Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The American Military Crisis

August 11, 2008

All you really need to know is that, at Robert Gates’s Pentagon, they’re still high on the term “the Long War.” It’s a phrase that first crept into our official vocabulary back in 2002, but was popularized by CENTCOM commander John Abizaid, in 2004 — already a fairly long(-war-)time ago. Now, Secretary of Defense Gates himself is plugging the term, as he did in April at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, quoting no less an authority than Leon Trotsky:

“What has been called the Long War is likely to be many years of persistent, engaged combat all around the world in differing degrees of size and intensity. This generational campaign cannot be wished away or put on a timetable. There are no exit strategies. To paraphrase the Bolshevik Leon Trotsky, we may not be interested in the Long War, but the Long War is interested in us.”

The Long War has also made it front and center in the new “national defense strategy,” which is essentially a call to prepare for a future of two, three, many Afghanistans. (“For the foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent extremist movements will be the central objective of the U.S.”) If you thought for a moment that in the next presidency some portion of those many billions of dollars now being sucked into the black holes of Iraq and Afghanistan was about to go into rebuilding American infrastructure or some other frivolous task, think again. Just read between the lines of that new national defense strategy document where funding for future conventional wars against “rising powers” is to be maintained, while funding for “irregular warfare” is to rise. The Pentagonization of the U.S., in other words, shows no sign of slowing down. Here, by the way, is the emphasis in the new Gates Doctrine — from a recent Pentagon briefing by the secretary of defense — that should make us all worry. “The principal challenge, therefore, is how to ensure that the capabilities gained and counterinsurgency lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the lessons re-learned from other places where we have engaged in irregular warfare over the last two decades, are institutionalized within the defense establishment.” Back to the future?

And here’s a riddle for our moment: How long is a Long War, when you’ve been there before (as were, in the case of Afghanistan, Alexander the Great, the imperial Brits, and the Soviets)? On the illusions of victory and the many miscalculations of the Bush administration when it came to the nature of American military power, no one in recent years has been more incisive than Andrew Bacevich, who experienced an earlier version of the Long War firsthand in Vietnam. His new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, has just been published. Short, sharp, to the point, it should be the book of the election season, if only anyone in power, or who might come to power, were listening. (The following piece, the first of two parts this week at Tomdispatch, is adapted from section three of that book, “The Military Crisis.”) But if you want the measure of our strange, dystopian moment, Barack Obama reportedly has a team of 300 foreign policy advisers — just about everyone ever found, however brain-dead, in a Democratic presidential rolodex — and yet Bacevich’s name isn’t among them. What else do we need to know? Tom

Illusions of Victory

How the United States Did Not Reinvent War… But Thought It Did
By Andrew Bacevich

“War is the great auditor of institutions,” the historian Corelli Barnett once observed. Since 9/11, the United States has undergone such an audit and been found wanting. That adverse judgment applies in full to America’s armed forces.

Valor does not offer the measure of an army’s greatness, nor does fortitude, nor durability, nor technological sophistication. A great army is one that accomplishes its assigned mission. Since George W. Bush inaugurated his global war on terror, the armed forces of the United States have failed to meet that standard.

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Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Pentagon Fuels Up

July 18, 2008

[TomDispatch in the News: For those of you might be interested, Pepe Escobar of the RealNews.com visited TomDispatch central headquarters recently for a two-part interview with Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse. The first part, with Tom Engelhardt, was just posted. Thought you might like to check it out by clicking here. In addition, Khodi Akhavi of Inter Press Service just did a fine review of this site’s new book, The World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, which can be read by clicking here.]

It’s summer and gassing up your car is like emptying your wallet directly into that fuel pump. So you think you have it bad? You think you’re feeling the pain? Well, stop your whining! Other oil “addicts” have it so much worse! Have you no pity? Take an obvious example — the Pentagon. Once upon a time, powering your way to a little oil war was essentially a freebie. Lately, though, all you have to do is roll that Humvee off base, send that jet down the nearest runway, or launch that Hellfire missile-armed Predator drone over Afghanistan — let’s not even consider moving a whole carrier task force into the Arabian Sea — and, let’s face it, you’re talking an arm and a leg.

Why, the cost of refined fuel for troop use is officially about to leap from $127.68 a barrel to $170.94. That’s a 34% rise in the last six months, sucker! Feeling a little less sorry for yourself now? According to Time, “Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Maka said Friday that the price hike is needed to cover an anticipated $1.2 billion rise in fuel costs in the next three months.” Add that to the nearly $12 billion a month being spent for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, come on, it puts your own problems at the pump in perspective, doesn’t it? Even if it is your very own tax dollars the Pentagon’s spending to fuel its wars. So, peace may be hell, but war? It’s murder!

Last week, Nick Turse offered some tips to mainstream reporters who finally — only five years late — made it to the Bush administration’s role in Iraq’s oil story. Now, in part two of his series on what the mainstream media misses when it comes to our oil wars and the energy story, he turns to Washington and that gas guzzler par excellence, the Pentagon. The ties that the Complex — the term Turse gives the old military-industrial complex in his superb book on how our everyday lives have been militarized — has developed with an allied petro-industrial complex are so taken for granted that mainstream reporters seldom think they add up to a story. It’s like being on the science beat and filing stories about how we breathe. As a war-making society, though, our breathing’s been a little labored lately and Turse suggests that perhaps it’s time to take another look at everyday energy activities in the Pentagon. Tom

The Pentagon and the Hunt for Black Gold

The Oil Deal Nobody Wants to Talk About
by Nick Turse

For years, “oil” and “Iraq” couldn’t make it into the same sentence in mainstream coverage of the invasion and occupation of that country. Recently, that’s begun to change, but “oil” and “the Pentagon” still seldom make the news together.

Last year, for instance, according to Department of Defense (DoD) documents, the Pentagon paid more than $70 million to Hunt Refining, an oil company whose corporate affiliate, Hunt Oil, undermined U.S. policy in Iraq. Not that anyone would know it. While the hunt for oil in Iraq is now being increasingly well covered in the mainstream, the Pentagon’s hunt for oil remains a subject missing in action. Despite the staggering levels at which the Pentagon guzzles fuel, it’s a chronic blind spot in media energy coverage.

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Tomgram: Pepe Escobar, Iran under the Gun

May 15, 2008

It’s like old times in the Persian Gulf. As of this week, a second aircraft carrier battle task force is being sent in — not long after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen highlighted planning for “potential military courses of action” against Iran; just as the Bush administration’s catechism of charges against the Iranians in Iraq reaches something like a fever pitch; at the moment when rumors of, leaks about, and denials of Pentagon back-to-the-drawing-board planning for new ways to attack Iran are zipping around (“Targets would include everything from the plants where weapons are made to the headquarters of the organization known as the Quds Force which directs operations in Iraq…”); and only da! ys before the U.S. military in Iraq is supposed to conduct its latest media dog-and-pony show on Iranian support for Iraqi Shi’ite militias (“…including date stamps on newly found weapons caches showing that recently made Iranian weapons are flowing into Iraq at a steadily increasing rate…”). On the dispatching of that second aircraft carrier, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered the following comment: “I don’t see it as an escalation. I think it could be seen, though, as a reminder.”

And, when you really think about it, it is indeed a “reminder” of sorts. After all, the name of that second carrier has a certain resonance. It’s the USS Abraham Lincoln, the very carrier on which, on May 1st exactly five years ago, President George W. Bush landed in that S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet, in what TV people call “magic hour light”, for his Top-Gun strut to a podium. There, against a White House-produced banner emblazoned with the phrase “Mission Accomplished,” he declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

Now, more than five years after Baghdad fell, with Saddam Hussein long executed, Osama bin Laden alive and kicking, and American soldiers fighting and dying in the vast Shi’ite slum suburb of Sadr City in Baghdad, the dangerous administration game of chicken with Iran in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere once again intensifies. It’s a dangerous moment. When you ratchet up the charges and send in the carriers, anything is possible.

We regularly read about all of this, of course, but almost never as seen through anything but American administration or journalistic eyes (and sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart). The author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues, Pepe Escobar, a continent-hopping super-journalist for the always fascinating Asia Times and now The Real News as well, has done a striking job of covering the Iraq War, the various oil wars and pipeline struggles of the Middle East and Central Asia, and, these last years, has regularly visited Iran. Today, in his first appearance at Tomdispatch, he offers something rare indeed, an assessment of Iran “under the gun” — without the American filter in place. Tom

The Iranian Chessboard

Five Ways to Think about Iran under the Gun

By Pepe Escobar

More than two years ago, Seymour Hersh disclosed in the New Yorker how George W. Bush was considering strategic nuclear strikes against Iran. Ever since, a campaign to demonize that country has proceeded in a relentless, Terminator-like way, applying the same techniques and semantic contortions that were so familiar in the period before the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq.

The campaign’s greatest hits are widely known: “The ayatollahs” are building a Shi’ite nuclear bomb; Iranian weapons are killing American soldiers in Iraq; Iranian gunboats are provoking U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf — Iran, in short, is the new al-Qaeda, a terror state aimed at the heart of the United States. It’s idle to expect the American mainstream media to offer any tools that might put this orchestrated blitzkrieg in context.

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Tomgram: Petraeus, Falling Upwards

May 15, 2008

Selling the President’s General

The Petraeus Story


By Tom Engelhardt

You simply can’t pile up enough adjectives when it comes to the general, who, at a relatively young age, was already a runner-up for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2007. His record is stellar. His tactical sense extraordinary. His strategic ability, when it comes to mounting a campaign, beyond compare.

I’m speaking, of course, of General David Petraeus, the President’s surge commander in Iraq and, as of last week, the newly nominated head of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) for all of the Middle East and beyond — “King David” to those of his peers who haven’t exactly taken a shine to his reportedly “high self-regard.” And the campaign I have in mind has been his years’ long wooing and winning of the American media, in the process of which he sold himself as a true American hero, a Caesar of celebrity.

As far as can be told, there’s never been a seat in his helicopter that couldn’t be filled by a friendly (or adoring) reporter. This, after all, is the man who, in the summer of 2004, as a mere three-star general being sent back to Baghdad to train the Iraqi army, made Newsweek’s cover under the caption, “Can This Man Save Iraq?” (The article’s subtitle — with the “yes” practically etched into it — read: “Mission Impossible? David Petraeus Is Tasked with Rebuilding Iraq’s Security Forces. An Up-close Look at the Only Real Exit Plan the United States Has — the Man Himself”).

And, oh yes, as for his actual generalship on the battlefield of Iraq… Well, the verdict may still officially be out, but the record, the tactics, and the strategic ability look like they will not stand the test of time. But by then, if all goes well, he’ll once again be out of town and someone else will take the blame, while he continues to fall upwards. David Petraeus is the President’s anointed general, Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.

Launching Brand Petraeus

Recently, in an almost 8,000 word report in the New York Times, David Barstow offered an unparalleled look inside a sophisticated Pentagon campaign, spearheaded by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in which at least 75 retired generals and other high military officers, almost all closely tied to Pentagon contractors, were recruited as “surrogates.” They were to take Pentagon “talking points” (aka “themes and messages”) about the President’s War on Terror and war in Iraq into every part of the media — cable news, the television and radio networks, the major newspapers — as their own expert “opinions.” These “analysts” made “tens of thousands of media appearances” and also wrote copiously for op-ed pages (often with the aid of the Pentagon) as part of an unparalleled, five-plus year covert propaganda onslaught on the! American people that lasted from 2002 until, essentially, late last night. Think of it, like a pod of whales or a gaggle of geese, as the Pentagon’s equivalent of a surge of generals.

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