It’s almost as if Bill Moyers was reading my mind because on the same day that I wrote my long diatribe on human shields and collateral damage, Moyers discussed “America’s Policy of Air Bombing” with former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey and Marilyn Young (author of Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth Century History). In his introduction, Moyers says,
The bombing of civilians from the sky is an old and questionable practice, argued over since the moment the military began to fly. It was deliberate strategy in World Wars I and II. American presidents approved it in Korea and extensively in Vietnam, again in the first Gulf War, then in Bosnia and Kosovo, and six years ago during the campaign of “shock and awe” over Iraq.
But what lifted those reports last weekend out of the routine is the simple fact that for the first time the air strikes occurred on President Obama’s watch. As he said during his campaign, and as Secretary of Defense Gates reaffirmed this week, Obama is escalating America’s military presence in Afghanistan. He may increase it to as many as 60,000 troops this year.
Both Sprey and Young express their concerns and disappointment about Obama’s Afghanistan policy and the backwardness and counter-productivity of the very premise of the “War on Terror”.
PIERRE SPREY: This is not a war on terror. You know? And anybody who starts from the premise that it’s a war on terror is heading straight into disasters error.
MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.
PIERRE SPREY: And he said-
BILL MOYERS: I don’t understand that because George W. Bush defined this as a war on terror. And I think Obama must be using the same invocation, you know?
PIERRE SPREY: Exactly.
BILL MOYERS: This is all part of the war on terror. He said it in his inaugural address.
PIERRE SPREY: Yes, he said that. I was appalled. You talk about our hearts sinking.
PIERRE SPREY: 9/11 was not an act of war.
BILL MOYERS: What was it?
PIERRE SPREY: It was a criminal act. It was a simple.
MARILYN YOUNG: Right.
PIERRE SPREY: Criminal act by a bunch of lunatic fanatic violent people who needed to be tracked down and apprehended and tried exactly as you would with any other lunatic violent person, like we do with our own domestic terrorists, like the guy who bombed the Oklahoma federal building.
BILL MOYERS: Federal building. Right.
PIERRE SPREY: You know? Exactly the same thing we did to him is what we should have launched on a huge basis, of course, on a huge international police basis and not called it.
MARILYN YOUNG: And there would have been totally international support.
PIERRE SPREY: It’s not a war.
MARILYN YOUNG: Right.
PIERRE SPREY: We, by calling it a war, we have glorified al Qaeda. We have glorified the cause of violent radical Islam. All that tiny minority have become heroes. And we made them heroes. We made their propaganda. We made their case for them.
BILL MOYERS: Let me read you an excerpt from the official White House statement on foreign policy under President Obama. Quote, “Obama and Biden will refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security, the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan’s economic development.” There you have a very clear statement of their intentions that we’re going to concentrate on the war. And in fact by the end of this year there’ll be 60,000, not 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan. And there’s no indication the strikes, the air strikes that are killing civilians are going to stop.
PIERRE SPREY: And the 60,000-
MARILYN YOUNG: No.
PIERRE SPREY: -will be useless.
MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.
PIERRE SPREY: You know, the Russians at the peak of their invasion – who dealt with the Afghanis a good deal more brutally than we did – had over 150,000 and a trained a 250,000 man Afghan army. And they lost. 60,000 is a recipe for failure, defeat, and ultimately a disgraceful withdrawal by the United States. One way or another, no matter how nice a face we put on it, we’ll be kicked out of there just like we were kicked out of Vietnam.
. . .
MARILYN YOUNG: Oh, yeah. I mean, the notion that you will break the will of the enemy, I – that’s such a depressing clip. I just can’t – I mean, it just sinks me right back into the moment when all that was going on. Winston Churchill is held up as a great hero because he defies German bombing and says we will fight them everywhere. They can’t break our will. And he is considered a great hero. McNamara is incapable of reading that same spirit back into his enemy. Instead, he assumes that he can bomb them into submission. And it’s the same notion now that you can scare them, break their will. And the drone, this precise thing, is maybe, in the minds of those who use it, even more scary because you don’t see us but we see you. And zap we gotcha. But it’s, again, an effort to deal with a political issue with force. And it doesn’t work.
BILL MOYERS: Pierre, as I said in the introduction, you helped develop a couple of very effective fighter planes. Is there a moral dimension to this use of drones that you didn’t see in a more conventional kind of weapon?
PIERRE SPREY: There’s a moral dimension to every kind of bombing that destroys civilians, particularly bombing that destroys more civilians than military people. You can’t avoid it. There’s nothing notable about the drones that changes that. And the moral dimension is very simple. And it dates back to the original theologian of bombing, Julio Doue, a rather fanatical Italian from World War I who first hypothesized, wrongly, that you could destroy an enemy’s morale, exactly what you said, and win victories without any ground armies if you simply bombed them enough. And secondly, that the bombers would always get through, that they would always defeat fighter opposition and antiaircraft opposition. Both propositions have been provided in history over and over and over again to be not only wrong but thumpingly wrong.
I recommend you watch the entire interview.