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RUNAWAY TRAIN

America’s election and its inability to alter the nation’s deadly course

 

John Chuckman

 

America is engaged in another of its sprawling and costly national election campaigns. A few of the events, such as the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa Caucus, I’m sure have participants seeing themselves as Thomas Jefferson’s sturdy yeomen doing their civic duty. But such humble and misty-eyed tableaux can be deceiving for the big picture is quite disturbing, including, as it does, billions of dollars spent and a lot of noise generated about things which will not change in any outcome.

America is, despite all the noise and expense of its election campaigns, not a democracy, and, as the world’s greatest imperial power, it is not a place which genuinely honors human rights, either at home or abroad although its politicians never stop talking about them. It is a country controlled by wealth whose purpose is the acquisition of still more wealth, equipped with a military that in scores of wars and interventions has fought, arguably, precisely once for the country’s defense.

It marked a fateful time in the modern era when America, under Harry Truman, decided to partner with the emerging state of Israel, a very fateful time indeed. Today much of the Middle East is in ruins, whole states and societies have been destroyed, at least a million have died, and some of the world’s great archeological and historical treasures have been destroyed as though by a gang of gleeful wanton young men.

Accompanying America’s long march of destruction through the Middle East – the work both of its own armed forces and of various proxies – has been the rise of a phenomenon called international terrorism. Our newspapers and broadcasters all focus on this last, leaving the preceding great acts of destruction unquestioned. After all, America’s much-consolidated press is an industry like any other and is owned by a relatively small number of wealthy people, and it depends upon good relations with other great industries for its revenue and with the government for its operating environment. It never questions policies, no matter how brutal, and it never scrutinizes what those policies are doing to people. America’s major allies all carry on in exactly the same fashion for they have become highly dependent on America’s goodwill.

Day after day, our press gives horrifying accounts of events such as the bombing in Brussels or the attacks in Paris, and it has been doing so since 9/11, providing a relentless war chant of “See what these bastards do!” These horrors are always treated as though they had no context, having sprung full-blown from the minds of bizarre people who think nothing, for example, of blowing themselves up. But I’m pretty sure that virtually every person who does such things sees himself or herself in the same light as the Japanese Kamikazes everyone once fearfully admired.

When was the last time your newspaper or broadcaster featured life in Gaza or in Syria or in Iraq or in Libya or in Yemen? It simply does not happen, and except for the rare independent article or book, our information about these places and the terrible assaults they are under is deliberately constrained. I am convinced that the natural human sympathy of most people, including many residents of imperial America, would respond to such sights and reports, but you are simply not given the opportunity to do so.

For me, this subject is the pivotal matter in the upcoming American election. Donald Trump, despite many unpleasant views and much careless rhetoric, seemed to have a spark of something new, an independent mind not shaped by America’s political establishment, and he an extremely successful and self-confident man in business not beholden to the special interests which shape the insincere news and own the loyalty of a great many politicians. He has made a number of encouraging statements, saying America should get along with Russia and China, leave Syria for Russia to clean-up, and talked about making deals instead of conflicts, but, most remarkably, he said that Israel should pay for its own defense. That last, something most timorous American politicians wouldn’t dream of uttering, is an example of bravery under the threat of fire, a quality I admire and one sorely needed to ever have a hope of having America extricated from the its Middle East’s Gordian Knot.

But two things just recently have given me pause: Trump’s words about using torture and the recent appointment to his foreign relations team of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Torture is unacceptable, ever. Legally innocent people are kidnapped and hurt in the mere hope they know something of interest, and in the process many die, convicted of nothing. The CIA has killed a number of prisoners in its Rendition Gulag since 9/11, whether accidentally or deliberately almost doesn’t matter, but their filthy work violates every principle we hold dear.

Calls for more torture are not new thinking, and they are repulsive. They ignore the actual cause of terror, which is America’s treatment of countless people in societies swept aside and rudely rearranged as though their homes and places were toy living room furniture being tossed by an angry child giant. As for Senator Sessions, there is a man who gets along just fine with the bloodiest people in Washington doing the rearranging.

Perhaps I should not have allowed a glimmer of hope that at least in one part of America’s domain a few things might change for the better. After all, seven years ago, I had hopes for a young black man with a charming smile and a tendency to talk and act with more independence than we usually see in Washington, not afraid sometimes to wear sandals and do without the primordial totem of an American flag pin always fixed to his lapel, but look what happened to him. He joined the great game and became nothing less than a mass murderer. Oh, he had one or two modest successes, as in stopping Israel’s raging demands to attack Iran, a country which has attacked no one in its entire modern history, but otherwise his is a long and dreary tale.

He has America still killing in Iraq, still killing in Afghanistan, destroying a decent civilization in Libya, supporting destruction in beautiful Syria, re-inserting an absolute dictator into Egypt to keep its prickly neighbor Israel happy, and creating an armada of drones to assassinate people in far off places guilty of no crime, killing in the process many others besides the innocent targets. Oh, and there are many other Neanderthal stupidities, from creating a coup and ensuing civil war in Ukraine to demanding Europe join in destructive economic sanctions and a huge military build-ups tight on Russia’s borders. And then there are all the efforts to intimidate China in its own sphere of influence.

You see, these are all the brutal stupidities of America’s establishment which our press would have you ignore while it goes on and on with its war chant about mindless international terror, virtually all of which is simply a pathetic human response to the stupidities, a response likely as unavoidable as having accidents if you go around driving drunk.

I say unavoidable, but that is not absolutely true. If a society goes far enough into the suppression of rights, terrorism can be almost eliminated. Stalin’s Russia did not experience much in the way of terrorism. Neither does Netanyahu’s Israel. And there is no doubt that America’s huge effort to suppress traditional rights and freedoms since 9/11 reflects that understanding, and the effort at suppression is not over. New surprises await Americans and their allies without question. It is an interesting sidelight to this ongoing process of building a super-security state that it just happens also to leave the ruling establishment increasingly unchallenged and unchallengeable. It is, indeed, a very dark path America has taken.

Is it any wonder I would grab at straws to see some change, even a modest re-think about what is being done? But I do fear that’s just what it is, grabbing at straws. The only realistic alternative is Hillary Clinton, a proven killer and serial liar and someone who much resembles Tony Blair for repulsive insincerity and selling herself to wealthy interests.

Indeed just at this writing, Radovan Karadzic has been convicted of war crimes during the Serbian war. I think it would be impossible to convincingly distinguish a great deal of what he did to Muslims in Bosnia and what Hillary Clinton did in Libya, which included running a program to gather small armies of thugs and arm them for insertion into Syria where they helped kill more than a quarter of a million people and create devastation. Her satanic laughter over her own bizarre joke about the leader of Libya, “We came, we saw, he died,” speaks volumes about her. This was a leader who had for decades given his people enlightened state policies and who ended being murdered in an American-created chaos.

It has been interesting to see the reactions to organized opposition against Trump, opposition taking a form sadly resembling 1930’s German Brownshirts shoving, threatening, and shouting at political rallies. Trump’s base, which is not only part of the Right but includes people who decades ago would have been Democrat-voting union people before their jobs disappeared, has very confusingly attributed all the organized opposition to “liberals.” Well, George Soros and Hillary Clinton are not, by any stretch of the imagination, liberals. Soros is in the CIA’s pocket, as Russia well knew when it recently banned his NGOs from operating there, and Hillary is just a plain killer.  I’m pretty sure America has no liberals anymore, at least as an organized body. George Soros and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are perhaps best described as neocon “fellow travellers.”

Now, in case you don’t know who the neocons are, they are a group of influential people in the Washington establishment and in Right-wing publishing who forcefully advocate that America use its full might to re-order the planet to its liking. Many of the best known of them are Jewish Americans who never have Israel far from their concerns. There was a natural meshing of interests in supposedly re-making and stabilizing the Middle East with support for Israel. All the countries flattened or decimated in recent years effectively represent a collective effort to make the Middle East safe for Israel, to surround it with a vast cordon sanitaire, eliminating virtually all independent-minded leaders in an almost continent-sized region, and assuring Israel’s hegemony as a kind of regional miniature replica of what the United States has become in the world.

The chief problem here has been the murder of huge numbers of people and the perfectly natural reactions of many to revenge what has happened to their families, friends, and lands. If that is to be called terror, so be it, but in other times we have called the same reaction everything from the resistance or national liberation to war by other means or simple vengeance. The most important thing to understand about it is that it is not some unnatural eruption of insane extremists as our press constantly makes every effort to impress upon us.

The only way to control terror is to stop your part in it. The biggest part of all modern terror is the work of the United States, unless you regard a family blown up in Damascus or Tripoli or Fallujah or Gaza City or Sana’a as being somehow different in kind to the victims in Brussels or Paris. America also pressures all its traditional allies to support the work with efforts of one kind or another, anything from arms to training, always maintaining the stance that it opposes terror and insisting they do the same. Well, it does oppose terror, but only the wrong kind of terror, the terror which does not support or advance America’s efforts. America’s destruction and mass killing in recent years are the great bulk of what any reasonable person, one not dedicated to the silly idea that America is a benign force, would call terror. Events in Brussels or Paris or even New York have been only the results of what America and its allies have been doing, the “blowback” as they quaintly put it in intelligence circles.

Well, it has been my faint hope that Trump might represent at least some progress in this horrible business, but I am growing to doubt that possibility. I do think for many reasons things are rather out of control, hence my reference to a runaway train. The American establishment of wealth along with its Praetorian Guard of military and security services is firmly in control and the ability of any elected individual to redirect things seems remote, as does the initial likelihood of such a person even being elected to office.

In my heart of hearts I do still believe that Obama was the kind of man who wanted things otherwise, but the realities of those meetings at huge conference tables surrounded by square-jawed generals in uniforms stiff and glittering with brass and medals and the sneering, elusive country-club types of the security services, impenetrably self-confident in all their secret operations and resources, many of which will never even be known to a president, made him what he has become. That and the pressing demands of hugely wealthy individuals and corporations, powerful lobby groups, and the virtually daily calls from people like Netanyahu (we do know that “daily calls” is no exaggeration from a slip of Obama’s tongue several years back) have given us this failed man who may well have had good intentions at the start.

The cause of so much of the war and terror in the world, the artificial re-creation of Israel and its endless demands for the re-ordering of its region, will likely just have to run its course. It is a state which, rather surprisingly, shares a great many features with the former Soviet Union. It is monstrously over-militarized, occupied by vast and invasive security services, with no guarantees of any rights, holding millions down who don’t want to be held, and boasts an inefficient economy only kept afloat by huge subsidies from outside. I do think, just like the Soviet Union, it eventually will collapse on its own weak foundations.

As for the United States, I have long believed that the era of its unquestioned authority in the world, which it has always greatly abused, is drawing to a close. The world is not only becoming multi-polar, the United States simply cannot govern itself in many of its activities, almost like a great spoiled child who cannot stop gobbling ice cream cones. It is always pushing to excesses. Its finances are in appalling shape and it can only be a matter of time before huge corrections occur with all the terrible consequences they entail for many. It is spending unconscionable amounts it doesn’t even have on its military and security, and the exaggerated, paranoid perceptions of need motivating these expenditures reflect all that we’ve discussed above. But perhaps most important of all, it has no effective leadership, and its absolutely corrupt political system is unable to provide any, allowing the inside ruling coterie to just keep stumbling along towards we don’t know quite what.

 

 

 

 

 

John Chuckman

French air force planes struck the first blows: using “intelligent” munitions, the planes struck tanks and artillery which threatened the people of Benghazi.

Now, who wouldn’t be heartened to learn that mechanized forces being used against civilians, civilians whose only demand was freedom from tyranny, were destroyed?

One might easily regard intervention, limited strictly to such targets, as both ethical and desirable, but the truth is that intervention is never limited to such targets, and the realities motivating it are loaded with error and, most importantly, with intentions at odds with high-sounding public statements.

The record for intervention is one of greater death and destruction than the threats it is supposed to stop where it is used and of allowing monstrous crimes to go unchallenged where it is avoided. Indeed, it has been avoided always where monstrous crimes are involved, the very situations in which its human costs might be more than offset by what it prevents. Nowhere in the record is there any consistency with regard to principle despite the press releases accompanying every new bombardment.

The glimmer of moral satisfaction we feel at the first instance of an event such as the French jets destroying some of Gaddafi’s armor about to attack a city is badly misplaced, for if ethics or morality is to mean anything, it must absolutely be consistent in application. You cannot meaningfully speak of selective ethics.

At the very time of the events in Libya, we have the same civil unrest and demands for an end to absolute and unaccountable government in Yemen and Bahrain, and they have been met with fairly large-scale abuse and killings by police. Literally scores have been shot dead in the streets. In the case of Bahrain, we have troops from Saudi Arabia – an absolute monarchy much resembling something from the 14th century – entering the country to assist Bahrain’s government in stopping its people seeking freedom.

Now, anyone who knows anything about the Mideast knows that Saudi Arabia would not march a single platoon of soldiers across its border without explicit approval from Washington. It just cannot be otherwise because America keeps an intensely close watch on matters affecting its client-state, Israel, and because Saudi Arabia’s advanced weapons come from America, and also because, following 9/11, most of the perpetrators having been Saudi nationals, Saudi Arabia has had to work long and hard to gain some trust back from Washington.

So where is the moral or ethical balance? Help the tyrant in Bahrain and attack the one in Libya? Why is only Libya a target?

There are many reports, not carried in the mainline press, about Israel supplying the African mercenaries who have been doing most of the bloody work in Libya. They are said to have been supplied by an Israeli military contracting firm connected to Mossad at the kind of high per diem rates which Gaddafi’s oil wealth allows. One of Gaddafi’s sons also made a visit for private talks in Israel in the early days of the rebellion’s repression. Such events, we can be absolutely sure, also do not happen without approval from Washington.

It appears America has both indirectly helped the tyrant while directly, albeit belatedly, fighting him. I don’t see any evidence of ethics in that situation.

Gaddafi certainly has grown into an unpleasant figure, displaying signs of deteriorating mental health while commanding the powers of a fairly rich small state. His early days as a rather dashing and intelligent revolutionary figure – few people recall he was featured in a cover story of the New York Times Magazine decades ago portraying him in rather flattering son-of-the-desert terms, the kind of article about a foreign leader which always has the imprimatur of the CIA – are lost in the reality of a mumbling old tyrant who has proved ready to strike down civilians to maintain his position. Naturally, people feel exhilarated to see him lose some military advantage.

Most humans do appear to be programmed by nature to cheer in situations where there is a clear bad guy and a good guy going after him. That is why blockbuster Hollywood movies and professional wrestling generate billions of dollars in revenue by repeating endlessly the same simple plot with only changes of costume. But world affairs are never so simple.

Just consider Israel’s assault on Gaza a few years ago, a place which is essentially a large, fenced-in refugee camp possessing no serious weapons. Israel killed something like 1,400 people, including hundreds of children, estimated at 400 young souls, and its soldiers committed such barbarities as using children as human shields. One saw pictures on the Internet of blood running like sewer overflow in the streets of Gaza. Yes, hundreds of children killed and with no rebuke from Washington or Paris or London and certainly no threat of having a no-fly zone or other violent measures imposed.

Up to the point of intervention, information from Libya suggests nothing on quite that scale of barbarism had occurred, rather there was the beginning of a conventional civil war with one side having better resources. So why the immense difference in response between the two situations? Why did we see Libyan victims on television, but the worst of what Israel committed could only be found on the Internet? Selectivity is at work always in these matters from the very start.

Not long before the Gaza atrocity, we had yet another invasion of Southern Lebanon by Israel. More than a thousand people were killed in their own land, and here we had the added horror of hundreds of thousands of bomblets from that cruellest of weapons, American cluster bombs, being showered over civilian areas, destined to kill and cripple for years to come. Along the way, Israel showed its contempt for international law by deliberately targeting a group of United Nations’ observers who died bravely doing their duty.

Yet there was no effort to punish or even restrict Israel as we see today imposed on Gaddafi. How can anyone claim that the response in Libya is ethical?

Libya is now being so heavily bombed that some Muslim states which joined the “coalition” are making loud noises about the United Nation’s mandate being exceeded. If you read newspapers from Britain as well as North America, you will know that there is disagreement between the public statements of the British and American governments as to what constitutes legitimate targets.

But when it comes to bombing, America never does anything by halves.

Shortly after the French attack at Benghazi, 124 cruise missiles, mostly American, began destroying targets in Libya. Reports say four B-52s flew from Europe, each with 30 tons of bombs, and three B-2 stealth bombers, carrying a total of 45 two thousand-pound, “bunker-buster” bombs, flew from the United States. And that was just the start.

Despite protestations, American targets certainly included sites associated with Gaddafi himself, his own compound having been destroyed.

And there you have another of many problems with intervention, or, as some like to call it, ethical war: it depends upon the Frankenstein military of the United States because no one else has its destructive capacities, forces which we have seen, again and again, not only kill in great excess but which typically are directed to dark tasks not featured in the propaganda leading up to the effort.

Recall the American “humanitarian” mission in Somalia in the early 1990s, the one that ended with “Blackhawk down.” We were all conditioned by endless pictures of starving Somalis to welcome efforts at their relief, but the American military, instead of serving the roles of distributing relief supplies and guarding those distributing relief supplies – the ostensible purposes of the mission – almost immediately went after what they regarded as “the bad guys.”

They attempted to kill one of the major local warlords with special planes equipped with modern Gatling guns, circling the sky and spraying large-calibre shells in built-up areas, at the rate of thousands per minute, much of that indiscriminate firepower killing innocent people and destroying property in a poor region. Hundreds of Somalis were killed by the American efforts, and some reports put the number at 10,000.

But we will never learn the truth from the American government, which, since its debacle in Vietnam, always suppresses the numbers it kills. It did so in the first Gulf War where tens of thousands of poor Iraqi recruits sitting behind sand walls in the desert were carpet-bombed by B-52s, their bodies later bulldozed into the ground. It did so in Afghanistan, where it regularly has killed civilians for ten years. And it did so in that pure war crime, the invasion of Iraq.

America’s effort to get the “bad guy” in Somalia was an act of complete arrogance and sheer stupidity, clearly reflecting America’s ingrained streak of hell-and-damnation Puritanism and its Captain Ahab obsession with chasing the white whale over whole oceans. All Americans achieved was to make a deadly enemy, as they shortly learned. They ended up, pretty much leaving the country shamefully and forgetting their first purpose in going there, distributing relief to the starving, something Canada’s soldiers and others routinely do without creating such aggression and such violent results.

Recall again President Clinton’s launching a large salvo of missiles in 1998 towards targets in the Afghan mountains and at a Sudanese plant in Khartoum. They were said to be aimed at terrorist targets, but the public was given no detailed information. We do know the plant in Sudan proved to be just what it was claimed by locals, a pharmaceutical plant, Dozens of innocent people were killed and property worth many millions of dollars was destroyed to no purpose, based entirely on incorrect information.

Clinton also launched 23 cruise missiles towards targets in Baghdad in 1993, supposedly in retaliation for an Iraqi-sponsored attempt on former-President George Bush when he visited Kuwait, although the public was given no details of the supposed plot. Even granting there was a plot, if you are entitled to hurl thousands of pounds of high explosives at a distant city owing to a faulty dark operation, what are we to say of the many countries and millions of people who have been victims of America’s many dark operations? What principle is at work here other than might makes right?

Ethical war is an absurd term, just as is the idea of bombing for democracy is. Always and anywhere, as soon as the military engines are started, just as is said for truth, ethics are left behind. War is a playground for adventurers and psychopaths. Just recall those American pilots during the first Gulf War whose cockpit transmissions were broadcast on television while they strafed Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait City: their chilling words included, “Hey, this’s like shootin’ fish in a barrel!” And readers should remember that that first Gulf War was itself little more than an American dark operation intended to put Hussein into a compromising position and topple him.

Deeply discrediting the whole confused concept of ethical war are not just the many crimes committed in its name but the many greater omissions. Genocide has become one of the most abused and misused terms of our time, someone ignorantly using it every time a group of people is killed anywhere, but we have had several authentic genocides since World War II, and I think we can all agree if ever there could be a case for ethical war, it would be the case of genocide. But it is precisely in the case of genocide that all the powers simply hide, the United States having a completely shameful record.

In the case of Indonesia, following the downfall of President Sukarno in 1967, about half a million people had their throats slashed and their bodies dumped into rivers because they were, or were suspected of being, communists. The entire nation was turned temporarily into an abattoir for humans, and where was the United States, defender of freedom, during the horror? Rather than any effort to stop the terror, it had employees of the State Department on phones around the clock feeding the names of people they’d like to see included in the extermination.

In the case of Cambodia during the late 1970s, the “killing fields” saw about a million people murdered by the mad ideologues of the Khmer Rouge. Where was the United States? Nowhere to be seen or heard, off licking its wounds from its long, pointless war in Vietnam, except when Vietnamese forces finally crossed the border to stop the bloodshed, the United States yelped, “See, we told you so, the ‘domino effect’ is now at work!” And to this day, few Americans take any responsibility for their county’s role in creating the “killing fields.” In its desperate efforts to win in Vietnam, President Nixon’s government launched huge aerial bombardments and incursions by troops into a neutral country, finally so destabilizing it that the Khmer Rouge took power.

In the case of Rwanda in 1994, the world watched something on the order of 800,000 people hacked to pieces, the victims selected merely for their ethnic identity. President Clinton knew every detail from the beginning but made every effort to avert his eyes and prevent the United States from being involved.

So much for the notion of ethical war in the very cases where it could conceivably have made a difference.

The United States’ motives for intervening in Libya are complex and anything but ethical. It was reluctant even to speak out at first. The truth is that stability in the Middle East – stability as defined by the bloody likes of Henry Kissinger – at the complete expense of democratic values or human rights has been bedrock American policy for decades. This policy had the duel objectives of securing the production of oil and making a comfortable climate for Israel.

The United States dithered during recent momentous events in Egypt precisely because Israel benefited from that country’s dictator and was not interested in seeing anything resembling democracy emerge in large Arab states, despite its hypocritical and much-repeated refrain about being the only democracy in the region. Numerous Israeli leaders made the most embarrassingly revealing and shameful statements while the scales were tipping against President Mubarak. But the events proved so unprecedented and so overwhelming and pretty much unstoppable without immense bloodshed that the United States finally came down on the right side, working to restrain Mubarak and to ease the transition in power.

The North African version of Europe in 1848 is very much viewed as a threat by Israel. Imagine all the Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and Gaza, some four million people, plus the non-Jewish people of Israel proper, about a million, stirred by events in North Africa, rising up to demand their rights? Stopping the series of rebellions against unrepresentative governments along the Mediterranean shores must be high on Israel’s list of current foreign policy objectives because it is clear that continued successes encourage new attempts.

Even further, as we have seen, Chancellor Merkel of Germany has rebuked Prime Minister Netanyahu in public for doing nothing for peace, asserting rightly that the changing conditions of the Arab world make it incumbent upon Israel to pursue genuine peace.

There is some hard truth assiduously avoided in Western mainstream press and by Western governments in their public communications: that what anyone outside of Israel would call peace has simply never been an objective of Israel’s government. There is no other way of understanding Israel’s actions over decades than its aiming to acquire virtually all the Palestinian lands without the Palestinians, or, at least, with a reduced number of Palestinians put into utterly subservient arrangements with no political integrity and very limited rights.

But again in Libya, events soon outdistanced United States’ policy. Images of freedom-fighters there being attacked by bloody mercenaries and mechanized forces affected public opinion and allowed of no further dithering, as did the initiatives taken by Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron and France’s President Sarkozy, each for their own political and economic reasons. The truth is that most people are decent, and the general public is always sympathetic with the victims seen in such images, which is precisely why American networks never show images of American troops brutalizing Iraqis or Israelis brutalizing Palestinians.

Gaddafi has long been a disliked third-world leader in the West – independent-minded leaders never are liked by the American government and there is a long list of them who have been overthrown or assassinated regardless of their democratic bona fides – and in a sense the West’s own past extravagant claims about his being a grand sponsor of terror has blown back on it. Added to the fact that he now appears rather mad and to the image of heroic Libyans winning and then losing in their fight for freedom, public opinion has made the course the United States intended difficult if not impossible.

But that does not mean public opinion is right about intervention, a subject not well understood by the average citizen. Even the case of a no-fly zone, something judging from the glib words seems to be considered by many a not very aggressive form of help, is not well understood. A no-fly zone is a complex and highly destructive operation, pushing the operator into something approaching a state of war, and yet having little likelihood of success in turning events on the ground.

Planes first had to fly all over Libya to get the radars turned on. Then attack planes and missiles quickly had to follow-up to destroy the located radars. Airfields and parked planes are also targets. Many people on the ground get killed in the effort, but that’s only the beginning. Twenty-four hour-a-day flyovers must be maintained afterwards to assure radars are not replaced and to attack planes which break the ban, all of which involves more civilian deaths.  And from the first day in Libya, the air attacks have gone beyond imposing a no-fly zone, as we saw in the French attack at Benghazi and, at this writing, British attacks on Libyan armor at Ajdabiya.

Anyone who has kept track of American pilots’ efforts in Afghanistan and in Iraq knows that they have killed very large numbers of innocent people, and that even in situations where they have complete air superiority. They still kill innocent Afghans regularly, scores at a time, thousands in total.

The record of no-fly zones is not a happy one. The United States maintained one against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq for a decade after the first Gulf War, a decade of flying over the country and shooting up anything suspicious. There were countless incidents of American planes shooting and bombing people, but the no-fly zone did not prevent Saddam Hussein from achieving his objectives. Unless you are prepared to do to a country what the United States did to Japan during World War II – incinerate whole cities both with conventional or atomic weapons – air power cannot determine the direction of events on the ground with a determined opponent.

Reports at this writing from Libya suggest exactly the same result.

Once the no-fly zone is established, frustration over the opponent’s success on the ground creates a constant temptation to say, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” and to commit more force. You may easily find yourself engaged in yet another war. And everywhere and always in the modern era, the victims of war are mainly not the enemy soldiers or their “bad guy” leaders but the people just trying to live their lives. Just think about the roughly one million people who have perished in Iraq plus the more than two million refugees who fled their country, and consider the fact that one of the Arab world’s most advanced countries is now reduced to a generation without jobs, without dependable electric power and clean water. Saddam Hussein never dreamed of doing that much damage to his people despite his atrocities.

When your objectives going in are confused and uncertain, as are those of the United States, what is the hope for a good outcome? Not great I think. It’s a little like pouring concrete without having constructed a mold. And that is another reason why war for ethical of humanitarian motives has such a poor record: huge investments in death and destruction are made suddenly, upon the occurrence of unanticipated events, and often involving quick turns-around against long-established policy.

Perhaps the worst charge against intervention is that each instance only makes it easier and more acceptable in the future. The long list of minor to major interventions by the United States in the postwar era – most of them with no pretence of international legality or an ethical nature – should serve as a severe warning against going in this direction. From toppling democratic governments in Iran, Guatemala, or Chile to the holocaust in Vietnam with its estimated three million victims and a land left saturated with poisons and landmines, there is virtually no case for intervention that does not make future abuse and horror more likely by those with great power.

It is also well to remember that we have a greatly changed world political environment since the events of 9/11. Today the United States, without hesitation, sends drones into a country with which it is not even at war, Pakistan, and kills hundreds of innocent people. Its so-called “kill-teams” perpetrate horrors in Afghanistan, and recent events suggest they have been at work in Pakistan. It still holds people prisoner with no proper law in the secret locations of its CIA international gulag. The abomination of Guantanamo remains. The honouring of international law and agreements has suffered greatly in favour of doing as you please so long as you have the might.

Even the accepted institution for warranting ethical war, the United Nations, as it exists is a highly inadequate institution to exercise such authority. The United States frequently stands against pretty much the entire world there in opposing perfectly appropriate resolutions and gets its way. And when it wants a resolution approved, member states are subject to behind-the-scenes bribes, cajoling, and threats to produce the votes America wants. No one else has such vast economic, financial, and diplomatic leverage to get what they want there. America has exercised its unique power over the organization many times, from the Korean War to the invasion of Afghanistan. Sometimes, rarely, its demands are so unreasonable that enough of the world’s countries find themselves in a position to resist, as was the case for invading Iraq.