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Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?

In The Art of War the Chinese General Sun Tzu asserted that “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare” and many of us had hoped that President Trump would bear in mind this and other instructive maxims after taking power in the country with the world’s largest and most active warfare machine.

We had also hoped he might behave sensibly concerning US relations with countries which over the years have incurred the aggressive wrath of Washington’s drum-beating clique which is backed by a Congress of lamentable xenophobia, concerning which the great President Eisenhower had warned Americans that “In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Wise words, indeed;  but little did the world imagine that his forecast of likely dangers would be so acutely prophetic.

In the years since the catastrophic election of George W Bush there has been a disastrous rise of misplaced power.  The US war on Iraq, the US-NATO war on Libya and the campaign in Afghanistan by that inept military alliance have been calamities resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, a massive refugee crisis, and expansion of the barbaric Islamic State terrorist organization. (The incompetence of US and British efforts in the Iraq and Afghan wars is compellingly described in several notable books, two of which are The Good War by Jack Fairweather and Investment in Blood, by Frank Ledwidge, a most astute analyst of military affairs.)

Further, the US has appalling relations with many countries and the new president has managed to alienate even allied nations by his offensive conduct in his first 100 days.  One thing that Trump should bear in mind is that insulting a foreign head of government is a good way to bind the disrespected country together in support of that leader — and against the vulgar buffoon who was so insensitive and crass as to exhibit his disdain and boredom when dealing with people far above his own intellectual stature and competence.

Which is where Trump’s prolonged warfare comes in.

We dreamers who had hoped that Trump would try to live up to promises such as refraining from military involvement around the world were foolishly optimistic.  His 2015 declaration that “Everybody that’s gone to the Middle East has had nothing but problems” seemed to convey the sense that he would stay out of that hideous morass, but he appears intent on prolonging and even expanding warfare.

Since Trump came to power the number and ferocity of US “coalition” air attacks in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have increased dramatically, as have associated civilian deaths, with it being recorded that there were hundreds in March.  A glimpse of policy about acceptability of civilian casualties was provided by Iraqi General Ali Jamil who told the New York Times that in the past, before airstrikes were authorized  “There used to be a delay or no response sometimes, [by reason] of checking the location or looking for civilians.”  But now that things have speeded up, under Trump’s new rules for “my military”, as he refers to the US armed forces, it can be expected that there will be even more civilians killed when yet more airstrikes are ordered by a man who appears to be suffering from delusions of grandeur.

On March 16 over 200 Iraqi and 46 Syrian civilians were killed by US airstrikes, and they were followed to their graves by another 30 Syrians on March 21 when, as reported by the New York Times,  “Coalition warplanes carried out 19 airstrikes . . . an unusually high number for a single day.”

On April 11 “a misdirected airstrike killed 18 allied fighters battling the Islamic State group in northern Syria [according to] the US military.”  NBC reported more accurately that the people killed were “members of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting President Bashar Assad” (not fighting Islamic State, it will be noticed), and that “the Coalition is assessing the cause of the incident and will implement appropriate safeguards to prevent similar incidents in the future.”

Then it was Syria again, this time for a whoopee-shoot multi-missile strike on a Syrian Air force base and the big one on April 13 in Afghanistan when “my military” said it had “dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb, the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), on suspected Islamic State targets.”  Each of these bombs weighs ten tons and costs about 16 million dollars, so the deaths of the 36 “suspected” insurgents who were killed cost 450,000 dollars each, but that doesn’t matter so long as the military is given the opportunity to try out its biggest high explosive bomb for the first time.

The site military.com quotes the US Force as claiming that the bombs cost “roughly $170,000” each, and that seems to be in line with the usual disinformation put out by the Pentagon, as the site quotes Todd Harrison, a analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies as saying that “the Air Force budgeted $572 million in research and development funding and $43 million in procurement funding for 28 bombs under the MOP program from 2009 to 2017, which comes to about $21.9 million per bomb.”

Later in the MOAB narrative the figure of dead suspects rose to 90 or so, but there was no evidence to support that change, any more than there was evidence that the bomb did anything of significance other than terrify the local population and result, no doubt, in more recruits to Afghan nationalist groups who want the US and all other foreign troops and aircraft and bombs the hell out of their country.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declared that the strike “targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters use to move around freely” but some intrepid Reuters reporters managed to get to the scene and found the tunnels apparently undamaged by the explosion, while “trees immediately around the blast site had scorched branches and a few small houses were partially destroyed.”  But no matter : it’s the bang that counts, and everyone associated with it was terribly happy, as were most of the Western media which produced plenty of enthusiastic headlines.

The sight of 59 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles blitzing Syria was also greeted with enthusiasm by every mainstream US media outlet. One commentator, Brian Williams of MSNBC, was reported as declaring that the Pentagon had provided “beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments” and that he was enthralled “by the beauty of our weapons.” You might think that this was hitting a new low, even for the US media, and that the cretinous Williams would be subjected to at least some criticism — but he reflected widespread opinion that all these war knockouts are wonderful because so much of the public treats ‘fearsome armaments’ that kill people as mere extensions of thrilling video games.

Although the United States and the world at large will suffer from Washington’s intensified military meddling, there is an upside for the producers of ‘fearsome armaments’, not least the manufacturer of Mr Williams’ beautiful Tomahawks, Raytheon, whose share price increased from $126.35 to $151.71 in the last year. (Trump owns stock in Raytheon.)  Then there is Lockheed Martin which makes all sorts of wonderful weaponry and enjoyed a rise from $226.07 to $268.00, Northrop Grumman (B-2 Bomber and much else) up to $240.20 from $200.00 and General Dynamics (F-16s etc, etc) which zoomed from $136.29 to $186.73.  It’s so nice to know that some people are greatly enjoying the benefits of prolonged warfare.

Before his election, Donald Trump gave false signals about his intentions, indicating that he would not become more involved in Syria, and that the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan were “wasting lives and money.”  He said the war in Afghanistan was a “complete waste” and tweeted“Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.” (His depth of knowledge of international affairs is demonstrated by his reference to Afghans as ‘Afghanis’ which is the country’s currency.)

To be sure, on April 13 the President-by-Tweet informed the world that “Things will work out fine between the USA and Russia. At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!” — but he didn’t contradict the statement by his malevolent ambassador to the UN that “We cannot trust Russia. We should never trust Russia,” or dispute her proud boast that “The president has not once called me and said, ‘don’t beat up on Russia’ — has not once called me and told me what to say. I am beating up on Russia.”  Relations with Russia are a major feature of US foreign policy, but nobody knows what that policy might be, because there are so many conflicting messages. The major danger is that Trump will lurch further into confrontation, which can lead only to increased tension which will in turn result in further expansion of the military-industrial-Congressional complex.

The pattern of the Trump presidency can be reasonably described as alarmingly erratic, but the one loosely consistent thread appears to be his belief that in some fashion there will be benefits from prolonged warfare. If he continues down this awful path, he will learn that beneficiaries will be few but there will be countless victims.

A shorter version of this piece appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on April 18.

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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