Thursday, June 18, 2015

Want to "Fight Terrorism?"

 Want to “fight terrorism?”  Then listen to historian Kai Bird and leave the Middle East alone!
The United States sustains dictators and kills with drones – of course we’ve become a target.
·         One of Virginia’s most popular specialty license plates reads Fight Terrorism, with an outline of the Pentagon and the numbers 9/11/01 stamped above the phrase. 
·         West Point has a Combating Terrorism Center.  
·         The State Department has a collection of offices operating under the heading FightingTerrorism
·         And the Pentagon has a special medal for troops taking part in the Global War onTerrorismOminously, some of the eligible deployments for the medal read “TBD” (to be determined) on the ending date, including the current wars in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State (Operation “Inherent Resolve”) and in Afghanistan against the Taliban (Operations “Freedom’s Sentinel”). 
As a matter of fact, our government claims that most of the trillion dollars in taxes we pay each year to carry out U.S. foreign, military, surveillance, police, and covert policies is used to protect American civilians from attacks by Islamist militants.  Clearly, our politicians want to protect us from terrorism – and well they should.  The only problem is that their war on terrorism is making things more dangerous for us. 
The way that “fighting terrorism” leads to more, not less, terrorism against Americans is brilliantly explained in a recent guest editorial in The Nation magazine by historian Kai Bird, entitled “The Case for Disengagement in the Middle East.” 
In the Arab world, we have historically aligned ourselves with generals and kings and narrow-minded sectarian tribal leaders.  In Israel, we have become the ultimate enablers of Likudites devoted to colonization….Our most recent military intervention—an aerial bombing campaign against this so-called caliphate—may serve only to incite further Salafist terrorism against American targets.  It also threatens to drag the Obama administration—and the United States—into yet another interminable Middle Eastern war.
Bird has earned the right to a serious consideration of his analysis.  For 30 years he was immersed in the archives of the Cold War, publishing three biographies of major U.S. policy figures.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book on Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the atomic bomb project during War II but was then denied a security clearance in the 1950’s because he questioned the need for the more 100-times more powerful hydrogen bomb. 
Bird has written two books in recent years on U.S. policy in the Middle East.  The first, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate (2010), used personal memories and policy reviews to describe the deterioration in the already deadly Israeli-Palestinian relations he saw as a young son of U.S. diplomat in the 1950’s.  In 2014 he published The Good Spy, a biography of Robert Ames, the CIA’s top Middle East analyst, who was killed in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Lebanon in 1983.  Bird concluded that for all Ames’ creative wheeling and dealing with Arab actors and all the CIA’s spying and spending, they added nothing to American security or the stability of the Middle East.  That is because the core of U.S. policy remains a dangerous alliance with regimes that alienate not just the militants, but the Arab “street” as a whole.
How our Empire Spurs Terrorism
Since 9/11 our elected officials seem to be willing to do anything to keep us safe from more terrorist attacks.  Anything, that is, except challenge the policy that causes the attacks: U.S. domination of the Middle East through military and covert aid to the “friendly” dictators who provide our corporations with oil and investment opportunities.  Spying on, invading, and occupying countries, renting military and covert bases with cash and weapons that dictators then use to put down popular dissent, drone-killings -- all of this makes us more, not less, of a target for Islamist militants who oppose Western control of the Middle East and North Africa.
As a result of their failure to acknowledge the inconvenient roots of anti-American terrorism, our politicians have established a vicious circle that virtually guarantees more attacks.  The United States backs dictators because they let us place our armed forces at air, ground, and naval bases so we can attack the Islamists with jets, missiles, and drones, and place our covert agents in their intelligence centers so we can track possible terror attacks.  But these acts strengthen the very regimes the Islamists want to overthrow, so the Islamists then attack us for backing the regimes.  And the cycle of violence starts again.
Americans rarely hear a discussion of the illogic of this policy.  In 2007 presidential candidate Ron Paul explained during a Republican primary debate that Islamists attack us not, as Presidents Bush and Obama like to claim, “because of our freedoms,” but because of the freedom we take in dominating their countries by choosing and backing dictators.  When another candidate, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, attacked Paul for his scandalous views that denigrated our heroes, the major media briefly covered this difference of opinion on the roots of 9/11. 
Not since then has there been a mainstream discussion of the relationship between empire and terrorism.  Perhaps in some upcoming Republican primary debates this year we will see Paul’s son Rand, the libertarian senator from Kentucky, start the discussion again with Lindsay Graham, the senator from South Carolina who pushes for deeper involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts.  Bird clearly wants to jump-start the discussion.  His Nation piece offers a way out that is sure to spark controversy: just leave the Middle East alone:
Disengagement should now be our policy with both Israel and the Arab world. We Americans should urge our government to end all arms sales to any Arab nation ruled by a general, dictator or king. We need to isolate and diplomatically contain any Arab regime that has demonstrably killed unarmed protesters, as in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. We should also close our military installations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.  Such a dramatic, categorical and evenhanded withdrawal of American arms and treasure would deal a bracing shock to the region’s ruling elites. But it would be a good and decent thing for all concerned.
Bird ends his piece by noting that 33 years ago he published a similar plea in the same magazine.  In that piece he acknowledged that the U.S. policy of dominating the Middle East was just a regional example of a global policy.  Now, as then, he wants us to answer a question posed by historian William Appleman Williams: “What happens if we simply say no to empire as a way of life?”

* * *

Monday, March 30, 2015

Our Navy: Soft, Cuddly Humanitarian, or Global Predator?

                                                                                       March 16, 2015
Letter to the Editor, New York Times:

       Is the U.S. Navy large enough?  Large enough for what?  Gregg Easterbrook (Op-ed, March 9) and House Seapower Subcommittee Chair Randy Forbes (Letter, March 12) may disagree on the first question, but on the second they clearly agree with the Navy’s recent multi-media campaign justifying itself as a “global force for good.” 

(The article is at this link and the letter at this one.)

       “Global trade has flowered,” Easterbrook asserts, because of the Navy’s “dominance” of the oceans, bringing “nearly all nations, including developing nations, higher living standards and less poverty.”  Not to be outdone, Forbes cites the “international order that American naval predominance has assured since 1945.” 

As Max Paul Friedman argues in his 2012 book, “Rethinking Anti-Americanism,” this sort of airy self-congratulation has confounded our national debate almost from the founding of the Republic. He cites Tocqueville noting that “the majority lives in perpetual adoration of itself,” and Senator William Fulbright noting that “power tends to confuse itself with virtue.”

Imperial navies from the Athenians to the British have spun a tale similar to that of Easterbrook and Forbes: we are here to protect you all.  But it wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now.  Great power navies have always existed to provide freedom of action to their armed forces and commercial interests.  Our Navy’s current supremacy in the sea-battle space was purchased to allow our government to threaten, and if necessary carry out, military action to force other nations to submit to our will.  There is nothing humanitarian about it. 

The Navy controls the seas for the transport of troops and supplies, controls the air with aircraft based on aircraft carriers, and aids in land-battles with observation, guns, missile attacks, and bombing.  At the start of Easterbrook’s golden age the Navy carried French troops back to re-conquer Indochina in 1945.  For the next 30 years it bombed and bombarded Viet Nam throughout its revolt against the French and the pro-American regimes they left behind.  More recently, the Navy has been the hammer in every theater of the current “long war” to control the Middle East and North Africa: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, and Somalia.

Unimpeded international shipping would most likely have “flowered” after World War II with or without the U.S. Navy, because it was in so many nations’ interest.  Minor irritations would have been addressed by the affected nations, as the Somali pirates were recently, with or without U.S. intervention.  By strengthening corrupt or repressive regimes like Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates, and Angola through its exercises, equipment, and training programs, the Navy makes their people poorer, not richer.  With each bit of support to these governments the Navy violates its own Sailor’s Creed: “to defend freedom and democracy around the world.”

Caleb Rossiter
Director, American Exceptionalism Media Project

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Where are those pesky tyrants? Let's buy some glasses for the Marines!

The December 15, 2014, Sports Illustrated features a full-page propaganda ad paid for!  It shows a squad of U.S. Marines running out of the back of a troop carrier onto a sandy surface, and running full-tilt into a dust cloud.  The caption? "Anyone can see tyrrany.   Marines advance to stop it.", which tyrant would the Marines be stopping?  How about the King of sandy Bahrain, the dictator who rules the country that is the base for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet?  You know, the Sunni King who stays in power over the Shi'ite majority only because his troops used U.S. weapons recently to mow down pro-democracy protestors?  After all, there are lots of Marines in Bahrain with the 5th Fleet.

Oh, not that tyrant? Well, maybe the House of Saud, next door, whose U.S.-trained troops swooped across the causeway from the Saudi mainland in U.S. tanks to help the King and his family attack the protestors.

Oh, not that tyrant?  Well, maybe we can take up a collection to give the Marines better glasses for Christmas, so they can see the tyrants a bit better.

Let's dispense with the fairy tale that is pushed not just by these sorts of ads but by the constant drone of presidential, congressional, military, and media statements about America's global role.  At least in developing countries, our role is not to promote freedom, but to promote freedom of action for American military and covert forces and corporations.  Tyrants and non-tryrants, they're all the same to the Marines, and the rest of our forces, as long as they cooperate with us.

When you keep dictators in power, the people who live under them come after you, sooner or later.  Since 9/11 it's been sooner.  If you want to stop attacks on America, then stop propping Middle Eastern tyrants up with U.S. forces and arms sales.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Global Reach Starts with Community Outreach -- Truer Words Were Never Spoken

ROTC stands for Reserve Officers Training Corps.  The Pentagon funds ROTC programs in schools and colleges not just to train potential members of America's armed forces, but also to present the foreign missions of those forces to the community in a favorable light.  Here is a picture of a poster outside the ROTC office in Barton Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, that admits this purpose: 

 Titled "Global Reach Starts with Community Outreach," the poster shows members of the Cornell ROTC contingent going out into the community in their uniforms.  This makes U.S. military interventions abroad, like supporting dictators who provide the U.S. government with military bases and American corporations with investment opportunities, seem like normal activities for nice young men and women.  This community outreach encourages Americans to support these interventions rather than question them.

AEMP director Caleb Rossiter saw that poster while training in Barton Hall for a track meet.  He wrote an article for the Cornell Daily Sun about the truth of the poster's claim that "Global Reach Starts with Community Outreach."  Here is the link to the article.

I wonder if the Air Force ROTC chapter had a hand in the recent decision by the Cornell hockey team to appear in camouflage Caleb's article about that piece of propaganda here.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

How to Truly Honor Mandela: Stop Arming Repressive Regimes

In a December 12, 2013, New York Times opinion piece about the honor the U.S. Government has been paying to Nelson Mandela’s life Nicholas Kristof tells us that “there is a whiff of hypocrisy about the adulation for Mandela even as we simultaneously sell weapons to repressive regimes around the world.”

Kristof points out that just as President Reagan backed the repressive regime that kept Mandela in prison for 26 years, President Obama backs repressive regimes throughout the Middle East and Africa:
“The Obama administration didn’t even blush when, on the day Mandela died, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Bahrain – an undemocratic minority regime that violently oppresses its majority.” 

The island nation of Bahrain, of course, is home to the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf.  Its Sunni rulers used the U.S. weapons and training it receives for providing that naval base to shoot down and arrest pro-democracy protestors in 2011.  To make sure that dictatorial order was restored, the Sunni regime on the mainland, Saudi Arabia, drove its U.S. tanks across the 26-mile reinforced causeway to Bahrain.

(Saudi tanks entering a Bahraini city)

AEMP director Caleb Rossiter met and worked with Nelson Mandela in 1991, when the recently-released leader was the keynote speaker at a prize ceremony of a Houston human rights group, the Rothko Chapel.  The Rothko Chapel was giving cash awards to brave human rights activists who were standing up against brutal, U.S.-backed regimes in Latin America.  When Rossiter, who was working for th Rothko Chapel, told Mandela that he had been part of the the anti-apartheid movement in America, Mandela replied: “Oh, those wonderful young college students with their mock shanty towns --  Without them, I would still be in prison!” 

Mandela was referring to the recreation on college campuses of apartheid-era shacks that most black South Africans lived in.  Students would occupy these shacks as they asked their college administrations to "divest" the college of the stocks of any corporation doing business with South Africa.  As Kristof points out in his article, there are plenty of Mandela-like political prisoners in the prisons of U.S.-backed regimes today.  “Those wonderful young college students” -- and all anti-imperialist activists, of all ages -- still have a lot of work to do.

You can read the full article here:

Monday, June 3, 2013

Washington Post publishes AEMP call for a new foreign policy

(This is our latest post.  To learn about our project, click on "About," above.)

The lead letter in the June 3 Washington Post is by AEMP director Caleb Rossiter.  The letter responds to an editorial about the legal basis for drone strikes and other military attacks in the long-running "war on terror."  


The editorial assumed that this war would have to continue indefinitely -- an assumption that the letter argues is based on accepting U.S. efforts to choose the governments of the Middle East and North Africa:

"If we drop that exceptionalist mission, we'll stop being a target. Until then, we always will be one."

Click here to read the letter.  

The published letter is a shortened version of the one submitted.  Here is the original letter:

Editor, The Washington Post: 

Your editorial (“Counterterror contradication,” May 30) is correct to see risks in President Obama’s plan  to phase out the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force” (AUMF) and rely on constitutional authority to conduct our war with the violent wing of militant Islam.  However, the editorial is wrong to see the continuation of this war as an apolitical necessity, rather than an affirmation of a political decision decades ago by the United States to dominate the Muslim world in alliance with cooperative regimes.
In 2008 I was working for Congressman Bill Delahunt as he sought to require congressional consideration of an agreement governing the conduct of U.S. troops during the withdrawal from Iraq, and to toughen the War Powers Resolution.  I found that many members of the House did not trust their colleagues to act responsibly in future crises, and saw more wisdom, if not constitutionality, in placing the entire burden of sending troops into combat in the hands of the Executive.  The repeal the 2001 AUMP would likely result in even less oversight by Congress. 
As a top congressional adviser on war powers, the Congressional Research Service’s Richard Grimmett, has written, negotiations in the Senate after 9/11 curbed a request by the Bush administration for authority to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism.”  The result was the AUMF, which limited U.S. combat to nations and groups that carried out the 9/11attacks or “harbored” its planners.  The originally sought authority has been approximated, though.  There has been little congressional objection as presidents have applied their authority broadly to “associated forces” of the original enemies.
We are waging war against groups with little connection to the original crime, including the Pakistani Taliban and other Pakistani groups, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and al-Qaeda affiliates and other groups in Yemen.  The AUMP has been interpreted most loosely in Mali, where U.S. forces have aided France in attacking the Tuareg separatist groups Ansar al-Dine and the MNLA as well as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Algerian group that arose from opposition to a 1991 military coup, which did not take its new name until 2007.
The missing discussion continues to be: why are we at war anyway?  The United States, stepping in for the European powers after colonialism, started what the Pentagon calls the "long war" for control of the Middle East and North Africa.  From the 9/11 attacks to the Boston Marathon bombings, we are under attack because of our insistence on choosing the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the rest of the Islamic world, and hence are the violent militants’ “far enemy.”  
Lord Palmerston, the British foreign secretary, said before approving the invasion that ousted one Afghan ruler for a more compliant one in 1839, “We do not want to make Afghanistan a British province, but we must have it an ally on whom we can depend.”  That is the mantle we have adopted throughout the Islamic world.  If we drop that exceptionalist mission, we'll stop being a target. Until then, we always will be one.

Caleb Rossiter, Director, American Exceptionalism Media Project

Friday, May 24, 2013

Obama Speech Misses the Point: We Started this War, So We Can End It

(This is our latest post.  To learn about our project, click on "About," above.)


President Obama made his long-awaited national security speech May 23.  Drone-killing, Guantanamo, Afghanistan, torture -- the President seemed to cover every base as he laid out a vision of an end to the war between the United States and Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.  He just forgot one crucial fact...

Here is the transcript of the president's speech on ending the "war on Terror" -- which he claims started with us being attacked on 9/11:

But as we discuss in "Why Are We At War?" on the AEMP website (, it was the United States, stepping in for the weakening European colonial powers, that started what the Pentagon calls the "long war" for control of the Middle East and North Africa. From the 9/11 attacks to the Boston Marathon bombings, we are under threat because of our insistence on choosing the governments of the Islamic world.

If we drop that exceptionalist mission, we'll stop being a target. Until then, we always will be one.