By Younes Abdullah Muhamma
The recent unprovoked massacre of 17 Afghan civilians, 9 of them children and 3 of them women, initiated widespread but temporary public discussion about the future of the war. However, in an age of tweets and instant messaging there was hardly the necessary span of attention to recognize the grave implications of increasing U.S. war crimes. A fleeting domestic reaction indicated a successful desensitization that suggests the imperialist culture has conquered, but unfortunately few recognize that the future directions of both Afghanistan and America are now joined. An analysis of the means utilized to cultivate such domestic indifference reveals that reestablishing liberty at home would require resistance to the mechanisms that prevent it abroad.
By now most Americans are familiar with the case of Robert Bales but none know the names of his victims. Few recognize that, by almost any proposed definition, his actions of terrorism are hardly different that Bin Laden’s and fewer would admit that America has sanctioned terrorism as a tactic for it’s troops as long as they are in national uniform. The inability to acknowledge these truths is largely due to a blind bias presentation.
Within hours of the massacre, international media informed publics of the complex circumstances surrounding the affair. A frontpage headline from that Sunday’s Washington Post summarized the gist of the message. “Accused Soldier Faced Pressure of Deployment,” it read and was followed by subheadings stating, “Afghan mission fourth since 2001” and “suspect in rampage known for calm demeanor.” Almost immediately the whole world was informed not that a terrorist had slaughtered civilians but about Robert Bales, the fact that he was a family man, certainly wasn’t much of a drinker, never spoke bad about Muslims, joined the military after 9/11, that the bank had foreclosed on his mortgage, and that he had recently separated from his wife. Robert Bales may have been a killer, but as an American soldier at least he was human. The Afghan children, women and men slaughtered and lit ablaze however were collateral damage, an unfortunate toll of war, nameless and thus easily forgotten.
The compliant corporate media’s coverage demonstrated just how propaganda differs under the guise of democracy and free expression. The story of the massacre drifted from preponderant perception. However by espousing a narrative that humanized the perpetrator and represented his behavior as an aberration, the media actually made a victim of Robert Bales, as represented by subliminal analogies to the complexities of war hearkening back to the false notion that America is in Afghanistan to preserve freedom and actually indicting not the war as cause but the ungrateful American civilians. As David Horsey in the L.A. Times put it, the blame “can be shared from coast to coast” as “the burden of battle has fallen mainly on a tiny number of Americans.”
But Americans share responsibility, not for their unwillingness to serve but rather an unwillingness to admit that the atrocities of war are a manifestation of domestic American senility. Far from aberrations, violence like this is becoming the norm and our failure to admit it is further proof of a broader degeneracy. As Hamid Karzai put it, “The Americans in Afghanistan are demons.” And “this is not the first incident this is the 100th, the 200th, and 500th. Still awareness of such reality juxtaposed alongside constant repetition about America’s benign role breeds an awkward cognitive dissonance and usually results in defensive pride and refusal to acknowledge such truths.
The signs are everywhere but we refuse to accept them. Major Fernando M. Lujan, in writing after American troops were caught burning Qurans, explained a profound sense of privilege in American troops training Afghan soldiers. He said Americans, “stayed in camps where the Afghans slept in straw huts with smoke from a trash fire blowing on them, while coalition members lounged in air conditioned trailers,” and that Afghans “complained of young soldiers acting like drill sergeants, screaming and cursing at the Afghans and making them do push-ups.” Still, when Afghan soldiers turn on their American trainers there is no mention of this prevalent culture.
Such behavior is a mirror of indigenous American society. We are a nation of violence, competition and constant hedonistic pursuit. And despite immense wealth and high living standards we are fraught with addiction, mental illness and disease. But the constant barrage of marketing and media propaganda reminds us that Americans are people of manifest destiny and exceptionalism, with a special role in the world. These unrecognized contradictions are all the more complicated by what historian Richard Slotkin calls the “frontier myth” - the notion that we always wage righteous wars against savages on the periphery. All these factors combined formulate unconditional allegiance at the Imperialist core. As Harvard academic Charles S. Maier explains it, the culture of empire, “promises to make even the materially disadvantaged in the core stakeholders, often enthusiastic ones, in the imperial project.”
And so we don’t recognize the hypocracy of our claims. Barack Obama patronized all Afghans when he remarked that, “The U.S. takes this as seriously as if it were our own children,” for no one of rational mind could possibly believe that. The American public shows little concern for the residents of nations where we militarily intervene. From 2001-2006 we killed tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq before General David Petraeus realized that such wanton violence abandoned publics. Today, an altered counterinsurgency doctrine concentrates on a battle for hearts and minds, but such false humanitarianism as strategy may be believed domestically, however it is recognized as the deception it is abroad.
We operate on the basis of impunity. On November 19. 2005 in a similar incident, a group of marines massacred 24 civilians in the town of Haditha, Iraq. Having been hit by a roadside bomb, Marines first shot 5 innocent men in a taxi before massacring 19 others, mostly women and children, in their own homes. But just last month, Sergeant Frank Wuterich was acquitted in a U.S. military court for ordering the killings.
Afghan residents reported that U.S. soldiers lined them up after a roadside bomb attack a few days before the incident and threatened to take revenge. They also reported more than a single killer, prompting Hamid Karzai to proffer, “In 4 rooms women and children were killed and then they were put together in one room and lit on fire, that on man cannot do.” Still, Robert Bales was immediately removed from the country. He is not subject to Afghan law and if history tells us anything will most likely eventually be released from jail.
On March 16, 1968 a company of soldiers rushed into the small hamlet of Mai Lai in Vietnam and rounded up its citizens, men, women and children, before throwing them into a massive grave and shooting them all. Afghanistan is starting to look a lot like Vietnam. In the fall of 1968 Richard Nixon was elected president on his pledge to initiate a policy termed “Vietnamization” – a withdraw of U.S. troops replaced by a funded Vietnamese army and government proxy. Many soldiers participated in the Mai Lai massacre but only one, Lt. William Calley was prosecuted. He was initially sentenced to life’s imprisonment but served only 3 years. America was forced to pull out of the country in 1973, its peasant population defeated the largest military in the world.
The actions of Robert Bales do not represent an aberration. Just last spring a platoon of soldiers was convicted for killing Afghan civilians while high on hashish. They collected body parts, such as their ears, and wore them as jewelry. Such atrocities cannot go on absent a culture of permissibility.
While recent polls show 68% of Americans now support an end to the Afghan war, up from 42% just 5 months ago, they do not delve much into the rationale for opposition. Tellingly, other polling and public opinion shows virtually no support for aid to help rebuild Afghanistan and so such circumstance suggests opposition based on cost and national interest and certainly not an acknowledgement that U.S. involvement is morally wrong. John Tirman, executive director of MIT’s Center for International Studies, conducted research on American attitudes toward civilian deaths during its wars and found that pollsters have hardly ever even asked questions about foreign casualties but he cites a 1968 Harris Poll, conducted at the heighth of opposition to the Vietnam War that found only 4% favored an end to that war because of civilian casualties. Such is a manifest culture of exceptionalism akin to the attitudes of indifference that followed the Bales massacre – a general opposition based not on principle but in a condescending tone actually portraying Afghans as ungrateful hosts of America’s humanitarian wars.
It is unrecognized and unjustified hubris that allows the Afghan tragedy to continue. And contrary to the rhetorical claims of politicians, the American Empire plans to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 when all “combat” troops are set for departure. To document just how unconcerned the power structure is with popular opinion, the U.S. military actually utilized the controversy created around Robert Bales to sell its plan for indirect occupation after 2014 to lawmakers. The objective is to transfer responsibility to 350,000 Afghan soldiers while retaining a “residual” force of 20-30,000 U.S. troops. These residuals will conduct sustained covert-operations like the night raids, targeted assassinations and drone strikes that terrorize the Afghan population. They are to be housed at the over 450 military bases and prisons constructed since the start of the war but would be concentrated at the largest bases conveniently located along the route of the proposed TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghan-Pakistan-India) pipeline, a development project that would certainly prove a stimulus for private contractors facing unemployment in the event of actual independence.
The plan is outlined by what is called a strategic partnership agreement (SPA). General John Allen first mentioned it at the end of 2011, as negotiations to retain a residual Force in Iraq failed and violence in that country escalated. In a manipulative interview with the New York Times he stated that Karzai, “in fact, just the other day, talked about his desire to have conversations with the U.S. about a post-2014 force.” “We would probably see some number of advisers, trainers, intelligence specialists,” he said. That was before the video of marines urinating on corpses, before the Quran burnings, and before the Bales massacre. During the protests in Kabul around the Quran desecration demonstrators from universities made it clear that the Afghan public understands the SPA to be a continuation of occupation. Of course the substance of protest went uncovered in the Western press.
Last week in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Allen praised the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), shunned any notion that the pace of troop withdrawal would be accelerated and gave misleading testimony about the SPA by claiming that Karzai had convened a Loya Jirga, or parliamentary consultation that documented a commitment to a long-term relationship with the United States. He stated that the decision was made by a “representative body” that reflected the will of the people.
While the announcement was met with great fanfare in the senate, the Loya Jirga does not, in any way, represent Afghan public opinion. Its constituents are in reality the brutal warlords that ravaged the country in its civil war. As the New York Times reported in November, 2001 after the initial invasion, “ The galaxy of warlords who tore Afghanistan apart in the early 1990’s and who were vanquished by the Taliban because of their corruption and perfidy are back on their thrones, poised to exercise power in ways they always have.
The Loya Jirga has been held since 2003 and has given the perception of an Afghan democracy. However Malalai Joya, the courageous former female parliamentarian expelled for actually representing Afghan interests, explained that at the initial Loya Jirga “nobody wanted to talk about the elephant in the room, that the assembly was full of men who had, for the past decades, destroyed Afghanistan… in front of the cameras of the West, the warlords now wore the mask of democracy. But we Afghans knew them for the criminals they were.” In 2012 democracy in Afghanistan remains a fraud.
A recent Human Rights Watch report documented that Afghan lawmakers legalize rampant imprisonment of women by invoking a false tenet attributed to the Islamic shariah that prohibits running away from prostitution and domestic abuse. Hamad Karzai recently endorsed a tribal code of conduct that permits rape, mandates women travel accompanied by men, and authorizes the rights to beat one’s wife while granting no liberties to Afghan women. Still, on the eve of the Afghan war, the West applauded intervention on the grounds it would improve the lives of women. Laura explained, “I hope Americans will join our family in working to ensure that dignity and opportunity will be secured for the women and children of Afghanistan.” Just last week she returned to the country alongside Hillary Clinton to celebrate the gains of Afghan women. Such manipulation may deceive those ignorant in the West but only increases Afghan resentment.
This is the nature of the American Empire. Today it is dependent on its ability to clothe intervention in the guise of humanitarianism. As a consequence the burgeoning humanitarian aid industry has become a function of imperialism, a mechanism of cementing political allegiance, granting concessions and boosting domestic support and employment. A great deal of corruption in Afghanistan has been pinned on the Karzai regime but in truth Americans “aid workers” have taught Afghans about the fraud of aid amidst occupation. Western contractors secure projects, employ Pakistanis at slave wages, pocket profits and then send them back home where they serve as a stimulus, a boost to dollar demand. Reports have cited billions carried by plane to Dubai where they enter the shadow banking sector. In 2009, independent aid workers in Afghanistan refused to collaborate with the U.S. Aid after expressing that it was a political ploy, contingent on support for the puppet regime.
It has become common practice for soldiers to depart from service to the private contracting sector and the people on the ground clearly identify the fraud. Writing to a former classmate on Facebook a few days before the incident Robert Bales explained, “Overseas is boring, this trip pretty dumb giving money to [racial expletive] instead of bullets just doesn’t seem right.”
During the weeks since the Quran burnings, it should have become apparent that domestic deception helps prevent all potential opposition to the imperialist wars. Several issues garnered much greater public interest. A YouTube video about African warlord Joseph Kony for example was viewed by millions of people. Few remarked about the lopsided portrayal that mentioned nothing of western corporate involvement in Africa that sustains such civil wars or about U.S. support for the despotic Ugandan government. In a sign revealing just what liberalism has become, the director of the video emboldened with fame was hospitalized after leaving a bar, running through the streets in his underwear kicking and screaming and banging his fists on the pavement. For the millions that viewed the video however the notion that western humanitarianism is fraudulent would effect a similar reaction.
And that is the key objective. Celebrity George Clooney made headlines as he was arrested in the Sudan protesting North Sudonese bombing of the fledging, break away south Sudan nation. However the rise of celebrity engagement always coincides with broader national interests. South Sudan is a creation of the west, meant to prevent Chinese expansion into Africa and for multinational firms to exploit its petroleum reserves.
The shooting of African American youth Trayon Martin inspired widespread controversy and public discussion that continues. The nation’s priorities are observed where all these stories provoked more concern than allegations of the latest Afghan massacre. Instead, with regard to Afghanistan, the media suggests we’ve tried nation building to no avail in the country. However in reality we’ve completely destroyed it, decimated its population imposed a government every bit as brutal as the Taliban regime, and in so doing largely achieved the actual objective – to make Afghanistan a client state, exploiting its trillion dollars of mineral reserves, keeping it at civil war and retaining a military preserve that serves as a buffer to Chinese expansion.
Or perhaps Afghanistan will be the place the U.S. empire fails. During Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign he was asked by CNN’s Cindy Crowley if he believed the U.S. should apologize for the wars of the bush regime. He responded, “I don’t believe in the U.S. apologizing; as I said I think the war in Iraq was a mistake…” He went on to expand the Afghan war and maintain U.S. imperialism but in lieu of the recent Quran burning was forced to apologize to the Afghan people. Certainly his beliefs have hardly changed and we should realize self-serving calculus determines Obama’s rhetoric, but the fact that he apologized is a tell tale sign that the empire feels threatened.
Empires decline when they lose the ability to project an idea of moral supremacy; they die when the consequences of the inability to perpetuate that myth halt peripheral control which in turn hampers the economy at the core. The lack of reaction to the recent massacre suggests that Americans do not comprehend these potential ramifications whatsoever.
Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, conducting an independent review of the war at the beginning of 2012 stated that Pentagon Commanders like General Allen have painted an unjustifiably positive image of conditions in the war torn country. He called their reports “omission and outright deception” and said in an interview, “when you constantly are saying things are going good and everybody on the ground knows that that is not the truth, then you lose credibility.” Today, most of the rest of the world recognizes the reality of the Afghan debacle, but it seems that awareness has not sufficiently reverberated onto America’s shores.
There is still time for the type of principled opposition that could salvage some semblance of liberty however. In May ISAF countries are set to meet in Chicago. They will be addressing the plan for withdrawal formulated in Lisbon in late 2010. The powers that be have already relocated the NATO summit that was scheduled to coincide with the ISAF engagement die to strong grassroots efforts to organize protests outside. There is a very serious risk that current groups like the Occupy Movement could be galvanized if domestic troubles would be identified as mere symptoms of the imperialist disease. Last week a petition to march outside the ISAF meeting was denied.
It is no longer sufficient to merely oppose wars abroad. To reestablish liberty at home Americans must right wrongs by attacking the imperialist culture. We must reject claims that 2014 will mark an end to the war. General Allen has already classified the post-2014 situation as a “decade of transition” and a conference in Tokyo after Chicago will address international investment paving the way to Afghanistan’s permanent entrance into the empire’s fold.
To shed ourselves of a passive indifference, we should mobilize to reject on principle any sustained force in Afghanistan. Massive protests in May could educate publics about the fraud of the SPA and the humanitarian cause and then in an act of selflessness we must call for Afghan reparations after 10 years of illegal war. And when the international community shuns the proposal, a citizens army should migrate form western countries to work with Afghans rebuilding the country via private donations from abroad. Such efforts could consolidate cultures, repair America’s image and if done alongside the proper utilization of social networking could erase the shortcomings generated by a culture so easily blinded by a bias that sanctifies war. Such is the price of true liberty. It is dependent on its applicability across the board. There can be no liberty as long as American soldiers are patrolling the Afghan hills. There can be no liberty until the victims of Robert Bales are mourned as if they were our own. So, in the name of liberty, let citizens all over the world unite to rise and end the empire and its wars!
Younes Abdullah Muhammed is a Muslim American and Master of International Affairs presently residing in solitary confinement incarcerated in Virginia, U.S.A. He is the founder of islampolicy.com and can be contacted at email@example.com.