The Problem is Occupation

8

March 30, 2010 by The Mormon Worker

Here is a recent article from the New York Times, detailing another way in which US/NATO/Afghan forces have been killing civilians (in addition to the more common methods of air strikes and raiding homes at night). The article reports 30 killed and 80 wounded since last summer from passing military convoys and/or at checkpoints, including the killing of a “36-year-old imam and a respected religious authority, who was killed two months ago” when “A passing military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car.”

The low lights of the article are the following two quotes:

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal

“Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew, said the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.”

Stories like this suggest that occupation is a cause of violence, and that the violence in Afghanistan will likely continue so long as foreign forces occupy the country.

Such stories also provide some insight into why many Afghans fight against the US. Why anyone would fight for such rotten people as the Taliban is generally hard for US readers to fathom. As a result, we often assume that all of the Taliban, including the grunts, must be blood-thirsty murderers. We assume these people are totally crazy and irrational, and that there can be no point in negotiating with them or listening to their grievances or demands. We simply have to “destroy the terrorists” as Dick Cheney never tired of saying.

Now, when Americans, (like Pat Tillman) joined the military after 9/11 in response to fellow Americans being killed by Al-Qaeda militants, this seems quite reasonable and heroic to us. When Afghans join the Taliban or other militant group to fight the US occupation when a friend or brother or relative is killed by foreign forces, we automatically assume they are terrorists.

However, not all members (or, I imagine, even most members) of the Taliban are fighting the US out of some fanatic commitment to a particular brand of militant Islam, or to make sure girls can’t attend school, nor is every American soldier fighting in Iraq out of a desire to help the US control Iraq’s oil resources or to privatize Iraq’s economy, or to kill “hajis”; not all (or even most) US soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan to prevent the US government from losing “credibility” or to make profits for the defense industry or contractors, even if this is why US politicians sent them to fight.

Instead, many on both sides are fighting in response to particular grievances (as illustrated above), and many on both sides fight due to the poverty draft. In the US, many join the military due to what they perceive as a lack of other economic options (of course in the US there are always other options, even if they’re not great). In Afghanistan, many fight against the US/NATO because they simply have no other way to survive or have food to eat. When General Petraus spoke at BYU last week, he mentioned that many Afghans who fight the US are “$5-day Taliban, who are just trying to survive and need some guarantee of security and modest economic opportunity.”

In my view the lesson of all this is that you need to end the grievances which cause people to fight (and when you occupy another country, the occupied population will almost always have plenty of grievances, as US/NATO killings of civilians regularly attest). This means the US needs to withdraw foreign forces from Afghanistan, and Iraq, and the Israelis need to end the occupation of Palestine.

In Petraus’ speech at BYU he mentioned that “you can’t kill your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency.” If only he would realize that you can’t “occupy” your way out of one either, no matter how many schools you build or water projects you do. Even if you “win the hearts and minds” of some of the population, there will always be enough brothers, and sons and fathers and widows of the people you’ve killed to keep resisting you.

In fact this is largely the reason that 9/11 happened in the first place. It was a brutal response to the very real grievances experienced by Muslims due to US/Israeli aggression in the Muslim world over previous decades. These include the US-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, ongoing US-backed Israeli colonization of Palestine, and US-backed UN sanctions on Iraq throughout the Bush I and Clinton Administrations which killed several hundred thousand Iraqis, mostly children. Clearly this doesn’t justify 9/11 or make Osama bin Laden a good guy, but bin Laden’s crime against the US also doesn’t justify what we have done in the Middle East since 9/11.

Had the US ended its aggression in the Middle East years before 9/11, this spiral of violence may well have been avoided altogether.

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8 thoughts on “The Problem is Occupation

  1. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    There’s like 45 countries with troops in Afghanistan, including Afghan troops, for good reason too. But youre right, Afghanistans not worth the trouble. Should have left them on they’re own with the Russians. Also… Iraq, Saddam was the right guy to control that country. Oh, and the Bosnians, should have let the Serbs wipe them out. Of course Kuwait would be part of Iraq now and tons more Afghans would be getting killed by Russians instead of us. But we did the “right thing” and intervened and look what it got us. Osama Bin Laden operating out of Taliban controlled Afghanistan.

    Bin Laden didn’t have a problem with the US until after the gulf war, after Saudi Arabia rejected him for us. So I don’t put much weight on Bin Ladens talk about Israel being a deciding factor in targeting the U.S. It certainly doesn’t show in Al Qaidas actions.

  2. Tariq says:

    Good article. The previous commentor mentioned Russia. Last year I attended a talk by Mikhail Gorbachev at George Mason University. During the Q&A, someone asked him about Afghanistan. Gorbachev said that the Soviet Union’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan proved to be a very bad decision, a huge waste of resources that ultimately ended up weakening the Soviet Union and did nothing good for Afghanistan. He warned that the US is making the same mistake the Soviet Union did, and that nothing good will come of the US occupation of Afghanistan. He said that the sooner the US gets out of Afghanistan, the better.
    Also, anyone who thinks that US support of the Israeli occupation is not a strong motivating factor for anti-american insurgents in the middle east, is incredibly uneducated on the subject. When Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian children in the head, or bulldoze Palestinian houses down, or build a shameful apartheid wall, or force Palestinians off of their own land, that injustice is felt all over the middle east. Even top US military commanders recognize this fact. The entire Muslim world takes great interest in what happens in Palestine/Israel.

  3. Forest Simmons says:

    I have heard too many LDS people say, “Better to fight them over there than to fight them here.”

    They don’t know the Book of Mormon:

    3 Ne. 3: 20 Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness [sounds like Afghanistan to me], that we may fall upon the robbers [i.e. terrorists] and destroy them in their own lands.
    21 But Gidgiddoni [a great prophet] saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.

    For once the Nephites heeded the prophetic counsel. Read chapter 4 for the happy ending.

    Four hundred years later when the Nephites ignored Mormon they ended up being “utterly destroyed.” Mormon gives the explanation:

    Morm. 4:4 And it was because the armies of the Nephites went up unto the Lamanites that they began to be smitten; for were it not for that, the Lamanites could have had no power over them.

    Then he goes on to say that it is not our place to punish the wicked, because the Lord will use the wicked to punish the wicked:

    5 But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked [warmongers] that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.

    Why? Because they know how to profit from war and bloodshed. And that’s why these wars have been such a great success for the warmongers: it doesn’t matter if we “win” or not; they get rich.

    But what about wars of “humanitarian intervention?”

    In their best hour the Nephites gave us an example of a better alternative. Instead of fighting the Lamanites who were attacking the converts of Ammon and his brethren, the “Anti-Nephi-Lehites” (or People of Ammon), they supported their mass migration out of harms way, and gave them lands of inheritance in Jershon:

    Alma 27:22 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.
    23 And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.
    24 And now behold, this will we do unto our brethren, that they may inherit the land Jershon; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.
    • • •
    26 And it came to pass that it did cause great joy among them. And they went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after.

    And what a great blessing these people became to the Nephites in their subsequent history.

    Remember Lady Liberty’s welcome…

    “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”
    cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    Not practical? Think of how many refugees we could take care of if we spent the trillions of dollars on them instead of giving it to the war profiteers. And that is not even counting the value of the saved lives.

    But it seems that we wouold rather be the “…wicked that punish the wicked.”

  4. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    Tariq,

    I was talking about Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida specifically not general anti-American sentiment. There’s more emphasis on American Troops in the “holy land” than Israel/palestine in the Fatwas. I don’t think the palestinians were a pressing issue for Bin Laden. Maybe you’re having trouble distinguishing between Palestinians/all muslims/Bin Laden/yourself.

    As for Russia, Afghanistan and you getting to meet a real live Russian (you know you’re a fan…) well, ISAF isn’t the Soviet Union and this isn’t 1979 so same mistakes? No

  5. Sunnofbrich wrote: “Should have left them on they’re own with the Russians.”

    Richard Clarke, counter-terrorism czar in the Clinton and Bush Administrations, bragged in his book “Against All Enemies” that the US successfully de-stabilized the pro-Moscow Afghan government in the late seventies in a deliberate attempt to provoke the Soviets into invading. The goal was to get the Soviets bogged down militarily and financially. This strategy was successful of course, and then the US supplied the Mujahideen with weapons to continue bleeding the soviets after they fully occupied the country. those Mujahideen became the warlords who then destroyed the country further through years of civil war. Then the taliban came to power mostly through the aid of the saudis and pakistanis, and committed their horrors, and then the US invaded and the violence has continued for almost nine years now. Throughout that entire period from the late seventies til now Afghanistan has been a war zone, and can probably be considered as close to hell on earth as you can get.

    So the US strategy of provoking the Soviet invasion was a success from a US perspective, (We didn’t care if they got killed as long as we were meeting our objective of weakening the Russians) but the wars sparked by US activities since then have been a terrible tragedy for Afghans. And it continues with US involvement now. The US has not had a positive influence on the country, as would be expected since we are there to protect our interests, not the interests of Afghans necessarily.

    This doesn’t mean the US is entirely at fault for what has gone on there, we’re just one player among many, but certainly US influence has been negative, and to justify our being there, simply because the guys we’re fighting are also bad guys just doesn’t hold.

    Sunnofabrich wrote: “Also… Iraq, Saddam was the right guy to control that country.”

    For many years Saddam was the right guy to control the country, at least in the eyes of Carter, Bush I and Reagan. That’s why Carter encouraged Saddam to invade Iran, and provided Saddam with intel on Iranian targets to bomb, because Iran at the time was our biggest enemy, and the war left a million dead on both sides. Reagan of course supported Saddam while he carried out the Anfal campaign,which took place in the context of the Iran-Iraq war, killing around 200,000 kurds, providing him diplomatic cover and continued financial support through agricultural subsidies, knowing that as a result he could devote more resources toward the war effort.

    Bush kept the aid coming of course. Then when Saddam invaded Kuwait, the Bush administration turned on Saddam and pushed for and enforced Sanctions that the Defense Intelligence Agency predicted would lead to mass spread of disease among Iraqi children and the elderly, as chlorine and new parts for water treatment plants would be unobtainable under the sanctions. Then Bush I decided to bomb Iraq’s civilian infrastructure (primarily power plants), which a top US air force planner said was meant to make the sanctions worse, and punish the Iraqi civilian population until they would finally have the muster to overthrow Saddam.

    When the Gulf War ended, a shiite rebellion started in Basra, and was close to overthrowing Saddam, but because US planners didn’t want pro-iranian shiites in power, they preferred to have Saddam stay, and allowed Saddam to fly attack helicopters to put down the rebellion, even though he was not allowed to fly planes as part of the cease fire agreement with the US.

    The Iraqis killed by Saddam while rebelling in the south are largely to be found in the mass graves that the US later used as an excuse to invade Iraq, even though the US approved of these killings at the time and allowed the use of helicopters to put down the rebellion as mentioned.

    In karbala I met people who told me about seeing US planes flying over head, as the Iraqi attack helicopters were massacring people. But of course they didn’t intervene because the US supported what was going on.

    At the end of the war, a team from the Harvard school of public health estimated that the bombing of civilian infrastructure led to 55,000 excess civilian deaths. then the sanctions remained in place under Clinton, resulting several hundred thousand excess Iraqi deaths, mostly children. Madeline Albright, Clinton’s secretary of state acknowledged that several hundred thousand Iraqi civilians had died as a result, but refused to change the policy and said the price of that many people dying was worth it to keep Saddam contained.

    Moving ahead to 2003, the bush administration tortured an al-qaeda operative until he finally realized that if he confessed links to the iraqi government, the torture would stop.

    On this pretext (and a few others, including the above mentioned mass graves which we supported, non-existent WMD’s etc), the US invaded. The shock and awe bombing and push to baghdad killed many more iraqis, then the US refused to leave the country and preferred to torture thousands of iraqis for intel to defeat the insurgency that wanted them out.

    In the process, the US had to build MORE prisons to hold all of their detainees (Saddam’s police state didn’t even have enough prisons for everyone we wanted to hold)

    While this was going the US attempted to privatize Iraq’s economy, end the ration system which had kept millions of iraqis alive during the sanctions regime, and privatize Iraq’s oil industry so that western companies could get in on developing the worlds best and largest unexploited oil fields.

    In addition, Paul Bremer disbanded the army putting hundreds of thousands out of work (in addition to the employees of state owned companies that were shut down or sold off), all of which increased poverty drastically.

    Than in an attempt to recruit iraqi clients to begin fighting the war against the insurgents for us, the us exploited sectarian divisions to pit Iraq’s different ethnic groups against one another, setting off a cycle of violence that resulted in sectarian war and the ethnic cleansing of most Sunnis from Baghdad.

    In an attempt to defeat the insurgency, the US also established death squads operating out of the ministry of interior, bringing in US veterans of the El Salvadoran government’s dirty war against leftist guerillas and sympathetic Salvadoran civilians, to manage the job.

    So, the war since 2003 has killed another couple hundred thousand iraqis, leaving most of the Iraqis i met to reminisce about the time when Saddam was in power, because, as bad as they hated Saddam, at least there was security and you could walk out of your house and feel safe and have electricity.

    Now all of this is ok or worth it of course, because there are elections in iraq now, even though the election results will be thrown out anyway by the Shiite parties still in power.

    Anyway the list of US crimes just goes on and on and on. The US is just one party (among many others, including Saddam), who have wreaked havoc on the lives of Iraqis for decades now. So to think the US could, or is even trying to have an overall positive role there, i think is incorrect.

    Sunnofabrich wrote, “Bin Laden didn’t have a problem with the US until after the gulf war, after Saudi Arabia rejected him for us. So I don’t put much weight on Bin Ladens talk about Israel being a deciding factor in targeting the U.S. It certainly doesn’t show in Al Qaidas actions.”

    Many people know that bin Laden cites the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia as a reason he considers the US his enemy. Partially its an insult for him to have non-Muslim troops there and he was mad the Saudis didn’t allow him to try to expel the iraqi army from kuwait in 91, but he also later says that he was opposed to US troops in Saudi because the US military presence there was helping to enforce the UN-backed UN sanctions on Iraq mentioned above, which killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

    When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to destroy the PLO, which at the time was making peace overtures to Israel, the Israeli military killed roughly 20,000 Lebanese civilians. The Israeli air force (using US supplied planes) used to drop vacuum bombs (US supplied bombs) on apartment buildings in downtown Beirut, collapsing the buildings and killing everyone inside. Bin Laden stated that seeing these images is what gave him the idea to fly airplanes into the world trade center, and he cites US-backed Israeli atrocities from that period as one (among many reasons) he considered the US his enemy.

  6. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    I DO take exception to some of the levels of influence and where the blame resides most in your take on things, especially because at most it only stretches back to the late 1950’s As for practical solutions I’d like to see what you have to offer for all the timestamps in your portrayal. In other words what should we have done different during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Russians in Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq war, Anfal campaign, Iraq invasion of Kuwait, Sanctions, 9/11. You think we should just leave Afghanistan, at this point that’s simply not practical or responsible.

  7. Sunnofabrich,

    In the case of Afghanistan, it would have been best not to deliberately bate the soviets into invading. It was good for US foreign policy objectives but horrific for Afghans, as the subsequent decades show. Obviously, what we did doesn’t excuse what the Soviets did to the Afghan people.

    As for Iraq, don’t support Saddam’s invasion of Iran. Don’t give him support when he’s murdering Kurds.

    Don’t destroy iraq’s civilian infrastructure and make regular Iraqis suffer who have no control over their government, when the supposed goal is to simply force the Iraqi army to withdraw from Kuwait.

    Don’t impose sanctions that in the course of a decade kill several hundred thousand people, mostly kids. Don’t use cluster bombs in civilian areas, or depleted uranium munitions that cause iraqi babies to be born with deformities like missing brains.

    Don’t just shoot everyone who gets too close to your convoy, or fire missiles at a mini van that isn’t threatening you, but rather trying to save wounded people.

    In short, if the US did NOTHING in all these places, as bad as the situation in many places is, this would be an improvement over what we DO do. And this is because when our military is sent across the world, its not for the sake of the people that live in these countries. If it was, you would find that the the military policies made by top war planners would be extremely different.

    Instead, our military is sent abroad to protect American interests (which means the interests of people with economic and political power in the US, not the interests of the American public as a whole, and especially not the interests of American soldiers).

    Because military interventions abroad aren’t in the interests of the average American citizen, politicians know they have to lie, and exaggerate threats, or torture people to make them “confess” to things that aren’t true but that will provide an excuse to convince the public that going to war IS in their interest, which is how Bush/Cheney/Powell convinced Americans we needed to go to war against Iraq.

    The reason I focus on US crimes or the US’s role in these different events is because I’m writing to Americans. If any Iraqis or Afghans or Iranians, or Pakistanis, or members of the Taliban were somehow reading any of my comments then the focus would necessarily be totally different, and the focus would be on the terrible things their governments and/or respective insurgent groups are doing.

    The point is not to somehow show that the US government deserves the blame for everything, or that the US government is necessarily worse than any other government. Rather, its to show that the US hasn’t played a positive role in many countries around the world, especially Iraq, but also Viet nam, various countries in Latin America, etc, etc. And so we can’t expect the US government to do positive things in countries where it has committed major atrocities.

    Who would say that Saddam Hussein could have in any way interfered in Kuwaiti affairs in a positive way, especially militarily or by occupying the country, or by drastically changing its economy, or by holding elections, or whatever?

    No one in the US would believe that that would be possible. Why? Because of the crimes he committed against the people of Kuwait in 91′. No, we would say that any interference on his part would be for HIS benefit, not the Kuwaitis, and rightly so.

    And yet when it comes to US interference in another country it is considered, by definition, positive, and Americans assume that it will benefit the people of that country, despite the massive atrocities we may have committed in that country (which is clearly the case with Iraq) and the despite the immensely important natural resources (obviously oil in Iraq’s case) and the strategic advantage that would result from having a friendly regime in power there (breaking up the OPEC cartel, having long-term access to military bases on the borders of our last nation-state enemy, Iran, selling arms to rebuild Iraq’s Army at great profit to American arms manufacturers, opening Iraq’s previously closed economy to non-military exports from US companies, having our hand on one of the biggest spigots of world oil supply, that could easily be turned off to deny the Chinese sufficient access to oil, that they would need in any conflict with the US to keep their military and economy functional, as they do not have their own energy resources).

    Nope, after all the Iraqis we’ve killed and all the benefits we’ve received by invading Iraq, can’t you see we did it for their benefit! What a bunch of bullshit. Iraqis see clearly what we’re doing, even if we are too blinded by nationalism to see it ourselves.

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