No Victory in Endless Wars of Occupation

John LaForge

Howard Pyle’s painting The Nation Makers
Howard Pyle’s painting The Nation Makers

Independence Day is a reminder that although the American Revolutionary War didn’t initially have good prospects, insurrections against foreign military occupation always win.

Other occupations – Belgium in the Congo, Japan in China, France in Algeria, Russia in Afghanistan, etc. – provide ample, if imperiously unheeded warnings, because they all fail. Wasn’t British colonial rule overthrown by insurgent militias using unconventional methods against superior forces here? Milt Bearden, a 30-year CIA veteran, wrote for the New York Times, “[I]n the history of the 20th century, no nation that launched a war against another sovereign nation ever won. And every nationalist-based insurgency against a foreign occupation ultimately succeeded.” Not some, not most: every one.

President G.W. Bush blurted the fact on August 30, 2004. When referring to what he called “this war on terror,” he told NBC’s Today, “I don’t think we can win it.” White House handlers rushed to correct the misstater-in-chief, but members of Bush’s own circle talked early on of the lost cause. Republican Senator (and later Pentagon chief) Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said June 27, 2005, “The reality is that we are losing in Iraq.”
Speaking on background, one US officer in Baghdad said in May 2005, “I think that this could still fail. It’s much more likely to succeed, but it could still fail. … and if we let go of the insurgency and take our foot off its throat, then this country could fail and go back into civil war and chaos.” In 2016, with 5,000 soldiers recently sent back into Iraq, and Obama’s June 9th approval of renewed ground combat and air warfare in Afghanistan, the anonymous officer might like to take credit for his early warning.

After 15 years of US combat in Afghanistan, and 25 years of bombing, invasion, sanctions, military occupation in Iraq (where 5,000 troops were sent back this past spring), not even torture has succeeded against home-grown forces who will never accept occupation. Imagine the reverse: Would the US public, with its 350 million handguns, eventually embrace a brutal foreign military occupation? Some of the “asymmetrical” or “terrorist” tactics used by insurgents now fighting against US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and against US Commandos operating unlawfully in Syria and Yemen -- were invented by American Revolutionaries fighting the Brits. Not that the Brits learned much; their 1917 occupation of Iraq was within six months attacked by a military insurrection.

Loosing every victory

A new book Mark Danner, “Trapped in the Forever War” (Simon & Schuster), reports unsurprisingly that every military success in Iraq and Afghanistan produces new enemies. This common knowledge has been made plain by everybody from Army privates to US Presidents. US commanders have said for years that our occupation itself builds the resistance.

A classified CIA assessment in June of 2005 called Iraq a “terrorist training camp.” The US occupation has “assumed a role that was once played by Afghanistan,” and “Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda’s early days.” Former French President Jacques Chirac flatly denied President Bush’s assertions that war was defeating terrorism saying in 2004, “There has been an increase in terrorism in part because of the situation in Iraq.”
In August 2003, Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, then of the Army’s 38,000-strong 1st Cavalry, said, “If there is nothing else done other than kill bad guys ... the only thing accomplished is moving more people from the fence to the insurgent category.” That’s if the war only kill bad guys.

Civilian casualties make enemies even faster, and move them beyond insurgency to the Islamic State. The ISIS reaction to US and allied bombardment, occupation, imprisonment, torture and forced relocation is fantastically barbaric, coldblooded and indiscriminate. Our more civilized Pentagon warriors have merely killed more than million civilians -- if you count Bill and Hillary Clinton’s sanctions regime during the ‘90s. Using fighter bombers 20,000 feet overhead, or drones operated from 7,400 miles away, our decent, God-fearing methods are so much more enlightened and humanitarian than the Islamic State’s fundamentalist mayhem.
Whoever taught ISIS’s butchers about the public endorsement of torture? Was it Vice President Dick Cheney, who boasted on TV about waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Base, and secret “black” sites saying, “I’d do it again in a heartbeat”?
Whoever modeled decapitation as the way to cow the opposition? Was it US surrogates who botched the hanging of Saddam Hussein’s co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, decapitating him January 15, 2007? Or US pilots that dismember targeted suspects and blameless bystanders using Reaper drones? Was it US gunship pilots who decapitated hospital workers in the Kunduz, Afghanistan clinic last Oct. 3 during their hour-long attack? Or is it the “judicial” decapitation used as punishment by our friends the Saudis who beheaded 47 convicts in one day?
Yes Washington us cozy with the Saudi beheaders. On May 7 the Pentagon admitted that an undisclosed number of US Commandos (it wouldn’t say how many) are inside Yemen backing the Saudi’s war there, providing intelligence, maritime support, surveillance, reconnaissance, medical support, aerial refueling, and operational planning.
There is a lesson to be learned in waging wars of occupation on Independence Day. But with bombs bursting in air, we’re too preoccupied to hear it.

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