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GLW: Is Bush's Empire Coming Unstuck In Iraq?

UNITED STATES: Is Bush’s empire coming unstuck in Iraq?

By Doug Lorimer
Green Left Weekly

In a March 14 article for the British Guardian, investigative journalist Naomi Klein pointed out that, as the US is increasingly exposed — ''Brand USA is in trouble'' — as the world’s biggest terrorist, it is desperate to rebrand itself. And the woes of the world’s “superpower” go beyond simply rebranding: the disaster in Iraq may have challenged US President George Bush’s plans for world domination entirely.

“The Bush administration has long been enamoured of the idea that it can solve complex policy challenges by borrowing cutting-edge communications tools from its heroes in the corporate world”, Klein wrote. “The Irish rock star Bono has recently been winning unlikely fans in the White House by framing world poverty as an opportunity for US politicians to become better marketers. ‘Brand USA is in trouble … it’s a problem for business’, Bono warned at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The solution is ‘to redescribe ourselves to a world that is unsure of our values’.

“The Bush administration wholeheartedly agrees, as evidenced by the orgy of redescription that now passes for American foreign policy. Faced with an Arab world enraged by the US occupation of Iraq and its blind support for Israel, the solution is not to change these brutal policies: it is to ‘change the story’.”

Klein took aim at Washington’s “purple power” — Bush’s description of the Iraqi election that was to bring “democracy” to Iraq, but instead installed a Washington-friendly parliament saddled with a gerrymander that gives a veto to the most rabidly pro-US members to prevent changes to pre-election laws set up by Washington’s occupation administration prior to the election.

Klein argues, however, that the spin is unlikely to fool Iraqis. “The only idea that has ever stood up to kings, tyrants and mullahs in the Middle East is the promise of economic justice ... but there is no room for such ideas in the Bush narrative.”

This crisis of credibility is unlikely to go away. Even US soldiers returning from Iraq tell the same story: those Iraqis who welcomed the US as liberators from Saddam Hussein have long since turned hostile to the US, as the brutal occupation of their country continues.

And at home, Bush remains in trouble, despite winning the presidential election. A Zogby survey released on February 25 found that 61% of voters opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq. In releasing the report, John Zogby commented: “Third parties are the survey’s true winners, as they would today obtain more votes than they did in November.” And while the mainstream anti-war movement has yet to recover from the period of demobilisation during the presidential election, students resisting military recruitment and soldiers refusing to fight are stepping up organising against the occupation.

Perhaps most importantly, the continuing fighting in Iraq has cast doubt on Bush’s aggressive military strategy.

“The world has seen ... the United States and the coalition forces go into Iraq... That has to have a deterrent effect on people. If you put yourself in the shoes of a country that might decide they'd like to make mischief, they have a very recent, vivid example of the fact that the United States has the ability to deal with this”, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the US House of Representatives armed services committee on March 10.

Rumsfeld made his claim that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had provided a “vivid example” of the ability of the US military to crush “mischief”-makers — states that challenge US global domination — as he was announcing that the Pentagon was beginning the first comprehensive review of its global strategy since the 9/11 attacks.

Under the cover of Bush's global “war on terror”, Rumsfeld pushed for a decisive post-Cold War “transformation” or strategic restructuring of the US armed forces. This entailed a shift away from fighting lengthy wars using large numbers of ground combat troops toward rapidly defeating recalcitrant and weak Third World states using an initial round of “shock and awe” — massive use of high-tech aerial firepower — followed by a short war fought by small numbers of highly mobile troops.

The Iraq war was supposed to be a test run of this new strategy — with “precision” cruise missile strikes “decapitating” the Iraqi government and army, followed by a rapid march on Baghdad and with the US occupation force being reduced to 30,000 troops six months later. However, as the March 11 Los Angeles Times reported, “many defense department officials are acknowledging that an intractable Iraqi insurgency they didn't foresee has undermined” this new military strategy.

The LA Times observed: “Something happened on the way to the wars of the future: The Pentagon became bogged down in an old-fashioned, costly and drawn-out war of occupation. Though the rapid assault on Baghdad in March 2003 went smoothly, it is the bloody two years since that have diverged from the Pentagon's blueprint ...

“As the Pentagon begins its assessment, it has 145,000 troops stationed in a country they were supposed to have left months ago ...

“Many Pentagon officials fear that the success Iraqi insurgents have had in preventing a US troop reduction in Iraq could be the new rule, rather than the exception.”

“Prolonged insurgency, death by a thousand cuts, is their answer to 'shock and awe’”, Frank Hoffman of the Marine Corps' Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities told the LA Times.

Specific criticism of the Iraq war strategy from within the top echelons of the US military first surfaced late last year when the December 24 Washington Post reported the contents of a study presented at Cornell University in October by Major Isaiah Wilson.

A researcher for the US Army's official Iraq war history group from April to June 2003, Wilson then became the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne Division until March 2004. Today Wilson is a tenured professor of strategic studies at the West Point military academy.

According to the Post, Wilson said the Pentagon had no operational plan beyond the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. He said US war planners’ failure or refusal to recognise the prospect that Iraqis would resist the US occupation forces after the fall of Saddam Hussein regime “led to a cascading undercutting of the war effort: too few troops, too little coordination with civilian and governmental/non-governmental agencies and too little allotted time to achieve success”.

Wilson said that by July 2003 the US-led occupation forces had “lost the momentum and the initiative” and “have been playing catch-up ever since”. He attributed this to the unwillingness of the US military commanders to recognise the Iraqi insurgency “as a war of rebellion, a people's war, even when they were fighting it”. Because of this failure, Wilson concluded, the US military remained “perhaps in peril of losing the 'war', even after supposedly winning it”.

In its March 11 report, the LA Times noted that last year the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory body, predicted that the protracted counterinsurgency war in Iraq was a model for the US military's future. Referring obliquely to Rumsfeld's “transformation” strategy, the board's report said: “Some have believed, or hoped, that the technological and conceptual advances ... can reduce the time and personnel needed for stabilization and reconstruction. Unfortunately, we do not find that is the case.”

The Defense Science Board's report was commissioned to guide the Pentagon's strategic review, due to be completed early next year, and “is part of a growing body of Pentagon analysis signalling a shift in defense department thinking”, the LA Times reported.

Part of this shift in thinking, the paper added, is a move away from the unilateral, go-it-alone, posture adopted by the Bush administration in the lead up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“With the Army and Marine Corps straining to meet the Pentagon's troop requirements for Iraq and Afghanistan, the participation of allies has taken on greater importance”, the LA Times reported. “Foreign troops would be necessary for any large-scale operation the US military might undertake, planners said, if only to share the post-conflict [sic] burdens such as those confronting the US military in Iraq.”

“There are smarter, more efficient ways to do regime change and occupation”, it quoted a “senior civilian official” at the Pentagon as saying. “One of those ways is to rely much more on our friends and allies to do the back-end work.”

In line with this shift, “Bush administration officials have taken a far more conciliatory tone with some of America's oldest European allies”, the paper added. “Whereas Rumsfeld once slighted NATO's western European members — referring to them as ‘old Europe' — he poked fun at those comments to win over European ministers during a trip to the continent last month. ‘That was old Rumsfeld', he said.”

From Green Left Weekly, March 23, 2005.
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