Bluff and Bluster

The much-anticipated "shock and awe" strategy breathlessly awaited by our image-hungry media has somehow morphed into a war of bluff and bluster. Instead of launching an all-out military assault, the U.S. military strategy is, at least initially, a political assault by the U.S. on the Iraqi leadership. The first sign of military action was a missile strike on a "target of opportunity" thought to be Saddam Hussein. Rumors flew that the CIA had a fix on the Iraqi leader, and that was the reason for a barrage of missiles aimed at an area just outside Baghdad. When the wily old tyrant showed up on Iraqi television, denouncing "the little Bush" and thumbing his nose at his American tormentors, one almost expected him to say:

"Nyah, nyah, you guys missed me!"

That the administration has pinned its initial hopes on a rapid collapse of the Iraqi regime – that it believes its own propaganda about the eagerness of people the world over to hail their American "liberators"– is all too apparent. The U.S military planners know that, as we used to say in the 1960s, "the whole world is watching," and the sight of a bloody house-to-house battle is not something the War Party is looking forward to. If it can be at all avoided, the administration is willing to take its time in the hopes of having the Iraqi prize fall into their lap, like an overripe apple.

U.S. troops are moving into southern Iraq, and what they are counting on is a triumphant entry into the city of Basra: they are reportedly rushing news media to the scene to witness the anticipated cheering crowds who are supposed to greet them as "liberators." (Perhaps they can clear up the matter of whether the oil fields south of the city are on fire.) Those pictures of Iraqis hailing their American conquerors is all the ammunition the War Party thinks it needs to silence its critics, at least for the moment. I suppose any number of frightened Iraqis could be made to cheer anything, especially the prospect of a square meal and some measure of security. Our real problems will begin, however, just as soon as the cheering stops….

Baghdad will pose a different scenario altogether. The initial phrase of the "allied" military operation resembles the U.S. invasion of Panama, but the latter phases may remind us more of Somalia. Street-fighting, house-to-house combat with Republican Guard units holed up in the Iraqi capital, won’t be a pretty sight. It may, of course, provide some psychological pleasure for people like Max Boot – the Wall Street Journal laptop bombardier who bemoaned the lack of American casualties in the Afghan campaign – but the rest of us are bound to find these images disturbing, to say the least.

The war in Iraq is, so far, like a carefully staged morality play, with special effects, from which we are all supposed to learn the same lesson: the Empire is omnipotent. Resistance is futile. Accept the inevitable – or suffer the consequences. This message is directed as much at an international audience as at the Iraqis. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is suffused with lies: Tariq Aziz has defected. That wasn’t really Saddam who spoke after the attack, but a double. The Dow Jones news agency reflecting the inherent skepticism of the
markets, notes

"NBC News quotes unnamed U.S. officials as saying ‘serious cracks’ have developed in Saddam’s regime and secret talks underway with some senior Iraqi military leaders, including some leaders of Republican Guard, about possible surrender. There’s no confirmation and report could be U.S. disinformation (a Times of London report about ‘mass’ Iraqi defections yesterday seems to have been exaggerated); but as long as such reports keep coming out in absence of bad war news, it will be hard to unwind long USD and equities positions."

The "fog of war" is thick in the air, and it is hard to tell reality from the official fantasies, which is why the sudden appearance on our television screens of a new Mohammed Atta, one Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, seems awfully suspicious. Yet another Saudi who trained as a pilot in the U.S. and is depicted as affiliated with Al Qaeda? And in South Florida, yet! It’s just a coincidence, of course, that the ghost of 9/11 is being invoked on Day One of Gulf War II. Why, after all, would the U.S. government be interested in scaring people half out of their wits at this particular moment?

The War Party thrives on the confusion of war: they get to parcel out information, and shape the news, wielding a compliant media just as readily as the terrible swift sword of their military machine. Luckily, we have to clear away the media miasma and revive the first casualty of war, which is truth.

Meanwhile, the rush to grab the spoils of war has already begun, with Turkey massing up to 70,000 troops on the border with northern Iraq. The Turks are fearful that the Kurds will seize this opportunity to declare their independence. While the Turkish action is being justified on the grounds that they fear a "refugee problem," there are reportedly no refugees trying to cross over into Turkey from Kurd-controlled areas. But the real reason is apparent enough. The oil fields around Kirkuk are a prize that Ankara is not going to let slip through its fingers without a fight. As I predicted last week, U.S. soldiers could soon find themselves interposed between Kurdish peshmergas and the Turkish army. The U.S. is not prepared to fight off the Turks, and has agreed to a supposedly limited presence of their troops in northern Iraq: the Kurds, however, may have something to say about that….

Disgustingly, the American media seems downright disappointed that the "shock and awe" air show they had been promised has, so far, failed to materialize, and the psychological war against Iraq’s ruling Baath party continues. Clearly, the administration is reluctant to fire up the big guns, eager to avoid casualties and determined to win the political battle on the home front and the world stage.

This cannot continue indefinitely, however. One way or another, the reality of this war, in all its bloody ruthlessness, is going to be brought home to the world, and the American people. When that happens, the American antiwar movement will have the chance to regain its bearings, and the tide of protest will rise in this country, just as it did in the weeks prior. At that point, massive rallies calling for an end to the war, peaceful and legal, are an imperative: massive protests are already sweeping through Europe and the Middle East.

And don’t hand me any guff about "supporting the troops." Aside from the fact that everyone supports them, involuntarily, with their tax dollars, the only way to really support them is to bring them home – now. Iraq is a giant Beirut, a ticking time-bomb the size of California waiting to explode: supporting our troops means getting them out of there a.s.a.p.

The conservative foreign policy analyst, Andrew J. Bacevich, calls our mad war policy by its right name in the Los Angeles Times:

"There is a word for this. It’s called militarism.

"Although spared the classic Teutonic symptoms – among other things, we prefer cheering the troops on from afar to actually donning a uniform – Americans have succumbed to a strain of that disease. The present war against Iraq – justified in part by preposterous expectations that, having delivered Iraqis from their oppressor, the United States will bring liberal democracy to Iraq and then all the Arab world – makes this unmistakable."

We have been "seduced by images of war rendered antiseptically precise," says Bacevich, and

"We have lost our bearings. We have deluded ourselves into believing that the best hope of safety and security lies in dispatching the cadre of military professionals whom we proclaim to be ‘our best and brightest’ on a mad undertaking to transform the world – or, if need be, to conquer it. In Iraq, President Bush has opened up yet another front in his war against evil. Committed, we must win. But the long march to Baghdad should give Americans pause: Exactly where is this road leading us?"

It is leading into an abyss. God save us from "victory."


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].