Sunday, September 11, 2005

Playing to Lose 

The most-viewed story at Newsweek today is this one, in which we learn that the putative leader of the free world is considerably less well-informed that the average reader of King of Zembla (thanks, Newsweek; tell us something we didn't know). Rather more intriguing, to our minds anyway, is the following item by Mark Hosenball, which has less of a dog-bites-man quality:
Analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency have begun war-gaming scenarios for what might happen in Iraq if U.S. force levels were cut back or eliminated, say counterterrorism and defense sources. The officials, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive subject matter, declined to discuss specifics of the DIA analyses, which they indicate are in the preliminary stages. Some officials say that people in the intelligence community are leery about engaging in speculative exercises for fear of being accused by conservatives of undermining George W. Bush's administration policy. However, others say that this analysis could support staying the course in Iraq if a U.S. pullout would result in greater insurgent violence or a religious civil war.
Which reminds us of not one, but two new interviews at TomDispatch, both eminently worthy of your attention. In the first, Tom Engelhardt talks with Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, about protest movements and dreams of empire:
Zinn: What's comparable [to Vietnam], I think, are the arguments then and now. Even the language is similar. We mustn't cut and run. We mustn't give them a victory. We mustn't lose prestige in the world.

TD: ...credibility was the word then.

Zinn: Yes, exactly, credibility. There will be chaos and civil war if we leave...

TD: ...and a bloodbath.

Zinn: Yes, and a bloodbath -- because the one way you can justify an ongoing catastrophe is to posit a greater catastrophe if you don't continue with the present one. We've seen that psychology operating again and again. We saw it, for instance, with Hiroshima. I mean, we have to kill hundreds of thousands of people to avert a greater catastrophe, the death of a million people in the invasion of Japan.

It's interesting that when we finally did leave Vietnam, none of those dire warnings really came true. It's not that things were good after we left. The Chinese were expelled, and there were the boat people and the reeducation camps, but none of that compared to the ongoing slaughter taking place when the American troops were there. So while no one can predict what will happen -- I think this is important to say -- when the United States withdraws its troops from Iraq, the point is that we're choosing between the certainty of an ongoing disaster, the chaos and violence that are taking place in Iraq today, and an eventuality we can't predict which may be bad. But what may be bad is uncertain; what's bad with our occupation right now is certain. It seems to me that, choosing between the two, you have to take a chance on what might happen if you end the occupation. At the same time, of course, you do whatever you can to mitigate the worst possibilities of your leaving.
In the second interview James Carroll, author of An American Requiem, discusses the "apocalyptic thinking" that led George Bush -- by temperament "naïve, callow, dangerous, Manichaean, triumphalist" -- to attack a mosquito (Osama bin Laden) with a hammer (massive military power). "It's true that if you begin to treat an imagined enemy as transcendent, at a certain point he becomes transcendent":
Carroll: It's already become clear to people that we can't win this. Who knows what being defeated means? I said we had lost because there's no imposing our will on the people of Iraq. That's what this constitutional imbroglio demonstrates. A month ago, Donald Rumsfeld was insisting that there had to be a three-party agreement. In August, it became clear that there would be none. So now there's a two-party agreement and the Sunnis are out of it. Basically, this political development has endorsed the Sunni resistance movement, because they've been cut out of the future of Iraq. They have no share of the oil. They have no access to real political power in Baghdad. They have nothing to lose and that's a formula for endless fighting . . . .

[The top generals have] been forced to preside over the destruction of the United States Army, including the civilian system of support for the Army -- the National Guard and the active Reserves. This is the most important outcome of the war and, as with Vietnam, we'll be paying the price for it for a generation.

TD: Knowing the Pentagon as you do, what kind of a price do you think that will be?

Carroll: I would say, alas, that one of the things we're going to resume is an overweening dependence on air power and strikes from afar. It's clear, for instance, that the United States under the present administration is not going to allow Iran to get anywhere near a nuclear weapon. The only way they could try to impede that is with air power. They have no army left to exert influence. If the destruction of the United States Army is frightening, so is the immunity from the present disaster of the Navy and the Air Force, which are both far-distance striking forces. That's what they exist for and they're intact. Their Tomahawk and Cruise missiles have basically been sidelined. We have this massive high-firepower force that's sitting offshore and we're surely going to resume our use of such power from afar.

One of the things the United States of America claims to have learned from the ‘90s is that we're not going to let genocidal movements like the one in Rwanda unfold. Well, we've basically destroyed the only military tool we have to respond to genocidal movements, which is a ground force. You can't use air power against a machete-wielding movement. And if you think that kind of conflict won't happen in places where poverty is overwhelming and ecological disaster is looming ever more terrifyingly, think again. What kind of response to such catastrophe will a United States without a functional army be capable of? . . . .

This is what it means to have lost the war already. We didn't need an enemy to do it for us. We've done it to ourselves.

TD: "We" being the Bush administration?

Carroll: Yes, the Bush administration, but "we" also being John Kerry and the Democrats who refused to make the war an issue in the presidential election campaign last year. I fault them every bit as much as I fault the Republicans. At least Bush is being consistent and driven ideologically by his unbelievably callow worldview. The Democrats were radical cynics about it. They didn't buy the preventive war doctrine. They didn't buy the weapons of mass destruction justification for this war. They didn't buy any of it and yet they didn't oppose it! The cynicism of the Democrats is one of the most stunning outcomes of this war. And even now, as the political conversation for next year's congressional election begins, where's the discussion from the Democrats about this, the second self-inflicted military catastrophe since World War II.
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