Official Washington’s propagandistic view of the world sees “good guys” and “bad guys,” a simplistic and dangerous dichotomy that ignores the common human elements, as ex-State Department official Matthew Hoh observes.
By Matthew Hoh
Last month, I had the privilege of answering an interview request from an Iranian research agency dedicated to studying acts of terror carried out against the Iranian people. By their count 17,000 Iranians have been killed in acts of terror over the last 3 1/2 decades. Quite an astounding number, isn’t it?
I have no reason to believe this number is inflated or exaggerated, but, even if the real count is only a tenth of the pronounced figure of 17,000, it would still signify a horrendously systematic attack of political violence on a people that, as recent elections in Iran have displayed, possess a desire for progress, civility, toleration and modernity.
Just as many of us do not embody in our personal lives, in our beings and in our souls the worst aspects of our American government, our wars overseas and our mass incarceration at home, so too are the Iranian people not representative of their government’s acts of militarism and repression. I know, I know. Such a trite and cliched thing to say.
But then why would so many in the U.S. not know of the thousands killed by terrorism in Iran and why would many Americans say that those dead Iranians and their devastated families deserve it? If not for such a binary and Manichean way of looking at the world, we are good and they are bad, we could understand and communicate with one another better, and then, maybe, as a united and common people we could lead this world to prosperity and health, rather than to war, climate change and poverty.
The interview can be found here and is copied below:
Full text of Habilian’s interview with Matthew Hoh, Ex-US State Department Official
Sunday, 01 May 2016 09:51 Habilian
“…in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups.”
In an exclusive interview with Habilian Association, Iranian Center for Research on Terrorism, Matthew Hoh has answered the questions about the U.S. military interventions in the Middle East following 9/11 attacks in the name of “fighting against terrorism” and its implications for the people of the region, terrorism developments in the Middle East after 2001, America’s role in the empowerment of terrorist groups in the region, U.S. imperialism around the world, relationships between the media and government in the U.S., and Machiavellian view of American leaders to terrorist groups such as MeK. Below is the full text of the Habilian Association’s interview with Hoh:
Habilian: At the beginning of the interview, please tell us when you did join the Army? Would you speak about your motives in wearing the Army Uniform?
Hoh: I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1998 for a number of reasons. I was bored with the work I was doing (I was working for a publishing company in New York City), I wanted adventure, I wanted to prove myself while serving others, I wanted to be involved in something bigger than I was, and I wanted to take part in history. In short I possessed the motives of many bored and unchallenged young men.
Habilian: Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush delivered a speech at joint session of Congress, in which “War on Terror” was declared. In that speech, Bush raised some questions quoted from American peoples, including who attacked the US and why; and how Americans can punish them. Now, after more than 15 years of American interventions in the region that led to death of more than one million civilians, if you, as an American journalist, have an interview with Bush, what questions will you ask him about the war?
Hoh: The first question I would ask President Bush is why he is not remorseful. Does his desire for a positive view of his legacy preclude his ability to empathize with the millions who have suffered because of these wars? Secondly, I would ask him why can he not be humble and admit his policies were wrong and counter-productive. I would not be asking him to say the terror of 9/11 was not horrific and I am not asking him to compare himself with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but to simply recognize that the wars he launched and the wars that are still ongoing have made the world worse and not better. Two simple truths: the number of dead in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and other places number well past one million since September 12, 2001. Millions more have been wounded and are refugees from their homes. Those who suffer the horribly debilitating psychiatric and moral effects of the wars number in the tens of millions. And none of those wars are close to ending. The second truth is that, according to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and based upon documents found in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda only consisted of approximately two hundred members in 2001. Now the organization has thousands of members in countries across the globe. Of course the Islamic State didn’t even exist in 2001 and only came into existence because of the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. Clearly American policy in the Middle East has failed. I would ask President Bush how he ignores such truths. To be fair, I would ask President Obama the same.
Habilian: In the mentioned speech, George Bush had said that Americans are asking him what is expected of them, then listed his expectations of American people: “to live your lives, and hug your children”, “to uphold the values of America”, “to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions” and “continued participation and confidence in the American economy”. If we go back to September 20, 2001 and you had an opportunity to speak in Congress and announce your expectations from the government, what would you said?
Hoh: I am not sure if anything anyone said would be listened to. In 2001, we did have people in the United States counseling against acting on fear and anger. In Congress, however, we had only one member, Barbara Lee, from California, who voted against giving the President unlimited authority to carry out war, an authority that President Obama still utilizes nearly 15 years later. Out of 535 members of Congress only one had the wisdom, the intelligence and the courage to say that war was not just the wrong approach to terrorism, but that it would be foolhardy and prove to be counter-productive. Americans at that time were scared and angry. Politicians were scared and angry as well, but, more so, they were eager to capitalize on the public’s emotions for their own political advantage and security. So, sadly, I don’t think my stating my expectations of my government to follow the dictates of morality, justice and rule of law would have been listened to.
Habilian: On February 14, 2003, George W. Bush released “The United States’ strategy for combating terrorism” in which the US administration’s objectives in the War on Terror had been listed. The core of that strategy were weakening and isolating terror networks such as Al Qaeda. Regarding the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and its violent ambitions, do you believe that the announced goals of these wars have been achieved? In your opinion, are Al Qaeda typed groups stronger or weaker now?
Hoh: Terror groups are much stronger now than in 2001. The greatest recruitment for al-Qaeda and affiliated groups was not the murders of Americans in the 9/11 attacks, but the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, the continued occupation of Afghanistan, torture of prisoners by American guards, and the bombing of Muslim peoples throughout the world by the West. Remember, in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups. Of course, this is all a consequence of American military and diplomatic involvement in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War. As an American I have to understand that much of what we are seeing now in the Middle East is a consequence of decades of American backed coups, American backed dictatorships, American military interventions, American backed wars, unlimited American support for Israel, American arms sales and the American formation of religiously inspired cadres to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s, one of which famously became al-Qaeda. However, I do not believe the wisest among us in the United States, of which I must admit I was not a part of in 2001, ever thought our policies would prove to be so disastrous.
Habilian: Why despite the American intelligence agencies’ estimation that the ISIS poses no immediate threat to the United States, Obama administration decided to send the country on a military campaign against that group, knowing that such a war may take several years?
Hoh: There are a few different reasons for this. I think there are some in the US government that do believe the United States has an interest in trying to bring about stability to Iraq and Syria and that military means are the only, or the predominant, manner of doing so. I believe those assertions to be wrong, that those assumptions are not based on history or experience, but I do understand them to be sincere.
Unfortunately, there are a number of other reasons why President Obama is intervening militarily in Syria and Iraq. The most important is political. President Obama, and the Democratic Party, is afraid of being viewed as weak. It is that simple. Additionally, it is nearly impossible for an American politician to say he or she is wrong or made a mistake. American politicians would rather see more American soldiers killed, more American families devastated as a result of those losses, and more innocent civilians destroyed than to admit they are wrong. Again, it is just that simple.
There are those who believe that these wars in the Middle East can simply be broken down into terms of good people versus bad people and we, the US, are on the side of the good people. There are philosophical, religious, nationalist, racist, and other reasons for such beliefs, but simple binary thinking, much like the thinking that under lay the assumptions of the Cold War, is prevalent in Washington, DC and throughout America.
There is a lot of money involved in Iraq. American companies have a good deal of interest in the oil fields of northern Iraq and the US government is keen to see those oil fields in Kurdish control, while projected sales of weapons to the Iraqi government range from 15-30 billion dollars over the next one or two decades. Such money has enormous influence in Washington, DC and the fear of the loss of such money would motivate an American President to act militarily.
Finally, the United States has an empire around the world that it must maintain. This is different in appearance or in kind than say the British or Roman Empires of the past, but it is nonetheless an empire. The United States has over 800 military bases around the world, has client states across the globe, many of which are the worst human rights violators in power, depends upon weapons sales as one of the leading aspects of the American export economy, and spends approximately one trillion dollars a year in total in support of this complex. Any threat or challenge to this established system must be confronted. In this established system in Washington, DC, as well as in American universities and corporations, it is seemingly impossible to understand any other option for the world; in fact this world view of the United States being “responsible” for the rest of the world is taken as a praiseworthy virtue and any deviance from this view is considered naïve, ignorant or silly. Combine that with America’s cultural and religious view of itself as an “exceptional nation” or as a nation with divine purposes and you can understand why America is so quick to use its military tens of thousands of miles from its borders. It is worth noting only the Western allies of the US act similarly so far from the borders; no other nation behaves this way, with the exception of the recent limited Russian involvement in Syria.
Habilian: Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a “farce”. Why the US media are advertising this story?
Hoh: Terrorism scares and angers people, and fear and anger make for good audiences for the US media. The media in the US depends on ratings for advertising revenue (US media is privately funded) and so stories about terrorism get people’s attention causing more people to watch, listen or read, which brings in more money for the media.
There are also informal relationships between the media, the US government and politicians that lead all three to work together to support one another. The media needs the support of people in the government and politicians to get the best stories and get the best interviews, while the government and politicians need the media to present the best views of themselves and their policies. It is a mutually supportive relationship between many members of the media, the government and politicians that many in the United States see to be corrupt. That is why the American public has incredibly low opinions of the media, government and politicians in the US (recent opinion polls show that only about 10% of the public trusts these institutions).
Finally, there is the ongoing narrative of the United States being a morally correct and righteous nation that is on the side of “good” overseas. I believe the media feels it would cost them their audiences, and so their revenue, if they tried to explain world events, including terrorism and the wars, in a more complex yet accurate manner.
I must say that there are many good media sources in the US, but they tend to be small and independent of the larger corporate media that most Americans depend upon for their news. These men and women are often unfairly characterized as un-American, ideological or overly politically partisan, yet they are often the ones with the journalistic integrity the larger corporate media lacks.
Habilian: To this day MEK terrorists have been carrying out attacks inside of Iran killing political opponents, attacking civilian targets, as well as carrying out the US-Israeli program of targeting and assassinating Iranian scientists. In your opinion, how America’s government came to the conclusion that MeK no longer should be in the Terrorist List?
Hoh: The MeK has been very successful in the United States in paying American politicians and former government officials to represent the MeK. Along with the demonization with which the American government has colored Iran with since 1979, these political efforts by the MeK have succeeded in making many American leaders believe the MeK can be useful to US interests in the Middle East. Whether or not they know or care that the MeK has made many, many innocent Iranian people suffer is not something American leaders consider. I am quick to denounce the violent actions of my government, just as many Iranians are quick to denounce the violent actions of the Iranian government. Groups like the MeK and actions like the assassination of Iranian scientists serve only to prolong hostilities between the United States and Iran, hostilities that have gone on for far too long and which only serve the elites who hold power in both countries and which cause both the American and Iranian people to suffer.
Matthew Hoh is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy. A former State Department official, Hoh resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over U.S. strategic policy and goals in Afghanistan in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Hoh served in Iraq. When not deployed, Hoh worked on Afghanistan and Iraq policy and operations issues at the Pentagon and State Department from 2002-8.