8) THE “FUTURE” OF WAR

By Rob Gowland, The Guardian, weekly paper of the Communist Party of Australia

            In his documentary feature film about the Vietnam War, Far From Vietnam, Chris Marker observes that the US was waging a “rich man’s war” while the Vietnamese were waging a “poor people’s war”. Aircraft launched from fleets of carriers located off-shore or from bases in Japan, pounded the country indiscriminately. Bombers flying so high people on the ground couldn’t hear them simply flew to positions fixed by radar and released their enormous loads of bombs on targets they couldn’t even see.

            They were supported by tens of thousands of “boots on the ground” and fleets of attack helicopters. The Vietnamese, however, dug tunnels and sheltered in caves, emerging to strike at the invader with deadly effect. To the irritation of US imperialism, despite their overwhelming fire power, there was a constant parade of body bags arriving in the US from the Vietnam conflict.

            The Pentagon has sought ever since for ways to destroy the people the USA deems its “enemies” without visibly putting lots of Americans into body bags. Not from humanitarian concerns you realise, but purely because it is bad PR: it makes it difficult to openly pursue the goal of developing the “American empire”. Instead, the Pentagon has insisted – with only limited success – that the countries it is “defending” put their own troops in harm’s way and it has also insisted that its allies play a bigger role in the conflicts it undertakes. But most importantly, it has enthusiastically taken up the concept of waging “remote warfare”.

            As Paul Rogers, professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, in northern England explains, “This has mainly involved a much more intensive use of air-power, including armed-drones; the utilisation of long-range artillery and ground-launched ballistic-missiles; and the much wider use of special-forces and privatised military corporations.”

            Why the emphasis on special-forces and the private sector? Because casualties among special-forces are seldom – if ever – reported while casualties among the personnel of private “security” firms are largely ignored. This effectively limits the possibilities for negative coverage in the mass media. This is most welcome by capitalist governments anxious to pursue offensive wars, their preferred method of ensuring they have a “level playing field” in which to get on with the job of continuing to accumulate profits.

            Already the media coverage we’re getting seriously downplays or disguises the scale of present military activity. George W. Bush effectively declared victory in Afghanistan on January 29, 2002, yet the war in Afghanistan has just entered its 17th year, making it the USA’s longest-running war. What’s more, did you know that “the US Air Force is on track to triple the number of bombs dropped in Afghanistan this year compared with last year” (Rogers again)? No, neither did I. And yet, a three-fold increase in the US bombload being dropped on any country is surely significant news?

            In fact, from the lack of media coverage, you would have thought that that particular conflict was actually dying down somewhat. Foolish? Well, not really, but definitely gullible. In actual fact, there has been a substantial build-up of US forces in Afghanistan accompanied by an equally substantial increase in the US use of air-power and armed-drones in that country since Trump took office. Professor Rogers notes that “Operation Jagged Knife, a recent offensive by the US air-force, included B-52 strategic bombers and – for the first time in Afghanistan – the advanced F-22 stealth strike-aircraft.”

            Once again it seems we have a “rich man’s war” being waged against poor people in a Third World country. There the similarity ends, of course, although the US appears to be having as little success in Afghanistan as it had in Vietnam.

            On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush (again) gave his “mission accomplished” speech after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. The US however was more interested in seizing control of Iraq’s oil than in establishing a popular democratic regime there. (After all, Saddam had been the USA’s man in Iraq until he started to seriously consider retaining the country’s oil revenue for Iraq itself.) The result was invasion and the execution of Saddam, which led to an insurgency that has caused much death and destruction and enabled US creation ISIS to break loose and take over a large part of the country.

            Ironically, in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected, the war in Iraq looked sufficiently under control for him to order wholesale troop withdrawals. But since 2014, the US has again been at war in the country.

            Similarly, in 2011, NATO chiefs bombed Libya into the ground and murdered its leader Muammar Gaddafi but the forces they supported then now engage in a three-way civil war while patriotic forces seek to organise resistance.

            Meanwhile, “the Pentagon has quietly increased its forces in Somalia [yes, US forces are also waging war in Somalia] by adding several hundred special-forces troops and lots more airstrikes.”

            Pentagon propaganda points to the more recent defeat of ISIS as proof that its policies work, but the most powerful blows against ISIS were struck by Russia and the Syrian army. The Pentagon claims that it has killed over 60,000 “ISIS fighters” since 2014, every victim of its military action in the region apparently being classified as an “ISIS fighter”. Tellingly, however, despite inflicting carnage on such a scale, the Pentagon acknowledges fewer than 500 civilian casualties, a laughable figure.

            The high-tech “rich man’s war” that failed in Vietnam is not only still being pursued by the US but has been rendered even more high-tech and is being touted as the future in warfare (oh, boy!). It will certainly generate huge profits for the armaments and aero-space industries, while its dependency on private or semi-private “special forces” opens up yet another source of profit for “private enterprise”. In this Trumpian worldview, “clean wars” will be the order of the day. But a closer look exposes the dangerous myth of the “clean war”.

            Professor Paul Rogers notes that “Airwars, the monitoring group, finds the US-led wars in Iraq and Syria have involved over 28,000 airstrikes, split more or less evenly between the two countries, using over 103,000 bombs and missiles. Airwars has done its best to assess the likelihood of civilian casualties, and currently puts these at a minimum of around 6,000 – far larger than any Pentagon figures.”

            Professor Rogers also notes that, “Where Iraq is concerned, Iraq Body Count says that over 179,000 civilians have died in the last 15 years.”

            In November 2017, The New York Times published a long report by Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal titled “The Uncounted,” that also sought to ascertain the real extent of the casualties caused by US operations in Iraq. Over a 14-month period to July 2017, they visited 150 sites of attacks across northern Iraq, and interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors and family members. “We found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”

            Professor Rogers warns, “If we think that remote warfare is the way to go because it kills neither ‘our’ people nor innocent civilians, then we are deluding ourselves.” But capitalism thrives on self-delusion. It is what enables capitalists and especially their dependent politicians to say with total conviction that they stand for democracy and free speech, or that cutting corporate taxes will create jobs for ordinary people.

            However, there is an old saying that applies to capitalism’s fondness for deluding the people: You can fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time!

(The above article is from the March 16-31, 2018, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)