FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The New Face of War

by CONN HALLINAN

The assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden did more than knock off America’s Public Enemy Number One, it formalized a new kind of warfare, where sovereignty is irrelevant, armies tangential, and decisions are secret. It is, in the words of counterinsurgency expert John Nagl, “an astounding change in the nature of warfare.”

It is also one that requires a vast intelligence apparatus, one that now constitute almost a fourth arm of government that most Americans are almost completely unaware of. Yet, according to the Washington Post, this empire includes some 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies in more than 10, 000 locations across the country, with a budget last year of at least $80.1 billion.

“At the heart of this new warfare,” notes the Financial Times,” is high-tech cooperation between intelligence agencies and the military” that blurs the traditional borders between civilians and the armed forces. And it fits with the U.S.’s penchant for waging war with robots and covert Special Forces.

But, by definition, the secrecy at the core of the “new warfare” removes decisions about war and peace from the public realm and relegates them to secure rooms in the White House or clandestine bases in the Hindu Kush. When the Blackhawk helicopters slipped through Pakistani airspace, they did more than execute one of America’s greatest bugbears, they essentially said another country’s sovereignty was no longer relevant and consigned Congress to the role of spectator.

Over the past several decades U.S. military theorists have clashed over how to use the armed forces, though it is a debate that gets distorted by the requirements of industry: the U.S, does not really need 11 immense Nimitz class aircraft carriers, but the Newport News Shipbuilding Company?and the aerospace giants that fill the flattops with fighter bombers?do.

The arguments have revolved around three different approaches, the Powell Doctrine, the Rumsfeld Doctrine, and the Petraeus Doctrine.

The Powell Doctrine is essentially conventional warfare a-la-World War II: massive firepower, lots of soldiers, clear goals. This was the formula for the first Gulf War, which, after a month of bombing, lasted only four days. But it is a very expensive way to wage war.

The Rumsfeld Doctrine merged high tech firepower and Special Forces with a minimal use of Army and Marine units. It also relies on private contractors to do much of what was formerly done by the military. The doctrine routed the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and quickly knocked out the Iraqi Army in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Once the shock and awe wore off, however, the Doctrine’s weaknesses became obvious. It simply didn’t have the manpower to hold the ground against a guerilla insurgency. The 2007 “surge” of troops in Iraq, like last year’s surge in Afghanistan, was an admission that the doctrine was fundamentally flawed if the locals decided to keep fighting.

The Petraeus Doctrine is old wine in a new bottle: counterinsurgency. In theory, it is boots on the ground to win hearts and minds. It draws heavily on intelligence?what Gen. David Petraeus calls “bandwidth”?to isolate and eliminate any insurgents?and attempts to establish trust with the locals. It is cheaper than the Powell and Rumsfeld doctrines, but it also almost never works. Eventually the locals get tried of being occupied, and then counterinsurgency turns nasty. Building schools and digging wells give way to night raids and targeted assassinations that alienate the local population. According to U.S. intelligence, the current counterinsurgency program in Afghanistan is failing.

So, what is this “astounding change” that Nagl speaks of? If you want to put a name to it, “counter-terrorism” is probably the most descriptive, although with a new twist. Like counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism has been around a long time. The Phoenix Program that killed some 40,000 South Vietnamese was a variety of the doctrine. Phoenix, too, paid no attention to sovereignty. During the Vietnam War, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols secretly went into Cambodia and Laos.

In recent years, the U.S. clandestinely sent Special Forces into Syria and Pakistan in a sort of shadow war against “insurgents.” A number of other countries have done the same.

But the Obama administration openly admits to sending a Special Forces Seal team into Pakistan to assassinate bin Laden, and it was prepared to fight Pakistan’s armed forces if they tried to intervene. And when Pakistan asked the U.S. to curb its use of armed drones in Pakistani airspace, the Central Intelligence Agency said it would do nothing of the kind.

It is as if counter-terrorism reconfigured that classic line from the movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”: “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges, we got drones and Seals.”

The principle behind counter-terrorism is eliminating people you don’t like. There is no patina of “hearts and minds,” and the new strategy makes no effort to practice the subterfuge of “plausible deniability” that has deflected the ire of target countries in the past.

While clandestine warfare is not new, the boldness of the bin Laden hit is. Certainly the people who planned the attack wanted to make a statement: we can get you anywhere you are, and impediments like international law, the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Charter be damned.

“Targeted assassinations violate well-established principles of international law,” says law professor Marjorie Cohn. “Extrajudicial executions are unlawful, even in armed conflict.”

From the U.S.’s point of view, the doctrine has a number of advantages. It is cheaper, and its expenses are generally hidden away in a labyrinth of bureaucracy. For instance, the $80.1 billion figure is only an estimate and does not include the cost of the CIA’s drone war in Pakistan, or Homeland Security.

Recent moves by the White House suggest the administration is putting this new strategy in place. “Petraeus’s appointment to head the CIA is an important indication that the U.S. wants to fuse intelligence and military operations,” a “senior figure” at the British Defense Ministry told the Financial Times.

In the past the division between military and civilian intelligence agencies allowed for a range of opinions. While the U.S. military continues to put a rosy spin on the Afghan War, civilian intelligence agencies have been much more somber about the success of the current surge. That division is likely to vanish under the new regime, where intelligence becomes less about analysis and more about targeting.

The new warfare opens up a Pandora’s box, the implications of which are only beginning to be considered. What would be the reaction if Cuban armed forces had landed in Florida and assassinated Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, two anti-Castro militants who were credibly charged with setting bombs in Havana and downing a Cuban airliner? Washington would treat it as an act of war. The problem with a foreign policy based on claw and fang is that, if one country claims the right to act independently of international law and the UN Charter, all countries can so claim.

Once an enormous intelligence bureaucracy is created?there are some 854,000 people with top-secrecy security clearance?it will be damned hard to dismantle it. And, since the very nature of the endeavor removes it from public oversight, it is a formula for a massive and uncontrolled expansion of the national security state.

Conn Hallinan can be read at Dispatchedfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com

 

 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 

More articles by:
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail