Dirty Wars is an investigative report centered on post 9/11 United States foreign policy, specifically the causes and consequences (domestic and abroad) of intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. Author Jeremy Scahill offers a non-partisan approach to a very polarizing topic, raising questions about the legal and moral issues surrounding the War on Terrorism.
“The World is a Battlefield” was the mantra for the Bush and Obama administration. Scahill’s main focus is on the use of black sites for torture and the kill/capture program in which they conducted operations outside of the designated battlefield. They were operated without oversight and in violation of international law. Attempts to hold the top brass accountable were met with the “matter of national security” argument which enabled to government to withhold information on their illegal activities. Too often, our interventions bolstered the strength of the resistance and led to more individuals becoming radicalized. The war on terrorism had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Scahill’s epilogue is the first look, I think, into his personal opinions in the sense that he is ultra-critical of the partisanship surrounding these issues. Noting how Obama championed the closing of Guantanamo, he comments that his administration’s drone campaign killed more people than were ever held at Guantanamo. Likewise, he questions how a president actively involved in a killing campaign could receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The following, in my opinion, is the most important theme of the book:
As individuals, we must all ask whether we would support the same policies — the expansion of drone strikes, the empowerment of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the use of the State Secrets Privilege, the use of indefinite detention, the denial of habeas corpus rights, the targeting of U.S. citizens without charge or trial — if the commander in chief was not our candidate of choice.
The left was thrilled when Obama campaigned to bring troops home, yet his administration dropped more bombs in the first year than the 8 years of Bush’s presidency. The right claims to be pro-liberty and for limited government, yet happily abided as the Bush administration abused executive power and denied supposed enemies of their rights under the Geneva Convention. The founding fathers set up our government to expunge tyranny. After reading about how executive powers have grown just since 9/11, I presume they are rolling over in their graves at what our government has become. The Patriot Act (via executive order) enabled the government not only to illegally spy on US citizens. The government even had lawyers draft a “white paper” document which laid out the “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation against a US citizen”, even on US soil. The government has the power to be judge, jury, and executioner. That is tyranny at its most pure state.
The American voter has sat by idly as the president of their choice abused their power and adamantly opposed the same actions made by the candidate they did not support. This vicious cycle has left us with a supercharged presidency, all too relevant because it will be falling directly into the hands of a wild-card like Donald Trump.
I write this not to insult the right and left, each side has its valid arguments, but it is clear to me from reading this book that the government has grown too powerful and needs to be restrained. I also want to make clear that I’m not ignoring the heinous acts attacks and the verifiable threat of the terrorist groups. The focus of the book and my thoughts on it is our side of the conflict and how our actions have reverberated throughout the United States and the world.
As I write, the Obama administration is in its last days, and the media & democratic supporters are filled with praise for Obama, describing him as one of the best ever for “always taking the high road” and being the most empathetic man to assume the office. I’m sure the same happened from conservatives when Bush was leaving office. I think it would serve the US public well to do exactly what Scahill did: take a step back, forget about party alliances, and maintain objectivity when assessing critical issues if we wish to progress.
Attached is an article containing the full text of the epilogue. It serves as an adequate summary if you don’t feel like reading 600 pages. I highly recommend reading if you have an interest in foreign policy.