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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

our bright and shining lie in Iraq - or, stabbing this war in the back, let me count the ways

First, a beggin’ preface: anyone who has been thinking about supporting LI should do it in these dog months. Keep us up with the phone and electric bills, and we will keep writing the bad trip prose that makes reading this site as pleasurable as a visit to a cold fingered proctologist! Check out the pay pal button.

Now, onto today’s s…s…s…schmatter – which is this WAPO article by Thomas Ricks, analyzing the American military failure in Iraq. Ricks details the chronicle of errors, shadowing, all unconsciously, the LI storyline. We are happy to report that he actually captures a few home truths. Unfortunately, at the moment he’s screwed himself to the sticking point, he… unscrews himself. He can’t quite get past the one big conventional D.C. lie, the motherlode of American misadventure. In the end, he stays tamely within the precincts laid down by D.C.’s court society. Like the court society of many a past declining empire, it has crystallized around a few gross misconceptions about the world that it cannot, without dissolving itself, surrender – and which, consequently, lead it to repeat the same disaster over and over again.

What Ricks gets right is that the occupation of Iraq, enacted in spasmodic, blind bursts of violence by the occupiers, was badly designed from the get go, using maximum force when maximum finesse was required. The proconsuls never understood that the advantage, in a state where a certain language is spoken and certain cultural norms adhere, is to the native. Especially when the natives can manufacture IEDs with ease, the world having been flooded for fifty years by the American and European weapons makers to the extent that it is more likely some ravaged area of the planet will run out of food than out of automatic rifles. Plus, having major stockpiles of weapons that the occupying force is too stretched to really guard allows for stop n go resupply.

The specific, personal root of the American malfunction was in the Pentagon. Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, between the two of them, have been the worst duo to hit the military since McLellan and Edwin Stanton managed to bungle a simple advance with overwhelming force through the Virginia countryside in the spring of 1862. Franks makes Westmoreland’s tenure as chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff look like the Golden Age. Franks is the General who couldn’t fight. Luckily for Franks, America spends a trillion dollars every four years – and now, every two – on creating a monster battle machine. A three year old couldn’t go wrong, in classic battle field conditions, with that thing. Unfortunately, if he isn’t facing ducks all lined up in a row, as in a cheap carnee tent, Franks is nonplussed. Which is why he only acts in one way: to do more of what he has been doing. More is the alpha and omega of his military strategy. Bomb more. Use more white phosphorus. Knock down more doors. Imprison more Iraqis. Say, all the military aged men in a village.

Oh, but there is one limit – no more troops, of course. Ass licking Rumsfeld on the troops issue is the first bullet point on the Chief of the JCS job description.

As for Rumsfeld, by now we know the old story. Rumsfeld is insane.

So Ricks rehearses the mistakes made by the occupiers as though it were a clinical study in classical compulsive disorder – which it is. They overreact and retreat. An insufficient force using its technological advantage to, basically, stir up shit.

“"When you're facing a counterinsurgency war, if you get the strategy right, you can get the tactics wrong, and eventually you'll get the tactics right," said retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, a veteran of Special Forces in the Vietnam War. "If you get the strategy wrong and the tactics right at the start, you can refine the tactics forever, but you still lose the war. That's basically what we did in Vietnam."

"For the first 20 months or more of the American occupation in Iraq, it was what the U.S. military would do there, as well.

""What you are seeing here is an unconventional war fought conventionally," a Special Forces lieutenant colonel remarked gloomily one day in Baghdad as the violence intensified. The tactics that the regular troops used, he added, sometimes subverted American goals.”

B..bb…but just as you think Ricks is creeping up on the unwritten truth of the matter, the heart of what has gone wrong in Iraq, (a symptom of the political compromise between a metastasizing war culture and the credit card lifestyle in Uncle Sam’s green and pleasant land), he bogles it.

"“The U.S. military took a different approach in Iraq. It wasn't indiscriminate in its use of firepower, but it tended to look upon it as good, especially during the big counteroffensive in the fall of 2003, and in the two battles in Fallujah the following year.

"One reason for that different approach was the muddled strategy of U.S. commanders in Iraq. As civil affairs officers found to their dismay, Army leaders tended to see the Iraqi people as the playing field on which a contest was played against insurgents. In Galula's view [Galula wrote a counterinsurgency handbook], the people are the prize.

""The population . . . becomes the objective for the counterinsurgent as it was for his enemy," he wrote.

"From that observation flows an entirely different way of dealing with civilians in the midst of a guerrilla war. "Since antagonizing the population will not help, it is imperative that hardships for it and rash actions on the part of the forces be kept to a minimum," Galula wrote.

"Cumulatively, the American ignorance of long-held precepts of counterinsurgency warfare impeded the U.S. military during 2003 and part of 2004. Combined with a personnel policy that pulled out all the seasoned forces early in 2004 and replaced them with green troops, it isn't surprising that the U.S. effort often resembled that of Sisyphus, the king in Greek legend who was condemned to perpetually roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down as he neared the top.”

This misses the bloody crux, the structure, the very moral economy of the American way of warfare. If forces are kept to a minimum and if force is proportioned to some threshold point beyond which you antagonize the population, you will, inevitably, suffer much higher casualties. If American soldiers winnow through a village, looking only for insurgents, they are much likely to be injured or killed than if they plow through the village in the balls out, mega-American way. And the soldiers know that. The American soldier has been trained to think that the preservation of his life is the prime objective. He has been raised in the spirit of McLellan, and advances with the firepower of Grant, which is why America always wins the wars that it loses. This is why the American soldier is good in a battlefield situation such as presented itself in WWII, or in the First Gulf War, and entirely sucks at counterinsurgency. And will always suck. Because the higher risk brings with it the question: what am I doing here? Since American interests have nothing to do with the Iraq war – it was commenced and continued solely to serve the vanity of a small D.C. clique – the only way to keep waging it as what it is in reality – the usurpation of American forces for mercenary purposes on the part of a power mad executive – is to wage it with as few American deaths as possible. The Bush doctrine converges with the Powell doctrine – overwhelming force = lucrative contracts to war contractors + lack of visible sacrifice to the Bush base.

The logic here is inexorable. Either a greater number of Americans die, or a greater number of Iraqis die. Americans have decided to pretend that the greater the number of Iraqi deaths, the more the Americans are winning. That, of course, is bullshit. Which is why the argument that the U.S. troops should stay in for humanitarian reasons is bullshit – the logic of American strategy will continue to maximize the number of Iraqi deaths, or it will have to face the repulsion of American public opinion as American deaths go racheting up. It won’t do the latter. The rulers actually fear the American population in their nasty, prolonged wars. Fear that the population doesn't want to fight. This is their worry. This is what they work at. Both parties, it goes without saying. This is what all the bogus talk about "will" is about.

They are afraid of us. Doesn't that imply that they have something to be afraid about?

Stab this war in the back.

PS - Re taking the power back -- a heartening story, in the NYT, about First Lt. Ehren K. Watada. Lt. Watada volunteered for the army after 9/11. LI has no problem with that -- quite the contrary. Unfortunately, the army that is supposed to be defending America is defending no such thing, and has ended up being illegally planted in Iraq, mainly for the purpose of providing a photogenic war for the Rebel in Chief. This came to truly bug Lt. Watada, so much so that he has refused to deploy to Iraq, risking court martial. The NYT goes to one of the usual talking heads to give the Fix's view of the case:

"“Certainly it’s far from unusual in the annals of war for this to happen,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in military affairs at the Brookings Institution. “But it is pretty obscure since the draft ended.”

Mr. O’Hanlon said that if other officers followed suit, it would be nearly impossible to run the military. “The idea that any individual officer can decide which war to fight doesn’t really pass the common-sense test,” he said."

O'Hanlon has been no mean promoter of the Iraq war, of course. And for the Fix, that government by clique and egghead which sits on our face, it passes the common sense test to get a loser like O'Hanlon to give us his two cents about this case. In the 'meritocracy,' you never have to apologize for being wrong 100 percent of the time. No pain, a lotta gain -- that's the think tank motto. Now, O'Hanlon has consistently displayed the reasoning powers of an old baggie filled with decaying lunch meat over at the Brookings institute -- he particularly likes gathering together dubious numbers to promote the idea that Iraq is a boomin' country, full of happ happ happy participants in Bush's experiment in free enterprise. Being a war mongering pin head has won him bipartisan respect, which reason he will no doubt be happily moving into some position of responsibility in the next Democratic administration. A Beinart Democrat, a patriot, a easy chair killer.

LI, of course, stands totally behind Lt. Watada. A real hero


Amie said...

LI, in all candor which i hope will not make you cringe, i have been truly appreciating your posts the last several days. i've actually written a couple of long comments in response but then mercifully deleted them as they seemed very inadequate, if not crazy. i have no idea how this one will turn out, but anyway...
i'm struck by your proposition that the powers that be might be afraid of 'us', particularly since the same powers want to spread fear like a virus in order to carry out an appallingly violent program purportedly to guarantee 'health' for a people, nation, civilization, etc. what is it about fear?
by the by, the earlier comment re your Calasso post and animals, had nothing to do with vegans ( i'm not one ) but rather thinking about a relation of violence that is optimised, made more efficient and economic, while at the same time effacing its violence, brutality. it's an issue worth thinking about i think, the relation of mankind with animals - or with capital punishment - and how it formulates its laws and wars?
( the pig slaughter scene you mention is i think from Haneke's Benny's Video. it's worth noting the lack of affect on Benny's part, despite his fascination. if i remember correctly he says somewhere in the film, it's all about special effects, plastic and ketchup. Have you seen Satantango by Bela Tarr? it has a long excrutiating scene of a little girl poisining her cat and then herself...)
well, this begs for the delete button, but i really do want to say thanks

roger said...

Thank you, Amie! Actually, your comment about animals was thought provoking - to me. Hence, my post about dogs.

I think I came to that Haneke film with outsized expectations. But thanks for the Bela Tarr suggestion. I've never seen a Tarr film, although I've been planning on seeing a few that came into the local video store I rent from -- so I guess I'll check them out!