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September 05, 2007

Endless War War and Peace

John Robb makes a chilling set of observations that to me, at least, ring true. (Note: Robb uses "moral weakness" and "moral collapse" to refer to a nation's losing the will to continue a war. Unfortunate terminology, but his main points are still valid.)

If you think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will end with this US presidency, think again. These wars will likely outlast the next several Presidents. The old Vietnam era formulas don't apply anymore. The reason is that the moral weaknesses that have traditionally limited the state's ability to fight long guerrilla wars have dissipated, and modern states may now have the ability and the desire to wage this type of war indefinitely. Here's what changed:
  • A radical improvement in marketing war. The US military learned from Vietnam that it needed to be much better at marketing wars to domestic audiences in order to prevent moral collapse. It has gotten better at this, and that information operations/strategic communications capability has reached a new level of effectiveness with General Petraeus. Despite this improvement, the military and its civilian leadership still don't have the ability to garner wide domestic support for guerrilla wars beyond the initial phases. However, they do have the ability to maintain support within a small but vocal base...and the capability to trump those that call for withdrawal (by keeping the faintest glimmer of potential success alive and using fear/uncertainty/doubt FUD to magnify the consequences of defeat). In our factional political system, that is sufficient to prevent withdrawal.

  • The threat that justifies the state and the perpetual war that codifies it. The ongoing threat of terrorism has become the primary justification for the existence of a strong nation-state (and its greatest instrument of power, the military) at the very moment it finds itself in decline due to globalization (or more accurately: irrelevance). The militarization of "the war against terrorism" reverses this process of dissipation, since it can be used to make the case for the acquisition of new powers, money, and legitimacy (regardless of party affiliation) — for example, everything from increases in conventional military spending to the application of technical reconnaissance on domestic targets. Of course, this desire for war at the political level is complemented by the huge number of contractors (and their phalanxes of lobbyists) attracted by the potential of Midas level profits from the privatization of warfare. The current degree of corporate participation in warfare makes the old "military industrial complex" look tame in comparison.

  • The privatization of conflict. This is likely the critical factor that makes perpetual warfare possible. For all intents and purposes, the US isn't at war. The use of a professional military in combination with corporate partners has pushed warfare to the margins of political/social life. A war's initiation and continuation is now merely a function of our willingness/ability to finance it. Further, since privatization mutes moral opposition to war (i.e. "our son isn't forced to go to war to die") the real damage at the ballot box is more likely to impact those that wish to end its financing. To wit: every major presidential candidate in the field today now gives his/her full support to the continuation of these wars. [Emphasis added]

There have always been war profiteers, but where they used to provide just weapons and materiel, they now increasingly provide the very armies themselves. And where war-profiteering was once considered shameful, if not illegal, we've now got what amounts to a "war bubble", a giddy frenzy of profiteering and corruption. See, for example, Rolling Stone's The Great Iraq Swindle, where we read:

[T]here was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes — $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about [security contractor] Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while." [Emphasis added]

This privatization of war-fighting is an extremely ominous development. Just as for-profit prisons create a built-in constituency for putting more and more people behind bars, for-profit war-fighting creates a built-in constituency for war. War becomes just another business, an especially lucrative one. It will go on and on and on.

Endless war will destroy us. Not for nothing was endless war one of the hallmarks of Orwell's 1984. Orwell lives.

Posted by Jonathan at September 5, 2007 05:19 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb