By Reginald Johnson
Visiting the Pentagon shortly after the Sept. 11th terror attacks in 2001, retired 4-star General Wesley Clark was shocked to learn from a former colleague that plans were being drawn up to invade Iraq.
“We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” Clark asked.
“I don’t know,” said his friend, another general. “I guess they don’t know what else to do,” Clark recounted, in an interview on Democracy Now.
The general then told Clark that even though the U.S. had no information linking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the 911 attacks, top officials were still bent on making war.
“I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments,” he said, adding, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”
Clark came back to see the same officer in November, and by that time the U.S. had already started bombing Afghanistan, the home base of the al-Qaeda terrorists who allegedly carried out the 911 attacks.
“Are we still going to war with Iraq?” Clark asked.
“Oh, it’s worse than that,” the general replied. Pulling up a piece of paper, he said, “I just got this down from upstairs --- the Secretary of Defense’s office --- today. This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”
The document, of course, was classified. A year later when Clark saw the same individual, he reminded him of the memo. The man replied, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”
In the 15 years since former General Clark heard the sweeping plan for regime-change abroad, the scenario has in large part become reality.
Iraq’s government was removed by force by an American invasion and a brutal multi-year war. Libya’s government was also changed at the point of a gun in 2011 after American and NATO forces bombed the country and gave support to a group of insurgents. Long-time leader Mohamed Ghadafi was murdered and a new government formed.
In Syria, the U.S. and its allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been working for five years to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. and the other nations have been funneling lethal aid to the insurgent coalition, which includes al-Nusra, an Qaeda spin-off, and other jihadists. U.S. planes at the same time are bombing parts of Syria, purportedly to knock out the terrorist group ISIS.
Making the situation potentially very dangerous, is the fact that Russia is actively involved in assisting Assad, with Russian planes conducting bombing raids against rebel targets.
The U.S. is also either engaging in or sponsoring military activity in Somalia and Sudan, in order to shape the direction of those countries.
The effect of this succession of wars and interventions has been staggering. In the Iraq War alone, 4,400 U.S service members were killed. Another 32,000 were injured, with many military personnel having lost legs or arms, making everyday life a struggle.
Iraqi casualties in the conflict were immense. While estimates vary, several organizations put the Iraqi death toll at over 500,000.
According to the UN, more than 3 million Iraqis were displaced internally just in the first 3 years of the war. The infrastructure in Iraq --- prior to the war one of the mid-east’s most advanced nations --- has been decimated.
The dollar cost of the war for the U.S. is astronomical --- $1.6 trillion --- and the figure keeps rising, as on-going costs such as veterans’ medical care, are factored in.
The war in Syria is still not over, but consider the human toll so far: between 300,000 and 500,000 Syrians killed, depending on estimates; 7 million people internally displaced; and 4 million people forced to flee the country, desperately trying to find safety in Europe and the United States.
Considering the terrible impacts of wars and interventions perpetrated by the United States, you would think that there might be a growing consensus here that there’s been enough war, enough conflict, enough foreign “crises” and it’s time to start building bridges.
But that’s not the case.
While polling does show that a majority of the American people are weary of war and oppose sending more troops into hot spots like the Middle East, political and media elites and officials of the State and Defense Departments have other ideas.
While Obama administration officials have talked of making a cease-fire work in Syria and finally bringing peace to that country, the reality is that they keep providing aid to the anti-government groups, and in some cases are advocating direct U.S. air attacks on the Assad forces.
Recently, a so-called “dissent cable” was circulated in the State Department calling for U.S. strikes against the Syrian military as a means of ending the conflict and forcing Assad out. Signed by 51 diplomats, it was called a dissent memo since it didn’t reflect the publicly-stated views of Secretary of State John Kerry.
However, as national security writer Gareth Porter noted in an article in Consortium News.com on June 26 entitled “The Dissent Memo that Isn’t,” the signers of the memo knew that Kerry --- the one-time Vietnam War critic --- has been privately advocating open military strikes against Assad’s forces since 2013. His plan for air attacks has been rejected so far by Obama.
But should Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, win the November election, direct American attacks against Syria may become reality. Robert Parry, the editor of Consortium News who’s covered American foreign policy for 30 years, said that a Hillary Clinton administration “is expected to authorize an illegal invasion of Syria --- under the guise of establishing ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe zones’ which will mean the slaughter of young Syrian soldiers.”
The publication of the memo by The New York Times coincided with the release of a report by a Washington think tank with close ties to Hillary Clinton, Porter said. The Center for New American Security (CNAS) report called for a U.S. policy to ‘threaten and execute limited strikes against the Assad regime’ and for dispatching ‘several thousand’ U.S. troops to Syria.
The CNAS study group that wrote the report was co-chaired by CNAS co-founder Michele Flournoy, a former high-ranking Defense Department official. According to Porter, Fournoy “is now regarded as the most likely choice for Defense Secretary in a Hillary Clinton administration.”
Any further involvement by the U.S. in terms of bombing Assad’s forces carries the obvious risk of touching off a confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.
But the possibility of creating a wider war with Russia --- possibly a nuclear war which could end life on the planet --- doesn’t seem to faze many foreign policy officials in Washington.
Parry said of State Department officers: “These hawks are so eager for more war that they don’t mind risking a direct conflict with Russia, breezily dismissing the possibility of a clash with the nuclear power by saying that they are ‘not advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia.’ That’s reassuring to hear.”
The possibility for more war also exists in another theatre --- in the Ukraine and the Baltics.
American leaders and their colleagues in NATO --- the anachronistic military alliance dating from the years of the Iron Curtain --- seem to be itching for a fight with Russia.
Declaring that Russia represents some new kind of menace in Europe based on cooked-up charges of “aggression” in Crimea, U.S. and NATO military leaders have taken some unusual and highly provocative actions this year. In June, NATO undertook its largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War, with tens of thousands of soldiers from 24 countries taking part in war games in northern Poland. NATO officials said member countries had to prepare for a possible attack by Russia.
In Romania, the U.S. and NATO recently set up an $800 million missile defense shield, which could intercept incoming missiles. NATO officials claimed the system was designed as protection against missiles from “rogue states” like Iran, but the system is really aimed at Russia, and the Russians took it as such. Russian officials said that NATO was trying to achieve “military and political containment” of their nation.
Many of the people who are driving the current foreign policy related to the Middle East, Russia and China as well are neo-conservatives. This group believes that the U.S. must use its power aggressively to protect its interests around the world and maintain U.S. dominance. This may include the use of “preventive” force, to overthrow a regime deems as a problem. Such was the case with the invasion of Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was seen as an unstable and uncontrollable leader who threatened U.S. and Israeli interests in the region.
Neo-conservatives appear to view both Russia and China as “threats” --- even though there is little hard evidence of this --- and are backing confrontational tactics in dealing with both those nations.
There are a number of “neo-cons,” as they are known, in the Obama administration, both in the State Department and Defense Department. There are also many neo-con voices in the media, particularly at The New York Times and Washington Post.
The Times and the Post have run numerous editorials criticizing Russia for “aggression” in taking over Crimea in 2014 --- even though a huge majority of Crimeans voted in a referendum, understandably, to break away from the neo-fascist coup government in Ukraine and rejoin Russia. The papers have also run a number of hit pieces demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin.
With her Senate vote in favor of the Iraq War, her push as Secretary of State for the illegal Libya intervention and now as a presidential candidate supporting a possible military intervention in Syria, Hillary Clinton is considered closely aligned with neo-con views.
Clinton’s pro-war views have gotten far too little attention during the election campaign. The media for the most part has steered away from asking tough questions about foreign policy and exactly what she advocates going forward.
Her opponent, Republican Donald Trump, has raised some valid points about the failures of U.S. foreign policy and suggested we should extend an olive branch to Vladimir Putin and try to work with Russia. He’s also said we should now pull back from overseas interventions. This is a welcome approach, and should be taken seriously.
But Trump has gotten little traction with his comments on foreign policy, due to anger over the numerous backwards positions he’s taken on domestic issues, such as immigration and the rights of Muslims.
Trump has also undermined his case for a less confrontational foreign policy by advocating a “stronger military.” The U.S. military is already far and away the strongest on earth. The U.S. spends $600 billion a year on the military --- we don’t need to spend more or enlarge our forces.
As the presidential election campaign proceeds, it is crucial that the media ask the hard questions of both Clinton and Trump about exactly what their foreign policy is, where they stand with respect to both Syria and Russia, and whether they would consider new military interventions.
The stakes couldn’t be higher.
The United States and the world can ill afford more war.