Syria: The US is no Lone Ranger (Cole @ Truthdig)

My essay, “The US is no Lone Ranger,” on Syria, is out at Truthdig


“The odd discourse in Washington around President Barack Obama’s determination to bomb Syria over the country’s use of chemical weapons assumes a moral superiority on the part of the United States and its allies on this issue that can only astonish anyone who knows the history. At the same time, the most propagandistic allegations are being made about Iran. The creation of a fetish around some sorts of weapons (i.e., chemical ones) takes the focus off others that are just as deadly to innocents. The U.S. has had a checkered history in the use of unconventional arms, and is still among the most dedicated to retaining the ability to make, stockpile and use weapons that indiscriminately kill innocent noncombatants…

“Short of weapons of mass destruction, the United States has a rather sick attachment to land mines and cluster munitions. Washington used land mines in World War II, and for decades after civilians in countries such as Tunisia were still being killed by them on occasion. In Cambodia and Laos, bomb disposal teams continue the tedious and deadly work of removing munitions dropped during the Vietnam War some 40 years prior. The United States placed tens of thousands of land mines between North and South Korea, though control of them has now been given to Seoul. U.S. allies in Afghanistan also laid thousands of land mines, and years later Afghans were still losing their feet to them. The 2001 Iranian film “Kandahar” showed a gaggle of Afghans hopping on one foot. The U.S. has refused to sign the international convention against land mines, and insists that it now has “non-persistent” land mines that can be deployed and then remotely destroyed. This theory of civilian-safe land mines remains untested and seems implausible on the face of it. ”

Read the whole thing

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17 Responses

  1. Kudos to you Juan; our leaders belong in an asylum (remember The King of Hearts?); the lies and hypocrisy are just stunning in their breadth and depth.
    Anyone who doesn’t know this by now is, well, beyond redemption, IMO.
    Our leaders have no right to claim the moral high ground; they lost that in the Indian Wars of the 1800’s and it’s been downhill ever since.

    • When you first heard about the killing of Trayvon Martin, was your response to go through the list of racist actions by Florida law enforcement in order to argue that they lacked the “moral high ground” to prosecute George Zimmerman?

      1400 people, including women and children, just died in a sarin gas attack, and what you have to say is that United State better not do anything.

      Congratulations. That’s some really high ground you’ve got there.

      • The constant apologist!! You can not seem to comprehend the possibility that our government can lie to get what it wants.

      • War and doing nothing are not the only two options. Those are the same false choices Democrats and Republicans always argue during elections: Vote for us and them. Diplomacy is what is needed, and it needs to be pushed like no other. Temperatures are already hot; it’s a civil war for crying out loud. We need to be working to cool things down, immediately.

      • Yours is a most curious comment sounding much like an apologist for inexcusable behavior.
        Leaving out all but recent history; the U.S. was directly involved with the gassing of roughly 5,000 Kurds; most non-combatants.
        Where’s your logic?

    • “Our leaders have no right to claim the moral high ground; they lost that in the Indian Wars of the 1800′s and it’s been downhill ever since.”

      If one actually studies how the Indians interacted with each other, one would conclude that they were no different in motive and principle than the Europeans who defeated them. Of course, this does not justify the European treatment of the Indians, but neither does the Indians’ subjugation by the Europeans grant the Indians moral superiority, in light of what they did to each other.

      One example in North America is the Athabascan Navajo and Apache who migrated from today’s Canada into the Southwestern part of today’s US in the 15th century, a hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish. The Navajo and Apache were agressive and waged war against the sedentary Pueblo Indians of the Southwest such as the Hopi.

      Another example is the Aztec empire of central Mexico. The Aztecs subjugated surrounding tribes, demanding tribute, slaves, and sacrificial victims from them. In fact, when Cortez and his 600 Spaniards marched on Tenochtitlan and defeated Montezuma in 1520, they had as allies 30,000 members of the Totonacs and Tlaxcaltecas who were happy to join them in overthrowing and defeating their Aztec overlords.

      What the Europeans did to the Indians was cruel and inhumane, but it was no more so than what the Indians did to other tribes they defeated. To grant to the Indians a moral superiority because they were defeated by Europeans is to grant them an undeserved accolade. The Europeans were no worse than the Indians when it came to motive and intent regarding others outside their own circles.

      • Well, then say that about many other indigenous cultures outgunned by European technology.

        • “Well, then say that about many other indigenous cultures outgunned by European technology.”

          The level of technology possessed by any group says nothing about motive, intent, and morality. Regardless of the disparate levels in technology; the motives, intent, and morality of the Indians with respect to their treatment of those outside their own tribes was neither better nor worse than that of the Europeans. That the Europeans possessed superior technology does not, in itself, grant the Indians they defeated moral superiority.

  2. But wait! THIS time “we” are only Upholding The 90-Year-Old International Norm That Says Nobody Is Supposed To Use Or Encourage Or Allow The Use Of Chemical Weapons Except If It Happens To Be In Some National Interest Grand Global Geopolitical Gizmo Whizbang Blowback Inducement! No, really! This time “we’re” serious! Really! “We” are doing the best “we” can in a bad situation! Do not weaken the Presidency! It’s NOT OUR FAULT!

  3. A fetish?

    The special status of chemical weapons is a “fetish?”

    The people who lived through World War I, and who knew more about how people die in wartime than you or I ever will, singled out chemical weapons for special condemnation and bans because of a “fethish?”

    What do you think you know that they didn’t?

    Here are some things they knew: you can’t control chemical weapons. They cannot be used a manner that provides for the protection of civilians. You can aim a bullet or an artillery shell here, where the soldiers are dug in, and not over there, where the women and children are hiding in basements, but you cannot do that with a gas cloud. The winds shifts a little, and the cloud floats away from the soldiers and over the town.

    Something else they knew: the soldiers, in a war involving chemical weapons, will be equipped with gas masks and medical facilities capable of protecting them, while the civilians will not be.

    You know, these assertions that chemical weapons are no different from other weapons would be a great deal easier to take if any of the people making them had given the slightest indication they felt that way before, oh, last Wednesday. This sudden, conveniently-timed conversion is about as plausible as Dick Cheney’s paeans to Middle Eastern democracy.


    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
    Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
    And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
    Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
    In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
    If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

    Wilfred Owen
    8 October 1917 – March, 1918

    Maybe he should have titled it “My Fetish.”

  5. “Washington used land mines in World War II, and for decades after civilians in countries such as Tunisia were still being killed by them on occasion.”

    Reading the above-cited quote one could be forgiven for concluding that only the US laid landmines during the World War II North African campaign. One would be wrong. Both the Germans and the British used far more landmines than the US. In Tunisia, El Alamein, and other parts of North Africa, German minefields could be more than ten miles deep. General Erwin Rommel ordered more than a half million mines laid at El Alamein alone. Compared to the Germans, the US was a piker in its use of landmines.

  6. Joe extracts an interesting and limited moral from Wilfred Owen’s poetry. The gas shells in the poem were “friendly fire,” for starters, “short rounds” as they say. My notion of the message is that once again, we are being told that the remedy for any chemical weapon use is bombing SOMEbody with SOMEthing, to do what, preserve the face of the Imperial President? Seems to me Owen was trying to tell the rest of us (he himself died in the trench warfare-of-attrition that was the current idiocy in 1914-18) to not be so stupid as to keep peddling the notions of glory and valiant death “for the Homeland” to each succeeding generation. And speaking to the idiot futility of the Great Game, and all it meant and continues to mean.

    As to the distractions some put up about US involvement in chemical weapons use not being relevant to the NOW, there’s this: link to Regarding repeated assertion that Agent Orange is not a chemical weapon, the effects it is having in people, the cancer, the birth defects, the heart disease and diabetes and prostate problems and neuropathies result from chlorinated dioxins and dibenzofurans in the soup that was sprayed so liberally over so much of SE Asia by none other than US. One among thousands of sources: link to

    Bill would say the only land mines that count, apparently, are the German ones, forget about the “piker” distribution by the Allies, still killing and maining, and more important, forget about the US use of mines of all kinds of interesting types, including undetectable ones with plastic shrapnel that can’t be located with diagnostic x-rays. It’s hardly worth entering a debate. link to I guess we are supposed to take comfort in stuff like this: link to

    Yeah, “we” will take long strides to “get rid of” PERSISTENT and NON-DETECTABLE mines. The other ones? Well, there’s a Military Need, anyone who plays “Call of Duty” knows that… Speaking of moral high ground…

    • “Bill would say the only land mines that count, apparently, are the German ones.”

      If you would actually read what I wrote instead of parroting your “Preferred Narrative,” you would have noted that I was providing balance to the original statement that mentioned only “Washington” as laying land mines in Tunisa and North Africa. Germany (and Britain) laid far more than the US, yet you seem to want only to focus on Washington. We can’t deviate from the Preferred Narrative that all adverse actions, past and present, are caused by the US, can we?

      • You’re the one perceiving a “Preferred Narrative,” Bill. I did read what you wrote, several times. Dare one react to moral-relativistic statements like “Compared to the Germans, the US was a piker in its use of landmines”? And efforts to divert the conversation away from current bad behaviors by Empires that pretend to Higher Moral Purposes in the face of some pretty amoral/immoral (by the standards applied for convenience to others) behaviors?

  7. My read is the nasty weapons I use are OK and the nasty weapons someone else uses are not OK. There are always folks, like Joe, who draw very interesting lines in their simplistic efforts to rationalize American behavior. America has been, and is, as nasty a nation as they come. Course that depends whether you are on the receiving end. Joe, obviously, isn’t so has the comfort of being whole, comfortable and sitting on a judgmental pedestal.

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