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How to Stop the Next Stupid War Before It Starts
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Americans are politically fractured, but they agree that our longest war was a mistake. Seventy-seven percent of Americans, including many Republicans, told a recent CBS News poll that they agree with President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. That’s a reversal from the conflict’s early days, when between 85% and 90% of Americans supported the invasion.

What changed? We were lied to; now we know it. The Taliban were characterized by the news media as primitive religious fanatics, a fringe group that ruled by fear in a power vacuum created by our abandonment of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in the late 1980s. In fact, they were a popular, homegrown phenomenon perfectly situated to frame themselves as a nationalist resistance organization. To whatever extent that Afghans felt “abandoned,” they wanted cash and infrastructure with no strings attached. Instead, we imposed a corrupt puppet regime that they viewed as a humiliation.

The main casus belli, revenge for 9/11, fell apart after the world’s most wanted man was found and assassinated in Pakistan in 2011. If Osama bin Laden had been living in Pakistan for years, why were we still looking for him in Afghanistan? Why were we paying his Pakistani hosts billions of dollars? Voter support for the war evaporated after the killing of bin Laden.

Former President Barack Obama said “we took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq,” which he called a “dumb war.” He argued that “our real focus has to be on Afghanistan.” Now most people agree that they were both dumb.

How do we avoid fighting more stupid wars in the future? How can we stop ourselves from wasting trillions more dollars and thousands of more lives?

First, we must remember how most wars start — with government lies. From the Tonkin Gulf nonincident to fairy tales about Iraqi soldiers yanking Kuwaiti babies out of ventilators to Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, American presidents, generals and media stenographers have conned one gullible generation after another into killing and being killed. The truth eventually comes out. By then, though, it’s too late.

The next time a president goes on TV to tell us we ought to go to war, we should turn our skepticism dial up to an 11. After all, we’ve been lied to so often in the past — why give them any benefit of the doubt?

Ironically, for a country whose values center around free-thinking and rugged individuality, naively going along with the call to war is hardwired into our political culture, no matter how outlandish the justification. If the president asks us to sacrifice our lives in a war, we’re expected to comply, no questions asked.


Consider the infamous Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously wrote that “protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre.” During the case in question, Holmes continued, “the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.”

In Schenck v. United States, the court ruled that, when it comes to war, there is no room for vigorous debate, much less dissent — First Amendment be damned.

The subject of that case is lost to history: Socialists Charles Schenck and Elizabeth Baer were jailed for the crime of mailing out flyers urging men to resist the military draft during World War I. The “clear and present danger” was not to the country itself. It was to pro-war propaganda. What if the leftists’ argument were to succeed? What if the government had to work harder in order to convince young men to fight and die in the charnel house across the Atlantic?

Holmes came to regret his decision, and Schenck was partly overturned and discredited. Yet schoolchildren are still taught that the First Amendment runs into limits with “shouting fire in a theatre.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who ought to know better, went so far as to write that “while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, no one has a right to falsely shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater” in an op-ed favoring gun control in 2012.

As Christopher Hitchens noted, the governments of Europe and the United States lit and fanned the flames of a war that most of its combatants believed to have been pointless. The socialist pacifists were trying to restore sanity.

Someday, no doubt sooner rather than later, this president or the next will take to the airwaves in order to ask us to support another war. War is the most serious undertaking that a nation-state ever considers. It is therefore the highest duty of every citizen to carefully weigh the evidence and justification given to attack a foreign adversary with an open mind counterbalanced by the jaundiced knowledge that such arguments often unravel after the spilling of a lot of blood.

If we had lived up to our civic duty back in 2001, we would have done a little digging ourselves. We would have paid attention to the fact that none of the 19 hijackers was from Afghanistan. We would have noted from the news reports that bin Laden was already in Pakistan and the majority of al-Qaida’s training facilities were also in that country, not in Afghanistan. We would have listened to academic experts and veterans of Russia’s failed occupation during the 1970s and 1980s, who warned that Afghanistan was the “graveyard of empires” because the one thing that pulls its people together is a hatred of foreign invaders.

We should not have given former President George W. Bush a blank check to invade a sovereign state that never attacked us and never meant us harm. We should have withheld our support and tacit consent. We should have protested and demanded that Congress stop the war before it began.

We should never again take a presidential call to war at face value.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, American Military 
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  1. Hitmarck says:

    Your kids regulary dont know the genozide by which ur state religions war – WW II – began.
    Before that’s shattered, you’ll eat any lie.

  2. The people have no say when it comes to war and peace. Niether does the President. Those matters are decided by the Deep State which is owned by the Oligarchy. The congress could reclaim it’s war powers but it won’t because it is corrupt.

  3. Ted Rall advises:

    “How to Stop the Next Stupid War Before It Starts”

    Gee Ted, try exposing the (((masterminds))) of our current wars — instead of merely blaming (((their))) shabbos goys.

  4. The truth demonetized by Youtube:

  5. El Dato says:

    Tow different things:

    The US was in Vietnam because they labeled themselves “Communist” instead of “Viet-Nationalist” and the US thought that they had something to do with World Communism.

    The US was in Iraq to make the Middle East safe for Israel and to have a jump-off pad into Iran.

    And no word on the “Anthrax Panic”, one of the most successful “Reichtagsfire” operations in the history of mankind, later blamed on some disgruntled bioweapons expert with a fondness of ogling sorority girls who killed himself in the weirdest way imaginable. Without that, the shutdown of civil liberties at home might well have fizzled.

  6. Piglet says:

    How do we avoid fighting more stupid wars in the future? How can we stop ourselves from wasting trillions more dollars and thousands of more lives?

    Invariably we’ll be told, “But this time it’s different,” and people will fall for it again.

    If Osama bin Laden had been living in Pakistan for years, why were we still looking for him in Afghanistan?

    Newspapers in India and Egypt carried the news of bin Laden’s death in December 2001. He’d been ill for quite some time with kidney disease, and indeed in films (real ones, not the fakes later produced by our own intel agencies) he had the familiar deathly pallor I’ve seen in those only months from their deaths. People don’t live more than five years in such condition, yet we’re to believe he survived another decade and was in good health when he was (supposedly) killed in Pakistan.

    After 9-11 Dubya told us he was gonna run down bin Laden, smoke him out, an’ git him, etc. (It’s funny when people who come from the Northeast USA and go south as carpetbaggers try to pretend to be cowboys and southerners.) About six months later he remarked in an interview that he didn’t know where bin Laden was and didn’t care. He already had his eyes set on grabbing Iraq. Could it be that he already knew the boogeyman was dead but didn’t want to share that with the public since using the threat of the boogeyman could prove very useful in getting the public to go along with his plans?

    Note that the account of the attack in Pakistan, told to us by our government officials, is greatly at odds with that locals on the ground actually saw.

    We’re supposed to believe that the most valuable terrorist leader in the world was shot rather than captured in order to extract valuable information from him. We’re supposed to believe that his dead body was brought back to a Navy ship where a Muslim prayer was said for him and he was buried at sea “in accordance with Islamic traditions.” (Ask an actual Muslim — there is no tradition of being buried at sea.)

    Oddly enough, despite this supposed prayer session and burial at sea, no one on the ship saw any of this actually take place.

    And if it was really him and they were certain of it, what was the point of dragging back his dead body, only to throw it (and the only real proof it was him) overboard? Why not leave the body where it had fallen? If it was really him, why not come back with the physical proof?

    An actual photo of bin Laden was PhotoShopped to show automatic fire wounds. If he’d really been shot, would there be a need to fake a photo?

    Then the president, who would never lie to the American public in order to increase his odds of winning the next election with a false tale of derring-do, announced to the American public that the dastardly foe was vanquished, while at the same time offering absolutely no proof that any of this tale was true. Instead, we were to take the word of a politician that the boogeyman finally got what he deserved.

    Key words: “The word of a politician.”

    If we weren’t so eager to worship the military and cheer “USA! USA! USA!” we might think we were being lied to yet again.

    • Thanks: Greta Handel
  7. One way to prevent the war may be to make a President, at the outset, describe the exist strategy. Plainly the US still has not figured out how to “exit” from WWII, which is why we still occupy Japan, Germany, and Italy (among other places)(the French made us leave). We lost and surrendered in Korea, but stuck around to pout on the border to this day. We surrendered in Vietnam and exited poorly (see Ron Unz on POWs). We just surrendered in Afghanistan and are still bombing Muslims to show our outrage–and the Taliban are moving back in. We have been asked to leave Iraq after doing nothing more than killing Saddam and sewing chaos. We made a mess of Syria and still won’t leave. The US military is like the old movie about the guest who would not leave.

    • Replies: @Piglet
  8. Piglet says:
    @Harry Huntington

    Speaking of leaving France, when I was a GI in the US Army in Germany in the 1970s I met NCOs who had been stationed in France when that country got the gumption to ask its occupiers to leave, and they were still pissed off about it. The NERVE of those frogs wanting us to leave, they pouted. When the Army comes in, any country is supposed to be eternally grateful and also wish for the Army to never leave. Those occupied are also supposed to believe that, without the money coming in from the presence of the occupiers, both the local economy and the national economy would collapse. (Call me a skeptic, but if the cat houses and GI bars near the bases were forced to close in the aftermath of a troop withdrawal, I don’t think that would destroy the economy.)

    I enjoyed living in Germany but I would be delighted if every US base in Europe closed and all of our GIs came back to the States.

    But that will probably never happen short of a total collapse of the dollar, which may not be that far off.

  9. TG says:

    My answer: regulate the big internet companies as common carriers. Break up the big media monopolies, and insist that no news organization be allowed to be owned by a large conglomerate with other interests. Take away the tax free status of all these ‘non-profit’ organizations that at this point are overwhelmingly shills of the oligarchy. Outlaw the use of “dark money” in political campaigns. Enforce anti-‘revolving door’ conflict of interest rules on senior government officials.

    Would this solve all of our problems? No. But it might be a good start.

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