No Comparison: Thoughtcrime Reflections on the Latest Imperial Smackdown of the Nation’s Best Congressperson

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

United States political culture is an Orwellian nightmare. Two plus two equals five in the propaganda spectacle that passes for “democratic” news and debate here.

Take the latest bipartisan establishment disciplining of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the U.S. House’s most courageous and eloquent member, for saying this: “We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”

Omar dared, in the words of The New York Times, “to compare Israel and the United States to Hamas and the Taliban.”

But did she? Look at these two sentences: “There’s nothing quite as exciting for baseball fans as a no-hitter. We have this season seen no-hitters thrown by pitchers with the Chicago White Sox, the San Diego Padres, the Detroit Tigers, the New York Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Cincinnati Reds.”

Does this statement compare the White Sox with the Red Sox, the Padres, the Tigers, the Yankees, the Orioles, and the Reds? No, it makes an assertion about baseball no-hitters and then includes six teams in a list of Major League Baseball franchises with a pitcher who threw a no-hitter this year. For all anyone knows from these 41 words, each one of these teams is wildly different from the others.

Thoughtcrime 1: Serious Comparison

But, okay, let’s compare. Since Omar’s critics charge comparison, let’s take comparison seriously. One reason not to make “false equivalencies” between the Taliban (or Hamas) and the United States is that the former has never been remotely in the latter’s ballpark when it comes to committing crimes against humanity. Between direct U.S. slaughter and the U.S. sponsorship, funding, and equipping of mass slaughter by its client regimes, prominently including the racist apartheid state of Israel (recipient of $146 billion in U.S. military and economic funding in FY 2020, helping make Israel what the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace calls “the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. assistance since World War II”), Washington has murdered tens of millions of world citizens since August of 1945, when it criminally and unnecessarily atom-bombed two major Japanese cities. For an introduction to this criminal record, which is hiding in plain sight for those willing to look, Google up the following: “No Gun Ri,” “My Lai,” “many My Lais,” “Operation Tiger Force,” “Abu Ghraib,” “Nissour Square,” “Fallujah,” “Guantanamo,” “extraordinary rendition,” the “Highway of Death,” and “Bola Boluk.” Better yet, read my February 2018 Truthdig essay “The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of U.S. Hegemony” for a soul-numbing account of this unmatched record of mass-murderous terror inflicted both directly (as in Korea during the early 1950s, in Southeast Asia between 1962 and 1975, in Iraq in 1991 and 2003-2011/2017) and indirectly (as in Indonesia, Latin America, Palestine, Yemen and in countless nations and regions around the world).

Here are some selections from that essay…

It is difficult, sometimes, to wrap one’s mind around the extent of the savagery Uncle Sam has unleashed on the world during the last and the present century. In the early 1950s, for example, the Harry Truman administration responded to an early challenge to U.S. power in Northern Korea with a practically genocidal three-year bombing campaign that was described in soul-numbing terms by the Washington Post years ago:

“The bombing was long, leisurely and merciless, even by the assessment of America’s own leaders. ‘Over a period of three years or so, we killed off—what—20 percent of the population,’ Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984. Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later Secretary of State, said the United States bombed ‘everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.’ After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops … The U.S. dropped 635,000 tons of explosives on North Korea, including 32,557 tons of napalm, an incendiary liquid that can clear forested areas and cause devastating burns to human skin.”

This ferocious bombardment, which killed 2 million or more civilians, began five years after Truman arch-criminally and unnecessarily ordered the atom-bombing of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to warn the Soviet Union to stay out of Japan and Western Europe.

The savagery of U.S. foreign policy in the post-WWII era did not always require direct U.S. military intervention. Take Indonesia and Chile, for two examples from the “Golden Age” height of the “American Century.” In Indonesia, the U.S.-backed dictator Suharto killed millions of his subjects, targeting communist sympathizers, ethnic Chinese, and alleged leftists. A senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s later described Suharto’s 1965-66 U.S.-assisted coup as “the model operation” for the U.S.-backed coup that eliminated the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, seven years later. “The CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders,” the officer wrote, “[just like] what happened in Indonesia in 1965.” As John Pilger noted 13 years ago, “the U.S. embassy in Jakarta supplied Suharto with a ‘zap list’ of Indonesian Communist party members and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. … The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had called ‘the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia.’” According to the prolific and brilliant New Left historian Gabriel Kolko, “No single American action in the period after 1945,” wrote the historian Gabriel Kolko, “was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia.”

Two years and three months after the U.S-sponsored 1973 Chilean coup, Suharto received a green light from the Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford White House to invade the small island nation of East Timor. With Washington’s approval and backing, Indonesia carried out genocidal massacres and mass rapes and killed at least 100,000 of the island’s residents.

“To Henry Kissinger,” the human rights attorney Stanley L. Cohen noted five years ago, “the world, particularly Indochina, was very much a small chess game. Civilians were mere pawns ripe for sacrifice through hi-tech weaponry, including biological and chemical warfare, to enforce his worldview at any cost. Millions lost their lives to his cerebral game board” (emphasis added).

Among the countless episodes of mass-murderous U.S. savagery in the oil-rich Middle East over the last generation, few can match the barbarous and sadistic cruelty of the “Highway of Death,” where the “global policeman’s” forces massacred tens of thousands of surrendered Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait on Feb. 26 and 27, 1991. Journalist Joyce Chediac testified that:

“U.S. planes trapped the long convoys by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours. ‘It was like shooting fish in a barrel,’ said one U.S. pilot. On the sixty miles of coastal highway, Iraqi military units sit in gruesome repose, scorched skeletons of vehicles and men alike, black and awful under the sun … for 60 miles every vehicle was strafed or bombed, every windshield is shattered, every tank is burned, every truck is riddled with shell fragments. No survivors are known or likely. … ‘Even in Vietnam I didn’t see anything like this. It’s pathetic,’ said Major Bob Nugent, an Army intelligence officer. … U.S. pilots took whatever bombs happened to be close to the flight deck, from cluster bombs to 500-pound bombs. … U.S. forces continued to drop bombs on the convoys until all humans were killed. So many jets swarmed over the inland road that it created an aerial traffic jam, and combat air controllers feared midair collisions. … The victims were not offering resistance. … [I]t was simply a one-sided massacre of tens of thousands of people who had no ability to fight back or defend.”

The victims’ crime was having been conscripted into an army controlled by a formerly U.S.-backed dictator perceived as a threat to U.S. control of Middle Eastern oil. President George H.W. Bush welcomed the so-called Persian Gulf War as an opportunity to demonstrate America’s unrivaled power and new freedom of action in the post-Cold War world, where the Soviet Union could no longer deter Washington. Bush heralded the “war” (really a one-sided imperial assault) as marking the end of the “Vietnam Syndrome,” the reigning political culture’s curious term for U.S. citizens’ reluctance to commit U.S. troops to murderous imperial mayhem. As Noam Chomsky observed in 1992, reflecting on U.S. efforts to maximize suffering in Vietnam by blocking economic and humanitarian assistance to the nation it had devastated: “No degree of cruelty is too great for Washington sadists.”

I could go on and on and on some more with terrible tales of unimaginable horror and mass death inflicted abroad by the U.S.-American war machine during my lifetime in Southeast Asia (the U.S. killed 3 to 5 million in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos between 1962 and 1975), Iraq (the “world’s leading democracy” killed at least 1 million Iraqis in the last eight years of this century’s opening decade) and elsewhere.

Since Afghanistan’s Taliban is part of the Omar drama, it seems germane to mention a forgotten 2009 crime against Afghan humanity that then U.S. president Barack Obama tried to blame on the Taliban.

Within less than half a year of his inauguration, Obama’s depressingly long list of atrocities in the Muslim world would include the bombing of the Afghan village of Bola Boluk. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives in Bola Boluk were children. “In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament,” the New York Times reported, “the governor of Farah Province … said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed.” According to one Afghan legislator and eyewitness, “the villagers bought two tractor-trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred. Everyone at the governor’s cried, watching that shocking scene.”

The Obama administration refused to issue an apology or to acknowledge the “global policeman’s” responsibility. It initially blamed the carnage on – get this – “Taliban grenades.” (See Carlotta Gall and Taimoor Shah, “Civilian Deaths Imperil Support for Afghan War,” New York Times, May 6, 2009.)

(By telling and sickening contrast, Obama had just offered a full apology and fired a White House official because that official had scared New Yorkers with an ill-advised Air Force One photo-shoot flyover of Manhattan that reminded people of 9/11. The disparity was extraordinary: Frightening New Yorkers led to a full presidential apology and the discharge of a White House staffer. Killing more than 100 Afghan civilians did not require any apology but was falsely blamed on the Taliban.)

Reflecting on such atrocities the following December, an Afghan villager was moved to comment as follows: “Peace prize? He’s a killer. … Obama has only brought war to our country.” The man spoke from the village of Armal, where a crowd of 100 gathered around the bodies of 12 people, one family from a single home. The 12 were killed, witnesses reported, by U.S. Special Forces during a late-night raid.

(Obama was only warming up his “killer” powers. He would join with France and other NATO powers in the imperial decimation of Libya, helping kill more than 25,000 civilians and unleashing mass carnage in North Africa. The U.S.-led assault on Libya was a disaster for black Africans and sparked the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.)

The Taliban, which owes much of its origin to U.S. Cold War sponsorship of Islamo-terrorist forces on the former Soviet Union’s southern border, is a despicable terrorist outfit, God knows. There have long been fully credible reports of its vicious atrocities, including mass murder, torture, rape, and assassination. Still, it can’t hold a candle to Superpower (or even to Uncle Sam’s leading client state Israel[1]) when it comes to crippling and killing human beings.

Seat of world history’s most extensive empire, the U.S. has at least 800 military bases spread across more than 80 foreign countries and “troops or other military personnel in about 160 foreign countries and territories.” The U.S. accounts for more than 40 percent of the planet’s military spending and has more than 5,500 strategic nuclear weapons, enough to blow the world up 5 to 50 times over. Last year it increased its “defense” (military empire) spending, which was already three times higher than China’s, and nine times higher than Russia’s.

Comparing the Taliban and Hamas to such a massive military Empire is indeed truly absurd. Their crimes pale before those of world history’s most lethal Superpower. There’s no comparison.

Thoughtcrime 2: The U.S. is Not a Democracy

Now for a second U.S.-American thoughtcrime. As I suspect Rep. Omar knows very well (her political survival requires pretending not to), the United States is not a “democratic country.” It’s a capitalist plutocracy, a de facto bourgeois class dictatorship wherein majority progressive public policy opinion is close to irrelevant in comparison (there’s that word again) to the vastly superior power of concentrated wealth. If you are interested in how and why this is so, order and read my 2014 book They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy – a detailed analysis of how the U.S. ruling class rules (I argue that the commonly cited problem of plutocratic campaign finance is just one tip of a giant, democracy-freezing capitalist-imperialist iceberg) and why it matters. In the meantime, stop and think about all the programs and measures most U.S.-Americans support – Single Payer national health coverage as a human right, serious voter rights protections, serious progressive taxation, the restoration of union organizing rights, real gun control, a serious response to the climate catastrophe (which is merely the biggest issue of our or any time), and more (the list goes on) – that have zero chance of being implemented because of the corporate, financial, and imperial/military-industrial kill switch that is firmly attached to the U.S. system of supposedly democratic governance and mass consent-manufacture. U.S.-Americans don’t even directly elect the nation’s powerful chief executive (try explaining the preposterous undemocratic Electoral College system to someone from another country). The extremely powerful upper chamber of the U.S. Congress (the Senate) so vastly and absurdly overrepresents the nation’s most rural, white, and reactionary regions that it is now mathematically possible to put together a Trump-Republifascist Senate majority on the basis of states representing 17.6% of the nation’s population. (If liberal and diverse California had the same population-to-U.S. Senator ratio as super-white and right-wing Wyoming, it would have 136 U.S. Senators.) The Senate joins with the indirectly elected president to appoint absurdly powerful Supreme Court justices for life and now regularly cancels popular bills that manage to get past the badly gerrymandered lower chamber.

With all due respect, it is transparently false and even absurd to call the U.S. a “democratic country.” It would take an actual American revolution for it to become any such thing.


1. “Beginning with its mass expulsion, rape and murder [of Arabs] at the onset of the [1948] Nakba (the Catastrophe),” Stanley L. Cohen wrote five years ago, “Israel has devoted itself to 68 [now 73] years of non-stop genocide coming up for air only periodically to retool or to change the nature of its weaponry of choice. What started out with the expulsion, at gunpoint, of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homeland set in motion a refugee stampede that has grown to more than seven million displaced and stateless people, providing the world more than a disturbing glimpse of what was to come decades later in Syria.” The weapons are largely provided and paid for by the United States. The is the nuclear-armed judeo-fascist settler and apartheid state opposed by Hamas, whose crimes pale before those of its enemy and that enemy’s sponsor, the United States.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).