And The War Came

Planet America: Our world and welcome to it

The draft document unearthed by Journal reporter Neil King Jr. allocates an initial $1.5 billion to private American companies to oversee reconstruction; by comparison, relief groups such as CARE and Save the Children are to get $50 million. The unprecedented private venture "would sideline United Nations development agencies and other multilateral organizations that have long directed reconstruction efforts in places such as Afghanistan and Kosovo." King also notes that the key private contract for rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure, worth some $900 million to start and sure to grow fatter, has already been bid in a manner that violates government rules. Three of the four finalists are profligate donors to the national Republican party. One of those three (Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, Dick Cheney's old company) has already won a contract for putting out oil-field fires in postwar Iraq. It's a sign of the times that such shame-free banana republic patronage barely registers as a pressing matter, given the bigger picture.

No matter who wins the main contract, there will be plenty of work to go around. The Bush plan promises a full-scale postwar assault by the best and brightest from many walks of American business and government. "Within weeks of a war ending," King writes, "the administration plans to begin everything from repairing Iraqi roads, schools, and hospitals to revamping its financial rules and government payroll system. Agencies such as the U.S. Treasury Department would be deeply involved in overhauling the country's central bank, and some U.S. government officials would serve as 'shadow ministers' to oversee Baghdad's bureaucracies." American education bureaucrats would likewise "obtain payroll lists and assess teacher salaries," and no doubt advise Iraq's teachers on the finer points of dulling young and potentially seditious minds beyond the point of redemption.

Make no mistake: The U.S. plan is to run the place in perpetuity. And if they don't like it, that doesn't change the most salient fact, which is that it's our planet now.

 

III. Old Wars and New

What makes the Bush plan doubly audacious is that it violates not only world opinion but the emerging consensus of military tacticians regarding the contours of modern war. The president's men think they can subdue all threats and challenges by virtue of U.S. firepower incomparably superior to that of other countries the world over. The trouble is that future wars will be less and less a contest of nation-states--or so it is argued by proponents of a notion called Fourth-Generation Warfare, or 4GW. The theory was first articulated in a 1989 treatise in the Marine Corps Gazette (and reprinted in City Pages this week; see p. 22).

At each step in the long evolution of war, the authors write, there has been a tendency toward greater diffusion of battlefields and targets, until at last we have come to this: "In broad terms, fourth-generation warfare seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between 'civilian' and 'military' may disappear..." No more "collateral damage" and no more war crimes, in other words: We are all combatants, as the citizens of New York and Washington, DC learned firsthand on September 11.

One can find a lot of cultural, political, and tactical "reasons" for the evolving face of war, but the root cause is a simple fact of technology and economics. The proliferation of nuclear weapons has made direct conflict between powerful nations too deadly to contemplate; meanwhile, the development of cheap, compact weapons of mass destruction has allowed non-state elements to begin waging sporadic and decentralized wars of their own, and to score victories without abundant resources. In this sort of war, many of the things that make the U.S. so indomitable in conventional wars--such as its huge array of military and economic assets around the world--become points of vulnerability instead.

This bodes ill for W's big adventure, but tells us little, if anything, about the more immediate prospects in Iraq. On the eve of war last Wednesday, I phoned William Lind, one of the authors of the seminal 1989 4GW essay, to ask what he thought. He laughed: "That depends on something we don't know. Will the Iraqis fight? The Shi'ites probably won't fight us initially. The Sunnis, or many of them, probably will. But maybe not. And if not, this will be over in a matter of days. But the day we say Saddam is gone and the war is over, that's the day the real war begins." Lind believes a power vacuum in Baghdad coupled with a U.S. occupation will sooner or later plunge America into the middle of a protracted civil war. "It may begin slowly and escalate," he allows, "but it is likely to spread throughout Iraq and past its borders to other countries in the region and to the United States." Apart from the last bit, this may conjure visions of Vietnam, but the resemblance is superficial. Iraq is riven to its core by factional animosities far more complex than anything we encountered in Southeast Asia. They extend past the distinction of Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurd; there are some 300 tribes within Iraqi borders, 30 or so of which are prominent. And in these tribes the intermarriage of Sunni and Shi'ite is not uncommon. Their alliances shift like the sands and the United States lacks even a rudimentary understanding of most of them.

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