[There are strong similarities between French arrogance at Dienbienphu and US attitudes in Iraq. The immediate victims of a US loss would be the Neocons. Great, but would that change anything?
It certainly wouldn’t in terms of the American corporate operating system. But there are other operating systems out there. All are in one way or another dominated or mightily influenced by the way money works. In this new, exclusive FTW four-part series, Stan Goff provides one of the most cogent analyses of modern history over the past three years I could imagine.
As Stan Goff writes here: “The Bush administration demonstrated its resolve to pursue a new doctrine – preemptive war. There was no longer a question of if Russian and China would bloc against the US. The only questions were when and how.” – MCR]
Military/Veterans Affairs Editor
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“A year ago none of us could see victory. Now we can see it clearly, like light at the end of the tunnel.”
-General Henri Navarre, 1953
June 19th 2006, 3:13pm [PST] - Referring to Dien Bien Phu, the decisive battle in which General Vo Nguyen Giap commanded the defeat of the French colonial armed forces in Vietnam, Giap would later write:
Navarre [the French commander at Dien Bien Phu] asserted that with such powerful forces and strong defense systems, Dien Bien Phu was the strongest fortified entrenched camp ever seen in Indochina. It was “an impregnable fortress.” From this subjective viewpoint he considered that an attack by us would be very improbable, that if our troops ventured to launch an offensive he would have the opportunity to inflict an inevitable defeat on us. He went so far as to arrogantly challenge us to an attack!
Navarre’s challenge was the 1953 French equivalent of “Bring ‘em on!”
There was a gruesome irony in the name of the plateau upon which the base was built: The Arena of the Gods. The French did indeed think themselves almost Gods in this land. Three years ago, empowered by the attacks of 9-11, the Bush White House and all its advisors displayed the arrogance of Caligulan deities.
With each day that passed prior to the battle, Navarre and his commanders grew more confident in their own conclusions. He never surmised that under cover of darkness and tropical canopy, tens of thousands of civilian-auxiliary porters and soldiers were hauling in thousands of tons of tools, weapons, rice, and ammunition, digging hundreds of camouflaged caves into the mountain slopes facing the French base, and dragging artillery pieces up mountainsides with ropes and muscle.
Navarre was blessed with the cream of French fighting forces – battle-scarred veterans of many engagements, including his officers – fleshed out with foreign allied troops to 14,000 strong, and supplied with massive American logistical assistance.
Then the battle was engaged.
Over the next 55 days, there was a long period of French confidence, even with the surprising force of the assault and the dreadful casualties. But during that time, Giap had determined on a new tactic. Rather than a final frontal attack over ground, the Vietminh soldiers slung their Kalashnikovs and seized their shovels. They began entrenching their way in through the concentric French defense perimeters, patiently and arduously digging like moles, centimeter my centimeter, from the outside in, deep enough to use the trenches as both supply lines and protection from the incessant French artillery, mortars, and aerial strafing.
No doubt on the 50th day, there was still hope within the bloody French camp that the Vietminh would run out of ammunition, that some key leader would be killed in the cannon duels, that some miracle would erase the evidence growing before them that they would go down in defeat. And no doubt, there were a few Vietminh among these tough and relentless anti-colonial troops who felt a pang of doubt by Day 54 about how long this fight had gone on… the sneaking suspicion that the French might actually be invincible.
But the tipping point had been nearly reached by the time the battle was prepared, and Giap’s decision to go for the slow, systematic approach of the trenches – along with that revolutionary faith that had already determined never to quit – was the decision that made the French defeat inevitable.
The Bush administration is surely looking around and seeing the encroachment of trenches now. Navarre, it must be said, at least had the advantage of knowing who was and was not the enemy. Some of the trenches inching in toward the Bush administration’s central perimeter are being constructed by former allies.
Navarre was a real general, with a real military career, and real combat experience. Bush is a guy who likes to dress up like a fighter pilot, and make manly faces at interviewers when he says things like, “I am a war president.”
Bush and Navarre shared the fatal flaw of racist arrogance, which led them both to face the patient fury of the tough brown people they held in Eurocentric contempt.
But Bush – who said the best event of his presidency was catching a “seven-and-a-half pound perch in my lake” [in Crawford, Texas… this would have exceeded the record perch recorded caught, in New Jersey, which is four pounds] – who wants to be a fighter pilot but has an aversion to both discipline and combat, who wants to be a cowboy but reportedly has a phobia about horses, who cannot differentiate between reality and play-acting, was easy prey for the most grandiose faction in the Republican Party leadership: the cosmic think-tankers of the imaginary New Rome. They promised him – especially after September 11th, when they were writhing in ecstatic paroxysms of martial fantasy – that he could be “a war president,” a generalissimo, the Commander-in-Chief of the victorious armed forces that would launch The New… American… Century.
The New Centurions
The Bush administration saw 9-11 as its opportunity to fast forward its New American Century hallucination. As we watch now with fascinated horror, this administration, in spite of disintegration by comeuppance, continues to pile up bodies as the price of its existence.
The Bush entourage was well on its way to the political construction of its new Arena of the Gods by September 12th, 2001.
The invasion of Afghanistan – already planned – was not merely swift. It was still riding the giant wave of collective shock and anger emanating from the crushing collapse of the World Trade Center. It was a juggernaut, and the speed with which the Taliban government came apart in the face of the invasion gave the public and the New American Centurions just the right cathartic combination of vengeance and exhibition of power.
The public was satisfied that the attacks of September had not gone unanswered.
The Centurion administration was reinforced in a sense of its own invincibility.
And so they built their new political fortress with money. They knocked it together with American orientalism and imperial hubris. They never suspected that the enemies in the thickly foliated surrounding hills would dare move against them.
There was always a real crisis. The neocons recognize it. So do the “realists,” Republican and Democrat. The imperial center’s foundation is eroding, and it now rests atop an increasingly contradictory and disarticulated set of supports. The Centurions – correctly – identified the looming world energy crisis as determinative of any future.
Cheney’s first act as shadow-president was to pull together an energy Star Chamber; and the Centurions always saw militarization of both foreign and domestic policy as their methodological solution. It was their eagerness to exploit the September of American Dismay as an agenda accelerant – the ideal opportunity to construct the New Enemy, the new Global War on Terror (GWOT) as the basis of that militarization – that led them to their own Arena of the Gods.
It was, is, and will continue to be an Energy War. Energy is the material substrate of power; this is as inescapable – literally – as entropy. The plan was to erect a new network of bases in Southwest Asia in the wake of their expulsion from ever more fragile Saudi Arabia, and to use the GWOT as a pretext to develop a new body of law to attack domestic political enemies. The US military’s Cold War disposition was to be decisively abandoned; and the area around the oil-soaked Persian Gulf subjugated within a network of bases… lily pads, they called them.
The first obstacle came before they’d even recognized it… from the left. The extreme marginalization of the political left in the United States led the neocons to dismiss it.
The problem was, we did not dismiss ourselves. I myself participated in a teach-in at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, organized on the run by leftist faculty members Catherine Lutz, Rashmi Varma, and elin o’Hara slavick, opposing any attack on Afghanistan.
The teach-in happened on September 17th, and with elin emceeing. The teach-in panel consisted of Ariel Dorfman, Catherine Lutz, Rashmi Varma, Rania Masri, William Blum, Charles Kurzman, and me. With less than six days to prepare, around 800 people came, and they heard exactly what they could not have heard on any television station or read in any newspaper… in fact, what many people, intimidated by the aggressively chauvinist atmosphere post-9-11, would hardly speak among themselves – that this administration was using this attack to pursue an agenda, and that history did not begin on September 11th.
These courageous progressive women at UNC made up their minds that if only ten percent of the US population was opposing the war agenda, then someone had to ensure that this ten percent retained a public voice. Within days, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a right-wing outfit originally founded in 1995 as the National Alumni Forum by Lynne Cheney (America’s “second lady”) and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman to push the university systems to the right by attacking “political correctness,” issued what was tantamount to a fatwa, an enemies list of public traitors. All of us were placed on it… along with similar activists conducting similar events across the United States.
"We learn from history that when a nation's intellectuals are unwilling to defend its civilization, they give comfort to its adversaries," ACTA said.
The subtext was blazingly clear. We were engaged in treason. The neocons were counting on the war frenzy to get the American public so firmly behind their agenda that the rest of us would be intimidated into silence. This was a warning; and it was a warning that the left ignored. I have never been prouder than I was then to be counted among the left; to have been the first speed bump that the Centurions encountered on the way to their Arena of the Gods.
The liberals who exult in the polls showing the administration’s popularity at an all time low now – in some vain hope that an election will put all this unpleasantness behind us – scribbled cautiously back then. They alternated between despair at the good fortune of Republicans and support for Afghan women being “liberated” from the Taliban by American bombs.
The left, on the other hand – that motley, sometimes warring collection of socialists, feminists, anarchists, and anti-imperialists from all over the country that had been continually marginalized – had nothing to lose by telling the truth. And those of us who refused to grant the Centurions our fear emboldened others to lose theirs.
I haven’t the least doubt that the speed and steadfastness of the left’s response to 9-11 was directly responsible for the eventual speed and strength with which a vigorous mass movement was formed against the war in Iraq. The public was shown that we could get away with it, and then – day-by-day – people began to ask the tough questions that would break ground on the entrenchments that constitute the siege of the Bush administration today.
They were building their new imperial base, but they were already encountering the tripwires. Those with the willingness to fight back demonstrated that people could fight back.
Internationally, of course, the Centurions made the mother of all miscalculations: They believed that the fait accompli of the Iraq occupation would dictate the terms to the rest of the world for all future relations.
The Bush administration is Thespian. They stage manage; they script; they playact.
The defining moment for the New American Century was to be Bush’s triumphal announcement from the Deck of the USS Lincoln – in a fighter pilot costume, complete with the presidential gonads protruding against tightly cinched leg-straps – that the war was won…and over. Iran would be next, surrounded now from Afghanistan and Iraq. Syria would bend the knee. Saudi Arabia would be safely encircled by US military platforms. China would be hemmed in; and the US would be parked on the back porch of Russia. The imperial hand would be firmly on the oil tap.
But the Iraqis hadn’t read the White House script. They fought.
The huge American bases were constructed against a storm surge of explosive hostility. The occupiers were driven behind the wire in the Green Zone, where they were forced by the two-front rebellion of 2004 into forging a tactical and political alliance with pro-Iranians.
Then George W. Bush won the Iran-Iraq War… for Iran.
Rather than effect a compliant regime change, American saber rattling provoked a militant nationalism among the Iranians that led to the election of religious conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s new president.
Russia and China, neither being rookies in the game of international Realpolitik, effected their own compact centered on the defense of Iran. These two Asiatic giants, each adept at the intricacies of non-linear diplomacy in ways that confuse the uninitiated, were destined to look to one another the moment the Anglo-American ground offensive went north on March 20, 2003. The Bush administration demonstrated its resolve to pursue a new doctrine – preemptive war. There was no longer a question of if Russian and China would bloc against the US. The only questions were when and how.
The answer to that question evolved with the situation, the most elemental aspect of which was the fact that the guerrilla resistance in Iraq began wiping its ass with Rumsfeld’s new military doctrine. The US was pinned down – militarily, politically, diplomatically, and economically. The Bush administration had successfully conducted a coup de main… against itself.
Once it had become apparent by mid-2004 that the US would be forced to grant substantial concessions to the pro-Iranian Iraqis under the influence of Ali al-Sistani, the Bear and the Dragon turned to one another in their mutual understanding of the implication: the US had leapt into quicksand. The time had arrived to form a bloc to challenge the Centurions.
The Asiatic Bloc
Jephraim P. Gundzik, writing in Asia Times in June 2005, described the emergence of the Russia-China-Iran compact:
The military implementation of the George W Bush administration's unilateralist foreign policy is creating monumental changes in the world's geostrategic alliances. The most significant of these changes is the formation of a new triangle comprised of China, Iran and Russia.
Growing ties between Moscow and Beijing in the past 18 months is an important geopolitical event that has gone practically unnoticed. China's premier, Wen Jiabao, visited Russia in September 2004. In October 2004, President Vladimir Putin visited China. During the October meeting, both China and Russia declared that Sino-Russian relations had reached "unparalleled heights". In addition to settling long-standing border issues, Moscow and Beijing agreed to hold joint military exercises in 2005. This marks the first large-scale military exercises between Russia and China since 1958.
Moscow and Beijing signed massive arms and energy deals. The re-nationalization of energy giant Yukos by Putin’s government – which provoked an avalanche of misinformed speculation in the press – was directly related to Russia’s geo-strategic imperative to consolidate this emerging Sino-Russian bloc.
Meanwhile, China’s state-owned Zhuhai Zhenrong penned a contract with Iran for 25-years worth of liquefied natural gas, as Sinopec (the Chinese state-owned oil company) hooked up a $100 billion oil import deal, which included substantial Chinese investment in Iranian oil production infrastructure. Even though this technically violated a US sanction against trading with Iran, the US had to tread lightly and swallow its bile.
F. William Engdahl’s subtly titled article “The US’s geopolitical nightmare,” written for Asia Times on May 9, 2006, noted:
The problem is that the US economy has become dependent on Chinese trade imports and on Chinese holdings of US Treasury securities. China today is the largest holder of dollar reserves in the form of US Treasury paper worth an estimated US$825 billion. Were Beijing to decide to exit the US bond market, even in part, it would cause a dollar free-fall and collapse of the $7 trillion US real-estate market, a wave of US bank failures, and huge unemployment. It's a real option, even if unlikely at the moment.
Russia and China were already both surviving US objections to violations of US sanctions against selling arms technology to Iran. The other thing Russia was selling Tehran was nuclear fuel.
The recent rattling of the US saber, ostensibly threatening a US attack on Iran was clearly aimed at gaining Russia’s and China’s – both members of the UN Security Council – acceptance of anti-Iran sanctions as a lesser-evil option to military action. It did not work; and now the US is “blinking” again, yet another demonstration of US isolation and debility.
The endorsement of Tehran's nuclear energy program by Moscow and Beijing reveals the primary impetus behind the China-Iran-Russia axis -- to counter US unilateralism and global hegemonic intentions. For Beijing and Moscow, this means minimizing US influence in Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. For the regime in Tehran, keeping the US at bay is a matter of survival.
The joint statement issued at the conclusion of Putin's state visit to China in October 2004 was a clear indication of Beijing's and Moscow's abhorrence of the Bush administration's unilateral foreign policy. The statement noted that China and Russia "hold that it is urgently needed to [resolve] international disputes under the chairing of the UN and resolve crisis [sic] on the basis of universally recognized principles of international law. Any coercive action should only be taken with the approval of the UN Security Council and enforced under its supervision..."
Two weeks after this statement was released, and just prior to the US presidential election, Beijing's position against US unilateralism was again made explicit by China's former foreign minister Qian Qichen – arguably China's most distinguished diplomat.
In an opinion piece published in the China Daily, Qian ripped Washington's unilateralism: "The United States has tightened its control of the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia." He noted that this control "testifies that Washington's anti-terror campaign has already gone beyond the scope of self defense". Qian went further, stating that: "The US case in Iraq has caused the Muslim world and Arab countries to believe that the superpower already regards them as targets [for] its ambitious democratic reform program."
Since the formation of this Sino-Russian condominium, Iran has placed the US in check within Iraq. The pro-Iranian United Iraqi Alliance dominated elections. Iran has also found a new friend in the region – Turkey – who can help it drive a wedge between the only two armed factions in Iraq that are not openly fighting the Americans: the Sistanist Shias and the Kurds.
[Part-Two of this series will run on Wednesday, June 21, 2006]
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