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The Arrogance of Power - Ad Nauseam, Ad Infinitum

“These people weren’t gathering for a bake sale ... They were terrorists.”

So went the American response to Pakistan’s complaint that our drone-launched missiles killed mostly “peaceful citizens, including elders of the area” in an attack last week. Now, a decade of explanations that civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Pakistan were a regrettable (but inevitable) part of our War on Terror have pretty well inured me to government mendacity. But somehow, this one – well you know, it took the cake. “A bake sale” – No, they probably weren’t there for a bake sale. Bake sales are what they hold here in America to run the schools we don’t have enough money for. Making new enemies for this country is pretty expensive you know.

The story this time is that the missiles apparently killed 26 of 32 participants in a “jirga” called to settle a local dispute between two tribes in North Waziristan over the operation of the chromium mine. Their target was the local Taliban officials expected there to mediate in their role as the de facto local government. Pakistan’s Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani called the attack “carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” reporting that there were, in fact, 13 Taliban present, but 15 of those killed were not Taliban. Some locals claimed a death toll as high as 40. And the U.S. response was anonymous because officially we have never launched a missile into Pakistan. We’re not at war there, so that would be illegal. And the CIA would never do anything illegal.

If the military hasn’t yet created a decoration for arrogance, they should. Otherwise, a lot of lot of spectacular efforts – such as this one – will go unrewarded. Could we ever imagine another country killing American civilians because they were in proximity to government or military figures, and then telling the world, “Those people were criminals. That was no cattle show, you know”? Of course not – no country is capable of such an action, so why bother even imagining such a thing?

There may be no better measure of just how far this country has gone down the road of trying to bomb its way to peace and friendship in the Muslim and Arab worlds than our current decision to bomb another Muslim and Arab country. The proposition that Libya could do better than Muammar Gaddafi will get no argument here, nor will I try to predict the future. But consider the arrogance that it takes for us to decide that this latest attack constitutes a sensible American response to the situation.

The U.S. still maintains an occupying force of 50,000 troops in Iraq as a result of a war launched on grounds now generally conceded to have been fraudulent. A military force of over 100,000 is currently deployed in Afghanistan, even as the Secretary of Defense says that anyone who’d recommend an operation like that should “have his head examined.” As mentioned above, we are also waging undeclared war in Pakistan – and in Yemen, too, in similar fashion.

In the current political upheavals in the Middle East, American allies in the governments of Yemen and Bahrain have killed unarmed civilians – in the case of Bahrain with the aid of another ally – Saudi Arabia – none of which has moved our government to action. But when France and the United Kingdom, the former colonial powers in the oil-rich area, declare the need to aid a military uprising in Libya – obviously not an ally – why, the U.S. is right there.

Unfortunately, one of the most accurate reactions to recent events was probably that of the unnamed Pakistani resident who said of the missile attack on his region: “It will create resentment among the locals and everyone might turn into suicide bombers.” Meanwhile, they might want to get to minting those Presidential Medals of Arrogance.

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Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher is a former Massachusetts State Representative and the author of 'The Primary Route: How the 99% Take On the Military Industrial Complex.' He lives in San Francisco.

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