The coalition of Bush administration hawks that
was empowered by the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon
agreed on three main strategic objectives.
The neo-conservatives and Christian Right wanted to decisively shift the balance
of power in the Middle East in favor of Israel, so that it could effectively
impose peace terms on the Palestinians and Syria and anyone else who resisted
U.S. regional hegemony or Israel's legitimacy and territorial claims.
The more globally-oriented strategists – sometimes called ''assertive nationalists''
or Machtpolitikers – wanted to show ''rogue states'', particularly those with
weapons of mass destruction (WMD), like North Korea, that the United States
could and, more importantly, would take pre-emptive military action to either
change their regimes or crush them.
They also wanted to demonstrate to any possible future rival powers that Washington
could, and would, intervene militarily in the Persian Gulf region to deny them
essential energy supplies as a way of reminding nations of the indispensability
of friendly ties with the United States.
All three objectives, it was swiftly agreed by the ascendant hawks, could be
achieved by invading and then ''transforming'' Iraq into a pro-western, if not
democratic, Arab state.
Moreover, the likely acquisition of more or less permanent access to military
bases in Iraq that would fit into a larger, global network of scores of military
facilities stretching from East Asia through Central Asia, and from Arabia and
the Caucasus through the Mediterranean and the Horn all the way to West Africa
would make it even clearer to all that breaking ''Pax Americana'' would risk
economic or military ruin.
In order to achieve these objectives, the U.S. not only had to invade Iraq
and remove Saddam Hussein from power, but it also had to occupy the country,
and occupy it in a way that would not require many U.S. soldiers, who would
be deployed elsewhere along the globe-straddling ''arc of crisis'' to guard
''The global strategy – all their assumptions – rested on the ability of U.S.
forces to move fast, win quickly with overwhelming force, and move out," according
to one official. ''Any prolonged conflict or occupation – like what we see in
Iraq – threatened the whole structure because we don't have that many forces."
For reasons that are likely to be debated by historians, political scientists,
and possibly psychiatrists, for decades the hawks – most of them based in the
offices of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, but
probably President George W. Bush as well – firmly believed that Iraqis would
either be so grateful for their ''liberation'' from the depredations of Hussein
or so awed by the show of U.S. military power that they would support, or at
least not actively oppose, a post-war occupation.
Hence, they planned to quickly draw down their troops from the 160,000 who
invaded Iraq to just about half that number by the invasion's first anniversary,
and to just 30,000 or so by the end of 2004.
The hawks mocked predictions
by military officers with experience in peace operations, who warned they
would need at least 200,000 troops for at least two years to stabilise Iraq,
and by experienced intelligence officers and diplomats, who warned that U.S.
forces would not be considered ''liberators'' by important sectors of the Iraqi
Now, 14 months later, those warnings have proven prescient, and the confident
predictions of the hawks have proven totally unfounded. What is most remarkable
is that they never approved contingency plans and are now reacting to the situation
in the most ad hoc and incoherent manner imaginable.
Aside from the rising death tolls in clashes between U.S. forces and Iraqi
insurgents, the zigzags over U.S. policy on ''de-Ba'athification'' (or working with former members
of Hussein's Ba'ath Party) and other priority issues, Bush's steadily falling
approval ratings and the increasingly sharp exchanges between impatient lawmakers
in Congress and responsible administration officials, the failure of the hawks'
assumptions is most evident in the numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Under the original plan, U.S. troop strength should be down below 100,000 at
this point in the occupation. But as is well known, the head of U.S. military
operations for the Central Command, Gen John Abizaid, has insisted on retaining
at least 136,000 troops on the ground through this year if not the next, too.
And that means all those soldiers who were supposed to deploy elsewhere to enforce
''Pax Americana'' are now stuck in Iraq.
''The greatest limiting factor on the empire right now is manpower," according
Johnson, an Asia specialist at the University of California at San Diego.
''They are running out of it."
Indeed, the stress on the Army – and, as significantly, on the hawks' imperial
strategy – has become even more apparent this week.
According to Paul Sperry of the Hoover Institution, the Pentagon has just launched
a massive nationwide call-up of former service members – a total of 118,000
Individual Ready Reserves (IRR) – who have not fully completed their eight-year
contractual obligation to the Army.
These people, who have all but formally signed their release papers, are now
being ordered to report to their Army National Guard or Army Reserve units for
possible activation ''in support of missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other
News of the IRR activation coincided with Rumsfeld's order to send 3,600
soldiers from the Army's Second Infantry Division based near the demilitarized
zone (DMZ) across from North Korea, another ''rogue state'' with WMD, to Iraq.
The troops constitute 10 percent of U.S. forces in South Korea and one-half
of combat-ready ground troops there.
While the Pentagon insisted the shift will not affect Washington's ability
to defend South Korea, the significance of removing troops confronting North
Korea was missed by few here. As one unnamed administration official told the
Nelson Report, a private newsletter, "We are pulling out our conventional deterrent
force in the midst of a self-declared nuclear crisis with North Korea!''
And while Rumsfeld has made no secret of wanting to move those troops from
their position as a ''tripwire," Pentagon plans called for them to move to the
southern part of the peninsula, not to leave the region altogether.
''The administration has come to recognize that relying on reserves and the
national guard are not sufficient for the nature of the occupation they're involved
in, and the only ones that are available are in Asia," noted John Gershman,
an Asia analyst at New York University, who added the move suggests to Pyongyang
that Washington ''is not going to launch a strike against it any time soon."
''Mobilizing the passive reserves [IRR] is probably the last thing they can
do before either cutting back on what they're doing, or go to the military draft,
or go hire foreigners, but the country can't really afford that," according
to Johnson, whose 2003 book, Sorrows
of Empire, deals with U.S. military forces overseas.