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An Open Letter to Humanitarian Interventionists

Calls for US military action in Iraq and Syria in response to the tragic killings of westerners ignore the wider context of instability in the Middle East.

As the Obama administration works to build public support for a new American military mobilization in the Middle East of uncertain duration and scope, it should be no surprise to find the rhetoric of humanitarian interventionism on display. And it should be no less disappointing to, as usual, see many on the left falling victim to this rhetoric. An excerpt from an essay recently published by Buddy Bell of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, “On Worthier Victims,” might prove especially illuminating of the phenomenon at work:

“If someone is not accustomed to hearing much about death and suffering, it can be very upsetting to suddenly hear that a human being was brutally killed in some foreign location. Another someone who has a larger context in which to place that death, while not less upset, might feel less of a sense of momentary kneejerk urgency regarding that singular piece of news. Put in another way, the increment between 0 and 1 human deaths feels intuitively much greater than that between 1000 and 1001 human deaths.

What the first ‘someone’ lacks is proportion. This kind of haziness has been exploited, in one generation after another, as a foundation to construct justifications for war. Those who want to justify war don’t want us to see, let alone value, the first 1000 human beings.

Media attention to the daily murderous instability in Iraq and Afghanistan has been sorely lacking. Even the consistently repeating deaths and injuries of US soldiers receive only momentary pause. Yet when General Harold Greene was recently killed in a ‘green on blue’ attack in Afghanistan or when James Foley and Steven Sotloff were beheaded in Iraq, the story moves to the top of the page for days; people talk; the dead have names. It looks like there is an acute crisis on our hands when actually it is a chronic one.”

An interview on Democracy Now last week featured James Foley’s mother, Diane Foley [James Foley, IS] and she said that while her son was imprisoned, she hoped to raise a ransom to get him back. But rather than support her in this, the US government told her that what she was doing was illegal, and threatened her with prosecution.

This may seem inexplicable. But the US has a history of stultifying efforts at peaceful resolution of a conflict when such a resolution is deemed incompatible with American interest. Larry Everest’s book Oil, Power, and Empire chronicles the way this played out during the first Gulf War. As Everest demonstrates, the Bush I administration simply had to have this war at all costs. Indeed, there are many documented instances of people in that administration explicitly saying, either in communications from the time or in reflections after the fact, that, short of regime change, there was nothing Iraq could have done to avert a US military response.

The fact is, the US wanted Sadaam Hussein, a dictator whose human rights violations we had supported and enabled in the past, gone because he could no longer be relied on to consistently protect what were seen as American interests. And they wanted to neutralize Iraq’s military power.

After the initial invasion of Kuwait, when it became clear that the US would not tolerate it, Iraq complied with every condition the US laid out for peaceful surrender. So, while giving lip service to the idea of a peaceful resolution, the Bush I administration kept changing the conditions, moving the goalposts, and ultimately when the attack was launched, the US massacred an Iraqi military that was already in retreat, a clear and egregious human rights violation. This is to say nothing of the way in which the US mercilessly bombarded Iraq’s civilian infrastructure and then, by imposing sanctions that made it impossible for them to rebuild, created a humanitarian crisis that it is estimated cost the lives of about 5000 children per month due to the effects of contaminated water alone.

Is the connection to James Foley clear yet? With reference again to the Buddy Bell excerpt, history shows that time and again, the US government has been happy to completely disregard, to turn a blind eye to, the deaths of thousands – yet the one death that serves as a convenient excuse for the exercise of American power is treated as somehow a new and shocking event. With respect to the other journalist who was tragically beheaded, Steven Sotloff, it has recently been reported [Steven Sotloff, Syria, IS] that he was actually taken prisoner by one of the supposedly “moderate” groups in Syria that the US now apparently plans to arm and support, and sold to IS by that group.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that US ally Saudi Arabia executed at least 22 people, at least 8 of those by beheading, within the space of 2 weeks last month. According to Amnesty International, most of these people were guilty of nonviolent offenses like drug trafficking, adultery, apostasy and “sorcery.”

Incredulous yet? The ally that is apparently key to our strategy in this new war is beheading people for “sorcery?” And the supposedly moderate groups that are another key part of US strategy in Syria are actually the ones that sold Steven Sotloff to IS in the first place? By this point, it should be obvious to readers that the US and its allies have NO moral high ground in this situation.

So if the new war President Obama is proposing clearly cannot be reduced to some simplistic battle between good and evil forces in the Middle East, what is it about?

Who profits from continued US military intervention? Given President Obama’s pledge to minimize “boots on the ground,” all indications are that weaponized and surveillance drones will be a linchpin of this campaign. So for companies that profit from those drones, this war will be great for business. If one were to make a list of companies for which that is the case, Honeywell International, Inc., would definitely be near the top.

Why is this war moving forward with virtually no meaningful opposition in congress? That may make more sense when one learns, as has been documented on the website of Badhoneywell, a new campaign to boycott and divest Honeywell, that Honeywell has poured millions of dollars into lobbying directed at politicians across the political spectrum, President Obama prominent among them.

This is why on and around October 4th, people will be coming out all across the country to circumvent the corrupted political system by speaking out directly against this war profiteer that is using money to manipulate US policy at the cost of the lives of innocent people around the world. Badhoneywell activists will be at the Honeywell headquarters in Morristown, NJ and at stores across the nation carrying Honeywell consumer products, stores like Walmart, Home Depot, and Target.

All are welcome to participate on 10/4. To all those who request support, via email at [email protected] or via social media, the Badhoneywell organizers will send informational pamphlets, fliers, and posters that can be used to educate consumers at any store in their area that carries Honeywell products. As the gears of war begin to turn, October 4th promises to be the start of a new movement of direct citizen and consumer resistance against the control of US foreign policy by wealthy war profiteers.