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Friday, December 29, 2006

Rumsfeld and the American Way of War

by Gabriel Kolko

Rumsfeld: "Shock and Awe"

Rumsfeld is one of the most articulate advocates of the two major wars the U.S. has embarked upon since 2000, and he had earlier made it plain to George Bush when he took office as Secretary of Defense that he would be "forward-leaning." September 11 was an opportunity to realize dreams of heroism and success. He and Vice-president Dick Cheney are soul mates, their careers have been intertwined, but Cheney seeks to keep out of the limelight and Rumsfeld adored the publicity that his cleverness attracted. He is best known for his desire to make the military both meaner and leaner, relying on high tech rather than manpower, and "shock and awe" became his slogan. But to do so, national defense spending, which had been stable in the 1990s, increased from $294 billion in 2000 to $536 billion in 2006, and as a percentage of the GNP it grew 37 percent from 2000 to 2006. All kinds of weapons, many the futuristic products of junk science concocted by well-placed manufacturers, were funded for eventual production – a dozen years being a short delivery time for many of them.

Rumsfeld's military dream was technology-intensive, even more now than 40 years ago, and it failed abysmally in Iraq. Army manpower, however, was reduced and it was left unprepared in countless domains, under-funded and overstretched even before the Iraq war began. Since then its "readiness" in terms of available troops and equipment has only fallen precipitously. And while Rumsfeld made the Army his enemy, even the Air Force now has to cut manpower to raise funds for new equipment.

He always premised his ambition, which various defense secretaries had attempted before him and failed, on the notion that the secret of military success was better and more weapons – "more bang for the buck" as an illustrious predecessor phrased it. More bucks also made the Pentagon requests that much more palatable to a pork-hungry Congress eager to increase spending in their districts. Politics and complex diplomacy never interested people like Rumsfeld, even after the abysmal failure of the Vietnam War. Delivering bad news, which meant serious assessments, was the best way not to advance in the hierarchy, and careerism was crucial to what people said. The name of the game was the game.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq he learned that realities were far more complex and he managed to shock and awe himself and the neoconservatives who shared his naïve assumptions. Reliance on high tech did not prevent warfare from becoming protracted, and it guaranteed that it would become far more costly. Both wars produced stalemates that have become the preludes to American defeats now staring the Bush administration in the face.

Rumsfeld showed at various times that in certain ways he was a person of superior intelligence notwithstanding the basically erroneous premises of the military system he led and the imperatives of ambition that demanded he share them. But like his peers, he learned far too slowly. He suffered from the typical contradiction between intelligence and ambition, and the latter requires an ideology and assumptions which most men-of-power come to believe. He admitted in a confidential memo in October 2003 that "we lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror"; even then key members of the Bush Administration were far less confident of what they are doing.

His November 6, 2006 memo on the Iraq war admitted that "what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough." There are some anodynes he advocated too, but it was rightly interpreted as his concession to the Baker-Hamilton panel view, which is the voice of the traditional foreign policy Establishment, that the Iraq war was going disastrously – in effect, was being lost. Since then, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has declared there is a civil war raging in Iraq and there should be a drawdown of American troops, to begin by the middle of next year – a step that even Rumsfeld favored with modest withdrawals that would compel the Iraqis "to pull up their socks."

Rumsfeld and his peers know the American military cannot win the war in Iraq. Just as during the Vietnam war, they have the quixotic hope that a solution for the profound and bloody turmoil that reigns there can be found politically – at first the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds were to have parliamentary elections and then make a political deal. They did not. Then they were to write a constitution, which they eventually managed to do but it changed nothing. Now they are hoping that the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, can miraculously cobble together some kind of consensus that will produce peace, but Bush's closest advisers think it is very likely he will fail. They have no one else to turn to. Politics, like military power, will not prevent the United States from losing control over events in Iraq – thereby losing the war. A "surge" in American troops in Iraq, as even the Joint Chiefs of Staff now argues, is only a recipe for greater disasters. Attacks against U.S. coalition forces, their Iraqi dependents, and civilians have now reached a peak and are over twice that two years ago. The Bush Administration today confronts disaster in Iraq, and probably the worst foreign policy failure in American history. Futility is the hallmark of all its efforts


posted by Steve @ 1:33:00 AM

1:33:00 AM

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