Vijay Prashad: The rot of war and its deep consequences

  • An Allied Party Rental truck is parked next to one of two Bradley Fighting Vehicles nearby the Lincoln Memorial for President Donald Trump’s ‘Salute to America’ event honoring service branches on Independence Day, Tuesday, July 2, in Washington. AP photo

Published: 7/8/2019 10:26:23 PM

U.S. President Donald Trump watched tanks run down the streets of Washington, D.C. He likes military pageantry — the sound of the jet engines, the rumble of the tanks and the crisp salutes of the soldiers.

There was something honest in his parade. After all, the United States government has the world’s largest military, and U.S. corporations are the world’s largest exporter of weapons.

Currently, the United States is in the midst of several intractable wars and war-like situations. A quick back of the envelope calculation shows that the U.S. military is involved in almost 90 countries, from Niger to Paraguay. The “war on terror” since 9/11 has cost the United States exchequer over $8 trillion. These tanks in Washington mirror not merely Trump’s self-image, but even moreso the deep rot of war inside the U.S. establishment.

Consequences

Aerial bombardment has become a habit, its consequences ghastly. Tanks are a curious way to measure U.S. military power. They are rarely used by the United States in the conflicts of our times. The most common weapon is the aircraft.

When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) went to war in Libya in 2011, the bombing was ferocious. It was impossible inside Libya not to recognize the enormous impact of the ordinance, the terrible destruction of the country’s infrastructure. But NATO — and the United States — refused to allow any investigation of its aerial bombardment.

United Nations Human Rights chief Navi Pillay said during the bombing that there were “widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population,” which “may amount to crimes against humanity.” The U.N. officials said that they were “deeply concerned that no independent investigation or prosecution appear to have been instigated into killings committed by (rebel fighters backed by NATO).”

When the U.N. asked NATO if it could get materials for an investigation into NATO’s bombing of Libya, NATO refused. NATO’s legal advisor Peter Olson wrote that “NATO incidents” cannot be treated as war crimes. NATO asked the U.N. to “clearly state” — without an investigation — “that NATO did not deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.” Case closed.

Libya, eight years later, remains in serious disrepair; the United States has forgotten its role in breaking the country apart. Last week, the air force of a man close to the CIA — General Khalifa Haftar — bombed a refugee detention center, killing at least 60 people. The U.N. has said that this was a war crime. Responsibility for this rests squarely on the shoulders of General Haftar, whose rebel army is in the midst of a terrible war against the U.N.-backed government.

But the responsibility also rests on the United States which, with France, initiated the war in 2011 that destabilized Libya. It rests further with the European Union, whose member states have been paying gang-like militia armies to hold refugees in these detention centers so that these refugees do not attempt to enter Europe.

More wars

Bad enough that the consequences of these wars linger on, Afghanistan in tatters with the Taliban ready to return to power and Yemen in a situation of deep collapse. But worse yet that the Trump administration feels itchy to start new wars.

Threats of war continue against Iran, a country four times the size of Iraq and far more resolute in its determination to resist a U.S. war. The Iranians recently shot down a $200 million U.S. drone with an Iranian-built $20,000 missile. A war against Iran would be expensive, certainly, but it would also open wider the jaws of hell for West Asia, as this war would spread from Lebanon into Pakistan.

It is easy to roll the tanks down the streets of Washington, D.C., harder to symbolize the U.S. warlike use of unilateral sanctions. In July, Seyed Alireza Marandi, the president of Iran’s Academy of Medical Sciences, wrote to the European Union about the impact of the U.S. unilateral sanctions, which are not based on international law.

These sanctions, Marandi wrote, have limited Iran’s access to medicines and medical equipment and reduced the value of Iran’s currency. During the recent floods in Iran, international financial aid could not enter the country as a result of the U.S. sanctions.

U.S. unilateral sanctions against Venezuela, according to a study by Jeffery Sachs and Mark Weisbrot, has resulted in the death of 40,000 people. Twenty-five countries have joined together to create a bloc against these U.S. unilateral sanctions. They claim that these sanctions are an act of war.

Climate catastrophe

A recent paper from Brown University’s Cost of War Project has come up with chilling projections of the U.S. military’s contribution to the climate catastrophe. Between 2001 and 2017, the U.S. military emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases. Of this total, about 400 million metric tons were emitted during war. To illustrate the 1.2 billion metric tons figure, the Project says that this equals the annual emissions of 257 million passenger cars — twice the number of cars on the roads in the U.S.

The U.S. military is the largest consumer of oil in the world, and the top emitters of greenhouse gases. “The largest portion of Pentagon fueled consumption,” writes the Project, “is for military jets” and not tanks.

War solves none of the conflicts that they seek to tackle — as far as the evidence of the past 40 years has shown. Not only does it not solve conflicts, but it frequently exacerbates it (as seen by the emergence of ISIS after the U.S. war on Iraq) and it contributes to the climate catastrophe. Human ingenuity needs to find other means to tackle disagreements. War is not the answer.

Vijay Prashad, the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, is the editor of “Strongmen.” He lives in Northampton.


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