No, it’s not really fair to blame President Obama personally for the waves of aerial bombing that took more than an hour on October 4 to destroy a neutral hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, Afghanistan, even though it appears on its face to be yet another US war crime.

But it’s totally fair to blame President Obama for giving the world another six years (so far) of President Bush’s policy of bringing chaos and devastation to whatever part of the Middle East happens to be annoying the folks who have decided these things since 2001. Not that it was all bread and roses before that, given the century-plus of unrelenting Western subjugation of the region by direct force and by establishing vicious proxy dictatorships (exhibit #1 is Iran).

So when Donald Trump and people like him say that the Middle East was more stable under Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, therefore the US should be supporting Russia’s effort to keep Bashar al-Assad in power in the bits of Syria his government still controls, it makes a kind of superficial sense – unless you actually believe the region is a better place now than it was 15 years ago. And if that’s your belief, maybe someone should explain their good fortune to those millions of refugees.

Trump’s argument would have been relevant in 2001, when he had nothing useful to say in opposition to the national predation our government proudly unleashed on the world as a war on “terrorism” and then claimed as a “mission accomplished,” even though there’s still no let-up as innocent people continue to be killed by American weapons in the hands of Americans and others. In 2011, Trump was equally ineffective in opposition to US engagement in Libya. To be fair to Trump, principled opposition to America’s permanent war on largely imaginary enemies (until we attack them, creating new ones) is hard to come by, and no principled opponent of the US warfare state is presently running for president or most other offices.

At any meaningful level, Trump’s notion of “stability” is absurd except for people who can imagine it being cool to live in an unimaginably brutal police state. That’s what they had in Iraq and Libya, and the US accomplishment was making it worse for Iraqis and Libyans. Will Syrians now reap the same benefits?

Slaughtered wedding parties, maimed children – Hey, stuff happens

Just as Jeb Bush is the “stuff happens” candidate now, his brother George (like his father George) were “stuff happens” presidents. Officially, as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said, “Stuff happens” – describing US forces who protected only themselves as looting and revenge killings went unchecked in “liberated” Iraq. Rumsfeld himself fleshed put the full cynicism of the Stuff Happens Doctrine, explaining an American mentality that continues to shape decisions of state without a trace of its inherent, ugly irony: 

“Stuff happens, and it’s untidy. Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.”

Seriously, the US occupation makes you free. How Orwellian is that? And how’s that working out across more than 4,000 miles of aggressive US intervention, military and otherwise, from Tripoli to Kunduz? The ghastliness of American behavior around the world has been plain to anyone with the wit to look at it, as Harold Pinter did in 2005 in his Nobel acceptance speech, which has a humanity long missing from American leadership. Reviewing past American crimes, and anticipating future American crimes, Pinter referred to the pitiless American assault on Nicaragua:

“The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. ‘Democracy’ had prevailed.

“But this ‘policy’ was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

“The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.”

In the United States, Chile is hardly remembered and rarely discussed, except perhaps when our leaders confer honors on a fellow war criminal like Henry Kissinger.

“Hope and Change” fooled people in 2008, what will work in 2016?

Peace is not yet at hand, but the world continues to wait, rather fecklessly for the most part, while the US peace prize president pursues the same deluded war polices (sometimes watered down) that produce the same disastrous results. Meanwhile a numbed homeland populace is encouraged to fret about its own security, to accept the cost of stuff happening to other people and to ignore fifteen years of failed leadership’s repeated failures.

Still there’s some restlessness in the land and Trump speaks to that, however irrelevantly, blaming the past while offering nothing new for the future. In that, he’s not alone. No one among Republicans and Democrats takes on the US warfare state of today – that empire has no clothes and everyone admires its exceptional wardrobe. Even Bernie Sanders, with his actually revolutionary proposals on other issues, has yet do much more than imply that he might be less militaristic than the rest, which is pretty much where the Green Party is. For serious anti-militarism, one has to go to the Socialist Party, which doesn’t seem to be happening.

In late September, the Russians became at least the tenth country to send its warplanes to bomb people in Syria. Since the Russians’ targetsinclude elements of the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, etc.), one might have expected, if not a warm welcome, at least a tacit acceptance of one more player in the crowded Syrian battlefield thatthe US holds so important, albeit so ill-defined. According to the US, the Islamic State is a grave threat to US national security, at least when its potential strength is projected uncheck into an indefinite future based on little rational analysis. For now, the Islamic States serves mainly as target practice for most any interested air force, since the Islamic State has little or no air defense and there’s no one to make any distinction between dead civilians and dead enemy combatants.

So why wouldn’t President Obama at least tolerate Russian participation in a low-cost war of attrition? After all, the Russians have a huge Muslim population in Russia and neighboring countries, a population that, if radicalized in significant numbers, really could threaten the Russian government. The cynical explanation would be that the US considers radical Islam a proprietary American enemy necessary to maintain maximum fear at home with minimum danger; any Russian poaching on our national security threat is against our rules.

Don’t do stupid stuff, like have mutually exclusive goals

More likely, Russian support for the Syrian government is resented because it exposes the pointlessness of US policy. The Russians, as well as the Iranians, are supporting Syrian president Assad, whose survival in power this long was not thought possible by the West. So US policy for ending the multi-faceted war in Syria has long required a non-negotiable precondition: that Assad must go. But that is not a negotiating position, it is a non-negotiating position, and the Russian presence makes that all the more obvious and stupid.

President Obama, having spent years doing stupid stuff all over the Middle East, responded to Russian air strikes by warning (wink, wink) the Russians that coming into Syria could lead to their being stuck in a “quagmire.” Could be. But the president did not seem to be invoking the irony of America’s primal “quagmire” in Viet-Nam. And he certainly wasn’t intentionally calling attention to his own inherited quagmires prolonged in Afghanistan and Iraq with no end in sight. Nor was he calling attention to the US role in the Yemen quagmire, which may turn out not to be a quagmire but a genocidal war.

At his October 2 press conference, the president was busy spinning reality to suit his own situation. For example, he framed Syria this way: “What started off as peaceful protests against Assad, the president, evolved into a civil war because Assad met those protests with unimaginable brutality.” How does this differ from Bahrain, where peaceful protests were met with unimaginable brutality? Well the Bahrain dictatorship survived because its allies included the US and Saudi Arabia. It’s never about good or bad, it’s always about “ours” or “theirs,” and we don’t care what unimaginable brutality it takes to care for ours. As President Obama made clear, it’s only their behavior that’s up for moral scrutiny:

“… the reason Assad is still in power is because Russia and Iran have supported him throughout this process…. They’ve been propping up a regime that is rejected by an overwhelming majority of the Syrian population because they’ve seen that he has been willing to drop barrel bombs on children and on villages indiscriminately, and has been more concerned about clinging to power than the state of his country…. And I said to Mr. Putin that I’d be prepared to work with him if he is willing to broker with his partners, Mr. Assad and Iran, a political transition – we can bring the rest of the world community to a brokered solution – but that a military solution alone, an attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire. And it won’t work. And they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course.”

So the calculation for President Putin is whether his warplanes will be stuck in Syria as long as the US has been stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will that be worth it? Has it been worth it to the US not to take a different course for 15 years? And what does any empire use to measure worth?

US combat role ended in Afghanistan – only it didn’t

The end of the US combat role in Afghanistan was never more real than a three-card monte hustle. The US would base more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, but they wouldn’t have a “combat role” on paper. But there was never any question that these troops would be fighting whenever and wherever someone in authority considered it necessary, as authorized by the commander-in-chief. US military activity in Afghanistan in 2015 included regular air strikes against presumed “insurgents.”

Despite US and other coalition support for Afghan government forces, the Taliban made significant gains during 2015. By September, in an eerie echo of Viet-Nam, the Taliban controlled most of the Afghan countryside while the government still controlled the cities. One of those cities, Kunduz, in the northeast of the country, came under Taliban control on September 28 and has had extreme fighting ever since. US bombing of Kunduz began September 29.

Also in Kunduz, in 2011, Doctors Without Borders had established a hospital that treated anyone who was hurt: civilians as well as combatants from any side. The hospital was well marked as a hospital. Doctors Without Borders made sure that authorities on all sides, including Kabul and Washington, knew the hospital’s coordinates. It’s the only hospital of its kind in the region. It was outside the Taliban-controlled area when the US bombed it. Hospital staff notified the US and Afghan forces that they were bombing a hospital, after which the bombing continued for another half hour.

When the bombing started, there were 80 staff and 105 patients in the hospital. The death toll was 12 staff and 10 patients (three children), some of whom burned to death in their beds in the critical care unit. More than 35 others were injured. Doctors Without Borders calls the attack a war crime. And they have closed the hospital.

The first US lie in response was that they bombed the hospital because there were Taliban inside. That would still be a war crime. But there were no Taliban inside, and no Taliban shooting at Americans nearby, and there were no Americans nearby, as other US lies variously claimed. Now US officials have acknowledged that, after a “rigorous US procedure,” the US bombed the hospital intentionally.That is a war crime.

Is an unprosecuted war crime still a war crime?

So far, the American public’s reaction to this war crime is of a piece with public reaction to almost all American atrocities – stuff happens. Harold Pinter described the process a decade ago:

“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them.

“You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Why would the US, even at Afghan request, deliberately commit a war crime? A cynic might speculate that, since they were losing Kunduz to the Taliban, they might as well deny the Taliban the use of the only available hospital.

Like President Obama, Doctors Without Borders has won a Nobel Peace Prize. Unlike the president, Doctors Without Borders has not established policies responsible for killing thousands of civilians in dozens of countries.

What happened in Kunduz is dwarfed by the horrors that happen in the US-supported Saudi coalition total war on Yemen. On September 29, coalition airstrikes there killed more than 130 people in a wedding party. At his press conference three days later, the peace prize president did not have the grace to mention it, much less to call it unimaginable brutality.