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Why Do They Hate Us?


The book Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill should be read by anyone who asks the question that is the title of this review. It is a history of the Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA during the last three Administrations and their counter-insurgency operations in the Middle East. This big book may not sound appealing at first glance, but it need not be read from cover to cover for its essential message. The fine details of the turf wars and policy disputes between the agencies and even the exciting shoot-outs in downtown Lahore and at the Bin Laden compound can be skipped without missing the valuable insights that the work offers. Just dipping into the material on our efforts in Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen will reveal why we are unable, after trillions of dollars and over twenty years of battle, to make substantial inroads against radical Islam.

The story is one of blunder after blunder. By relying on the same crude and violent “pacification” methods that were so unsuccessful in Viet Nam, we create much more resistance among the common-folk, and even within groups that once were our friends, than we eliminate. We often seem very shortsightedly to associate ourselves with the most violent and corrupt elements within these societies while our fundamentalist enemies can bring a measure of law and order. Acting on supposed “intelligence” provided by local sources not fully vetted can result in killing mediators whose only crime, perhaps, is that they are not totally dedicated to our local policy position, or worse, are the subjects of a feud.

But the most telling episodes are those recounted by Scahill in which people or groups are targeted for killing on the very questionable bases of personal associations, life patterns or simply expressions of political positions. Examples are the cases of the elimination by Hellfire missile of the whole Yemeni shepherding group that may have provided food to a nearby Al Qaeda camp, and the mistaken killing and attempted cover-up of a highly respected Afghan police official and members of his family. This last, especially brutal special operations episode reached the international news only because of the brave persistence of a British journalist whose reputation was put in jeopardy during the war of words that erupted from the highest command levels. There is also the matter of the killing, on orders of the U.S. President, of the U.S-born Anwar al-Awlaki and later his 16-year-old non-political son. The father’s life and evolving beliefs are followed in detail, and a case is made that he was killed simply for his ideas and the public relations power of his outrage over our targeted killings.

As one reads of these affairs and the criticisms they have generated within our own foreign affairs and defense establishment, it becomes clear that for some reason, though we are generating more enemies than we are killing, those who assemble the weekly kill lists do not seem to notice. Why is this? Do we need wars?

~Jim Snell

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