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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The US Plan: Same Formula, More "N"

There is a scene in the movie The Killing Fields where Cambodian army troops confront waves of Khmer Rouge wrapped in red scarves emerging from the jungle, running across rice patties, weapons blazing.

Later, in the city of Phnom Penh, the crass country-boys would that very day empty the city where people knew not their new overlords' true dispositions. For four years the twisted Maoist visions of their leader Pol Pot would unfold and the nation embark on a dark crusade of murder, torture, and depravity.

What lurks in the Afghan countryside may be no less malignant. The Taliban there have a track record of savagery and threaten to gradually retake the country until they, like the Khmer Rouge, stream out towards Kabul in what would be the culmination of failure in US policy in Afghanistan. Likewise, will the insurgents in Iraq swarm out in some mighty wave to ravage whatever vestiges of secular and rational State that remain, to be oblitherated alongside any trace of the infidels?

So bothered were the Khmer Rouge with the concept of Western contamination of Cambodian society that wearers of glasses and speakers of foreign languages (other than Chinese) were summarily executed. While Iraq won't degenerate as thoroughly, and the fundamentalist vision is more regressive than maniacal, there is no less of a commitment to anti-Westernism among radical Islamic fundamentalists than there was among the Khmer Rouge.

Who other than the US can establish order? While the ongoing violence justifies our presence in Iraq, it also incites violence. How can the violence abate if the US stays in Iraq? The call for continued occupation, and even more troops means the US will linger, lose more casualties, and seen even more anti-US hatred, motivating Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Should the radical insurgents seize Kabul, or Baghdad, the scale of policy failure would be on par with South Vietnam in 1975. The image disaster provided by the sight of US helicopters leaving the US Embassy in what would become Ho Chi Minh City could well be surpassed, injuring the American pride for decades. The emotional pain was not so much the loss itself--it had been anticipated--but rather the mistaken confidence that we could previal, the "lie" that kept the US' involvement in Vietnam going on for so long, resulting in so many ultimately unnecessary deaths.

Because of the threat posed by a fall of regimes and a high-profile collapse injurious to national pride, policymakers in control--now more Democrat than Republican--have dictated that we cannot lose. If we are losing, it's because we haven't been applying enough military force to defeat the enemy, so the logic for a troop build-up goes.

If adding troops has failed to diminish the strength of the insurgency, then why would more troops do any better? Again, our policy-makers hide behind the use of military power, as if the formula for success has already been solved and we simply need to add more force, or "n-force".

Leadership failures and Iraq policy are interchangeable: the decision to invade Iraq was a failure of leadership, and a failure of leadership has created the mess in Iraq. Now the Democratics inherit a miserable mantle of failure. Rather than cast off the mistakes they've made, the Democrats have simply cast off their obligations to the antiwar platform.

Accepting failure is too difficult for the Democrats, despite the clear message sent by the American public that Iraq must be, at a minimun, scaled down. A US withdrawal is the only way to stop the bloodshed. Stopping the war requires courage most Democrats lack. The only visible antiwar Democrat--Jack Murtha--was thrust out of the House Majority Leader position.

In his article "Democrats Prepare to Fund Longer War", Cockburn explains the new Democratic leadership has sold out to idea of perpetuating the war, or deploying some form of "surge" in troop strength:
"...elite liberal consensus, as represented by the Democratic leadership and major opinion formers such as the editors of the New York Times, has rallied to the notion of a 'surge'; in U.S. troops in Iraq. 'Surge' is a handy word. It has the timbre of forceful majesty, of mighty ocean rollers roaring onto a beach. It also has the promise of withdrawal, since what surges can also recedes." [Source]

Democrats are now responsible for Iraq. To salvage the national pride, the New Centurions must try to salvage Iraq, preserve the illusion victory is possible, and not be the ones blamed for the failure when the insurgents emerge triumphant on the streets or Baghdad (or Kabul).

Cockburn chastises Congress and the media in promoting a prolongation of the occupation:
"...fantasy rules in Congress and the press, which has consistently misrepresented the extent of the disaster in Iraq, preferring to promote fatal illusions about a viable central government and fantasies of the US being able to shape a new model army of Iraqis."

Abandoning of strongly antiwar Jack Murtha in favor of a far less vocal critic of Bush's Iraq plans, Pelosi selected Silvestre Reyes for House Intelligence Chairman.

Cockburn describes the new Chairman:
"Back in 2003 Reyes, a Vietnam vet, was opposed to the war. Give him clout as Intelligence Committee chair and he starts citing John McCain approvingly, even upping the mad Arizonan's troop-boost call by 10,000."

This Newsweek article explains Reyes' views on escalation. "We certainly can’t leave Iraq and run the risk that it becomes [like] Afghanistan" pre-2001, he is quoted as saying.

Chaos in Iraq has made the survival of any Iraqi goverment contingent upon an ongoing US presence, while that same "stabilization" breeds increasing resentment and incites violence.

In trying to resolve the issue, realpolitik realities meet pragmatic introspection in the form of the reaction to the Iraq Studies Group report. The Executive body attempts to staunch criticism and with it any chance of meaningful change in policy on Iraq.

Apparently the ISG Report's was destined for non-acceptance, spiked with references to "the return of the Golan Heights to Syria" and "the right of return of Palestinians to their homeland." Apparently confronting the Israelis for any behaviors of theirs that might be inflaming anti-American sentiment is beyond the capacity of mainstream Congresspeople ingratiated to AIPAC and hyper-sensitive to criticism of Israel.

Finally, Cockburn concludes:
"The Democratic leadership -- Pelosi, Reid, Emanuel, Biden -- is recommending that the Democrats in Congress vote to approve the supplemental budget appropriation early next year, probably $160 billion, which will give Bush enough money to keep the war going till he leaves town."

Iraq looms over all of our foreign policy, threatening our status as a superpower not militarily, but diplomatically, and economically. Unilateralism and military force have become the instruments of our foreign policy. The inability of the US to shift course on Iraq weakens our global credibility, reducing alternatives to the blunt tool of warfare.

Unforeseen Consequences

A stream of unforeseen yet entirely foreseeable events has ensued since the US broke Iraq.

Clutching the example of 9/11, Bush supporters say the consequences of a future terror attack justify preemption now. In principle, stopping WMD and defending democracies sounds good. But how exactly does the US deal with the consequences of its pre-emption? And what about countries like North Korea, which have flashed their nukes in Bush's face?

In the immediate post-9/11 environment, Bush's forceful decision-making style, his blinking (see previous post) seemed to served the security needs of American foreign policy well. Yet in hindsight, Bush's decisions, lacking of more intensive deliberations, suffer as the result unforeseen consequences.

In Iraq, the lack of foresight has led to a strengthened insurgency, having failed to restore security. Inadequate, the Iraqi government has become dependent on the ongoing US presence. By sticking with al-Maliki, the Bush Administration has condemned the US military to support a weak Iraq government against internal political competition in an effort to prop up the majority rule.

Sunni factions are apparently displeased with the possibility of losing oil revenues, which are from fields nearer the Kurds and Shia. Saddam did make an effort to move Sunnis to close proximity to the fields; the relocation for the purpose of ethnic zone of control perhaps inflating Sunni claims to the oil.

The Sunnis can only act as spoiler, if their demands for oil-sharing aren't met then they can continue to destabilize Iraq. Their capacity for violence--hoisted by the realization they have nothing to lose without the oil--is their primary bargaining chip.

The Oil Motive

The escalating occupation feed theories that the US seeks a state of permanent occupation, presumably to harvest the Iraqi's oil. For more on the connection, see the article "U.S. Troops Should Leave Country, But How Will America Then Keep Control of Oil Fields?" by Linda McQuaig.

Naturally, anti-American have focused their efforts on the notion that the US is there to steal their oil and/or gas. While perhaps a show of confidence appealing to the domestic political market, escalating the troop presence and rigidly avoiding timelines further fuels resistance against the US and its interests.

In the days after 9-11 the Taliban were deemed to be a threat despite possessing no means whatsoever to harm the United States. Why? They were guilty for harboring the terrorists (not apparently any terrorists--like Syria and Iran continue to do--but the terrorist organization blamed for 9-11.)

More conspiratorial types would say the Taliban were attacked because Big Oil wanted to build a natural gas pipeline there. [For more see my earlier post.] They may have concluded that bin Laden went to Afghanistan from Sudan in order to justify the invasion (this theory assumes the US knew al Qaeda would attack.)

In practice, ending the threat posed by rogue regimes possessing WMD has proven to be little more than a superficial justification. Without exception, preemption just happens to be directed against a country with enormous energy reserves.

If we are to believe that the terrorists were operating independent of any government, then the Taliban could not be blamed, or attacked. To get around that, viola, the Bush Doctrine. Through the Bush Doctrine, the Taliban could be declared guilty--not for attacking the US, but for hosting those who did.

So the Bush Doctrine got around the obvious limitations of attacking the Taliban for what Osama Bin Laden had presumably done--although he or his organization has never taken responsibility for 9/11.

Now if the Taliban were instrumental in launching the 9-11 attacks, and if the Bush Doctrine is truly achievable and supported by the US government, every effort should be brought to bear to stop the Taliban. As we saw in the mountains of Tora Bora in 2001, eradicating a committed guerilla force may be impossible militarily. Even the Iraq Studies Group Report acknowledges military solutions alone can't solve the security gap, so there is no practical way to implement the Bush Doctrine.

Presidential Doctrines

Through the exercise of policy, the Bush Doctrine codifies and institutionalizes the US reaction to terrorism and the countries that harbor them.

The US foreign policy mechanism of declaring "Doctrines" has long been used by US Presidents to make permanent a large change in foreign policy direction, and to create a more compelling legacy. Doctrinization contrasts with the vagaries of international diplomatic talk and maneuver and through the use of more forceful terms invokes a call to action.

Doctrines must be enforced to be classified as such; they are made legitimate through the actions of our government. They also must transcend the President's term.

Past Doctrines are at the least veiled threats for our enemies, who knew they'd face US wrath and possibly have to contend with direct military confrontation with the world's largest military, which is the inherent sword--and willingness to use it--behind the presumption of Doctrine.

Truman's Doctrine is featured prominently in his library; it later became know as containment:
"It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."[Link]

The Korean War ensured. Over 50,000 Americans died.

Carter's is here:
"An attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.{January 23rd, 1980 State of the Union}" [Link]

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan followed; US support for the Afghan mujahdeen--and ultimately Bin Laden himself--came as a result of US policies enacted under the Carter Doctrine.

The State Department website describes the Reagan Doctrine:
"We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives—on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua—to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth." [Link]

Reagan tried to stem the threat posed by Marxists in Nicaragua; the Iran-Contra affair was a consequence.

Players in that scandal have risen in the ranks of the Bush Administration. Our new Defense Secretary Gates was connected to the scandal. Current Intelligence Czar Negroponte was acting Ambassador to El Salvador at the time; its use of paramilitary right-wing death squads presaged what is now called the "El Salvador approach" in Iraq, using politically motivated killings to intimidate and subjugate.

While the Doctrines of previous Presidents are clear, cast in lights alongside their names, enshrined in the edifices of Presidential libraries, finding a single definition for the Bush Doctrine has proven difficult. In part this is due to the brevity of Bush's Presidency--it took years for the Truman Doctrine even to be recognized as a policy of containment. The stated intent to contain communism would have been meaningless without the Korean War; the willingness to sacrifice American lives gives the Doctrine teeth, elevating it from mere policy to dogma.

Historical comparisons would seem to make the threat posed by terror no smaller than that posed by communism. Yet five years have passed since 9/11, we really have no comprehensive policy to deal with it. Unlike previous enemies, terrorism is fleeting, asymmetrical, and not led by any single ideology or leader, despite Mass Media efforts to crown Osama bin Laden as the Evil Dark Lord and King of Terror.

Put simply, we can't contain terror like communism (Truman/Carter) nor can we roll it back (Reagan). The tactics and approach to dealing with terror cannot be solved through the use of force; there is no Kremlin cringing in fear, no conspiracy to intimidate, nor KAOS for Max Smart to outdo. We long for the day when our enemies were identifiable, like Saddam and Osama, when we could confront enemies using superior technology or strategy.

To religiously inspired fanatics who see anarchy as a means to a greater end, fear means nothing. Yet under Bush's leadership, the means for ending terror--military force--have become the end in itself, as the country girds itself for the ongoing conflict with no end in sight. To Iraqi and Afghan civilians bombed in the name of freedom, terror is ultimately delivered by the US, terrorizing them with random violence just like the insurgents--only the methods differ.

Getting practical about solving terrorism requires defining the enemy, which the Bush Doctrine really doesn't adequately do. The first implementation of the Bush Doctrine has been the Global War on Terror. Several years into that effort, the enemy was defined as "radical Islamic fundamentalists" as the name of the War morphed into the War on "Extremists".

Apparently, Bush has gone to some effort to court moderate Muslims, so references to Radical Islam appear to have been purged into the Memory Hole. Yet in the Middle East, who exactly are our friends? The Saudis recently explained that they would not allow their fellow Sunnis in Iraq to suffer at the hands of a Shia government, raising the spectre of regional conflict between Saudi proxies and the Shia in Iraq. Likewise, oppressive regimes in Egypt and Tunisia have for years been fighting "extremists"; while they've been able to keep their regimes in power through systematic repression, their methods have at the same time created monsters like the Blind Sheik and OBL's dangerous deputy Zawahiri.

The implications of a Doctrine-level commitment to the War on Terror need sorting out. See this good analysis on the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terror here.

The Bush Doctrine is both vague and unenforceable, which are quite the opposite previous Presidential Doctines which were by their nature clear warnings to our enemies, and credible threats because they could be enforced. In the sense that Doctrines stood for something, its unfortunate that Bush has been unable to get results by using his Doctrine, unless of course you consider the state of affairs in Iraq to be an accomplishment of democracy, or the democratic governments created there to be viable and independent, which is a qualifying standard for success.

Incapable of succeeding in the original Doctrine, Bush and his sycophants peppering all Federal institutions appear to have redefined it over the years. The predisposition of the American people toward ignorance in foreign policy issues has no doubt reduced the political consequences of contradictory definitions, or at least postponed them til the Democratic victories this years. With the clear hindsight of several decades behind Bush's Doctrine, its effectiveness will be made clear.

Endless Faith

Supporters of Bush's foreign policy yearn for a future redemption where we all come to realize the wisdom of invading two Muslim countries, to prevent the rise of some greater horror. But this preoccupation with proving their doubters wrong contributes to further detachment from the here and now, nuts-and-bolts issues of policy implementation. Going to war simply to avoid a future outcome will likely engender even more hatred, which makes a future terror event more likely, in a sequence of circumvented logic.

If the results of the Occupation have not brought positive benefits yet, there is honestly little chance that an ongoing occupation will achieve anything better. Resistance is strong and growing, showing no signs of abating. So the exercise of faith in Bush's foresightedness requires ever more denial, which like religious faith inspires one to not question the certainty of a future event, but essentially pray for its fruition and dwell in a cocoon of belief in the certainty of an outcome--putting it in the hands of God--until such day as His works are shown to the world.

Put in those terms, the extremists--whoever they really are--are praying for the exact opposite of Bush believers, that "democracy" fails, deploying faith that Allah is on their side. Whose holy warriors will win? Who has the favor of God--Bush or the radical Muslim fundamentalists? Rather than deal in reality, the faith-based approaches deploy essentially the same methods--that simply by believing that something will happen, it will. All reality is therefore the product of faith; naturally the believer never questions the fallibility of his convictions, and thus can deny the reality of any contradictory outcome in perpetuity.

Perhaps by compromising on the mission of spreading democracy--and basically putting a Shia dictator in control, like Saddam before the invasion--the US can win, or at least get out. Yet this kind of change in policy requires an intimate connection with events on the ground, which is quite the opposite of believing initial presumptions were correct, or divinely gifted. Bush's approach has scorned careful consideration or any meaningful self-criticism; perhaps the President has succumbed to the infallibility of belief that he is doing God's will, as he has explained.

Some Americans who believe in Bush's prophetic skills have volunteered for the military, but sadly many others haven't or won't, and thus the task for implementing the Bush Doctrine has fallen largely to non-believers. And because implementation of the Bush Doctrine here-to-date has relied primarily on military methods, occupying hostile lands comes at a high cost of human life typically not borne by stalwart defenders of the President's foreign policy, but by soldiers ordered in.

Back in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, NATO has committed itself to an on-going occupation; our allies have in Iraq withdrawn one-by-one.

Afghanistan draws an ever-greater number of NATO troops. The leadership of the US binds the the NATO alliance together in an arc of cooperation based on security. If the security of a single member is threatened, then the others must serve in its defense.

Drug-running profits, fed by a massive rise in heroin production in Afghanistan, have armed and equipped Taliban mujahdeen. They streak back into the eastern mountains of Afghanistan, returning from an extended stay from their tribal relatives in Waziristan, in western Pakistan, where they'd avoided apprehension by Musharraf's government.

The case for Afghan intervention runs far deeper than Iraq, but the US lead in Afghanistan threatens the credibility of NATO's mission there. By continuing to occupy Iraq, the US imperils the case for an ongoing presence in Afghanistan. Anti-US sentiment based on Iraq easily translates into support for anti-American causes in Afghanistan.

If Americans are depending on the Mainstream Media to inform them of this resurgency, they will remain blissfully unaware. If however, they dare to question the effectiveness of their military's previous projects, and delve into alternative news sources, they might discover that the entire US military intervention in Afghanistan has been a failure. Worse, they'd notice that the commitment to "democracy" mires the US in staying on, lest the whole premise of bringing democracy to the Middle East die and de-legitimize all previous efforts.

In essence, the US has engendered pan-Islamic unity through invading Iraq, and continues to stir the boiling pot of discord by continuing its presence there. The spillover effect on Afghanistan has hardly been mentioned in the Mainstream Media, but troubling indeed is the idea that Afghanistan will become like Iraq--so internally fragmented that no outside force can possibly keep it together.

Eliminating the Taliban in 2001 was an explicit mission, yet rebuilding the country and establishing a strong central government have proven to be necessary to prevent a Taliban resurgence. Relying almost exclusively on military forces, the abbreviated reconstruction effort has been tainted with corruption. As we saw in Vietnam, the more the US--seen mostly as an infidel power and usurper--cooperates with a government perceived as corrupt, the more just and egalitarian the resistance appears to be.

For quite some time, pundits have called Afghan President Karzai the "Mayor of Kabul," alluding to the inability of the Afghan government to exert control of any scale beyond the relative safety of the capital. The imagery of an ineffectual government losing to indigenous fighters is striking--like the Khmer Rouge emerging from rice paddies in the movie The Killing Fields to attack Phnom Penh. And who could forget the ghastly images of Kabul after the Soviets left and competing factions--what would become the Taliban and the Northern Alliance--ravaged the battle-scarred city?

The US presence (in Iraq) and the US and NATO (in Afghanistan) prevents the scenario from emerging--for at least as long as we are there. But the image of a weak Karzai and al-Maliki is simply too powerful and their defeat too certain without the mantle of US force so we--alongside our NATO allies--are trapped in some messianic mission, thinking ourselves the angels of deliverance to the poor, starved brown peoples there.

We may not be able to bring security, but we persist in the belief that we can at least protect the vestiges of the governments created in the aftermath of our invasions. For if these governments were to collapse, so too would the case for intervention, and with it the rationale for the loss of thousands of American lives.

The problem with ongoing occupation is that it will make no difference in the eventual outcome. As the most recent election results in the US prove, most Americans don't think Iraq is worth the cost. Rather than attribute the instincts of the majority to the influence of liberal party-poopers, the truth is most Americans understand that the invasion was a mistake, a fact which everyone including perhaps even George Bush knows but will never admit.

Rather than deal with the ego-crushing impact of acknowledging an error--never one of Bush's strengths--the Administration and our present Democratic leaders have chosen to continue the adventure.



  • At 9:51 PM, Blogger johnbpeebles said…

    Justin Raimondo provides correlated support to this post in his piece "Napoleon in the White House" on antiwar.com.

    He mentions a "Saigon" moment: providing the link to the infamous photo of a US helicopter landing on the embassy roof. The .jpg file can be found here.

    Raimondo elaborates:
    "We are fast approaching a "Saigon moment," when a spectacular display of our vulnerability – like the 1983 destruction of the Beirut barracks, in which 241 Marines were killed by a suicide bomber – signals the utter futility of continuing this wrongheaded war."[Source]

    I heard snippets of Bush's press conference on public radio. His answers came haltingly and awkwardly.

    When asked about mistakes in Iraq, Bush basically hedged and blathered a stream of unconnected nuggets of rhetoric, hurling them like spitballs at the press corps.

    Bush's press management style hints at a streak of arrogance, indicating an attitude that his decisions were his alone, and not subject to the public's oversight.
    It may be that the overconfidence is a product of insecurity, or inner doubt.

    Perhaps Bush's faith in his earlier decisions has waned. It's as if his belief in the war has been logically confronted, but he remains incapable of making changes by his emotional fixation on victory.

    Bush's next moves in Iraq will face extreme scrutiny. Will reality set in, or will the state of delusion endure?

    The pressure for change must be intense. Apparently both Bush and the Congress appear to want an increase of troops, but the Pentagon differs. Will Bush listen to the generals? No longer can he hide behind Rumsfeld.

    Editor's Note

    The Iraq story is constantly evolving. I try to stay on top of the story, but hope you recognize the limitations of my time in covering so many issues.

    I want to wish my readers the best Christmas, and New Year! This is a time for appreciating family, so enjoy the holiday.


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