An American World of War

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An American World of War

By Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt

01/05/2010

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the

Institute’s

history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel,

Publishing

New Age of Empire

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the recent winner of a

Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for

Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times,

Nation

book,

Books), an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, has

recently been published. His website is

American Empire Project, runs the NationTomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, aThe Last Days of. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the(Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.the, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. A paperback edition of hisThe Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (MetropolitanNickTurse.com.What to Watch for in 2010 According to the Chinese calendar, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. We

don’t name our years, but if we did, this one might prospectively be called the Year of the Assassin.

We, of course, think of ourselves as something like the peaceable kingdom. After all, the shock of

September 11, 2001 was that “war” came to “the homeland,” a mighty blow delivered against the

very symbols of our economic, military, and — had Flight 93 not gone down in a field in Pennsylvania

— political power.

Since that day, however, war has been a stranger in our land. With the rarest of exceptions, like

Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan’s massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, this country has remained a

world without war or any kind of mobilization for war. No other major terrorist attacks, not even

victory gardens, scrap-metal collecting, or rationing. And certainly no war tax to pay for our post-9/11

trillion-dollar “expeditionary forces” sent into battle abroad. Had we the foresight to name them, the

last few years domestically might have reflected a different kind of carnage — 2006, the Year of the

Subprime Mortgage; 2007, the Year of the Bonus; 2008, the Year of the Meltdown; 2009, the Year

of the Bailout. And perhaps some would want to label 2010, prematurely or not, the Year of

Recovery.

Although our country delivers war regularly to distant lands in the name of our “safety,” we don’t

really consider ourselves at war (despite the endless talk of “supporting our troops”), and the money

http://www.CampaignForLiberty.com/article.php?view=498 Page 1/7

that has simply poured into Pentagon coffers, and then into weaponry and conflicts is, with rare

exceptions, never linked to economic distress in this country. And yet, if we are no nation of

warriors, from the point of view of the rest of the world we are certainly the planet’s foremost

war-makers. If money talks, then war may be what we care most about as a society and fund above

all else, with the least possible discussion or debate.

In fact,

the new century, an unprecedented run in our history. We

monopolizing

second. We put more money into the funding of war, our armed forces, and the weaponry of war

according to military expert William Hartung, the Pentagon budget has risen in every year ofdominate the global arms trade,almost 70% of the arms business in 2008, with Italy coming in a vanishingly distantthan the next 25 countries combined

We

future, for “the next war” — on the ground, on the seas, and in space — in a way that is surely unique.

If our two major wars of the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan are any measure, we also

get less bang for our buck than any nation in recent history.

So, let’s pause a moment as the New Year begins and take stock of ourselves as what we truly

are: the preeminent war-making machine on planet Earth. Let’s peer into the future, and consider

just what the American way of war might have in store for us in 2010. Here are 10 questions, the

answers to which might offer reasonable hints as to just how much U.S. war efforts are likely to

intensify in the Greater Middle East, as well as Central and South Asia, in the year to come.

1. How busted will the largest defense budget in history be in 2010?

Strange, isn’t it, that the debate about hundreds of billions of dollars in health-care costs in

Congress can last almost a year, filled with turmoil and daily headlines, while a

budget

nary a headline in sight? And in case you think that $636 billion is an honest figure, think again —

and not just because funding for the U.S. nuclear arsenal and actual “homeland defense,” among

other things most countries would chalk up as military costs, wasn’t included.

If you want to put a finger to the winds of war in 2010, keep your eye on something else not

included in that budget: the Obama administration’s upcoming supplemental funding request for the

Afghan surge. In his

sending 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan in 2010 at a cost of $30 billion. In news reports, that

figure quickly morphed into

his widening war, sometime in the first months of the New Year, the president will have to submit a

supplemental budget to Congress — something the Bush administration did repeatedly to pay for

George W.’s wars, and something this president, while still a candidate,

Nonetheless, it will happen. So keep your eye on that

number is going to cause

it will fully fund this year’s striking escalation of the war. The question is: How high will it go or, if the

president doesn’t dare ask this Congress for more all at once, how will the extra funds be found?

Keep your eye out, then, for hints of future supplemental budgets, because fighting the Afghan War

(forget Iraq) over the next decade could prove a near trillion-dollar prospect.

Neither battles won nor al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders killed will be the true measure of

victory or defeat in the Afghan War. For Americans at home, even victory as modestly defined by

this administration — blunting the

our financial capabilities. Guns and butter? That’s going to be a surefire no-go. So keep watching

and asking: How busted could the U.S. be by 2011?

2. Will the U.S. Air Force be the final piece in the Afghan surge?

(and that’s without even including Iraq and Afghan war costs).garrison the planet in a way no empire or nation in history has ever done. And we plan for the$636 billion defensecan pass in a few days, as it did in late December, essentially without discussion and withWest Point speech announcing his surge decision, the president spoke of“$30-$40 billion,” none of it in the just-passed Pentagon budget. To fundswore he wouldn’t do.$30 billion figure. Even that distinctly low-balldiscomfort and opposition in the president’s party — and yet there’s no wayTaliban’s version of a surge — could prove disastrous in terms ofhttp://www.CampaignForLiberty.com/article.php?view=498 Page 2/7

As 2010 begins, almost everything is

U.S. troops,

the U.S. Air Force (drones excepted) has stood down. Under orders from Afghan War commander

General Stanley McChrystal, based on the new make-nice counterinsurgency strategy he’s

implementing, air power is anything but surging. The use of the Air Force,

U.S. troops in situations in which Afghan civilians are anywhere nearby, has been severely

restricted. There has already been grumbling about this in and around the military. If things don’t go

well — and quickly — in the expanding war, expect frustration to grow and the pressure to rise to

bring air power to bear. Already unnamed intelligence officials are

Taliban insurgency expanding its reach, “time is running out.” Counterinsurgency strategies are

notorious for how long they take to bear fruit (if they do at all). When Americans are dying,

maintaining a surge without a surge of air power is sure to be a test of will and patience (neither of

which is an American strong suit). So keep your eye on the Air Force next year. If the planes start to

fly more regularly and destructively, you’ll know that things aren’t looking up for General McChrystal

and his campaign.

3. How big will the American presence in Pakistan be as 2010 ends?

Let’s start with the fact that it’s already bigger than most of us imagine. Thanks to Nation magazine

reporter Jeremy Scahill, we

U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, with the help of hired hands from the notorious private

security contractor Xe (formerly Blackwater), “plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban

and Al Qaeda operatives, ‘snatch and grabs’ of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside

and outside Pakistan.” Small numbers of U.S. Special Forces operatives have also

sent in to train Pakistan’s special forces. U.S. spies are

bomb-armed drones,

operations in the country’s tribal borderlands. U.S. Special Operations forces have conducted

least four cross-border raids

government or military (only one of which was publicly reported in this country). And the CIA and the

State Department have been attempting (

personnel and

secrecy is the order of the day and rumors fly.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has been

possibly other operations) to the

Taliban’s leadership reportedly resides (evidently under Pakistani protection) and to the fighters of

the

North Waziristan. Right now, these threats from Washington are clearly meant to motivate the

Pakistani military to do the job instead. But as that is unlikely — both groups are seen by its military

as key players in the country’s future anti-Indian policies in Afghanistan — they may not remain mere

threats for long. Any such U.S. moves are only likely to widen the Af-Pak war and further destabilize

nuclear-armed Pakistan. In addition, the Pakistani military is not powerless vis-à-vis the U.S. For

one thing, as Robert Dreyfuss of the Nation’s “Dreyfuss Report” recently

potential stranglehold on the tortuous U.S. supply lines into Afghanistan,

Taliban militants, that make the war there possible.

Pakistan is the Catch-22 of Obama’s surge. As in the Vietnam War years, sanctuaries across the

border ensure limited success in any escalating war effort, but going after those sanctuaries in a

major way would be a war-widening move of genuine desperation. As with the Air Force in

Afghanistan, watch Pakistan not just for spreading drone operations, but for the use of U.S. troops.

If by year’s end Special Operations forces or U.S. troops are periodically on the ground in that

country, don’t be shocked. However it may be explained, this will represent a dangerous failure of

the first order.

in surge mode in Afghanistan, including rising numbers ofprivate contractors, State Department employees, and new bases. In this period, onlyeven in close support ofleaking warnings that, with theknow that, from a base in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, officers of thereportedly beenin the country. U.S. missile- andboth CIA- and Air Force-controlled, have been conducting escalatingatinto Pakistan’s tribal borderlands unsanctioned by the Pakistaniagainst some Pakistani resistance) to build up theirfacilities in-country. This, mind you, is only what we know in a situation in whichthreatening to widen its drone war (andpowder-keg province of Baluchistan, where most of the AfghanHaqqani network, linked to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, in the Pakistani border province ofpointed out, it has aalready under attack byhttp://www.CampaignForLiberty.com/article.php?view=498 Page 3/7

4. How much smaller will the American presence in Iraq be?

Barack Obama swept into office, in part, on a pledge to end the U.S. war in Iraq. Almost a year

after he entered the White House, more than 100,000 U.S. troops are still deployed in that country

(about the same number as in

presidency, and later confirmed by President Obama, have set the U.S. on an apparent path of

withdrawal. On this the president has been unambiguous. “Let me say this as plainly as I can,” he

told a military audience in February 2009. “By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will

end… I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.” However, Robert Gates, his

secretary of defense, has not been so unequivocal. While recently visiting Iraq, he disclosed that the

U.S. Air Force would likely

wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see agreements between ourselves and the Iraqis that continues a

train, equip, and advise role beyond the end of 2011.”

For 2010, expect platitudes about withdrawal from the President and other administration

spokespeople, while Defense Department officials and military commanders offer more “pragmatic”

(and realistic) assessments. Keep an eye out for signs this year of a coming non-withdrawal

withdrawal in 2011.

5. What will the New Year mean for the Pentagon’s base-building plans in our war zones?

As the U.S. war in Afghanistan ramps up, look for American bases there to continue along last

year’s path,

of the time it will take to get the president’s extra boots on the ground in Afghanistan increase, look

as well for the construction of more helipads, fuel pits, taxiways, and tarmac space on the forward

operating bases sprouting especially across the southern parts of that country. These will be meant

to speed the movement of surge troops into rural battle zones, while eschewing increasingly

dangerous ground routes.

In Iraq, expect the further consolidation of a small number of U.S. mega-bases as American troops

pull back to ever fewer sites offering an ever lower profile in that country. Keep your eyes, in

particular, on giant Balad Air Base and on Camp Victory outside Baghdad. These were built for the

long term. If Washington doesn’t begin preparing to turn them over to the Iraqis, then start thinking

2012 and beyond. Elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region, look for the U.S. military to continue

February 2004). Still, plans developed at the end of the Bushcontinue to operate in that country well into the future. He also said: “Ibecoming bigger, harder, more numerous, and more permanent-looking. As estimatesupgrading

autocratic country, from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, in part to continue to rattle Iran’s cage. If those bases

keep growing, don’t imagine us drawing down in the region any time soon.

6. Will the U.S. and Israel thwart the Iranian insurgency?

Iran has long been under siege. A founding member of George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” the Islamic

Republic was long on his administration’s hit list. It also found itself in the unenviable position of

watching the American military occupy and garrison two bordering countries, Iraq and Afghanistan,

while also building or bolstering bases in nearby Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab

Emirates. The Obama administration is now poised to increase

Israel, and the Pentagon has flooded allied regimes in the region with advanced weaponry. Years of

saber-rattling and sanctions, encirclement and threats nonetheless seemed to have little palpable

effect. In 2009, however, a disputed election brought Iranians into the streets and, months later,

they’re still there.

What foreign militarism couldn’t do, ordinary Iranians themselves now threaten to accomplish. In

earlier street protests, young

beaten and

its many bases, while militarily working to strengthen the security forces of country afterkey military aid to Iran’s nemesis,middle-class activists in Tehran chanting “Where is our vote?” weremartyred by security forces. Today, the protests continue and oppositional Iranians fromhttp://www.CampaignForLiberty.com/article.php?view=498 Page 4/7

all social strata are refusing to retreat while, when provoked, sometimes fighting back against the

police or the regime’s fearsome Basiji militia, even inducing some of them to step aside or switch

sides.

A continuing cycle of

destabilize the regime. How Washington reacts could, however, deeply affect what happens. The

memory of the CIA’s toppling of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 is still alive

in Iran. Any perceived U.S. interference could have grave results for the Iranian insurgency, as could

Israeli actions. Recently, President Obama, evidently trying to bring the Chinese into line on the

question of imposing fiercer sanctions, reportedly

not restrain Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities much longer. Such an Israeli attack would

certainly strengthen the current Iranian regime; so, undoubtedly, would pressure to increase

potentially crippling sanctions on that country over its nuclear program. Either or both would help

further cement the current tumultuous status quo in the Middle East.

7. Will Yemen become the fourth major front in Washington’s global war?

George W. Bush unabashedly proclaimed himself a “war president.” President Obama seems to be

taking up the same mantle. Right now, the Obama administration’s war fronts include the inherited

wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a not-so-covert war in Pakistan, and a potential new war in Yemen.

(There are also rarely commented upon ongoing military actions in the Philippines and a U.S.-aided

ever-spreading arrests, protests, and violence in 2010 threatens to furthertold China’s president that the United States coulddrug war

Pakistan was supposed to contain al-Qaeda there, the U.S. now finds itself focusing on yet another

country and another of that organization’s morphing offspring.

In 2002, a USA Today article about a targeted assassination in Yemen began: “Opening up a

visible new front in the war on terror, U.S. forces launched a pinpoint missile strike in Yemen…” Just

over seven years later, following

air strikes

Qaeda,” the New York Times

States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen.” In the wake of a

botched airplane terror attack by a single young Nigerian Muslim, and credit-taking by a group

calling itself al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the usual

lining up behind the next potential front in the war on terror. (

yesterday’s war. Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s

war.”) What began as a one-off Bush assassination effort now threatens to become another of

Obama’s wars.

The U.S. has not only sent Special Forces teams into the country, but is now pouring tens of

millions of dollars into Yemen’s security forces in a dramatic move to significantly arm yet another

Middle Eastern country. At the same time, U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia — whose alliance with

Washington ignited the current war with al-Qaeda — is

Houthi rebels there.

This is a witch’s brew of trouble. Keep your eye on Yemen (with an occasional side glance

Somalia

warfare, and possibly a whole new conflict for 2010.

8. How brutal will the American way of war be in 2010?

When it comes to war, American-style, the key word of 2009 was “counterinsurgency” or COIN.

Think of it as the kindly version of war the American way, a strategy based on “clearing and holding”

territory and “protecting” the civilian population. Its value, as expounded by Afghan War commander

in Colombia, as well as periodic strikes in Somalia.) Though the surge in Afghanistan andmultiple U.S. cruise missiles launched into the country and targetedby the air force of the U.S.-aided Yemeni regime against “suspected hide-outs of Alannounced, “In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the Unitedcheery crew of U.S. war advocates areSenator Joseph Lieberman: “Iraq wasaiding the Yemeni forces in a war againstat, the failed state across the Gulf of Aden). Expect more funding, more trainers, more proxyhttp://www.CampaignForLiberty.com/article.php?view=498 Page 5/7

McChrystal, lies not in killing the enemy but in winning over “the people.” On paper, it sounds good,

like a kinder, gentler version of war, but historically counterinsurgency operations have almost

invariably gone into the ditch of brutality. So here’s one word you should keep your eyes out for in

2010: “counterterrorism.” Consider it the dark underside of counterinsurgency. Instead of boots on

the ground, it’s bullets to the head.

General McChrystal was, until recently, a

Operations Command (JSOC) in Iraq and Afghanistan. His operatives were referred to, more or less

politely, as

assassination program for a great deal of the Iraq surge’s success in 2007, it was just a matter of

time before counterterrorism — which is just terrorism put in uniform and given an anodyne name —

was ramped up in Afghanistan (and undoubtedly Pakistan as well). Though the planes may still be

grounded, the special ops guys who kick in doors in the middle of the night and have

responsible

As 2009 ended,

hitting the press. So watch for that word “counterterrorism.” If it proliferates, you’ll know that the

expanding Afghan War is getting down and dirty in a big way. For Americans, 2010 could be the

year of the assassin.

9. Where will the drones go in 2010?

If there’s one thing to keep your eye on in the coming year, it might be the unmanned aerial

vehicles —

Qatar and, in the case of the CIA, even more distantly out of Langley, Virginia. American drones are

already in a

create an even wider one. Think of these robotic planes as the leading edge of global war,

American-style. While “hot pursuit” into Pakistan may still be forbidden to U.S. troops in Afghanistan,

the drones have long had a kind of hot-pursuit carte blanche in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands.

Perhaps more important, they can, to steal a Star Trek line, boldly go where no man has gone

before. Since the first drone assassination attack of the Global War on Terror — in Yemen in 2002 —

in which several men, reputedly al-Qaeda militants, were incinerated inside a car, drones have been

taking war into new territory. They have already struck in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and possibly

Somalia. As the first robot

war-making powers from the oversight of Congress and the American people. In principle, they have

made borders (hence national sovereignty) increasingly insignificant as assassination attacks can

be launched 24/7 against those we deem our enemies, on the basis of unknown intelligence or

evidence.

With our drones, there is little price to be paid if, as has regularly enough been the case, those

enemies turn out not to be in the right place at the right time and others die in their stead. Globally,

we have become the world’s leading state assassins — a judge, jury, and executioner beyond the

bounds of all accountability. In essence, those pilot-less planes turn us into a law of war unto

ourselves. It’s a chilling development. Watch for it to spread in 2010, and keep an eye out for which

countries, fielding their own drones, follow down the path we’re pioneering, for in our age all

war-making developments invariably proliferate — and fast.

The Element of Surprise

We know one thing: 2010 will be another year of war for the United States and, from assassination

campaigns to new fronts in what is no longer called the Global War on Terror but is no less global or

based on terror, it could get a lot uglier. The Obama administration may, from time to time, talk

counterterrorism guy. He ran the Joint Special“manhunters.” Think: assassins. With McChrystal, a general who credits his large-scaleoften beenfor grievous civilian casualties will evidently be going at it full tilt.the news that black-ops forces were being loosed in a significant way was justdrones — flown secretly, in the case of the Air Force, from distant al-Udeid Air Base inwidening air war in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, while Washington threatens toterminators of our age, they symbolize the loosing of Americanhttp://www.CampaignForLiberty.com/article.php?view=498 Page 6/7

withdrawal, but across the Middle East and Central Asia, the Pentagon and its contractors are

digging in. In the meantime, more money, not less, is being put into preparations and planning for

future wars. As William Hartung points out, “if the government’s current plans are carried out, there

will be yearly increases in military spending for at least another decade.”

When it comes to war, the only questions are: How wide? How much? Not: How long?

Washington’s answer to that question has already been given, not in public pronouncements, but in

that Pentagon budget and the planning that goes with it: forever and a day.

Of course, only diamonds are forever. Sooner or later, like great imperial powers of the past, we,

too, will find that the stress of fighting a continuous string of wars in distant lands in inhospitable

climes tells on us. Whether we “win” or not in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Yemen, we lose.

Which brings us to our last question:

10. What will surprise us in 2010?

It would be the height of hubris to imagine that we can truly see into the future, especially when it

comes to war. It is, in fact, Washington’s hubris to believe itself in control of its own war-making

destiny, whether via shock-and-awe tactics that are certain to work, a netcentric military-lite that

can’t fail, or most recently, a force dedicated to a “hearts and minds” counterinsurgency war in

Afghanistan and, in the future, globally (under the ominous new acronym GCOIN).

The essence of war is surprise. So, despite all those billions of dollars and the high-tech weaponry,

and the nine areas discussed above, keep your eyes open for the unexpected and confounding, and

in the meantime, welcome to the grim spectacle of war American-style as the second decade of the

twenty-first century begins in turmoil.

Copyright © 2010 Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse. Reprinted with permission from

TomDispatch.com

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