2007: A View From Marin County

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I am 68 years old, of Indian origin and have lived in the United States since 1969.  I came for adventure and experience, but ended up attending graduate school, marrying an American and becoming a citizen.  I met my wife working at the World Bank.  Both of us have graduate degrees from elite universities in the US. We moved to Marin County just north of San Francisco in September 1999, chosen as a great place to gradually slip into retirement.  It then had the highest per capita income of any county in the United States and an exemplary record for security.   It has much else to offer—wonderful climate, great views, hiking trails galore, organic produce, grass-fed meat, good cheese and wine and proximity to all the other amenities of the San Francisco Bay Area.  For us, these included world-class industries, universities, hospitals, restaurants, sports facilities and an international population.   Surrounded by beauty and a plethora of amenities, how can anyone complain about anything?  Well, I do.Unlike many of my fellow Marinites, I cannot live contentedly in our bounteous bubble.  Having lived in several countries and worked and traveled in many more, I am unable to ignore world developments.  9/11 affected my life and that of thousands in this country and millions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Not long after the attack, which elicited the world’s sympathy, the drums of war started to beat seeking revenge.  Within a few weeks of the tragedy, I received a telephone call from a friend asking if I was OK.  Apparently, on a flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, a lady passenger had complained about an Indian sitting next to her and the flight’s captain threw the man out of the plane.  As I was scheduled to fly to India in December, I requested a friend who is a pilot to email my flight’s captain to assure him that I was not a terrorist.  Tension began to mount because many people living in the US of middle-eastern origin, brown-skinned, with a Muslim name, wearing a turban were attacked without cause and some were killed, including several Indians.  My friends and I became wary of speaking our minds in case a listener reported us to the FBI.

Much has already been written about the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.  About six years after the invasion of Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden remains at large, the Taliban is resurgent, governance is sketchy, the President of Afghanistan is in reality the Mayor of Kabul, millions of Afghanis live in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran and the country produced its largest poppy crop last year.  An incursion targeted at Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda would have been preferable to destroying a country that had already suffered decades of devastation.

The propaganda for war against Iraq was capped by Colin Powell’s ignominious speech at the United Nations providing “evidence” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda.  Bombarded by senior officials repeated falsifications, the public and congress believed the “evidence” and supported a totally groundless and illegal war against Iraq.  The media’s vaunted investigative reporting was also absent.

While the US easily won the initial battle, it then got bogged down.  The era of colonial wars is over. If people in the invaded country do not want an occupation, the invader cannot win.  Almost five years of war have caused 3,900 deaths and 20,000 injuries of US troops, 150,000 deaths and countless injuries of Iraqi civilians and four million migrants from Baghdad and the country.  Iraq’s economy, infrastructure and homes have been destroyed and its professional ranks depleted.  Political negotiations in the country are deadlocked.

The US blames this outcome on sectarian divisiveness and civil war.  Its illegal war broke the country’s cohesiveness and it has the responsibility to fix it, however.  Although opposition to the war has mounted, the Democrats voicing that opposition understandably want US troops out of the quagmire.  They do not express any remorse or offer an apology for the devastation.  Paying reparations for collateral damage—civilian deaths, migrants, homes and infrastructure—has not been mentioned.

The stalemate in Afghanistan and Iraq has exposed weaknesses in US foreign policy and democracy.  When weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, the replacement justification for the misadventure was promoting democracy. Contradicting that stance, in the same region the US supports a host of autocracies and refuses to recognize an elected government.  Domestically, individual rights have been curtailed by the Patriot Act, torture sanctioned by rendition and habeas corpus denied to a group of prisoners by the legerdemain of creating a separate enclave country.  Moreover, the legislature, judiciary and “free press” voluntarily abdicated their review powers over executive actions.

The Vietnam War came to an end because of mass demonstrations protesting mounting US casualties, especially of conscripts, not the devastation wrought upon Vietnam.  In the current conflicts, the opposition has been muted because US casualties have been lower and the troops involved are professionals.  As with Vietnam, the politicians and the public have not shown concern for the millions of suffering Afghanis and Iraqis.  Unfortunately, the US has not learned to be more considerate of the human suffering caused by its actions.

For the future, the US must fully assimilate a world-view which values human life everywhere equally and base its policies on that premise.  It needs to halt unilateral interventions and work through multilateral agencies to help other countries develop.  Its foreign policy should conform to its more successful economic management system, some version of which has been accepted as the best approach to economic development in most countries.  Imagine what could have been achieved if the trillion dollars committed to destroying Afghanistan and Iraq had been used to finance education, infrastructure and medical facilities, etc. in those countries.  Until this lesson is learned, I may just abandon the cocoon of Marin County and take refuge in India to avoid an association with callous policies.