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Friday, 25 October 2013 02:20

The Tragic History of U.S. Military Supremacy

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Having the most expensive and destructive military does not make the American people safer. The idea of U.S. "national security" seems inextricably entangled with the notion of "military supremacy."

Over the past 15 years, this has served to rationalize  the most expensive unilateral military build-up in history.  But there is no evidence that having the most expensive and destructive military forces makes Americans safer than people in other countries, nor that restoring a more balanced military posture would leave us vulnerable to dangers we are currently protected from.  Many countries with smaller military forces do a better job of protecting their people by avoiding the hostility that is generated by U.S. imperialism, aggression and other war crimes.
 
Now, successful diplomacy over Syria's chemical weapons has demonstrated that diplomacy within the framework of international law can be a more effective way of dealing with problems than the illegal threat or use of military force.  Our government claims that its threat of force led to the success of diplomacy in Syria, but that's not really what happened.  It was only when the sleeping giant of American democracy awoke from its long slumber and pried the cruise missiles from our leaders' trigger fingers that they grudgingly accepted "diplomacy as a last resort."  For once in a very long while, our political system worked the way it's supposed to: the public made its views clear to our representatives in Congress, and  they listened.  We saved our leaders from the consequences of their own criminality, and their efforts to sell a propaganda narrative that turns that on its head is a sad reflection on their disdain for democracy and the rule of law.
 
For most of our history, Americans never dreamt of global military supremacy.  At the turn of the 20th century, even as the U.S. waged  a genocidal war that probably killed a million Filipinos, American diplomats played key roles in the Hague Peace Conferences and the establishment of international courts, eager to adapt American concepts of democracy and justice to the international arena to develop alternatives to war and militarism.  
 
In response to the horrors of the First World War, an international social movement demanded the abolition of war.  In 1928, the U.S. government responded by negotiating  the Kellogg-Briand Pact, named for U.S. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, in which all major powers renounced "war as an instrument of national policy."  The treaty failed to prevent the Second World War, but it provided the legal basis for the convictions of German leaders at Nuremberg for the crime of aggression.  And it is still in force, supported by subsequent treaties like the UN Charter and conventions against genocide, torture and other war crimes, under which senior U.S. officials must also eventually face justice.
 
The allied defeat of Germany and Japan in the Second World War was not the result of American military supremacy, but of an alliance across ideological lines with imperial Britain and the communist Soviet Union, based on mutual trust, vigorous diplomacy and the recognition of a common existential threat.  Most Americans believed at the time that the war would lead to a renewed international commitment to peace and disarmament, not to an American bid for military supremacy.
 
American, British and Soviet leaders agreed that their common interests required what Roosevelt called  "a permanent structure of peace" after the war, through the United Nations and continued great power diplomacy.  The  prohibition against the threat or use of force is a key provision of the UN Charter.  But Roosevelt's death deprived America of his vision and personal diplomatic skills just as the complexities of the post-war world began to rear their head.  
 
Truman mistrusted the Soviets and never shared Roosevelt's commitment to work with them in a spirit of mutual respect.  He quickly fell under the influence of hawkish advisers like his Chief of Staff Admiral Leahy, Ambassador Harriman and Navy Secretary Forrestal, and he condemned the Russians harshly at every turn during negotiations on the contours of the post-war world.  Truman embraced Churchill's self-fulfilling declaration of  an "iron curtain" across Europe and his dark view of America's wartime ally as a potential aggressor in the mold of Nazi Germany.
 
What emboldened the former Senator from Missouri to squander the fruits of Roosevelt's astute diplomacy?  In great part, it was "the bomb."  The U.S. monopoly on atomic weapons in the late 1940s gave rise to a newly aggressive posture in U.S. foreign policy, including desperate calls to destroy the Soviet Union in a massive nuclear holocaust before it could develop its own nuclear deterrent.
 
Fortunately for all of us, wiser heads prevailed and a nuclear war was avoided. The  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and wartime American and British military leaders warned that attacking the U.S.S.R. would unleash an even more terrible war than the one the world had just survived.  U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Eisenhower made an early venture into politics with  a speech in St. Louis, saying, "I decry loose and sometimes gloating talk about the high degree of security implicit in a weapon that might destroy millions overnight… Those who measure security solely in terms of offensive capacity distort its meaning and mislead those who pay them heed."
 
Many Americans accepted their government's claims that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki had shortened the war with Japan and saved American lives, but  the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that, "Japan would have surrendered, even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."  In fact, Japan's vital supply lines were cut and it was already suing for peace.  The main sticking point was the continued rule of Emperor Hirohito, which the allies eventually conceded in any case.  American leaders from former President Hoover to future President Eisenhower to military intelligence chief General Carter Clarke all opposed using the bomb as  barbaric and unnecessary.
 
But America's monopoly on nuclear weapons transformed U.S. foreign policy after the war.  Even though our leaders have never found any practical way to realize the mirage of omnipotence conjured up by these weapons, they gave them a false sense of ultimate power in a fluid and uncertain post-war world.  Cooperation with the Soviets was no longer imperative, because, in the last resort, we had the bomb and they did not.  
 
The U.S. and U.K. could not prevent most of the countries of Eastern Europe from falling into the Soviet political and economic orbit once they were liberated by the Red Army and communist resistance forces, any more than the Russians could bring their communist allies to power in Western-occupied France, Italy or Greece.  But the U.S. nuclear monopoly encouraged Truman to take a hard line.  The Truman Doctrine committed the U.S. to militarily oppose Soviet influence across the globe in a long ideological struggle.
 
As the Soviets developed their own nuclear arsenal, the U.S. invested trillions of dollars and vast human resources in an unrestrained technological arms race.  American warplanes and tanks generally proved superior to Soviet ones in proxy wars around the world, but this was irrelevant to the outcome of guerrilla wars, where the AK-47 became the weapon of choice and a symbol of popular resistance to Western imperialism.  Meanwhile Germany and Japan, excluded and freed from the tyranny of military production, invested all their resources in civilian technology and soon produced better cars and home electronics than either of the "superpowers."
 
The almost unbelievable record of American militarism since 1945 is that, despite the most sustained and expensive military build-up in the history of the world and the tragic annihilation of millions of people, the United States has not won a single major war.  After overreaching in Korea, bringing China into the war and devastating North and South Korea, it was forced to settle for a ceasefire on the original border.  At least 3 million Vietnamese and 57,000 Americans paid with their lives for the folly of the American War in Vietnam.  Proxy and covert wars in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and other parts of South-East Asia have been just as bloody but no more successful.  America's only real military successes have been limited campaigns to restore friendly regimes in three small strategic outposts: Grenada; Panama; and Kuwait.
 
Surveying the ruins of U.S. policy at the end of the American War in Vietnam, Richard Barnet put his finger on the irony of America's unique place in world history.  He wrote, "at the very moment the number one nation has perfected the science of killing, it has become an impractical instrument of political domination."
 
But the lessons of Vietnam were gradually eroded by a revival of U.S. militarism.  George Bush Senior played a critical role as Director of the CIA (1976-7) and the Council on Foreign Relations (1977-9) and then as Vice President and President.  After covert wars in Angola, Afghanistan and Central America, and invasions of Grenada and Panama, Bush refused Iraq's offers to withdraw peacefully from Kuwait in 1991 and instead ordered the massacre of at least 25,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians.  Bush rejoiced, "By God,  we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all!"
 
The fall of the U.S.S.R. was a critical factor in U.S. military expansion in the Middle East.  As Pentagon adviser  Michael Mandelbaum said in 1991, "For the first time in 40 years we can conduct military operations in the Middle East without worrying about triggering World War III."  The "peace dividend" Americans expected at the end of the Cold War was trumped by a "power dividend," as policy-makers exploited the fall of the Soviet Union to project U.S. military power around the world.  New interventionist doctrines of " reassurance", " humanitarian intervention", " responsibility to protect", " information warfare" and " preemption" have served as political cover for violating the UN Charter's prohibition on the threat or use of force, culminating in the travesty of  Barack Obama's speech justifying war as he accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
 
Since Vietnam, we have spent  at least another $17 trillion on war and preparations for war - our entire national debt - and killed millions more of our fellow human beings.  Watching  General Giap's funeral in Hanoi as I write this today, I have to ask, "What have we learned?"  Our generals have learned how to wage war in other countries with fewer American casualties by using disproportionate violence that kills more civilians than combatants.  This has made war less painful for Americans, but it only underlines its futility and barbarism.  No American general of this generation will be buried with the outpouring of genuine public gratitude and grief we just saw in Hanoi.
 
Now we have spent 12 years at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia (along with covert operations across the entire globe, from Sweden to the Philippines to Colombia).  We have brought death, injury, devastation and chaos to hundreds of millions more people, with no end in sight as the "Long War" keeps spreading from country to country.  Nowhere have our leaders achieved their original stated intentions to reduce terrorism, prevent weapons proliferation or establish democracy. Their increasingly desperate rationalizations for a murderous, out-of-control policy, repeated ad nauseam by a craven corporate propaganda system, can barely disguise their humiliation.
 
Like Americans in the late 1940s who were desperate to destroy the U.S.S.R. in a "preemptive" nuclear war, some Americans today may still not understand why our military supremacy cannot bring us political power over enemies with fewer resources and inferior weapons.  But, as Eisenhower and other American war leaders understood only too well, the use of force is a blunt and brutal instrument, and more powerful weapons are only more powerful, not magical.  The use of force is always destructive, not constructive, and being killed or maimed by shrapnel and high explosives is no cleaner or kinder because missiles are more expensive or more sophisticated.  Political power is something quite different, requiring popular support and legitimacy and policies that actually solve problems.
 
So military supremacy is not a trump card to achieve political objectives; the use of force is inherently destructive; and war nearly always causes more problems than it solves.  Killing people to save them from an oppressive government is an absurdity, and "regime change" is generally a euphemism for "regime destruction," with no ability to ensure that what comes after will be better, especially once the violence and chaos of war are added to the problems that led to it in the first place.
 
Norwegian General Robert Mood led the UN monitors sent to Syria to oversee the failed ceasefire in 2012.  A year later, amid calls for Western military intervention,  he reflected, "It is fairly easy to use the military tool, because, when you launch the military tool in classical interventions, something will happen and there will be results.  The problem is that the results are almost all the time different than the political results you were aiming for when you decided to launch it.  So the other position, arguing that it is not the role of the international community, neither coalitions of the willing nor the UN Security Council for that matter, to change governments inside a country, is also a position that should be respected…"   
 
Threatening the use of force while hoping not to have to use it may seem like a less painful way for our leaders to impose their will on other countries, but in practice this doesn't work very well either.  It forces both sides into positions from which neither can afford to back down,  putting the credibility of our military supremacy on the line over every crisis around the world.  This has turned manufactured disputes over non-existent weapons into a choice between war and political humiliation for American leaders, as we saw with Iraq and, incredibly, are now going through all over again with Iran.  There is great wisdom in the UN Charter's prohibition on the threat as well as on the use of force, because the one leads so predictably to the other.
 
Despite nearly bankrupting our country, military supremacy remains an expensive national ego-trip in search of a constructive purpose.  Countries that are not cursed with military supremacy have to settle their differences by other means, notably by diplomacy within the rule of international law.  As we have found out over Syria, this is not by any means a worse option, and it offers us a way forward to life after militarism.
 
The victory of democracy in America's debate over Syria is a small but significant step in the right direction.  Organizing and public outrage transformed formerly passive public opposition to war and militarism into effective action to prevent U.S. aggression.  Now we must tap into the same combination of public sentiment and effective political organizing to actually bring peace to Syria, to restore civilized relations with Iran and to finally turn the tide on the largest, most wasteful and dangerous unilateral military build-up in the history of the world.  This could be an important turning point, but that will be up to us.
Link to original article from AlterNet
Read 3679 times Last modified on Friday, 25 October 2013 02:25
Sandy Davies

Nicolas J "Sandy" Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He writes about U.S. militarism and war crimes in AlternetZ Magazine and at warisacrime.org.  He has been a PDA chapter leader in Miami since 2009.

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If you have a Twitter account you can help stop Fast Track on the TPP. Sign-in to your Twitter account and copy and paste the Tweets from our Twitter storm. Or you can copy your favorite Tweet and then click on the map and Tweet your legislator.

Twitter Storm Tweets for Tuesday, January 28th @ 9pm Eastern

Tweets for the special State of the Union Twitter Storm will be posted on January 28th at 8pm EST. Check back for the new Tweets.

Find Your Member of Congress

Click here to quickly find your member of Congress by putting in your home address. This site also features a one-click link to the same information in Spanish

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Then call and ask them to oppose Fast Track on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Sample script is below.

Script

“I'm a constituent, and I am strongly opposed to my representative giving away Congress’ constitutional authority to control our trade policy. We send people to Congress to stand up for us, not give away their power to stop more American job offshoring and protect us from dangerous imported food that doesn’t meet our safety standards. This latest so-called trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), would not only do that - but also ban Buy American and increase our medicine prices. That’s why it’s crucial that Congress not give away its authority to make sure every provision of TPP is in our interest before this massive deal can be signed. Good trade deals don’t need to be railroaded through Congress using Fast Track. I hope my representative will commit to opposing this outrageous legislation.”

Email Your Senators and Rep - Say No On Fast Track and TPP

Send an email directly to your Senators and Representatives courtesy of our partners at CWA. Enter your zip code and your members are automatically selected.

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Sign the Petition - Sen. Sanders Run as a Democrat in 2016

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Sign the TPP Fast Track Petitions

MoveOn.org Petition - Congress Don't Renew Fast Track

Pulic Citizen Petition - Congress Must Reject Fast Track Authority

MoveOn.org Petition - Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership

CREDO Petition - Stop the Massive Corporate Power Grab

 

Hand Deliver a Letter to your Senators or Representative on the TPP

If your Senator(s) and/or Representative is not currently opposed to Fast Track, they may not completely understand all the implications. Nothing sends a stronger message to a Congressional member than a personal visit to a district office by a voter with a written request. Phone calls and emails are incredibly important but nothing gets attention like a personal visit. Our Educate Congress page has information and a sample letter. Print the letter, sign it, deliver it.

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Report on your TPP Contact

Please let us know your legislator's stance on Fast Track Authorization for the Trans Pacific Partnership as well as their stance on the TPP in General. Click here to report the response.

The Trans Pacific Partnership: Corporate Global Domination

Lori Wallach on the TPP from PDA Progressive Roundtable

Progressive Roundtable with Reps. Ellison and Pocan and Lori Wallach on TPP

Lori Wallach Leaked TPP Documents (Democracy NOW)

TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of

Lori Wallach on Thom Hartmann (Great Minds) - The TPP

Flush the TPP

Congress only has one more week in session this year, the week of December 9. So far our pressure to stop the TPP has been working. Visit Flush the TPP for calling scripts and links to Members of the Ways and Means Committee.

Flush the TPP

TPP Downloads

The following documents are available from the Oppose TPP Downloads Folder

February 2nd TPP Powerpoint

January 26th TPP Powerpoint

CWA TPP Jobs Report