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Monday, April 17, 2017
We Should Stop Arming Everybody
The United States should stop arming the world. We should stop arming rebels, moderate rebels, freedom fighters, opposition forces, insurgencies, regimes, and most -- if not all -- nation states. These armaments spill American blood and the blood of people unrelated to the fray in which we picked sides. It is easier to act with moral clarity and mission purpose while striking military bases than while arming strangers.
President Obama shipped pallets of unmarked bills to our enemy, and lied about it, right around the time social-media campaigns began dubbing his the "scandal-free presidency." United States companies selling equipment and chemicals that end up in the hands of dictators like Slobodan Milosevic and Kim Jung-un is grim. The U.S. government arming people who seem to have a righteous cause, but then sell the weapons to third parties who may have no such thing, is dreadful.
Gulmurod Khalimov, a top "Minister of War" ISIS commander, was trained by the U.S. State Department, and not in some murky Cold-War past, but as recently as 2014. This has been confirmed multiple times, including to CNN by State Department spokeswoman, Pooja Jhunjhunwala:
"From 2003-2014 Colonel Khalimov participated in five counterterrorism training courses in the United States and in Tajikistan, through the Department of State's Diplomatic Security/Anti-Terrorism Assistance program."
Now the State Department has a three-million-dollar bounty on his head.
The NPR interviewees and hack politicians who overestimate the value of nuance always talk about the "complexity of the situation on the ground," assuming that figuring it out is possible and our responsibility. But they are correct in that "the situation on the ground" is always complex – too complex to predict. Whoever approved the shipment of 3,000+ armored Humvees to Iraq either knew that ISIS would get 2,300 of them, and should be hanged, or did not know ISIS would get them, and has demonstrated that even in microcosms with a strong U.S. presence, the fate of weapons cannot be predicted one year out.
There are decades of history of the U.S. and Russia arming factions in Afghanistan. So much so, the definition of "proxy war" in the Oxford Dictionaryincludes this sentence: "The west pumped in 'aid' and loans to buy weapons -- from western arms manufacturers -- to fight the proxy war against Soviet-backed rebel groups."
Currently, the United States and Afghan forces are fighting a Taliban that has traded in its Russian AK-47's for U.S. M-16's. We gave thousands of M-16's to Afghan security forces, but they sell them to the Taliban, even though they are fighting the Taliban. Call it non-accidental friendly fire. "One Afghan army colonel, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Ahmadzai, said entire groups of soldiers manning various checkpoints have sold their weapons and ammunition to the insurgents. And Taliban commanders say there's a thriving black market for US-supplied guns that even includes dealers from neighboring Iran."
"I'll tell you what I heard from the Syrian people that I met with walking down the streets in Aleppo… happiness and joy at seeing an American walking through their street… they said, why is it that the United States, its allies, and other countries, are providing support, are providing arms, to terrorist groups like Al Nusra, Al Quaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS, who are on the ground there raping, kidnaping, and killing? … Why is the United States and its allies supporting these terrorist groups that are destroying Syria? … There are no moderate rebels. Who are these moderate rebels that people keep speaking of?"
Or, as Donald Trump put it to the Wall Street Journal shortly after the election, "Now we're backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are."
There is a war between President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, backed by Saudi Arabia, and Houthi insurgents armed by Iran. After a Saudi attack on Yemen's capital killed 140 civilians in October 2016, the State Department halted a $390-million sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. $390 million is 0.67% of the $58 billion worth of arms we sold to them between 2009 and 2015. We really put our foot down. Trump will not stop selling weapons to the Saudis; neither would Hillary Clinton. Weapons we sell to the Saudis will disperse and one day be used against us, or some other group we are backing.
These are a few examples of the absurdity and darkness, and we didn't discuss the Libyan Jihadis we armed, the 2,000 guns of the "Fast and Furious" operation that were sent to Mexico, the implications of lifting the arms embargo with Vietnam, or the billions worth of equipment we gift to Egypt, which according to Forbes, has been used to kill tourists.
George Orwell's most profound warnings were not about the surveillance state, but about perversions of political language. Is "moderate rebel" one such perversion? Can one moderately demand assault rifles for guerrilla street war? Maybe -- if "moderate" is relative to rape camps and beheadings. Arming moderates seems defensible, except that the greater evil they are fighting may also be using our weapons. We know the promise of beneficent ends does not necessarily justify violent means. Also the reverse is true: means that seem justified in one situation cannot be continued as doctrine if they lead to unexpected and terrible ends.
To those who blame America for all the planet's woes: wouldn't you favor a world less full of Lockheed Martin death machines? To those who claim to put "America first": can you justify supplying munitions that may be used against us, even once, and paying for the privilege? To progressives who regurgitate in the afternoon the memes they are fed in the morning: do you know that your political heroes are gunrunners?
The balefulness of our arms dealing is obscured by its sheer prevalence, as though the world can operate no other way. We don't want other countries to expand their influence, but what's the nature of our influence and what good has it done us? If violence is intrinsic to man, and wars will be fought regardless, then let them be fought with less sophisticated arms. Clearly, we are not reducing the violence of the world, and it's not worth the money, the taxpayer money, or the money arms manufactures rake in. When we fight, let us fight with better weapons than our enemy, not advanced ones we gave them. Let America try to light the world, and in battle, take the high ground.