Corruption and carnage: Why Biden is right to withdraw from Afghanistan

America’s longest war, the war in Afghanistan, is coming to an end. President Joe Biden announced that US troops would fully withdraw by August 31, almost 20 years after President George W. Bush invaded. After Biden’s announcement, the Taliban rapidly seized control of nearly every major institution and facility in the country. In the weeks since, the world has witnessed chaos unfold, particularly at the airport in Kabul as at-risk citizens, officials, and diplomats attempt to escape the incoming Taliban regime.

Democrats, Republicans, and corporate media have all criticized Biden for causing the crisis. Senator Mitch McConnell called the withdrawal, “An unmitigated disaster, a stain on the reputation of the United States of America… the defeat of the United States military by a terrorist organization in Afghanistan.” Former President Trump claimed that Biden, “Dropped to his knees and he said, ‘Come on in and take everything that we have.’” Biden’s approval rating has hit its lowest point yet.

To his credit, Biden has held to his convictions. Far from an act of surrender, Biden’s commitment to withdrawing the US from Afghanistan has demonstrated courage. He has defied every powerful political force in this country, from congressmen to corporate media to the military-industrial complex.

A graceful exit from Afghanistan was never realistic. The war was justified to begin with on the pretext that we had to find the terrorists responsible for bringing down the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. But those terrorists were not, as the Bush Administration often implied, one and the same with the Afghanistan government. When Bush declared his War on Terror, he essentially announced his intention to wage war against any nation if any terrorists might be there.

Since then, US foreign policy officials have muddled the war with a swirl of disinformation. Bush even turned down an offer, with certain conditions, from the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, ostensibly the whole point of the war. Officials convinced 70 percent of the American public that Iraq President Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were linked, despite no such link existing. Justifications for the war mutated, new lies came and went from the headlines, and eventually, the war became background noise in America.

The human and material costs, however, were catastrophic. The war has now spanned multiple generations. At a cost of more than $2.4 trillion, some 2,400 US servicemen have died, along with more than 230,000 Afghans, including at least 70,000 civilians. Our bombs shattered their country and despite our supposed reconstruction efforts, 70 percent of Afghans currently have no clean water, 65 percent have no electricity, and 47 percent live below the poverty line. Opium production, however, has skyrocketed, in tandem with America’s opiate crisis.

Now, our best justification for the war has shifted to women’s rights. Women in Afghanistan do face significant repression from the incoming Taliban regime. But similar repression has never prompted us to declare war on ally states like Saudi Arabia. Biden is right when he says, “The idea that we’re able to deal with the rights of women around the world by military force is not rational… The way to deal with that is putting economic, diplomatic, and… international pressure on them to change their behavior.”

The only real justification is in the pocketbooks of US defense contractors. Since 2001, the stock value of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and General Dynamics have soared an average of 872 percent. Profits and earnings have soared, too. In 2001, the Pentagon budgeted $140 billion for military contractors. By 2019, that had increased to $370 billion. And the officially reported figures are almost certainly not accurate. The Pentagon reportedly mismanaged, shuffled, or lost some $35 trillion — with a ‘t’ — in 2019 alone.

So enormous is the scale of criminality and corruption that it’s difficult to fully grasp. Corporate media coverage of US foreign policy ranges from incomplete to purposely misleading. The experts who appear on network news are almost always current or former military officials, members of military think tanks, or representatives of defense contractors. If there is such a thing as the “deep state,” it is the network of intelligence and news agencies who keep the United States locked in perpetual war.

Mainstream coverage of the withdrawal has been almost universally negative. Polls are designed to skew public opinion against withdrawal. NBC warned that Afghanistan’s economy would collapse, as if it wasn’t already in ruins. CNN lamented the loss of “$1 trillion worth of minerals” when the Taliban takes over, as if it’s ours by right. One journalist at a press conference asked about the danger to our national security interests if we abandon the border of Tajikistan.

The presuppositions in all of this are that the US is righteous and noble and everything our military does makes the world a better place. The reality is far different. McConnell called the Taliban a terrorist organization, but the US military helped create them by arming, training, and funding extremists against the Soviets. Trump accused Biden of surrendering “everything that we have” in Afghanistan without asking why we have anything in Afghanistan, 7,000 miles away and across an ocean, in the first place.

The Taliban have one huge advantage over the US military in Afghanistan: they live there. Afghans are the only ones with any right to determine their own political future. If we hadn’t destroyed so much, perhaps a resistance to the Taliban could have formed. We can find ways to support that kind of growth without occupying the country. In 20 years, we’ve lost trillions of dollars, destroyed infrastructure, and ended hundreds of thousands of lives. Our presence hasn’t helped. We’ve done enough damage. Withdrawal isn’t defeat. It’s stopping ourselves from digging deeper.

Much about the US pullout from Afghanistan was rocky. People got hurt and killed, but that happened all war long. In the meantime, we have successfully evacuated more than 82,000 people. Those complaining about withdrawal the loudest are those who would have us remain in Afghanistan forever, who want the US military to cover the globe and fret about abandoning the border of Tajikistan. Of course they are going to portray the pullout as a disaster and goad Biden into staying. They love war.

Scenes of violence in Kabul are heartbreaking, but they are not the fault of Joe Biden. They are the inevitable consequence of Bush’s initial decision to invade in 2001 and the next two administrations deciding to stay. Strife and chaos are all that can result when a land is engulfed in war for decades. Our withdrawal is a step in the right direction for us and for Afghanistan, leaving the nation in their hands whether they ultimately form a government we like or not.

America needs a shrink

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A new book by mental health experts examines the deteriorated psyche of the American president.

Last week a group of psychiatrists released a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. It caused a controversy not only because of its claims about the president, but also because the psychiatrists appeared to break with their profession’s ethical tradition and diagnose a public figure from a distance. They aren’t alone. Some 60,000 mental health professionals have signed a petition stating, “Donald Trump manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.”

Plenty of Trump observers might think that obvious, but it’s a stunning development. Never before have so many mental health professionals warned us about a public figure. And members of Trump’s own party have come to similar conclusions. Senator Bob Corker recently called the White House an “adult day care center” and charged Trump with recklessly setting the nation “on the path to World War III.” The mental instability of the man in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal is well worth taking seriously.

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ISIL thrives on mayhem – don’t give it to them

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The Brandenburg Gate is lit in solidarity with Paris on Saturday, Nov. 14 in Berlin, Germany. ignacionimo/Instagram

On Friday, November 13, the city of Paris was laid siege by a small band of terrorists from the Islamic State who raided a theater, a concert hall, a soccer stadium and other venues using AK-47s and suicide bombs to. No final tally has been released and many victims remain hospitalized, but at least 129 are known to have died. In terms of death toll, it’s the worst attack in France since World War II.

In addition to the French massacre, ISIL is responsible for downing a Russian airplane carrying 224 tourists to Egypt. The day before the Paris attack ISIL detonated bombs in Beirut, Lebanon, claiming dozens more lives. These attacks are in addition to many smaller ones, the group’s destruction of culture, and the atrocities committed against women, hostages and apostates in ISIL-controlled territory.

After the attacks, French President Francoise Hollande called for the eradication of the Islamic State and declared France at war. France has since launched several air strikes against the Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria, which has served as a capital since roughly 2013. Among the targets were an Islamic State “command post, jihadist recruitment center and weapons and ammunition depot,” as well as a “terrorist training camp.” Continue reading

Washington hypocrisy and warmongering jeopardizes breakthrough nuclear deal with Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second-left, stands on stage with diplomats in Switzerland, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, far right.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second-left, stands on stage with diplomats in Switzerland, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, far right.

As diplomats from the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany move closer to reaching a historic deal with Iran that would temporarily block it from pursuing certain nuclear ambitions in exchange for relaxation of sanctions, Republicans are vowing to do all they can to scuttle the deal. It’s remarkable that, at a time when the first modern meaningful international agreement between the US and Iran is about to go through, Republicans are rattling sabers as aggressively as ever.

Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker called the deal “one of America’s worst diplomatic failures.” “Instead of making the world safer,” Walker alleges, “this deal will likely lead to a nuclear arms race in the world’s most dangerous region.” In keeping with the lockstep obstructionism that has defined the GOP throughout Obama’s presidency, other Republicans have protested the deal, citing Iran’s untrustworthiness and existential threat to world peace.

For years, Washington and the news media have portrayed Iran as the most dangerous national power on the planet. That opinion is not widely shared by the global community, however, which by a significant margin places the United States at the top of a list of the biggest threats to world peace. Despite the abundance of negative public opinion on Iran in the US, the question of what exactly makes the country such a threat is rarely meaningfully explored.

A brief history of US/Iranian relations reveals everything about who should be distrustful of who. Continue reading

Chomsky takes Harris to task on “intent” in acts of terror and war

Left: Noam Chomsky, right: Sam Harris.

Left: Noam Chomsky, right: Sam Harris.

Sam Harris, the prominent secularist and neuroscientist, recently exchanged a series of heated emails with Noam Chomsky, a linguist and leading social and foreign policy critic since the 1960s. Their discussion was buzzworthy because both men are well-known public commentators with occasionally overlapping subject matter who have never shared a forum before. Unfortunately for Harris, who reached out to Chomsky initially, the conversation didn’t go as well for him as he seemed to hope it would when he embarked on it. Continue reading

War, from a last resort to the first

Leaders discuss Iran's nuclear future.

Leaders discuss Iran’s nuclear future.

Last week, the United States – along with five other powerful nations – reached an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. In exchange for the lifting of some sanctions, Iran will diminish its nuclear ambitions and agree to international inspections, marking a mild diplomatic milestone. Naturally, for conservatives, this makes it an apocalyptic disaster. Continue reading

Special New Year’s edition: Three 2015 resolutions for America

Say what you will about America, there’s one thing that’s undeniably true: people don’t like you to say what you will about America. Despite being the most powerful economic and military force on the globe for the last 100 years, our culture is quick to take offense at even the mildest of criticisms. Self-reflection has never been our greatest strength, making a list like this controversial.

Nonetheless, we face several crises together. Most commentators don’t consider 2014 to have been a “good news” year. Whether we realize it or want to admit it, this country’s business and political classes have committed inhuman crimes in our name, and they will continue to do so for as long as we let them. If, instead, Americans pledged to confront these issues openly and honestly, we could pave the way to a much brighter future. These are the issues activists, organizers, and opinion leaders should be hammering home in 2015. Continue reading

Sony did the right thing by pulling “The Interview”

You could be forgiven for mistaking the spectacle surrounding Seth Rogen and James Franco’s “The Interview,” a film about an American talk show host who is recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, as a convoluted marketing ploy. The real-world story is almost surely a thousand times more interesting than the movie itself, with alleged North Korean cyberterrorists hacking Sony and threatening movie theaters, Sony canceling the film’s Christmas release and President Obama promising to “respond proportionately,” presumably by disrupting some future North Korean film he doesn’t like.

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“Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, center, is the Justin Bieber of North Korea. Photo by Reuters.

There’s a great deal of doubt over whether North Korea is actually behind the hacks, and even greater doubt they could actually make good on any threats. Still, I disagree with Sony’s critics. As difficult as it is for me to say, Sony did the right thing by pulling the movie. Continue reading

Harris omits crucial context from the discussion on Islamic violence

Last week on Real Time with Bill Maher, a panel featuring one of the nation’s most prominent anti-religious voices, Sam Harris, discussed radical Islam. Harris made quite a few valid points, as he often does, and so did the rest of the panel – but they all managed to leave some important context out of the discussion that is crucial to understanding the hatred and violence consuming so many in the Arab world: a century of imperialism. Continue reading

Oil-driven imperialism birthed Mideast terrorism; ISIL

The Middle East has been the focus of great fuss in the century or so since the discovery of its oil. Iraq has been of particular interest to the U.S. since the 1980s, when the Reagan administration supplied Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein with weapons in his war against Iran, where a revolution had recently overthrown U.S.-installed leadership. When Hussein began acting aggressively without U.S. blessing in the early 90s, Washington turned on him. Since then, Iraq has been subjected to sanctions deemed “genocidal” by the UN diplomat responsible for overseeing them and military actions leading to the deaths of over a million Iraqis and the complete devastation of their infrastructure. In addition, there is widespread sectarian violence where previously there had been almost none as Sunnis and Shias turn on one another amid the chaos of war to fill political power vacuums. Continue reading