Forget the Senate hearings on Iraq, ignore Congress, and never mind our laptop bombardiers. How many of these guys have ever been anywhere near a battlefield? Instead, listen to what the US military is saying about the prospect of Gulf War II .
Today’s [August 1] Washington Post reports “an increasingly contentious debate within the Bush administration” over the Iraq question, with the divide between gung-ho civilian leaders and top military officers who smell a rat:
“Much of the senior uniformed military, with the notable exception of some top Air Force and Marine generals, opposes going to war anytime soon, a stance that is provoking frustration among civilian officials in the Pentagon and in the White House.”
The Post paints the same picture that we’ve been drawing here on Antiwar.com for the past few weeks: it’s Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz versus Colin Powell and the Pentagon. Defense secretary Rumsfeld is cited as saying: “The discussions that take place, the process that’s been established, have been working as well as I have ever seen,” but Capitol Hill Blue portrays a qualitative escalation in the war of the Policy Wonks and the Generals:
“The differences over Iraq mark the sharpest disagreements among senior staff since the Bush administration took office with the Cheney and Rumsfeld calling those who oppose military actions ‘cowards.'”
“‘It’s getting nasty,’ says one White House source. ‘Meetings over Iraq now turn into shouting matches.'”
What’s the reason for the increasing acrimony? It’s the attack of the chickenhawks on the Pentagon’s prerogatives, the invasion by civilian policy wonks into the realm of military strategy. While the dialogue reported in the Capitol Hill Blue piece has a docu-dramatic feel to it, I have no doubt that there really is some shouting going on. A rather startling New York Times story about a purported “inside out” plan that would seize Baghdad right off the bat and proceed outward to take the rest of the country must have driven the decibel level even higher
The [UK] Guardian, far more informative than the Post, lets us in on the numbers:
“US contingency plans include: heavy air strikes combined with a relatively small invasion force of 5,000 troops; a force of some 50,000 troops which could be deployed quickly deep inside Iraq; and a massive ground force of 250,000 US troops supported by 25,000 British soldiers.”
The Pentagon is for plan number three, The hawks oppose this because it seems to be a self-canceling proposition. To begin with, where will an invasion force of 250,000 be launched from since most of the countries bordering Iraq, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, refuse to let us use their territory? Turkey may be pressured into hosting some, but surely not all 250,000. The Pentagon plan requires the cooperation of our Arab allies, who aren’t about to give it.
The ultra-hawks are pushing plan number one: the “inside out” option, and it’s no wonder they’re having screaming fits over at the Pentagon. This hare-brained plan, involving what the Post describes as “minimal numbers of Americans on the ground,” essentially consists of dropping five thousand of our elite troops in the middle of hostile territory, amid a firestorm of bombs.
Sending American kids off on suicide missions is especially galling coming from those popularly known as “chicken-hawks” the largely civilian advocates of a war of conquest in the Middle East who never served a day in the military. As columnist Jack Mabley of the Chicago Daily Herald puts it:
“Many of the people in position to make war have never fought one.”
With Bush and Cheney topping the list, virtually the entire government is without military experience: this includes not only the White House staff chief of staff Andrew Card, political advisor Karl Rove, super-hawks Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle — but also most of Bush’s War Cabinet. Congress is similarly AWOL. Out of 535 members of Congress, only 167 served in the active, guard or reserve forces: 7 Senators served in World War II, 4 Republicans, 3 Democrats, and 9 members of the House of Representatives: 8 Republicans and a lone Democrat.
This lack of direct experience with the horrors and risks of war, far from restraining their militaristic impulses, seems to have precisely the opposite effect. The [UK] Guardian, reporting the dismay of military figures on both sides of the Atlantic, notes:
“Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and an advocate of an assault on Iraq, rejected the anxiety voiced as irrelevant. The decision to take on Saddam, he said, was ‘a political judgment that these guys aren’t competent to make’".
In the post-republican, post-9/11 era, which resembles the inverted madness of Bizarro World, Prince Perle, who never risked his life for anything, is privileged to sit in judgment over those who have. To add insult to injury, he also feels free to mock the American military in the foreign press, arrogantly disdaining them as a bunch of incompetents. I ask you: are we to be spared nothing?
The civilians make the policy, and the grunts are sent to implement it and die in the process. Now, dying for one’s country is what soldiers do, but the vehement opposition of the American military leadership to the War Party’s plans is being expressed in terms that show a widening gulf between the generals and the empire-builders. Capitol Hill Blue cites a Pentagon source as saying:
“It really is odd. We want to weigh our options carefully and the political types over at the White House want to go in and bomb Saddam out of existence.”
But it isn’t really so odd. As the military leaders of a formerly republican state now in transit to Empire, America’s top Pentagon brass are being told to take on a task they know full well to be militarily impossible. Furthermore, they can envision the horrific results, and fully expect to be blamed when it goes sour. The Post article focuses on the aftermath of the war, which would surely be “won” by the US: but what then? How many years of a military occupation will it take before Iraq is transformed into a Jeffersonian republic?
I heard Morton Halperin say at the Senate hearings that it would take 20 years to implant a democratic government, but even that is optimistic. The seeds of liberalism, in the classical sense, that were planted and flourished in the West never did make it to Mesopotamia. It could be centuries more before the Iraqi Thomas Jefferson is born, if ever: and, even then, I doubt he would live beyond his early twenties.
Until then, the US military will be used to babysit Iraq’s aspiring democrats, caught in the crossfire of competing clans and factions, an Afghanistan writ large. Not only that, but the US occupation force will be surrounded on all sides by enemies, active and potential: the Iranians, the Saudis, the nuclear-armed Pakistanis and growing dissent on the home front. This is the Pentagon’s biggest nightmare, a recurring dream of yet another ultimately unwinnable war on the Asian landmass. But the new “best and the brightest” are determined to override the best judgment of the military experts, in pursuit of their goal enunciated in the infamous Wolfowitz memorandum which demands US dominance of every continent, including Asia.
There is yet one great obstacle on the road to Empire, and that is sorry, lefties! the Pentagon. They have the power to obstruct the War Party, effectively counter all this war talk and, ultimately, to put a stop to it in a lot less than seven days in May.
The Founding Fathers, especially Jefferson, opposed a standing army as a possible threat to our republican form of government, because they feared it would give rise to a professional officer class inherently warlike and therefore hostile to the idea of strictly limited government. It is one of the great ironies of history, however, that this Jeffersonian suspicion has been stood on its head, and, instead, it is the officer class that defends the last vestiges of our old Republic, while the civilians work ceaselessly to undermine it.
As the American military is increasingly expected to achieve the impossible, to risk the lives of American soldiers in pursuit of ever-more-grandiose delusions of grandeur, the conflict between the generals and the ideologues of American hegemony will come increasingly out into the open. In ancient Rome, the Emperors came to fear their own Praetorians, and with good reason. If I were a chick-hawk, I wouldn’t be too contemptuous of our military leaders — and I’d be awful careful whom I called a “coward.” Never sneer at an armed man, unless you’ve already got him covered. In the war between the thinktanks and the barracks, the former hold the reins of power, but the latter are source of all power and Richard Perle had better not forget it.