On Monday, President Trump gave a speech outlining his future strategy regarding the war in Afghanistan. In it, he left many things open-ended, such as the number of troops he intended on sending, as well as the timeline for our occupation there. One thing he did not shy away from was the fact we will be continuing our engagement in open warfare, and made vague statments like, “I’m not going to say when we will attack, but attack we will.”
Ironically, Trump campaigned on a mildly non-interventionist foreign policy, especially compared to Hillary’s tactics of no-fly zones in Syria, where she discussed the possibility of shooting down Russian and Syrian planes. Now, considering all the bombastic things Trump has espoused in his short tenure as President, and the fact that politicians are known more for their reneging on commitments than they are for kept promises, it should not surprise anyone that Trump has completely flipped on the foreign policy he campaigned on. What should be alarming and horrifying to anyone with a conscience is the passivity of the American people when it comes to accepting this type of rhetoric and action.
It seems that when we discuss foreign policy in America, we only get two flavors. First, there are those who admit the atrocities of war and show a certain level of reluctance towards our actions overseas. Then there are the over-the-top individuals completely gung-ho about patriotism. To this group, anything short of thanking soldiers for their services and sacrifices is considered borderline treasonous. Where the first group shows reluctance, the latter shows encouragement. Still, the real problem doesn’t solely lie with them.
One glaring distinction you may notice is that Trump did not name any anti-war crowd in his speech. Sadly, that is because, as far as any mainstream groups go, there are none.
Democrats and Republicans may seem to hate one another when it comes to historical statues, or the appropriate posture during the singing of our national anthem, but they are two peas in a pod when it comes to war. The once-touted “anti-war left” is now nothing more than a figment of its own imagination. Between seeing Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright praise the death of 500,000 Iraqi children, and the current CNN (yes, the Trump-hating CNN) White House correspondent Maggie Haberman compliment Trump’s “strong view” on Afghanistan, it’s hard to believe they ever claimed to be. Couple that with an eight-year silence as their messianic leader, President Barack Obama, averaged over 20,000 bombs per year on the heads of foreign “enemies,” and there is quite a convincing case that the “anti-war left” was nothing more than an anti-Bush left.
Likewise, Republicans, who were once elected to end the Korean and Vietnam wars, have since left behind their non-interventionist views and have openly embraced an aggressive militaristic standpoint on foreign policy. One of the best recent examples being the thunderous applause Ted Cruz received as he claimed he would “make the sand glow in the dark” if he were elected. This serves to reinforce the notion that all those in Washington are just as willing to spend the lives of the American youth in the military just as frivolously as they do our hard-earned money.
Herein lies the problem: this toxic bombardment from both sides regarding our present and historic military affairs has resulted in a moral duality in this country; these events have always simply been good vs. evil, specifically, us – or U.S. – vs. them. How a country that has invaded more countries and toppled more regimes than the Roman and British empires – possibly combined – could somehow be seen as the defensive player here is borderline obscene.
This anti-“anti-war” stance, however, is the only perspective on the “index card of allowable opinion,” unless you prefer being labeled an enemy sympathizer. A quick look at the facts tells a disturbingly different story. For example, we were told it was imperative to invade Afghanistan and continue its occupation 15 years after, for the sake of our freedom. Yet, we know the Taliban tried to surrender repeatedly shortly after our invasion, only to be denied by the US.
Unfortunately, we have quite a track record for that behavior too. We all know the story of how we needed to drop atomic bombs on civilians in Japan in order to “save American lives.” However, even objective sources now admit that by any militaristic standpoint it was completely unnecessary. Likewise, if we were to listen to the media, it seems almost impossible that the current conflict on the Korean peninsula be resolved without a WWII repeat, even though North Korea has agreed to suspend its missile activities – including nuclear – only to have the US ignore them, in favor of more aggressive tactics.
While the history of our military engagements could surely fill numerous pages with mistruths, coverups, and propaganda, the most detrimental problem today is the public’s level of tolerance towards this mindset. Which isn’t because Americans are reluctant to speak out on things they don’t like, either. Last week, we saw over 20,000 people show up to protest a free-speech rally that only had a few dozen attendees. Yet humanitarian emergencies, like the starvation crisis in Yemen, go unnoticed because it would detract from our image as the United States being “the good guys.” Just by writing this mild criticism of our foreign policy, I’m sure to receive hateful messages and perhaps even lose a few friends over it.
However, the concept isn’t farfetched. We talk all the time about how Kim-Jong Un lies to his people and feeds them propaganda. Or how the Germans, the Japanese, and the Russians are taught skewed versions of history to cover up the atrocities their countries have perpetrated. The irony that a country who currently occupies 138 nations – 70% of the globe – could possibly have a few skeletons of its own, and be willing to tell a false narrative to cover them up, is completely lost on almost everyone.
In the age of information, ignorance is a choice, and it’s very disheartening to see so many of my fellow Americans fall into the duality we find ourselves in today. This is expressed by patriotism being explicitly linked with the acceptance of our current imperialism, and that so many Americans believe that we are without fault for the current quagmires we find ourselves in around the globe. Our biggest problems won’t come from whether or not we allow a statue to remain in a park, or from groups clashing in the streets over exaggerated racial tensions. In a world already filled with an abundance of military mistakes, the last thing we should advocate, let alone accept, is the persistence of our already failed foreign interference. By doing so, we risk losing not only our country, but also our humanity.
Image: The Daily Beast
Thomas J. Eckert
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