Washington Fantasies of Triumph and Aftermath
Paris, May 6, 2008 – When the Associated Press reports that the Pentagon has prepared a $5 billion commercial development plan for the Green Zone in Baghdad (currently under insurgent mortar and rocket fire), and says it has signed a contract with Marriot International to build a hotel as the first in an extravagant series of projects that will include an amusement park among its other amenities, this brings home as nothing else has done how deeply mired in delusion are the people responsible for American foreign and military policy.
This project assumes that American forces, now pushing the reluctant Iraqi army to clear Shiite militias from Sadr City, in an effort to reestablish U.S.-enforced control over Baghdad (and Basra), will succeed. It assumes that the long-term American project to turn Iraq into a satellite nation and a base for regional power projection will also be a success.
Then American and international investors will build condominiums, luxury hotels, and shopping centers as congenial and trustworthy neighbors for the biggest American embassy complex in existence.
Illusions about eventual "victory" are normal enough in a military campaign, and I suppose real estate developers will share them. However I have yet to see a convincing description of how an American victory in Iraq comes about.
I can see Iraqi "victory," meaning the absence of American occupation, in which a ceasefire among Iraqi factions could emerge, producing coexistence and an eventual reconciliation.
But I don't see an end to the occupation. I don't think the United States would go quietly, even if politely, or otherwise, asked. The American government is habituated to believing that it can always get what it wants because power talks; it makes offers that you can't refuse.
Certainly departure is not part of mainstream Pentagon or Washington policy thinking today, and it will not become so even if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton is elected president. Departure contradicts another, and still more impenetrable, dimension of delusion in Washington, which is responsible for the fact that American military planners already are programming a "new" army, Marine Corps, and air force for what follows putative victory in Iraq.
Armies are supposed always to want to prepare to fight the last war, but it is actually the civilian government that does so, and above all the politicians. The American government's response to defeat in Vietnam was not to reexamine the questions of nationalism and Third World Communism, but to apply the identical "falling dominoes" theory to Central America and the Middle East -- and failing again.
Washington is doing this again today. Officials claim that if the insurgencies are not defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, Europe and America will be in mortal danger. That is transparent nonsense, but is exactly what Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeatedly is saying.
The American army's answer to Vietnam was to bury its memories of counterinsurgency and reconstruct an army to fight a conventional war – a "real war." Its new policy was codified in the Powell rules for engagement: professional troops, no draftees; specific and attainable military goals; no political interference; and a clear exit strategy. It created an army that quickly won the Gulf War, and which in 2003 efficiently invaded Iraq and captured Baghdad.
Donald Rumsfeld wanted a different army, to use technological superiority and airpower to avoid ground commitment, and recruit local allies or warlords to do the fighting. This initially worked in Afghanistan. It doesn't work now because neither new armies nor old armies can successfully force foreign control onto a country, against a determined and patient guerrilla resistance with deep roots in the social values and religions of that country.
The military nonetheless is to be remodeled on a version of the Rumsfeld model. The government and an important part of the civilian national security community seem by now committed to the neo-conservative idea of a "long war" against nationalist and jihadist groups, "rogue states" (Moslem or otherwise), "failed states," nations which want nuclear weapons, and all other disruptors of international order, until all of them surrender to the forces of democracy.
The American army and Marine Corps are now being retrained to become ubiquitous universal soldiers, ready to fight everywhere against the equivalent of Sadr Brigades and Taliban, against drug traffickers, Central American criminal youth gangs, nuclear outlaws, new kinds of political terrorists, and fanatical religious cults.
The Air Force has its own special role. It becomes, for Central Asia, South America and Africa, as well as the turbulent Middle East, what Israel's air force is to the Palestinians. The U.S., purportedly omnipotent and invulnerable, would survey the world from stratosphere and space, monitoring and intercepting global communications to identify real and potential enemies, destroying them with real-time video-guided unmanned space and air vehicles, striking their homes, their cars, their hiding places wherever they might be. Doing universal justice. That's the plan.
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