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Gerald Caplan charts the bloodthirsty history of ‘the most awesome military power the world has ever known’. 'Look forward to a future of permanent war in the pursuit of peace,' he writes.

American and NATO troops, including Canadians, will pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 at the latest, unless they don't. It depends on something, but no one knows what that something might be. In his new book ‘Obama’s Wars’, Bob Woodward quotes General David Petraeus, the senior US commander in Afghanistan: ‘I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives, and probably our kids' lives.’ Dear me, how do I break this to our granddaughter?

Luckily for the general he’s getting full co-operation from his peacenik president. Having campaigned against the Iraq war and promised not to get mired in Afghanistan, Obama recently sent Congress the largest defence budget since the Second World War: $708-billion for the fiscal year 2011, $82-billion more than for 2010. The total then grew by $33-billion for the 30,000 additional troops Obama dispatched to Afghanistan.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China's 2009 military expenditures were $99-billion, Britain’s $67-billion, Russia's $61-billion and Canada's $20-billion. As usual, the US military budget is more or less equal to that of the entire rest of the world combined.

And thank the Good Lord for it. It costs a fortune to have a peaceful world and America is not prepared to skimp when it comes to world peace. In ‘The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars became Obama’s’, Tom Englehardt writes that ‘war is now the American way’. I'm afraid this is seriously misinformed. War has always been the American way. After all, the quest for peace is eternal.

The world should be more grateful. To fulfill this mission, the US has fought more wars, invaded more countries, supported more tyrants, sponsored more coups, trained and funded more foreign armies, and enabled more massacres than any other country in history. Because peace demanded it, the US also became the only country ever to use nuclear weapons.

Unlike Canada, the US was founded in war and soon discovered it was addicted. Couldn't get enough of it. Alas, one meagre column barely allows space even to list all of America's wars and interventions since its founding. In every decade since the Revolutionary War, the US has been militarily involved somewhere on Earth including, for its first century and a quarter, on the North American continent itself.

With apologies to those inadvertently neglected, this includes the war with France 1798-1800, the Barbary wars against North Africa 1801-05 (what were the Marines doing over there anyway?), the Indian wars 1775-1898 (one of the greatest genocidal crimes in world history), the War of 1812 (of course), the 1836 war for Texan independence, the war against Mexico, the Civil War, war in Hawaii in 1893 (yes Hawaii), the Spanish-American War, the war against the Philippines (some 200,000 Philippine civilians murdered, one of history's great forgotten massacres), a quarter-century of military intervention in Central America from 1909-1933, the First World War, Mexico 1916-17, the USSR 1919-21, the Second World War, Korea, Lebanon, Cuba, Haiti, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia - are you still with me? This is exhausting, but we've reached the 1980s. Okay: Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Grenada (Ronald Reagan ordered 7,000 soldiers to invade this tiny but menacing island and handed out 8,612 medals, some to heroic soldiers who never left the US), Panama, Iraq I under Bush I, Somalia. (Remember the much-publicised 18 American Rangers killed during ‘Black Hawk Down’? Somewhere in Mark Bowden's book he also mentions that in the process, some 1,000 Somalis were killed.) This brings us to Bush II's two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, still ongoing under his Nobel Peace Prize-winning successor. Is Bush II bitter?

We might also note that during the Cold War, in order to meet the insidious threat to world peace from international communism, the US found it necessary to be complicit in enormous massacres by allies whom it funded, armed and trained, including Indonesia (half a million dead), Pakistan (some consider it a genocide against Bangladeshis), Chile (you know), Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Greece (violent right-wing military juntas in all four), Zaire/Congo, Angola and Mozambique.

In all these murderous Cold War projects, as it happens, the hand of Henry Kissinger was prominent, according to his biographer, the respected establishment figure Walter Isaacson. ‘Dr.’ Kissinger, for self-evident reasons an oft-accused war criminal, is now an adviser to Barack Obama, one Nobel Peace prize winner to another.

Oh yes, almost forgot - for years US governments maintained close working relations with the apartheid regime of South Africa, much as it does now with the likes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan. Did I say Israel yet?

So much for the facts. Now for the interpretation. In every case, without exception, the US insisted it was acting to further the cause of peace, justice, liberty and, when it remembered, democracy. In every case it was compelled to act in the pursuit of sacred values. As an obscure writer named Michael Ignatieff once put it: The US is ‘a global hegemon, whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known.’ A Vietnamese or Iraqi could hardly have put it better.

It's true that some cranky Americans disagree. A tiny minority of self-hating Americans consider most of these interventions to have been immoral, illegal, imperialistic and murderous. Most of us know better. We can make the following statements with 100-per-cent confidence:

- None of these interventions constituted aggression. All were just wars.
- None was to expand the American empire, which doesn't exist.
- None was to control the wealth of others, including natural resources, especially oil.
- None was to make the world safe for American corporations.
- None was promoted by the American arms industry.
- None was promoted by special interest constituencies in the US.
- None was to spread American hegemony.
- None was initiated by the US. All were in self-defence.

Former neo-con Michael Lind majestically summed up what Americans and Ignatieff have asserted in saying that for the past 235 years: ‘The case for American foreign policy rests on the coincidence of the general interest of humanity and the particular interest of the United States.’ Aren't they the lucky ones? And God shines his light on thee.

At this moment, to pursue its crusade for world peace, etc., etc., the United States maintains about 1,000 military bases in 130 countries on every continent save Antarctica. (Professor Chalmers Johnson, who spent years documenting these bases, died just recently.)

As well, Obama has just decided to continue military aid to four countries who are known to use child soldiers in their armies, despite America's Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008. Romeo Dallaire may not yet have grasped this, but clearly it's vital that the US continue to arm the Congo, Sudan, Chad and Yemen, all partners in the US pursuit of world peace, etc., etc. A second Nobel Peace Prize seems a slam-dunk.

It is gratifying that both Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and our Leader of the Opposition accept Canada's manifest destiny to embrace the American crusade wherever it next takes us - Iran, North Korea, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, China, Pakistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Venezuela. We Canadians too can now look forward to a future of permanent war in the pursuit of peace. Our granddaughter will be so pleased.


* This article was first published in the Globe and Mail Update, 26 November 2010.
* Gerald Caplan has a PhD in African history. He recently published 'The Betrayal of Africa'.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.