The Limits of US Power: Alex Saab, Afghanistan and Venezuela

The US government will (perhaps within a month) probably succeed in extraditing businessman Alex Saab from Cape Verde. His “crime” was being an official envoy for the Venezuelan government as he attempted to negotiate the sale of medicines from Iran to Venezuela. US sanctions have declared such activity illegal. Saab was on his way to Iran when authorities in Cape Verde imprisoned him on behalf of the US. That’s where Saab has remained for over a year. I’ve explained in a recent piece in that US sanctions on Venezuela are criminal under the UN Charter. But the US government acts as if its illegal orders were international law. With enough firepower, you can get away with behavior that would otherwise be seen by everyone as delusional. But there are limits to US power.

Saab may be extradited at the same time the US media is going hysterical over the defeat that US imperialism just suffered in Afghanistan. Make no mistake. It was a defeat. Biden could only stay in Afghanistan by very conspicuously relaunching the USA’s twenty-year old invasion – pouring US troops back into Afghanistan that it has spent a decade taking out claiming that its puppets were able to stand on their own.

Re-launching the war in Afghanistan would have been even more politically costly than total withdrawal. That’s especially clear when you consider that Pakistan, the USA’s once reliable ally in destroying Afghanistan, is now essentially in China’s orbit. Justin Podur outlined the geopolitics and the death toll from the US occupation when I interviewed him recently.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan deaths likely resulted from the US invasion and occupation over the last twenty years. Greg Shupak noted that even the low ball estimate of 47,000 Afghan civilian deaths, and the track record of the US and its Afghan warlord allies perpetrating atrocities, does not stop the New York Times from claiming that the US government has a “dream” of “shaping a world where the values of civil rights, women’s empowerment and religious tolerance rule”.

In the 1980s the US “dream” involved funding Pakistan so that it could arm the likes of Osama Bin Laden to bleed the Soviets in Afghanistan. By the 1990s nobody in western media would have dreamed of prosecuting Bin Laden or anyone who funded his exploits in Afghanistan. Western media headlines called him an “anti-Soviet warrior on the road to peace”.

And US policy of using murderous Islamic fanatics to overthrow governments did not end in Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2011, the US has used exactly that strategy in Syria as US journalist and author Max Blumenthal has extensively documented.  Top US officials and it allies do not fear prosecution for it. Examples are endless.

An example directly relevant to Alex Saab’s current predicament is the Caracazo Massacre of 1989. Over a five day period the Venezuelan government under Carlos Andres Perez killed hundreds of poor people who protested IMF-imposed austerity measures. Some say thousands were killed during the massacre, but nobody knows for sure. The US did not call for the prosecution of President Perez. On the contrary, while the massacre was still taking place US President H.W. Bush called Perez to commiserate with him, and to offer loans. The US media followed Bush’s lead. A year after the massacre a New York Times article called Perez ““a charismatic social democrat.” The massacre was not even mentioned. Prosecute Perez? For what?

US economist Jeffrey Sachs, co-author of a paper that linked US sanctions on Venezuela to 40,000 deaths by the end of 2018 alone, blasted the US political class over its reaction to the recent US defeat in Afghanistan: “The sad truth is that the American political class and mass media hold the people of poorer nations in contempt, even as they intervene relentlessly and recklessly in those countries”

As excellent was Sachs’ piece was, it said nothing about prosecuting US officials for what they’ve done to these countries. Alex Saab should never have feared prosecution for trying to alleviate the impacts of US barbarism on Venezuela. The likes of Obama, Biden, Trump, Pompeo and Blinken (to name only a few) are the ones who should fear prosecution.  US citizens, in particular, should feel responsible for holding their government accountable for its crimes. Until US officials fear prosecution, innocent people will have to live in fear of the US government.

Joe Emersberger is a writer based in Canada whose work has appeared in Telesur English, ZNet and CounterPunch.