So Many Fronts, So Little
In an incisive recent commentary, Gabriel Kolko warns that, "…there have always been limits to US power, and the question today is when and how the US will acknowledge this reality." Pointing to the necessary unpredictability of intervention, and its unwanted political side effects, Kolko questions whether a war on Iraq is either feasible or wise. Citing the potential repercussions for Iraq, Iran, Turkey and the Kurds, as well as the still chaotic state of Afghanistan, Kolko avers, "…the stakes are awesome and could preoccupy the world for years to come."
Military planners whose job is to more effectively kill people and destroy targets do not tend to think in these terms. Nor is it their job to. They are merely there to carry out the wishes of politicians who (like the evasive Dick Cheney) have always avoided doing what they command others to – that is, kill and/or die in combat.
War on Two Fronts
The traditional Pentagon policy of "war on two fronts" was criticized by Antiwar.com’s Justin Raimondo in the wake of 9/11. This baseless and entirely relative doctrine is intended to reassure the American people and intimidate any would-be antagonists. It amounts to mere sandbox one-upsmanship – just at a higher level.
That the "two fronts" logic is an arbitrary milestone goes almost without saying. If preparedness for one war is insufficient, then why stop at two? Why not three fronts, or four? Hell, why not half a dozen?
This, of course, is the dizzying dream of the war party, which, if given the chance, would not only prepare for but also execute as many wars as possible. Hawks salivate over the prospects of a Pentagon budget that aspires towards $480 billion in the next decade. Seeming to believe that security comes from high-priced, high-technology weapons, they have forgotten what the US military learned in Kosovo, and now, in Afghanistan: that human cleverness often trumps technology. But never mind – there is the unstated reality that producing war is a vital business for politically-connected corporations:
"The US weapons industry is a commercial business just like any other US corporation. By definition, this means that they must continue to grow and gain market share, or they will go out of business. Furthermore, many producers of commercial products are becoming increasingly dependent on winning a piece of the burgeoning US defense budget. Boeing, for example, builds commercial aircraft, but it also makes smart bombs and other military aviation hardware to stay afloat. Boeing’s commercial aircraft market is currently in a slump and workers are being laid off in Seattle. If the US government doesn’t use up its current inventory of weapons on Iraq and place fresh orders with Boeing soon, heads will roll."
Leaving the economic angle aside, there is the fact that however many fronts you want to add, this doctrine for military preparedness is inherently flawed. It overlooks those fronts that lurk all around us, forgotten or willfully avoided. By limiting the definition of a "front" to a purely militaristic theater of war, the Pentagon policy overlooks not only the other, potential war zones, but also the irreparable damage US intervention is doing to the perception of the country abroad. And this perception has a way of coming back to haunt us, whether in the form of terrorism, or in the loss of once-stalwart allies.
The Price of Intervention: Destabilization
However effective it may seem in a simplistic military sense, American intervention abroad has created more problems than it has solved. This is especially the case now. First of all is the rising tide of anti-American sentiment throughout the world, which even stodgy establishment vehicles like Foreign Affairs have noted. Nearly everyone outside of the country is opposed to a war on Iraq, though the government has chosen to block out this dissent. But American belligerence not only gives terrorists and would-be terrorists reason to retaliate, it also makes staunch allies nervous – and potentially unstable.
In the first category we have the European Union states. In Britain, Bush’s lapdog Blair is starting to get cold feet, fearing a backbench rebellion from his Labor Party ministers. Increasingly powerful leaders Germany and France have been opposed to the Iraq campaign. This accurately reflects the views of their constituents. If honorary EU president Greece has its way, the continent’s policy will officially oppose war on Iraq.
Yet outside the Union the situation is different. In thoroughly colonized Macedonia, for example, the Americans have been given use of airspace for an attack on Iraq. In an act of supreme irony, Skopje has even offered the US two helicopter crews for a war on Iraq – the very same ones who were prevented by the US from defending their own country in 2001.
The situation is even worse a little further east. In Iran, dark suspicions abound about the US’ intentions after Iraq. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are understandably nervous about popular outrage. And then there is Turkey. I have discussed this "special case" several times in the past few months. Quite simply, the dangers for destabilization are greatest here. In the event of a war, a grim race for the oil fields of Kirkuk and regional control will ensue between Turkey and the Kurds. There are two nightmare scenarios for Ankara: first, that an independent Kurdistan gain support from Turkish Kurds, and second, that American "peacekeepers" would then decide to set up shop there – a move which would strip Turkey of its sovereignty, and decidedly limit its regional influence.
For its part, the US has pledged cash and military assistance to its favorite ally in return for Iraq compliance. Turkish leaders have called an eleventh-hour summit with Middle East countries to formulate a draft on peaceful resolution of the Iraq issue, troubled as they are by the potential fallout at home:
"Apart from the damage war would do to the important tourist industry, foreign investment would almost certainly be hit and a likely increase in oil prices would damage the country. Similarly, cross-border trade with Iraq, which has been gradually built up over more than 10 years, will suffer enormously."
The Price of Intervention: the Human Dimension
One of our favorite Balkan commentators, Dr. Sam Vaknin, raises the issue of America’s blemished record abroad in terms of peacekeeping missions in an incendiary piece on the old Central European Review. Using the example of the rape and murder of a 13 year-old Albanian girl by American sergeant Frank Ronghi, Vaknin touches on the root of the problem – a colonizer mentality whereby "natives come cheap, their lives dispensable":
"Ronghi, described as a wholesome American phenomenon by friends, family and commanders, blamed the day: "I don't know what went wrong that day," he said. He might as well have been discussing a scorched omelette.
Devoid of all emotion or compunction, he added stolidly, reading from a crumpled piece of paper his lines of what evidently was, to him, merely a bad script. "I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the family. I ask them for my forgiveness" (sic! How Freudian!). He added: "I never did anything wrong before. I know what I did was very wrong. That's why I pleaded guilty." In other words: I am a good and upright man, who can tell right from wrong and who assumes responsibility for his wrongful acts. The brutal rape and thrashing to death of a pre-adolescent girl is the exception in an otherwise commendable life and virtuous conduct.
But Ronghi was unfazed by what he did. To bury Merita's body, ensconced in two UN flour sacks, under the staircase in the basement, Ronghi took with him another soldier, a private, who finally turned him in. He told him: "(it was) easy to get away with something like this in a Third World country." Sergeant Christopher Rice, who was on duty the night Ronghi murdered the child, added: "he knew because he'd done it before in the desert (in operation 'Desert Storm' in Iraq)."
Indeed, how can one wonder why anti-American sentiment soars when two little South Korean girls get run over by an American army truck – and the culprits get off with a slap on the wrist? Will this not someday be sufficient to explain South Korea’s future ouster of American troops from the country?
There is no good apology for the needless loss of human life. The government offers the lame excuse that "a few bad apples" are inevitable, and to be tolerated, given that the US is doing such good things for those it polices. Tell that to the friends and families of the needlessly killed.
On another level, as Dr. Vaknin points out, is the role of peacekeepers in local crime and corruption. Indeed, international peacekeepers may prop up local service industries, but they also help retard the development of a legal economy in transition countries. The Balkans, to cite one example, is absolutely spilling over with sordid stories, most of them unpublished. Worst of all is the "untouchable" mentality that military (and military liaison) employees develop, a natural result of having enormous salaries in impoverished lands. Take the Dyncorp boys in Bosnia, with their 13 year-old imported sex slaves. In Kosovo, American KFOR troops were reported to be helping the Albanian mafia smuggle in girls from Eastern European countries.
Macedonia is bursting with such stories. Preston Mendenhall of MSNBC investigated the role of KFOR soldiers in the prostitution business here. It is common knowledge that American (and Macedonian) employees of Brown & Root made small fortunes on corrupt dealings involving military and logistic supplies. This not only drains American tax dollars, it also perpetuates Macedonia’s current colonization, by pushing the reliance on easy money. Macedonians and Albanians alike learn to ingratiate themselves with the colonizers – thus stripping themselves of the time and ability to do anything positive for their country.
But South Korean girls are not the only ones who die in tragic accidents. In the past few years, more American soldiers serving abroad have died of mishaps or "friendly fire" than in battle. Such tragedies happen everywhere, in peaceful places like Germany and volatile ones like Afghanistan. But is that really a glorious way to go?
Then there is the danger of policing an increasingly unfriendly world – one whose malevolence is only increased by that very same policing. For example, on 30 December, three more Americans were shot in dangerous Yemen. On the same day, another soldier was wounded by "enemy fire" in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, an assassination plot was uncovered on the US ambassador of the small Muslim nation of Gambia. As with the barbarians on the Roman frontiers, America’s enemies operate from far-flung, hard-to-control places. Defeating them will prove to be increasingly difficult and expensive – especially should an Iraq campaign go forward.
Dangers of the New Patriotism?
The really interesting thing will be if American civilians stir things up in what may be the new Ground Zero – Iraq. This adds a new element to the already rich assortment of ways that things are going wrong. This could well be the cumulative scenario:
American troops in Iraq put themselves in danger of being killed by the enemy, while also killing Iraqis. A generous amount of the latter can be expected to be civilians. Meanwhile, backup forces based in and around Iraq put themselves in danger of terrorist and other armed attacks – not to mention in danger of accidental deaths. They also perpetuate anti-American sentiment among the host populations, and perhaps dally in criminal activities and exploitation of "resources."
It has been reported that American peace activists are "descending" on Iraq. Curious about the real situation on the ground, these individuals may become de facto "human shields." What if American peacemongers come under fire from their own army? Iraq would quickly become a no-win situation for everyone – and especially the War Party’s popularity ratings. Not only that, ordinary Americans at home would learn – from the experience of their brothers and mothers and friends – that it really sucks to be bombed.
Given all of the negative aspects of perpetuating intervention – regional destabilization, anti-Americanism, new terrorist attacks, "collateral damage" and waste of taxpayer money – can we really justify attacking a country which has never attacked us, and which scarcely can be expected to do so? An Iraq war would indeed prove to have, as Kolko says, "awesome" ramifications for the future.
Indeed, there is a downside of perceiving the entire world as an area of "domestic" policy: it makes new "fronts" spring up everywhere. A war in Iraq would only multiply them. In the end, the much-vaunted American military machine would be unable to defend Americans, whether at home or abroad. In the aftermath of Iraq, we would really reach "the limits of American power" to which Kolko refers. It will be an unpleasant moment of reckoning for all of us.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia. He just returned from a long stay in Turkey, near the Iraqi border.
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