Orwell & Capone
The World Bank, under the direction of James Wolfensohn, is posing a problem for neocon Wolfowitz. The World Bank, though dominated by the US which has 16.2% of voting shares, has an institutional loyalty to multilateralism. As the US unilateralism advocated by US neocons gives the back of its hand to the very foundation of the UN, which is the institutional manifestation of multilateralism, there is predictable conflict between the two Wolfs. The World Bank Wolf is a neo-liberal, while the Defense Department Wolf is a neocon.
-Henry C. K. Liu
April 21, 2003, 1200 PDT (FTW) — Mr. Liu, who runs an investment company, and who has written extensively on “dollar hegemony,” has hit another nail on the head. I would add entertainment media cheerleader
Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s Pentagon sycophant in Kuwait City, as representative of the neon press; neon – a colorless, inert, gaseous element that lights up on command.
The self-congratulation of the Junta right now is only matched by the despair of those who, in the first days of unexpected Iraqi resistance, thirsted for an American tactical defeat in Iraq.
That’s because people don’t have a head for numbers. The same arithmetic that told us before the Bushist aggression began in earnest, that the Iraqis could not defeat the Americans, should also tell faint-hearted anti-imperialists that US military might is not infinite. But those who treasure both fantasy and despair remain impressionists, allergic to weights and measures.
Someone very dear to me recently died – Mark Jones – who insisted on grasping things firmly, especially those most consequential things that we might sidestep because of an emotional paradox – like the fact that we are now certainly entering a very dark period of human history within which there are, with equal certainty, historic opportunities for human emancipation. They are times that will require our deepest compassion and our most dispassionate – and sometimes ruthless – cunning.
In that spirit, let’s review the adventure in Iraq.
Rumsfeld’s war plan was initiated on the 20th of March, with expectations that the high-tech advance northward from Kuwait would resolve all major tactical difficulties within two days. Simultaneously, another Rumsfeld scheme, “decapitation” strikes, was launched to target Saddam Hussein. The whole venture was designed to come off like Bill Gates meets Caesar.
Instead, it came off like Orwell meets Al Capone.
The Orwellian aspect, of course, was an American press that can no longer lay even the scarcest claim to being journalists, and its complete merger with the Department of Defense, specifically Central Command (CENTCOM).
The False Start
Beginning almost immediately after the first tanks crossed their lines of departure into Southern Iraq, we were witness to the surreal recurring spectacle of the CENTCOM-Lie-of-the-Day – a parade of spin doctors from the military, which included the actual commander, Tommy Franks, who would make erroneous and often ridiculous claims about the progress of their aggression – even as the entire Rumsfeld lunacy unraveled before the eyes of the world in the face of sparse, but extremely courageous and totally unexpected, Iraqi resistance.
Umm Qasr had fallen. Well, not yet. Basra was taken. Well, not yet. A brigade of Iraqis surrendered. Oops. Fudged casualty statistics. Phantom Republican Guard columns advancing south. Saddam is dead rumors circulated daily. Chemical weapons sites were discovered, then un-discovered. The victims of American bombs were really caused by falling antiaircraft debris from the Iraqis.
The wild stories, outright lies, and subsequent rationalizations were reiterated uncritically by CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, among all the others, to an ovine American public (the most notable exception being Black Americans, who have remained largely skeptical of the whole enterprise). In-bedded (“embedded”) reporters, who had been completely immersed in US military units – self-censoring, based on deep identification with and absolute dependence upon those units – sent back pre-screened images almost minute by minute, and the world saw its first truly stage-managed war.
Then cracks developed in the stories. The internet allowed legitimate journalism to end-run CENTCOM News Network. And the generals, chafing under the arrogant presumptuousness of Donald Rumsfeld and smarting from setbacks in the field, began to “leak.”
Sixty miles out of Baghdad, the whole advance screeched to a halt. CENTCOM explained the “operational pause” as an exercise in flexibility, “all part of the plan.”
By the 27th of March, Bush and his piss-boy Tony Blair had an emergency meeting.
The bombing of Baghdad, circumspect until then, was intensified – almost a gratuitous act of frustrated rage. Independent journalists reported the same targets being hit from the air as many as six nights in a row.
The generals went back to the drawing board. The 4th Infantry, whose equipment was stranded on the ocean when the Turkish government denied the Americans their Northern Front, prepared to deploy as reinforcement. Supply lines were shored up by diverting combat power to convoy security, in order to resupply the points of the advance Army along the Euphrates valley and the Marines along the Tigris. Some troops were low on water and down to one MRE a day. Sandstorms had eaten into the engines of the Abrams, Bradleys, and helicopters, and fuel was low.
On March 27th, the 173rd Airborne Brigade parachuted onto Northern Iraq’s Harrir Airfield with Kurdish security waiting on the ground. CENTCOM referred to this operation as “opening a Northern Front.”
On the 29th of March, a suicide bomber in Najaf killed four GIs and the Rules of Engagement (ROE). Now the war would begin to take on a Vietnam-like character for American soldiers and Marines, who were pushed one step closer to seeing the entire Iraqi people as the enemy. It was after this the non-in-bed press from outside the US would begin to send out photos of dead Iraqi soldiers, heads blown off next to the white flags that the US soldiers didn’t think to remove from the scene. And civilians would be more routinely shot dead en masse at US checkpoints.
Generals grew nervous as the “operational pause” began to stretch out and US positions became almost semi-permanent installations, bait for hit-and-run guerrilla attacks. CENTCOM said on March 31st that the US
might wait weeks to begin its assault on Baghdad, probably a ruse to lure defenders at Baghdad into the open to strengthen positions so they might be attacked more effectively by air. The same day, Robin Cook, the former chief cheerleader for the imperial assault on Yugoslavia, launched a scathing criticism of Tony Blair.
Euphoria began to infect the Arab world. People began to identify with the tenacity of these Iraqi defenders of their homeland against the juggernaut of US militarism. Many anti-imperialists outside the Arab world caught the same bug. No head for numbers.
Bombs began to rain on Baghdad again. Colin Powell was trying to placate the Turks. Rumsfeld – stung with deep humiliation – began to make threatening noises at the Iranians and Syrians, as the firestorm of recriminations in Washington raged, and the damaged umbilical supply line from Kuwait was repaired.
By April 1st, US ground forces on point had refueled and refit, and they were ready to resume the offensive. The cautious advance North began on the 2nd, with the 3rd (Mechanized) Infantry Division backed by paratroops from the 82nd and Apache helicopters from the 101st advancing on the Karbala Gap and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force moving on Al Kut in the Tigris Valley. Special Forces in the north were organizing with the Kurds, as supplies now flowed in by air, for an attack on Mosul and Kirkuk (where some of the richest oilfields in the world lie).
The Iraqis fought a delaying action in the Karbala Gap, but multiple engagements had given US commanders the experience necessary to develop counter-measures to the Iraqis’ new Russian-trained asymmetric tactics, and the Iraqis now began to suffer from a loss of command and control as well as a genuine lack of fresh tactical adaptation. US commanders had adapted, however, and regained their technological advantage, their logistical tail, and above all their air superiority.
Iraqi combat losses were horrific, and in short order, the Nebuchadnezzar and Medina Divisions of the Republican Guard melted back into Baghdad, leaving small ambushes along the route to delay the Americans.
Firing precious anti-aircraft weapons became a death warrant, and the Iraqi triple-A was retired northward, probably beyond Baghdad. And US commanders had forged a seamless integration of A-10 Warthogs with ground units to open up defenses in advance of ground attacks.
The A-10 is a 30 mm Gatling gun with an airframe built around it – firing 3,000 rounds a minute of depleted uranium alloy bullets. It is comparatively slow, so it can only be put to good use when there is total air superiority. But it is one of the most agile fixed wing aircraft in history. In one second, the A-10 can reduce a tank to a scorched shell or shatter a fighting position. Working in pairs, the A-10s can rubble a multi-story building in five minutes, or – as General Barry McCaffrey demonstrated in 1991 – they can transform a retreating column of thousands of men and hundreds of tanks into a meandering file of smoldering wreckage and dismembered corpses.
Corpses have now become a familiar phenomenon for a new generation of US soldiers. Many will return now with their heads filled with corpses and their bodies filled with depleted uranium. They will have their moment of intoxicating adulation in public and the corpses will sneak up on them in private. Then the DU will sneak up on them.
Some people learn to live with corpses. Some learn to relish the freedom of killing and develop a taste for it. Perfect masculinity is sociopathic. A young Marine who had just killed a woman at a checkpoint said, matter of factly, “The chick was in the way.” Gangster. Badass.
Others, as the transitory adulation fades, will sense the barrenness of their wounded psyches backlit by the barrenness of a decaying consumer culture, and their alienation will flower into addiction, psychosis, and suicide. And then will we see THEM as pathological.
We didn’t see that pathology on April 3rd, not in the troops, not in ourselves, not on CNN. Like the air, we breathe alienation until we take it for granted. On April 3rd, we watched the seizure of Saddam Hussein Airport on the outskirts of Baghdad, and CENTCOM led the cheer.
Rumsfeld’s pet drones began buzzing like Tigris River mosquitoes over
Baghdad, trying to vindicate themselves at $37 million apiece for Global Hawks, $40 million for Predators (not factoring in years of R&D money). They shot pictures of Iraqis pointing skyward at them, as combatants took the complex counter-measure of stepping under a doorway to evade their digital gaze. Then the real planes came.
A-10′s again, like lethal storms tearing into Baghdad’s suburbs, trashing the homes and histories of the ancient city in advance of the next ground assault.
This was the new strategy: incremental murder. And it began to gain traction.
Saddam Hussein Airport was renamed by its occupiers. Ali Hassan al-Majid – “Chemical Ali” in the press frenzy to find new caricatures for their hallucinations – was bombed, and this story was fanned for days – the latest smokescreen to preoccupy herd-America so it wouldn’t be awakened to the uncaricatured corpses.
War of Symbols
The 3rd Infantry made its little foray – a reconnaissance in force – into Baghdad on April 5th, met with sporadic but furious resistance from those who lurked in doorways as the drones flew helplessly over the day before. The hospitals in Baghdad were now overwhelmed, corpses lying sloppily under blankets in the corners of rooms, the most critical left to die while doctors and nurses worked around the clock to salvage the salvageable with meager resources. Reports filtered out past the compliant media that the floors were swimming in human blood.
The Iraqi fighters – now a symbol to a hopeful and humiliated Arab world – found reality singularly unsymbolic. Their new Russian-trained tactics were being met with the cancellation of Rumsfeld’s cyber-war and the US adaptation of sending blood down the streets with the A-10′s. Their decentralization – at first an advantage, even when applied in an often amateurish and tragically costly way – now became simple disarray in the face of the lethal rain of uranium.
The US was demonstrating its resolve to conquer Baghdad by converting it to rubble if necessary, and civilians were paying an appalling price. Even some “leftists,” safely ensconced in Europe and the US, began publicly dressing down the Iraqi combatants for not paying the ultimate price to turn Baghdad into an Armageddon.
The lights went out in Baghdad, and the US forces tore a path to the banks of the Tigris. On April 7th, the US tested its bunker buster munitions on a house where they claim they thought Saddam was hiding. The US press made scant mention of the civilian deaths, including children, as CNN, et al, went into yet another three-day speculation frenzy about the visceral status of one man.
Killing civilians was routine by now. This harrowing description from Laurent Van der Stockt, a Gamma Agency photographer with the New York Times Magazine:
On the morning of April 7, the Marines decided to cross the bridge. A shell fell onto an armored personnel carrier. Two marines were killed. The crossing took on a tragic aspect. The soldiers were stressed, febrile. They were shouting. The risk didn’t appear to be that great, so I followed their advance. They were howling, shouting orders and positions to each other. It sounded like something in-between a phantasm, mythology and conditioning. The operation was transformed into crossing the bridge over the River Kwai.
Later, there was some open terrain. The Marines were advancing and taking up position, hiding behind mounds of earth. They were still really tense. A small blue van was moving towards the convoy. Three not-very-accurate warning shots were fired. The shots were supposed to make the van stop. The van kept on driving, made a U-turn, took shelter and then returned slowly. The Marines opened fire. All hell broke loose. They were firing all over the place. You could hear ‘Stop firing’ being shouted. The silence that set in was overwhelming. Two men and a woman had just been riddled with bullets. So this was the enemy, the threat.
A second vehicle drove up. The same scenario was repeated. Its passengers were killed on the spot. A grandfather was walking slowly with a cane on the sidewalk. They killed him too. As with the old man, the Marines fired on an SUV driving along the river bank that was getting too close to them. Riddled with bullets, the vehicle rolled over. Two women and a child got out, miraculously still alive. They sought refuge in the wreckage. A few seconds later, it flew into bits as a tank lobbed a terse shot into it.
Marines are conditioned to reach their target at any cost, by staying alive and facing any type of enemy. They abusively make use of disproportionate firepower. These hardened troops, followed by tons of equipment, supported by extraordinary artillery power, protected by fighter jets and cutting-edge helicopters, were shooting on local inhabitants who understood absolutely nothing of what was going on.
With my own eyes I saw about fifteen civilians killed in two days. I’ve gone through enough wars to know that it’s always dirty, that civilians are always the first victims. But the way it was happening here, it was insane.
Resistance had shrunken into pockets, some still doggedly determined, and much simply disappearing behind this valiant screen. Tens of thousands of Iraqi combatants are missing to this day, and speculation that they might eventually use Syria as a jumping-off point to stage operations back into their nation has led the US administration to rattle its saber, even as its capacity to wage war effectively anywhere else in the world right now is next to zero.
If ever there were a time to thumb one’s nose at the US, it is now. They are a big dog at the end of a thick chain.
The imperial crowing about this lopsided attack is tempered behind the scenes by the knowledge that – contrary to all the bullshit about destruction of Iraqi units – the boldest sacrifices by Iraqi fighters were made not in conventional confrontations but in delaying tactics. Those tactics worked. The Iraqis took good advantage of the US aversion to high “friendly” casualties and their obsession with “force protection.”
The fact is, the lion’s share of Iraqi forces managed an orderly retreat… somewhere…and the US suspects Syria. Perhaps. Perhaps they are still in Iraq. Perhaps they quit. Perhaps not.
There are still thousands of tanks and armored personnel carriers unaccounted for in Iraq, and they didn’t drive themselves away. Hundreds of thousands of small arms. Up to 3,000 wire-guided anti-armor missiles. Over 1,500 artillery pieces, a half dozen SCUD launchers, 1,000+ MOWAG light anti-aircraft weapons as well as a decent supply of unfired Surface to Air Missiles, a dozen Hind attack helicopters, several dozen smaller choppers, and up to two dozen PC-7 and PC-9 fixed-wing aircraft.
These numbers haunt US military commanders, as they should.
On April 8th, the US tested the new limits of its impunity by deliberately attacking a convoy with the Russian Ambassador, then claimed it was a “crossfire.” Only days before, Rumsfeld in one of his more frequent fits of pique, had made threatening noises at the Russians.
Al-Jazeera had been publicly chastised days earlier in a CENTCOM briefing for daring to show American dead (and thereby eroding domestic support for the adventure). They should have paid attention.
When Al-Jazeera engaged in journalism in Afghanistan, the Americans had unapologetically bombed their offices.
On April 8th, the American forces destroyed the Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad and simultaneously attacked independent journalists in the Palestine Hotel. The symbolism of the name was not lost on the Arab world, as the US tested the feasibility of eliminating witnesses.
Counter-symbolism was deployed the following day. As the US continued the slaughter, thrusting from three directions into Baghdad and initiating its attack to take Kirkuk, the American military gathered together a sparse crowd around a Saddam Hussein statue, then pulled it down while the fake crowd cheered. The in-bed press, in a shameless and slavish display, kept their lenses tight to make the paltry mob appear larger. That image plays still today – long after it has been repeatedly exposed as a tawdry scam. They even refused to show the American flag that one over-enthusiastic young Marine had used to cover the statue’s face. A little too much symbolism there.
Rumsfeld cracked on television once, uttering over and over “It’s a liberation, it’s a liberation, it’s a liberation.”
Then the looting began, and the US stood by. I saw it in Haiti. Let the chaos rein for a bit and they will beg for order, even if it comes from unwelcome quarters. Certain facilities were protected, like the Oil Ministry building. Then there was the most symbolic event of the war, in my opinion.
Iraq is the geographic and cultural cradle of Western civilization. The US military was sent to attack this cradle of civilization, and the US military initiated the looting of the Museum of Archeology, where 7,000 years worth of priceless artifacts were kept to posterity. Eyewitnesses report that before the looting began, Americans had been keeping the streets clear with gunfire. Then they pulled up in front of the Museum and started firing into it. I saw a tank round’s hole in the front on a CNN report, far too high for a looter to have made it. They murdered the two Sudanese guards in front of the administrative building, then directed the looters, through the US military’s Arabic translators, to enter the building and gut it. By April 15th, the National Archives as well, where millions of pages of historical documents, some centuries old, were stored, was looted, and the precious records burned by a street mob while US military looked complacently on.
The Non-Denouement & Moral Imperialism
The rest of the story could sound like a denouement. Kirkuk fell. Mosul fell. But it’s just begun. Now politics begins, and we’ll see just what kind of tar baby we have here.
The military “victory” is secure. The Washington gangsters have won their new turf, let’s see if they can keep it. There will certainly be no attack on Syria. Again, those who fear this have not done the arithmetic, political or military. The United States has extended its military reach almost to its conventional limit, number one, and the objective was Europe and China, with Iraq’s petroleum the strategic objective.
Anti-imperialists, all people of moral courage, need to quit letting these gangsters and their sycophant press spook them, and quit confusing ruling class blather with ruling class motivations.
The apocalyptic Bushite nonsense about Evil is a sop to the Christian right in the United States who believe this period is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. They are a key part of the Bush junta’s popular base in the United States, and – as Christian Zionists – part of the powerful popular Israel lobby. But the Neocons’ blueprint, laid out some years ago, for leaping over this period of an impending severe crisis of US hegemony, is hard-eyed secularism. Their true weakness is bourgeois myopia and incredible hubris. They are constitutionally incapable of understanding history as a process that involves the masses.
Neoliberalism – the form of US imperialism – was falling into disarray before September 11th. It was a transformation of US imperialism that dated back to the Nixon administration, itself a strategy to overcome profound structural weaknesses in the system – not the least of which was the organic composition of capital – wherein the industrialized North collaborated in the harvest of the dependent global South. The character of that transformation has been written on at length – but dollar hegemony was its linchpin, and the basis of dollar hegemony, at the end of the day, was military might.
The most fundamental characteristic of Neoliberalism was that this “benign” leadership of the US was accepted by lesser imperial powers because the US served as an essential umpire for a multilateral system of exploitation and accumulation.
The difference between the Neoliberals (think of the Democrats) in the US and the Neocons (think Republican within Republican) is not on the question of exploitation and accumulation. They are equally devoted to preserving the status and privileges of the US ruling class, of which both are a part.
The difference revolves around two opposing delusions; the Neoliberal delusion that there is a way to return to the multilateral gluttony of the recent past – with the US reassuming its role of benevolent father – and the Neocon delusion that the US can have its economic cake and eat it too by playing the part of a global protection racket on energy markets.
The Neoliberals cannot solve the problem of rebellion in the periphery and the falling rate of profit. The Neocons cannot solve the problem of military costs – economic and political.
Meanwhile, back in the USA, the initiation of wholesale hostilities on March 20th erased the broadest basis of unity for the anti-war movement.
The strength of the broad anti-war movement prior to H-hour was the convergence of different political tendencies, including many sections of the managerial and ruling classes, around a single demand: No War!
Any attempt now to preserve those alliances intact flies directly in the face of reality. They cannot hold because their basis had disappeared, and our differences will now come out into the open. Many people were moved from questions about the motivations for war, to a clear anti-imperialist perspective. Now is certainly a good time to stress education and consolidation of those sections of the population who are still in a teachable moment – especially ordinary workers and people of color.
Anti-imperialists (and I am one) are standing exposed again, no longer folded unobtrusively into the larger mass. Liberals (including neoliberals) are already retreating to their old paths. If we are not careful, we will be tempted down those same paths, which look well kept but ultimately lead nowhere. Emblematic of that retreat are certain rhetorical and political strategies that were tolerated in the diversity of the pre-H-hour movement, but which must now be challenged from the left.
Not least among them is the denunciation of Ba’ath Party leadership, especially of Saddam Hussein. This is a world-class red herring. Ba’athism was a movement that cannot be judged through the rosy lenses of Western morality. It’s akin to measuring Black prejudice with the same yardstick used to measure white prejudice. The reality of power relations makes these points of view irreconcilably and qualitatively different.
Moral imperialism is a very slippery slope.
Ritual denunciation of Saddam Hussein before, during, and after the latest invasion did not prevent the antiwar movement from being mercilessly red-baited and patriot-baited.
What it did do was set the stage for a huge fraction of the pre-H-hour anti-war movement to have its legs knocked out from under it when tanks rolled north. The failure to grasp the nature of US imperialism and how it was responsible long before the war – as a global system – for every single aspect of the situation in Southwest Asia, left so-called progressives grappling in the dark after ahistorical moral comparisons, generally based on a thirteen-year campaign of demonization, and more recently, calling for the UN to take up the task of occupation.
Michael Keaney, an economist living in Finland put it well when he noted that:
…various people in the metropolitan left are, in the midst of all that is going on at present, spending valuable time and resources telling others on the left ‘I told you so’ or lecturing them on the finer points of ‘democracy’ when the real task at hand is to work against imperialism. Under current circumstances, the effective result of getting even slightly bogged down by this ‘sugar-coating’ is to legitimate imperialism. We surrender valuable ground when we give any credence whatsoever to the propaganda claims of cruise missile liberals and neo-cons alike concerning other regimes whose development has been twisted, tortured, stunted, manipulated, thwarted, squashed, halted… by the constant interference of the metropolis which has, to use Edward Said’s very appropriate phrase, ‘driven them crazy after decades.’ And right now I don’t really need to hear about the venality of ‘Saddam’. [A] proper class analysis of pre-invasion Iraq would be in order so that we might understand better how things will develop in the future. But quite honestly, for the time being and until it is proved otherwise, Saddam Hussein and his cohort are a part of the anti-imperialist movement.’
This recognition will become more important if there is a real struggle against the American occupiers. That struggle cannot be held
to account by the standards of Western progressives, even of Western leftists. It will require a form of unity and struggle appropriate for those who engage in the resistance, and it will not be pretty enough for BMW Bolsheviks sipping lattes while they plan the revolution for places they’ve never lived.
We can’t possibly know – at least most of us can’t – what a nascent Iraqi resistance might look like, or even if it exists at this point.
We might be seeing it now, in the ubiquitous mini-rebellions against American occupation, street mobilizations that are forcing the US military to withdraw or overreact. Rejections of US-installed colonial surrogate leadership. That would certainly queer the US pitch and, to sustain disruption, it will require blinding the US to plans and intents. That will mean merciless ferreting out of collaborators with the US. It might mean suicide bombing. Some might disappear, leaving the country to sharpen their skills; precision marksmanship and non-technical communications, mechanical ambushes, small-unit planning. Organizing units and staffs, some blending back into the population to monitor the mood of the street. Let the situation ripen. The fault lines are already appearing in Iraqi society, and resistance to the Americans has begun even before the guns have fallen silent. Wait and plan for one or two totally unexpected and devastating blows delivered when their guard is down, one year, one and a half, maybe more, from now, organizing the insurgency in the meantime, setting up safe houses and rat lines, developing intelligence networks, establishing tactical caches and supply lines. It’s all speculation.
We just don’t know. But neither does the Bush Crime Family.
What we must understand is that progressives cannot stand against whatever is necessary to expel the invader. As Henry Liu says, we cannot let the White Man’s Burden become our burden by falling into the trap of moral imperialism. We cannot put an abstract morality above the people.
We cannot join that herd.
This is far from over.
Copyright 2003, From The Wilderness Publications, www.copvcia.com. All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.