We need to stop lying to ourselves that America’s policies are generally noble and just or even morally defensible or forced upon us by a harsh and cruel world.
Readers, my memory here is a bit fuzzy, so please bear with me.
When I was at the Air Force Academy in the late 1990s, a British diplomat came to speak on Anglo-American policies and activities in the Middle East. A controversial subject was the “No-Fly” zone enforced by the U.S. Air Force as well as sanctions against Iraq, with the stated goal of encouraging the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam Hussein. That overthrow never happened; instead, the U.S. military had to invade in 2003 with “shock and awe,” leading to war, insurgency, and torture that truly was shocking and awful.
I recall asking a question of the diplomat, a younger guy, slick and polished, probably a product of Oxbridge (and I had recently earned my D.Phil. from Oxford, so I knew the type). The gist of my question was this: Why are we continuing with sanctions when they appear not to be hurting Saddam but only ordinary people in Iraq?
The diplomat smoothly ignored the tenor of my question and instead praised Anglo-American resolve and cooperation in the struggle against Saddam and similar bad actors in the Middle East. I was nonplussed but I didn’t push the matter. I was in a classroom with a couple of dozen other AF officers and we were all supposed to be on the same team.
This all came back to me today as I listened to Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor at The Gray Zone. He recalled a British major asking similar questions of similar diplomats, but the British major went much further than I had in challenging the BS he was being fed. COL Macgregor quotes this major as saying the following in response:
If our cause is just, why do we have to lie about it?
Those words should be seared in the minds of all Americans at this perilous moment. I wish I’d had the clarity of mind and the confidence to say something similar, but I recall thinking that maybe I just didn’t know enough about what was going on in Iraq.
Of course, Madeleine Albright, asked on “60 Minutes” if the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children due to sanctions was a price worth paying for Saddam’s eventual downfall, readily replied that yes, she believed this price was worth paying.
Her sociopathic calculation didn’t even work; only a massive U.S. invasion finally toppled Saddam, leading to yet more chaos and mass death in Iraq.
We need to stop lying to ourselves that America’s policies are generally noble and just or even morally defensible or forced upon us by a harsh and cruel world. In fact, perhaps that harsh and cruel world is exactly the one we’ve created for ourselves — and for so many others as well.
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, has written for TomDispatch.com, Truthout, History News Network (HNN), Alternet, Salon, Antiwar.com, and Huffington Post among other sites. He is the author or co-author of three books and numerous articles focusing on military history as well as the history of science, technology, and religion. He earned a BS (with distinction) in mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, an MA from the Johns Hopkins University (history of science and technology), and a D.Phil. (doctor of philosophy) from the University of Oxford (modern history).
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