The news reports were uncertain at first. Did a US military unit attack a village in Syria? Did they kill eight people? Decisive words from military spokespeople did not come. Western news media was given time to report the attack as a US attack and then pull back from the certainty of their words. As it turns out, the October 26th helicopter raid into Syria from Iraq by US Special Forces was an intentional attack on a village within the sovereign borders of Syria. Naturally, Pentagon spokespeople say that only militants were killed. News outlets, meanwhile, show the faces of grieving parents and siblings of the family Syrian officials insist were killed. Either way, the fact remains that Washington has proven itself to be an international outlaw once again.
In a similar raid last month, US Special Forces landed in a village in Pakistan and killed several Pakistanis. When protests over this raid reached to Islamabad, the Pentagon decided it would only use predator drones to do their killing in Pakistan for the time being. Although the reason given is that the Pentagon wants to recognize Pakistani sensitivities to foreign troops killing people uninvited on their territory, one can assume that another, perhaps greater, reason is the Pentagon knows it could very well lose a few men if they land in that area again. As everyone knows, dead GIs never play well on the US television news no matter how they are spun.
The crassness of this calculation is as old as airpower if not older. Airborne missiles and bombs are somehow considered by those who launch them to be less immoral than raids involving soldiers on the ground–raids that often incorporate the killing of civilians. This is despite the fact that ground raids rarely kill as many civilians as air strikes, be they predator drones, carpet bombing or something in between.
Despite the clear disregard for civilian life inherent in these raids whether airborne or otherwise, the aspect of these raids that is potentially the most dangerous is the blatant disregard for national borders shown by the Pentagon. This isn’t a band of terrorists that is crossing national borders to kill and destroy. It is the largest military in the world–the military of a nation that considers its borders inviolable. Yet, it seems to have little regard for those of other nations, allies or foes. Indeed, an anonymous US official was quoted in a Washington Post article on October 28, 2008 “You have to clean up the global threat that is in your back yard, and if you won’t do that, we are left with no choice but to take these matters into our hands.” By global threat, the official obviously meant a threat to the designs of Washington for the globe, not a threat against the planet itself. As most readers are well aware, Washington often confuses its security with that of the world and, by doing so, places the entire planet at even greater risk every time it acts to preserve that security.
Another aspect of this raid is the use of Iraq as a launching pad for the operation. This flies in the face of the post-Saddam Iraq “constitution” and is one of the reasons so many Iraqis oppose the Status of Forces Agreement currently being negotiated in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Raids on neighboring countries that use Iraq as a base put Iraq in an untenable position with its neighbors and ties the government of Iraq irrevocably tot he United States, even if it does not know about the raids in advance. This is one more reason all US forces must leave Iraq. As long as US troops remain in the country, they will use Iraq as a base to plan and conduct operations outside of Iraq’s borders, no matter what the Green Zone government says.
This time around, the Green Zone government initially supported the attack, although later statements seem to have reversed that support. One can be reasonably certain, however, that if the US launched a raid on Iran, the Iraqis might not be so agreeable. Given their supine position to Washington, however, their words of protest would be without any power. Washington knows this and the Green Zone government accepts it, however begrudgingly. After all, what are they going to do? Bite the hand that put them in their fancy kennel?
Speaking of supine creatures, why does Congress let the Pentagon continue these raids into countries Washington is theoretically not at war with? Why is there no protest from the Democrats who were elected on the understanding that they would begin removing US troops from Iraq almost two years ago? To be succinct, let me put it this way. One reason is because the Bush administration has successfully linked the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan to their so-called “war on terror.” By doing so, they can do whatever they want. If one recalls, the wording of the resolution that began this deadly imperial episode states very clearly:
“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
The other reason is the failure of the American people to maintain a popular movement against the two occupations. Because of this failure, the occupations/wars continue and, as the aforementioned raids into Pakistani and Syrian territory make clear, there are still very few limits to their scope.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org