The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Jim Scofield

July 9, 2014

Jim Scofield | United States still lacks exit plan

JOHNSTOWN — Can we ever exit these countries we have made war in? We’re still not out of Iraq and Afghanistan, after 11 and 13 years respectively, and both countries are in worse shape than before our invasions.

President Obama is about to introduce 750 troops back into Iraq, plus drones and Apache helicopters. And he had told us the war there was over. Besides, it was a war we should never have had: Iraq was no threat to our country, had nothing to do with terrorism and no threatening weapons, the Bush administration fabrications notwithstanding.

Now, after our two wars there (1991 and 2003) and our 12 years of punishing sanctions, it’s no longer the relatively prosperous middle-class country that it was even under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. We’ve left it with Sunnis and Shiites ethnically cleansing each other, and now with a terrorist group.

And hundreds of thousands dead, including more than 5,000 Americans.

We’re not getting out of Afghanistan either, despite the vague administration’s claims. We will leave 10,000-20,000 troops there after the end of 2014, our promised departure date. The group we made war on, the Taliban, is still strong there. The Taliban did not have a part in the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., nor are they an international terrorist organization.

Our aggressive policies under the Carter and Reagan administrations in the 1980s indirectly led to the Taliban’s control in the country, and even to the terrorist al-Qaida organization. We imported into Afghanistan all kinds of radical Islamists to give the Soviet Union, which then bordered and supported it, trouble. And the Soviets suffered a Vietnam-type defeat. And we suffered the blowback of turning Afghanistan into a country dominated by religious fanatics.

This is our empire, 6,000 miles away, just like the British had there in the early 20th century. We claim we brought them democracy, the British said they brought them a superior civilization, one that also bombed their cities, killed, and mangled their governments.

Our media uncritically accepts that we support democracy in the Middle East. Starting with the CIA’s overthrow of the Iranian democracy in 1953 in favor of British and American oil interests, this has not been true. It’s a shame to see our Secretary of State, John Kerry, paying a friendly visit to Egypt’s leader, general and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, after his military brutally overthrew the elected president, Mohammad Morsi, killing hundreds or thousands of peaceful protesters and imprisoning many thousands, and now sentencing at least 182 opponents to death.

But we are providing military aid to the repressive el-Sisi government. Remember, we supported Hosni Mubarak’s Egyptian dictatorship until it was apparent it would fall in 2011.

We support a host of dictatorships in the Arabian Peninsula. We have not supported moderate, elected Muslim governments, not in Algeria in 1991 nor the 2006 elected Hamas government in Gaza, dismissing the latter as “terrorist.” Why should anyone believe we support democracy in the Middle East?

Why have our media and public accepted the notion that we have the right to make war on these Middle Eastern countries, Iraq and now possibly Iran, because they might have or be getting a nuclear weapon? We have thousands. Israel, an adversary of these two countries, has hundreds. If we ever use even 10 of these terrifying hydrogen bombs it will be the worst disaster in human history.

Instead of threatening war, we should be pushing more vigorously the International Atomic Energy Agency’s policies of gradual nuclear disarmament of all countries involved.

The Ukraine crisis is another dubious and dangerous involvement for the U.S.

Again, we supported the violent overthrow of an elected government earlier this year, that of President Viktor Yanukovych, by forces of dubious democratic merit, because he had turned toward neighboring Russia for support. Our much earlier reorganization of NATO, our Cold War threat against the Soviet Union, had already been perceived by Russia as aggressively moving into Eastern Europe.

We seem to be going afar to resurrect our dangerous Cold War conflict with Moscow, both of us armed to the teeth with hydrogen bombs.

Must our ideal of strong leadership always be military confrontation? Congressional Republicans want it to be more macho militaristic than even Obama desires. Isn’t something wrong when we’re almost always at war, or positioning our military for action?

Face it. The 2001 terrorist attacks in no way threatened our existence.

We are wasting our resources – a Harvard Kennedy School study puts the Iraq and Afghanistan costs at $4 trillion to $6 trillion – when we should be repairing and strengthening our decaying infrastructure.

Our schools are under-financed, our transportation systems, our water and sewage and our new energy needs are floundering.

These should be our real strengths.

Jim Scofield of Richland Township is a professor emeritus of English at Pitt-Johnstown.

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