The U.S. elite’s alleged commitment to human rights and opposition to war crimes was just put to the test in an especially clear fashion. Not surprisingly, both Congress and the American news media failed that test. On September 27, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives voted down an amendment to the appropriations bill funding the Pentagon that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) had introduced. His amendment would have barred the transfer of cluster bombs in the U.S. arsenal to other countries.
A favorable vote on that measure was an opportunity for Congress to make an important moral statement about such weapons. As I pointed out in an earlier article, cluster bombs are especially evil weapons, since the multiple tiny bomblets get distributed over a wide area in a war zone, automatically impacting civilians. Worse, some of those bomblets, perhaps as much as 14 percent, do not explode on impact, thereby creating a hazard that lasts for years or even decades. U.S. cluster bombs dropped in Laos in the early 1970s are still inflicting casualties. Children are especially vulnerable because they are attracted by the shiny surface of such an item and think that it is someone’s lost toy.
Although the United States is not a signatory to the international treaty banning such weapons, more than 100 countries, including most European members of NATO, have endorsed that document. Moreover, during the early phases of the war in Ukraine, U.S. officials, including Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, sharply condemned Russia for using cluster munitions.
However, when the opportunity arose to compel the U.S. government to refrain from being a participant in this particular war crime, the House of Representatives adopted a very different stance. Gaetz’s amendment failed on a 269-160 vote. Only 85 Republicans and 75 Democrats voted for the restriction, a graphic illustration of the strength of the imperial, pro-war poison infecting both major parties. The lopsided vote was similar to a July House vote on a measure barring the transfer of such weapons to Ukraine. The earlier episode ended with a 276-147 vote rejecting the amendment. On that occasion, 98 Republicans and just 49 Democrats supported a policy of restraint.
The latest congressional endorsement of cluster bombs is even more worrisome and loathsome than the previous one. As Antiwar.com analyst Dave Decamp points out, “According to recent media reports, the administration has also agreed to provide Ukraine with Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) that will be armed with cluster munitions. The provision would be a huge escalation as the ATACMS have a range of up to 190 miles, meaning Ukraine could use them to fire cluster bombs into Russian territory.” Consequently, the failure of Congress to prevent such a development is reckless as well as immoral.
The establishment news media have been as hypocritical as Congress with respect to the cluster bomb issue. A new report by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) eviscerates the New York Times, the flagship of establishment journalism, for its flagrant double standard. “For the New York Times news department, cluster munitions fall into two categories — clearly wrong or complexly controversial — depending on who uses them.”
The FAIR report notes that “There was no ambiguity when Russia apparently started using cluster weapons during the invasion of Ukraine. Five days after the invasion began, the Times (3/1/22) front-paged a story that described them in the second paragraph as ‘internationally banned.’” However, “the 1,570-word piece failed to mention anything about the U.S. military’s firing of cluster munitions during its own invasions and other military interventions, including Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. The Congressional Research Service has noted that ‘U.S. and British forces used almost 13,000 cluster munitions containing an estimated 1.8 to 2 million submunitions during the first three weeks of combat in Iraq in 2003.’”
The double standard at the New York Times has become even more intense as the Ukraine war has drifted into stalemate, according to FAIR. “Appropriately, the New York Times reporting on Russia’s use of cluster munitions was unequivocally negative in tone and content, devoid of justifications or rationales. But when President Joe Biden decided in early July of this year that the United States should supply cluster munitions to Ukraine, it was a different story. A frequent theme was the urgent need to replenish dwindling Ukrainian supplies of weapons.” The horrible impact of cluster bombs on innocent civilians no longer appeared to be a consideration.
Such a media double standard should offend all decent Americans. A favorite rationale that advocates of aid to Ukraine use to justify giving cluster bombs to Kyiv is that Russian forces in Ukraine have used those weapons already. The Washington Post proudly reprinted a Bloomberg editorial explicitly making that argument.
However, Americans are not responsible for the Kremlin’s conduct. Conversely, U.S. officials supposedly represent the American people. Allowing Washington to provide a foreign client with the means to kill or maim innocent civilians, including children, is not — or at least should not be — an acceptable American value.