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I went out on my back porch the other day. The wind was blowing from the south. From time to time, I caught the scent of something foul. Perhaps it originated from a load of manure on one of the valley farms. Perhaps not. At any rate, it started me thinking.
There is something slightly rancid about the Bush administration’s saber rattling in the direction of Iraq. I’m no expert on foreign policy, but I spent 20 years as an instrument of it, so I paid some attention and learned a few things.
Making war, 21st Century American style requires four key elements. It’s the proverbial pyramid that needs all four sides to stand up. Those sides are: 1.) Motive, 2.) Public Support, 3.) Overwhelming Military Advantage, and 4.) The smoking gun.
Motives are sneaky, elusive, and are held very close. There are two types of Motives for war: Foreign Policy and Defense Policy.
Foreign Policy is based on our ability to practice free, unfettered commerce around the world. Specifically, it is intended to ensure that American businesses have a decided advantage in that free, unfettered commerce. Examples of that include mundane things like the Steel tariff, or more comprehensive matters such as the interests of the United Fruit Company in Central America earlier in the 20th Century.
Foreign Policy is influenced primarily through campaign finance (formerly known as bribery). This influence is spread pretty much uniformly across the government, but is driven almost exclusively by business. I’m not even sure why we have a Commerce Department any more. In the global economy, it pretty much all falls into Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy is why all the blue collar jobs formerly done by Americans are now being done in China and Guatemala. The success of Foreign Policy is measured in the collective corporate bottom line.
Defense Policy is newer, having grown into a multi-headed monster during the 1950’s. It is a specialized branch of Foreign Policy, driven by specific industries who sell hardware and software to the U.S. Government at exorbitant prices, whether they need them or not. Programs that fall under the latter category include the B-1 and B-2 bomber programs, and the V-22 Osprey program, none of which the Pentagon asked for, or wanted. Most programs don’t work very well to begin with, and some never work. All of this is generally kept hidden whenever possible, until our fighting forces are forced to try to use them, and even then only grudgingly.
During the Cold War, Defense Policy was relatively innocuous. There was pretty much a blank check for military programs back then. Things are less clear since the end of the Cold War. Up-front programs, such as anti-ballistic missile defense systems, have met with lukewarm support. There is a reason for this.
Unlike Foreign Policy, Defense Policy is driven by a relatively small set of specialized companies, such as Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and TRW. The influence mechanisms are different. Since Congress controls funding for Defense Programs, strong influence is maintained by small circles of senior members of Congress. The ones who are really influential get aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines named after them. These are the guys who are responsible for funding the Programs.
Congressional support is not, however, completely reliable. During the Cold War, it was pretty much carte blanche for Programs, but in the mid-70’s, people actually started questioning Defense Budgets. Some Programs meet with lukewarm support, such as Ballistic Missile Defense. Public support, which we will discuss later, is very important now.
The nuts and bolts influence for Defense Policy, however, is vested very much in the Executive Branch. Lots of that is spread around the Pentagon, but it is also spread heavily in the White House as well. We know little of this, since the denizens of the Defense Establishment occupy political appointments and career Civil Service positions outside of the control of voters. It is interesting to note that, since the 1970’s, there have been visible chasms between career Military Folks and the Executive Branch in certain Defense Policy initiatives. This is very apparent during the current crisis. This offers us a glimpse of some of the machinations of Defense Policy, but there is a great deal of intrigue that goes on unnoticed.
After the end of the Cold War, a series of low-intensity conflicts in the Persian Gulf, Libya, Grenada and Panama, seemed to dictate a drastic change in Defense Policy. The Pentagon was set to switch over to a doctrine called, “Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict (SOLIC),” using small, mobile, and highly trained Special Operations units to enforce Foreign Policy. The problem with SOLIC, was that it acknowledged that conventional war was a thing of the past, and many lucrative Defense Programs, including things like the M-1A main battle tanks, the aforementioned B-1 and B-2 programs, strategic (i.e. Nuclear) weapons, and strategic reconnaissance systems (such as AWACS and the RC-135) were going to be cut.
I will never be able to prove it, but hopefully history will eventually establish that one of our primary motives for the Gulf War (perhaps even larger than the Oil Motive), was the proliferation of these doomed Defense Programs.
Public Support is much simpler than Motives, which come and go. It has had two general manifestations in the past 110 years: Doctrine, and Isolation.
Doctrine worked well during the Second World War (noble cause) and during the Cold War. Cold War Doctrine worked fine, so long as people weren’t being killed, or at least Americans. It worked less well when tested on the battlefield, with both the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts being called off when public support waned. By the 1980’s, though, it had worn thin and we couldn’t conjure up a war to save our lives.
Isolation involves the creation of an Antichrist. The idea was ancient, of course, but worked really well during the Spanish American War. No one was able to generate a decent Antichrist during the First World War (Wilson wouldn’t play that game), but it helped us maintain our course during the Second World War (Hitler was the archetypical Anti-Christ).
Those crazy Russians managed to produce a long line of Antichrists from Stalin to Brezhnev, but détente softened that and Gorbachev turned out to be a really nice guy. Fortunately, in 1980, we found a bountiful new source of Antichrists in the Middle East, including the Ayatollah Khomeni, Muhamar Qaddhafi, Yassir Arafat, Saddam Hussein, and most recently, Usama Bin Ladin. Not all conflicts create decent Antichrists. Manuel Noriega was OK for a while, until it became apparent that he had formerly been under the payroll of the CIA. We had a couple of good ones going in Yugoslavia in Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic, until the world press discovered that the good guys were just as bad as the bad guys in that conflict.
Overwhelming Military Advantage is generally a given nowadays. It is important because nothing kills public opinion faster than our boys and girls coming home in body bags. This advantage also is contingent on the participation of our Allies to help give us a consensus, and to help pay for the whole thing. Wars are generally very expensive, with the exception of the Gulf War, which may have been the only war since the days of Genghis Khan that made a profit. Raping and pillaging doesn’t fit well with in the 21st Century.
Military Advantage also allows us to showcase our Military Technology. We even find ways to use Programs that don’t work, such as the F-111 raids on Libya, and the token use of B-1 and B-2’s in the Balkan and Gulf Wars. It’s rather like a close-up of the main actor after the stunt double has done his work.
After all the other sides of the pyramid are built, we need that old Smoking Gun to get us going. Sometimes the bad guys accommodate us, with things like the Zimmerman Telegram or Pearl Harbor to trigger our wars. Other times, we have to search for reasons, like Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, or North Korea’s invasion of the South. At other times, it has been necessary to concoct false events, such as the Sinking of the Maine, or the Tonkin incident. Like a forest fire, there are many things that can ignite a War once all the conditions are established.
At any rate, here we are in the 21st Century. We have a legitimate cause and a legitimate Antichrist in Usama Bin Ladin. The Afghanistan campaign started well enough, but faded out. The Antichrist himself is either dead or in hiding. Support is strong, but the war just isn’t moving fast enough. There is no good footage on TV now, no one left to bomb, nowhere to target our Tomahawks.
We have plenty of Motives to start a war in Iraq. Once again, our huge expensive programs are threatened because they don’t work in Afghanistan, aren’t pertinent to the War on Terrorism. The only place on Earth where they do work is in the Arabian Peninsula. So that’s motivation. Without the War as front page news, there is room for rather uglier things like corporate malfeasance and the economy. Congressional consensus is waning. The monolithic Homeland Security Agency is being challenged. 2002 is an election year.
We have lost our Antichrist, but Saddam will do nicely. He is unfinished business, rather like the Russians at the end of the Cold War. We can draw parallels to that.
We may or may not have Overwhelming Military advantage, depending on the scenario. This is something of a problem, but at least we will be able to showcase battle tanks, big bombers, Tomahawks, and (if he has any Scuds left), anti-ballistic missiles.
So, we have three sides of the pyramid built, but its shaky at best. The smoking gun is a problem. The best case would have been to have found a connection between Saddam and Al Qaida, but there was nothing there. Next best would have been to find evidence that Iraq was resuming weapons programs, but alas there was nothing there either. What we have left, in lieu of this, is loose rhetoric about him being a threat to world peace and that given weapons of mass destruction, he will use them. That’s not much of a spark. I shudder to think what will come next.
This has been a sad year for America. In the wake of the tragedies of last September, Americans came together in a spirit of togetherness not seen in decades - unity and sacrifice for the sake of the American dream. Now, one year later, it seems that the content of that dream has been reduced to slogans, corporate greed and petty political games. The next year may be sadder still.
What do you think?
March 21, 2009