Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
sidebar-top content-top

Mechanistic Destruction: American Foreign Policy at Point Zero

The following article by Canadian historian Gabriel Kolko comes with a "must read" recommendation from Scott Burchill.

The United States has rarely lost any conventional military battle since at least 1950. Nor has it, at the same time, ever won a war. It has successfully overthrown governments through interventions or subversion but the political results of all its efforts-as in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Iran in 1953-have often made its subsequent geopolitical position far, far more tenuous. In a word, in international affairs it bumbles very badly and it has made an already highly unstable world far more precarious than it otherwise would be if only the U.S. left the world alone. No less important, Americans would be far better off thereby. Because-to repeat a critical point-it has failed to attain victory in any of the real wars it has fought since Korea. Its adversaries learned as long ago as the Korean War that decentralization would stymie America's overwhelming firepower, which was designed for concentrated armies, and provided a successful antidote for massive, expensive technology.

All this is very well known. The real issue is why the U.S. makes the identical mistakes over and over again and never learns from its errors.

At the present time it is losing two wars and creating a vast arc of profound strategic and political instability from the Mediterranean Sea to South Asia, it has resumed the arms race in Europe, and it is making Russia an enemy when it could easily have been friendly. Economically, it has run up the biggest deficits in American history, brought on the decline of the dollar, and wherever one turns this administration has been at least as bad as any in two centuries of American history-perhaps even the worst. We now have an unprecedented disaster in the conduct of American power, both overseas and at home, in part because of the people who now rule-ambitions men and women who calculate only what is best for their careers--but also because the imperatives and inexorable logic of past policies and conventional wisdom have brought us to this critical juncture. All the old mistakes have been repeated; nothing had been learned from the past, and official myopia is timeless.

A large part of the United States' problem, whether Republicans or Democrats are in power, is that it believes it has the right and obligation to intervene everywhere, in whatever forms they choose, and that its interests are global. Interventionism-so the consensus among Republican and Democrats goes-- is the cost of its global interests and mission, because it has been convinced for almost a century that it was preordained to remedy the world's many wrongs-and to do so by whatever means it chooses. There is nothing whatever that is unique in this regard in the present Bush Administration. This pretension, which first began during the 19th century and which Woodrow Wilson articulated, is simply not functional and it has led it into countless morasses, bad for the U.S. and far worse for the countries it has interfered with. The fact is that no nation has ever been able to assume such an international role, and those that have attempted to do so came to no good end-they exhausted their resources and passions and follies.

Political conflicts are not solved by military interventions, and that they are often incapable of being resolved by political or peaceful means does not alter the fact that force is dysfunctional. This is truer today than ever with the spread of weapons technology. The U.S. is not exempt from the facts that have guided international affairs for centuries.

The U.S. has already lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the very same reasons it lost all of its earlier conflicts. It has the manpower and firepower advantage, as always, but these are ultimately irrelevant in the medium- and long-run. They were irrelevant in many contexts in which the U.S. was not involved, and they explain the outcome of many armed struggles over the past century regardless of who was in them, for they are usually decided by the socio-economic and political strength of the various sides-China after 1947 and Vietnam after 1972 are two examples but scarcely the only ones. It is a transcendent truism of global politics that wars are more determined by socio-economic and political factors than any other, and this was true long before the U.S. attempted to regulate the world's affairs.

But Why?

But all this still begs the issue of why the U.S. repeatedly makes the same drastic errors. Are there vested interests in preparing for war? Are illusions based on them, or ideologies-or both?

In part, expensive equipment and incredibly inflated military budget is premised on the traditional assumption that owning complex weapons gives America power, which is determined by arms in hand rather than what happens in a nation's politics and society. In fact, the reverse is often the case, especially when enemies find the weaknesses in this sort of technology and exploit it-as they increasingly have done over the past decades. Then the cost of fighting wars becomes a liability-and America's technological military an immense weakness when the government has huge deficits or lacks funds to repair its aging public infrastructure--a fact that was highlighted when the collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis earlier this month led to the striking revelation that 70,000 bridges in the U.S. are rated deficient. The Vietnam War should have resolved the issue of the relevance of technology to the America's military ambitions, but it did not. The real question is: why?

To a critical but scarcely exclusive sense, the Pentagon's penchant for military toys makes an ambitious, aggressive foreign policy essential. Without enemies and conflicts, real or potential, there is no reason to spend money, and this reality often colored its definition of Soviet goals after 1947-despite the objections of senior CIA analysts. But the Defense Department, and national security establishments in general, are immense and all kinds of constituencies exist in them: there are procurement experts who draw up budgets and go after equipment mindlessly, people who have always dominated its actions, but thinkers too. Each does their own thing and they are often very different. It has always had these contradictions.

But that those who run military establishment have technological illusions, which many ordinary people share in this and other domains of human existence, keeps immense sums of money flowing to arms manufacturers and their minions. There is a very profound consensus between the two parties on arms spending, which began under the Democrats a half-century ago and it will not go away-no matter how neglected the bridges and infrastructure, health, or the like. Arms lobbies are not only very powerful in Washington but create crucial jobs in most states and military spending keeps the economy afloat. Weapons producers make money regardless of whether the Pentagon wins or loses its wars-and making money is their only objective. It is surely a key causal factor even if it is far from being the sole explanation of why the U.S. intervenes where it shouldn't.

It is close to impossible to assign some weight or priority to the arms industry but it must be taken into account that the arms manufacturers have power, strategic lobbies in Washington, contribute heavily to politicians who need campaign funding, and gain financially whether American wins or loses it wars. They are the "x-factor" in the equation but scarcely the sole one. But, at the least, they are very important even when not decisive.

Another explanation is ambitious politicians, who will say and do whatever is required to stay in power or gain it. This factor is so familiar that it scarcely requires repeating, but the cynical ways politicians treat polls and American public opinion is a crucial aspect of this question. There are indeed problems with the public but it invariably senses realities and its constraints well before the politicians-who use he public and then ignore it. The party out of office will cater to mass opinion but usually forgets it once it comes to power-as the recent Democratic Party trajectory shows. This is usually the rule but public opinion is an element that cannot be merely gainsaid, and the Korean and Vietnam wars proved, it could play a decisive role. An increasing majority of the people think the war in Iraq is not worth fighting, and the President is among the most unpopular in history. The public may be impotent or far too passive for its own good, and generally is, but it is far less brainwashed than the advocates of "manufactured consent" concede. How, when, or if its role becomes more crucial is a matter of conjecture. Its influence is usually negligible and takes far too much time to have an impact. Follies are committed long after the public condones them. But that it eventually becomes critical is a fact of life which one cannot make too much of, or too little.

Consensus on ideology and goals is crucial also but that policies fail to work and are increasingly dangerous as a guide to action has been true for a long time and in more obvious as years elapse. The Bush Administration encapsulates it but the basic problem has existed for many decades. What the Bush coterie has seen is the culmination of a logic that is much older. It presides over a catastrophe that began many years ago.

But all in all, these factors have delivered us to our present mess, which may very well exceed any in American history.

Some of the most acute criticisms made of the gross simplisms which have guided interventionist policies were produced within the military, especially after the Vietnam experience traumatized it. My history of the Vietnam War was purchased by many base libraries, and the military journals treated it in detail and very respectfully. The statement at the end of July by the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, that "no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference" if Iraqi politics fails to change drastically reflects a current of realism that has existed among military thinkers for some decades (whether he acts on this assumption is another matter and depends greatly on considerations outside of his control). Like the CIA, the military has acute strategic thinkers, and the monographs of the U.S. Army's Strategic Studies Institute-to name one of many-- are often very insightful and critical. Academics tend to be irrelevant and dull by comparison.

The problem, of course, is that few (if any) at the decisive levels pays any attention to the critical ruminations that the military and CIA consistently produce. There is no shortage of insight among U.S. official analysts-the problem that policy is rarely formulated with objective knowledge as a constraint on it. Ambitious people, who exist in ample quantity, say what their superiors wish to hear and rarely, if ever, contradict them. Iraq is but an example, for the entire mess there was predicted. If reason and clarity prevailed, America's role in the world would be utterly different.

Those in power simply ignore the critical military's insights, and the vast bulk of officers obey orders. Many of them know better. They have learned the hard way-experience. Neocon intellectuals and scribblers utterly lack it.

We are at point zero in the application of American power in the world: the U.S. cannot win its extremely expensive adventures nor will it abstain from policies which increasingly lead to disasters for the nations in which it intervenes and for itself as well. All the factors I have mentioned-its myopia regarding technology, the policy consensus that binds ambitious politicians and often makes public opinion irrelevant, the arms makers and their local interests, or the limits of rational inputs-have all combined to deliver us to this impasse. It is difficult not to be pessimistic when-as it should be--realism rather than illusions guide our political assessments. But realism is the only way to avoid cynicism.

[ category: ]

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Howard Flip-Flops on Iraq

John Howard sent a letter last week demanding the Iraqi Government make faster progress or it might face the withdrawal of Australian troops and other troops.

But in February Howard warned that a victory for Obama, who pledged to withdraw US troops from Iraq by March 2008, would be great for terrorists…

"I think that would just encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for (an) Obama victory. If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats."

US foreign policy feeds terrorism

FORMER Pakistan cricket captain turned politician Imran Khan has linked the war on terror to the legacy of partition in his country 60 years ago.

Pakistan became a client state, relying on US aid, rather than being non-aligned like India. It left us with the problem of militancy. The mujahedin on the Pakistan border with Afghanistan was actually trained by the CIA during the Cold War...

"The legacy of all this is the war on terror, which many in Pakistan see as a war on Islam, that is why there is no shortage of recruits there.''

Khan believed the war on terror had been "misguided'' because it had "benefited the people who caused 9/11".

"The US has bombed the (border) area killing many tribesmen - so anyone who opposes the US becomes a hero,'' he said.

US foreign policy is feeding the flames of terrorism. Australia should distance itself from the US, so that it can play a more calming role on the world stage.

US at breaking point, military leaders consider conscription

"The White House war tsar said it makes sense militarily to consider conscription as an option for relieving war-related stresses on US forces.

Though US Administration officials and military leaders have long shunned the notion of reinstating a draft, Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, President George Bush's top military adviser on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the draft has "always been an option on the table" and that it "makes sense to certainly consider it"............

The US did away with the draft in 1973 near the end of the Vietnam War.

The US military has preferred an all-volunteer force because it has allowed it to recruit better educated, more motivated troops for a high-tech force. But commanders worry that repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan will break the force.

"As an army officer, this is a matter of real concern to me," General Lute said.

"Ultimately, the American army, and any other all-volunteer force, rests with the support and the morale and the willingness to serve demonstrated by our ... young men and women in uniform," he said.

"And I am concerned that those men and women and the families they represent are under stress as a result of repeated deployments."

The pressure on the young men and women in the armed forces is enormous, as the generals are now recognising. Many are at breaking point and if the wars are to continue indefinitely, conscription will be necessary.

We Know that Howard will Follow his Leader.

G'day John,

Howard's "New Order" will not even mention this and hope that very few people watched Channel Nine's Sunday program.  It told the story of one of the Vietnam veterans who was conscripted under the Menzies' Ballot of Death to support the US.

Menzies introduced the conscription in 1965 and retired in 1966. This left Holt holding the baggage in 1967 when this man was taken for his unforgettable taste of the hell that is war.

And NOT to defend his country!

I have no doubt that the Bush puppet will copy the US should he be re-elected as he has done in everything since the illegal invasion of Iraq.  Deputy Sheriff, isn't he?

It makes us ponder why Bush is coming some three days early for the APEC meeting.  While this will totally upset the State Labor Government's costly and one year trained preparedness, it adds to the uncritical servitude of the spiteful little schoolboy.

No doubt that will give Bush the opportunity to fully instruct Howard in what he has to do, and will also provide Bush with another 2004  chance to give his puppet more US "Terrorist" support for the election.  No need for the CIA to be open about their presence eh?

Let's keep our eyes on the ball, John. 

Cheers Ern G.

Richard:  Ernest, what did you think about the "dirty bomb" exercise in New York yesterday?

only [the lonely...]

 .. could possibly believe such s**t!


Prime Minister John Howard:

«... also urges Mr Maliki to speed up the equitable distribution of the country's oil wealth.»

[No plan to leave Iraq, PM says]

Federal Defence Minister Brendan Nelson:

«... we want to see a little bit more determination and political action from the Government of Iraq itself.»

[Nelson backs Howard's letter to Iraq]

The "Mr Maliki" under discussion is the so-called 'leader' of the US-puppet government installed following so-called 'democratic' principles, including a constitution constructed following US instruction, and elections wherein the US vetted all candidates and required those candidates to swear (among other things), that they would not dismantle the Bremer 'reforms.'

The reference to "distribution of the country's oil wealth" is purely furphy; the referred-to 'oil-law' is one'a the final steps in the oil-theft planned by Cheney et al. looong before '9/11,' just as the (illegal!) invasion itself was planned by GWBush & neoCon cabal et al. also looong before '9/11.' This dreadful "Shock'n whore®" invasion has now been transformed into a (brutal!) occupation; they do not plan to leave Iraq till the oil-fields are pumped dry - if ever (see Howard article above).


In my 'faith, hope and charity' post on the 'Morality without a God' discussion, I mentioned the chezPhil morality in which the basic crimes are lying, cheating, theft and murder. The whole thing is driven by reflexive altruism (i.e. I don't wish to be murdered[1], therefore I agree not to murder some other); and a key tenet is "Fair go, ya mug!"


So. With a basic morality in place, and recalling that this is an opinion forum - as opposed to a Darlinghurst courtroom, say, we may now examine the above two 'news' items, brought to us via 'our' AusBC. It is the considered opinion of this observer [i.e. me], that the Anglo/Christian CoW® comprising of the US, UK and (to our enduring shame) Aus, plus the Israel lobby that infests the US when not the world (or subset thereof) forms the construct that I identify as the wannabe hegemon, its illegal sprog and poodle with dag, all mass-murdering for spoil. For Iraq - the resistance is hindering it - the proposed theft is of oil (what we, the anti-wars always said); in and around 'modern' Israel, actually an area better described as Palestine, the actual theft (going on these past 60 years or so) is of land and water. (Phew! Anyone doubt any'a this? Those few, feel free.)

IF my previous paragraphs are an accurate description of reality (I obviously think so, wha'da 'bout you, dear reader?) - THEN the statements by Howard (he of the people-smuggling task-force and concomitant SIEV-X tragedy say; his list is looong) and Nelson (he of the road-kill echidna hair-piece) are IMHO deceptive[2] - to say the very least.

And what of the role of the AusBC? They transmit those statements and many like them - most often without comment - but not always 'just' transmit, sometimes they amplify them. Under some moralities, there are sins of omission (see transmit) and sins of commission (see amplify.) Hmmm?


PS Wha'da 'bout the [lonely] of my title? Exactly and good question; Q: What sort'a morality do such share?

PPS To the Kolko piece, this: We've talked about - and posted much on that sort'a stuff - with the exception of the info that some 'smarties' in both intel & defence 'over there' are cognizant of the problems. Some know better; but nobody does better. Yet the US disgusting, criminal depredations reoccur - in spades; as now, with 'murder for oil.' It points up the massive immorality rampant (see AusBC above), but in particular, that of Christians who support the wars, and their Churches (i.e. the 'just war' construct.) Silence in the face of sin is also a sin. In a word (actually 2): toadal® hypocrisy!


[1] furphy noun (pl. -ies) Austral./NZ informal a rumour or story, especially one that is untrue or absurd. [Oxford Pop-up]

[2] lie2 —n. 1 intentionally false statement (tell a lie). 2 something that deceives. —v. (lies, lied, lying) 1 tell a lie or lies. 2 (of a thing) be deceptive.  give the lie to show the falsity of (a supposition etc.). [Old English] [POD]

Terroist know the US can be defeated

“Destroying the Al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan was an extraordinary strategic accomplishment,” said Robert D. Blackwill, who was in charge of both Afghanistan and Iraq policy at the National Security Council, “but where we find ourselves now may have been close to inevitable, whether the U.S. went into Iraq or not. We were going to face this long war in Afghanistan as long as we and the Afghan government couldn’t bring serious economic reconstruction to the countryside, and eliminate the Taliban’s safe havens in Pakistan.”


But Henry A. Crumpton, a former C.I.A. officer who played a key role in ousting the Taliban and became the State Department’s counterterrorism chief, said winning a war like the one in Afghanistan required American personnel to “get in at a local level and respond to people’s needs so that enemy forces cannot come in and take advantage.”

“These are the fundamentals of counterinsurgency, and somehow we forgot them or never learned them,” he added. He noted that “the United States has 11 carrier battle groups, but we still don’t have expeditionary nonmilitary forces of the kind you need to win this sort of war.”

“We’re living in the past,” he said.

Among some current and former officials, a consensus is emerging that a more consistent, forceful American effort could have kept the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s leadership from regrouping.

Gen. James L. Jones, a retired American officer and a former NATO supreme commander, said Iraq caused the United States to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. He warned that the consequences of failure “are just as serious in Afghanistan as they are in Iraq.”

“Symbolically, it’s more the epicenter of terrorism than Iraq,” he said. “If we don’t succeed in Afghanistan, you’re sending a very clear message to the terrorist organisations that the U.S., the U.N. and the 37 countries with troops on the ground can be defeated.”

It is a sad state of affairs we find ourselves in: the prospect of losing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US has not learnt the lessons of Vietnam and the cost are going to be enormous.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
© 2005-2011, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner

Recent Comments

David Roffey: {whimper} in Not with a bang ... 50 weeks 5 days ago
Jenny Hume: So long mate in Not with a bang ... 50 weeks 6 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Reds (under beds?) in Not with a bang ... 51 weeks 21 hours ago
Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 51 weeks 22 hours ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 51 weeks 22 hours ago
Justin Obodie: Bye bye - and thanks for all them fishies in Not with a bang ... 51 weeks 22 hours ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 51 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 51 weeks 2 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 51 weeks 6 days ago