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Thursday, May 01, 2008

The neocon dream becomes an American nightmare

The neocons are back in the news as we hear the war drums being pounded, this time for Iran. Iran was designated as part of the axis of evil in G.W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address.

Chinese-Iranian ties are a threat to U.S. economic interest in the realm of petropolitics where the energy reserves lie as the strategic prize, the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Iran also threatens the Carter Doctrine, which states that the US will defend the Gulf from any outside forces--taken to mean Russia at the time.

The hegemony of the dollar as the international currency pressures the US to act. Even the massive expense of Iraq is paid for in increasingly less valuable dollars. Iran just began trading its oil exclusively in currencies other than the dollar--Euros and Yen. Until Saddam Hussein first tried to sell his oil in Euros in the year 2000 or so, all oil had been denominated in dollars or British pounds.

The Iranian oil bourse prevents a financial threat that could further weaken the credibility of the US government and the intrinsic value of its currency. A fiat currency, the dollar's value is arbitrary, reflecting what our creditors think of our economy and ability to repay. The global trend is rejecting the dollar as the oil currency. Ironically the dollar's unattracctiveness come as a consequence of massive amounts of hard power being used to such little effect.

The dollar is now defended not by a strong balance sheet but the club of a military brute. Like any empire, the US' use of military force boils down to the assertion of our economic clout and political control over other nations. Depending on the strength of our military alone carries serious risks. Should the bullied stand up and succeed in resisting the bully, the intimidation factor is lost. Then nobody respects the bully, much less fears him or what he might do.

We're discovering in Iraq that the power to inflict damage can't build nations but rather yields diminishing returns. This is Reverend Wright's chickens coming home to roost, reaping what we so. The exclusive use of hard power denies cheaper and likely more effective alternatives. (For more on hard power see my posts here and here.)

Strategically, even the grandest empire can't muster enough forces and sustain standing armies forever. The US can't further leverage its already drawn-down military forces. Worse, our potential enemies know this and can assert their own prerogative while we can do little save bark and threaten. This is the price of burning our credibility, abandoning effective diplomacy, and eschewing non-military methods to resolve our conflicts.

This said, strikes on Iran via cruise missiles are quite possible. Targets include Iran's uranium processing center at Nanatz, where additional centrifuges were recently installed and Bushehr, the would-be nuclear reactor under construction with off-and-on Soviet help.

Of course an attack on Iran would be a big mistake. Still, nothing the Bush administration has done in the Middle East has been effective or logical unless the goal has been to jack up gas prices and leave the economy in tatters for the next President, presumably a Democrat, to deal with. The Bush junta that came into power on a Supreme Court vote along party lines may be capable of still worse things before they ride off.

One other reason could exist for going after Iran--the influence of the Israel lobby. Under the Clean Break paradigm, Iraq was targetted for regime change, while both Syria and Iran were meant to be destabilized, with regime change a wishful secondary achievement. Using U.S. military force, Clean Break has been rigorously implemented so far, with destabilization achieved throughout the region and two regimes changed.

Perhaps the only reason the war hasn't broadened are the limits on our military power. Like Vietnam--ironically the war that neocons set out to prove could have been won given the right PR support--, spreading the conflict can help alleviate the obvious failures that our Iraq policy has created. Spewing out the violence into a broader rapture would force our proxy states and allies to become embroiled and depend on us for their security. This both lengthens and deepens our involvement. Bush wants to enter into an open-ended, unratified treaty (like a Status of Forces agreement but not called that either) with Iraq committing us to defend that regime for years into the future.

As destabilization spreads, the US and its proxies can claim the need for further preventative and punitive measures as part of the Global War on Terror script. Enemies of the US have been labelled terrorists, so by expanding the war the US can present the illusion that those we kill are all terrorists and completely deserving of their fate. The ugly reality of dead children that accompanies any indiscriminate bombing, a tactic used at the end of the Vietnam war, is repressed as the other nations are attacked by our military or those of our proxies. The failed strategy of Iraq might seem less of failure if a regional war occurs with Iran, who's clearly the main target of Clean Break as the number one threat to Israel.

Lead-in to the Lunacy

Bush-appointed neocons brought forth their plans of conquest for the Mideast must have received quite a reception from the Pentagon. All this, mind you, before 9/11, while Cheney and his secret energy task force meetings were studying maps of Iraqi oil fields. 9/11 provided the perfect opportunity to implement aggression in the Middle East, but the plans for conquest had been laid out long before then.

Eager to avenge Vietnam, and bulstered by hubris, American generals likely underestimated the scope of resistance. Wolfowitz came forward and just recently admitted in the New York Sun. This could be the wicked fruit of the overly cozy relationship between our nation's military and its political leaders.

The Pentagon had been handed responsibility for much of the pre-war intelligence by the Bush-Cheney White House, abandoning functions which the CIA and State Department would have traditionally performed. The Office for Special Plans within the Pentagon cherrypicked intelligence while the White House Iraq Group disseminated falsified intelligence to the media via British and Italian intelligence services, with the later responsible for the famous sixteen words.

The stream of lies was choreographed to stimulate a domestic political audience considering the electibality of "war president" Bush. At this point, why would the White House or Pentagon tell the truth? We can't expect a straight answer if we ask them how the war effort is going. Bush's talking up the surge and General Petraeus has been unmasked as nothing more than perception management, all hat and no cattle.

Telling it is that General Petraeus has emerged as the administration darling. Architect of the surge, Petraeus was supposed to be leading the US to victory. Instead the results in Iraq have been questionable. And Petraeus, he's "falling upwards" as Tom Engelhardt puts it, into higher and higher positions, replacing Centcom's Fallon, who advocated restraint in--of all places--Iran. See Engelhardt's write-up on Petraeus here.

Divide and conquer

I've long said that the US has sought to execute a divide and rule strategy in Iraq. The idea is that by splitting Iraq along sectarian lines, social and cultural distinctions which had been repressed under Saddam could lead to disintegration. Saddam's Iraq, like Tito's Yugoslavia, was a multi-ethnic hodgepodge almost destined to internal turmoil when created by the Great Powers through an arbitrary penstroke across a map.

The world abounds with multi-ethnic nations. People in newly liberated former colonies may shared little more in common with each other than the language and culture of their former occupier. In this chasm of difference exists the potential for violence, in numerous nations, so there is no shortage of this problem; what is rather remarkable is the relative lack of inter-ethnic violence. Nationalism is a bonding force capable of overcoming internal differences, no matter how great.

Under Saddam, Iraqis were united; since our invasion the ethnic divide has grown. Is our intervention not the cause of the civil war? Can we presume to not have known what it would cause? While we can't be held directly responsible for whatever tensions existing before our arrival, we must accept our role in the chain of unintended consequences that we set off by intervening. Anything less is not only an violation of international law, but a wholesale abandonment of our ethical responsiblities as a nation.

If the Pentagon were in charge of the intelligence sent to/from the White House and on to the general public, any internal dissent (Shinseki) would not be tolerated. Thus the only intelligence that superiors would hear would be sufficiently optimistic as to bubble up to the top echelons of the political and military leadership.

Caution and doubt were tossed aside in the overwhelming certainty in a quick victory, so we can't say for sure Iraq was intentionally botched, although the war has been badly mismanaged--this is especially apparent in the afterglow of claims made concerning the progress of last year's surge.

Any outside power seeking to dominate a region will see nationalism as a threat. If Iraqis were to unite, they might throw their occupier out, and regain control over their oil resources, the real plum for the U.S.. Designed, by intention or not, keeping Iraqis divided does continue to offers a perfect pretext for continuing the occupation.

Recently relinked in whatreallyhappened, a 2006 article by James Cogan explains the strategy as articulated by prominent neocon Daniel Pipes:
Pipes argues that a civil war in Iraq could be advantageous by providing a pretext for US military action against Iran and Syria. Open warfare between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, he wrote in the New York Sun, would most likely “invite Syrian and Iranian participation... hastening the possibility of an American confrontation with those states, with which tensions are already high”.

Pipes' influential position allows him to penetrate the bureaucracy and work in conjunction with other Israeli sympathizers to help implement the strategy laid out in Clean Break. See the dossier on Pipes here.

Nothing the neocons have achieved or tried to achieve in the Mideast appears to be independent of the well-documented intentions of PNAC founders Cheney, Libby, etc..

Combining the adoption of Clean Break with Cheney's 1992 Draft Defense Planning Guidance (link) leads one to the conclusion that Iraq was invaded as part of a bigger scheme.

A confederation of miltary people and neocons joined forced to implement aggressive militaristic policies, using 9/11 as the linchpin. Neocons had harbored a long-standing agenda to attack enemies of the Jewish state, exemplified by Clean Break, the Zionist equivalent of Manifest Destiny.

While neocons may have dominated policy discussions, military men would help "shape the battlefield," waging a public opinion war over-dramatizing the threat from Saddam. Viewed independently of one another, these talking heads might not make much of a case to invade, or sway opinion that much. But the cumulative impact of so many people in whom the public has such trust mitigated criticism of war policies and colored the whole debate.

The US military does consider domestic public opinion to be a part of the battlefield, under a comprehensive war strategy the Pentagon calls full spectrum dominance. A coordinated plan of disinformation--just like the Cold War era Operation Mockingbird--serves the military in reducing domestic political resistance to the war and building popular resentment towards the enemy du jour.

A New York Times article April 20th identified a slew of former generals who'd presented themselves as analysts in the mainstream media as analysts. They'd worked in conjunction with the Pentagon to influence the narrative and reporting. Until very recently, this band of retired high ranking officers conspired to make a case for a continuing the war, and talking up the progress we were supposedly making. All the while they worked in direct contact with the Pentagon, coordinating what they said on TV with what the top brass and their political puppeteers wanted said.

Specific tasks were assigned the military people, including the insertion of outright lies and distortions for public consumption. This confluence of retired "analysts" with close ties to the defense industry and neoconservatives turned the media into a dispensary of lies.

The abuse of the public trust which the Bush regime has exemplified began with Plame, where a covert agent was outed with virtually no consequences. Press people like Novack and Judith Miller were used to make public Plame's status, allegedly as payback for exposing administration lies on Iraq that her husband Joe Wilson revealed in his 2003 NYT op-ed.

Using Pentagon analysts to spoonfeed the public little half-truths is an excellent example of propaganda in action. It's worth remembering that the Nazi Goebbels believed that propaganda needed to be mixed with some truth and innoculated with enhanced credibility associated with the machinery of the state and ultranationalist regalia. The role of as prudent, dispassionate outsiders usually assigned the retired generals masked a dark role as agents provocateur--pro-war plants who'd intended from the beginning to deceive and dispense lies and deflect criticism of the war or how it was being fought.

Goebbels' well-developed positions on the delivery of propaganda are a fitting component of any qualified neocon's dossier. The neoconservative movement was born on the premise that democracies should be willing to do anything to stop the rise of demogogues like Hitler. Neocons are therefore intimately familiar with Nazism and the psychological methods used to assert control over the German people.

Founder of the neocon school, University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss espoused a kind of democratic vigilantism to head off the rise of tyrants like Hitler. A survivor of Nazi death camps, Strauss influenced a whole batch of influential Right wing policy wonks who ascended to power under G.W. Bush. See an article on Strauss by Jim Lobe here.

As neocons were put in key positions overseeing our policy in the Middle East, the Israeli-centric Clean Break strategy came to dominate. Relying exclusively on hard power, the approach has been thoroughly discredited and caused tremendous damage to our economy and international stature.

The Pentagon's dalliance with the Bush crew has destroyed our military capabilities and could well lead to a defeat like Vietnam. Wars are political creatures, and the consequences manifest in the political sphere. Even if military results are presented in a favorable light a lack of positive results can't be hidden forever. Stretching the conflict out, or expanding it into Iran and Syria will most likely compund the negative effects of the intervention.


Blogger Amanda on April 25th discusses the NYT's "analyst" story at think progress. A PBS video is available there. A more recent post offers a video on White House spokeswoman Dana Perino's response to a question on the story.


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