Why War Will Take No Holidays in 2010 | The Nation


Why War Will Take No Holidays in 2010

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2010: A Year of No Significance

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Tom Engelhardt
Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute of which he is a Fellow...

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From toddlers with guns to wedding parties hit by drones, here’s the news for tomorrow.

From Vietnam to Pakistan, the business of counting deaths by American hands has never been simple math.

Just to take our wars one at a time:

In Afghanistan, here's what we know. The president is surging at least 30,000 troops into that country, reportedly accompanied by a surge of up to 56,000 private contractors, and an extra crew of civilian employees of the US government as well. What initially was announced as a six-month surge is now expected to last eleven-twelve months (if things "line up perfectly," according to the general in charge). That means the surge itself will probably still be underway next November. Fittingly, then, the Obama administration has made it clear that it won't even consider beginning what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called a "thorough review of how we're doing" in Afghanistan until December 2010, a process that, based on the last set of presidential deliberations, could last months. Put another way, war in the present escalated form is simply what's on the books for 2010. Period.

Moreover, US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry recently assured Afghans that July 2011, the date the president mentioned for beginning a withdrawal of American forces, is not "a deadline" of any sort. According to Thomas Day of the McClatchy newspapers, he insisted, in fact, "that a strong American military presence will remain in Afghanistan long after July 2011."

In Iraq, on the other hand, the war is officially ending. In the last months of the Bush administration, the US negotiated an agreement with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to withdraw all its "combat troops" by August 2010 and the rest of its troops by the end of 2011. Ever since, on both counts, fudging has been the order of the day. To begin with, all troops are, in a sense, "combat" troops, but it soon became clear that some of those now defined as such might be conveniently relabeled "advisors" or "trainers." This has left a good deal of flexibility as to just who has to be withdrawn by this coming August. As for "all" the troops, although next to no media attention has been paid, the weaving and bobbing has begun there, too. While visiting Iraq recently, Gates managed to sideline 2010 as a date of significance, while angling for an unending, if smaller scale, occupation of that country. Under the headline, "Gates Expects New Sanctions on Iran," for instance, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times reported this:

The defense secretary also spoke about America's involvement in Iraq, saying that the administration expects that some United States forces might remain in an advisory capacity in Iraq after 2011, the deadline for all American troops to withdraw from the country. "I wouldn't be surprised to see agreements between ourselves and the Iraqis that continue a 'train, equip and advise' role beyond the end of 2011,"Mr. Gates said. He added, "I suspect as we get on through 2010 and begin approaching 2011, the Iraqis themselves will probably have an interest in this."

So scratch 2010 when it comes to Washington's Iraq plans, and for 2012, start imagining thousands, or even tens of thousands of American "advisors" and "mentors" (not, heaven forbid, "combat troops") on a few of those giant bases the Pentagon built. Keep an eye, in particular, on massive Balad Air Base--since the US quite consciously never helped the Iraqi military build up a real air force of its own--and the monster base complex, Camp Victory, on the edge of Baghdad. Only if those are turned over to the Iraqis would an American "withdrawal" seem a plausible reality. (Keep in mind as well that the Bush administration in its planning for the occupation of Iraq in 2003 always expected to withdraw all but perhaps 30,000 American troops who were to be garrisoned on out-of-the-way American-built bases for the long haul.)

And when Gates says such things, it's no small matter. After all, what's now being called "Obama's war" might at least as reasonably be called "Gates's war," as might the war in Iraq that Obama is ostensibly ending. In both countries, Washington's basic policy was set in the last months of the Bush administration when Gates, then as now secretary of defense, was already ascendant. The first 11,000 troops of "Obama's" surge were, for instance, dispatched by the Bush administration, even if they only left for Afghanistan in the early days of the Obama presidency.

Similarly, the new Pentagon budget--a Gates-supervised document in its planning stages before Obama arrived--is larger than the last Bush-era budget, and that's without the supplemental bill for Afghan surge funding, now estimated at $30-$40 billion (and likely to rise), that will be submitted to Congress sometime next year. The "new" military strategy for fighting our wars, counterinsurgency (or COIN), isn't an Obama-era creation either. It's the baby of Bush's favorite general and Iraq surge commander David Petraeus. Advanced to the post of Centcom commander by Bush, he is now the key military figure who oversees both our wars in the Greater Middle East. In other words, in war policy the continuity between the post-Cheney Bush era and the Obama one is striking, not to say overwhelming, and given the fact that Gates and Petraeus hold such crucial posts, that's hardly surprising, just depressing as hell.

These are men already preparing for "the next war" and, in that sense, Afghanistan is also our main laboratory for the weaponry and concepts that will animate our future conflicts. Its skies and villages are the testing grounds for endless war, American-style.

Full Drone Ahead

So here's my fantasy this holiday season. If I could return to the movie theater of those early post-9/11 days, I'd like to stand up in that well-packed place and shout: "Don't do it. It's not too late to change your minds. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, impoverishment, death, and a population whose character will be monstrous."

I'd like, that is, to obliterate TomDispatch--for without the Afghan invasion and war, the one that, all these years later, only grows wider, my website would never have existed.

And yet, here's the saddest thing: I know full well that its future is assured as long as I care to do it. Our American way of life is a way of war. War and more war. 2010, a snap. 2011, no problem. 2012, 2013, Ambassador Eikenberry guarantees it. 2018 , 2025, 2047? Don't worry, we already have one nifty bomber (advanced battlefield surveillance system, dogfighting drone) on the drawing boards for you!

Even without the geopolitical thinkers of the Bush administration, even without the necessary set of rationales, war has a force of its own. Especially in our country, it has its own powerful set of interests, its lobbies and enthusiasts, its powerful weapons-makers, its lawmakers, planners and dreamers. It has its own head of steam. After a while, it seems, it doesn't need explanations to keep itself going. It's self-propelled.

None of what's happening in the world of American war may make much sense any more, not even in terms Washington's foreign policy power brokers understand, but no matter. They--and so all of us--are already in the grip of a nightmare, and nothing, it seems, can wake us. So, for the last days of this year, as for the days that preceded them, as for all the days of next year, it's full drone ahead and damn the torpedoes. That's our American world, and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.

Perhaps, though, it's worth keeping one modest thought in mind:

In nightmares, too, begin responsibilities.

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