Theatrical Militarism Gets More Bad Reviews:
Rumsfeld's Monster Pictures And The Fallout From Abu Ghraib (Part II)
[In the first installment of this multi-part report, Stan Goff found the neocons squirting a few apologies at the media. Their embarrassment was somebody else's psychic and/or physical maiming. In this sequel, Goff looks at a few other public relations disasters (PR is what diplomacy amounts to these days) leading up to the second War on Iraq. Less than delighted with American looting of the post-Soviet economy, Russia surely gave Iraq clandestine help; and when the Bush administration administered Turkey the arrogant assumption of total compliance with U.S. warplans, Turkey administered them a robustly democratic flourishing of the middle finger. Coupled with the undeniable monstrosity of Abu Ghraib - which we now know was sent straight from the Defense Department's highest echelons - all this suggests that the next stop on the endless warpath will not be a cakewalk. - JAH]
JUNE 11, 2004: 1100 PDT (FTW) -- What goes around, comes around.
The Russians didn't say it in 2002, but the hauteur of the Bush administration toward Russian aspirations, their own lingering, resentful inferiority complex at having begun their forced march into modernism only in the 1930's, the humiliation of having collapsed under the strain of the Cold War, and the very tangible new reality that the U.S. was about to kick the Russians into the global periphery, all coalesced into icy retribution.
Russia began advising Iraq. Their political advice and maneuvering was intended to delay, delay, delay… in particular, to incrementally make concessions to the United Nations as a means of raising the bar for the Americans to legitimize their sought-after invasion.
By March 2002, London's Telegraph reported, this link was firmly established. The Telegraph hinted hint that military advice and assistance might also have been provided.
I had said the same thing in Full Spectrum Disorder (Soft Skull Press, 2004).
Accusations by the United States that the Russians were providing material assistance were likely true. The Russians had now thrown in their lot with "old Europe" and China, and they were aiming to undermine U.S. power at every opportunity. I suspected they had not only provided equipment and training on that equipment, but advisory assistance on the reorganization of the Iraqi military.
Someone surely had.
The Iraqi military had abandoned its former Soviet-style doctrine, predicated on armor, mass, and centralized command. It had now seemingly adopted tactics more suited to Special Operations: agile and decentralized. Such a switch requires a very intentional and systematic reorientation from top to bottom. This is an "asymmetrical" response to the high-tech doctrine the U.S. developed to overcome the doctrine of its own predecessor. This Iraqi doctrinal reorientation proved stunningly effective, even though it was often tragically amateurish in its execution, with Iraqis simply stepping into the street to fire RPG's and being cut down by a tsunami of fire and lead.
In December 2003, the United States retaliated openly with a Pentagon announcement that barred Russia from any post-invasion contracts in Iraq.
Dmitry Rogozin of the Duma said this action "shows the very primitive vindictiveness of the current U.S. administration."
Asia Times reported this year (Sergei Blagov, "Putin to expand strategic partnership with China," Asia Times, March 12 2004) that it would expand its agreements with China. Part of that agreement was a strategic energy pact. Another part was an increase in the Chinese importation of Russian weapons.
Like balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil… petroleum and guns.
But back to our account of how these circumstances built into a political storm, catalyzed by some photographs that could very well destroy the Bush administration.
While the bully boys advising the White House were rampaging around with the pre-capsized Ahmed Chalabi, NATO ally Turkey was in the throes of an election.
It is important to note that Turkey is a "democracy" that serves at the pleasure of its own military, a military that itself has a historical power base that is deeply involved in the drug trade. Note also that the U.S. has traditionally relied on the Turkish military to secure policy outcomes favorable to Washington. The majority of Turkish citizens are ethnic Turks (which is itself a historical composite of many groups) and religiously Muslim.
Istanbul is on the Bosphorus, a strait that divides Europe from Asia, and, as Louis Proyect pointed out after a visit there to see his in-laws in January 2003, it points to a geographic fault that could rival San Andreas.
The geological fault line obviously has a counterpart in the city and country's precarious location on the political-tectonic plates that divide the Christian West from the Islamic East. If these plates clash with each other at full force, the impact can be as devastating as any earthquake. Istanbul is geographically unique. It is the only city in the world, as far as I know, that straddles two continents. Imagine getting in your car each morning in Asia and driving across a bridge to get to your workplace in Europe. Not only is the city divided spatially, it is also divided culturally and politically.
This division that the Turkish economic, military, and political elites have so carefully negotiated over the years was brought into bold relief after September 11.
It needs to be noted that the Bosporus is a huge trans-shipment point for oil. In 2003, Russia complained bitterly that passage through Turkey was far too slow for Urals crude. The establishment of a permanent U.S./NATO base, Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo after the NATO-engineered breakup of Yugoslavia (with the assistance of the heroin-funded "Kosovo Liberation Army") paved the way for U.S. oil companies operating in the Caspian region (which has since turned into the biggest oil bust in recent history) to bypass the Bosporus. This was a huge political betrayal for Turkey - a NATO member state - which deepened Turkish suspicions about their European allies.
Bondsteel was built (it should be no surprise) by Halliburton, Dick Cheney's company.
Without belaboring Turkey's history overmuch, it is important to understand that Kemalism, the prevailing political current in Turkey - often mistakenly seen by the west as a rejection of Islam - is a system where the state exists over and above religion. It was built up within the complexities of the 20th Century and in the wake of Turkey's disastrous alliance with the Germans in World War I. The official ideology was initially pan-Islamic, but evolved into a pan-Turk racial identity, which was an effective method of social control of the majority Turk while the state systematically massacred the Armenians and subjected the Kurds as an internal colony.
Over time, the economic and political stability of Turkey came to depend absolutely on the suppression of the Kurds (Turkey's largest "minority"), and this suppression forged a revitalized movement for Kurdish autonomy. This ability to divert the general public's discontents into racially coded nationalism becomes increasingly important in times of economic instability - which for Turkey began in earnest in 1991 and has only gotten worse under the direction of the International Monetary Fund.
But the fact remains that contiguous Kurdish living space - referred to by some as Kurdistan - extends beyond Turkey into Iraq, Iran, and less so into Syria. The "Kurdish question" for Turkey, then, is necessarily internationalized.
Not coincidentally, Iraqi Kurdistan is sitting atop the richest oil fields in the nation, with its political center in Kirkuk.
Kurds once ruled a significant portion of the region, after the Kurdish military leader, Saladin, threw the Europeans out of Jerusalem in 1187. They prospered because the region - not yet dragged into the age of hydrocarbons - was a trade crossroads between Europe, Africa, and Asia. But with the so-called discovery of the Americas, the region went into a permanent economic slump, and the Kurds largely reorganized as criminal syndicates led by warlords.
In his February Swans piece, "The Kurdish Pawn," Louis Proyect says:
In addition to being economically marginalized, the Kurds were isolated geographically as well. Preferring to dwell in the mountains or rocky hills, they subsisted on sheep-herding and small-scale farming…
After the Ottomans created a new regional economic system based on trade between North Africa and Central Asia, they were not sure how the Kurds fit into the big picture. They finally decided to co-opt them into the Hamidiye, a warrior caste functioning more or less like the Janissaries -- slaves of Christian origin enjoying privilege and political power in spite of their subject status. Despite the high ideals of their nationalist leaders, Kurdish soldiers joined with the Turks in slaughtering other subject peoples like the Armenians…
For decades their leaderships have subordinated the needs of the Kurdish nation as a whole for their own narrowly self-defined political goals within each state. Backstabbing, backroom deals and suppression of more radical trends within the Kurdish struggle have been the norm rather than the exception.1
Proyect goes on to quote scholar Amir Hassanpour:
The Kurdish movement for self-determination has thus been factionalized. In a supreme irony, Iraqi Kurdish leaders unleashed their own peshmergas (militias) in the early 1990s against the Turkey-based Kurdish separatists of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), in part to please their U.S. benefactors in the struggle against Iraqi Arabs. The U.S. had declared, on behalf of its NATO ally Turkey, that the PKK was a "terrorist" organization. 2
The PUK and KDP are two Kurdish factions in Iraq, each supported by the U.S. to weaken the Iraqi Ba'athists. Their rivalry exploded into a fratricidal mini-war in 1992 that claimed 3,000 lives, almost as many as were killed in the chemical attacks during the Iran-Iraq War which gained so much propaganda currency in the run-up to the latest U.S. invasion.
In "Reckless Disregard," a 1999 article by Vera Saeedpour quoted by Proyect in his superlative Swans piece, she noted:
The Iraqi Kurds, long accustomed to suffering in wars between guerrillas and governments, found themselves again beleaguered, this time not by Baghdad but by Kurds. Their new lament came to be, "Even Saddam Hussein didn't do this." But no one wants to hear, much less publicize, their plight. Only Amnesty International would produce a belated report in 1995 on human rights abuses of Kurds under Kurdish administration. Human Rights Watch has yet to bring out a word on the topic. In their zeal to provide documentation in support of the State Department's case against Saddam Hussein for his abuses of Kurds in the 1980s -- for which they have received considerable funding -- they deliberately ignored abuses of Kurds by Kurds in the 1990s. 3
The Kurdish peshmergas of northern Iraq were maintained courtesy of the U.S.A throughout the low-intensity war between the two U.S. invasions of Iraq, and they actually fought alongside American Special Forces in the last ground campaign. They are now a huge and unpredictable political factor in a zone where a decade of U.S.-protected political autonomy has only fed into the popular desire for an independent Kurdistan - which is anathema to Turkey's elites.
There are still new military and political storms waiting to form out of these turbulent winds.
This contextualizes the Turkish elections of 2003, where the U.S. suffered its first political defeat. That translated into a military setback which advanced the development of a credible Iraqi guerrilla resistance by several years.
By 2002, the widespread Turkish sense of humiliation at the hands of the Americans - national humiliation and economic humiliation - peaked in a political upheaval.
In a bit of political irony, the Turkish "proportional representation" system that requires at least 10% of the vote to qualify a party for any seat in parliament, a system designed to protect the domination of the incumbents, became a surprise landslide victory for the Islamic Party of Justice and Development (AKP), who got only 35% of the vote (far more than any other formation) and ended up with two thirds of the parliamentary seats.
At this point, Turkey was preparing to authorize the use of Turkish soil for the U.S. military to launch its north-to-south ground offensive into Iraq, even though more than 90% of the Turkish public passionately opposed this plan. That authorization required passage of a law by the Turkish parliament.
Even the newly empowered AKP had to take into account the Turkish military, which supported assistance of the American invasion. The Turkish military had already demonstrated that they would stand back from politics only so far.
When the vote was taken on March 1, after the invasion plans were already laid out and preparations were in the 11th hour, in a stunning defeat the parliament narrowly voted to deny the U.S., even in the face of massive bribery and intimidation by both Washington and factions within Ankara. The decisive pressure on the Turkish parliament, elected as an Islamic Party, was the mass movement in Turkey opposing the war, and the weight of the international mass movement against the war that stood behind it.
From Full Spectrum Disorder:
How had the antiwar movement become a material force on the Iraqi battleground?
A snapshot of the tactical situation, as least what could be gleaned from different accounts, revealed that the original battle plan was scrapped. The complexity of planning a military operation of that scope is simply indescribable, and it takes months to do it right. But the unexpected loss of ground fronts, in Turkey in the north and Saudi Arabia in the south, forced a complete reconstruction of plans in a matter of days. The operation could be put off no longer. The aggressor's back was against the weather wall. The pre-summer sandstorms had already begun, and by late April the heat index inside a soldier's chemical protective gear could be 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
The international antiwar movement had firmed up political opposition around the world and forced the delays that culminated in the UN Security Council becoming a key arena of struggle. For the ossified left who couldn't see beyond their own simplistic shibboleths and who dismissed the UN on ideological - and therefore idealist - grounds, there was an example of how politics translates dialectically into military reality.
We had stalled the Bush administration to push the war back, and there was an effect. There is an effect to this day. Never doubt it.
The entire 4th Infantry Division was still sitting in the barracks waiting for their equipment to steam around the Arabian Peninsula in cargo ships because the Turkish parliament denied them their battlefront. Medium- and short-range tactical aircraft that could have struck dozens of key targets were sidelined because they were forbidden to take off from Saudi Arabia to deliver their payloads.
Inside the Department of Defense there was another war raging between the Generals of the Army and Marine Corps and the clique of doctrinal "revolutionaries" pushing Rumsfeld's crackpot theory, cyberwar combined with commandos.
The new "doctrine" was creating a military debacle in Iraq. Rumsfeld was refusing to learn what was in front of him, that in war, which is an extreme form of politics, success is not measured on a point system like a golf tournament. It is not measured in body counts or inventories of destroyed war materiel. In fact, it is not perfectly measurable at all. Success has to be gauged against the expectations of the military operation and its final objectives - which are always political. The U.S. inflicted a terrible empirical toll on Southeast Asia and ultimately lost the Vietnam War. The U.S. never grasped the political character of that war…
Fragile Turkey was beset by a severe economic crisis. Its majority-Muslim population had just elected a moderate Islamic Party and the popular opposition to the war was overwhelming.
The Turkish ruling class could not afford another insurrection from Kurdish nationalists, and the Turkish military had no intention of watching a Kurdish state take form to their south. As a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Turkey was becoming a powder keg behind its stable exterior, and Kurdistan was a furnace.
The political implications reach deep into Europe, where less than two years ago the U.S. pushed behind the scenes for Turkey into the EU as a U.S. stalking horse. Germany has a substantial population of Turks and Kurds, and the German government still has a real and justifiable fear that open warfare in Iraqi Kurdistan will spill over into the streets of Germany.
To mollify the Kurds, the U.S. had to menace back the Turkish military, and the Kurds softened their language about an independent Kurdistan.
Oh, the tangled web we weave… One could almost hear Ian Malcolm saying, "I'm really getting tired of being right all the time."
Then there is Saudi Arabia.
1 Louis Proyect, "Resistance: In The Eye Of The American Hegemon: The Kurdish Pawn," Swans, Special Issue on Iraq - February 2, 2004. http://www.swans.com/library/art10/iraq/proyect.html
2 "The Kurdish Experience," Middle East Report, July-August 1994.
3 Reckless Disregard, Peacework, November 1999,