When a man says “family first” he will reschedule meetings to make time for his family. When a Christian says “God First” they make room for church on Sunday. What does a politician do when he or she says “America First”? Well not exactly that. Whether enacted by a Democrat or Republican, whether through foreign aid, warfare or global institutions, our foreign policy hasn’t been putting America first. Yet the people in charge claim it does.
Our policy has favored global institutions controlling power, decades of constant warfare, and maintaining an empire overseas. This approach costs countless lives and millions of dollars in resources. This is all based on the rhetoric that America has some sort of responsibility to “Spread democracy” around the world (which is ironic considering we aren’t even a democracy). Partner this with the military industrial complex and some elitism and you have a policy that has put other nations ahead of America.
Ironically it seems the people who scream the loudest about putting America first do so the least. Both parties are guilty. The rise of Neo-Conservatism has plagued both parties. Even President Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, dropped over 26,000 bombs a year in the Middle East. They always spread the lie that intervention is for security reasons and puts America first and keeps us safe. I don’t understand how rigging elections and installing puppet regimes keeps me safe. It only creates enemies.
Russia has been accused of hacking our elections and although we don’t even know if it changed the outcome or really even what happened, people are furious. So imagine how mad people get when the CIA does this to their elections. We have made a new enemy. And this enemy is now against America. Making enemies doesn’t put America first. Our government making enemies for us is cruel. If we minded our own business, we’d be a lot better off. Does this mean all nations will love America? No, but we would have less groups that hate us.
Civil Wars happen, America even had one. This doesn’t mean we need to intervene. In the American Civil War, the CSA hoped the British and French would send troops to help it defeat the Union. They did not. Why? Because they knew it may start a war between the US and Britain. Britain put their country and there people first. This seems very reasonable. Why does America not apply this policy? If we see a Civil War erupt many miles away across the ocean, we don’t have to intervene. This doesn’t help us.
Whoever is in charge of some country in the Middle East doesn’t harm your average American. But intervening will. War has great costs. Since 2001 America has spent 5.6 trillion dollars on wars in the Middle East. And you know who gets sent the bill? American citizens. Even worse than the great financial loss is the loss of life. America first means putting American citizens first. This should include our military. Sadly, our government hasn’t felt that way.
Imagine a mother getting the call her son was killed halfway across the world, she even was forced to pay for this war. Once the war is done, nothing changes. We are no safer. We were likely never in danger. It is simply immoral and wrong to ask people to send their sons to a place they don’t know, to fight for old men in suits, and then demand the bill be paid. Our military should be a defensive one used to protect the people and put the country first, not for intervention. This will put the American people first and truly keep us safer.
You may think we have a moral responsibility to intervene, because perhaps the regime is a tyrannical one. There are several issues with this idea. The first is that the people calling to intervene are calling for others to do it. Politicians in D.C. won’t be doing any of the fighting themselves. Further, when we elect representatives there job is to represent the American people. They don’t represent Israel, Palestine, Syria, or any other country. It simply isn’t their job to represent the rest of the world. Intervention is also bound to put us in a bind when it comes to our relationship with allies. When our allies commit an atrocity do we need to intervene?
The war hawk will say our allies would never, and that even if they did we would help. This is not true. We all remember Trump launching missiles into Syria after news of a gas attack. Meanwhile in the Israel-Palestine conflict, where both sides have committed war crimes, we side with Israel and ignore there harm perpetrated by Israel. This is simply outrageous and proves that Neo-conservatives have no principles. They will gladly intervene off of claims in Syria, but turn the other cheek when Israel commits atrocities. Do they really want to bring world peace or do they just want to benefit certain groups? It appears to be the latter, and the American people is not one of the groups benefited by this.
So what foreign policy will truly put America first? A policy that protects Americans and doesn’t harm the economy. Non-intervention is the only policy that does this. This would include restricting our military to a defensive role, allowing for free trade, and not meddling in the affairs of other countries. This would reduce both spending and casualties. We also should set the example to the world of what a free and prosperous country is like. But to do so, we first must become a free and prosperous country again. A major way we can do this is adopt the non-intervention foreign policy. If we want to put America ahead of everything else, perhaps we should put peaceful talks ahead of bombs. Intervention has not worked. It is time to try non intervention-the policy that promotes peace and prosperity.
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The taste of sulfur from a barrage of fireworks collides with the familiar smell of barbecue as the nation commemorates the ol’ red white and blue. For many Americans, the 4th of July is seen as a way to celebrate the capstone of American accomplishment, and any elementary school kid could tell you that the United States of America gained its freedom against all odds by forcing colonial British forces from its land.
Who has time for royal weddings when you have Monday Night Football anyway?
The classic tale of a determined ragtag band of rebels defeating the most powerful military force in the world has influenced thousands across the globe. It has inspired subsequent revolutions, formed modern American culture, and of course, created the masterful cinematic universe of Star Wars (Let’s not talk about the last one).
The memory of early American revolutionaries is alive and well in American society, but their legacy might have died with the founding fathers. Let’s take a gander at what life would have been like for a family in colonial America:
Amanda is a young woman living in the coastal city of Boston during the height of the American Revolutionary War. Though previously privileged enough to receive post-secondary education, Amanda was forced to abandon her studies and her talents after the conflict between Imperial and Rebel forces escalated. With hostile forces occupying a portion of her hometown, and the infamous British fleet blockading Boston’s ports, life in the besieged city has slowly begun to fade. Rations are running low, and the community is forced to face the possibility of starving, while wandering a few blocks in the wrong direction could lead to a fate even worse than death.
If you thought life couldn’t seem any more bleak than it already is, you’re wrong.
Amanda’s brother was shot in the leg by British soldiers during a protest to lift the blockade, and for the past 64 days, Oliver has existed in a hellish state of unimaginable pain. Rebel forces have commandeered the majority of goods, and the merciless blockade prevents any significant aid from entering the dying city. Amanda and her family have no choice but to sit and watch Oliver writhe in excruciating agony before finally losing consciousness in what is the only remote escape from his pain.
While her brother sleeps, Amanda gathers bits of rubble and driftwood as a means of insulating her home from the bitter Atlantic winds. The war seems impossibly hopeless, and she doubts her brother will survive the winter. Every night, she watches the sun set on the silhouettes of British warships, as they strangle what’s left of her broken city.
Luckily for you and I, we know the ending to Amanda’s story. We know that the Continental Army would eventually manage to defeat British forces, and the rest is history, right?
Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege of such happy endings.
Although the above narrative is a perfectly probable allegory describing life in the midst of a great American conflict, it is modeled completely upon the true experiences of a family on the other side of the world.
You’re familiar with Amanda, but have you met Asmaa?
During her lifetime, Asmaa al-Housh has witnessed unimaginable amounts of destruction and despair, much like our fictional Amanda. The only difference?
Asmaa is from the Gaza Strip.
Formerly an outgoing photographer and active student at her local university, Asmaa was forced to abandon her aspirations after her brother, Omar, was shot in the leg by Israeli security forces while attending recent march protesting the Israeli blockade of Gaza. As of May 30th, 2018, Israeli border patrols have killed at least 134 Palestinian protesters and injured 15,000 others during the protests. Among the dead and wounded are men, women, and children. Since 2007, no one has been allowed in or out of Gaza territory, and a merciless land, air, and sea blockade has prevented the transportation of significant medical supplies and basic goods.
Asmaa provides full time care for her twin brother, and for the past two months, you can almost always find her at his bedside. With local hospital facilities lacking staff, supplies, room, and tools, emergency services are quickly overwhelmed, and patients who are in need of critical care are often dismissed, or could face lengthy treatment times. Some can’t survive the wait.
The horrendous conditions of healthcare facilities merely reflect the state of being in the Gaza Strip. Residents of the besieged city are lucky to have four hours of electricity a day, and often resort to collecting driftwood or rubble as a means of heating water among the demolished ruins of Gaza neighborhoods. Blackouts are frequent, and uncertainty looms in every corner of human existence. Is the water clean? Where will we get our next meal? Will our house be bombed tonight? Will my son even make it home alive? These are the real questions that residents living in Gaza are forced to ask themselves every day under the Israeli occupation.
Few Palestinians within Gaza ever have the chance to have their voice heard beyond their own neighborhood. When asked what she would tell Americans about her homeland, Asmaa told me that few Americans can comprehend what it’s like to live there.
“Gaza is a prison. I have dreams to travel…but none of this is possible. I have great hope, but it is not always this way. When I hear my brother scream or see his wounds, I am very tired.”
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has proven to be one of the most divisive and dynamic disasters of modern history, and continues to be a polarizing political issue, both internationally and within the United States. Yet, amidst the heartbreaking violence and hopeless political upheaval, the victims of the conflict have largely been forgotten, and are seldom represented as anything more than a statistic. Israeli or Palestinian, these are human lives, and this is as much of a human issue than a political one.
So before you crack open a beer, or eat one of those generic Walmart sugar cookies with colored sprinkles, take a moment to recognize that the principles of freedom and self determination aren’t exclusively American. There are thousands of oppressed peoples around the world who will die before they see the fruits of their resistance, and there are children in Gaza who could teach an American a thing or two about “The rocket’s red glare”.
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What I recall is a camera perched high above the desert city of Baghdad. Rattling from a ground that quaked beneath heavy artillery, the early morning images showed a nation I had never set foot in, being bombarded by our military.
I was 16 then. We have been in an endless war ever since.
7,000 miles and a world away from the terrifying consequences of another costly interventionist war on behalf of ‘peace and freedom’, we all sat glued to our television sets. It was March of 2003 when we invaded and only weeks later, Iraqis toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square.
We had won.
On May 3, 2003, less than 90 days after the first rockets struck Baghdad, George Bush triumphantly stood atop the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared our troops the victor.
Veteran and US Senate candidate from Michigan, Brian Ellison, described his experience serving in Iraq as such:
I remember the time I had to go out and help clean up the mess after a massive car bomb exploded just outside the gate killing dozens and wounding many many more. It was devastating. I’ll never forget the callousness of the American contractors that were responsible for removing the human remains and the pictures that they relished sharing. And the smell of burnt flesh. It was awful. These people were simply waiting in line to come to work for the occupying forces one minute, and their bodies were ripped apart and burnt the next minute. The death that we caused, that’s what I remember.
The official narrative surrounding the Second Gulf War has dramatically changed over the years. Labeled an “Axis Of Evil” terror threat by the Bush oligarchy, Iraq was a war justified by the lies of war-hungry government who willingly preyed on the fear of a psychologically depressed public after the events of September 11th, 2001. It didn’t matter that 11 of the 15 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia (and that none of the hijackers were Iraqi). It didn’t matter that asleep at the wheel taxpayers had supported Hussein’s reign for whole decades of the 20th century. And it sure as hell didn’t seem to matter that Bush’s father had made the same ghastly and arrogant mistakes only 12 years prior when a US-led coalition attacked Iraq in the First Gulf War.
In the months that followed the Saudi-led terrorist attack on 9/11, Bush would reach an incredible 85% approval rating and few seemed spirited enough to question his serpent-like gaze at the oil-rich desert kingdom across the Atlantic. Bush officials pounded the proverbial desk as they lectured Americans about the catastrophic ramifications facing our nation if we did not act swiftly.
The leader and nation that we propped up and aided were now made the spear end of our bayonet. Hussein, once seen as an ally and treated as a King, was now pointed to as an example of a brutal modern dictator. The Bush administration adamantly suggested there was cold hard evidence proving that Hussein had developed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s). In the wake of the deadliest terror attack in our nation’s history, Americans wanted blood and were passive enough to accept any middle eastern sounding country that our officials labeled dangerous.
In reality, our misadventures in Iraq (and the Middle East at large) date much further back. In a long-standing dispute between Iraq & Iran that boiled over in the summer heat of 1980, The United States sent billions in economic and military aid to Hussein. It was during the US-funded proxy war that Hussein used chemical weapons to murder over one million Iranian troops and citizens. Whether they knew it or not, the American taxpayer provided the cash for that terrorism.
Hussein, since his first murderous day in office, was always known to be a ruthless, tyrannical dictator. He was a man that was willing to use torture as a device of control and his psychopathy led to untold death and misery throughout the region. The late Christopher Hitchens, a surprising proponent of the invasion, detailed just how terrifying Saddam’s regime was in his narration of video footage from the Ba’ath led coup in 1979.
Four years later, in 1983, Ronald Reagan would send a special envoy to meet and broker deals with the Hitler-like authoritarian. Included in that convoy was Bush’s Secretary of Defense to be, Donald Rumsfeld, who smiled eagerly for cameras as he shook hands with the Iraqi leader. 20 years later, Rumsfeld would be a leading advocate for war with the man he once glowingly shared greetings.
As with most of The United State’s 20th-century expansionism, it revolved around oil. By the time George Bush Sr. took office, Iraq owed close to 15 billion dollars in debt from the war with Iran. Meanwhile, Kuwait had become a major producer of petroleum and threatened Hussein’s tight grip on the economic reigns of the Middle East. Over two days in early August of 1990, Iraqi forces swiftly captured Kuwait.
The coup was condemned by world leaders. Outside of Palestine, every traditional Iraqi ally demanded Hussein remove his troops from Kuwait. He refused. After the UN Security Council passed Resolution 660, Hussein’s army faced the consequences of a unified global army. The Iraqi Air Force was destroyed and within two months, a US-led coalition had driven Saddam back across the border.
Sensing Hussein’s weakness, George Bush SR pitched a coup from an ocean away. Speaking on February 15, 1991, Bush called for an uprising within Iraq to overthrow the Hussein regime:
There is another way for the bloodshed to stop: and that is, for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations’ resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations. – George Bush SR
In the year that followed, US officials would stoke the fire of revolution but never fully commit to defeating Saddam on his own lands. While Bush SR and his administration helped fund the rebellious factions within Iraq, our military stood down as Hussein decimated the poorly organized revolution in the South. As Saddam defeated the revolutionaries, Bush SR distanced himself and The United States from any perceived involvement with the uprising:
I made clear from the very beginning that it was not an objective of the coalition or the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein. So I don’t think the Shiites in the south, those who are unhappy with Saddam in Baghdad, or the Kurds in the north ever felt that the United States would come to their assistance to overthrow this man… I have not misled anybody about the intentions of the United States of America, or has any other coalition partner, all of whom to my knowledge agree with me in this position. – George Bush SR
In the aftermath of war, an international embargo was placed on the Kingdom in 1993 after Hussein refused to comply with disarmament demands. Over the course of the next decade, the elite members of Iraqi society remain wealthy while the majority of the nation’s people grew poor and turned to radical sects of religion. During the next 10 years, a dark cloud permeated the country and Hussein ruled with an iron fist as the world watched from afar.
Astute historians will note that intervention without concrete ideas for a controlled state’s future inevitably leads to chaos and destruction. It is said that FDR’s administration spent over three years planning what do with Germany after WWII. What is most striking about the Bush administration was their lack of foresight in organizing a post-war Iraq. The poor oversight was indicative not only of a leadership hell-bent on war but a salivating public. Outside of a small opposition that included Ron Paul & Bernie Sanders, most citizens of the United States were blood hungry, ready to fight and willing to ask questions later.
In the chaotic aftermath of the initial strike, Iraqis freely looted the cities of Iraq as US military stood down on orders from the Pentagon. It is estimated that over 12 billion dollars of antiques, art, and building material were stolen or destroyed by the Iraqi public. The administration did not care about the historical or artistic nature of the Iraqi people and this lack of foresight paid dearly as Iraqis lost trust in our mission. The Iraq National Museum contained some of the earliest artifacts in the history of mankind and we did nothing to stop the destruction.
Rumsfeld joked about the startling images that showed the museum and city in chaos.
Meanwhile, US officials were lining up their chosen replacement for the governance of Iraq. Ahmed Chalabi, a founder of the Iraqi National Congress was selected. Chalabi was a well-known asset in Iraq and in the run-up to the war, it was his information on WMD’s and Al-Qaeda insurgents that was relied upon to stoke the fire within the American populace. In the years that followed the war, much of this information was proven to be fabricated and many believe Chalabi was working as an informant for the Iranians.
If it wasn’t obvious already, soon the US military came to find out that there was a decades-long civil war brewing beneath the surface of Iraq. By April, US forces were caught in the middle of a bloody war between Sunni and Shiite that boiled over in the lawlessness of post-Saddam Iraq. With no police force and 100,000 criminals released from jail before the invasion, Iraq quickly deteriorated into a complete mess. Our army was caught in a free for all without the proper intelligence about the society and how to help.
Although Hussein was condemned for the brutal tactics his regime instituted, the power structure of his grey empire kept warring factions in place during the 30 years he controlled Iraq. Without a dictator in charge, Iraqis turned to the mosques and Muqtada Al-Sadr rose to power. Against the ‘well-laid plans’ of the United States Military, Al-Sadr created a militia and took over the southern part of Iraq. The war had gotten wider.
To make matters worse, the Bush Administration placed Paul Bremmer in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Bremmer did not speak Arabic, had never served in the military and had no prior experience with middle east or post-war reconstruction. Bremmer’s decisions while in charge of the CPA had massive unintended consequences that furthered the war and entrenched the enemy.
First, Bremmer set out to destroy Saddam’s Ba’ath party of Iraq. His method of De-Ba’athification created immediate instability as almost all of the government and infrastructure of Iraq was built through the Ba’ath party. To live in Hussein’s Iraq was to be a Ba’ath member and Bremmer’s move turned middle-class families into an impoverished class without the means to find work or make money. This sewed resentment and anger towards our army.
The policy destroyed the Iraqi government, education, and economy. It purged men and women who had joined the Bath party just to survive during Saddam’s regime. Within only months of occupation close to 30,000-50,000 people that were exercised from life. If that wasn’t enough, Bremmer made the mess worse by disbanding the Iraqi military full stop.
Under CPA #2, Bremmer and council decided to disband the Iraq military. 500,000 men were made unemployed overnight and instead of helping to prevent an insurgency, these men created one. Ten’s of thousands of Iraq families depended on the military for their salary and unemployment quickly skyrocketed to over 50%. Before they knew it, US military wasn’t so much fighting a war that could be won but surviving a war that couldn’t.
Danny Wolf, Founder of The Sentinel, served during The Iraq War:
I remember being 18 years old and scared shitless in Fallujah. And I remember learning a hard lesson at a young age…there aren’t always good decisions. Just decisions.
With or without the United State’s involvement, Iraq was prime for a catastrophic disaster. Quasi-ruling over disparate peoples became the work of private contractors outsourced to American third-party mercenaries. In 2007, the private military company Blackwater indiscriminately murdered 17 Iraqi citizens in Nisour Square. The disaster set back already strained Iraqi and American relationships.
While officials nor the media could ever find evidence of the alleged WMD’s, there was plenty of evidence that showed the feudalist methods American soldiers were using to gain information from prisoners. The news media centered on the detention centers and torture policies administered that ran markedly against our own country’s faith in justice and dignity. Videos leaked of guards humiliating and attacking innocent prisoners and the debate regarding Iraq quickly turned to our own undemocratic values.
As the administration fell under the watchful gaze of a critical media and a now frustrated American public, all hell broke loose in Fallujah. One of the largest cities in Iraq, Fallujah became the major point of the Sunni Insurgency. In the fighting that ensued, over 70% of the city was destroyed and nearly 100,000 citizens displaced.
On December 15, 2005. Muktada Al-Sadr’s and his United Iraqi Alliance win nearly half the seats in Iraq’s national government. Rumsfeld is replaced by Robert Gates and the staggering number of killings and kidnappings rise into the hundreds per day. The country we had once called friends had been reduced to rubble and confusion.
By the time Obama was elected in 2008, the war had shifted and Iraq was now the central front of Al Qaeda terrorism. Whatever gains had been made in the valleys of Afghanistan no longer seemed to matter. It was Iraq, all or nothing. After an estimated $500 billion spent on war and more than $1 trillion spent in economic overhead, Iraq became the war we lost both ideologically and economically.
Linda Lyons, a retired security manager, watched the war from afar:
What comes to my mind is the Chapel at our college. He was outraged when it happened. I remember having a long conversation with him about it. He thought that you couldn’t change countries like that and that it had gone on for 100 years. He thought we didn’t have any business going into Iraq.
I thought we were going to go in and help. Maybe I was stupid.
During the ripple effect years that cascaded throughout the Middle East as we plundered Iraq, old enemies were empowered. Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia both benefited economically from the war while growing their ideological reach in a region of the world that had no reason to trust the Americans. As the mosques filled, terrorists found refuge in the divisive ideology of radical Islam and whatever communication we had attempted to build was lost.
Today, the circus continues. We are still lingering on the deserted plains of Iraq and just this past month, President Trump attacked Syria after Assad allegedly poisoned rebels with chemical weapons. At some point, the American citizens will come to realize that these are wars not meant to be won. They are corporate wars that are meant to be endless with the individual taxpayer footing the bill.
Iraq is not a singular lesson but the continuation of wartime policy that has seen our country buck its anti-interventionist foundations for the policing of others in places thousands of miles away. Morally and strategically these wars harm our perception as the beacon of freedom for the world to aspire to and The United States has become known today as a hawkish war power that treads on the lives and sovereignty of others without a second thought. We have failed to preserve the enlightenment envisioned by our founding fathers and the painful recognition of our lost wars will be a history we cannot undue.