Monday, September 29, 2008

The Long War - Consequences and Costs (Part III)

Third, Where we are going:

The Neoconservatives, who have set the foreign policy of the Bush administration, have called for what they call The Long War. They expect it to last about half a century, that is for most of your lives.

What is it? What will it do to our position in the world? What will it do to our laws and our concept of civil liberties? What effect will it have on our society and economy? What will it cost in terms of money?

  • The core idea of neoconservatism is that America , alone among world powers, has the strength, the wisdom and the right to impose its will upon all the nations of the world, in effect to remake them not in the American image, as we would define it, but as subordinate states within a new American security system. These concepts have been spelled out in numerous articles and speeches by prominent neoconservatives within and outside of government. The most important have also been embedded in the 2005 “National Defense Strategy of the United States of America ” which baldly states that “ America is a nation at war [which] At the direction of the President…will defeat adversaries at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing.” That is, to engage in preemptive military strikes. Adversaries are variously described, but among the descriptions are those who seek to “limit our global freedom to act” and “dominate key regions” or “develop and use breakthrough technologies to negate current U.S. advantages in key operational domains.” Broadly speaking, “Our role in the world depends on effectively projecting and sustaining our forces in distant environments where adversaries may seek to deny us access.” In short, the official doctrine of America is world domination.
  • Attempting to implement this doctrine now has us engaged in wars in Iraq , Afghanistan and Somalia . Inevitably, these military actions spill over into neighboring countries. Fighting in Afghanistan has caused in the last week to attack targets in Pakistan (infuriating not only the pro-American government and causing it to close down our supply route to Afghanistan but causing great popular anger while doing little or nothing to improve our position in Afghanistan ). We can be sure that wherever we try to implement the neoconservative doctrine, we will lose allies and friends while entrenching and embittering those we attack.
  • The effect on the American society is already pernicious. Our government has acquired the habit of lying to us (as it did on the Iraq war), of withholding information even from the Congress (as it has done on the Department of Defense expenditures), of setting aside the Constitution (as it has done on incarceration and torture of prisoners of war and on invasion of privacy of our own citizens by wiretaps in violation of the law) and in numerous other ways that would have shocked our ancestors. In short we have taken several steps toward the ghastly world described by George Orwell in his novel 1984.
  • It has polarized our society to a degree that makes intelligent debate on public policy nearly impossible and often dangerous and has so skewed our economy that, as I have pointed out, we spend more on military power than the rest of the world combined and more than we spend on all other public programs combined. Doing so, and refusing the admit the costs, have caused us to go deeply into debt, to allow our cities and schools to degrade and kept us from addressing the ultimate security issue of any free society, the health of our citizens.
  • The cost we can project to implement the neoconservative program is literally staggering. Some estimates, which are probably underestimates, run to about double our gross national product, upwards of $20 trillion.
Is this just a fantasy? A pipedream of a bunch of unbalanced, angry and frustrated neoconservatives?

I wish I could tell you that it is. Sadly, it is much more. For example, we now have nearly 1,000 U.S. military bases in other countries. We have the troops and weapons in place to act anywhere in the world. The Bush administration maintains publicly that it has the authority to do so. The previously operative law, the War Powers Resolution (P.L 93-148 of 1973), which was passed by Congress over the veto of President Nixon, limits the president’s authority to commit American troops into hostile situations and requires him “in every possible circumstance” to consult with the Congress before so doing. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush convinced the Congress to grant him full authority (P.L. 102-1 of September 18, 2001) to “use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq.” President Bush has taken the position that this resolution gives him even wider authority over anywhere he deems a threat to exist. With this in mind, the Department of Defense, under Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, created a special secret force, said to number 55,000 men with a budget of about $80 billion, which does not have to report to Congress or even to civilian representatives of the Government, the ambassadors, but is authorized to carry out assassinations and even to overthrow governments. Members of this force were active in the Somalia invasion and are already said to be involved in covert activities in Iran . We learned on September 11, 2008 that some of them had been sent into Pakistan despite the refusal of its government to allow them.

It is, of course, possible to encourage proxies to act without committing American troops. This seems to have been the case in the recent crisis over Georgia .

What happened in Georgia may be almost as much a lesson for America as what is happening in Iraq , Afghanistan and Somalia . The major difference is that an attack on Russia would cause a nuclear world war. Russia, under the Tsars, the Communists and Vladimir Putin, naturally was sensitive to what happened on its frontier – just as America, under the Monroe Doctrine, has always been in Latin America. Recognizing this strategic reality, James Baker, the first President Bush’s secretary of state, promised the Russians that we would not move NATO ahead “even one inch.” We have now moved it right into Russia ’s immediately neighborhood. I agree with Mr. Baker that this was not a wise move. But worse was to follow. You would have to read the press very carefully to learn that it was Georgia that attacked South Ossetia (whose citizens have Russian passports and which has been essentially independent for about 20 years). On August 7, Georgian President President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered the attack when, he claims, he was given a “green light” by the Bush administration. Anticipating the move, the Russians reacted in their usual heavy-handed fashion. So we were furious. Vice President Dick Cheney rushed to Georgia to promise them a billion dollars in aid and after considerable diplomatic arm twisting a NATO delegation rushed in to commiserate. But then, of course, nothing happened. We would not go to war with Russia to protect South Ossetia . Nor would NATO. So we created a crisis where none existed and both Georgians and inhabitants paid the bill in suffering.

Now look at what lies ahead in Iran

Two issues have dominated discussion of Iran – its alleged attempts to acquire nuclear weapons and its supposed intervention in Iraq . Of course, also, many people, particularly women, dislike its regressive social policies toward women. But, on the nuclear issue bear in mind two things:

  • first, it was America that got Iran started toward nuclear weapons. As Jonathan Power wrote, “Lost somewhere in the mists of history is the knowledge that it was the pro-American Shah of Iran who initiated Iran ’s quest to build a nuclear bomb. And it was the anti-American revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini that initially suspended work on the bomb.” Also our most authoritative estimators of facts in foreign affairs, our 16 intelligence agencies, found unanimously last November that they had “high confidence” that Iran had no nuclear weapons and had no plans to attempt to build them.

I obviously do not have access to all of the data available to intelligence community, but I have learned in my foreign affairs experience that to understand any other country’s policies one must put himself, as it were, on the other side of the table, in the chair occupied by its leader. So what would I do if I were Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadi Najad? I would see that President Bush singled out three countries which he called “the Axis of Evil.” Then he threatened them with “regime change.” The Iranian leader would know that regime change is a euphemism for overthrowing their governments and killing their leaders. So what did America do? Iraq , which did not have nuclear weapons, was destroyed while North Korea , which did have nuclear weapons and so could not be safely attacked, was offered an aid program, money and food supplies. That leaves Iran . What would a rational, patriotic, practical Iranian leader do? No doubt he would try to acquire this ultimate defense tool as quickly and as secretly as he could. Even blowing up all the identified nuclear-related sites and killing all the nuclear-related technicians will simply delay the process and guarantee that Iran will eventually get the bomb.

  • second, the Bush administration has charged that Iran was playing a significant role in thwarting our operations in Iraq – that is acting as we expected in our 2005 National Security Strategy. But the US intelligence experts found that these charges were exaggerated or unproven.
Again, if I were an Iranian policy planner, I would urge that my government do what it could to make American lives there difficult. As an Iranian, I would react as an American would if a foreign power, which proclaims itself our enemy, were occupying Mexico . Imagine our reaction to that! In fact, we don’t have to imagine. We just have to remember the Bay of Pigs operation against Cuba .

We are not yet in a full-scale war against Iran , but if we attack Iran with nuclear weapons, the estimates are that we will kill upwards of 3 million Iranians but then we will be in a guerrilla war that will make Iraq look like a picnic. Iran has 150 thousand national guardsmen, already organized and fully equipped for guerrilla warfare – in 2003 Iraq had none at all – and Iran has a fleet of fast, highly maneuverable and lethal speed boats that will attack our fleet and above all oil tankers. On attacking Iran , the “free world” is not with us. Public opinion polls tell us that whereas at least the western Europeans used to regard us as the world’s leader toward stability, many now think of us as a rogue nation. Americans would not use that term, but the latest polls in April this year show that 81% of us think that “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.” In my meetings with conservative business leaders, I find that practically all think that an attack on Iran would be insane. Many think that our brief role as the world’s leader is nearly ended, that if the 20th century was the American century, the 21st will not be. Now, for the first time, we are even being turned down for further borrowing by the great sovereign wealth funds. They have come to regard us the way a bank does a customer whose assets are pledged, who is spending too much and who does not seem to be acting rationally.