A New Kind of War
If you’re mystified as to what U.S. officials envisage when they talk of a long war to be fought on many fronts by many means, you would do well to read what the big boys are reading. The Rosetta Stone for discerning the Bush administration’s thinking-or at least the belligerent prejudices of people like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle-is a 1989 article that Jeff St. Clair posted for subscribers to the Counterpunch mail list on Thursday, titled “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation.”
Originally published in a journal called the Marine Corps Gazette, it is a bottomlessly chilling document. The article traces the history of modern warfare through three historical phases defined by changes in technology and tactical notions. At each step along the way, the authors write, there has been a tendency toward greater diffusion of battlefields and targets, until at last we have approached the threshold of “nonlinear” war. The piece is worth reading in its entirety, but this excerpt will suffice to give a taste of where we may be headed:
“The fourth generation battlefield is likely to include the whole of the enemy’s society. Such dispersion, coupled with what seems likely to be increased importance for actions by very small groups of combatants, will require even the lowest level to operate flexibly on the basis of the commander’s intent.
“Second is decreasing dependence on centralized logistics. Dispersion, coupled with increased value placed on tempo, will require a high degree of ability to live off the land and the enemy.
“Third is more emphasis on maneuver. Mass, of men or firepower, will no longer be an overwhelming factor. In fact, mass may become a disadvantage as it will be easy to target
“Fourth is a goal of collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him. Targets will include such things as the population’s support for the war and the enemy’s culture. Correct identification of enemy strategic centers of gravity will be highly important.
“In broad terms, fourth generation warfare seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between ‘civilian’ and ‘military’ may disappear Targets may be more in the civilian than the military sector.”
It all begins to sound familiar, doesn’t it? By these lights there can be no such thing as “collateral damage,” because there’s no such thing as innocent bystanders. This was the mindset of those who mounted the September 11 attacks, and it’s the perspective now being touted by the best minds at the Pentagon: a war of terror, pure and simple.
And there’s this:
“This kind of high-technology fourth generation warfare may carry in it the seeds of nuclear destruction. Its effectiveness could rapidly eliminate the ability of a nuclear-armed opponent to wage war conventionally. Destruction or disruption of vital industrial capacities, political infrastructure, and social fabric, coupled with sudden shifts in the balance of power could easily lead to escalation to nuclear weapons. This risk may deter fourth generation warfare among nuclear-armed powers just as it deters major conventional warfare among them today.”
On the other hand, it may not. Saddam didn’t have nukes, after all, and a goodly contingent of U.S. war planners may just be willing to bet the house that Osama’s friends won’t lay their hands on any either. We can only hope that the fresh wave of reports putting Colin Powell’s moderates back in the ascendant versus Rumsfeld’s hawks is indeed correct.
Panic in the Air and at Sea
Commercial air bookings remain understandably depressed despite the best efforts of the airlines, the travel industry, and the White House. Week before last one man was quoted in wire stories claiming he had been the sole passenger on an afternoon New York-Boston shuttle, and in the days following the September 11 bombings the industry reported at one point that it was flying at an astounding 3 percent of load capacity. Business has since picked up, but airlines continue to hemorrhage money. The president has done his part. Speaking at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport this week, Bush exhorted the flying public to climb back aboard planes; he then assured them that if any more airliners were hijacked, the Air Force had permission to shoot them down forthwith. Well, then-dig out those frequently flier vouchers, hon! (Air Force One, however, is in no apparent danger: After furiously circulating face-saving reports that Bush took his circuitous route back to Washington on September 11 owing to “credible evidence” that the president’s plane was in imminent peril of attack, the White House quietly and belatedly admitted this week that it was all made up.)
The crisis of confidence has brought forth numerous proposals for improving air security. Some pilots’ representatives have suggested guns in the cockpit. And on Friday the president of the Association of Flight Attendants spoke in favor of arming its members with stun guns. “You’re talking about arming pilots and installing bulletproof doors,” one stew told New York Newsday. “That’s fine, but what about us, while they’re all safe and cozy in the cockpit?” Up in the sky, suddenly, it’s the Old West. In that spirit, one caller to a Minneapolis talk radio station proposed giving guns to every passenger for the duration of the flight. The host was unimpressed but the notion has its merits. It would doubtless improve the quality of service in coach, if nothing else.
Meantime, though, there are persistent signs that airport security systems remain haphazard in spite of ceaseless assurances to the contrary. One man was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for carrying four box-cutters onto a commercial flight to prove it could be done, and Friday’s Minneapolis StarTribune reported that security procedures at Twin Cities International Airport remained inconsistent even as checkpoint rules were ratcheted up. In a dozen passes through security stations, reporters were able to pass by with items that included “a foot-long steel ruler with sharp edges and points, a spoon handle and small nail scissors.” In the words of an airport spokesperson, “I don’t know that they currently have the ability to check every bag, every phone. There’s always a certain level of risk.”
Small wonder no one wants to fly. Nor are airlines the only ones feeling the pinch. Cruise lines find themselves in similar straits. Royal Caribbean reported losses in the neighborhood of $25 million for the week following the attacks, as did Carnival Cruise Lines. Even allowing for a certain predictable degree of poor-mouthing on the part of airlines and cruise lines, the impact of the attacks on the vacation and tourism business is obviously huge. Likewise the trickle-down effect on employment in many places. Tourism in south Florida, for instance, is down 60 percent by some estimates. The most publicized layoffs-100,000 by the major airlines, 30,000 at Boeing-are only the tip of the iceberg. And it’s hard to imagine that getting Osama will make it all better in the eyes of a skittish public. CP
Steve Perry writes frequently for CounterPunch and is a contributor to the excellent cursor.org website, which offers incisive coverage of the current crisis. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.