amongst you do that. None of my otherwise good teachers at my secular schools ever suggested that we question the morality of what Joshua did. If we were able to question it, the logical next step would have been to question Zionism, its crimes, and the rightness of the existence of our very own state. No, we couldn’t be allowed to go that far. It was too dangerous. That would risk the precarious structure that held us in place.

So like all cults that have ever existed, and those that will no doubt continue to be created, you live in self-imposed blindness. You create and recreate a picture of reality that is filled with holes, but you are OK with that. The possibility of filling those holes brings you face-to-face with your mortal terrors, your morbid fear of annihilation. And you can’t bear it. I know what annihilation means to you. It doesn’t just mean killing. Annihilation means that the Jewish people, that Jewishness itself would no longer exist. To you ‘assimilation’ is also annihilation. They taught us that at school. We were taught that assimilation was despicable, cowardly, treacherous to our people. Whenever Jewish people marry non-Jews in their own countries, and when all traces of Jewishness, whatever it is, become diluted, you worry. You think it’s the end. Because there are no individuals, only the group, when the group goes individuals go too. So you feel any perceived threat to the group as a personal threat to each one of you. That’s why you cry antisemitism so readily and reflexively, whenever you perceive the slightest threat to your cult state.

Abigail Abarbanel today
ABIGAIL ABARBANEL TODAY

I left the cult because I wanted to find out who I was. I refused to accept that the only purpose of my life was to defend the cult and allow it to continue. It’s human, it’s mammal, to allow one’s identity to be subsumed by the group, but it doesn’t make for a good life. We survived as mammals partly because we lived in groups. Without the group around them, individuals probably died out in the harsh world our ancestors lived in. Your psychology is nothing more than simple cave/herd psychology and it’s not unique to you. But we as a species have the capacity for so much more. In the world we live in now, our survival depends on transcending our natural base instincts. We can develop and use the moral and ethical part of our brain, the part that gives us self-awareness and concern for others, the part that can take responsibility for our own sins and crimes and can make amends. Our salvation is not in our own little groups any more, but together as one species.

Come on, leave the cult and the ghetto mentality behind, join the human race, do the right thing. You want to be really special, to fulfil a special destiny? By all means! Lead the way to enlightenment by owning up, repenting and making amends, by transforming your identity into something healthy and positive. Show what can be achieved when we are more than frightened mammals…

I don’t expect you to hear me or to see what you cannot see. You are experts at indoctrination and are too deeply steeped in your fear-based picture of reality. You are a great disappointment to me. That’s why I support the BDS against you. If you don’t stop yourself, someone has to.


https://mondoweiss.net/2016/10/why-i-left-the-cult/?fbclid=IwAR1XXYBIgRdlc0QUZ7iLJ5502LE4Hk6tdbUb3IyZlQEKcGICsr8T2ao_aL8


Can We Finally Stop Marching to Disaster?

 DECEMBER 18, 2020

Can We Finally Stop Marching to Disaster?

 Facebook

It was the end of October 2001. Two friends, Max Elbaum and Bob Wing, had just dropped by. (Yes, children, believe it or not, people used to drop in on each other, maskless, once upon a time.) They had come to hang out with my partner Jan Adams and me. Among other things, Max wanted to get some instructions from fellow-runner Jan about taping his foot to ease the pain of plantar fasciitis. But it soon became clear that he and Bob had a bigger agenda for the evening. They were eager to recruit us for a new project.

And so began War Times/Tiempo de Guerras, a free, bilingual, antiwar tabloid that, at its height, distributed 100,000 copies every six weeks to more than 700 antiwar organizations around the country. It was already clear to the four of us that night — as it was to millions around the world — that the terrorist attacks of September 11th would provide the pretext for a major new projection of U.S. military power globally, opening the way to a new era of “all-war-all-the-time.” War Times was a project of its moment (although the name would still be apt today, given that those wars have never ended). It would be superseded in a few years by the explosive growth of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. Still, it represented an early effort to fill the space where a peace movement would eventually develop.

All-War-All-the-Time — For Some of Us

We were certainly right that the United States had entered a period of all-war-all-the-time. It’s probably hard for people born since 9/11 to imagine how much — and how little — things changed after September 2001. By the end of that month, this country had already launched a “war” on an enemy that then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told us was “not just in Afghanistan,” but in “50 or 60 countries, and it simply has to be liquidated.”

Five years and two never-ending wars later, he characterized what was then called the war on terror as “a generational conflict akin to the Cold War, the kind of struggle that might last decades as allies work to root out terrorists across the globe and battle extremists who want to rule the world.” A generation later, it looks like Rumsfeld was right, if not about the desires of the global enemy, then about the duration of the struggle.

Here in the United States, however, we quickly got used to being “at war.” In the first few months, interstate bus and train travelers often encountered (and, in airports, still encounter) a new and absurd kind of “security theater.” I’m referring to those long, snaking lines in which people first learned to remove their belts and coats, later their hats and shoes, as ever newer articles of clothing were recognized as potential hiding places for explosives. Fortunately, the arrest of the Underwear Bomber never led the Transportation Security Administration to the obvious conclusion about the clothing travelers should have to remove next. We got used to putting our three-ounce containers of liquids (No more!) into quart-sized baggies (No bigger! No smaller!).

It was all-war-all-the-time, but mainly in those airports. Once the shooting wars started dragging on, if you didn’t travel by airplane much or weren’t deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, it was hard to remember that we were still in war time at all. There were continuing clues for those who wanted to know, like the revelationsof CIA torture practices at “black sites” around the world, the horrors of military prisons like the ones at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, and the still-functioning prison complex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And soon enough, of course, there were the hundreds and then thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars taking their places among the unhoused veterans of earlier wars in cities across the United States, almost unremarked upon, except by service organizations.

So, yes, the wars dragged on at great expense, but with little apparent effect in this country. They even gained new names like “the long war” (as Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis put it in 2017) or the “forever wars,” a phrase now so common that it appearsall over the place. But apart from devouring at least $6.4 trillion dollars through September 2020 that might otherwise have been invested domestically in healthcare, education, infrastructure, or addressing poverty and inequality, apart from creatingincreasingly militarized domestic police forces armed ever more lethally by the Pentagon, those forever wars had little obvious effect on the lives of most Americans.

Of course, if you happened to live in one of the places where this country has been fighting for the last 19 years, things are a little different. A conservative estimate by Iraq Body Count puts violent deaths among civilians in that country alone at 185,454 to 208,493 and Brown University’s Costs of War project points out that even the larger figure is bound to be a significant undercount:

“Several times as many Iraqi civilians may have died as an indirect result of the war, due to damage to the systems that provide food, health care, and clean drinking water, and as a result, illness, infectious diseases, and malnutrition that could otherwise have been avoided or treated.”

And that’s just Iraq. Again, according to the Costs of War Project, “At least 800,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan.”

Of course, many more people than that have been injured or disabled. And America’s post-9/11 wars have driven an estimated 37 million people from their homes, creating the greatest human displacement since World War II. People in this country are rightly concernedabout the negative effects of online schooling on American children amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis (especially poor children and those in communities of color). Imagine, then, the effects on a child’s education of losing her home and her country, as well as one or both parents, and then growing up constantly on the move or in an overcrowded, under-resourced refugee camp. The war on terror has truly become a war of generations.

Every one of the 2,977 lives lost on 9/11 was unique and invaluable. But the U.S. response has been grotesquely disproportionate — and worse than we War Times founders could have imagined that October night so many years ago.

Those wars of ours have gone on for almost two decades now. Each new metastasis has been justified by George W. Bush’s and then Barack Obama’s use of the now ancient 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress passed in the days after 9/11. Its language actually limited presidential military action to a direct response to the 9/11 attacks and the prevention of future attacks by the same actors. It stated that the president

“…is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

Despite that AUMF’s limited scope, successive presidents have used it to justify military action in at least 18 countries. (To be fair, President Obama realized the absurdity of his situation when he sent U.S. troops to Syria and tried to wring a new authorization out of Congress, only to be stymied by a Republican majority that wouldn’t play along.)

In 2002, in the run-up to the Iraq War, Congress passed a second AUMF, which permitted the president to use the armed forces as “necessary and appropriate” to “defend U.S. national security against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” In January 2020, Donald Trump used that second authorization to justify the murder by drone of Qasem Soleimani, an Iraniangeneral, along with nine other people.

Trump Steps In

In 2016, peace activists were preparing to confront a Hillary Clinton administration that we expected would continue Obama’s version of the forever wars — the “surge” in Afghanistan, the drone assassination campaigns, the special ops in Africa. But on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, something went “Trump” in the night and Donald J. Trump took over the presidency with a promise to end this country’s forever wars, which he had criticized relentlessly during his campaign. That, of course, didn’t mean we should have expected a peace dividend anytime soon. He was also committed to rebuilding a supposedly “depleted” U.S. military. As he said at a 2019 press conference,

“When I took over, it was a mess… One of our generals came in to see me and he said, ‘Sir, we don’t have ammunition.’ I said, ‘That’s a terrible thing you just said.’ He said, ‘We don’t have ammunition.’ Now we have more ammunition than we’ve ever had.”

It’s highly unlikely that the military couldn’t afford to buy enough bullets when Trump entered the Oval Office, given that publicly acknowledged defense funding was then running at $580 billion a year. He did, however, manage to push that figure to $713 billion by fiscal year 2020. That December, he threatened to veto an even larger appropriation for 2021 — $740 billion — but only because he wanted the military to continue to honor Confederate generals by keeping their names on military bases. Oh, and because he thought the bill should also change liability rules for social media companies, an issue you don’t normally expect to see addressed in a defense appropriations bill. And, in any case, Congress passed the bill with a veto-proof majority.

As Pentagon expert Michael Klare pointed out recently, while it might seem contradictory that Trump would both want to end the forever wars and to increase military spending, his actions actually made a certain sense. The president, suggested Klare, had been persuaded to support the part of the U.S. military command that has favored a sharp pivot away from reigning post-9/11 Pentagon practices. For 19 years, the military high command had hewed fairly closely to the strategy laid out by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld early in the Bush years: maintaining the capacity to fight ground wars against one or two regional powers (think of that “Axis of Evil” of Iraq, North Korea, and Iran), while deploying agile, technologically advanced forces in low-intensity (and a couple of higher-intensity) counterterrorism conflicts. Nineteen years later, whatever its objectives may have been — a more-stable Middle East? Fewer and weaker terrorist organizations? — it’s clear that the Rumsfeld-Bush strategy has failed spectacularly.

Klare points out that, after almost two decades without a victory, the Pentagon has largely decided to demote international terrorism from rampaging monster to annoying mosquito cloud. Instead, the U.S. must now prepare to confront the rise of China and Russia, even if China has only one overseas military base and Russia, economically speaking, is a rickety petro-state with imperial aspirations. In other words, the U.S. must prepare to fight short but devastating wars in multiple domains (including space and cyberspace), perhaps even involving the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the Eurasian continent. To this end, the country has indeed begun a major renovation of its nuclear arsenal and announced a new 30-year plan to beef up its naval capacity. And President Trump rarely misses a chance to tout “his” creation of a new Space Force.

Meanwhile, did he actually keep his promise and at least end those forever wars? Not really. He did promise to bring all U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas, but acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller only recently said that we’d be leaving about 2,500 troops there and a similar number in Iraq, with the hope that they’d all be out by May 2021. (In other words, he dumped those wars in the lap of the future Biden administration.)

In the meantime in these years of “ending” those wars, the Trump administration actually loosened the rules of engagement for air strikes in Afghanistan, leading to a “massive increase in civilian casualties,” according to a new report from the Costs of War Project. “From the last year of the Obama administration to the last full year of recorded data during the Trump administration,” writes its author, Neta Crawford, “the number of civilians killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Afghanistan increased by 330 percent.”

In spite of his isolationist “America First” rhetoric, in other words, President Trump has presided over an enormous buildup of an institution, the military-industrial complex, that was hardly in need of major new investment. And in spite of his anti-NATO rhetoric, his reduction by almost a third of U.S. troop strength Germany, and all the rest, he never really violated the post-World War II foreign policy pact between the Republican and Democratic parties. Regardless of how they might disagree about dividing the wealth domestically, they remain united in their commitment to using diplomacy when possible, but military force when necessary, to maintain and expand the imperial power that they believed to be the guarantor of that wealth.

And Now Comes Joe

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden will become the president of a country that spends as much on its armed forces, by some counts, as the next 10 countries combined. He’ll inherit responsibility for a nation with a military presence in 150 countries and special-operations deployments in 22 African nations alone. He’ll be left to oversee the still-unfinished, deeply unsuccessful, never-ending war on terror in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia and, as publicly reported by the Department of Defense, 187,000 troops stationed outside the United States.

Nothing in Joe Biden’s history suggests that he or any of the people he’s already appointed to his national security team have the slightest inclination to destabilize that Democratic-Republican imperial pact. But empires are not sustained by inclination alone. They don’t last forever. They overextend themselves. They rot from within.

If you’re old enough, you may remember stories about the long lines for food in the crumbling Soviet Union, that other superpower of the Cold War. You can see the same thing in the United States today. Once a week, my partner delivers food boxes to hungry people in our city, those who have lost their jobs and homes, because the pandemic has only exacerbated this country’s already brutal version of economic inequality. Another friend routinely sees a food line stretching over a mile, as people wait hours for a single free bag of groceries.

Perhaps the horrors of 2020 — the fires and hurricanes, Trump’s vicious attacks on democracy, the death, sickness, and economic dislocation caused by Covid-19 — can force a real conversation about national security in 2021. Maybe this time we can finally ask whether trying to prop up a dying empire actually makes us — or indeed the world — any safer. This is the best chance in a generation to start that conversation. The alternative is to keep trudging mindlessly toward disaster.

This article was distributed by TomDispatch.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/12/18/can-we-finally-stop-marching-to-disaster/



Rebecca Gordon, All-War-All-the-Time?

 TOMGRAM

Rebecca Gordon, All-War-All-the-Time?


POSTED ON 

Hmmm… let me see if I’ve gotten this straight. In his last days in office, Donald Trump is “ending” America’s forever wars (as he long promised he would do) by leaving 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan, a similar number in Iraq, and continuing the air war across parts of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Take Somalia, where American troops have periodically been stationed since 1993. The latest secretary of defense, Christopher Miller, actually visited that country as November ended to thank the more than 700 U.S. troops involved in training and advising Somali forces there. He promised to withdraw “virtually all” of them (which, of course, is not quite the definition of “all”). An early December Pentagon statement simply said that, in response to the president’s orders, “a majority” of those troops would be pulled out early in 2021. Most of them will evidently simply be “repositioned” to neighboring Kenya to bulk up U.S. forces there. It’s from Kenya, itself increasingly embattled, that most U.S. drone and other airstrikes against al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels in Somalia, are being carried out.

In fact, on December 10th, the U.S. launched two such airstrikes against an al-Shabaab stronghold in Somalia. And General Stephen Townsend, the head of U.S. Africa Command, insisted that “we will continue to apply pressure to the al-Shabaab network. They continue to undermine Somali security and need to be contained and degraded… We’re repositioning, but we will maintain the ability to strike this enemy.” And keep in mind that the U.S. has launched more airstrikes in Somalia this year than in the Bush and Obama years combined.

In other words, the odds are that, after being “ended” by Donald J. Trump, America’s forever wars will, in some form, prove once again to be ongoing and so head for their third decade, even if in different forms and possibly even different countries. How appropriate today, then, that TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon returns to the subject of those never-ending wars and the military that goes with them to consider just what all-war-all-the-time really means to a country being felled by a pandemic. Tom

It’s Almost Twenty Years Since 9/11

Can We Finally Stop Marching to Disaster?

It was the end of October 2001. Two friends, Max Elbaum and Bob Wing, had just dropped by. (Yes, children, believe it or not, people used to drop in on each other, maskless, once upon a time.) They had come to hang out with my partner Jan Adams and me. Among other things, Max wanted to get some instructions from fellow-runner Jan about taping his foot to ease the pain of plantar fasciitis. But it soon became clear that he and Bob had a bigger agenda for the evening. They were eager to recruit us for a new project.

And so began War Times/Tiempo de Guerras, a free, bilingual, antiwar tabloid that, at its height, distributed 100,000 copies every six weeks to more than 700 antiwar organizations around the country. It was already clear to the four of us that night — as it was to millions around the world — that the terrorist attacks of September 11th would provide the pretext for a major new projection of U.S. military power globally, opening the way to a new era of “all-war-all-the-time.” War Times was a project of its moment (although the name would still be apt today, given that those wars have never ended). It would be superseded in a few years by the explosive growth of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. Still, it represented an early effort to fill the space where a peace movement would eventually develop.

All-War-All-the-Time — For Some of Us

We were certainly right that the United States had entered a period of all-war-all-the-time. It’s probably hard for people born since 9/11 to imagine how much — and how little — things changed after September 2001. By the end of that month, this country had already launched a “war” on an enemy that then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told us was “not just in Afghanistan,” but in “50 or 60 countries, and it simply has to be liquidated.”

Five years and two never-ending wars later, he characterized what was then called the war on terror as “a generational conflict akin to the Cold War, the kind of struggle that might last decades as allies work to root out terrorists across the globe and battle extremists who want to rule the world.” A generation later, it looks like Rumsfeld was right, if not about the desires of the global enemy, then about the duration of the struggle.

Here in the United States, however, we quickly got used to being “at war.” In the first few months, interstate bus and train travelers often encountered (and, in airports, still encounter) a new and absurd kind of “security theater.” I’m referring to those long, snaking lines in which people first learned to remove their belts and coats, later their hats and shoes, as ever newer articles of clothing were recognized as potential hiding places for explosives. Fortunately, the arrest of the Underwear Bomber never led the Transportation Security Administration to the obvious conclusion about the clothing travelers should have to remove next. We got used to putting our three-ounce containers of liquids (No more!) into quart-sized baggies (No bigger! No smaller!).

It was all-war-all-the-time, but mainly in those airports. Once the shooting wars started dragging on, if you didn’t travel by airplane much or weren’t deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, it was hard to remember that we were still in war time at all. There were continuing clues for those who wanted to know, like the revelations of CIA torture practices at “black sites” around the world, the horrors of military prisons like the ones at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, and the still-functioning prison complex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And soon enough, of course, there were the hundreds and then thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars taking their places among the unhoused veterans of earlier wars in cities across the United States, almost unremarked upon, except by service organizations.

So, yes, the wars dragged on at great expense, but with little apparent effect in this country. They even gained new names like “the long war” (as Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis put it in 2017) or the “forever wars,” a phrase now so common that it appears all over the place. But apart from devouring at least $6.4 trillion dollars through September 2020that might otherwise have been invested domestically in healthcare, education, infrastructure, or addressing poverty and inequality, apart from creating increasingly militarized domestic police forces armed ever more lethally by the Pentagon, those forever wars had little obvious effect on the lives of most Americans.

Of course, if you happened to live in one of the places where this country has been fighting for the last 19 years, things are a little different. A conservative estimate by Iraq Body Count puts violent deaths among civilians in that country alone at 185,454 to 208,493 and Brown University’s Costs of War project points out that even the larger figure is bound to be a significant undercount:

“Several times as many Iraqi civilians may have died as an indirect result of the war, due to damage to the systems that provide food, health care, and clean drinking water, and as a result, illness, infectious diseases, and malnutrition that could otherwise have been avoided or treated.”

And that’s just Iraq. Again, according to the Costs of War Project, “At least 800,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan.”

Of course, many more people than that have been injured or disabled. And America’s post-9/11 wars have driven an estimated 37 million people from their homes, creating the greatest human displacement since World War II. People in this country are rightly concerned about the negative effects of online schooling on American children amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis (especially poor children and those in communities of color). Imagine, then, the effects on a child’s education of losing her home and her country, as well as one or both parents, and then growing up constantly on the move or in an overcrowded, under-resourced refugee camp. The war on terror has truly become a war of generations.

Every one of the 2,977 lives lost on 9/11 was unique and invaluable. But the U.S. response has been grotesquely disproportionate — and worse than we War Times founders could have imagined that October night so many years ago.

Those wars of ours have gone on for almost two decades now. Each new metastasis has been justified by George W. Bush’s and then Barack Obama’s use of the now ancient 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress passed in the days after 9/11. Its language actually limited presidential military action to a direct response to the 9/11 attacks and the prevention of future attacks by the same actors. It stated that the president

“…is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

Despite that AUMF’s limited scope, successive presidents have used it to justify military action in at least 18 countries. (To be fair, President Obama realized the absurdity of his situation when he sent U.S. troops to Syria and tried to wring a new authorization out of Congress, only to be stymied by a Republican majority that wouldn’t play along.)

In 2002, in the run-up to the Iraq War, Congress passed a second AUMF, which permitted the president to use the armed forces as “necessary and appropriate” to “defend U.S. national security against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” In January 2020, Donald Trump used that second authorization to justify the murder by drone of Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian general, along with nine other people.

Trump Steps In

In 2016, peace activists were preparing to confront a Hillary Clinton administration that we expected would continue Obama’s version of the forever wars — the “surge” in Afghanistan, the drone assassination campaigns, the special ops in Africa. But on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, something went “Trump” in the night and Donald J. Trump took over the presidency with a promise to end this country’s forever wars, which he had criticized relentlessly during his campaign. That, of course, didn’t mean we should have expected a peace dividend anytime soon. He was also committed to rebuilding a supposedly “depleted” U.S. military. As he said at a 2019 press conference,

“When I took over, it was a mess… One of our generals came in to see me and he said, ‘Sir, we don’t have ammunition.’ I said, ‘That’s a terrible thing you just said.’ He said, ‘We don’t have ammunition.’ Now we have more ammunition than we’ve ever had.”

It’s highly unlikely that the military couldn’t afford to buy enough bullets when Trump entered the Oval Office, given that publicly acknowledged defense funding was then running at $580 billion a year. He did, however, manage to push that figure to $713 billion by fiscal year 2020. That December, he threatened to veto an even larger appropriation for 2021 — $740 billion — but only because he wanted the military to continue to honor Confederate generals by keeping their names on military bases. Oh, and because he thought the bill should also change liability rules for social media companies, an issue you don’t normally expect to see addressed in a defense appropriations bill. And, in any case, Congress passed the bill with a veto-proof majority.

As Pentagon expert Michael Klare pointed out recently, while it might seem contradictory that Trump would both want to end the forever wars and to increase military spending, his actions actually made a certain sense. The president, suggested Klare, had been persuaded to support the part of the U.S. military command that has favored a sharp pivot away from reigning post-9/11 Pentagon practices. For 19 years, the military high command had hewed fairly closely to the strategy laid out by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld early in the Bush years: maintaining the capacity to fight ground wars against one or two regional powers (think of that “Axis of Evil” of Iraq, North Korea, and Iran), while deploying agile, technologically advanced forces in low-intensity (and a couple of higher-intensity) counterterrorism conflicts. Nineteen years later, whatever its objectives may have been — a more-stable Middle East? Fewer and weaker terrorist organizations? — it’s clear that the Rumsfeld-Bush strategy has failed spectacularly.

Klare points out that, after almost two decades without a victory, the Pentagon has largely decided to demote international terrorism from rampaging monster to annoying mosquito cloud. Instead, the U.S. must now prepare to confront the rise of China and Russia, even if China has only one overseas military base and Russia, economically speaking, is a rickety petro-state with imperial aspirations. In other words, the U.S. must prepare to fight short but devastating wars in multiple domains (including space and cyberspace), perhaps even involving the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the Eurasian continent. To this end, the country has indeed begun a major renovation of its nuclear arsenal and announced a new 30-year plan to beef up its naval capacity. And President Trump rarely misses a chance to tout “his” creation of a new Space Force.

Meanwhile, did he actually keep his promise and at least end those forever wars? Not really. He did promise to bring all U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas, but acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller only recently said that we’d be leaving about 2,500 troops there and a similar number in Iraq, with the hope that they’d all be out by May 2021. (In other words, he dumped those wars in the lap of the future Biden administration.)

In the meantime in these years of “ending” those wars, the Trump administration actually loosened the rules of engagement for air strikes in Afghanistan, leading to a “massive increase in civilian casualties,” according to a new report from the Costs of War Project. “From the last year of the Obama administration to the last full year of recorded data during the Trump administration,” writes its author, Neta Crawford, “the number of civilians killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Afghanistan increased by 330 percent.”

In spite of his isolationist “America First” rhetoric, in other words, President Trump has presided over an enormous buildup of an institution, the military-industrial complex, that was hardly in need of major new investment. And in spite of his anti-NATO rhetoric, his reduction by almost a third of U.S. troop strength Germany, and all the rest, he never really violated the post-World War II foreign policy pact between the Republican and Democratic parties. Regardless of how they might disagree about dividing the wealth domestically, they remain united in their commitment to using diplomacy when possible, but military force when necessary, to maintain and expand the imperial power that they believed to be the guarantor of that wealth.

And Now Comes Joe

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden will become the president of a country that spends as much on its armed forces, by some counts, as the next 10 countries combined. He’ll inherit responsibility for a nation with a military presence in 150 countries and special-operations deployments in 22 African nations alone. He’ll be left to oversee the still-unfinished, deeply unsuccessful, never-ending war on terror in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia and, as publicly reported by the Department of Defense, 187,000 troops stationed outside the United States.

Nothing in Joe Biden’s history suggests that he or any of the people he’s already appointed to his national security team have the slightest inclination to destabilize that Democratic-Republican imperial pact. But empires are not sustained by inclination alone. They don’t last forever. They overextend themselves. They rot from within.

If you’re old enough, you may remember stories about the long lines for food in the crumbling Soviet Union, that other superpower of the Cold War. You can see the same thing in the United States today. Once a week, my partner delivers food boxes to hungry people in our city, those who have lost their jobs and homes, because the pandemic has only exacerbated this country’s already brutal version of economic inequality. Another friend routinely sees a food line stretching over a mile, as people wait hours for a single free bag of groceries.

Perhaps the horrors of 2020 — the fires and hurricanes, Trump’s vicious attacks on democracy, the death, sickness, and economic dislocation caused by Covid-19 — can force a real conversation about national security in 2021. Maybe this time we can finally ask whether trying to prop up a dying empire actually makes us — or indeed the world — any safer. This is the best chance in a generation to start that conversation. The alternative is to keep trudging mindlessly toward disaster.

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