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?
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
Egypt: 288 just for Egypt and 288 as peacekeepers in Sinai
Saudi Arabia: 274
Syria: 8 (?)
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…