September 14, 2001: The Day America Became Israel

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This article is dedicated to the memory of an activist, inspiration, and
recent friend: Kevin Zeese. Its scope, sweep, and ambition are meant to match
that of Kevin’s outsized influence. At that, it must inevitably fail –
and its shortfalls are mine alone. That said, the piece’s attempt at a holistic
critique of 19 years worth of war and cultural militarization would, I hope,
earn an approving nod from Kevin – if only at the attempt. He will be
missed by so many; I count myself lucky to have gotten to know him. – Danny Sjursen

The rubble was still smoldering at Ground Zero when the U.S. House of Representatives
voted
to essentially transform itself into the Israeli Knesset,
or parliament. It was 19 years ago, 11:17pm Washington D.C. time on September
14, 2001 when the People’s Chamber approved House Joint Resolution 64, the Authorization
for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) “against those responsible for the recent
attacks.” Naturally, that was before the precise identities, and full scope,
of “those responsible” were yet known – so the resolution’s rubber-stamp
was obscenely open-ended by necessity, but also by design.

The Senate had passed their own version
by roll call vote about 12 hours earlier. The combined congressional tally was
518 to one. Only Representative Barbara Lee of California cast
a dissenting vote
, and even delivered a brief, prescient speech on
the House floor. It’s almost hard to watch and listen all these years later
as her voice cracks with emotion amidst all that truth-telling:

I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international
terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated
matter…

However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint.
Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, let’s step
back for a moment…and think through the implications of our actions today, so
that this does not spiral out of control…

Now I have agonized over this vote. But…I came to grips with opposing this
resolution during the very painful, yet very beautiful memorial service. As
a member of the clergy so eloquently said, “As we act, let us not become
the evil that we deplore.”

For her lone stance – itself courageous, even had she not since
been vindicated – Rep. Lee suffered
insults and death threats
so intense that she needed around-the-clock bodyguards
for a time. It’s hard to be right in a room full of the wrong – especially
angry, scared, and jingoistic ones. Yet the tragedy is America has become many
of the things we purport to deplore: the US now boasts a one-trick-pony foreign
policy and a militarized society to boot.

Endless imperial interventions and perennial policing at home and abroad, counterproductive
military adventurism, governance by permanent “emergency” fiat, and an ever
more martial-society? We’ve seen this movie before; in fact it’s still playing
– in Israel. Without implying that Israel, as an entity, is somehow “evil,”
theirs was simply not a path the US need or ought to have gone down.

“A Republic, If You Can Keep It”

In the nearly two decades since its passing, the AUMF has been cited at least
41
times
in some 17
countries and on the high seas
. The specified nations-states included Afghanistan,
Cuba (Guantanamo Bay), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Libya,
Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Turkey, Niger, Cameroon, and the
broader African “Sahel Region” – which presumably also covers the unnamed,
but real, US
troop presence
in Nigeria, Chad and Mali. That’s a lot of unnecessary digressions
– missions that haven’t, and couldn’t, have been won. All of that aggression
abroad predictably boomeranged back
home
, in the guise of freedoms constrained, privacy surveilled, plus cops
and culture militarized.

Inevitably, just a few days ago, every publication, big and small, carried
obligatory and ubiquitous 9/11 commemoration pieces. Far fewer will even note
the AUMF anniversary. Yet it was the US government’s response – not the
attacks themselves – which most altered American strategy and society.
For in dutifully deciding on immediate military retaliation, a “global war,”
even, on a tactic (“terror”) and a concept (“evil”) at that, this republic fell
prey to the Founders’ great
obsession
. Unable to agree on much else, they shared fears that the nascent
American experiment would suffer Rome’s “ancestral
curse
” of ambition – and its subsequent path to empire. Hence,
Benjamin Franklin’s supposed retort
to a crowd question upon exiting the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia,
on just what they’d just framed: “A republic, if you can keep it!”

Yet perhaps a modern allegory is the more appropriate one: by signing on to
an endless cycle of tit-for-tat terror retaliation on 9/14, We the People’s
representatives chose the Israeli path. Here was a state forged
by the sword that it’s consequently lived
by
ever since, and may well die by – though the cause of death,
no doubt, would likely be self-inflicted. The first statutory step towards Washington
transforming into Tel Aviv was that AUMF sanction 19 years ago tonight.

No doubt, some militarist fantasies came far closer on the heels of the September
11th suicide strikes: According to notes
taken
by aides, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld waited a whole
five hours after Flight 77 impacted his Pentagon to instruct subordinates to
gather the “best info fast. Judge whether good enough to hit [Saddam Hussein]…at
same time…Not only [Osama Bin Laden].” As for the responsive strike plans, “Go
massive,” the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying. “Sweep it all up.
Things related and not.”

Nonetheless, it was Congress’ dutiful AUMF-acquiescence that made America’s
Israeli-metamorphosis official. The endgame that ain’t even ended yet has been
dreadful. It’s almost impossible to fathom, in retrospect, but remember that
as of September 14, 2001, 7,052
American troops and, very conservatively, at least 800,000
foreigners (335,000 of them civilians) hadn’t yet – and need not have
– died in the ensuing AUMF-sanctioned worldwide wars.

Now, US forces didn’t directly kill all of them, but that’s about 112
September 11ths-worth of dead civilians by the very lowest estimates –
perishing in wars of (American) choice. That’s worth reckoning with; and needn’t
imply a dismissive attitude to our 9/11 fallen. I, for one, certainly take that
date rather seriously.

My 9/11s

There are more than a dozen t-shirts hanging in my closet right now that are
each emblazoned with the phrase “Annual Marty Egan 5K Memorial Run/Walk.” This
event
is held back in the old neighborhood, honoring a very close family friend –
a New York City fire captain killed
in the towers’ collapse. As my Uncle Steve’s best bud, he was in and out of
my grandparents’ seemingly communal Midland Beach, Staten Island bungalow –
before Hurricane Sandy washed
many of them away – throughout my childhood. When I was a teenager, just
before leaving for West Point, Marty would tease me for being “too skinny for
a soldier” in the local YMCA weight-room and broke-balls about my vague fear
of heights as I shakily climbed a ladder in Steve’s backyard just weeks before
I left for cadet basic training. Always delivered with a smile, of course.

Marty was doing some in-service training on September 11th, and didn’t
have to head towards the flames, but he hopped on a passing truck and rode to
his death anyway. I doubt anyone who knew him would’ve expected anything less.
Mercifully, Marty’s body was one of the first – and at the time, only
recovered,
just two days after Congress chose war in his, and 2,976 others’ name. He was
found wearing borrowed gear from engine company he’d jumped in with.

I was a freshman cadet at West Point when I heard all of this news –
left feeling so very distant from home, family, neighborhood, though I was just
a 90 minute drive north. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to get in the fights
that followed. It’s no excuse, really: but I was at that moment exactly 18 years
and 41 days old. And indeed, I’d spend the next 18 training, prepping, and fighting
the wars I then wanted – and, (Apocalypse Now-style)
“for my sins” – “they gave me.”

Anyway, Marty’s family – and more so his memory – along with the
general 9/11 fallout back home, have swirled in and out of my life ever since.
In the immediate term, after the attacks my mother turned into a sort of wake&funeral-hopper,
attending literally dozens over that first year. As soon as Marty had a headstone
in Moravian Cemetery – where my Uncle Steve once dug graves – I
draped a pair of my new dog tags over it on a weekend trip home. It was probably
a silly and indulgent gesture, but it felt profound at the time. Then, soon
enough, the local street signs started changing
to honor fallen first responders – including the intersection outside
my church, renamed “Martin J. Egan Jr. Corner.” (Marty used to joke,
after all, that he’d graduated from UCLA – that is, the University, corner of
Lincoln Avenue, in the neighborhood.)

Five years later, while I was fighting a war in a country (Iraq) that had nothing
to do with the 9/11 attacks, Marty’s mother Pat still worked at the post office
from which my own mom shipped me countless care packages. They’d chat; have
a few nostalgic laughs; then Pat would wish me well and pass on her regards.
When some of my soldiers started getting killed, I remember my mother telling
me it was sometimes hard to look Pat in the eye on the post office trips –
perhaps she feared an impending kinship of lost sons. But it didn’t go
that way.

So, suffice it to say, I don’t take the 9/11 attacks, or the victims, lightly.
That doesn’t mean the US responses, and their results, were felicitous…or
forgivable. They might even dishonor the dead. I don’t pretend to precisely
know, or speak for, the Egan family’s feelings. Still, my own sense is that
few among the lost or their loved ones left behind would’ve imagined or
desired their deaths be used to justify all of the madness, futility, and liberties-suppression
blowback that’s ensued.

Nevertheless, my nineteen Septembers 11th have been experienced in oft-discomfiting
ways, and my assessment of the annual commemorations, rather quickly began to
change. By the tenth anniversary, a Reuters reporter spent a couple of days
on the base I commanded in Afghanistan. At the time the outpost sported a flag
gifted by my uncle, which had previously flown above a New York Fire Department
house. I suppose headquarters sent the journalist my way because I was the only
combat officer from New York City – but the brass got more than they’d
bargained for. By then, amidst my second futile war “surge,” and three more
of the lives and several more of the limbs of my soldiers lost on this
deployment, I wasn’t feeling particularly sentimental. Besides, I’d already
turned – ethically and intellectually – against what seemed to me
demonstrably hopeless and counterproductive military exercises.

Much to the chagrin of my career-climbing lieutenant colonel, I waxed
a bit (un)poetic on the war I was then fighting – “against farm boys with
guns,” I not-so-subtly styled it – and my hometown’s late suffering that
ostensibly justified it. “When I see this place, I don’t see the towers,” I
said, sitting inside my sandbagged operations center near the Taliban’s very
birthplace in Kandahar province. Then added: “My family sees it more than I
do. They see it dead-on, direct. I’m a professional soldier. It’s not about
writing the firehouse number on the bullet. I’m not one for gimmicks.” It was
coarse and a bit petulant, sure, but what I meant – what I felt
– was that these wars, even this “good
Afghan one (per President Obama), no longer, and may never have, had much to
do with 9/11, Marty, or all the other dead.

The global war on terrorism (GWOT, as it was once fashionable to say) was but
a reflex for a sick society pre-disposed to violence, symptomatic of a militarist
system led by a government absent other ideas or inclinations. Still, I flew
that FDNY flag – even skeptical soldiers can be a paradoxical lot.

Origin Myths: Big Lies and Long Cons

Although the final
approved AUMF declared that “such acts [as terrorism] continue to pose an unusual
and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the
United States,” that wasn’t then, and isn’t now, even true.
The toppled towers, pummeled Pentagon, and flying suicide machines of 9/11 were
no doubt an absolute horror; and such visions understandably clouded collective
judgment. Still, more sober statistics
demonstrate, and sensible strategy demands, the prudence of perspective.

From 1995 to 2016, a total of 3,277 Americans have been killed in terrorist
acts on US soil. If we subtract the 9/11 anomaly, that’s just 300 domestic deaths
– or 14 per year. Which raises the impolite question: why don’t policymakers
talk about terrorism the same way they do shark attacks or lightning strikes?
The latter, incidentally, kill
an average
of 49 Americans annually. Odd, then, that the US hasn’t expended
$6.4 trillion, or more than 15,000 soldier
and contractor lives
, responding to bolts from the blue. Nor has it kicked
off or catalyzed global wars that have directly killed – by that conservative
estimate
335,000 civilians.

See, that’s the thing: for Americans, like the Israelis, some lives
matter more
than others. We can just about calculate the macabre life-value
ratios in each society. Take Israel’s 2014 onslaught on the Gaza Strip. In its
fifty-day onslaught of Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli Defense Force
(IDF) killed
2,131 Palestinians – of whom 1,473 were identified as civilians, including
501 children. As for the wildly inaccurate and desperate Hamas rocket strikes
that the IDF “edge” ostensibly “protected” against: those killed a whopping
four civilians. To review: apparently one Israeli non-combatant is worth 368
Palestinian versions. Now, seeing as everything – including death-dealing
is “bigger in Texas” – consider the macro American application. To wit,
3,277 US civilians versus 335,000 foreign innocents equals a cool 102-to-1 quotient
of the macabre.

Such formulas become banal realities when one believes the big lies undergirding
the entire enterprise. Here, Israel and America share origin myths that frame
the long con of forever wars. That is, that acts of terror with stateless origins
are best responded to with reflexive and aggressive military force. In my first
ever published article
– timed for Independence Day 2014 – I argued that America’s post-9/11
“original sin” was framing its response as a war in the first place. As a result,
I – then a serving US Army captain – concluded, “In place of sound
strategy, we’ve been handed our own set of martyrs: more than 6,500 dead soldiers,
airmen, sailors, and marines.” More than 500 American troopers have died since,
along with who knows how many foreign civilians. It’s staggering how rare such
discussions remain in mainstream discourse.

Within that mainstream, often the conjoined Israeli-American twins even share
the same cruelty cheerleaders. Take the man that author Belen Fernandez not
inaccurately dubs
“Harvard Law School’s resident psychopath:” Alan Dershowitz. During Israel’s
brutal 2006 assault on Lebanon, this armchair-murderer took to the pages of
the Wall Street Journal with a column titled “Arithmetic
of Pain
.”

Dershowitz argued for a collective “reassessment of the laws of war” in light
of increasingly blurred distinctions between combatants and civilians. Thus,
offering official “scholarly” sanction for the which-lives-matter calculus,
he unveiled the concept of a “continuum of ‘civilianality.” Consider some of
his cold and callous language:

Near the most civilian end of this continuum are the pure innocents – babies,
hostages…at the more combatant end are civilians who willingly harbor terrorists,
provide material resources and serve as human shields; in the middle are those
who support the terrorists politically, or spiritually.

Got that? Leaving aside Dershowitz’s absurd assumption that there are loads
of Palestinians just itching to volunteer as “human shields,” it’s clear that
when conflicts are thus framed – all manner of cruelties become permissible.

In Israel, it begins with stated policies of internationally-prohibited
collective punishment. For example, during the 2006 Lebanon War that killed
exponentially more innocent Lebanese than Israelis, the IDF chief of staff’s
announced
intent was to deliver “a clear message to both greater Beirut and Lebanon that
they’ve swallowed a cancer [Hezbollah] and have to vomit it up, because if they
don’t their country will pay a very high price.” It ends with Tel Aviv’s imposition
of an abusive calorie-calculus on Palestinians.

In 2008, Israeli authorities actually drew
up
a document computing the minimum caloric intake necessary for
Gaza’s residents to suffer (until they yield), but avoid outright starvation.
Two years earlier, that wonderful wordsmith Dov Weisglass, senior advisor to
then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, explained
that Israeli policy was designed “to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not
to make them die of hunger.”

Lest that sound beyond the pale for we Americans, recall that it was the first
female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who ten years earlier said
of 500,000 Iraqi children’s deaths under crippling U.S. sanctions: “we think,
the price is worth it.” Furthermore, it’s unclear how the Trump administration’s
current sanctions-clampdown
on Syrians unlucky enough to live in President Bashar al Assad-controlled territory
is altogether different from the “Palestinian diet.”

After all, even one of the Middle East Institute’s resident regime-change-enthusiasts,
Charles Lister, recently admitted
that America’s criminally-euphemized “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act”
may induce a “famine.” In other words, according to two humanitarian experts
writing
on the national security website War on the Rocks, “hurting
the very civilians it aims to protect while largely failing to affect the Syrian
government itself.”

It is, and has long been, thus: Israeli prime ministers and American presidents,
Bibi and The Donald, Tel Aviv and Washington – are peas in a punishing
pod.

Emergencies as Existences

In both Israel and America, frightened populations finagled by their uber-hawkish
governments acquiesce to militarized states of “emergencies” as a way of life.
In seemingly no time at all, the latest U.S. threshold got so low that Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo matter-of-factly declared
one
to override a congressional-freeze and permit the $8.1 billion
sale of munitions to Gulf Arab militaries. When some frustrated lawmakers asked
the State Department’s inspector general to investigate, the resultant report
found
that the agency failed to limit [Yemeni] civilian deaths from the sales –
most bombed by the Saudi’s subsequent arsenal of largesse. (As for the inspector
general himself? He was “bullied,”
then fired, by Machiavelli Mike).

Per the standard, Israel is the more surface-overt partner. As the IDF-veteran
author Haim Bresheeth-Zabner writes in his new
book
, An Army Like No Other: How the Israel Defense Forces
Made a Nation
, Israel is the “only country in which Emergency Regulations
have been in force for every minute of its existence.”

Perhaps more worryingly, such emergency existences boomerang back to militarized
Minneapolis and Jerusalem streets alike. It’s worth nothing that just five days
after the killing of George Floyd, an Israeli police officer gunned
down
an unarmed, autistic, Palestinian man on his way to a school
for the disabled. Even the 19-year-old killer’s 21-year-old commander (instructive,
that) admitted
the cornered victim wasn’t a threat. But here’s the rub: when the scared and
confused Palestinian man ran from approaching police at 6 a.m.,
initial officers instinctually reported a potential “terrorist” on the loose.

Talk about global terror coming home to roost on local streets. And why not
here in the States? It wasn’t but two months back that President Trump
labeled peaceful
demonstrators
in D.C., and nationwide protesters
tearing down
Confederate statues, as “terrorists.” That’s more than
a tad troubling, since, as noted, almost anything is permissible against terrorists,
thus tagged.

In other words, the Israeli-American, post-9/11 (or -9/14) militarized connections
go beyond the cosmetic and past sloganeering. Then again, the latter can be
instructive. In the wake of the latest Jerusalem police shooting, protesters
in Israel’s Occupied Territories held
up
placards declaring solidarity with Black Lives Matter (BLM). One read:
“Palestinians support the black intifada.” Yet the roots of shared systemic
injustices run far deeper.

Though it remains impolitic to say so here in the US, both
“BLM and the Palestinian rights movement are [by their own accounts] fighting
settler-colonial states and structures of domination and supremacy that value,
respectively, white and Jewish lives over black and Palestinian ones.” They’re
hardly wrong. All-but-official apartheid reigns
in Occupied Palestine, and a de-facto
two-tier system favoring Jewish citizens, prevails within Israel itself. Similarly,
the US grapples with chattel slavery’s legacy, lingering effects institutional
Jim Crow-apartheid, and its persistent system of gross, if unofficial, socio-economic
racial disparity.

Though there are hopeful rumblings in post-Floyd America, neither society has
much grappled with the immediacy and intransigency of their established and
routine devaluation of (internal and external) Arab and African lives. Instead,
in another gross similarity, Israelis and Americans prefer to laud any ruling
elites who even pretend towards mildly reformist rhetoric (rather than action)
as brave peacemakers.

In fact, two have won the Nobel Peace Prize. In America, there was the untested
Obama: he the king
of drones and free-press-suppression – whose main qualification for the
award was not being named George W. Bush. In Israel, the prize went to late
Prime Minister Shimon Peres. According to Bresheeth-Zabner, Peres was the “mind
behind the military-industrial complex” in Israel, and also architect of the
infamous 1996
massacre
of 106 people sheltering at a United Nations compound in
South Lebanon. In such societies as ours and Israel’s, and amidst interminable
wars, too often politeness passes for principle.

Military Mirrors

Predictably, social and cultural rot – and strategic delusions –
first manifest in a nation’s military. Neither Israel’s nor America’s has a
particularly impressive record of late. The IDF won a few important wars in
its first 25 years of existence, then came back from a near catastrophic defeat
to prevail in the 1973 Yom Kippur War; but since then, it’s at best muddled
through near-permanent lower-intensity conflicts after invading Southern Lebanon
in 1978. In fact, its 22-year continuous counter-guerilla campaign there –
against Palestinian resistance groups and then Lebanese Hezbollah – slowly
bled the IDF dry in a quagmire often called “Israel’s
Vietnam
.” It was, in fact, proportionally more
deadly
for its troops than America’s Southeast Asian debacle –
and ended (in 2000) with an embarrassing unilateral withdrawal.

Additionally, Tel Aviv’s perma-military-occupation of the Palestinian territories
of the West Bank and Gaza Strip hasn’t just flagrantly violated
International law and several UN resolutions – but blown up in the IDF’s
face. Ever since vast numbers of exasperated and largely abandoned (by Arab
armies) Palestinians rose up in the 1987 Intifada
– initially peaceful protests – and largely due to the IDF’s counterproductively
vicious suppression, Israel has been trapped in endless imperial policing and
low-to-mid-level counterinsurgency.

None of its major named military operations in the West Bank and/or Gaza Strip
– Operations Defensive Shield (2002), Days of Penitence (2004), Summer
Rains (2006), Cast Lead (2008-09), Pillar of Defense (2012), Protective Edge
(2014), among others – has defeated or removed Hamas, nor have they halted
the launch of inaccurate but persistent Katyusha rockets.

In fact, the wildly disproportionate toll on Palestinian civilians in each
and every operation, and the intransigence of Israel’s ironclad occupation has
only earned Tel Aviv increased international condemnation and fresh generations
of resistors to combat. The IDF counts minor tactical successes and suffers
broader strategic failure. As even a fairly sympathetic Rand report
on the Gaza operations noted, “Israel’s grand strategy became ‘mowing the grass’
– accepting its inability to permanently solve the problem and instead
repeatedly targeting leadership of Palestinian militant organizations to keep
violence manageable.”

The American experience has grown increasingly similar over the last three-quarters
of a century. Unless one counts modern trumped-up Banana
Wars
like those in Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989), or the lopsided 100-hour
First Persian Gulf ground campaign (1991), the US military, too, hasn’t
won a meaningful victory since 1945. Korea (1950-53) was a grinding and costly
draw; Vietnam (1965-72) a quixotic quagmire; Lebanon (1982-84) an unnecessary
and muddled mess;
Somalia (1992-94) a mission-creeping
fiasco; Bosnia/Kosovo (1992-) an over-hyped and unsatisfying diversion. Yet
matters deteriorated considerably, and the Israeli-parallels grew considerably,
after Congress chose endless war on September 14, 2001.

America’s longest ever war, in Afghanistan, started as a seeming slam dunk
but has turned out to be an intractable operational defeat. That lost cause
has been a dead
war walking
for over a decade. Operations Iraqi Freedom (2003-11) and Inherent
Resolve (2014-) may prove, respectively, America’s most counterproductive and
aimless missions ever. Operation Odyssey Dawn, the 2011 air campaign in pursuit
of Libyan regime change, was a debacle – the entire region still grapples
with its detritus
of jihadi profusion, refugee dispersion, and ongoing proxy war.

US support for the Saudi-led terror war on Yemen hasn’t made an iota
of strategic sense, but has left America criminally
complicit
in immense civilian-suffering. Despite the hype, the relatively
young US Africa Command (AFRICOM) was never really “about Africans,” and its
dozen years worth of far-flung campaigns have only further militarized a long-suffering
continent and generated
more
terrorists. Like Israel’s post-1973 operations, America’s post-2001
combat missions have simply been needless, hopeless, and counterproductive.

Consider a few other regrettable U.S.-Israeli military connections over these
last two decades:

  • Both have set their loudly proclaimed principles aside and made devil’s
    bargains
    with the venal Saudis (many of whom really do hate our
    values), as well as with the cynical military coup-artists in Egypt.
  • Both have increasingly engaged in “wars
    of choice
    ” and grown reliant on the snake oil of “magical” air power
    to [not] win them. In fact, during the 2006 war there, the IDF’s first-ever
    air force officer to serve as chief of staff declared
    his intent to use such sky power to “turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20
    years.” How’s that for the head of a force that still styles
    itself
    “the most moral army in the world.” It’s hard to see much moral
    difference between that and America’s ever-secretive drone program (perhaps
    14,000
    total strikes) and the US government’s constant and purposeful underreporting
    of the thousands
    of civilians
    they’ve killed.
  • Both vaunted militaries broke their supposedly unbreakable backs in ill-advised
    invasions built on false pretenses. The Israeli historian Martin van Creveld
    has famously called
    Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War – and the quagmire that resulted – his
    country’s “greatest folly.” The mainstream US national security analyst Tom
    Ricks – hardly a dove himself – went a step further: the 2003
    “American military adventure in Iraq” was nothing short of a Fiasco.
  • Both armies have seen their conventional war competence and ethical standards
    measurably deteriorate amidst lengthy militarized-policing campaigns. As van
    Creveld said of the IDF during the 1982 Lebanon invasion (after it enabled
    the vicious massacre of Palestinian refugees by Christian militiamen: it was
    reduced from the superb fighting force of a “small but brave people” into
    a “high-tech, but soft, bloated, strife-ridden, responsibility-shy and dishonest
    army.”

The wear and tear from the South Lebanon occupation and from decades of beating
up on downtrodden and trapped Palestinians damaged Israel’s vaunted military.
According
to an after-action review, these operations“weakened the IDF’s operational capabilities.”
Thus, when Israel’s nose was more than a bit bloodied in the 2006 war with Hezbollah,
IDF analysts and retired officers were quick – and not exactly incorrect
– to blame the decaying effect of endless low-intensity warfare.

At the time, two general staff members, Major Generals Yishai Bar and Yiftach
Ron-Tal, “warned that as a result of the preoccupation with missions in the
territories, the IDF had lost its maneuverability and capability to fight in
mountainous terrain.” Van Creveld added that: “Among the commanders, the great
majority can barely remember when they trained for and engaged in anything more
dangerous than police-type operations.”

Similar voices
have sounded the alarm about the post-9/11 American military. Perhaps the loudest
has been my fellow West Point History faculty alum, retired Colonel Gian Gentile.
This former tank battalion commander and Iraq War vet described “America’s deadly
embrace of counterinsurgency” as a Wrong
Turn
. Specifically, he’s argued
that “counterinsurgency has perverted [the way of] American war,” pushed the
“defense establishment into fanciful thinking,” and thus “atrophying [its] core
fighting competencies.”

Instructively, Gentile cited
“The Israeli Defense Forces’ recent [2006] experience in Lebanon…There
were many reasons for its failure, but one of them,…is that its army had done
almost nothing but [counterinsurgency] in the Palestinian territories, and its
ability to fight against a strident enemy had atrophied.” Maybe more salient
was Gentile’s other rejoinder
that, historically, “nation-building operations conducted at gunpoint don’t
turn out well” and tend to be as (or more) bloody and brutal as other wars.

  • Finally, and related to Gentile’s last point, both militaries fell prey
    to the brutality and cruelty so common in prolonged counterinsurgency and
    counter-guerilla combat. Consider the resurrected utility of that infamous
    adage
    of absurdity
    mouthed by a US Army major in Vietnam: “it became necessary
    to destroy the town to save it.” He supposedly meant the February 1968 decision
    to bomb and shell the city of Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta, regardless of the
    risk to civilians therein.

Fast forward a decade, and B?n Tre’s ghost was born again in the matter-of-fact
admission of the IDF’s then chief of staff, General Mordecai Gur. Asked if,
during its 1978 invasion of South Lebanon, Israel had bombed civilians “without
discrimination,” he fired
back
: “Since when has the population of South Lebanon been so sacred?
They know very well what the terrorists were doing. . . . I had four villages
in South Lebanon bombarded without discrimination.” When pressed to confirm
that he believed “the civilian population should be punished,” Gur’s retort
was “And how!” Should it surprise us then, that 33 years later the concept was
rebooted
to flatten presumably (though this has been contested) booby-trapped villages
in my old stomping grounds of Kandahar, Afghanistan?

In sum, Israel and America are senseless strategy-simpatico. It’s a demonstrably
disastrous two-way relationship. Our main exports have been guns – $142.3
billion worth
since 1949 (significantly more than any other recipient) – and twin umbrellas
of air
defense
and bottomless diplomatic top-cover for Israel’s abuses.
As to the top-cover export, it’s not for nothing that after the U.S. House rubber-stamped
– by a vote of 410-8 – a 2006 resolution (written by the Israel
Lobby) justifying IDF attacks on Lebanese civilians, the “maverick” Republican
Patrick Buchanan labeled the legislative body as “our
Knesset
.”

Naturally, Tel Aviv responds in kind by shipping America a how-to-guide for
societal militarization, a built-in foreign policy script to their benefit,
and the unending ire of most people in the Greater Middle East. It’s a timeless
and treasured trade – but it benefits neither party in the long run.

“Armies With Countries”

It was once said
that Frederick the Great’s 18th century Prussia, was “not a country with an
army, but an army with a country.” Israel has long been thus. It’s probably
still truer of them than us. The Israelis do, after all, have an immersive system
of military conscription – whereas Americans leave
the fighting, killing, and dying to a microscopic and unrepresentative
Praetorian Guard of professionals. Nevertheless, since 9/11 – or, more
accurately, 9/14/2001 – US politics, society, and culture have wildly
militarized. To say the least, the outcomes have been unsatisfying: American
troops haven’t “won” a significant war 75 years. Now, the US has set appearances
aside once and for all and “jumped
the shark
” towards the gimmick of full-throated imperialism.

There are, of course, real differences in scale and substance between America
and Israel. The latter is the size
of Massachusetts, with the population
of New York City. Its “Defense Force” requires most of its of-age population
to wage its offensive wars and perennial policing of illegally occupied Palestinians.
Israeli society is more plainly “prussianized.”
Yet in broader and bigger – if less blatant – ways, so is the post-AUMF
United States. America-the-exceptional leads the world in legalized gunrunning
and overseas military basing. Rather
than the globe’s self-styled “Arsenal
of Democracy
,” the US has become little more than the arsenal of arsenals.
So, given the sway of the behemoth military-industrial-complex and recent Israelification
of its political culture, perhaps it’s more accurate to say America is a
defense industry with a country
– and not the other way around.

As for 17 year-old me, I didn’t think I’d signed up for the Israeli Defense
Force on that sunny West Point morning of July 2, 2001. And, for the first two
months and 12 days of my military career – maybe I hadn’t. I sure did
serve in its farcical facsimile, though: fighting its wars for an ensuing 17
more years.

Yet everyone who entered the US military after September 14, 2001 signed up
for just that. Which is a true tragedy.

This originally appeared at Popular
Resistance
.

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and contributing editor at Antiwar.com
His work has appeared in the
NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post,
The Hill, Salon, Popular Resistance, and Tom Dispatch, among other publications.
He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and
later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir
and critical analysis of the Iraq War,
Ghostriders
of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge
. His forthcoming
book,
Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War is now available
for
pre-order.
Sjursen was recently selected as a 2019-20 Lannan Foundation
Cultural
Freedom Fellow
. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet.
Visit his professional
website
for contact info, to schedule speeches or media appearances, and access to his
past work.

Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen

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