Perhaps Obama can repeat his 2012 State of the Union spin that our military actions have made the U.S. “more respected around the world”. Lest my sarcasm be considered unwarranted, I will add that he said that on a day in January when a U.S. military court would release with absolutely no prison time the leader of a U.S. Marine squad that in 2005 massacred 24 civilian men, women, and children in Haditha, Iraq — a war crime within the even broader war crime of a war of choice by the U.S. against a country that posed no threat to us.
Only in the logic of politics and empire can war crimes be converted into delusions of respect.
Those delusions are not unique to the United States; historically, they have found expression many times, and in many nations. But currently those delusions are most strongly American ones, the inevitable result of a people living in a time warp (to circa 1946) about our role — no, make that “mission”, and “manifest destiny” — in the world.
It is over ten years since our most recent military operations in Afghanistan started; that involvement began with a genuine justification of going after those who attacked us on 9/11, and after those who provided them with shelter. (I omit here consideration of our previous involvement during the 1980s, which greatly complicates conclusions about responsibility and justification). But even during the assumedly justified beginning of our actions in 2001, our style of warfare was too often imperial, relying on bombing from on high, and largely subcontracting to Afghan groups such as the “Northern Alliance” on the ground. We would for many years thereafter continue to emphasize aerial operations, with the inevitable dissociation from reality and the civilian casualties that would cause. Afghan wedding parties and villagers blasted to bits by American air power, if even investigated by the U.S. and acknowledged as non-combatants, were ultimately classified as regrettable collateral damage; if those deaths were in any way compensated, it was at a payment schedule that valued Afghan life much cheaper than even the most down-and-out American would be. Even after a U.S. transition to emphasize ground operations carried out primarily by U.S. soldiers, that imperial mentality still dominated, as has been amply and repeatedly pointed out by others. It continues with the recent escalation of drone operations.
Certainly, not every foreign death at the hands of U.S. forces rates as a war crime. Let us stipulate that most are not. But by any reasonable measure, there have been far too many, and an offensive amount of rationalization about them. Worse yet, the U.S. legal response has been grossly inadequate (and quite telling of prevailing U.S. arrogance, both in and out of government). The wheels of U.S. “justice” seldom bring any real justice for the victims of war crimes committed by the U.S. military or U.S. civilian mercenary “contractors”. The standard trajectory for such cases: first, denial and cover-up; then, if strong contradictory evidence becomes public, promises of formal inquiry; finally, errors of investigation and prosecution, and defense testimony from superiors and psychiatrists, which produce acquittals, plea-bargains, minimal sentences, and/or successful appeals.
Long term, the failure of the U.S. to adequately punish most U.S. perpetrators of war crimes may be even more dangerous than the killings themselves — for in the calm of formal inquiries and occasional court proceedings, this country has, in effect, repeatedly said that U.S. military killing of foreign civilians doesn’t much matter. What have we become?
Ten years of war in Afghanistan and a completely unnecessary war in Iraq didn’t just kill and wound thousands of U.S. soldiers, bankrupt the United States, pervert our national priorities, and expand beyond any reasonable rationalization the domestic dominance of the U.S. military-industrial-security-governmental complex. They have destroyed the morality of our nation.
I propose a new rallying cry: the U.S. out of Afghanistan within 90 days. No more rationalizations, no more excuses, from either major U.S. political party or any politician.