War and its consequences

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 7 10:13:48 MST 2003

The New York Review of Books
March 27, 2003

War and Its Consequences
By Thomas Powers


What is most remarkable about this unfolding crisis is the degree to 
which it has been driven by theory—general ideas about things that might 
or could happen. The United States and Britain never found any 
connection between Iraq and the attacks of September 11, and recent 
claims that Baghdad may be conspiring with terrorists in al-Qaeda are 
tenuous and weakly supported by evidence. Three months of UN inspections 
have found no proof of ongoing Iraqi programs to create biological, 
chemical, or nuclear weapons, and it is obvious that the United States, 
despite its conviction that Saddam Hussein must have something underway, 
is unable to tell inspectors where to look next. And yet, instead of 
supporting continuing and expanded inspections to resolve these 
uncertainties, the Bush administration is planning war to end even the 
possibility of terror weapons in al-Qaeda's hands, and it is planning to 
remove by force at least one and possibly two legal governments in order 
to end state support of terrorist organizations, and it is hoping to 
transform the political landscape of the Middle East by introducing 
democracy of a kind friendly to the West. The goals themselves are of an 
accepted and familiar kind; it is the willingness to go to war to 
achieve them that is unusual.

The theory has many authors, but one of them, we are told by Dana Priest 
in The Mission, appears to be Donald Rumsfeld. He arrived at the 
Pentagon with plans to build an anti-ballistic missile system (still 
very much in the works) and to transform the military—get rid of the 
old-think about big armies with thundering tread, and replace it with 
new-think about high-tech weaponry, information warfare, speed, agility. 
But he wasn't simply planning to buy new stuff; he wanted a new way to 
think about America in the world after the cold war, when American 
military power was supreme.

To help Rumsfeld along in his thinking, Priest writes, his office 
sponsored a study of the histories of great empires —a word Washington 
officials were beginning to use. These stories all have sad endings but 
it wasn't the fall of empires that engaged Rumsfeld; it was how empires 
kept themselves in power. The language of this study is abstract in the 
extreme and filled with current military jargon. "Symmetric" and 
"asymmetric" are key words. To me a passage from the study helps to 
explain the mood in the White House that places its hope in war:

Military doctrine and forces are created in the image of the economies 
that spawn them; military forces, although multi-purpose by nature, are 
formed around a core of threats that they are designed to defeat; 
asymmetric confrontations have historically generated decision outcomes, 
whereas symmetric confrontations tend to be exhaustive.
An example of an exhaustive symmetric confrontation would be the First 
World War, where vast but nearly equal armies fought until one 
collapsed. Examples of asymmetric confrontations would be the British 
army against the Zulus in South Africa, or the American army against the 
Sioux Indians in the Dakotas. A "decision outcome" means that something 
is settled once and for all, which is what Rumsfeld and his commander in 
chief, George Bush, hope to do with the threat that terrorists will be 
provided with weapons of mass destruction by rogue states. The 
overwhelming military power of the United States is what makes a contest 
with weak armies like Iraq's asymmetric, and what allows a decision 
outcome. But a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein won't by itself provide a 
"decision outcome" in the present case, because there are two rogue 
states with programs to build nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The 
theory says that both have to go, and if President Bush can be taken at 
his word, he thinks the same thing. To me the implication seems clear: 
Iraq first, Iran next.

full: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16155


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