Bellum Americanum
June 20, 2003

BC on the Pirates

After posting yesterday's comment, I came across a piece in The Black Commentator on Iraq. They continue their ongoing analysis of the Bush Men's adventures abroad in The Pirates' Blunt Useless Instruments; The Iraq Occupation Cannot Possibly Succeed:

This is an occupation unlike any other in modern history. Acting solely on greed and delusions, the Pirates dismissed the collective experience of humanity to attempt the occupation of a large and sophisticated society without a reasonable expectation of collaboration from any significant segment of the population. It cannot be done, as confirmed by the daily dispatches from Iraq and beyond.

Go read the rest. And then read all of the stuff on their site, which should be required reading for all Americans and for people across the world that wish to understand the who want to understand the United States.

June 19, 2003

Iraq is not a Quagmire

I've changed my mind about this crucial issue of our times. Now that Saddam, with US and UK complicity, has drained the lands of the Marsh Arabs (aka the Madan) there's not much swamp left in Iraq to speak of. Sure, plans for marsh reclamation have been announced, but it will take years and given American "reconstruction" contractor Bechtel's history in the global politics of water, it certainly isn't unfair to speculate that reclamation efforts will likely satisfy corporate water and oil interests long before addressing the needs of the Madan.

Speaking of quagmires made more sense back in Vietnam, when the images evoked by Pete Seeger as he sung the song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" immediately brought to mind the scenes being played out on television of soldiers slogging through rice paddies and jungle with little understanding of what they were there to achieve or how they were going to achieve it.

This is not to say that the Iraq war doesn't meet the political and military definition of quagmire. In fact Wolfowitz and others are beginning to admit that resistance in Iraq is a "guerilla war." The inability or, more accurately, indifference the U.S. has demonstrated in regards to meeting the basic needs of the Iraqi people (including the 10% of the working age population that were fired from the Iraqi army by Viceroy Bremer) American troops, even when they care, are finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between "hostiles" and "civilians," largely because the civilians are increasingly hostile to the occupying power ("it's an ugly word," says Bremer, "but it's true"). This nebulous fear, known to colonizing troops throughout history, leads to more and more incidents like the gunning down of protesters in Mosul, Fallujah, and now Baghdad. The fact that the U.S. and the U.K. are attempting a classic colonial occupation also makes the indiscriminate tactics of Operation Peninsula Strike a near inevitability. This is a literally vicious circle leading to an outcome that may come to be seen as a bigger blow to U.S. power than the Vietnam War, and possibly much more quickly. Bremer's appointed council of 30 is going to have even less legitimacy among the people than even the various puppet governments of South Vietnam (or Saddam for that matter). Hardly an outcome that leads to "stabilization."

So, from now on, I'm using the word "quicksand" to describe the occupation (I won't even attempt to take credit for being the first, the idea is so obvious). It might seem a rather frivolous point, and it mostly is, but as the Iraq War grinds on, it will become more and more unpopular here at home. The popularization of the image of "quicksand" can play a small role in this process, because whether it's swamp or sand, we can echo Seeger in noting that "the damn fools keep yelling to push on."

June 17, 2003

Breaking the Incest Taboo

Since starting this blog a few weeks ago, I've been attempting to tour around the blog-world to get a sense of what's out there in order to learn what works and what don't (and to slowly build the blog-link list on the right-hand side of the page). One of the things I've noticed is that it is a deeply incestuous world out there in blog land, sort of a Web version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." Now that's not necessarily bad. For example, going to yesterday led me to an interesting post on the This Modern World blog regarding the New York Times changing the headline to a June 13 story from "Goal Is To Lay Cornerstone at Ground Zero During GOP Convention" to "Officials Plan Speedy Ground Zero Environmental Review." (According to Cursor, "The last line in the lead paragraph was also changed, from 'This would allow them to lay the cornerstone of a 1,776-foot tower in August 2004, during the Republican Convention,' to 'This would allow them to start construction by the summer of 2004.'") This Modern World linked to other blogs discussing the same story that then linked back to This Modern World's coverage, but along the way, the facts of the story were hashed out collectively and astoundingly quickly. So, in celebration of blog incest, here's a couple of links that point back here: --Over at Bush Wars, Steve Perry has has begun compiling a list of the Bushmen's lies. He published the first batch of reader-submitted lies yesterday, but he's asking for more help. Give him a hand, would ya? --And on a less political (and consequentially more wide-ranging) note, this friend's blog discusses weddings, technology, life in Portland OR, and many other topics and is definitely "sexier than your web page."


The Left Behind Prophecy Club, Part 2

Last week, I brought you parts of an "analysis" by the folks responsible for the Left Behind book series. After I posted it, I realized I was actually being a little more flippant with the topic than was called for. If you're unfamiliar with this "phenomenally popular" line of books detailing the adventures of a brave band of Christians during the End Times, here's a review of volume 9 that's worth a peek. My favorite line from the review: "There's not much drama in the repeated victories of an omnipotent being..." Literary quips aside, the review is also important for the revelation (pardon the pun) that coauthor Tim LaHaye is a former co-chair of Jack Kemp's presidential campaign and:
a member of the original board of directors of the Moral Majority and an organizer of the Council for National Policy, which has called "the most powerful conservative organization in America you've never heard of" and whose membership has included John Ashcroft, Tommy Thompson and Oliver North. George W. Bush is still refusing to release a tape of a speech he gave to the group in 1999.
Although the Council for National Policy now seems largely defunct, it should be clear that LaHaye and his ilk are representative of a significant portion of the political forces that have taken control of the White House at the moment. I think neocons like Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Perle view them as merely convenient and manipulable allies, so this faction shouldn't be seen as in charge of foreign policy. However, what makes folks like this important is that they are the ones that have the connections to the grassroots evangelical movements that provided the majority of the shock troops for the protests outside abortion clinics, movie theaters showing Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ", etc. In other words, this is the faction of the right-wing that is actually able to mobilize a significant amount of committed (if loony) people, a rare quality among the champions of the corporate welfare. In my view (although denied by the principals), the White House has already shown some interest in the possibilities of mobilizing people to counter liberal and left mobilizations against their foreign policies. The so-called pro-war "protests" were rather pathetic in turn-out, but should be seen as significant in terms of the political strategy of the Bush administration, especially when one takes into account the extremely effective mobilization to halt the vote recount in Miami-Dade county during the 2000 elections. With all that in mind, here's some tidbits from this week's Left Behind Prophecy Club "analysis":
Last week we reported that Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon cancelled a trip to Washington when a series of suicide bombings swept the area. It seemed that forces who wished to disrupt the peace process had succeeded in throwing another blockade on the road map to peace. Within the past week, however, the process is back on track... Among Israel's many disagreements with the plan is a question over who makes the first move. Distrust of the Palestinians runs deep, so Israel wants assurances that terrorism will be reigned in.... A number of Christian groups have been urging Christians to contact the White House and urge President Bush not to move ahead with the road map. As we have reported in the past weeks, these groups feel that nothing should be done to weaken Israel's position and the potential to fulfill prophecies about the restoration of Israel to its biblical boundaries—therefore hastening Christ's return. Others share the belief that these prophecies will be fulfilled, confident that it will occur in God's timing and totally under his control. For these groups, the attempts of the president to pursue peace are laudable and may, in fact, open doors to the gospel within the Muslim world. You may well find yourself aligned with one of these views. Whichever approach you favor, it seems appropriate to pray for God's will—whatever direction that takes us at this time.
Kind of sounds like an AP story until you get to that last paragraph doesn't it? Above I said that these forces shouldn't be seen as in charge of foreign policy, but there is one cautionary note to keep in mind. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has set in motion political forces that have quickly spun out of their control. The harnessing of the right-wing evangelical movement to the Bush war machine, which could become tempting to White House political planners, would be a recipe for setting loose political forces that could very easily become much more independent of the Rumsfelds, the Wolfowitzes, and the Perles.

June 16, 2003

Bad News for Africans (and Other Human Beings)

The AP and other mainstream press like to portray the repositioning of U.S. military forces in the wake of the Iraq war as some sort of move towards peace. One typical example is this story that talks primarily about the withdrawal of troops from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (sic): "The moves in Korea are part of a broader Pentagon strategy to realign U.S. forces around the globe, to include likely reductions in Germany and the establishment of new bases in eastern Europe. Last month the United States pulled its troops out of Saudi Arabia after a 12-year stay." The story goes on to mention worries that the move will open South Korea to North Korean attack, but ignores completely the possibility (which I've mentioned before) that the move is designed to take American troops out of harm's way in case of North Korean retaliation to an American attack. This is a possibility that is certainly on the minds of many Koreans, especially residents of Seoul, who are directly in the line of fire of the massive artillery forces lining the DMZ. An alternative reading of U.S. redeployments is available from Jim Lobe, who writes that the U.S. is getting ready to play "GloboCop":
While preparing sharp reductions in forces in Germany, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, military planners are talking about establishing semi-permanent or permanent bases along a giant swathe of global territory - increasingly referred to as "the arc of instability" - from the Caribbean Basin through Africa to South and Central Asia and across to North Korea.
And if you live in resource-rich Africa, you might be worried to hear the head of the U.S. European Command, General James Jones, tell the U.S. Senate, "I think Africa is a continent that is going to be of very, very significant interest in the 21st century," as he makes the case " for what may prove an unprecedented U.S. military beachhead in sub-Saharan Africa."

June 15, 2003

What Were the Goals of the Afghan Conflict?

In the introduction to his Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, The United States and the Modern Historical Experience, Gabriel Kolko writes:
"War is not simply a conflict between armies; more and more it is a struggle between competing social systems, incoporating the political, economic, and cultural institutions of all rivals. The longer the war, the more likely that it will be determined outside the arena of arms and battles."
As was made clear by the American war in Vietnam, victory in war, understood as the achievement of the long term political, economic, and cultural goals of one or more of the participants, is not solely to be determined on the battlefield. This is a lesson that seems to largely have been missed by current American war planners in their current Afghan and Iraqi adventures. The emphasis on and possession of overwhelming military force has led to an arrogance at the White House that delights in contemptuously dismissing any concerns that war will lead to outcomes contrary to its goals. By goals, I don't mean the disingenuous rationales that have been given for the American wars, but the real goals which, when not confined to the sort of short-term nepotistic looting that is emerging as Iraqi "reconstruction", are a subset of the project for expanding and consolidating American Empire. Given the above definition of victory, I am coming to the conclusion that the U.S. is likely going to lose Gulf War II (it ain't over by a long shot) and will discuss the reasons for that in future posts, but for the purposes of this post I'm concentrating on Afghanistan, which is also looking to be a war in which the U.S. is going to fail to win many, if not all, of its long-term objectives. Part of what prompted this post was an article in the Asia Times by Syed Saleem Shahzad (whom I've cited before). According to Shahzad, citing a "Pakistani jihadi leader" involved in the setting up the negotiaions, the U.S. has been quietly talking to the Taliban about giving them a role in the Afghan government, in exchange for the cessation of hostilities and the satisfaction of four conditions. Shahzad says the conditions are:The Taliban has apparently rejected the first condition outright and whether anything will come of these negotiations is anyone's guess. However, if Shahzad's reports are accurate, it suggests that the U.S. is beginning attempts to extricate itself from an Aghan quagmire. In assessing the extent to which the U.S. is able to achieve long-term objectives in Afghanistan, it is first necessary to attempt to figure out what those objectives were. First we'll look at the ones proffered by the Bush administration, then some of those suggested by the peace movement, and finally one possible objective that, in retrospect, I think might explain much of the Bush administration's attitude towards the war in Afganistan, including these reported negotiations with the Taliban. 1.) The Bush administration's primary public reason for bombing Afghanistan was the failure of the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden. I tend to think that this was indeed a goal, if an incidental one, of the White House. The failure to capture Bin Laden, pegged as the perpetrator of the September 11th attacks, has been embarassing for Bush. Even if a complicit media has let him skate by on the question, there is no doubt that many Americans are wondering "Hey, what ever happened to getting Bin Laden dead or alive?" I don't put much credence in suggestions that he was allowed to escape on purpose. 2.) The secondary justification was the now-familiar need for "democratization" in Afghanistan. The need for "regime change" was tied to the religiously repressive nature of the Taliban government (has anyone heard of John Ashcroft?). George and Tony enlisted their wives, Laura and Cherie, in a propaganda campaign highlighting the Taliban's repression of women. This, of course, glossed over the fact that the new hired guns of the Northern Alliance were often just as repressive of women and shared numerous other intolerances with their clerical rivals. Whether or not the U.S. is negotiating for a Taliban return, it should be obvious that this objective was never a serious goal. 3.) Many in the antiwar movement saw the attack on Afghanistan as being motivated by the desire to build a natural gas pipeline through the country. I confess that I put some credence into this explanation at the time. Subsequent events have clouded the issue considerably. If this was indeed a goal, the near complete failure of the U.S. to impose order on the countryside has made its realization basically impossible. If the military truly thought that massive air power and a handful of feuding warlords could lead to the outcome necessary for a pipeline project, it reveals exactly the kind of arrogant ignorance I referred to above. The reported negotiations with the Taliban points to the fact that the Pentagon may be beginning to realize this to a limited extent, but whether it will be able to manipulate the social and political forces to its liking remains very much an open question. 4.) Other antiwar commentators suggested the U.S. was looking for "force projection" Central Asia, an area that it has historically been a stranger to. Looking at the current U.S. military presence in Central Asia, or the "footprint" as the military likes to say, that does seem to have been one purpose for the war. It is a purpose that, in the short-term at least, has been successful. The U.S. military set up bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan that, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty "may be upgraded or expanded.

5.) A final possible goal has been largely overlooked by the mainstream and alternative press, but in hindsight, might have been a singularly important reason. Reports that the Rumsfeld first wanted to attack Iraq on September 11th, suggest that the Afghanistan war may have been considered primarily a precedent for U.S. military action in the name of the "War on Terror." In order to establish Afghanistan as a precedent, it is necessary to convince two audiences that this actually is a principled "War on Terror." Clearly, in terms of international opinion, this has been an abject failure. Thanks to Fox, CNN, The New York Times, and others, there has been greater success in packaging the Pentagon's plans for domestic consumption. Combined with other developments, such as the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the reported negotiations with the Taliban (if they are true and actually lead to the Taliban's return in some form) may undermine this goal, considering that the mullahs were branded as "supporters of terror." The U.S. must be aware of this possibility, which probably explains the first condition of ousting Mullah Omar, who was made the personalized face of the Taliban. The situation in Afghanistan, considered in terms of White House credibility in the U.S., leaves Bush and cabal with a limited number of difficult choices: military withdrawal with the very real possibility of Taliban forces regaining control of the country, continuing military presence at current levels unlikely to lead to any short-term resolution, escalation (extremely difficult considering the problems Iraq is posing), or the negotiated return of the Taliban in a form that will hopefully be unrecognizable to the American people. If the latter is indeed the choice being taken, no doubt the U.S. media will aid in the project of detaching reemerging Taliban elements from the picture that was drawn before the war. However, portions of the story will get through, further damaging White House credibility and hopefully undermining political support for the Bellum Americanum.

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