The Gates Doctrine: US as Globo-Cop

Yesterday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a ‘National Defense Strategy’ document (PDF of the text here), that provides what Gates describes as in the Foreword as a “blueprint to succeed in the years to come.”
This blueprint is based very centrally on Donald Rumsfeld’s view of the US being engaged in a “Long War.”
Short version: Rejoice, ye defense contractors far and near! Your gravy train continues!
The nature of the “Long War” as spelled out on pages 7-9 of the 29-page document (pp.12-14 of the PDF). It relies totally on the administration’s currently favored (and operationally and ideologically quite empty) concept that our opponents can be categorized simply as “violent extremists.” Here’s how this “Long War:” section of the document starts:

    For the foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent extremist movements will be the central objective of the U.S. We must defeat violent extremism as a threat to our way of life as a free and open society and foster an environment inhospitable to violent extremists and all those who support them. We face an extended series of campaigns to defeat violent extremist groups, presently led by al-Qaeda and its associates. [But possibly in the future led by others? Make no mistake, this “Long War” can be stretched out forever!] In concert with others, we seek to reduce support for violent extremism and encourage moderate voices, offering a positive alternative to the extremists’ vision for the future. Victory requires us to apply all elements of national power in partnership with old allies and new partners. Iraq and Afghanistan remain the central fronts in the struggle, but we cannot lose sight of the implications of fighting a long-term, episodic, multi-front, and multi-dimensional conflict [boy, with each of those sonorous adjectives I’m seeing dollar signs light up in the defense contractors’ eyes!] more complex and diverse than the Cold War confrontation with communism. Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is crucial to winning this conflict, but it alone will not bring victory. [More $$!] We face a clash of arms, a war of ideas, and an assistance effort that will require patience and innovation. In concert with our partners, we must maintain a long-term commitment to undermining and reducing the sources of support for extremist groups, and to countering the ideological totalitarian messages they build upon.
    We face a global struggle…

Well, I wish I had the time to do one of my tabulated annotations on the whole of this text. But alas, I don’t.
Noteworthy in Gates’s description of the LW, however, are the following features:
1. He nowhere claims that this LW is explicitly one to be waged against Islamist extremists. This is excellent. Likewise, though he likens the LW to the US’s earlier global campaigns against fascism and communism and refers to the”totalitarian ideological message of terrorist groups,” nowhere does he use the terrible, hate-propagating term “Islamofascism.” In general, his refusal to name the “violent extremists” as being explicitly “Islamist extremists” is a welcome move… There is, however, a sort of nudge-nudge “we all really know who we’re talking about” aspect to this section. Especially when he says that the VE’s are “presently led by al-Qaeda and its associates.”
But if the term really is a neutral, scientific one– that is, that the members of the VE category includes everyone who is both “violent” and “extremist” (whatever the latter term actually means)– then should we not include in it other, non-Islamist actors like, for example, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka; the Ethiopian government that wilfully and with full US support invaded Somalia in 2006 and has maintained a brutal occupation there ever since; or those ideologically motivated Jewish settlers in the West Bank area who most certainly fit into the category of VEs? From many perspectives, could we not also include in the category the US government itself, which has certainly, over the past seven years, used the greatest amount of violence used by any actor in the international system and has done so in the name of an ideology that the majority of people around the world might well describe as “extremist”?
“Extremist” is, at the end of the day, essentially either a category chock-full of everybody you happen to disagree with, or an empty and quite meaningless category. One thing’s for certain, it is nearly always a highly subjective category.
Perhaps one possible, non-subjective meaning that could be ascribed to it is that an “extremist” is an actor who refuses to sit down and negotiate his political differences with others, preferring instead to use violence. That is the only even vaguely helpful and objective definition I can think of for this term. (In which case, the qualifier “violent” becomes more or less redundant. Okay, well maybe the VEs are the ones who not only prefer to use violence over negotiation but who also do use it.
So where does that leave the US, an actor that in late 2001 and again in early 2003 wilfully and knowingly turned away from the many nonviolent means of conflict resolution available to it and instead used massive violence against its opponents?
2. Gates is also, in this document, explicitly asserting the US’s intention to be the world’s completely dominant globo-cop, that is, to roam around the world waging “counter-insurgency” on a truly global scale.
This is how he introduces the concept of the US’s “global responsibilities”, right at the beginning of the document:

    A core responsibility of the U.S. Government is to protect the American people – in the words of the framers of our Constitution, to “provide for the common defense.” For more than 230 years, the U.S. Armed Forces have served as a bulwark of liberty, opportunity, and prosperity at home. Beyond our shores, America shoulders additional responsibilities on behalf of the world

This is truly mind-boggling. “On behalf of the world”??? When, pray, did “the world” ever ask the US to “shoulder” these responsibilities?
Answer: Never.
Back in January 2007, I wrote a few things on JWN and elsewhere about the conceptual (and also practical) difficulties of the military of a democratic nation mounting counter-insurgency — COIN, in the jargon– campaigns “on behalf of” the governments of other countries elsewhere. You can find some of that writing here and here.
One of the main points I was making there was that, “For a foreign power to use forceful means to affect the political outcome within any given country/society causes a direct clash with the principles of democracy, of sovereignty, and of a respect for basic human rights…”
How much greater is this clash when the intervening country proposes to do its globo-copping on a truly global scale?
After reading Gates’s document I was interested in finding out how “global” the US military has already become. So I looked through my copy of the IISS’s Military Balance 2008 and found out the following:

    a. The US has active military personnel stationed in no fewer than 162 of the world’s countries and territories. Nearly all those in this listing (pp. 38-46 of the MilBal) are nation-states. Some five or six are seas or oceans in which the various US fleets operate, and a few more are non-state territories like Greenland or Ascension Island. But over 150 are nation-states.
    b. Just in the A’s, the US has forces in eleven nation-states, from Albania to Azerbaijan.
    c. In the Middle East, the US has military personnel in the following countries– in addition to those in Iraq:

      Algeria: 10
      Bahrain: 1,319
      Djibouti: 2,038
      Egypt: 288 just for Egypt and 288 as peacekeepers in Sinai
      Israel: 50
      Jordan: 19
      Lebanon: 3
      Morocco: 13
      Oman: 37
      Qatar: 512
      Saudi Arabia: 274
      Syria: 8 (?)
      Tunisia: 15
      UAE: 87

    d. In 2008 the US has 1.498 million people in its active-duty military and 1.083 million it its reserves. This gives the the largest standing army in the world in terms of manpower, except for that of China which has 2.105 million people in its standing army (but only 800 million in its reserves.)
    e. In 2006, the US’s defense spending was $535.9 billion, easily the largest amount of any country in the world. China, with four times the US’s population, spent “only” $121.9 billion on military spending in 2006 (calculated using PPP$.) Worldwide defense spending was listed as $1,297.8 billion. So our country bore (“shouldered”, as per Gates?) 41.3 percent of global defense expenditures.

Here’s the funny thing. Since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the US has had neither any sizeable military enemies nor any military competitors.
What is the point of all this wasteful– and quite frequently, also actively counter-productive– defense spending we’re doing?
Now we learn! We’re doing it so we can be Globo-cop!
But guess what? The other six billion of the people never once elected us to this position…

Iraq-Afghanistan: The crunch approaching?

George Bush’s general approach to dealing with the problems of Iraq and Afghanistan– as to the many other rapidly mounting challenges that confront Washington both globally and domestically– has been best summed up in this short animated cartoon published on April 11 by the WaPo’s extremely gifted Ann Telnaes. (Check out some of her other animations there, too.)
Bottom line: At this point, facing these omnipresent challenges, Bush is working simply to minimize the amount of damage they cause to him, and to presumed Republican nominee John McCain, in the time remaining till the November 4 election. And he is doing this, even if it quite predictably (and predictedly) results in building up much greater challenges for whoever it is that succeeds him next January.
But what if Bush’s attempt to postpone the eruption of full-blown crises until after Nov. 4– and preferably, from his perspective, until after January 20, 2009– fails, and these crises start erupting within the next six months?
This might well happen. Regarding many issues, including the domestic US economy and the Palestine question. I know that for the people directly concerned, their situations are already in extreme crisis. But I am talking here about the potential of these crises to become full-blown challenges to the Bush administration’s attempt to hold onto Washington’s power to “control” events in very distant parts of the world.
Today, it is the (functionally linked) crises the US faces in Iraq and Afghanistan that seem likely to mount most speedily to this point.
The functional link between these two crises is, of course, the force-level constraint and the trade-offs that exist between the two theaters in terms of the US military’s force planning. (One notable distinction between the US’s bid for global hegemony over the past 15 years and the maintenance by Britain, France, and other European powers of their globe-circling “empires” in earlier eras is that in the case of those European empires, the vast majority of the cannon-fodder required to police the distant colonies was pulled from the pauperized indigenous peoples of other colonies. The US, by contrast, has no power to compel citizens of other countries to fight its wars for it, and has shown little ability to persuade them to do so, either. Hence, it is the US that in both Iraq and Afghanistan has done the vast majority of the paying to raise the fighting forces, and the fighting and the dying there. Unlike when, for example, it was the British Army that got majorly caught short in Iraq in WWI– and it was Indian troops who did most of the dying there.)
Now, US force levels are stretched to the limit. The “surge” in Iraq was supposed to be temporary, but has turned out not to be. A week ago, when the Green Zone in Baghdad came under sustained mortar fire, the US and its Iraqi Security Force proxies tried to dig into, take, and control the whole of the southern third of Sadr City, in an attempt to deny the mortar-firers the proximity they needed to be able to hit the GZ. That involved a massive attempt at quadrillaging the southern end of Sadr City, an area that is home to 2.5 million human souls.
(I should note that Badger, over at Missing Links, is quite right to castigate all those US commentators on Iraqi affairs who did not sharply criticize the anti-humane quality of this US-led assault on Sadr City.)
Anyway, the US-led attempt to prevent the mortaring of the GZ was spectacularly shown to have failed yesterday and today, when a dust-storm prevented the US from flying the aircraft used to spot launchers, and the mortaring of the GZ resumed again.
It seems from that account by the WaPo’s Sholnn Freeman that the US-led forces had been trying to simply to carve a barrier right through the middle of Sadr City, in order to establish that line as a forward defensive perimeter for the GZ. That meant trying to push the new barrier right through the middle of some very densely populated districts. I can certainly imagine some of the suffering that has inflicted on all the families who live anywhere nearby. (The US military reported that 38 “gunmen” were killed in Sadr City yesterday. How about the noncombatant casualties, though? Also, why should we believe their designation that all those they counted as killed were actually involved in hostilities?)
Meanwhile, one other, extremely important effect of the US-led attempt to quadrillage Sadr City has been to firm up an emerging anti-US alliance between Iraqi MPs and political currents from a number of different currents that span Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divides. About 50 leaders, including Ahmed Radhi, a member of the Iraqi Accord Front, and other Sunni-Arab and even Kurdish figures, joined a pro-national dialogue, and effectively pro-Sadr, protest in Sadr City yesterday.
McClatchy’s Hussein Kadhim and Raviya H. Ismail added to that report the following about Moqtada Sadr’s position:

    Sadr’s latest message, delivered during Friday prayers, called for the bloodshed between Iraqis to stop, yet asked for a united force against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
    “We want liberation of ourselves and our lands from the occupier,” part of the message read. “To have a real government and have real sovereignty.”

I can certainly see that, after five years of the gross mismanagement of their country by the occupying force, many Iraqis– including many members of the struggling new Iraqi security forces– would find this appeal quite attractive.
(More analysis of the anti-US bloc from Badger, here. Kudos to him for his attentiveness to the politics of the story.)
Meanwhile, all has most certainly not been going well for the US-led effort in Afghanistan. Yesterday, the Taliban showed their ability to penetrate close to the heart of a very high-security event being staged by the Karzai government, with all the foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries present. Themilitary display and speeches there were designed both to mark the anniversary of the mujahideen’s victory over the Soviets 16 years ago, and to demonstrate the capabilities of the new, US-built and US-controlled Afghan security forces.
Asia Times Online’s Syed Saleem Shahzad gives a lot of helpful background about the Taliban action. He notes that the attackers “penetrated no fewer than 18 security rings around the parade’s venue and they used their latest weaponry – small mortars that are only manufactured by a few Western countries, including Israel.” They got to within 500 meters of the event’s main stage, sending salvoes from machine guns and rocket launchers into the back of the stage.
Karzai and the dignitaries escaped unharmed, but three Afghan Security Force people and three Taliban were killed in the ensuing shootout.
It sounds eerily like the attack Egyptian Islamists mounted in 1981, when they killed President Sadat while he was reviewing troops at a big, high-profile public event staged to commemorate the Egyptian army’s successful crossing of the Suez Canal eight years earlier. In that one, the attackers succeeded in killing Sadat. In both cases, the attackers had evidently gathered useful intelligence cooperation from people within the national armed forces involved.
Since yesterday’s attack in Kabul, NATO and US spinmeisters have been working overtime to try to put a brave face on what happened. (E.g. here.) But the event certainly points to the fragile nature of the US-led order in Afghanistan. Shahzad’s piece has lots more details and what looks like a good and fair analysis. His bottom line: NATO has gotten smarter and somewhat more effective, but the Taliban have also adapted and learned… “Indeed,” he warns, “the Taliban have lined up a stream of attackers to target Kabul to rattle the Afghan government and NATO forces in coming days and weeks.”
Over recent weeks, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pleaded and pleaded with the NATO allies to commit more combat troops to Afghanistan. With little success. So how can the dangerous military situations that the US and its small number of combat-willing allies now face in both Iraq and Afghanistan be dealt with without disaster? Hard to say. But calling for the UN to convene and lead a much broader–that is, no longer US-dominated– political stabilization effort for both countries seems to be the only way to avoid a disaster in one or both theaters that might well blow up– even on George W. Bush’s watch.

    Update Monday evening: A well-researched piece of reporting about Afghanistan in Tuesday’s CSM, by Anand Gopal. He has material from an interview with a strongly pro-Taliban student at Kabul University, and a lot of other fascinating material.