Friday, May 14, 2004

Another Thirty Years War?

Time and time again I hear from high-ranking US military officers that the “war on terrorism” is expected to last between 15 and 30 years. The reasoning is partially that our enemies are “big picture people” and long-term planners.

The last Western war that lasted 30 years was the “The Thirty Years War," so-called because, even to late medieval Europeans, 30 years seemed like a rather long war. Like the present conflict, The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) heavily involved religious fanaticism, one likely reason for its prolonged duration. Unlike the modern conflict, the participants in Thirty Years War lacked access to the killing power of modern technology, however, whose terrible price seems to have shortened all subsequent wars.

And, unlike the currently conflict, the participants in the 30 Years War lacked modern communications — which can both be used as a tool for propaganda, but also to expose the war mongers promoting the war while quietly benefiting from it at the expense of the rest of the society.

Reports in the Iraqi media have long expressed skepticism at the American occupation. American contractors like Halliburton, a company that the Vice President still owns a substantial interest in, are enormously profitable thanks to the war. Private military contractors, often making generous salaries upwards of $400K, would no doubt have a tremendous career ahead of them if the “War on Terrorism” continued in its present intensity for another 30 years. The Iraqis, interacting daily with these contractors, have become very cynical over initial American efforts to retain power, ostensibly to better facilitate rebuilding Iraq. The Americans did not want the UN to take on a greater role back in 2003, cynical Iraqis argued, because American contractors like Halliburton would make more money if Iraq remained unstable.

Most Americans, like myself, at first brushed aside these media reports as insurgent propaganda. These contractors are patriotic individuals, we believed, risking their lives because they genuinely believed in our cause.

Certainly, our professional military would seem to be the last to benefit from a prolonged war. They are the first to experience that “War is Hell” and the first to bury friends, colleagues, and relatives. Seeking to prevent war, they have traditionally expressed considerable interest in areas such as foreign affairs.

However, the recent Iraq prison scandal has given us a closer look at the occupation. Previously, there had been media reports of American soldiers showing considerable disrespect, for example, to Iraqi medical doctors. These are in short supply in their society as well as in our own, so hold a privileged position in the community. One Iraqi medical doctor, stopped at a checkpoint by American GIs, asked the Americans to stop shouting at him because he was a medical doctor. The young American enlisted soldiers, just a few years out of high school, of course had no respect for this. To make their point, they threw his identification papers in the air and treated him with especially disrespect, apparently because he was a medical doctor.

In part this lack of supervision stems from the shortage of troops in Iraq. Clearly, had officers been present to supervise, this incident would not have happened. Based on past military occupations, the prestigious Rand Corporation military think tank estimated that about 450K troops would be needed to achieve Kosovo-like stability in Iraq. The Pentagon, however, following Donald Rumsfeld’s “Transformation” policy of a smaller, “high-tech” military (which clearly had demonstrated merit during the “Major Combat” phase of the war) is some 300K short. A small clique of military contractors that provide high-tech gear is clearly benefiting from this controversial policy, however.

The recent prison abuse scandal illustrates much the same problem. Most of the detainees were simply swept up in random raids. As a result, high-ranking US military officers have told the International Committee of the Red Cross that 70 to 90% of the detainees are probably innocent. In many cases the military has not even kept track of what the prisoners have been accused of. (The scandal includes prisoners murdered without even a paper trail). With such undisciplined, untrained, and understaffed troops guarding so many prisoners, one can be certain that the “high value” prisoners at Abu Ghreib were not especially high value. “High Value” is simply a euphemism meaning they should be tortured because someone in military intelligence thought there was an off-chance they might know something. (The real prisoners of likely intelligence value were being kept elsewhere).

Military experts have testified in recent days that the insurgency is part of the problem. Because it is necessary to demonize an enemy to justify waging war, occupations are always brutal. However, occupations involving guerilla warfare are always especially brutal, because the occupying troops lose respect for the occupied people as the guerilla campaign mounts its deadly toll. The occupation becomes brutal and quickly loses the support of its former supports amongst the occupied. This is, in fact, one of the main goals of any insurgency, and, as the prison scandal shows, it appears to have succeeded in Iraq.

Nation building requires personnel that respect the occupied population. This is one reason the international community wanted the United Nations heavily involved at “End of Major Combat” back in 2003. The United Nations staff, many of whom are drawn from Arab countries, clearly respect the Iraqi people in a way that American enlisted soldiers, who may have lost close friends in Iraq, often clearly do not. It is not clear that earlier UN participation in the rebuilding would have help stabilize Iraq, cutting into contractor profits, but this is now the suspicion being leveled against the military.

These military intelligence contractors deserve a second look. Not all of them appear to be risking their lives daily in Iraq. Some of them, at least one of whom I know, appear to be making most of their middle six figure salaries by operating mostly here in the United States were things are safe. It is not clear exactly what they do. They appear to be spying domestically. The question is, who are they spying on? I was told by one that liberals would “react strongly” if they knew what he was doing, especially in this “presidential election year”. Why? Why would any American “react strongly” to attempts to protect us from deadly enemies? The answer, it seems, is that some of the spying and high-tech grass-roots disinformation might not be aimed at our nation’s enemies, but rather an effort to protect against the military’s exposed Western flank — moderates and liberal opinion leaders that might turn against the war and kill all those lucrative contractor profits. It is by no means clear (shades of the Iraq scandal here) that these are officially sanctioned operations — they may well be the private partisan acts of a financially-motivated government contractor. I will write more about this in a future column.

Equally outrageous however, is the “outrage over the outrage.” Yesterday, I read one conservative blog that referred to Republic Senators in the Republican-controlled Senate as “grandees” interrogating Donald Rumseld.

As I explained in a comment to my May 12th column, the Senate is much closer to public opinion than the Administration. Insiders in Administrations of both parties refer to the Senate as “the real enemy” because of its supervisory powers. The Administration doesn’t like to fire Administration staffers because it makes them look bad. The Senate, however, constitutionally mandated with a supervisory role, is the one that will ask the tough questions and make sure the job gets done.

These right-wing spin doctors, anxious to protect their lucrative financial interests connected with the present Administration, are busy justifying the unjustifiable. They (and even one Senator) are claiming that rape, murder, and mayhem — war crimes even under US laws — which occurred Abu Ghreib were not the result of poor supervision and leadership (or even a wink and nod from the intelligence community) but rather somehow justified by the prisoners’ crimes. Even senior US military officers have conceded to the ICRC that 70-90% of detainees at Abu Ghreib were swept up in random raids and are completely innocent. The military itself uncovered these abuses, and many in military are as shocked as the general public. The real question is why the abuses were deliberately ignored (effectively covered-up) by the higher echelons in the Pentagon.

This “outrage over outrage” by conservative talk show radio hosts has led to some vandalism here locally in this moderate community in the United States. I’ve personally reported one such case of vandalism to the police — the graffiti artist, who vandalized several walls in washroom, felt threatened by “liberals” that didn’t understand that all Muslims were supposedly out to kill all Westerns, and this somehow justified what happened at Abu Ghreib. This was one of the incidents that led to the creation of this blog, and I’ll write more about it in a future column.

The Republican-controlled Congress, of course, is simply carrying out its Constitutionally mandated supervisory authority. As I explained in a comment to my May 12th article, the Congress is Constitutionally much less insulated from public opinion than the Administration. Congressional hearings have traditionally played an important role in the history of our great nation, and the Congress, like the US military, is, as a result, one of our most cherished institutions. It is certainly worthy of our respect, and the disrespect being shown by these financially motivated talk-show hosts is truly shocking. It is the Republican-controlled Congress, after all, that is asking the tough questions that the Administration, now up for re-election, wishes were never asked.

It’s unfortunate that these financially-motivated conservative talk show hosts and bloggers are teaching disrespect for Congress and even inspiring minor incidents of vandalism in the U.S.

All that the Republican-controlled Congress, the media, and the "liberals" some now feel so threatened by want is for this new war to be won in the quickest and most long-lasting manner, with the fewest American lives lost and the least treasure spent.

If Congress and the media don’t ask the tough questions, who will?

The contractors in this new "Thirty Years War" certainly won't. They clearly hope to have a long and very profitable career ahead of them.