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

 

 

More articles by:

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 

January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
Roberto J. González
Starting Them Young: Is Facebook Hooking Children on Social Media?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Between the Null and the Void
Andrew Levine
Trump After Bannon: What Next?
John Davis
Mud-Slide
Ajamu Baraka
The Responsibility to Protect the World … from the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Stirs the Methane Monster
Paul Street
Lazy Liberals and “the Trump Effect”
Carmen Rodriguez
Trump’s Attack on Salvadoran Migrants
Mike Whitney
Oprah for President, Really?
Francisco Cabanillas
The Hurricane After Maria
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail