Home National Politics So You Thought We Were Winding Down Our Wars?

So You Thought We Were Winding Down Our Wars?


With the United States having already removed its combat troops from Iraq with great fanfare, and obliged by agreement to withdraw all remaining forces by the end of 2011, and since President Obama has repeatedly assured us the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan will indeed begin in July 2011 as well, it is understandable that you might have assumed that American military adventures in foreign lands were being sharply curtailed, at the very least in Iraq and Afghanistan. You would, however, be wrong, as has been unequivocally made obvious in a not-so-tongue-in-cheek article by Tom Englehardt and Nick Turse from Tomdispatch.com, reprinted in AlterNet recently.

If we are leaving both Iraq and Afghanistan in 2011, why are we spending additional millions and millions of dollars building additional military facilities there, most of which will not even be finished by the end of 2011?  “Construction is slated to begin on at least three $100 million air base projects” which will not be completed until long after July 2011 (at Shindand Air Base for Special Operations, at the Marine base at Camp Dwyer for Special Operations, both in Iraq, and at Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan) plus there are requests for another $1.3 billion additional 2011 fiscal funds for military construction “pending before Congress.” Englehardt and Turse are here quoting from Walter Pincus of The Washington Post.  

Moreover, if American military personnel are supposed to be gone by the end of 2011, why are we spending “hundreds of millions” into military base improvements for the comfort and use of said personnel?  You know how we send Americans overseas and immediately build an American town to accommodate them with all the comforts of home, like fast food places, gyms,  movie theatres, shopping centers…. We already did that in places like Balad Air Base in central Iraq, and now we are adding to it—- if lots is good, more is even better, apparently, as Jackie Soohan discovered in a recent tour of Balad for Democracy Now!  In fact, we still have 5,800 US Air Force personnel in Iraq. Presumably, the newly reconstituted Iraqi Air Force will need such facilities, and will need to be trained in the use of soon-to-be-purchased F-16 jet fighters from Lockheed Martin when such are eventually purchased and delivered, say sometime in 2013 at the earliest.

*** Note: Think how effective an economic stimulus spending these billions on infrastructure here in the US might be.

If the US military occupation of Iraq is to be over in 2011, why is the Department of State taking on all the accoutrements of a military force, and combat troops are being re-deployed?  The State Department is planning to spend $1.5 billion to set up and run about five “enduring presence posts” (previously called “consulates”) on former military bases, including hiring civilian contractors for “security,” which will include such things as operating radar, searching for roadside bombs, and flying surveillance drones as well, of course, as training Iraqi police.  State will also employ 2,400 at the Green Zone embassy, plus hire between 6 and 7,000 civilian contractors who will be armed with “cast-off Pentagon heavy weaponry and Apache helicopters, and form them into ‘quick response teams.’ In other words, State will be taking on “more than 1,200 specific tasks previously handled by the US military.”  In addition, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, considered a “combat-capable brigade-sized unit,” which has already been deployed three times to Iraq (according to the US Army), recently sent its lead elements back to Iraq—- although the Army absolutely insists they are not, repeat not, combat troops this time around.  They are there to “advise and assist” in training, and are merely “combat ready.” Most of this information, according to Engelhardt and Turse, was derived rom Michael Gordon of the New York Times and Jeremy Scahill of The Nation.

*** Note: The US military is trying to perform a diplomatic and civilian function in pacifying Afghanistan by “winning hearts and minds,” in villages, and State is going to perform military functions in Iraq—- why not end up, thanks to mission-creep, simply amalgamating Pentagon and State?

If General Patraeus said in August he had everything he needed to accomplish his mission, with a re-evaluation not expected until December, why did he ask in September for more?  The 30,000 troops for the Afghan Surge have arrived, and were deemed adequate last month, but in September the General requested another 2,000 troops (supposedly “from NATO” but you can bet NATO’s done all its going to do, the 2,000 will be American).  Along with this, remember, we have all that military base construction scattered across Afghanistan, most of it not even scheduled to be completed by the withdrawal date. Once we are in a country to help it, we are like the guest who came to dinner, we just won’t go away, they can’t get rid of us.

Speaking of mission creep, let’s compare the US military’s number of flag officers with the number of al-Qaeda members.  According to the most generous estimates of Al-Qaeda by CIA, there are a total of 800 in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  The US military, say Ginger Thompson and Thom Shanker of the New York Times, has 963 generals and admirals (about 100 more than we had on 9/11); of these, 40 are four-star—- we apparently may have more 4-star generals than Al-Qaeda has operatives in Afghanistan. The average annual salary for a general is $180,000 (not including health-care, pensions, and other perks), amounting to about $170 million a year for them all. Of course, with all this star power we have not only not captured Osama himself, but have actually increased the total number of terrorists world-wide, beyond those in Al-Qaeda.

Have we reduced and/or brought under control the use of private military contractors after their involvement in serious offenses in Iraq?  Remember how bitterly the Iraqis complained about Blackwater after its employees “slaughtered 17 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square in 2007,” among other, less egregious incidents?  As I recall, there was considerable discussion about the fact that such contractors were neither subject to military discipline nor to Iraqi laws, and were, in fact, not accountable to anyone in any way. What happened was a face-lift and fast shuffle: Blackwater re-named itself Xe and set up “at least 31 shell companies and subsidiaries through which it could still be awarded contracts by the State Department, the CIA, and the  US Army without embarrassment to anyone.” (“A rose by any other name”….).  Therefore, Blackwater “hasn’t suffered in pocket-book terms,” said James Risen and Mark Mazzetti in the New York Times, quoted by Engelhardt and Turse. Actually, Xe was awarded contracts for $120 million to provide security in Afghanistan for State, plus $120 million to provide security for CIA, bringing the total CIA contracts with Blackwater/Xe to $600 million since 2001. Once a privateer is on the inside track, they stay there. How accountable are they? Not so much, it seems.  This is the way we will run our wars from now on.

Running an empire apparently requires expensive decisions which may at first seem counter-productive or likely to prove so in the longer run. I am thinking of how the US sponsored the Taliban in Afghanistan against the Russians, for example, and it succeeded in kicking the Russians out of the territory, but what happened thereafter has not been to our benefit (Taliban rule, growth of Al-Qaeda, and 9/11). Now we are using drones to strike Al-Qaeda, mostly in Pakistan, and accomplishing our intention of killing top operatives.  However, Iran has developed its own armed drone, called by Ahmadinejad the “Ambassador of Death”—- so “the US has…. not only continued to pave the way for Iran (and every other nation and non-state actor) to conduct such drone attacks with utter impunity,” we have actually increased our use of drone strikes. Then, there is the comparison Engelhardt and Turse made among various expenditures of exactly the same amount, $500 million dollars.  It is the amount which:

1) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to development projects for Pakistan to “build support for the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban;”

2) Kabul Bank “had in cash just weeks ago before its panicked depositors bled it dry;” and

3) the US military will “spend on its musical bands this year,” of which the Army has over 100.  Priorities, priorities.

*** Note: I do not doubt there are very persuasive rationales for each and every one of the facts here presented. There always are, whether the rationale is based on geo-political considerations, psychology, historical imperatives, or even the old adage that, “in for a nickel in for a dime.” I understand that America runs on oil (especially our military), that we were attacked and are entitled to respond to defend ourselves and punish our assailant, that we have a rising rival in our friend-enemy China, that the great American invention of corporate globalization has come to dominate the world economy, and that it requires constant feeding by us. But, still, does any of this really make sense? We seem to have backed into this empire without ever having had a real debate about where we were going.   In other words, could we be running our empire better, less expensively—- or, do we even need an empire, at least in the style to which we have become accustomed?



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