U.S. Support for Armed Rebels in Syria

Matt acknowledges the fact that there are jihadist groups among the U.S.-backed rebels, including al-Qaeda, which was true in the case of Libya and is true now in the case of Syria. His answer to this is that “a cost-benefit calculus must come into play—the cost of denying support to the opposition is higher than the risk of such support being utilized by unsavory actors”. So if money or arms find their way into the hands of members of al-Qaeda, that is just the reasonable cost of overthrowing yet another regime that refuses to obey orders from Washington—not unlike how the “cost” of half a million dead children in Iraq was “worth it” to Albright. Matt adds that “if President Paul had his way, the CIA wouldn’t even exist to execute such missions”—it being axiomatically true, in his view (no argument required, taken simply a matter of faith) that once again acting to prolong the conflict and escalate the violence into a full-scale civil war by backing armed rebels whose ranks include members of al-Qaeda (the CIA’s ostensible efforts “to vet the Syrian recipients of outside weaponry” notwithstanding) is a good thing.

I had pointed out that, in his view, “Insisting that the U.S. should stop interfering in the affairs of other nations such as by intervening to prolong conflicts and escalate violence and siding with terrorist groups like al Qaeda is ‘dank, self-serving rot’”. Matt responds to this by calling it “a shameful, inane comment” to say that the U.S. is on the same side of the conflict as al-Qaeda, even though he had just admitted that it was true and that if money or arms funneled to the rebels happened to end up in the hands of al-Qaeda, it would be worth the “cost”. Anyone who fails to recognize the logic of this “cost-benefit calculus”, Matt argues, has “a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of warfare”, all of which pretty much speaks for itself, requiring no further comment.

U.S. Foreign Aid

Matt’s astounding willful ignorance is further illustrated when he rejects my observation that U.S. foreign aid helps prop up autocratic regimes and support human rights abuses and violations of international law. He includes among his list of “myths” that “foreign aid entails support for autocracy and oppression”. This is a remarkable denial, one which I’ve never witnessed anyone make before. I already listed examples, not a single one of which Matt bothers to substantively address. He is content to just bury his head deeply up his ass and mistake what he finds there for something called “reality” while mocking the “Ron Paul brigades” for declining to join him there. Take again the example of Israel, which maintains its occupation of the Palestinian territories and oppression of the Palestinian people with $3 billion in annual military aid from the U.S. During Israel’s full-scale military assault on the defenseless Gaza Strip, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead”, from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, Israel implemented its “Dahiyeh Doctrine”, named for a Beirut neighborhood that was flattened during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Israel targeted and systematically destroyed the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, including attacks on schools and hospitals, and engaged in indiscriminate attacks that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 1,390 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 344 children and 110 women. This massacre in Gaza was perpetrated with U.S.-supplied arms, including Apache helicopters, F-16 jets, and white phosphorus munitions—with the annual aid provided to Israel serving largely as an American taxpayer-funded subsidy to the U.S. military/security complex, as is the case of U.S foreign aid to other countries.

But never mind the facts. The $3 billion in annual aid to Israel is not support for criminal oppression and abuse, according to Matt Johnson.

Other examples are not hard to find, sticking just to recent history and just to the Middle East. There is the $1.3 billion annual aid to the military establishment in Egypt, for a further example. After peaceful protests erupted last year in Egypt and the military responded with force, Senator Joseph Lieberman bragged that the U.S. “should feel very good about the assistance we have given the Egyptian military over the years since the Camp David peace with Israel, because the Egyptian military really allowed this revolution in Egypt to be peaceful and let the people carry out their desires for political freedom and economic opportunity”. That is to say, Americans should pat themselves on the back since the response of the U.S.-backed military establishment to the revolution in Egypt was mostly limited to using tear gas canisters marked “Made in U.S.A.” against peaceful protesters, while the number of people they injured was kept down at around 6,400, and the number killed to a mere 846—yet another example of how the U.S. promotes democracy around the world.

It would be superfluous to list further examples, which abound, and if Matt is curious, he can look into the other examples I gave him previously. Matt goes to some lengths to document how some foreign aid is actually beneficial and suggests that in my previous rejoinder, I “scoff at” people in Africa. Actually, what I was scoffing at was Matt’s dismissing Ron Paul’s stance on foreign aid by pointing to medical assistance to Africans and such, but completely ignoring various other aspects of U.S. foreign aid, such as: “how foreign aid is given with strings attached requiring that money to be circulated right back to the U.S., such that it often serves effectively as a taxpayer subsidy for various U.S. industries, like the military/security industrial complex”; or “how this aid is effectively used to bribe nations to get in line, the money flowing to obedient client regimes and being instantly cut off to any foreign sovereign nation that dares to defy Washington, even to U.N. bodies like the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, which the U.S. cut funding to for voting to admit Palestine as a member).”

To prove that he is not so naïve as I made him out to be for ignoring these aspects of foreign aid, Matt touts his own argument from a past article that the $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt “should be withheld until the military surrenders its political power”—but not because it is used to support autocracy and oppression, remember, since he proclaims this to be a “myth” (and he doesn’t give whatever other reason he has for agreeing that this aid should be withheld). He further touts a previous article he wrote in which he acknowledged “the people who suffer at the hands of their own brutal governments, autocracies propped up by the U.S. government”—but foreign aid has nothing to do with that, according to Matt, since, remember, it is a “myth” that foreign aid “entails support for autocracy and oppression”.

Matt argues in favor of U.S. military aid to Pakistan, which is an example I find surprising—it would hardly be the first case that came to my mind if I was going to argue in favor of not cutting foreign aid, but c’est la vie. In reply to what I said about strings being attached to aid, he asks, “What ‘strings’ were attached to the naval fleet sent to help the Japanese after they were hit by a devastating tsunami?” Matt apparently would have benefited had I added the adverb “often” before “given with strings attached”. I did not argue strings were attached in every case whatsoever. That said, one should observe that Japan is an official friend of Washington’s. An official enemy, Iran, just had a severe earthquake, with over 300 people killed and thousands injured, and the U.S. has its navy nearby. Can we count on the U.S. to send in the troops to help assist Iranians in need? Can we expect the U.S. to send aid to Iran? The Obama administration said it was ready to send assistance if it is requested by Iran. But, as McClatchy reported, “The quake comes as the United States is increasing economic sanctions against Iran”, which are “frustrating U.S. residents who now want to offer humanitarian assistance but say too that much confusion surrounds what is and isn’t permitted. Charitable donations to Iran in the form of cash aren’t allowed from the United States unless they’re specifically licensed by the federal government, said John Sullivan, a spokesman for the Treasury Department” (emphasis added).

The charge of “scoffing” at Africans, of course, for simply pointing out that not all foreign aid is charity—not by a long shot—is intended to characterize me, and anyone, for that matter, who argues for cutting foreign aid, as uncaring. If you want to cut foreign aid, you just don’t want to help other people in the world. First of all, it is probably safe to assume that Ron Paul would be content with cutting the kind of aid I refer to and keeping the kind Matt discusses, just as even though he is ideologically opposed to programs like Social Security and Medicare, he does not wish to simply eliminate these programs because people are dependent upon them. But setting that aside, suppose we accept Matt’s argument that “a cost-benefit calculus must come into play” and took all of the harm that U.S. foreign aid causes and all of the good it does and weigh then. The case could easily be made that cutting all foreign aid would be an enormous net benefit to the world, given the extent and scale to which it is used to support autocratic regimes, human rights abuses, and violations of international law. Furthermore, Matt ignores entirely the point I made that if foreign aid was cut, not only would a great many people benefit from the U.S. ceasing its support for their oppression, but it would also mean, “if Americans didn’t have their money taken from them by force by the government, they would be all that much more able to show the world how generous a people they are by making private, voluntary, tax-exempt donations to disaster relief programs”—such as they would be able to do for Iran to help in the aftermath of the earthquake, were it not for the government stopping them. Is making this observation also to “scoff” at the less fortunate? If one were to apply Matt’s own standard and turn his rhetorical device against him, it could fairly be said that Matt “scoffs at” the people in Gaza whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed and whose loved ones have been killed thanks in no small part to U.S. foreign aid.

The U.S. at the U.N.

Matt has expressed his disagreement with Ron Paul on the U.N., Ron Paul’s view being the U.S. should not be involved with the organization (I don’t necessarily agree with Dr. Paul on this, although, as I indicated in my previous arguments, I think a lot of good would come of it if the U.S. was to withdraw from or be kicked out of the U.N.). Matt doesn’t actually address my points in this regard, such as my pointing out the fact that the U.S. regularly uses its veto power in the Security Council to protect Israel from censure for its violations of international law. His only response to this is to say that “the problem of undue Israeli influence on American foreign policy can be handled without a full withdrawal from the U.N.” I’m not sure what bearing he thinks that has on my observation. He apparently thinks such a longstanding policy of protecting Israel is due to “Israeli influence”, perhaps a reference to fabled monolithic influence of the oft-cited and loosely defined “Israeli lobby”, which is a view I don’t agree with, either. He offers nothing further for how the problem of the U.S. supporting Israeli crimes against the Palestinians through its veto power can be “handled”.

Ironically, Matt is himself critical of the U.N.—he scolds it for not violating its own Charter by authorizing the U.S. to engage in regime change in Iraq in 1991, and for failing again in 2003 to authorize the U.S. to use force to overthrow Saddam Hussein on a pretext of lies about Iraq having WMD. He describes the U.N.’s authorization of a “no-fly-zone over Libya” as among a number of other “unambiguous victories for universal justice”, despite the fact that the U.S./NATO immediately announced its intention to violate the resolution and the U.N. Charter by using the resolution as cover to engage in a policy of regime change.

I would merely suggest, in reply, that the fact that people like Matt Johnson think that that this is the role the U.N. should play, that it should fall even further under the influence of Washington to be used as a tool for implementing U.S. foreign policy goals, is a compelling argument in support of Ron Paul’s view. (As I said, I don’t necessarily agree with Dr. Paul, but if Matt keeps going on this way, he might just convince me).