Charles “CQ” Brown, Jr., Oversaw Secret Bombing Campaigns in Iraq and Syria that Killed Many Civilians and Has Been Deeply Involved in Dispursing Weapons to Ukraine
When President Joe Biden named General Charles “CQ” Brown, Jr., to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military officer in the U.S., the mainstream media gushed that he would be the first African American to hold the position since Colin Powell held it from 1989 to 1993.
Many news outlets highlighted Brown’s outspoken comments about racism in the military following the George Floyd killing, as if to suggest that Brown’s appointment would finally allow the military to begin a reckoning with its racist past.
The latter would certainly be a good thing; the media, however, universally sugarcoated Brown’s record during his military career, including his role in overseeing bombing operations in Iraq and Syria that killed many civilians.
The media further glossed over the fact that Colin Powell had disgraced himself by lying about WMD and Saddam Hussein’s alleged threat to the world in a critical speech before the UN in February 2003 that helped build support for U.S. criminal aggression in Iraq.
Powell in his career also helped to whitewash the massacre of civilians at My Lai during the war against Vietnam, pushed hard for the Gulf War in the 1990s, and gave the green light to Ariel Sharon in his murderous assault on civilians in Jenin and land grabs in the occupied West Bank.
What a great model for Brown to follow!
When announcing his nomination, Biden referred to General Brown as a “proud, butt-kicking airman” and “warrior,” whom he said was “descended from a proud line of warriors. His father, a U.S. Army colonel, CQ Brown, served in Vietnam. His grandfather, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Robert E. Brown, Jr., led a segregated unit in World War II.”
The nomination of an Air Force officer as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is generally quite rare, and signals the growing significance of air power to the U.S.’s imperial grand strategy.
According to CNN, Brown was recommended to Biden by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The two appear to have crossed paths in 2016 when Austin was head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for all military operations in the Middle East, and Brown was CENTCOM’s number two general.
Commissioned in 1984 as a graduate of the ROTC program at Texas Tech University, Brown, who was born in San Antonio, Texas, is a career F-16 fighter pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours and command experience at all levels.
In 2020, he was appointed as U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff and subsequently as Commander of the Pacific Air Forces—the air component of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command where he led the U.S.’s air strategy to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.
During his time as U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, Brown worked closely with the first chief of space operations, Jay Raymond, in support of the U.S. Space Command, whose goal is to militarize outer space.
During the 2010s, according to NBC News, Brown helped build and lead the U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. This latter campaign resulted in significant war crimes and large numbers of civilian deaths.
In December 2021, The New York Times reported on the existence of a clandestine army unit in Syria which, from 2014 to 2019 (Brown was deputy commander of CENTCOM from 2016 to 2018), launched tens of thousands of bombs and missiles and repeatedly killed civilians, including farmers, children, and villagers sheltering in buildings.
The secret unit—which officially did not exist—was called Talon Anvil, and it embraced a loose interpretation of the military’s rules of engagement, according to the Times. Under pressure to obtain results, commanders, according to Air Force intelligence officers, would push analysts to say they saw evidence, such as weapons that could legally justify a strike, even when none existed.
The U.S. also a) illegally bombed the Taqba dam on the Euphrates River in March 2017 despite it being on a “no target list”; b) devastated much of Raqqa in 2017 while dropping ten thousand bombs on it; c) killed 120 civilians in July 2016 in an air strike in Tokhar; and d) in May 2023 killed a shepherd in northern Syria whom the U.S. military had claimed was an al-Qaeda leader.
The U.S. had long claimed to have intervened in Syria to fight and defeat ISIS when it had actually supported ISIS offshoots in a long campaign to unseat Syria’s secular nationalist leader Bashar al-Assad, and to take control over Syria’s oil.
In Iraq, all too typical was an incident on September 20, 2015, when the U.S. Air Force bombed the home of a descendent of one of Mosul’s grand old families, Basim Razzo, killing his wife Mayada and 21-year-old daughter Tuqa along with Razzo’s brother and 18-year-old nephew.
The U.S. afterwards released a video purporting to show an attack on a car-bomb factory—one of hundreds released to present evidence of a supposedly surgically precise air campaign when it was nothing of the sort.
In a study for The New York Times Magazine, journalists Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal determined that one in five of the 27,500 coalition air strikes over Iraq to that point had resulted in at least one civilian death, more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition.
According to Khan and Gopal, the second war in Iraq—in which Brown played a key role—“may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”
Involvement in Yet More War Crimes
A lack of transparency has also been seen in the disbursement of more than $100 billion of weapons to the Ukrainian Army, in which Brown has also played a crucial role.
These weapons have been used in yet more war crimes, particularly in the Donbas, which Ukraine has been bombing and shelling since a February 2014 Obama administration-backed coup, which prompted the people of Donbas to vote for their autonomy after the new Ukrainian government tried to impose the Ukrainian language on them.
In late April, the Donbass Insider reported that two U.S.-supplied High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) rockets struck a bus in the center of Donetsk at lunchtime. The bus caught fire with civilians trapped inside, and nine people died, including a child, while 16 people were injured.
Brown may sleep well at night since he has been insulated from the human suffering that has resulted from U.S. foreign policies he has helped oversee working in air-conditioned military command centers while hobnobbing with the U.S. military and political elites.
But perhaps one day he may feel the pangs of his conscience—if he is indeed human.
Brown’s work in Ukraine has been particularly damaging because it has prolonged the agony and suffering of the Ukrainian people by helping to sustain the illusion that the Ukrainians can actually defeat Russia, making Ukrainian leaders reluctant to negotiate an end to the war.
According to Clementine Starling, Director of the Forward Defense Program in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Biden’s choice of Brown to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff “shows how seriously the administration takes the intensification of competition with China.”
That is because of Brown’s experience as commander of the Pacific Air Force and because the joint force is now set to be led by an Air Force fighter pilot (Brown) and a Navy surface warfare officer (Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Christopher Grady), and any “potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific [is] likely an air and maritime fight,” Starling said.
In August 2020, Brown authored a report, “Accelerate Change or Lose,” which characteristically emphasized China’s alleged military aggressiveness and threat to the U.S., and called for greater integration of the U.S. Space Force into the U.S. military.
At the end of the day, Brown’s race matters very little compared to his career background and worldview—which is arch-imperialist and pro-war.
There is nothing in his policy brief that warns about the devastation that would inevitably result from a war with China, or policy ideas for how this war—and death and suffering it will cause, including to U.S. servicemen—can be averted.
Perhaps the latter would be too much to expect for a career Air Force officer who has been appointed as the U.S.’s top military man. However, there is a tradition of military dissent and pragmatism, to which Brown clearly does not belong.
See Anand Gopal, “America’s War on Syrian Civilians,” The New Yorker, December 14, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/12/21/americas-war-on-syrian-civilians. ↑
Jeremy Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2019), 177, 178. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
He can be reached at: email@example.com.