Much is being made of Donald Trump’s recent statement that he respects Russian President Vladimir Putin. In an interview with Bill O’Reilly aired before the Super Bowl, Trump stated in response to O’Reilly’s quip that Putin was a killer: “There are lots of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think your country’s so innocent?”
Besides the sin of equating US violence with another country’s and, consequently, violating the unwritten law of “American exceptionalism,” Trump seems merely to be guilty of telling the truth on this issue. The fact that the US is responsible for large amounts of death delivered via drone, special forces, B-52 bombing raids and the lesser-known but very real impact of sanctions, could certainly be used as proof that US presidents have killed and will continue to do so.
A 2015 report by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War stated that “at least 1.3 million people have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan from direct and indirect consequences of the US ‘war on terrorism.'” At best, the US public’s inability to equate US military violence with killing is simply a matter of semantics. At worst, it is a collective inability to make critical connections between US policy and murder.
If the latter is true, perhaps a brief look at a few recent acts of US allies would at least put Putin’s “killing” in perspective. For if the bar the US sets for its allies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel — to name only three — is any indicator of what the US will support or tolerate, Putin might not make the grade as a US supported “killer.”
In the Saudi case, the kingdom beheaded 47 people on January 2, 2016, including the Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr who was arrested for the crime of leading peaceful protests in 2011. His nephew was arrested also, and is now in prison with the specter of crucifixion hanging over his head after the Obama administration ignored pleas to intercede on his behalf. And though the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen is not thoroughly covered in the US press, the civilian casualties continue to mount there. But instead of reprimanding the Saudis for repression in the kingdom, Bahrain and Yemen, the US attitude is best summed up by Obama’s testimonial to King Abdullah upon his death in 2015: “As our countries worked together to confront many challenges, I always valued King Abdullah’s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship. As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions.”
In Egypt, the US government supported Hosni Mubarak until 2011, despite well-known human rights abuses and political killings. Although the US abandoned Mubarak when it became apparent that the Tahrir Square protests would unseat him, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had as recently as 2009 warmly noted that, “I really consider president and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” After a short-lived alliance with the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama administration returned to awarding an Egyptian strongman, General Sisi, with $1.3 billion in military aid in 2015. It would be hard not to consider Sisi a killer, especially regarding the thousands that have been killed since he took power in 2014.
But the most controversial US partnership remains the special relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel. The two highest profile Israeli incidents of “killing” that have made their way into the press in recent years are Operation Cast Lead and Operation Protective Edge in 2008-2009 and 2014, respectively. The UN decried Israeli abuses in both conflicts in Gaza that left thousands, including many children, dead. Yet, this has not stopped the steady flow of military aid to Israel which, according to a 2016 agreement, will receive $3.3 billion annually for “military financing” for the next 10 years.
These three examples represent only a small number of the repressive governments with whom Washington constructively engages. Given these and the numerous historical examples of US-backed military regimes and juntas throughout South America, Africa and Asia, it seems disingenuous to be appalled by Trump’s respecting Putin and questioning of US innocence.
One can only hope that critical thinking is not lost in the sea of usual “doublethink” that allows the US government and mainstream media to praise violence done by allies while calling countries like Russia to task for similar and, in some cases, lesser crimes. That said, we should not expect an about-face by the tepid US corporate press.
Although Trump may not have intended it, his comment about “killers” and “innocence” may inspire some pundits to challenge the conventional wisdom concerning the actions of US allies and foes, or even the US itself.
In the least, Trump’s brashness should force Americans to take a harder look at who they are and what is done in their name.