No wars, Trump’s positive legacy

Unlike almost all of his predecessors Donald Trump fully understood that every US war of the past 70 years ended badly. Apart from his ideological aversion to foreign conflicts, his leadership style would not translate well to a military campaign which ensured he would not drag the US into armed conflict.

Brian Toohey reports on only the second US president since 1950 not to lead America into a war.

6 November 2020 | Brian Toohey/MW Media (Image: USAF)

The seeds of civil war may be growing but one good thing to come out of Donald Trump’s four years in power is that he has not sent America into war overseas, joining the Democrats’ Jimmy Carter as the only other president since 1950 to show such restraint. 

There is one really good thing Donald Trump has done as president. He has not used America’s vast military power to kill and maim large numbers of people in countries that pose no threat to the US.

Jimmy Carter is the only other president since 1950 who didn’t go to war. The rest have all embraced a bi-partisan doctrine of American “exceptionalism” that lets them unleash horrendous destruction.

The Congressional Research Service calculates that the US has used military force overseas 240 times since 1950.

While most weren’t major wars, no other country has used military power on remotely this scale.

Moreover, between 37 million and 59 million people have fled their homes in the eight most violent wars the US military has launched or participated in since 2001, including the war on terror. The figures are contained in a detailed report called “Creating Refugees” released on 21 September by Brown University in America.

Iraq war based on ‘concocted rubbish’

John Howard was keen to join the US and Britain in invading Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime. He claimed in parliament the Australian government “knows Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons … that pose a real and unacceptable threat to the stability and security of our world”.

Howard knew no such thing, as he would’ve realised if he’d read the accurate reports from Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation. Instead, he relied on concocted rubbish masquerading as intelligence from the Bush administration.

He said another motivation for going to war was the supply of intelligence, which was a “priceless component” of our relationship with the US and the UK. Far from being priceless, the intelligence on the non-existent weapons of mass destruction was worse than useless, providing the grounds for a disastrous invasion.

Before the invasion, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Richard Dearlove, reported from Washington that the “intelligence and the facts are being fixed around the policy [to invade].” Apparently, the UK didn’t supply this crucial piece of intelligence to Howard.

Intelligence as propaganda

The enduring lesson from the debacle is that the US treats intelligence as propaganda to help shape the views of other countries. Yet many Australian journalists now treat intelligence as infallible, especially from the US.

Although Howard still refuses to concede the invasion was a mistake, its repercussions continue to this day,

Similarly, the war in Afghanistan.

No Afghanis were involved in the terrorist atrocities on the United States on 11 September 2001, with most of the terrorists from Saudi Arabia, a US ally. Yet John Howard promptly sent expeditionary forces to Afghanistan to join an international coalition with an ill-defined role, even though the UN did not authorise the invasion.

The US attacks were committed by the al Qaeda terrorist group led by the Saudi religious zealot Osama bin Laden, who had established training camps in Afghanistan. The Taliban religious movement, backed by Pakistan intelligence, loosely controlled Afghanistan from the capital Kabul, but never engaged in international terrorism.

Corrupt government in Kabul

With bin Laden being his No 1 target after the September 11 attacks, President George Bush gave priority to removing the Taliban from power. This was easily done. However, the Taliban set themselves up as a resistance movement against the corrupt and incompetent government the US installed in Kabul.

Meanwhile, bin Laden and most of his group escaped from Afghanistan in the first few months of the war. This should’ve been when Western troops withdrew. Instead, they stayed and adopted military tactics that ensured they could never win the war.

Often relying on inaccurate intelligence, they killed Afghanis with air and ground assaults, including widely resented lethal raids on people’s homes.

The US eventually killed bin Laden in 2011. It made no difference to terrorism or the Afghan war.

Australian combat forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan by December 2013. About 400 trainers and advisers remain. A belated investigation of alleged war crimes committed by Australian special forces is expected to produce highly disturbing findings.

Forty two Australian soldiers have died and 261 have been injured, along with an unknown number of Afghanis, in a futile war that has cost Australia almost $10 billion.

Permanent militarism

The state of “permanent militarism” in US was created by the Korean war, which was among the worst of wars, according to Michael Pembroke, an accomplished historian and NSW  Supreme Court judge.

In his 2018 book, Korea: Where the American Century Began, Pembroke wrote that before the Korean war: “The civilised world regarded armed conflict as barbarism, brutality, ugliness and sheer waste.”

The UN authorised a joint force to respond after North Korean troops invaded South Korea by crossing the border at the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950. However, President Harry Truman ignored the UN mandate and the troops went beyond the 38th parallel up to the Yula river on the border with China. Fearing an invasion, China ordered its troops to drive the Americans back to the 38th parallel and stopped there.

The UN goal of expelling the North Korean forces out of South Korea was met just three months after the war started, yet the armistice was not reached for nearly three more years until 23 July 1953. The US Air Force used napalm and high explosives to destroy almost every city, town, village, dykes and dam in the country. Australian Mustang fighter planes, which the Menzies government dispatched at the start, also dropped napalm on targets in North Korea, including Chinese troops.

Civilian deaths are estimated at more than 3 million with General Douglas MacArthur, who initially led the UN-authorised joint force, telling Congress in 1951, “I have never seen such devastation.”

The ‘American war’

What the Vietnamese call the “American war” got under way in earnest when the US rejected a 1954 international agreement to unify the country with an election no later than 1956. Eisenhower stopped the election because, he later explained, North Vietnam’s leader Ho Chi Minh would have won easily.

Russian interference in the 2016 US election is trivial by comparison.

Because Ho Chi Minh was also a communist, the US wrongly assumed he was a puppet of China. Without US interference, there would be no conflict involving horrific devastation, war crimes, torture, assassinations and widespread use of herbicides containing dioxin. This persistent poison still leads to anguished mothers giving birth to malformed children.

The US dropped six million tons of bombs on Vietnam – more than the combined total dropped in World War II and Korea. It dropped another 2.7 million tons on Cambodia and two million tons on tiny Laos, where most were anti-personnel cluster bombs.

They pose a continuing threat, particularly to children.

The Menzies government sent about 1,000 troops to Vietnam in 1965, later expanded to 7,000 troops plus ships and planes. Despite the electoral backlash, the Labor leader Arthur Calwell opposed the war in a speech giving extraordinarily accurate predictions of how badly it would go.

Australia initially entered the war in 1962 when it sent a training team, without acknowledging that some members would be working for the CIA. Most behaved exemplarily, refusing to train troops to assassinate people and expressing horror at seeing American troops use flamethrowers to kill mothers holding children.

US troops capture suspected North Vietnamese fighter in 1967

However, the initial commander Brigadier Ted Serong later joined the CIA-run Phoenix program, which assassinated villagers suspected of being sympathetic to the Vietcong resistance movement in south Vietnam. Serong was a devout Catholic who rejected the church’s teaching about a just war. He gave an interview to Time magazine, in which he said, “Yes, we did kill teachers and postman … They were part of the Vietcong infrastructure … Everyone goes over the speed limit from time to time.”

The US and Australia lost a dishonourable war that ended in 1975. Plausible estimates of civilian and military deaths range from 2.5 million to more than 3 million.

War-monger Hillary Clinton

One of the most counter-productive was the joint US-French military assault on Libya in 2011. Although Libya’s ruler Colonel Gaddafi played a relatively moderate role internationally for many years, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the driving force behind America’s participation. Following the disastrous overthrow of one dictator, Saddam Hussein, why would anyone think it was a good idea to overthrow another dictator who was causing little harm internationally?

The answer is that Clinton was a warmonger who ignored the adverse consequences. Libya descended into chaos, slave markets prospered, terrorist groups and army factions took control of large parts of the country and refugees flooded Europe.

Gaddafi was murdered after being raped with a large blade. Clinton could only gloat: “We came. We saw. He died.” Had she won the 2016 presidential election, unlike Trump she would have found it hard to resist plunging the US and Australia into more wars.

Brian Toohey began his career in journalism as a political correspondent at the Australian Financial Review in 1973. He edited the National Times in the 1980s and has contributed to numerous publications. He is author of Secret: The Making of Australia’s Security State. This story was first published by Michael West Media