Jay Bulworth: How America fights wars

Jay Bulworth jay.bulworth at operamail.com
Sat Dec 14 16:08:19 MST 2002

D!SSENT MAGAZINE cover story
Jay Bulworth

“It was indispensable to annihilate armies and resources; to place every rebel force where it had no alternative but destruction or submission.”
Adam Badeau

Adam Badeau's use of the word "annihilate" is revealing.  Badeau was military secretary to Ulysses S. Grant during the US Civil War and the author of several books about Grant.  It is Grant's war-fighting style that has come to typify the way the US fights wars.  This style is exemplified by the strategy of annihilation, which is the seeking of decisive battle in a head-on collision of armed forces, and in which war is waged on both armies and civilian infrastructure.

The US has a historical and psychological affinity with the strategy of annihilation.  This war-fighting style was on display in the Gulf War of 1991, and it is instructive to examine certain aspects of that war for an insight into how the US intends to fight this time around.

The first aspect is the exaggeration of enemy capabilities.  Although it had had eight years of Western help, Iraq had been unable to defeat Iran - which was itself weakened after the post-Revolutionary purges of its officer corps.  Despite this, Iraq was portrayed as an awesome force and Saddam Hussein as the next Hitler.   In Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, John MacArthur points to the US claim that by mid-September 1990 'there were 250,000 Iraqi troops in Kuwait poised to invade Saudi Arabia.  By early January 1991, the number had allegedly grown to 540,000 in and around Kuwait, all formidably armed and eager to slaughter invading American troops'.  In reality, the Iraqis were mostly conscripts who posed little if any threat.  MacArthur goes on to note that many of the enemy prisoners of war taken in the first day of the ground invasion were 'ill-equipped, starving, and demoralized - in short, poor specimens of fighting men.  Among their number was
  an eleven-year-old boy, several soldiers with feet so swollen they had to have their boots cut off, and many who were carrying only blank ammunition'.

The exaggeration of Iraqi capabilities fits into a well-established US tradition, which is covered in John Thompson's The Exaggeration of American Vulnerability: The Anatomy of a Tradition.  In order to annihilate the Native Americans, it was first necessary to exaggerate their might and - especially - their savagery.  In fact, however, the Native Americans were a spent force by the time the War of Independence had concluded, and had been easily defeated as early as 1794 at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.  But this weakness did not stop the Native Americans being portrayed as powerful and fearsome warriors who deserved annihilation.  Thus we come to the second aspect of the US war-fighting strategy, which is the annihilation of the enemy.

In 1868, Major General Philip Sheridan waged a winter campaign against the Southern Cheyenne, the Arapaho, the Kiowa and the Comanche.  As Weigley notes in The American Way of War, 'the Indians' grass-fed war ponies were weak from lack of sustenance and [their] mobility was at a low ebb'.  Sheridan struck 'against the fixed camps in which the Indians huddled against the rigours of winter'.  If the camps did not submit, he would 'destroy the provisions they had accumulated for the winter and thus starve them into helplessness'.

Sheridan's immediate superior was General Sherman, who spoke approvingly of the strategy of annihilation: 'the more we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed the next war, for the more I see of these Indians, the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or maintained as a species of paupers'.

Sherman had perfected the strategy of annihilation during the Civil War, when he attacked not just the enemy's armies but the enemy's resources - and the civilian population as well.  He was of the view that he was 'not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as the organized armies'.

In Iraq today, it is clearly the people who 'feel the hard hand of war'.  Years of sanctions have created a situation analogous to that of a medieval siege.  In 1995, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation concluded that the embargo and the military attacks on Iraq had been responsible for the deaths of more than 560,000 children.  A UNICEF study reached a similar conclusion, finding that 500,000 children had died needlessly between 1991 and 1998.  Reporting from Baghdad, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times (4 October 2002) found that shortages of medicines, the bombing of water treatment plants and 11 years of difficulties in importing purification chemicals like chlorine had led to more than a doubling of infant mortality.

Iraq today remains as vulnerable and defenceless in the face of US military power as it was in 1991, when US warplanes and cruise missiles penetrated its air defences with near impunity.  As the US Air Force's official analysis, Gulf War Air Power Survey states, the US could 'strike Iraqi air defenses immediately, and they never recovered from these initial, stunning blows'.  The cruise missiles and the F-117 stealth fighters brought 'the reality of the war home to the residents of Baghdad'.

Air power was used to destroy or cripple Iraqi infrastructure and industry: electric power stations (92 percent of installed capacity destroyed), refineries (80 percent of production capacity), petrochemical complexes, telecommunications centers (including 135 telephone networks), bridges (more than 100), roads, highways, railroads, hundreds of locomotives and boxcars full of goods, radio and television broadcasting stations, cement plants, and factories producing aluminum, textiles, electric cables, and medical supplies.  The losses were estimated by the Arab Monetary Fund to be $190 billion, and the most modern state in the Arab world was reduced to penury.

The use of air power to annihilate civilian infrastructure prefigured the air attack on Yugoslavia in 1999.  US warplanes handled up to 80 percent of the workload in 13,000 attack sorties over the course of a seventy-eight-day campaign.  The campaign destroyed or severely damaged most of Yugoslavia's industrial and communications infrastructure, wrecked its economy, inflicted thousands of casualties, and led to the toppling of Milosevic's government.

Annihilation as a war-fighting strategy has been in evidence in other theatres of war as well; the two World Wars and the war on the Korean peninsula saw the US's application of the weight of fire superiority.  The US attack on Vietnam was another example of the strategy of annihilation.  Even prior to the deployment of Australian troops to Vietnam, the US had escalated its air campaign by launching what became known as “Rolling Thunder”.  By 1973, the US had dropped three times more bombs on North Vietnam than was dropped by all sides in the whole of World War II.  Hanoi was pounded into rubble and countless Vietnamese civilians were killed.  Tens of millions of people were displaced from their homes and large parts of the country were destroyed.  Crop destruction was used as a means of war from 1961; it took the form of chemicals dumped from the air, ground operations to destroy orchards and dikes, and land-clearing by giant tractors called "Rome plows".  This strategy of a
 nnihilation saw the destruction of agricultural lands and entire rural areas and farming hamlets, often including extensive systems of paddy dikes.  Eleven million gallons of the herbicide Agent Orange were dumped on Vietnam; its chief ingredient, Dioxin, was estimated to be a thousand times more destructive than thalidomide.  Blind and deformed babies were common in the areas sprayed during Operation Hades, later re-named Operation Ranch Hand.  This Carthaginian Solution was pursued to prevent Vietnam from becoming a successful model of economic and social development for the Third World.

In all cases, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the decimation of the armed forces were not regrettable side-effects of the campaign but an intrinsic part of the US war-fighting strategy of annihilation, in which 'old and young, rich and poor [must] feel the hard hand of war'.

This time around, the strategy of annihilation will once again be on display.  If one moves from the _how_ to the _why_, it becomes apparent that the motives are the same as the last time: oil.

The National Energy Policy Report of May 2001 concluded that imported supplies accounted for half of US oil consumption in 2000 and assessed that they would account for two-thirds in 2020.  Given the increasing US dependence on imported supplies of oil, the Report recommended that a high priority be placed on control of petroleum resources in the Persian Gulf.  With estimated reserves of 112.5 billion barrels, Iraq is second to only Saudi Arabia, the principal US supplier.  Iraq is the only country that can act as a substitute to Saudi Arabia, whose despotic and corrupt leaders are genuinely afraid, and for good reason - there is widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling authorities, and contempt for the effete and corrupt edicts of the House of Saud.  In addition, most of Saudi Arabia_s oilfields have already been explored and claimed.  Iraq, on the other hand, still contains perhaps the world_s largest areas of unexplored and unclaimed oilfields.

The fundamental US objective remains the same - control of Middle Eastern oil.  During World War II, it established a firm hold over Saudi Arabian reserves, in accordance with standard policy. As the US State Department noted at the time, these reserves constitute _a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history
 probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment_.

In an insurance policy of sorts, Saddam Hussein has commenced awarding exploration contracts to Russian, European and Chinese oil firms.  For instance, Lukoil, which is Russia's largest oil company, holds 68% of the Western Qurna project, itself worth more than $20 billion.  Zarubezhneft, which is a Russian state-controlled company specialising in overseas projects, is negotiating for rights to the 3.3 billion barrel Bin Umar oil field, and has a 15% interest in the Western Qurna project.  It also has upstream contracts at the Bai Hassan, Saddam and Kirkuk fields.  Rosneft, the largest Russian state-owned oil firm, has an agreement to develop the oilfields of West Qurna.

These contracts, and others like them, will be cancelled by US puppets in a future Iraqi government, and awarded instead to US oil firms.  The value of these contracts is significant indeed.  The contracts already awarded have an estimated potential of 44 billion barrels of oil, which is equal to the total combined reserves of the United States, Canada and Norway (the largest European producer).  With the price of oil stabilising at US$25 per barrel after the war is over, the contracts have a value of US$1.1 trillion.  It is no secret that many senior US officials are linked to US oil firms, which would profit immensely after a US-led war.

Russian agreement to a war on Iraq will be predicated on the security of these oil contracts in a post-Saddam scenario.

Given the US's military superiority and its strategy of annihilation, the biggest obstacle to a US war is not the Iraqi military.  The latter will face annihilation should a war start.  Nor is it the reluctance of the other Permanent Members of the UN Security Council.  The US will simply disregard them and act unilaterally if it has to.  The major obstacle is Western public opinion in general and US public opinion in particular.  And it is here that the US is at its weakest.  There has been a change for the better in the Western public's attitude to wars waged in its name.  A major achievement of Western activists and dissidents in the last thirty years has been to increase the Western public's understanding of what is being done in its name by state and corporate leaders.  As a result, the public is increasingly unwilling to support wars of aggression.  This reluctance has been evident in the last year, during which the leaders of the US, the UK and Australia have tried lon
 g and hard to convince a sceptical public of the “threat” posed by Saddam Hussein.  But public opinion has barely moved, with many people unwilling to support the slaughter of faraway Arabs. This is in contrast to previous wars of conquest, which the public enthusiastically supported.

Two factors have been most responsible for this change.  The first is the democratic uprisings of the 1960s and 1970s, which embedded within public opinion a sense of ethics and justice that has never been shaken off.  Today's progressive movements have been able to build on these victories.  For example, the Kennedy Administration's attacks on South Vietnam, Cuba and elsewhere were overt, and met little serious domestic resistance.  It was years before a credible peace movement could put a halt to these atrocities.  Twenty years later, the Reagan Administration was unable to act overtly.  It met immediate resistance from a small but well-organised domestic opposition.  As a result, it was forced to use covert and clandestine means, because it was scared of public opinion.  Thousands of activists and dissidents in the West, working in relative anonymity and without fanfare or publicity, were responsible for bringing about this change.  But the Bush Administration is facing ev
 en more serious obstacles, and here we come to the second factor, which is technology.  The internet has been used very effectively by a new generation of activists, who have managed - however feebly - to get their message across.  This technological change has historical parallels of great significance.  The first use of Gutenberg's printing press (c. 1450) was probably for printing a letter of indulgence issued by Nicholas V, dated 1451.  Sixty-six years later it was Luther's printed attack against indulgences, distributed throughout Europe, which sparked the Reformation.  Similarly, the internet was developed at public expense through the US Department of Defense.  But now the internet is being used to challenge imperial power.  Today's activists have found themselves shut out of the mainstream media, just as activists of previous generations were, but they have been able to reach sections of the public by creating their own circuits of power.  This challenge is viewed wi
 th alarm by elite sectors, who know that more and more people !
find a huge discrepancy between what they see and what they are told they are seeing.  In order to make sense of the discrepancy, many members of the public turn to the internet for information - and eventually find dissenting reports and analyses.  This is why the drums of war are being beaten with ever-increasing hysteria - to scare the public into supporting an oil war.

It remains to be seen whether the US will achieve all its war aims.  But one thing is clear - the war-fighting strategy of annihilation will be on display.

Further reading:

Michael T. Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2002.

John R. MacArthur, Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, New York: Hill and Wang, 1992

John Thompson, The Exaggeration of American Vulnerability: The Anatomy of a Tradition, Diplomatic History, Winter 1992

Russell Weigley, The American Way of War, MacMillan, New York, 1973.

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