War Without End, Amen: The Sanguinary Vision of Robert Gates

There are actually some quarters where Pentagon honcho Robert Gates is considered a moderate of some kind, one of the few sensible, responsible figures in the Bush Administration able to restrain – or at least moderate – the raging-bull belligerence of Dick Cheney and his crew. This has always been a curious reputation for a man who has spent most of his career hip-deep in militarist skullduggery, as Robert Parry, among others, has amply demonstrated. (Here and here, for example.) But in such desperate and degraded times as these, it's only natural to clutch at the slightest straw of hope that someone, somewhere, will stand between us and the worst excesses of our masters, as we noted here earlier.
(In fact, I'm so old that I can remember all the way back to the year 2000, when Cheney himself was regarded by the peddlers of conventional wisdom as a sensible, responsible figure, a "safe pair of hands" who would restrain the coltish antics of Young Bush and mitigate the extremist zeal of the GOP "base." That really panned out well, didn't it?)  

But like Colin Powell – that oh-so-moderate, oh-so-mitigating force of Bush's first term – Gates is just a bagman for the global dominance gang. They whistle and he jumps – then whistles the same tune to his own minions. At this stage of the game, after so much death, deceit, and corruption, it is cretinous folly to believe that anyone picked by the Bush Regime for any job would act otherwise. If they were a different sort of person – if they were indeed sensible, responsible, honorable or moral – they would not be there.

The only "moderation" among these dedicated militarists is in their demeanor. Some, like Gates, prefer the higher hypocrisy of decorous rhetoric and genial backslapping, while others, like Cheney, scorn the mask and nakedly display their bloodlust and bilious scorn for humanity. But when it's time to pull the trigger – or divvy up the public purse among their war-profiteering cronies – they all line up together.

Gates gave us a prime example of this on Wednesday, in a speech to an Army group. In many ways, it was just typical boilerplate: a bland dish without the kind of rabble-rousing red meat that Don Rumsfeld might have served up in steaming heaps. But it underscored again the true nature of the militarist beast that has devoured the Republic – and not just under Bush, of course, but with the avid assistance of every president, of both parties, for many decades.

As the New York Times reports, Gates' theme was the burning need for the Army to prepare itself for many more Iraq-style wars in the future – wars of conquest, occupation and domination, where nations are chewed to pieces, regimes are overthrown and new client states erected in their place, although the decorous SecDef didn't use such frank terms. But the underlying, unquestioned – and probably unconscious – assumptions were clear: that America will be involved in ceaseless military incursions into other nations, in conflicts that "will be fundamentally political in nature and require the application of all elements of national power" – and that it is America's God-given right to do so, to shape "the behavior of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between"…at the point of a gun.

In this speech -- uttered by a hack off the shelf who could be replaced tomorrow by any one of thousands of apparatchiks, of either party, without the slightest discernible difference in policy – we see the totality of the militarist vision: wars are launched to achieve political objectives; violence, or the ever-present threat of violence – the "application of all elements of national power" – is politics. The projection of military power is a fundamental, inextricable element of foreign policy; in the militarist vision, there is simply no other way, no other basis for relations between the United States and other nations – even allies or neutral countries, whose behavior must be "shaped" by American "national power."

Thus Gates warned his Army audience against returning to the outmoded ideas of the past, when the military was seen as simple bulwark against attack by enemy nations; instead, America must be prepared to fight more wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan – vicious, protracted counterinsurgencies waged largely in urban spaces and civilian areas. Iraq, in particular, has provided "impressive" lessons for the military to follow in the future, Gates said.

The day after his speech brought yet another example of how the war of the future will be fought: an American airstrike on a town north of Baghdad that killed nine children and six women, according to the Pentagon's own admission. (This massacre must have been a most glaring one indeed, if Bush's brass were willing to own up to such a death toll so quickly; usually, they simply deny that any civilians have been killed in their "precision airstrikes," or obscure the reality behind bromides about the "fog of war," despite the testimony of survivors and officials of the American-backed Iraqi government, and the dead bodies pulled from smoldering ruins.) The Pentagon claimed that the insurgents they were targeting had chosen "to surround themselves with civilians and then fire upon U.S. forces." (Naturally it would have been more sporting of the miscreants to gather themselves out in the open desert and wait for the Americans who are occupying the civilian centers to come out and kill them; but we all know the Arab mind is low and devious.)

Here again, we see the militarist mindset at work, the inability to process any reality that falls outside the presumption that America has the right to apply "all elements of national power" anytime and anywhere it so chooses. They cannot grasp this simple question; Why are there insurgents firing on U.S. soldiers in the civilian areas of Iraq? Because the U.S. military has invaded and occupied Iraq, filling its civilian areas with more than 160,000 troops (and tens of thousands of mercenaries). If the U.S. soldiers were not there, then there would be no insurgents, and they would not be firing on U.S. soldiers. There would be no need for American forces "to return a commensurate amount of fire," as a Pentagon spokesman put it in explaining the bludgeoning of civilian residences with bombers.

This then, is one of those "impressive" lessons from Iraq that Gates wants the Pentagon to carry into the many, many future wars to come: in order to "shape the behavior" of the nations you have subjected to "all elements of national power," you will sometimes have to drop bombs on houses filled with women and children. It's unfortunate, of course, and no one likes it, and no one wants to do it, but hey, it's just like Stalin used to say when he was "shaping the behavior" of friends, adversaries and the people in between: "When wood is chopped, chips fly."

NOTE: And how long will the wood-chopping of the militarist empire-mongers go on? Why, throughout the entire "new American century," of course, as Nick Turse of TomDispatch.com found when he attended a recent conference on "Joint Urban Operations" with "Pentagon power-brokers, active duty and retired U.S. military personnel, foreign coalition partners, representatives of big and small defense contractors, and academics." The entire piece is worth a read, but his conclusion is most apt for our theme here:

With their surprisingly bloodless language, antiseptic PowerPoint presentations, and calm tones, these men -- only one woman spoke -- are still planning Iraq-style wars of tomorrow. What makes this chilling is not only that they envision a future of endless urban warfare, but that they have the power to drive such a war-fighting doctrine into that future; that they have the power to mold strategy and advance weaponry that can, in the end, lock Americans into policies that are unlikely to make it beyond these conference-room doors, no less into public debate, before they are unleashed….

Along with the lack of even a hint of skepticism about the basic premise of the conference went a fundamental belief that being fought to a standstill by a ragtag insurgency in Iraq was an issue to be addressed by merely rewriting familiar tactics, strategy, and doctrine and throwing multi-billions more in taxpayer dollars -- in the form of endless new technologies -- at the problem. In fact, listening to the presentations in that conference room, with its rows of white-shrouded tables in front of a small stage, it would not have been hard to believe that the U.S. had defeated North Korea, had won in Vietnam, had never rushed out of Beirut or fled Mogadishu, or hadn't spent markedly more time failing to achieve victory in Afghanistan than it did fighting the First and Second World Wars combined.

To the rest of the world, at least, it's clear enough that the Pentagon knows how to redden city streets in the developing world, just not win wars there; but in Washington -- by the evidence of this "Joint Urban Operations, 2007" conference -- it matters little. Advised, outfitted, and educated by these mild-mannered men who sipped sodas and noshed on burnt egg rolls between presentations, the Pentagon has evidently decided to prepare for 100 years more of the same: war against various outposts of a restless, oppressed population of slum-dwellers one billion strong and growing at an estimated rate of 25 million a year. All of these UO experts are preparing for an endless struggle that history suggests they can't win, but that is guaranteed to lead to large-scale destruction, destabilization, and death. Unsurprisingly, the civilians of the cities that they plan to occupy, whether living in Karachi, Jakarta, or Baghdad, have no say in the matter. No one thought to invite any of them to the conference.