Generals say winning war will take huge forces, heavy casualties
sherrynstan at igc.org
Wed Mar 26 04:24:13 MST 2003
I am a veteran of operations gone bad, and right now I am experiencing a
powerful sense of vicarious déjà vu.
Four days ago, I couldnt watch CNN for more than ten minutes at a time
or I was risking my own mental health. Now, I watch it with the
perverse fascination one experiences when seeing an animal die.
Obviously, the parade of aging white Generals even including my old
commander Dave Grange who simultaneously know that the US will prevail
militarily through sheer force and that this entire operation is going
terribly, terribly wrong, do not understand the wider political
implications of what they are witnessing.
Still, they seem discomfited. The have been converted into cheap
propagandists, and for me its a lot like seeing a formerly tyrannical
Sergeant Major whos retired and become an oily insurance salesman,
reduced to haunting the barracks, kissing up to his own former troops to
earn his way in the real world by selling them policies.
How the mighty can fall from great heights! Perhaps thats too
majestic. The Haitians say, the higher the monkey climbs the tree, the
more you see nothing but his ass.
Many lay people cant differentiate between substance and apologetics
now because the whole society is freshly immersed in its new vocabulary
of war. As we just grasp the meanings of terms like target set and
battle damage assessment, and congratulate ourselves on having
discerned their meanings, our attention becomes fixed on these trees to
the exclusion of a very perilous forest.
Those of us who have spent time in the cannibal bureaucracy of the
military are well acquainted with this segway from description to
rationalization and blame shifting. It is part of the officer career
survival course, and it even has a name. We called it tap-dancing.
Watch Wesley Clark, the CNN military star, who reputation in the Army
was that of an inveterate ass kisser. He harbors presidential
pretensions, and hes smooth as a babys butt. Watch how the worry
lines now come right through the pancake makeup.
Donald Rumsfeld has become positively humble a first in his lifetime
during his Pentagon briefs.
George W. Bush is nearly absent. No one will risk his extemporaneous
gaffes and he may be medicated. His two-line appearances are hoarse and
The story-changing started with Operational Security. OPSEC as they
say. Embedded reporters savored these acronyms like children with
chocolates as they left the humdrum of their past assignments to smell
the diesel fumes, hear the roar of turbines, feel the sting of
sandstorms, and touch the tools of war. OPSEC was suddenly dusted off,
and aspects of the operation became clouded to the public.
That was on Day Two. Military commanders became camera shy, when for
months now theyd been turned into the darlings of the Ken & Barbie
media, attracted to the camera lenses like blowflies to a corpse.
OPSEC was the first sign that things were going wrong.
OPSEC is real, but to this point, it had been ditched in an orgy of
What happened was, the superpower came face to face with its new
counterpart; an international popular movement, not against just this
war, but against US hegemony. That movement has become a material force
on the battlefield, and has midwifed a deep crisis of legitimacy for the
US military-political junta.
The whole adventure is rooted in systemic crisis, a reality that even
the movement itself only apprehends on its left wing. For a longer
discussion of that, see Overreach
How has the antiwar movement become a material force on the Iraqi
Lets take a snapshot of the tactical situation, as least what we can
glean from different accounts.
The original battle plan was scrapped. The complexity of planning a
military operation of this scope is simply indescribable, and it takes
months to do it right. But the unexpected loss of ground fronts, in
Turkey in the North and Saudi Arabia in the South, forced a complete
reconstruction of plans in a matter of days. The operation could be put
off no longer. The aggressors back was against the weather wall. The
pre-summer sandstorms had already begun, and by late April the heat
index inside a soldiers chemical protective gear will be 140 degrees
The international antiwar movement had firmed up political opposition
around the world and forced the delays that culminated in the UN
Security Council becoming a key arena of struggle. For all the
infantile leftists who dismissed the UN on moral and ideological and
therefore idealist grounds, I would say look now at Iraq and see how
politics translates into military reality.
We stalled where we could stall, and there is an effect.
The entire 4th Infantry Division is sitting in the barracks now waiting
for their equipment to steam around the Arabian Peninsula because Turkey
denied them their front. Medium and short range tactical aircraft that
could have struck dozens of key targets are sidelined because they are
forbidden to take off from Saudi Arabia to deliver their payloads.
Inside the Department of Defense there has been a war raging between the
Generals of the Army and the Marine Corps and the clique of doctrinal
revolutionaries pushing Rumsfelds crackpot theory of Network Centric
Warfare (NCW), the methodological offspring of a strategic doctrine
called Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD). The Rumsfeld Doctrine is cyberwar
combined with commandos. Rumsfeld and his mentors have an absolute
faith in the power of technology as the primary determinant of military
outcomes, and a complete ignorance of politics as a force of war. (This
will be the subject of a book due out this December, War Lies.)
Suffice it to say here, the combination of the failure of this new
doctrine and the aforementioned friction, to use a Clausewitzian
term, is creating a military debacle in Iraq. It is important to note
that in war, which is an extreme form of politics, success is not
measured empirically as it is in a sports competition. It is not
measured in body counts or inventories of destroyed war materiel. In
fact, it is not perfectly measurable at all. But success has to be
gauged against the expectations of the military operation and its final
objectives which are always political. The US inflicted a terrible
empirical toll on Southeast Asia and ultimately lost the Vietnam War.
The US never grasped the political character of that war.
The loss of Vietnam became the basis of the Powell Doctrine, which
combines avoidance of decisive ground combat (and therefore avoidance of
US casualties) with control over public perceptions of the war through
the press. Rumsfelds NCW attempts to assert that logic onto the
battlefield with extremely complex technology that has displaced
decision-making from human commanders to computerized hardware/software.
I have referred to this in the past as the organic composition of the
military; the relative weight of technological to cognitive process.
Every strength carries with it a corresponding weakness, and once
military leaders perceive the strengths and weaknesses of their
opposition, they can avoid the strengths and exploit the weaknesses.
The Iraqis are doing just that.
Accusations by the United States against the Russians that the latter
are providing material assistance may very well be true. The Russians
have now thrown in their lot with old Europe and China, and they are
aiming to undermine US power at every opportunity. I suspect they have
not only provided equipment and training on that equipment, but advisory
assistance on the reorganization of the Iraqi military.
The Iraqi military has apparently abandoned is former Soviet-style
doctrine, predicated on armor, mass, and centralized command. It has
now adopted tactics more suited to Special Operations; agile and
decentralized. This cannot happen without a very intentional and
systematic reorientation from top to bottom. This is an asymmetrical
response to the high-tech doctrine the US developed to overcome the
doctrine of its own predecessor. This Iraqi doctrinal reorientation is
proving stunningly effective.
Rumsfelds notion that he might decapitate the Iraqi military has led
to an incessant and inane press speculation about whether on not Saddam
Hussein is dead or alive. As the reports rolled of one setback after
another, he was asked by the press whether there was any evidence to
show that Saddam Hussein is dead. His response: The word evidence is
a hard word.
Less ridiculous and more telling was the statement by a Pentagon
official, now dissing his boss: This is the ground war that was not
going to happen in [Rumsfelds] plan.
Rumsfelds computers told him that the Iraqis would be shocked and awed
into capitulation within two days. Instead we have the (suppressed in
the US) spectacle of ground troops in disarray as they attempted to
cross their initial lines of departure, columns being stopped by urban
resistance, ambushes of logistics tails, advances halted by blinding
sandstorms, and captive American youngsters on television.
These American prisoners of war were maintenance people and cooks, kids
who signed up for an enlistment bonus, some college money, and a
saleable skill. Now they stare hauntingly back at us all, with their
fear almost an aura in their photographs.
The earlier uncomplicated advances, however, were remarkable. In
set-piece war, Rumsfelds impressive display of new battle software
worked perfectly. Tank commanders could stay on line by simply
referring to a digital display, and no one was pulling ahead into an
adjacent units gunsights. Gee whiz.
The Generals are preoccupied now on retrieving their tactical victory
from the chaos, a retrieval that will cost treasure, lives, and careers.
But they are almost certainly also sharpening their knives and
fantasizing about the spaces between Donald Rumsfelds ribs.
The first images of the war were to be the liberation of Shia Basra,
where jubilant crowds would welcome the conquering American heroes.
Instead, Basra fought back with a spectacular ferocity.
Now US ground forces are attempting to bypass every urban center on the
road to Baghdad, but they are in the restricted terrain of the east,
where bypass is not always an option. In Al Nasirya, stale wine turned
to vinegar in their mouths.
City by city sieges have now become a real possibility, and the longer
this war goes, the sharper will be the reaction throughout the region.
Aside from stalling, antiwar forces and the naked self-interest of the
US regime have given us another multi-faceted victory. The US, fearing
further erosion of its wounded legitimacy, has set out to genuinely
limit civilian casualties. We have to be honest and clear about this.
It is happening. There are certainly civilian casualties, but not
nearly the mass slaughter we almost all predicted. Two factors at play
here are (1) the need to avoid great damage to the infrastructure of
their new prize and (2) the flames of an erupting international
rebellion that they can afford to fan no more with their impunity.
We must also be honest that this will cause the costs to American troops
to go up, in lives. Basra can be conquered in a day if there is a
willingness to reduce it to rubble. So the US regime is caught between
the Scylla of international rage, including the ever more explosive rage
of the Arab and Muslim masses in the region, and the concomitant
certainty of further international isolation, and the Charybdis of
Powells nightmare a parade of flag-draped coffins.
Given this choice, the US will probably be forced to abandon its precise
target discrimination, and the bloodletting that has been thusfar
limited will happen after all.
Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of the US strategy prior to recent
developments was the embedded journalists program. This is a
masterpiece of Powell Doctrine. Controlling public perceptions.
The criticism of the military pool system from the first Gulf War was
checkmated. Reporters were put directly on the battlefield, and
integrated into the actual military units. Those reporters are then
dependent on the troops around them for their daily human contact, and
grow quickly to identify directly with the people in those units.
Overt censorship is no longer needed.
But as the campaign goes further and further awry, these embedded
journalists will see some of their new friends wounded and killed, and
then the Powell anxiety becomes realized, the war is in our living rooms
again, just like Vietnam. This fear of graphic audio-visual images of
war is why there was such outrage at Al Jazeera showing dead GIs.
The bet that this would be a quick war with images of triumph is about
to break the bank.
In the North, far from the most visible action, the Turkish military has
already begun its incursions. The Kurds, in response, are already
signing onto yet another Faustian deal with the Americans, now mostly
Special Operations Rangers to seize airheads and Special Forces to
establish relationships with the Kurdish fighters. Without its Northern
Front, the US is more dependent than ever on using Kurdish combatants to
fight the Iraqis around the rich oilfields near Kirkuk.
Fragile Turkey is beset by a severe economic crisis. It majority Muslim
population has just elected a moderate Islamic Party, and the popular
opposition to the war is overwhelming.
The Turkish ruling class cannot afford another insurrection from Kurdish
nationalists, and the Turkish military has no intention of watching a
Kurdish state take form to their South. Turkey, inside its stable
exterior, is becoming a powder keg, and Kurdistan is a furnace.
The political implications reach Europe, where one year ago the US saw
Turkey as its stalking horse in the EU. Germany has a substantial
population of Turkmen and Kurds, and the German government has a real
and justifiable fear that open warfare for Kurdistan will spill into the
streets of Germany.
To mollify the Kurds, the US must hold back the Turkish military, and
the Kurds will certainly not drop their demand for an independent
Kurdistan. To appease the Turkish military, the US will have to disarm
the Kurds. And the Kurds, even as they sign the deal with the devil,
know it. The Kurds have no intention of relinquishing their weapons,
their autonomy or their dream of independent Kurdistan. The Turks have
no intention of allowing it. The US cannot have it both ways.
This diplomatic minefield has been fobbed off on Colin Powell. If he
doesnt hear knives sharpening in his own back room, hed better listen.
Once this is all over, heads will roll, and the visceral enmity between
Powell and Perle is well known. Powell, the Kissinger-style realist and
brilliant bureaucrat, versus Perle, the racist, right-wing visionary.
There are already whispers that Powell will be scapegoated after the
war, and other rumors that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Perle will
be handed walking papers, and Powell will run for VP.
This fragmentation is another material result of popular resistance
around the world, and for some it was the goal. The political
destruction of the Bush junta.
That objective is now within sight. What comes after remains to be
While we have riveted our attention on the blazing guns, a quieter
weapon of mass destruction has been unleashed against the US working
class a trillion-dollar tax cut for the rich that will torch the
tattered remains of our social infrastructure. The political crisis
that is now almost certain in the wake of the war will settle on the
Then there are the soldiers.
Bear in mind that these are still the most pampered soldiers in the
world. Their morale was already eroded by waiting. They were already
faced with basic erosions of benefits at home. The sense of dislocation
from the doctrinal shift under Rumsfeld (that translates to a lot of
confusion and turbulence in day-to-day operations), increases in
operational tempo, tripling of average time deployed away from home in
the last decade, are taking a toll. Divorces are filed. Homesickness.
Bosses who are assholes are now constant companions. A substantial
number of troops - particularly Black soldiers - who really see this as
a job and not some deep patriotic commitment.
Now, with the war is going badly, as they say in the Army, shit rolls
downhill, and when things go wrong at the top, there is a lot of
blame-shifting and carrying on that percolates down.
On a cautionary note, I will mention the incident (about which I dont
know much yet) of the soldier who fragged his officers. Hasan Karim
Akbar, 31, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division apparently attacked
his own tactical operations center in Kuwait with hand grenades. Akbar
was Black and a convert to Islam, according to reports.
What we in the movement dont know could hurt us.
There are already ultraleft folk who want to turn this into a cause
celebre, saying this is class struggle in the military, etc. It is
class conflict, if it is class anything, not class struggle. There is
no class consciousness, and moreover, there is ZERO sympathy for it in
the armed forces. There are already murmurings across the right-wing
web of purging the armed forces of black muslims.
This will not be a catalyst for generalized class struggle in the
The more likely result will be a polarization between Black and white,
given the latent racism in the military that reflects all of American
society. This will emerge over time, and must be navigated very
delicately by the left. Some more-militant-than-thou types want to make
this sergeant a martyr and they don't even have the facts yet. When the
facts are sorted out, we will have to reckon with them.
Social polarization of all sorts outside the military will emerge in
the coming period. It has already started, with the competing street
mobilizations of anti-war and pro-war forces. And there is polarization
beginning within the anti-war movement as some forces argue for moral
censure and others argue for disruption. This too presents a challenge
for anti-war forces, and for anti-imperialist forces within the anti-war
Part of developing a critical stance on these issues, and figuring out
what our role is in the context of this war is understanding the
connections and consequences of what we do here, what others do around
the world, and what the regime continues to do. I, for one, still see
the political destruction of the Bush government as an absolute
But we have to ensure that our movement is thinking strategically as
well, that we are evading the strengths of our adversaries and
exploiting their weaknesses. We have to ensure that we can function in
ways that are agile and often decentralized, even as we keep the same
enemy in sight.
This means that the left pole of the movement, as it moves toward
disruption instead of protest, will have to carefully calculate its own
tactics to ensure that even as we hold the movement accountable and
preserve our own goals and identities we do not split the movement or
detach ourselves from the masses. That means that audacity and patience
must reside in the same space together. Now is a time for discipline.
One thing is clear. The counter- counter-propaganda war is vital. We
must begin to aim incessant, clear, rigorous, systematic, and
dispassionate logic at the Bush Junta's every thinner rationalizations.
Leadership is perceived as leader-like only as long as it is respected.
The content of the leadership has something to do with whether it is
accepted, but impressions are also critical. People will be led by
someone who is wrong, but they balk at being led by someone who is
We can exploit the absurdities of this administration that are now
reproducing like rats.
Waving around the Geneva Conventions when our POWs get put on camera,
and we've been putting pix of Iraqi prisoners on for days. Invoking a
UN resolution to violate a UN charter. Rumsfelds comment that, The
word evidence is a hard word. Examples are legion.
They are down, and we dare not let them back up.
Im dusting off an old Bob Dylan record. Hard rains a gonna fall.
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