‘Russia kills civilians, US promotes democracy’ – Washington’s mantra for domestic consumption

U.S. President Barack Obama © Jonathan Ernst
The US war in Afghanistan is mostly about politics, says retired CIA and State Department official Larry Johnson. Concerned how it’s going to play with the public, Washington pretends that Russia “is killing civilians,” while the US “is promoting democracy.”

NATO has confirmed that its operation near Kunduz in Afghanistan a couple of days ago resulted in several dozen civilian fatalities, including children. The Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan has commented on the issue, saying he regrets the tragic loss of innocent lives, while promising to work with the Afghan authorities to determine the facts and provide assistance. According to Kunduz officials, the attack took the lives of over 30 civilians and left 25 injured.

Barack Obama has noted that the negative consequences of US interventions overseas could lead to even more problems. Since he took office eight years ago, a total of seven countries have been targeted by the US military, with America carrying out bombing operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, and now Syria. Obama’s term in office has also seen eight times as many drone strikes as were approved during the Bush administration. However, back in 2009, just weeks into his presidency, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, when he newly-elected leader was praised for the promises he’d made during his election campaign.  It has since been claimed that the move was nothing more than an attempt to lure the popular new President to Norway.

RT: It’s been days since this attack. We learned almost immediately that two US servicemen had been killed. Why has it taken longer to learn about the civilian deaths, especially when there were significantly more of them?

 Larry Johnson: This is a political intervention, not so much a military intervention. They are very concerned about how it is going to play in the domestic politics back at home. The way the theme is being constructed, is that Russia is killing civilians, the US is promoting democracy. The fact of the matter is, both sides have been responsible for killing some civilians in some cases, but that is because the enemy that is being battled is using the civilians as human shields. So sometimes it is unavoidable.

I guess what really bothers me about this is that instead of focusing upon the policy objective… What is the policy objective? Containing Islamic extremism, destroying its base, making it incapable of being able to kill other people and impose its XIII century mentality upon people? Instead of cooperation between the US and Russia on that, we’re looking at these games. They would be childish games if there were not human lives at stake. It is really disturbing that, from my Afghanistan standpoint, in the US most people don’t even know there is a war going on there anymore.

RT:  Is the so-called ‘collateral damage’ we keep seeing during these US military campaigns completely unavoidable? Is there anything that can be done to stop it?

LJ: The irony is that we are probably causing far fewer civilian casualties – both sides, Russia and the US – than was the case in previous wars. Heaven, go back and look at what happened in World War II. Both the US and Great Britain just wantonly bombed German cities and killed German civilians in the millions. The same happened in Japan…When you go back and look at the events like World War II, you find that civilian causalities exceeded that of military causalities. 

Yes, I think it is unavoidable. Part of the problem, though, is that there is a one-sided view on this… trying to demonize what Russia is doing in Aleppo, [and] ignoring what the US is doing in Mosul. When in fact both the US and Russia are carrying out combat operations in areas that are occupied by civilians. Civilian causalities are inevitable.    

RT: A number of America’s overseas interventions haven’t exactly gone to plan. Do you view Obama’s words as condemnation of his own actions? 

LJ: You’re being generous saying they haven’t gone as planned. I think some of them have been absolutely disastrous. The reality is the US invasion of Iraq has unhinged the entire Middle East. It’s created a situation in which Iran has grown in its influence. That alarms Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the one that has been pushing to get the US and Turkey involved with intervening in Syria. In this case, personally, I’ve always felt that Russia was one of the few ones acting with some sanity trying to contain that Islamist threat.

The US has a long history, unfortunately, of foreign intervention. The US mindset is, it’s always done for the right reasons or for the right purposes. And we all justify it because we look back at the Cold War days, point to the Soviet Union meddling in our hemisphere. Yet, we failed to understand that we were engaged with similar meddling in places like Ukraine and the Baltics. And we see nothing wrong with it from our standpoint. So there is just a complete cluelessness…

‘Precise weapon can very precisely hit the wrong persons’

According to US defense analyst and author Ivan Eland, civilian casualties are often the result of a lack of proper intelligence.

“The US military like any other military doesn’t want to admit that it killed civilians. Now that it is confronted with enough evidence, they grudgingly say they killed civilians. But I think the US probably does the best job trying to avoid civilians, because we have much better military technology than anybody else in the world. But the problem is, even if you have precision weapons you have to know where to shoot them with what intelligence you have. Sometimes the intelligence is not as good as it should be,” he told RT.

“So you can have a very precise weapon, but you can very precisely hit the wrong persons. If you have the proper intelligence that the [area is] militant rather than a civilian, and in these types of situations, where you’re hunting militants, they blend back into the population, etc. That is what they do. They don’t have military uniforms like in traditional war. So that makes it very difficult for the US and any other country bombing to not kill some civilians at war,” he explained.

In an interview with HBO’s Real Time show host Bill Maher, Obama admitted that “there are a lot of times where the unintended consequences can result in more problems when we intervene.”

According to Eland, Obama has been more restrained than his predecessor George W. Bush. 

“Over time, Obama has tried to reduce US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, he went back into Iraq, which was disappointing. Also, he went into Libya and overthrew Gaddafi, when he saw how bad overthrowing Saddam [Hussein] turned out to be. He’s made a lot of mistakes… I think, in his heart, he probably thinks he is a noninterventionist president, but it depends on what you compare to. He is better than George Bush,” Eland said.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.