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April 5th, 2010
Freethough San Marcos: ‘… a time of war, and a time of peace’

Freethought San Marcos: A column

Among the most oft-quoted passages from the Bible is found in Ecclesiastes, ch. 3, verses 1-8 (King James Version), beginning with the words “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die” and ending with the phrase “a time of war, and a time of peace.”

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have dragged on, soon to be for a decade, I have wondered just what was intended by the writer of Ecclesiastes by that last verse. Do either of these wars qualify for the writer’s observation that there is a time for war in the sense that such a war is justified? Or is the writer just stating an observation that throughout history he has noticed that there are times when we have war?

If we look at the context of the writer as expressed throughout Ecclesiastes, it becomes clear that these are observations, and most of the writer’s observations are pessimistic. He seems resigned to the fate of human beings on this earth. Unfortunately, for both the Iraqis and the Afghans, resignation about their fate may be all they have.

The Iraqis endured decades of despotism at the hands of a sadistic and vile family led by Saddam Hussein. Now, they face endless occupation by Americans. The US has occupied South Korea for over 60 years, and Japan for even longer. Author Chalmers Johnson estimates that the US has nearly 1000 military installations around the world in 135 countries. As another writer on this topic, Lawrence Vance, has remarked, “The U. S. global empire (is) an empire that Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus, Genghis Khan, Suleiman the Magnificent, Justinian, and King George V would be proud of.”

Yet our true intentions in sending troops around the world are repeatedly denied by our presidents, both Democratic and Republican. Last year, in what has become known as his Afghan escalation speech, President Obama said, “Unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours.”

The most egregious lie in these remarks is the comment that the US has not sought to dominate the world. It is not necessary to read books by John Perkins (“Confessions of an Economic Hitman” and “Hoodwinked”) to know the reason for US domination. It is to exploit the world’s natural and human resources for the mega-corporations with the assistance and collusion of the US government. America was founded by Europeans looking for new means to exploit the world’s natural resources. America and American-based corporations aided by the government have managed to do this exploitation better and at a greater cost in people’s lives and the environment than any other country in recorded history.

President Obama is an exceedingly intelligent person. It is not possible that he is unaware of this history of our exploitation, yet he chose to lie about the purposes of our more than century-long efforts at world dominance.

This past week, on a trip to Afghanistan, President Obama sought again to justify our presence there by invoking 9/11 once again, just as George Bush did repeatedly. He followed the Bush administration’s official justification that we went into Afghanistan to get Osama bin Laden and destroy the Taliban for harboring him because there was no other way. The American people were so blinded by revenge that most of us missed the true story and have swallowed the “no other choice” narrative for the last 9 1/2 years.

About two weeks after 9/11, the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, indicated that Osama bin Laden could be surrendered if there was evidence of his guilt. (London Times, September 22, 2001, p. 1.) When US Secretary of State Colin Powell promised to publish a US dossier of evidence against bin Laden (an offer subsequently withdrawn), Ambassador Zaeef responded positively, saying that “This could help to solve the issue ‘otherwise than fighting.’ ” (Independent, September 25, 2001, p. 3.)

Less than one month after 9/11, the London Daily Telegraph reported that extradition of Osama bin Laden had been agreed to by the Taliban and bin Laden. A deal was negotiated between the Taliban and two Pakistani political parties. “The proposal, which had bin Laden’s approval, was that within the framework of Islamic shar’ia law evidence of his alleged involvement in the New York and Washington attacks would be placed before an international tribunal. The court would decide whether to try him on the spot or hand him over to America.” (Telegraph, October 4, 2001, p. 9.) The Telegraph report suggests that Pakistan’s President Musharraf, in collusion with the US, vetoed the arrangement to turn bin Laden over.

And it wasn’t just British newspapers reporting on a very real way to get bin Laden without war. The Washington Post reported on page 1, October 29, 2001, that efforts to get bin Laden peacefully had been going on for three years before 9/11:

“Over three years and on as many continents, U.S. officials met in public and secret at least 20 times with Taliban representatives to discuss ways the regime could bring suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden to justice. Talks continued until just days before the Sept. 11 attacks, and Taliban representatives repeatedly suggested they would hand over bin Laden if their conditions were met, sources close to the discussions said. Throughout the years, however, State Department officials refused to soften their demand that bin Laden face trial in the U.S. justice system. It also remained murky whether the Taliban envoys, representing at least one division of the fractious Islamic movement, could actually deliver on their promises.”

Whatever the doubts, the US would have lost nothing but a little time by testing the sincerity of the Taliban to turn over bin Laden. Had we made this agreement, we would have found out if it was possible to avoid the enormous bloodshed that continues to this day. Instead, then-President Bush didn’t want to find out if peaceful means would work. War was the choice he favored, and it is President Obama’s choice, as well.

Apparently, no one with enough power in the US government understood the Afghan culture well enough to accept a deal that comported with Afghan values. The Post reported, “Some Afghan experts argue that throughout the negotiations, the United States never recognized the Taliban need for aabroh, the Pashtu word for ‘face-saving formula.’ Officials never found a way to ease the Taliban’s fear of embarrassment if it turned over a fellow Muslim (and guest in their country) to an ‘infidel’ Western power.”

The Post reported the informed opinion of Richard Hrair Dekmejian, an expert in Islamic fundamentalism and author who teaches at the University of Southern California: “We were not serious about the whole thing, not only this administration but the previous one. We did not engage these people creatively. There were missed opportunities.” Milton Bearden, a former CIA station chief who oversaw U.S. covert operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said, “We never heard what they were trying to say. We had no common language. Ours was, ‘Give up bin Laden.’ They were saying, ‘Do something to help us give him up.’ “

Yet, in spite of this history, which is available for anyone who cares to look for it, President Obama continues to feed Americans the old lies about why we are in Afghanistan, as he did this past week: “We can’t forget why we’re here. We did not choose this war. This was not an act of America wanting to expand its influence, of us wanting to meddle in somebody else’s business. We were attacked viciously on 9/11. Thousands of our fellow countrymen and women were killed. And this is a region where the perpetrators of that crime, al-Qaeda, still base their leadership.”

We still do not have a President who is honest with the American people about how and why the war in Afghanistan started, how it is going, and how we can extricate ourselves from an essentially useless campaign that is wreaking havoc on the civilian population. No one, in or out of our government, believes that either bin Laden or al Queda leadership is in Afghanistan.

Last week, through news reports, we learned that Afghan farmers supply 90% of the heroin used throughout the world, and the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is directly involved with the heroin trade. University of Wisconsin history professor Alfred McCoy reported that during the CIA’s covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s, President Reagan’s “freedom fighters,” the mujahedeen, who included bin Laden, used opium production to fund their resistance. That opium production now funds the Taliban insurgency and supports one-fifth of the Afghan population and accounts for about 50% of the country’s GDP.

We learned that Afghan police trainees desert as quickly as they can be recruited. In an amazingly candid statement, the commander of our forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McCrystal said, “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.” We are trying to create a strong central government in a country that has never had a functional central government largely because of its culture and geography. It is a country of villages, tribes, and regions that has never shown signs of loyalty toward a centralized command. Even the Taliban did not control the whole country, only bits and pieces of it, and through the iron fist of totalitarianism.

Professor McCoy believes that instead of surging 30,000 more troops into combat at a cost of $30 million, we could spend those funds “to begin the rebuilding of rural life in Afghanistan, making it possible for young farmers to begin feeding their families without joining the Taliban’s army.” This would be a significant change in direction for US policy. Both the British and the Americans have tried to pay farmers to stop growing poppies, but that approach has not worked.

McCoy concludes that “we can continue to fertilize this deadly soil with yet more blood in a brutal war with an uncertain outcome — for both the United States and the people of Afghanistan. Or we can begin to withdraw American forces while helping renew this ancient, arid land by replanting its orchards, replenishing its flocks, and rebuilding the irrigation systems ruined in decades of war. At this point, our only realistic choice is this sort of serious rural development — that is, reconstructing the Afghan countryside through countless small-scale projects until food crops become a viable alternative to opium. To put it simply, so simply that even Washington might understand, you can only pacify a narco-state when it is no longer a narco-state.”

One of the wisest American prophetic voices to be ignored during my lifetime is the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. One year before his death in 1968, he said that the US is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” As with most prophetic messages, this one was not any more easily accepted in 1968 than it is today. But the truth is, we did choose this war, or at least our leaders chose it for us and most of us accepted their judgment. Perhaps some day, we will have a leader who will choose to end it. Otherwise, the writer of Ecclesiastes will have it half-right: there is “a time of war” and it is forever.

© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins

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2 thoughts on “Freethough San Marcos: ‘… a time of war, and a time of peace’

  1. Ah, the writer of Ecclesiastes was in that case speaking of the Balance — a matter of opposite conditions that each have their time and place. To truly understand love one must know apathy; to truly understand courage one must understand fear.

    While it is easy to lay responsibility for the ongoing wars on the most obvious figureheads of government, the reality is the US is no longer a representational democracy, it is more of a quasi-fascist oligarchy posing as a representational democracy. The US crossed the line between the two states when the first corporations pressed suits before the US Supreme Court under the aegis of the 14th Amendment in order to be declared “artificial persons with the rights and privileges of a natural person”.

    Corporations have the psychological profile of a psychopath so it is no wonder the egregious acts they commit. The warm and fuzzy image they promote is just as coldly calculated as Ted Bundy’s Young Republican charm and in the long run just as deadly. Corporations are plunderers with no conscience and no remorse.

    In a country where the ideal is that anyone can be elected to high office, the reality is that only those who have patronage and are willing to do the will of the corporations and those who run them get elected. The government is basically a puppet of the corporations and their privileged masters, aiding and abetting the plundering of the world while dropping the costs (of said plundering) on the people who benefit the least.

    If the people of this country are tired of seeing their young either die on foreign soil or return so distressed they never reclaim their lives then strip the corporations of their special status (after all slavery is illegal but one “artificial person” can own another while “natural people” are prohibited from owning another “natural person”). Remove the influence of the privileged from government. Get people into office who aren’t serving the interests of plunderers.

    The sad truth is the people (privileged families and the corporations thereof) who were selling munitions to both sides in WWI were guilty of doing business with both sides in WWII, just as they promoted their wealth in Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

    Since too many of “common people” in this country are more worried about football, NASCAR, or other modern variants of the Roman Circus rather than how the privileged and their corporations have off-shored jobs and eroded the standard of living for the majority I doubt things will get better.

    Aye, the writer in Ecclesiastes understood the Balance and knew how the world too often is. There is a time to be well and a time to be ill for people as well as countries — odds are the illness afflicting this country is terminal…

    In August 2007, the U.N. reported that the country’s record opium crop covered almost 500,000 acres, an area larger than all the coca fields in Latin America. From a modest 185 tons at the start of American intervention in 2001, Afghanistan now produced 8,200 tons of opium, a remarkable 53% of the country’s GDP and 93% of global heroin supply.

    In this way, Afghanistan became the world’s first true “narco-state.” If a cocaine traffic that provided just 3% of Colombia’s GDP could bring in its wake endless violence and powerful cartels capable of corrupting that country’s government, then we can only imagine the consequences of Afghanistan’s dependence on opium for more than 50% of its entire economy.

    At this point, our only realistic choice is this sort of serious rural development — that is, reconstructing the Afghan countryside through countless small-scale projects until food crops become a viable alternative to opium. To put it simply, so simply that even Washington might understand, you can only pacify a narco-state when it is no longer a narco-state.

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