Pentagon’s 20-Year Killing Spree

U.S. government policies have treated civilians as expendable, writes Norman Solomon. Meanwhile truth tellers such as Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Nathan Hale get punished for what they expose.

Mock coffins placed near the offices of military contractors during a protest against the Iraq war in and around Washington. March 21, 2009. (Victor Reinhart, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Norman Solomon
Common Dreams

Top U.S. officials want us to believe that the Pentagon carefully spares civilian lives while making war overseas. The notion is pleasant. And with high-tech killing far from home, the physical and psychological distances have made it even easier to believe recent claims that American warfare has become “humane.”

Such pretenses should be grimly laughable to anyone who has read high-quality journalism from eyewitness reporters like Anand Gopal and Nick Turse. For instance, Gopal’s article for The New Yorker in September, “The Other Afghan Women,” is an in-depth, devastating piece that exposes the slaughter and terror systematically inflicted on rural residents of Afghanistan by the U.S. Air Force.

Turse, an incisive author and managing editor at TomDispatchwrote this fall:

“Over the last 20 years, the United States has conducted more than 93,300 air strikes — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — that killed between 22,679 and 48,308 civilians, according to figures recently released by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group. The total number of civilians who have died from direct violence in America’s wars since 9/11 tops out at 364,000 to 387,000, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.”

Those deaths have been completely predictable results of U.S. government policies. And in fact, evidence of widespread civilian casualties emerged soon after the “war on terror” started two decades ago. Leaks with extensive documentation began to surface more than 10 years ago, thanks to stark revelations from courageous whistleblowers and the independent media outlet WikiLeaks.

The retribution for their truth-telling has been fierce and unrelenting. WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is in a British prison, facing imminent extradition to the United States, where the chances of a fair trial are essentially zero. Former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning spent seven years in a military prison. Former U.S. Air Force analyst Daniel Hale, who revealed murderous effects of U.S. drone warfare, is currently serving a 45-month prison sentence. They had the clarity of mind and heart to share vital information with the public, disclosing not just “mistakes” but patterns of war crimes.

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Such realities should be kept in mind when considering how The New York Times framed its blockbuster scoop last weekend, drawing on more than 1,300 confidential documents. Under the big headline “Hidden Pentagon Records Reveal Patterns of Failure in Deadly Airstrikes,” the Times assessed U.S. bombing in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan — and reported that “since 2014, the American air war has been plagued by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and imprecise targeting and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children.”

Low Priority on Preventing Civilian Deaths

What should not get lost in all the bold-type words like “failure,” “flawed intelligence” and “imprecise targeting” is that virtually none of it was unforeseeable. The killings have resulted from policies that gave very low priority to prevention of civilian deaths.

The gist of those policies continues. And so does the funding that fuels the nation’s nonstop militarism, most recently in the $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act that spun through Congress this month and landed on President Joe Biden’s desk.

Dollar figures are apt to look abstract on a screen, but they indicate the extent of the mania. Biden had “only” asked for $12 billion more than President Donald Trump’s last NDAA, but that wasn’t enough for the bipartisan hawkery in the House and Senate, which provided a boost of $37 billion instead.

Actually, factoring in other outlays for “defense,” annual U.S. military spending is in the vicinity of $1 trillion. Efforts at restraint have hit a wall. This fall, in a vote on a bill to cut 10 percent of the Pentagon budget, support came from only one-fifth of the House, and not one Republican.

In the opposite direction, House support for jacking up the military budget was overwhelming, with a vote of 363-70. Last week, when it was the Senate’s turn to act on the measure, the vote was 88-11.

Overall, military spending accounts for about half of the federal government’s total discretionary spending — while programs for helping instead of killing are on short rations for local, state and national government agencies. It’s a destructive trend of warped priorities that serves the long-term agendas of neoliberalism, aptly defined as policies that “enhance the workings of free market capitalism and attempt to place limits on government spending, government regulation, and public ownership.”

While the two parties on Capitol Hill have major differences on domestic issues, relations are lethally placid beyond the water’s edge. When the NDAA cleared the Senate last week, the leaders of the Armed Services Committee were both quick to rejoice.

“I am pleased that the Senate has voted in an overwhelming, bipartisan fashion to pass this year’s defense bill,” said the committee’s chair, Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island. The ranking Republican on the panel, Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, chimed in: “This bill sends a clear message to our allies — that the United States remains a reliable, credible partner — and to our adversaries — that the U.S. military is prepared and fully able to defend our interests around the world.”

The bill also sends a clear message to Pentagon contractors as they drool over a new meal in the ongoing feast of war profiteering.

It’s a long way from their glassed-in office suites to the places where the bombs fall.

Norman Solomon is the national director of and the author of many books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

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6 comments for “Pentagon’s 20-Year Killing Spree

  1. Randal Marlin
    December 22, 2021 at 09:46

    As I read fellow-student obituaries of the Ivy League university I attended (Class of 1959) I am amazed at how many of them had their education supported by the U.S. military. These students all contracted to spend time in the military after graduation, presumably above the rank and file level. I would imagine it would be hard for these many people to speak out against the military. It’s one more way in which the Military-Industrial Complex (Eisenhower’s warning) has maintained its influence. By contrast, the late James Ridgeway, Princeton’59, who, to my knowledge, did not have such financing, did a great job of publishing regular reports from an Iraqi woman, identified only as Riverbend. She gave a very different account of what was going on in Iraq under the George W. Bush administration, in Baghdad Burning and Baghdad Burning II published by The Feminist Press, CUNY. Her accounts about the disastrous occupation proved to be much more in tune with subsequent events than mainstream reporting at the time.

  2. James Simpson
    December 22, 2021 at 05:00

    “The killings have resulted from policies that gave very low priority to prevention of civilian deaths.” Well, not really. They result from the USA being a militarised society that depends on constantly waging wars on the poor around the world. I’m not looking for more humane wars that take greater account of the need to avoid civilian deaths unless absolutely necessary (and somehow, it always is). I want to see war outlawed. We can’t afford it any more, if we ever could, and we will be a better world without it.

    Take a look at:

    “World BEYOND War was founded on January 1st, 2014, when co-founders David Hartsough and David Swanson set out to create a global movement to abolish the institution of war itself, not just the “war of the day.” If war is ever to be abolished, then it must be taken off the table as a viable option. Just as there is no such thing as “good” or necessary slavery, there is no such thing as a “good” or necessary war. Both institutions are abhorrent and never acceptable, no matter the circumstances. So, if we can’t use war to resolve international conflicts, what can we do? Finding a way to transition to a global security system that is supported by international law, diplomacy, collaboration, and human rights, and defending those things with nonviolent action rather than the threat of violence, is the heart of WBW. Our work includes education that dispels myths, like “War is natural” or “We have always had war,” and shows people not only that war should be abolished, but also that it actually can be. Our work includes all variety of nonviolent activism that moves the world in the direction of ending all war.”


    • robert e williamson jr
      December 22, 2021 at 15:45

      James thank you for the heads up on the I’ll be going there next. What you describe here I’m all for, 100%. Believe me, any and all constructive thought will be required to meet objective and overcome the overcome evil doers.

      I left a comment at The Right Is building Armies of Confrontation. You might like to read, maybe not.

      Adapt and overcome or perish.

      Be safe and love your fellow man,

  3. robert e williamson jr
    December 21, 2021 at 20:06

    The total absence of any large nationwide organized effort against senseless wars is a goddamned embarrassment to anyone who says they love their country. Or it damned well should be. No excuse exists for the U.S. after Vietnam and this misguided horror of the 20 year war on terror.

    We have only to look to the Veterans for Peace for one possible solution. These individuals know too well the price of war and understand what “fake war”, or “war for fun and pr0fit” or war only for the sake of ruination is all about.

    Remember Vets never forget! They couldn’t if they wanted to.

    We will never find Peace if we don’t start looking for it.

    Adapt or perish.

    Thanks Norm & CN

    • James Simpson
      December 22, 2021 at 05:04

      ““fake war”, or “war for fun and pr0fit” or war only for the sake of ruination is all about” describes every war the US has started since 1945. Let’s not delude ourselves that there are any good wars. All wars are hugely ruinous to everyone except the ruling class.

    • Robert Sinuhe
      December 24, 2021 at 11:40

      I support you 100% Robert but the horror of it all is that I don’t see how this could end besides ending us or turning human kind into an Orwellian hell. I’ve tried calling representatives in Congress and phoning in one case only to be hung up on. Our attempts at change only result in a kind of religious endeavor, to be shunted aside with not even an acknowledgement. When millions of people protest against the impending Iraq War and our government invades anyhow shows the hollowness of what we think is democracy.

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