10 March 2016

Imperialist Wars, Conscription and Democracy

If you're listening to the second season of the Serial podcast then you're learning about Bowe Bergdahl and the circumstances of his capture and the swirl of events that surrounded it.

I'm mildly interested in the story but if you're listening there's a lot more that you can glean. There's something to be learned about these modern wars, how they're fought and it leads one to reflect.

The podcast whether meaning to or not reveals something about the US occupation and the nature of operations in that war-tormented land.

Since Vietnam, the Executive and the Pentagon are terrified of US casualties and in particular deaths. Fatalities mean flag draped coffins on the evening news. So desperate are they to avoid this that even when helicopters are shot down (in some cases with old US equipment) they blame the crash on mechanical failure or some other cause.

The death tolls in Vietnam brought an end to the draft, something certain sectors of the political class and military are now becoming eager to reinstate. God forbid, but we'll see if that happens. There are still plenty of Vietnam era people alive that understand what it would mean and they would be very opposed to it. There are many technocrats, even militarists like Donald Rumsfeld who are opposed to the draft being reinstated. Let us hope they win the political and social argument.

There are some who believe a reinstatement would lead to widespread public opposition to war and a dismantling of the warfare state and America's militaristic foreign policy. They seem to have forgotten that the 1960s, the draft led to war protest which resulted in the return of Richard Nixon. The public is not able to follow and interpret events. The 1970s malaise which was (in part) due to the chaos of the war and the havoc it wreaked on the economy was misunderstood and by 1980 US Imperialism was back with a vengeance. In other words be careful what you wish for. The Sixties liberals got the country to loosen up on social issues but in terms of stopping unrestrained Capitalism and the militaristic imperialism it unleashes, they failed miserably.

Warfare has become a permanent aspect of the US system, and may even be deemed as 'necessary' not only for the US economy but in order to deflect growing domestic tensions. At present it is based on high cost technology, but that may change. More likely if the US continues swinging to the Right, and a new Cold War is properly established there will be a great need for an ever growing infrastructure, especially in Asia. And that means lots of personnel.

After Vietnam the US was not only timid about casualties but terrified of quagmire. When the US began to re-engage in the early 1980's it was through events like the attack on Grenada. When the Marines were killed in Lebanon in 1983, Reagan more or less turned tail and ran. Lebanon in the 1980's was truly an impossibly sticky situation that could have ended up just as disastrous as Vietnam.

The 1991 Gulf War was the big event, the great unveiling of a new type of war, a geopolitical paradigm shift. It was a statement to the world much in the same way Hiroshima was in 1945... albeit somewhat less profound.

The new US military was going to focus on air power and technology. Even though the Kuwait invasion force was massive the real lesson for the world was in the technology.

The massiveness of the invasion force was a back-up based on fear of resistance. It was also a display of America's coalition building, its so-called 'moral authority' and it was also a proclamation to the world about America's overall power.

But it was expensive and deemed unnecessary. Of course in the end all the technology and the new methods of warfare are actually even more expensive but it's more politically sustainable for the long term. Monetary values are often abstract and seem arbitrary. The public will endure it while thousands of deaths they will not.

It's hard to be an expansionist empire while maintaining democracy. The new war plan was supposed to facilitate this. This was (in part) the philosophical battle between Rumsfeld and Powell. Rumsfeld wanted high-tech, rapid, surgical and highly focused engagements. Powell wanted overwhelming force which included numbers of troops. The failures of Westmoreland in Vietnam demonstrated that numbers alone won't cut it, but in the new era Powell seemed to believe that numbers plus technology would be sufficient.

Powell's vision is not politically sustainable, especially in complicated wars. In addition regime change means the complete destabilisation and upheaval of a society. If you smash the structure of a society you will unleash the monsters and the end will be far worse than the beginning.

The US doesn't like negotiated victories smacking of stalemate and this hubris is leading (in part) to its self-destruction.

The US has tried the high-tech light footprint surgical approach in Afghanistan and it has failed. 'Serial' confirms what has long been known for those reading and listening. The US has never actually maintained control of the country. They don't have enough troops. It would take hundreds of thousands of troops staying there for more than a generation to accomplish their goals... and many deaths along the way.

Instead the US controls little cells, it attempts to control transportation corridors and yet in many cases they lose all control at night. More often than not they are unable to venture out and engage. The various Taliban groups simply melt away most of the time. The US sets up these forward bases which are often little more than paltry outposts and basically they wait to get attacked. Since they can overwhelm with fire power and call in air support the attacks are often of the harassment variety, quick assaults and retreats and the Americans can do little. The frustration of the soldiers on the ground is completely understandable. It's kind of a false war and they know it. It's no wonder some of them end up snapping and turning to radical sometimes quite violent means. It doesn't excuse massacres or torture. The ethical problem starts with the war itself and the American occupation. But on a human level it's not hard to see why the US troops become bitter even psychopathic.

The soldiers don't really engage as they would in past wars. The fighting is somewhat sanitized, conducted from a distance. The death count is kept down but they seem unable to effectively engage or defeat their opponents. It really is an exercise in futility.

Along the way people do die and get wounded but they never can get anywhere. The Kabul regime controls little more than Kabul itself and the country (as a unified nation-state) is largely a fiction. It's really hundreds of small chiefdoms under warlords who are often playing a double game, biding their time, trying to work with all sides, play them off against one another, stay alive and get rich along the way.

The whole thing has degenerated into a sick joke. The US has spent so much money on these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan they can't bring themselves to just drop them. The original goal was a strategic footprint, bases and access. In the end they've found out what others tried to say from the beginning... Just spend the money buying locals, send in the corporations and in the end you'll get what you want. The CIA and other affiliates have enough connection with and influence upon the corporations that you can get your agenda across. Privatised armies and death squads will take care of the rest. They've got a long history of this in Latin America.

Of course the one problem is such a policy doesn't send a clear geo-strategic message to the Chinese, Russians, Iranians and others. Asia is not Latin America (in the US hemisphere) so the low-key approach won't suffice. The footprint has to be there in order to keep the other players out.

To maintain the US Empire, Washington will have to continue to crush dissent, cut virtually all but military associated spending and eventually reinstate conscription. A mandatory term of 'public service' for all 18-25 year olds may provide a 'back door' for conscription to re-enter society and also give the state further opportunities to extract logistical support for military operations and propagandise the younger generation.

War can serve as a means to unite the nation and defer domestic strife. But as many of the leaders keep insisting they want more of the public to be engaged, to have 'skin in the game'. The present-day mercenary army is expensive and allows the public to turn their focus away from the endless war that is now at the heart of the US economic system.

The United States is headed toward a domestic crisis. Either the Empire will begin to collapse or it's headed toward a real Right-wing reaction. Of course part of the deception is the belief that someone like Hillary Clinton is on the left. Socially the country is moving toward libertarianism but overall the country is moving toward the Right. The younger generation has embraced values that will undermine the empire. I'm looking for a bad shake-up to take place. The tensions are apparent in the 2016 US presidential election.

I just can't see this continuing as is. It's going to fall apart or be transformed into something else.

In a sense I feel sorry for the poor fools who sign up to be imperial grunts and storm-troopers. They are literally fodder. The Pentagon doesn't want them to die because that makes the news but it doesn't care if they are wounded or placed in these long term situations in which they begin to lose their minds.

In another sense I don't feel sorry for them. They've bought into the lies and have refused to look around and understand what is happening. In many cases they are willingly blind to how the world works, what these policies are really all about and they've chosen to just accept the narrative and its foundational mendacity. Their pride and contempt for other people has led them to morally justify their actions.

The state has been engaged in a massive propaganda campaign. I think it's wearing thin and that concerns me because it makes me wonder what they'll do next to revitalise it. Only through fear, manipulation and the suppression of dissent can they keep this going. I don't think the US can turn back. The Rubicon was crossed long ago. It's Empire or die and that means not only the death of democracy but the rights and values that are supposed to go with it.

How will the Dominionistic American Church respond to it all? That's what scares me.