In an interview with the Balkans Post, John Steppling, who is also a regular political commentator, said that while Obama’s record was horrific, people still like him because he was articulate and urbane and handsome.
The following is the transcript of the interview:
Balkans Post: The U.S. military has dropped tens of thousands of bombs on Afghanistan since it began occupying the country in 2001. In return, what has the U.S. gained by its presence in Afghanistan?
John Steppling: This is an enormous question that has no single answer. One can also ask why the U.S. has 900 military bases around the world or a defense budget of over 4 billion dollars a day. And then ask why the U.S. policing budget, domestically, is around 100 billion. Or that they spend 80 billion plus on prisons. Of the U.S. military personnel that served in Iraq and Afghanistan, more have committed suicide than died in action there. The answer is, in a sense, tied into U.S. foreign policy for the last sixty some years and into the peculiar character of many Americans, the character in a sense of American culture. But the short answer on one level is they have gained nothing. Of course, the Pentagon would tell you they are there building democracy or something. They are making the world safe from terrorists, and creating stability. We all know that none of that is true. The real reasons are both the same as sixty years ago and also very different. The U.S. economy is entirely dependent on defense. And vast amounts of this is waste, but they don’t really care about that. Through the 2000s the military spent over 50 billion dollars on projects, weapons development, that were utter failures. The networked air and ground and vehicles, being developed by Boeing, dragged on almost a decade, and cost 20 billion dollars and was finally dropped in 2009. There are countless other examples. The Crusader self-Propelled howitzer. Billions dropped into that project. The point is that a lot of jobs are connected to defense spending, and in reality the U.S. military is in terrible shape. Or look at the Littoral Combat Ship that the Navy built and which has never been able to stay operational for more than a few days. Billions, again, wasted. A volunteer army of economically drafted poor kids is not putting enough boots on the ground and now one in four military personnel in Afghanistan are private contractors. Wars are being outsourced. This will happen in the U.S. with the de funding of police. Expect a lot of pressure for private security on the streets of the U.S. Or rather there is going to be a fight about that because a lot of grassroots movements are aware of that danger and will fight back. But the Covid-19 event has thrown the economy into the worst depression in a hundred years, almost. There are no jobs. So the U.S. continues to bully poorer countries and to fight hard against any independent nations that won't acquiesce to its orders. This is why the U.S. continues to try to overthrow Maduro in Venezuela, and it's why it DID oust Morales in Bolivia. It's why Iran is a constant target and the same with Syria. Afghanistan is located in a geopolitically sensitive part of the globe. So it’s basically necessary to occupy it in order to pressure countries like Iran.
BP: According to a new investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, one hundred and fifteen civilians died in just 10 airstrikes in the U.S. war in Afghanistan in the last two years, and more than 70 of them were children. What could you say about this?
John Steppling: It’s tragic and a war crime. But like we see with the Saudi assault (with direct U.S. and UK assistance) against Yemen, they simply don't care. This is also a big question that goes into the issue of national character again, and why Americans believe in this idea of American exceptionalism. It goes back to Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine. And it's now a badly educated nation that is pounded with propaganda 24/7. People are ignorant and indoctrinated. But there is resistance as we see now with the protests regarding the murder of George Floyd. There is hope.
BP: Since assuming office, U.S. President Donald Trump has pardoned and even celebrated service members accused of war crimes. What’s the difference between Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama?
John Steppling: Trump is an idiot. But presidents are largely symbolic anyway. Obama had deep ties to the CIA. But while his record was horrific, worse than Bush AND Trump, people still like him because he was articulate and urbane and handsome. Honestly most of what Trump is doing was done already by Obama. The problem with Trump, and the thing that does make him a horrid leader is that he panders to the far far white nationalists. He exacerbates the already existing racism. But the country didn't need Trump to teach them racism. He has only made it more visible. Trump is also the most pro-Israeli president in history.
BP: What’s your opinion about the new deal with Taliban? How would it impact Afghanistan?
John Steppling: The deal is mostly smoke and mirrors. The U.S. may end up handing over operation of the country to the Taliban but the Taliban have morphed into a very sophisticated political entity now. That said, the U.S. isn't leaving anytime soon. Any deal will not include a total withdrawal or anything like it.
BP: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has threatened the International Criminal Court (ICC) for authorizing a war crimes investigation focused in part on U.S. military killings of Afghan civilians, with Pompeo naming specific ICC staff members and their family members as potentially subject to retribution if they level accusations of war crimes against U.S. officials. What’s your view on this issue?
John Steppling: Well, first of all, Pompeo is the worst secretary of state in history. He beats out Kissinger and Hillary. He is a bloated rube with extreme Christian beliefs (he's a Dominionist, which is a radical Pentecostal sect who are openly xenophobic) and he makes no pretense to hatred of Muslims and a belief the planet should be run by white Christians. He is a truly despicable amoral cretin, and one with delusions of intellect. That is a dangerous combination. It's not surprising that he would threaten the court. He believes white Christianity is superior and should be able to do what it wants.
John Steppling is a well-known author, playwright and an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theater, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. He is also a regular political commentator for a number of media outlets around the world.