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Kelly Denton-Borhaug, War’s End?

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Everyone wants you to do it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization. Your mother. Even Popeye. It’s good for preventing everything from the common cold to Covid-19. And it only takes about 20 seconds.

Americans are washing their hands more than ever. It’s one of the few positive results of a pandemic that has now killed 1 in every 500 people in this country.

Washing with soap and water will remove germs and prevent their spread. It’s incredibly effective. But soap and water have their limitations. There are some things they just won’t wash away.

Recently, Matthieu Aikins and his colleagues at the New York Times reported on a U.S. drone strike aimed at an ISIS-K suicide bomber that instead killed Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group, and nine other people, six of them under 11 years old. “Neighbors and an Afghan health official confirmed that bodies of children were removed from the site,” wrote Aikins. “They said the blast had shredded most of the victims; fragments of human remains were seen inside and around the compound the next day by a reporter, including blood and flesh splattered on interior walls and ceilings.”

You can try to wash away “blood and flesh splattered on interior walls and ceilings” with soap and water. You can try using bleach. Cleaning gore off walls and ceilings is tough enough, but getting blood off your hands is infinitely more difficult.

As an American whose tax dollars went into buying that MQ-9 Reaper drone and the missile it fired, I can attest that no amount of scrubbing has removed Zemari Ahmadi’s blood from my hands. It’s going to be there forever. Nor has my hand-washing routine wiped clean the blood of his three children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; the children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal: Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.

Today, TomDispatch regular Kelly Denton-Borhaug, an expert on violence and religion, delves deep into the complex questions that surround morality, accountability, and America’s last 20 years of war. What happens to a people when violence is done in their name? What does it do to the soul of a nation and the souls of its citizens?  And ultimately, who is to blame?

Washing your hands might save you from Covid-19, but it can’t wipe away violence done in your name. Conflicts may end, but complicity remains.

President Biden formally announced the end of the Afghan War, while at the same time threatening future violence. “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan,” he said. “We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities… We’ve shown that capacity just in the last week. We struck ISIS-K remotely, days after they murdered 13 of our service members and dozens of innocent Afghans.”

ISIS-K had, indeed, slain “innocent Afghans” in a prior bombing. But Biden had killed innocent Afghans, too. The strike he referenced is the one that killed Zemari Ahmadi and all those children. Soap and water won’t change that. It’s a stain on America’s soul that neither Joe Biden nor I can wash away. Nick Turse

A Parable of (All-American) Violence

Accountability and the War of Terror

As a religious studies professor, I know a parable when I see one. Consider the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the final events in this country's war in Afghanistan as just such a parable taken directly from the history of our moment.

The heart-wrenching last days of that war amounted to a cautionary tale about the nature of violence and the difficulty Americans have honestly facing their own version of it. As chaos descended on Kabul, and as the Biden administration's efforts to evacuate as many Afghans and Americans as possible were stretched to the limit, one more paroxysm of senseless violence took center stage.

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William Hartung, How Corporations Won the War on Terror

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Yes, I know you’re already aware of what I’m about to ask here, since I’ve done it many times before. But remember, it’s how I keep this website going. It’s how I’ve made it possible for Pentagon expert William Hartung and so many other writers to follow this country’s disastrous wars (among other crucial subjects) all these disastrous years in a fashion you’re unlikely to see in the mainstream media. And since this site has no paywall, I regularly find myself asking you, the readers of TomDispatch, to go to our donation page and think about keeping us alive in a world that only seems to grow more perilous by the second. So read Bill Hartung’s latest piece and then, if you feel the urge, do just that. I’ll be eternally grateful! Tom]

Was the Afghan War a disaster?

Well, don’t ask Afghans, including the seven children who died in the final U.S. drone strike of that war, how they’re doing, or those about to go hungry as that land suffers a devastating drought while food prices soar, or the possible one million of them who might even starve to death before 2021 ends amid the chaos of the Taliban takeover, poverty, and joblessness. And don’t ask the many American veterans of that war, who returned home with “moral injuries” or far worse, how they’re doing either. You know the answer to that one, too.

But the generals who oversaw America’s disastrous 20 years of war there (and regularly lied about how it was going)? Well, that’s another story. As Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post reported recently, “The eight generals who commanded American forces in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2018 have gone on to serve on more than 20 corporate boards.”

Hey, since retiring, General Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw the Obama-era troop surge there, has served as a board member or adviser for at least 10 companies, making millions of dollars off them. Last year, typically enough, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the Afghan commander in 2013 and 2014, joined the board of Lockheed Martin, the biggest Pentagon contractor. Oh, and let’s not forget Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin who, at one point in his military career, was the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversaw both the Afghan and Iraq wars. He later joined the board of weapons giant, Raytheon, making up to $1.7 million in the process.

And yet, as Pentagon specialist and TomDispatch regular William Hartung notes today, none of that adds up to a hill of beans compared to how the industrial part of the military-congressional-industrial complex profited off this country’s disastrous forever wars. Today, based on a report he did on the subject for the Center for International Policy and Brown University’s Costs of War Project, he offers a vision of wartime “success” that may be unparalleled amid the catastrophe of this country’s endlessly losing wars. Who woulda thunk it? Tom

The Profits of War

How Corporate America Cashed in on the Post-9/11 Pentagon Spending Surge

The costs and consequences of America’s twenty-first-century wars have by now been well-documented -- a staggering $8 trillion in expenditures and more than 380,000 civilian deaths, as calculated by Brown University’s Costs of War project. The question of who has benefited most from such an orgy of military spending has, unfortunately, received far less attention.

Corporations large and small have left the financial feast of that post-9/11 surge in military spending with genuinely staggering sums in hand. After all, Pentagon spending has totaled an almost unimaginable $14 trillion-plus since the start of the Afghan War in 2001, up to one-half of which (catch a breath here) went directly to defense contractors.

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William Astore, A Bright Future for Weapons and War

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There are always winners and losers, aren’t there?  For instance, the seven children who died in that last drone strike the U.S. military launched in Kabul as it was leaving town were certainly losers. Those who ordered that strike against an ISIS-K suicide bomber who wasn’t there… well, no, not actually.

Let’s face it. If the history of twenty-first-century America tells us anything, it’s that you just can’t lose when you’re part of the military-industrial complex, not in this country, no matter what happens on any battlefield. If you don’t believe me, just consider this: at the very moment the U.S. military chaotically prepared to leave Kabul and head for home in apparent defeat, the relevant Senate and House committees, Democrats and Republicans alike, agreed to add another $24 billion to the already staggering $715 billion the Biden administration had requested for the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2022 budget. The Forever Wars over? Not in funding terms, that’s for sure.

Admittedly, these years were a nightmare, as civilians in distant lands were killed or displaced from their homes in staggering numbers; torture became the norm in America’s ill-named “war on terror”; and that prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, offshore of American justice, never stopped operating. Honestly, what we’ve been through these last 20 years should have been called the war not on but for terror or perhaps for the spread of terror (since there are now far more Islamist terror groups on this planet than on September 11, 2001).

Meanwhile, America’s losing commanders, who led that 20-year war in Afghanistan and should have been fired en masse, are now largely blaming the politicians for what happened. No wonder TomDispatch regular William Astore, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian who runs the Bracing Views blog, takes a dim view (or is it a nuclear-bright view) of where this country is heading militarily in the post-Afghan War era. Tom

The U.S. Military, Post-Afghanistan

Can We Finally Give Peace A Chance?

Yoda, the Jedi Master in the Star Wars films, once pointed out that the future is all too difficult to see and it’s hard to deny his insight. Yet I’d argue that, when it comes to the U.S. military and its wars, Yoda was just plain wrong. That part of the future is all too easy to imagine. It involves, you won't be shocked to know, more budget-busting weaponry for the Pentagon and more military meddling across the globe, perhaps this time against “near-peer” rivals China and Russia, and a global war on terror that will never end. What's even easier to see is that peace will be given no chance at all. Why? Because it's just not in the interests of America’s deeply influential military-congressional-industrial complex.

When that vast complex, which President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about six decades ago, comes to my mind, I can't help thinking of a song from the last years of the then seemingly endless Cold War. (How typical, by the way, that when the Soviet Union finally imploded in 1991, it barely affected Pentagon funding.)

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