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Friday, April 27, 2007

Surge results in more war and big profits

I've devoted this blog to explaining how geopolitical and military realities prevent the War on Terror from achieving its goals. Like the War on Drugs, the War on Terror drains our resources without attaining positive results. The goals of the war on terror remain amorphous. War critics cannot accuse the Administration of failing to reach its objectives in Iraq because no tangible ones have been established.

Accomplishments like declaring Iraq "sovereign" in '04, and holding elections have all been held high as achievements. Yet Iraq still requires a huge investment of blood and treasure.

The artificial benchmarks of advancement were simply tools of propaganda in a larger PR war fought to keep the War on Terror going. Were these events true harbingers of success and progress, they would provide evidence that Iraqi is increasingly less reliant on the continued US military presence. Under an improving situation, a withdrawal date could be moved forward rather than pushed back.

In the case of Iraq, the Administration disdains the creation of any benchmarks to evaluate progress. The effort by Congress to demand specific achievements or else force withdrawal--albeit a scaled-down version--has led Bush to accuse Democrats of forcing a surrender date. To accuse the Democrats of mismanaging Iraq at this juncture really tests the boundaries of hypocrisy; neither the Bush Administration nor the Iraqi regime they've installed have been accountable or any standard met or exceeded to date.

While we can't technically lose without established goals, we can't "win" either.

Bush's logic on a timetable is fuzzy. I've heard goals described as dreams with timetables attached, so timetables do matter--they convert distant far-off fantasies into something real and attainable.

Goals require a rigorous framework of time-oriented objectives. The military was built for accomplishing specific tasks, it isn't designed to maintain an counter-insurgency in a hostile country indefinitely.

In the absence of goals, we find our military stretched to the breaking point, a fact now broadly acknowledged in the mainstream media. In the absence of a timetable, we find our patience stretched ever further.

Strategies for winning can't depend on military achievements alone. Yet the only adaptation to our Iraqi policy so far has been an increase in the number of troops. The belated surge shows we lacked the number of troops we needed from the start. It took the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, who was responsible for inadequate troop strength, to clear the way for greater numbers, long after the insurgency strengthened by the fall of 2004.

Now, the insurgency is far more powerful--this article from The Independent is from the perspective of an English soldier returning to Iraq for a second tour.

We cannot achieve what remains undefined as victory. So we stumble on, hoping that an increase in troops strength can compensate for our failure to adequately plan and head off an insurgency we failed to properly anticipate.

Without clear mission goals, I'm assuming we intend to stabilize the nation. We initiated the invasion and are bound under the Geneva Convention to restore Iraq to the state of security that we found it in before our invasion--for whatever that's worth.

Bush and crew seem bent on ignoring international law, yet observing the precedent set by Geneva actually helps leave Iraq in a better situation than the present state of anarchy. While a broken Iraq is touted as a victory for terrorists, our ongoing occupation hardly demonstrates the wisdom of American foreign policy. What's more, the continued inability to contain the insurgents calls into question the strength and durability of the US military, which may in fact embolden our enemies regardless of whether we leave or when.

In a twist of supreme irony, our continued presence destabilizes Iraq and the broader region and in so doing dooms the US to commit huge numbers of soldiers, equipment to Iraq. Juxtaposed with the fear button pressed by supporters of the war--that the US can't afford to leave and let the terrorists "win"--is the reality that the US has invested too much already and must continue to occupy Iraq indefinitely lest it lose face.

The persistent reality that we can't end the insurgency through the use of military force--administered in whatever proportion. Our fixation on military power even as it wanes hinders alternative approaches and solutions, few as they are at this point in the occupation.

Evaluating the Surge

I've said in the past that the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq is like a game of jack-in-the-box: hammer down one jack as he pops up and he'll simply pop up elsewhere. Without enough hammers, or quick enough reactions, the jack-in-the-box can pop up anywhere. As the game goes on, the jack also tends to duck and disappear ever more quickly.

This analogy seems to suit the insurgents, who can seed chaos, popping up anywhere in well organized, spontanteous acts of terror meant to demonstrate their strength or the inability of US or Iraqi forces to find them. Like any insurgency, they can then fade back into the civilian population.

The recent destruction of a bridge in Baghdad also suggest insurgents intend to systematically destroy the country's infrastructure, in a tactic similar to that used by the Vietnamese in order to drive a wedge between the U.S.-backed government and the population.

The AP article "US Troop Deaths Up 21 Percent in Iraq" by Robert Reid summarizes the situation in Iraq since the so-called surge began:

"...1,586 civilians were killed in Baghdad between the start of the offensive and Thursday. That represents a sharp drop from the 2,871 civilians who died violently in the capital during the two months that preceded the security crackdown."

Those figures would indicate the number of deaths in Baghdad has dropped roughly in half since the security crackdown.

However, Reid also notes:

"Outside the capital, 1,504 civilians were killed between Feb. 14 and Thursday, compared with 1,009 deaths during the two previous months, the figures show."

This approximately 50% increase in deaths outside Baghdad is most likely an indicator that the insurgent "jack-in-the-box" is popping up in more sparsely guarded regions outside the capital.

Subsequent to Reid's article in mid-April, I've come across reports that say US figures showing a downturn in violence actually exclude deaths from car bombs. To simply exclude car bombings greatly reduces the death toll, as I believe car bombs are the top killer of Iraqis.

The way the stories are reported and statistics tracked reveals an agenda afoot to suppress countervailing or contradictory evidence of progress. Reporting which simply transcribes government reports, or passing press releases on as the real news is an act of complicity which serves to spread propaganda and distort coverage.

I've come across a number of reports spewed by military authorities in Iraq in the past, including the notorious incident in Najaf in late January where an entire group of pilgrims were slaughtered. In that case, entire families were post-humously labelled terrorists in an effort to justify the scope of the violence used by the Iraqi government against Shia pilgrims, with direct American participation.

I found yet another example of duplicity in an AFP report:

"The second-ranking US general in Iraq said Friday that a suicide attack on Baghdad's parliament showed there remained a 'long way to go' toward providing security in the war-ravaged country."

Later in the article, the general is quotes as saying:

"...that 'steady progress is being made' in Baghdad, where a massive security crackdown has been in place for two months..."

Which is it? Progress or not? And if progress how much have we made? I don't think the American people can be confident in how the war goes. We do know that the invasion was sold on false pretenses--that Iraq had WMD and posed a terror threat. The government has clearly lied to us on the need for war, so should we now expect the truth to be told?

Our government has also used propaganda to advance its objectives during wars, in this case the War on Terror, even at the expense of truth.

At some point, the interest of the Executive branch and the people divurge. It's testimony to the effectiveness of our system of government that Congress--ostensibly the people's most direct representatives in government--finds itself at war with the President's policy continuing the war.

If the President is no longer responding to the will of the American people, we can only hope the Congress can obey the people, who have clearly expressed themselves as against the war.

The Constitution was designed to prevent the usurpation of power by one man who in the days of our Founding Fathers was called a tyrant. Giving the President carte blanche to proceed with a war of choice, for which he has publicly acknowledged full responsibility, would be a gross dereliction of Congress' responsibilities under the Constitution.

Politics in the Media

The war in Iraq is very much a PR war, won or lost in front of Americans' living rooms, as they watch their TVs. The clear willingness to deceive illustrates just how far the Pentagon and supporters of the war will go to preserve an image of eventual victory.

Neocons and ultranationalists on the Right are obsessed with their visions of grandeur, with successful military interventions crowning the notion of American exceptionalism. Perhaps they feel this can make up for Vietnam, which they've labelled a failure on the premise not that we lost but that the American people abandoned the war or as Bush put in a trip to Vietnam, "We'll succeed unless we quit." (link).

Bill Moyers has received considerable attention for his new PBS special on Selling the Iraq War (portion available here. Moyers confronts the Media's timidity in confronting the case made for invading Iraq, and focuses on the special relationship between top Media figures and the White House.

It was on this very website that I brought up the issue of media collaboration with the White House political agenda in the case of Valerie Plame. Hard-charging Bob Novak chased the idea Plame was sent on a junket, which of course lead him to inquire from Armitage the identity of Wilson's husband. The first reporter to learn of Plame's covert status was apparently Judith Miller, who'd been dispensing fictitious reports on Iraqi WMD through the New York Times, whom the Administration undoubtedly thought would continue to dispense stories on their behalf, in this case not about WMDs but rather Valerie Plame. It was Miller's confidential relationship with Libby that became central in the investigation into the Plame leak.

In the White House effort to discredit Wilson, the press became a tool for leaking Plame's identity. The story is relevant today in understanding the extent to which Mainstream Media figures go to please politicos in the White House, who presumably provide inside information to their cherished press buddies in return--providing content for books like Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack and State of Denial. In Plame's case, the White House was dispensing a truth, not a lie, but one which would force a covert agent off the front line in fighting the spread of WMD, all for political purposes.

The way Plame was so shamefully betrayed demonstrates the lengths to which the Administration was willing to go in order to protect its case for war, a case which had been bravely challenged by Wilson in his confrontation over the 19 Words. Had the mainstream press been willing to confront the Administration's claims, it would have satisfied the moral imperative which compelled Wilson to expose the lie to the public, an act of fundamental righteousness which nonetheless ended up costing his wife her job in a most cowardly way. Wilson did try through private channels to get the Administration to acknowledge the erroneous intelligence for months, it was only at the failed end of this process that he had been left no choice but to write his Op-ed "What I Didn't Find in Africa".

Moyers has spotlighted deficiencies in Mainstream Media coverage of the war, particularly in the run-up to Iraq although the collusion continues. It should come as no surprise that the Administration continues to use the press to further its political goals. Currently, preserving the illusion that the US can emerge victorious is the primary PR goal for the Bush White House.

Follow Up on Profiteering

I haven't had to look very hard to find evidence of war profiteering, which in my last post I described as a major force for continuance of the current war, as it has been in all previous wars.

I discovered a wonderful article originally from TomDispatch.com, "Who Will Stop the U.S. Shadow Army in Iraq?" by Jeremy Scahill, who talks about the huge quantities spent on mercenaries who work for private contractors in Iraq.

Apparently these non-Iraqis are exempt from any law, and cannot be tried or arrested in Iraq. Beyond accountability, little is publicly known about the companies that send private armies into Iraq, including their death rates, which of course reduces US military losses and the collateral political damage.

The Bush-connected firm Blackwater also rakes in huge sums for staffing and contractual services, as part of a larger privatization effort. Scahill quotes one congresswoman as saying 40% of our expenditures in Iraq go to private corporations, which are responsible for many of the functions once directly assigned to the military.

According to the AP article "Lawmakers Rail Against Halliburton," Congress has targetted fraud and "overpricing" by defense contractors.

I've spotlighted the clear conflict of interest between Vice President Cheney and Halliburton, where he'd been CEO and still holds huge numbers of stock options. The AP article explains:

"Lawmakers and the U.S. inspector general have accused KBR, formerly a division of Halliburton Co., which was once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, of abusing federal rules in record-keeping on the current contract. Nearly $2 billion in overpricing on the contract has been identified by Pentagon auditors and government investigators, lawmakers said."

I found the choice of the word "overpricing" amusing. Unlike the private sector, where buyers are free to choose between not buying and buying--effectively setting a maximum price that the sellers would accept--, the government is forced to buy from certain favored contractors at a price dictated by the seller. Unlike the open market, where buyers determine what they will spend, the government must pay regardless of price and in so doing becomes the perfect target for fraud.

Still, some "no-bid" contracts are justified based on the absence of competing bids from contractors, or the scarcity of providers of services to the government in far-flung places like Iraq. Also, very few companies can provide services and equipment on the scale needed, so defense contracting is an industry built around large entities. Yet its the exclusivity of defense contracts, coupled with their no-bid clauses, that exposes the systematic looting of public resources for the benefit of a well-connected few.

In an ongoing process, the military has outsourced a significant portion of functions traditionally assigned to the military. Jobs and functions performed by military personnel have been delegated to corporations, which raises the issue of how much of our military is under the control of private corporations, who are free to violate labor laws and any number of behaviors which would be deemed unacceptable for military personnel or service regulations. Many interrogators in Abu Ghraib were actually non-US nationals in the employ of dubious multinational contractors.

Prominent writer Andrew Bacevich has documented much of the privatization process--how US military spending has been increasingly turned into an intermediary for private sector beneficiaries selling products and services to the government.

The Right wing has been pushing a broad effort to reduce government spending. Under Republican rule of Congress from 1994 and the White House since '01, much of this transformation has turned out to be purely rhetorical. While spending has surged, a larger and larger portion of spending has gone directly to the private sector, in effect reducing the spread of government resources to a smaller and more privileged few. Since 9/11, the battle against federal spending has been converted into a mantra for more military spending, with a large portion flowing to corporations.

Congress and auditors under the direct supervision of the Executive were also responsible for regulating these defense contractors. So in a process that gradually evolved during the period of one-party rule since 2000, government contracting became the most effective method for companies with political influence to increase profitabillity.

Also part of the ode to quasi-Libertarian values was the belief in the economic burden of draconian government regulations. Bureaucratic regulation was trumpeted as unnecessary and expensive.Private companies are praised over the "inefficient" bureaucracy, which was assumed to be nothing more than a layer of government that ran up costs, and failer to deliver productive results.

Discounting the power of government and preventative benefits of ongoing regulations has led to an overestimation of the benefits of outsourcing. In the wake of Katrina as well as in Iraq, the primary policy tool for reconstruction has been massive contracts with limited oversight, the results are predictably fraud and waste.

An absence of regulation has clearly encouraged corruption in the awarding of contracts. As long as the funds flow, both the participating politicans and profitting companies benefit. At some point in the provisioning of goods and services to the government, inefficiencies enter into the contractual process.

As I suggested in my last post, perhaps the Democrats are eager to cash in on their turn at the federal money spigot. Corporate donations have hardly decreased with the advent of Democratic rule. Private sector beneficiaries of government spending likely anticipated the threat to their profit posed by a change in political control. Accordingly, they've been active seeding both sides of the aisle with campaign contributions.

The Republicans have served well the interests of privatization, but have apparently been unwilling to reduce spending sufficiently to let the defense sector rise and fall independent of federal patronage. Even more of the public's money is now showered on a growing Pentagon budget, of which a big chunk goes to private contractors.

These merchants of death must fear the idea of losing their federal money train and are thus willing to great lengths to encourage ongoing expenditures. Some of these companies--like number one military contractor General Electric--own large media networks. {NBC fired antiwar commentator Phil Donahue in the lead up to the Iraq war; CEO Jack Welch was a major Bush campaign donor.) Cross-ownership of media corporations is common among the wealthy industrialist patrons of the Right.

We cannot know what transpires in the corridors of power. The actions of CEOs friendly to the Bush Administration may never be exposed to the light of public admission and scrutiny. We can however see the ownership of media outlets by fewer and fewer conglomerates and the shift in the focus of news coverage towards entertainment, as hard news is not as big a money-maker, and thus valued less in the corporate hierarchy.

Wars are the perfect vehicle for enriching corporate contractors selling to government. Media conglomerates have a vested interest in keeping government money flowing to their advertizers and subsidiaries. Media scrutiny of President Bush's approach to Iraq has become honest only as the reality of failure has become undeniable.

By ignoring the fundamental winnability or methodology used to fight wars, doubts in the public can be suppressed through inadequate Media coverage. Another method, the direct insertion of proganda into the coverage narrative, serves an important purpose in maintaining an illusion of progress and a picture on eventual success.

As I've discussed here in my studies of propaganda, sometimes suppression of the truth or any information critical of the war can neuter popular dissent: what the people don't know cannot upset them. Belated Media scrutiny appears to have come only after an extended period of mismanagement has successfully mired the US in conflict. At this point, an early or easy exit has been made much more difficult, which sustains the expensive occupation and enriches war profiteers.

Fooled Again

I'd said in my previous post that the U.S. military interventions had been almost continuous since World War II.

As the articles I quote below prove, I hadn't been entirely accurate. Yet in my life I have at not time been spared the sense that the US is locked in some long-term war. In my early youth it was the fear of nuclear holocaust, with Vietnam and other flashpoints making the threat real. When the Cold War ended in 1989, we really didn't experience that much of a peace dividend--by '91 we were off to Kuwait. So if I've erred in overestimating the frequency of US interventions, it's because I've never really seen a prolonged period of peace in my life.

Bacevich is more specific in an article posted originally on TomDispatch:

...while the so-called Vietnam Syndrome infected the American body politic, when Republican and Democratic administrations alike viewed with real trepidation the prospect of sending US troops into action abroad. Since the advent of the new Wilsonianism, however, self-restraint regarding the use of force has all but disappeared. During the entire Cold War era, from 1945 through 1988, large-scale US military actions abroad totaled a scant six. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, they have become almost annual events. The brief period extending from 1989's Operation Just Cause (the overthrow of Manuel Noriega) to 2003's Operation Iraqi Freedom (the overthrow of Saddam Hussein) featured nine major military interventions. And that count does not include innumerable lesser actions such as Bill Clinton's signature cruise missile attacks against obscure targets in obscure places, the almost daily bombing of Iraq throughout the late 1990s, or the quasi-combat missions that have seen GIs dispatched to Rwanda, Colombia, East Timor, and the Philippines. Altogether, the tempo of US military interventionism has become nothing short of frenetic.

The real issue isn't just how often the US intervenes, it's really about the need to intervene. We've clearly lowered the benchmark to the point a case for intervention can be made quite effectively; the recipe for popular acceptance appears to require nothing more than a war-hungry President and compliant Media.

Wars are never cheap, even if the contributory factors can be blown into justifications for war without a lot of effort. The real damage done by inducing a state of tolerance and unconditional acceptance of war comes over the long-term, on the back end, long after the trumpets have beckoned our young to the front. It's that end--with recuperation, much-needed healing of the injured--that the real costs of war--war fatigue, depleted budgets, and ugliness of war rubbed in our faces-- add up, long after the older white men who beckoned us on have left their offices.

This article by antiwar.com columnist Ivan Eland summarizes previous US military interventions and the political consequences.

Can we trust our Media corporations to tell us the truth about winnability the wars that feed their bottom line? Victory for the defense contractors represents the continuation of war, not its end. I'd arge that the American people know far less about the decisions our politicians not because they don't care news but because the Mainstream Media intentionally suppresses information which would bring into doubt the ultimate winnability of a conflict.

Americans were sold the Iraq war in the same way they are sold cars or any other product--through their TVs. I'm loking forward to seeign the Bill Moyers special on selling the war. It's remarkable so few Americans know what they need to know in order to make an informed decision on the winnability of the war.

As I pointed on, the MSM seemed to turn on the war in the summer of 2006, as its unpopularity grew. I wondered at the time whether or not the shift towards criticism in coverage had precipitated the increasing discontent, or that the MSM had in fact been reacting to the underlying shift in opinion which may have in fact been building.

With the MSM late to the party, and beholden to neoconservative tenets clearly past the point where they'd been proven untenable, suggests that perhaps alternative resources for information like those on the Web were threatening to draw away even more viewership from corporated news divisions that had seen their funding drastically reduced under the "news as entertainment" shifts in policy which have occurred under Media consolidation. News divisions were treated as independent profit centers, which of course they never were meant to be, which may be encouraging further degradation of the quality of MSM news, and further flight to the Web.

Other Sources

Bacevich, Andrew.
Google search of Bacevich articles and quotes on truthout.org here.



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