Scott Horton is the host of “The Scott Horton Show,” which I recently appeared on, director of the Libertarian Institute, editorial director of Antiwar.com and the author of “Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan.” He’s also an all- around good guy and original thinker, though we have a few friendly disagreements from time to time. I recently asked him six questions about his book, who’s he’s rooting for in 2020 and a few other issues. Follow Scott on Twitter @scotthortonshow.
1/ You wrote Fools Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan in 2017. This may sound facetious but is the book still relevant? Is there still a war in Afghanistan? I can’t remember the last time I heard anything about it in the mainstream media?
Yes, indeed there is still a war in Afghanistan. The marines still fight the Taliban in Helmand and Kandahar provinces while army special forces are engaging with the local claimed ISIS affiliate in Nangarhar. And of course there’s still Bagram airbase and its drone and air wars, along with training missions at various other U.S. bases around the country. As the book went to press in August 2017, Trump was finally giving in to the Pentagon and escalating a war he knew was wrong and could not be won, just as Barack Obama had done 8 years before. What the Afghan people have gotten is an escalation of force and civilian casualties, with nothing to show for it at all.
2/ Why has the media stopped covering the war?
Because the U.S. lost. It seems now as though the only coverage the war gets is when the military, namely Generals Nicholson, Votel, Miller and McKenzie, publicly trash their commander-in-chief’s effort to negotiate a U.S. withdrawal. They lie that all of a sudden the country is crawling with al Qaeda again and that removing U.S. forces would leave the American people here at home open to the threat of terrorist attacks. This “safe-haven myth” has been roundly debunked by many experts. I have a treatment of it in “Fool’s Errand” and an article about it here in the American Conservative magazine.
3/ Was there ever a genuine justification for war? The Taliban had given Osama bin Laden refuge and he was not a nice guy?
The case I make in the book is that:
1: The Bush government could have chosen to negotiate the extradition of al Qaeda after September 11th. Mullah Omar hated bin Laden, and his initial demands were reasonable enough. He said the U.S. should provide some evidence of al Qaeda’s guilt, and that bin Laden and his men should be extradited to another Muslim country (which could have been any of many loyal U.S.-allied states who would have handed him over to the U.S. immediately). By the second week of October, and trial offers of lesser demands, Omar’s conditions had vanished. The U.S. could have him, but it was too late.
But 2: If you think that no, we had to carpet bomb somebody, then that would have just been bin Laden and his men in eastern Afghanistan, not the entire Taliban government in the rest of the country, who were a distraction from the real target. As it happened, Bush and his generals refused to commit necessary reinforcements for the CIA Special Activities Division paramilitaries and Delta Force operators at Tora Bora, and bin Laden was able to escape justice for another decade. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri still lives to relish his forces’ recent gains (with American assistance) in Libya, Syria and Yemen, and put out regular podcasts exhorting his followers on to worse mayhem.
However 3: You might say that no, after September 11th, the U.S. absolutely had to bomb the Taliban government, which the U.S. and its Saudi and Pakistani allies had helped to install in power in the mid-1990s, for their harboring of al Qaeda in the years since.
Even accepting that, for argument’s sake, there would still be no justification for the U.S. to continue to occupy the country after that to create a new national government and then declare permanent war against all of its enemies; to build a whole new state, a new army and 10,000 civil projects to remake Afghan society.
Even then, the Taliban quickly surrendered and left the field in 2001. Omar and his leadership remarkably recognized the new government, led by Kandahari Pashtun Hamid Karzai, as Islamic and legitimate. It took years of abuse at the hands of U.S. forces before they returned to mount an insurgency the Americans have since proven unable to quell.
4/ I agree it’s time to get out of Afghanistan and concede defeat, that’s easy, but should we just get out and see what happens? Or is there some non-violent U.S. policy towards the country that makes sense?
Just come home. Any policy the U.S. has toward Afghanistan beyond peace, commerce and honest friendship, however well-intentioned (ahem), can only distort power relationships inside the country to the long-term detriment of the people there. They need independence first so they can settle their own differences their own way. All other things being equal, we could lean on our Saudi and Pakistani friends to not support the Taliban in conquering the whole country upon our exit. However the best solution there is to quit supporting them as well so we’re no longer partially responsible for their policies either way.
4/ You’re known as a non-interventionist. Would you ever approve of the U.S. using military force abroad? This goes back awhile but would you have favored FDR’s decision to go to war with Nazi Germany and Japan after Pearl Harbor?
Importantly, as Winston Churchill put it: “America should have minded her own business and stayed out of the [first] World War. If you hadn’t entered the war the Allies would have made peace with Germany in the spring of 1917. Had we made peace then there would have been no collapse in Russia followed by Communism, no breakdown in Italy followed by Fascism, and Germany would not have signed the Versailles Treaty, which has enthroned Nazism in Germany.”
American intervention in World War I caused Nazism, Communism, World War II, the Cold War, the American world empire and ultimately the War on Terrorism, as the U.S. continues to fight against — and oftentimes still supports — Britain’s old Islamist mercenary terrorists, previously used against the socialists and nationalists of the Arab world and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the Cold War.
So maybe the question should be whether some power should have invaded the United States in order to overthrow Wilson and “install a democracy” here that would refrain from intervening and getting a couple hundred million people killed? No, I’d still be against that foreign intervention too.
Of course FDR deliberately implemented naval intelligence officer Arthur McCollum’s 8 point plan for “maneuvering Japan into firing the first shot,” as Secretary of War Stimson put it, and then turned a deliberate blind eye to the impending attack at Pearl Harbor as Robert Stinnett proved in his 1999 book, “Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor.” After Roosevelt and his cabinet had been duly prosecuted and imprisoned for their crimes, the new government should have sued for peace.
Hitler’s war machine — which declared war on the U.S. — was the most violent in history, which is why every official U.S. enemy is compared to him: Noriega, Koresh, Milosevic, Omar, Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad, the Kims and the Ayatollahs. How else can we justify aggressive war against them?
5/ Who are you rooting for in 2020, or None of the Above? Why?
None of the above for a great many reasons, but most importantly I’d say the Democrats deserve to be wiped off the face of the earth for their false accusations of High Treason against Trump and for perpetuating the three-year Russiagate hoax on this country, which has done more to undermine the idea that we all live in one constitutional republic together than anything in my lifetime. They are the traitors.
Of course the Republicans deserve no better fate. Trump has perpetuated Obama’s deliberate, genocidal war of starvation against the humans of Yemen. This is not the war against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This is the war for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and their Saudi and UAE allies against the Houthi regime and civilian population who never threatened us in any way. In fact, after the Houthis took the capital in the beginning of 2015, the U.S. provided the Houthis with intelligence to help them target al Qaeda there. Two months later, Obama stabbed them in the back and took al Qaeda’s side in the war against them. So the Yemen war is genocide and treason.
Trump has escalated Bush and Obama’s wars in Afghanistan; their CIA and JSOC-SOCOM war in Somalia (another brutal war Trump is on the record not believing in but continues anyway); Libya, where a massive drone war against Obama’s former terrorist allies there has raged nearly unnoticed for the last two years; Iraq War III 1/2 against what’s left of ISIS in western Iraq and eastern Syria; the expansion of Obama’s SOCOM invasion of Tunisia, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Mali, etc., etc., and of course continuing military buildups and provocations against Russia, China and Iran.
And then there’s Palestine where Trump couldn’t possibly be worse. He clearly has no interest in even pretending to care about justice for the Palestinians. By moving the embassy he has essentially recognized Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, in a way to preclude the possibility of the Palestinians establishing their own capital there. Then there’s his and Jared Kushner’s phony peace plan, which seems to have been put together only to be rejected for public relations purposes in the first place. On its face it recommends buying the Palestinians off with Gulf Arab oil money to forget about freedom and independence, which is corrupt and cruel and destined for failure. Israel’s official annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights has been recognized, and the very real possibility of de jure annexation of major parts of the West Bank and recognition of that by the U.S. under Trump looms.
The only thing that would have been worse under Hillary would have been her continuation of Obama and John Brennan’s arming and financing of the al Qaeda-sworn Syrian terrorists of Jabhat al Nusra, now known as Hayat Tahrir al Sham, and her repeatedly stated willingness to go to war with the Russian air force in order to protect them. To his credit, Trump called that program off in the summer of 2017.
6/ Is the country teetering on the brink of fascism? A lot of people draw comparisons to Nazi Germany. We’re in bad shape and Trump has emboldened white nationalists, but personally I think the Nazi comparisons are overblown. What’s your take?
The system established by the centrist so-called “moderate” post-war political establishment, as represented in our times by the Bush and Clinton family dynasties, is already what economist Robert Higgs calls “participatory fascism.” Some trappings of an old constitutional order remain, but real power is embedded in the national security state and a few other centers of power far removed from most citizens.
“Neo-liberal” denotes their statist, crony-capitalist, “mixed-economy” formulation; “neo-conservative” their devotion to global dominance through permanent war.
It’s the wars more than anything that have destroyed the credibility of this so-called liberal establishment, and we do have both the left and right moving further to the left and right, and mostly in the worst ways. For example, the newly moving-left types are getting more statist on race, the economy and culture, rather than more antiwar; the newly moving-right types are getting more statist on race, the economy and culture, rather than more constitutionalist or budget-responsible.
But the average American civilian is very moderate. The fact that the establishment center, which turned out to be extreme and extremely bad on so many things, has failed, doesn’t mean that the people overall can be persuaded to accept anything beyond the slow revolutions within the form of the current system as we’ve been experiencing it all this time.
As far as our elected president doing anything drastic to change America into a police state? Well that’s why the FBI and CIA secret police are here, to frame him for high crimes to “rein in” his power and prevent something like that from ever happening.