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The Problem With a “War” Strategy

The Problem With a “War” Strategy

by Thom Hartmann

The eerie juxtaposition of General Betrayus testifying today before Congress, and it being 9/11 (which helped Bush bring us disasters ranging from the PATRIOT Act to the Iraq War and Occupation) brings an opportunity to re-understand what’s been happening here and in Iraq these past six years, and offers an insight into a way forward.

Imagine, God forbid, that a major city in America were to be dramatically attacked (a 9/11 level of destruction only on steroids), or fall apart because of a natural disaster. Detroit, for example, or San Francisco. Massive destruction, damaging most of the homes - it could be an earthquake in San Francisco, or a horrific tornado in Detroit, or a nuclear device in either.

Water is cut off, electric wires downed, the phone systems taken out. People are dazed, in shock and awe. The prisons are damaged, and thousands of criminals are now on the streets, quickly melting back into the civilian populace. The destruction is massive.

The federal government then responds. They put up a wall around the city, and remove from office all employees and elected officials of the state and local governments. Fire all the police and fire departments. Stop paying doctors and hospitals. Throw up cordons around each city to prevent nearby communities from coming in to help.

Why? Because the President believes that a mythical force - “The Free Market” - will automatically and magically come to the aid of the damaged city.

He declares that instead of paying normal taxes and getting normal services, nobody will any longer get Social Security payments, food stamps, Medicare or Medicaid. All the “big government” programs are ended, replaced with a flat 15% income tax and an elimination of all regulations on corporate action, either local or multinational. Unions are outlawed. The 200 largest companies - and thus the largest employers - in each city are shut down, because they’ve been running “inefficiently”: they’re now for sale to any transnational corporation that wants them, (but, given the devastation, none are showing any interest).

Consistent with the President’s belief that the only legitimate function of government is military, he brings 20,000 troops into each city.

But the people are now unemployed. Those with enough assets to do so have already fled the cities forever, knowing they will find better opportunities elsewhere. Those remaining are finding it hard to get gas for their cars, have only sporadic electricity, and are finding themselves the victims of water-borne disease (the government-run water treatment facilities have been abandoned, on the assumption that the “Free Market” will take care of water needs) and the recently freed criminals. Citizens loot the now-closed stores, looking for food and things that they may be able to sell to ward off the danger of their current unemployment.

At first, they protest in the streets, demanding a return of their jobs, their water and electricity, and some federal money so the remnants of the local construction companies can begin to rebuild their cities. But the President orders his soldiers to suppress the demonstration, and soldiers shoot and kill some of the protesters, finding it “impossible” to tell the difference between “protesters” and “criminals.”

The people fight back, shooting at the soldiers. The President declares martial law, and in the background brings in John Negroponte, a black-ops specialist who is alleged to have helped organize death squads in Central America, to funnels guns and training to professional hit men to take out those citizens of the two cities who may have any history of political dissent. Within weeks, bodies of young men with their hands tied behind their backs and bullets in the back of their heads begin to show up on the streets.

The people of the surrounding regions - the rest of America - want to know what the President is going to do for and about San Francisco and Detroit. He says that the cities occupied by his military forces will soon be pacified if we’ll just give him a bit more time, more troops, and more tanks and bullets. Discussion of the return of “normal” government - Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security payments, free health care, public education, water, electricity, and food stamps - are all absent from the news media, which is owned by big corporations who agree with the President’s belief that the mythical “Free Market” will solve everything, eventually.

Meanwhile, people in Detroit and San Francisco are both fighting among themselves and against the army. Black and white, Asian and Hispanic, rich and poor - neighborhoods are creating their own militias to protect themselves, and shooting on sight anybody who “looks different” who enters their own territory. In the power vacuum created by the loss of government, religious leaders emerge as the new power brokers, and churches and mosques and synagogues become centers where people can find food, shelter, and an authority figure who can resolve local disputes.

The President declares these local religious figures “insurgents” and orders his military to find and arrest them. The military is meanwhile coming under increasing attack from local people, pissed off that they are getting progressively less and less water, electricity, and food. Two thirds of all medical personnel have fled the cities, and the hospitals destroyed in the tornado and earthquake have not been rebuilt.

Local contractors want to help out and put people back to work, but they are forbidden from getting any federal monies. Their workers remain unemployed. Meanwhile, the President hires some friends of his from Texas to go into Detroit and San Francisco to rebuild the cities using out-of-town labor with all the money going to his friends in Texas. The locals in SF and Detroit resent this, and begin to shoot at the “contractors” as well.

The insurgency is now well under way. The President pleads with the American people for another few billion dollars to pay for his military operation and his Texas contractors. His generals talk about how they’ve pacified parts of Grosse Point and Dearborn in Detroit and Nob Hill in San Francisco. The US House and Senate are torn apart between a desire to pull out the soldiers - who are dying in increasing numbers - and those who believe we must first “pacify” the “insurgents” in Detroit and San Francisco. Unable to reach a consensus, and with a general loyal to the President pushing for more time and money to “pacify” Detroit and San Francisco, Congress votes another few billion dollars and more time to the President.

Meanwhile, the President’s advisors tell him that if he can just wait long enough, the magical “Free Market” will solve all problems in Detroit and San Francisco. Eventually, transnational corporations will see the huge and cheap labor force in the cities - which are now totally impoverished - as an asset. The 15% flat tax will bring prosperity. The privatization of Social Security and medical services and schools will bring “opportunity” to the people of the two cities. Just wait, it’ll happen.

The only solution allowed for discussion is the military solution. After all, we now have to “win back” Detroit and San Francisco. We have to kill off those engaging in racial, religious, regional, or “sectarian” violence.

And, sure enough, as neighborhoods reorganize themselves by race and ethnicity, as the young protesters are killed off, and the local religious leaders take over the functions of government - providing education, health care, and even food and safe water - the violence subsides in those localities. The President claims these reductions in local violence are “proof” that his military strategy to pacify Detroit and San Francisco is “showing progress.”

And so, for another year, the nation votes for more military funds, waiting for the magical “free market” solution to take hold, forgetting the lesson of 7000 years of city-state civilization that public services, progressive taxes, and local government are necessary to a civil and functional society.

Sound eerily familiar? This is what the Republicans and the Bush Administration did to Iraq (and partially did to New Orleans).

Lest you’ve forgotten, the main reason why the Bush Administration had no “Plan B” for Iraq, no planning whatsoever for anything beyond the first 3 months after the successful war to knock down Saddam’s government, is because they instead had an economic plan.

Bush’s old Andover Prep School roommate L. Paul Bremmer dissolved the 200 largest companies in Iraq, putting people out of work and putting the companies up for sale to transnational corporations. The nation’s progressive income tax was replaced by a 15% flat tax. State-subsidized food distribution was phased out, as was the Iraqi equivalent of Social Security for both retirees and the disabled, widowed, or orphaned. State-subsidized higher education was privatized. “Domestic content laws” that required Iraqi labor or components in Iraqi-sold products were done away with; the doors were thrown open to transnational corporations to take up to 100 percent of their profits out of Iraq, and to import into Iraq their cheap-labor-made products from outside the country. Labor unions were banned, and transnationals could bring in cheap labor from outside the nation (no longer “illegal immigrants” because laws on immigration for labor were done away with), displacing Iraqi workers.

The response of the Iraqi people was to fight back. And the response by the Republican True Believers in the mythical “Free Market” was to use the only tool they believe government should have - the military.

Now we’re asking if the military will “win or lose” in Iraq.

It’s the wrong question.

Instead, we should be asking: When we’re going to do in Iraq what we did in Europe after war destroyed that continent? When are we going to begin a “big government” solution, empower labor, raise taxes on the rich to reinstate social welfare programs for the poor, and protect local industries with tariffs and domestic content laws (like the Chinese and Japanese use)?

Only when these things begin will we really see “victory” in Iraq, if “victory” means a functioning and independent nation.

But because such things are a total repudiation of Republican/Rubin-Greenspan-Clinton/conservative economic and political doctrine, odds are that the real questions we should be asking won’t even be raised until there is a new President here in the United States.


Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network. His most recent books are “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” “Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights,” “We The People: A Call To Take Back America,” “What Would Jefferson Do?,” “Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It,” and “Cracking The Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion.”

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