Robert Gates’ New Rhetoric and The Forever War

(10 am – promoted by ek hornbeck)

It’s been said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is the “anti-Rumsfeld.”  Soft-spoken, open to input from others, Gates’ reputation as a sane voice and a counter to the bellicosity of earlier Bush years is entrenched in any number of newspaper and TV pundit accounts.

But in fact Gates has recently made himself the point-man of what Tom Englhardt has called “the war in the slum cities of the planet.”  Consistently and forcefully, Gates in recent months has argued and cheer-leaded for a global counterinsurgency war; a war extended into the foreseeable future in which America — having no geo-strategic equal — devotes itself to crushing sparks of militant protest wherever they arise.  Gates’ performance has been remarkable in its lack of ideological cover-stories and for its single-minded devotion to neo-imperial power.

That this has gone largely without comment in the press is no doubt due in part to Gates’ mild-mannered reputation and speaking style.  But it is also because Gates’ advocacy of a global war on indigenous populations is a logical extension of values and strategies that have long been accepted as conventional wisdom in Washington.  The right to defend “our interests” around the world has morphed, in Gates’ language, into a war without exit strategies and without end.  Without exit strategies because the planet has no national borders; without end because the American need for the planet’s resources is becoming total and permanent.

What has been called the “Long War” is likely to be many years of persistent, engaged combat all around the world in differing degrees of size and intensity.  This generational campaign cannot be wished away or put on a timetable.  There are no exit strategies.  To paraphrase the Bolshevik Leon Trotsky, we may not be interested in the long war, but the long war is interested in us.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY, Monday, April 21, 2008

What is remarkable about Gates’ rhetoric is that it is totally without reference to ideology.  He makes no claims that the United States must “confront radical Islam” or “defeat radical terrorist extremists.”  Gates has no truck with McCain’s repeated metaphysical call to arms in “the transcendent challenge of our time.”  

No.  Gates simply says we must defeat them all, whoever they are, and for whatever reason they rise up.  

Gates openly advocates a realignment of the military away from defense of the United States and towards invasion, occupation, and suppression of small dissident  factions who do not wish to participate in the American world order.  

These kinds of operations are likely to continue because, as I told an Army gathering last year, it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional military terms for some time to come.  

The record of the past quarter century is clear – the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Israelis in Lebanon, the United States in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Smaller, irregular forces – insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists – will find ways, as they always have, to frustrate and neutralize the advantages of larger, regular armies. The good news is that due to the innovation of leaders like Generals David Petraeus, Ray Odierno, and Stan McChrystal, as well as the creativity and commitment of countless other officers and NCOs in the junior and mid-level ranks, our military is adapting and evolving – often re-learning old lessons – to deal effectively these threats. The key is to institutionalize the capabilities built and lessons learned from the ongoing campaigns, as our adversaries – which include nation-states – look to exploit our vulnerabilities and avoid playing to our strengths.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, D.C. , Monday, May 05, 2008

Gates goes so far as to warn military contractors that ignoring military needs in indigenous population suppression is likely to cost those contractors money.

First, I believe that any major weapons program, in order to remain viable, will have to show some utility and relevance to the kind of irregular campaigns that, as I mentioned, are most likely to engage America’s military in the coming decades. In Texas, I had an opportunity to see a demonstration of the parts of the Army’s Future Combat Systems that have moved from the drawing board to reality. A program like FCS – whose total cost could exceed $200 billion if completely built out – must continue to demonstrate its value for the types of irregular challenges we will face, as well as for full-spectrum warfare.

Second, I would stress that the perennial procurement cycle – going back many decades – of adding layer upon layer of cost and complexity onto fewer and fewer platforms that take longer and longer to build must come to an end.

Without a fundamental change in this dynamic, it will be difficult to sustain support for these kinds of weapons programs in the future.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The entire military must adopt skills and strategies employed in the past only by small tactical teams in limited operations.

Many of these skills and tasks used to be the province of the Special Forces, but now are a core of the Army and Marine Corps as a whole.

The primary task of the U.S. commissioned officer will likely become the training and commanding of foreign troops fighting against their own populations.

For example, at West Point last month, I told the cadets that the most important assignment in their careers may not necessarily be commanding U.S. soldiers, but advising or mentoring the troops of other nations.

Gates’ assertions ought to be chilling to anyone who both possesses a moral sense and is paying attention.  For the foreseeable future, he is telling us, we will be a superpower devoted to the killing of people who can do no more than cobble together a bomb to put on a curb in their own home town.

There is a strong case to be made that IEDs and suicide bombings have become the weapon of choice for America’s most dangerous and likely adversaries –

In order to accomplish this, we must find and retain just those military personnel who have demonstrated creative expertise in the suppression of indigenous populations in low-intensity conflicts.  The values according to which this is not reprehensible as a general ethic must become “rooted in the institutional culture.”

Going forward we must find, retain, and promote the right people – at all ranks, whether they wear stripes, bars, or stars – and put them in the right positions to see that the lessons learned in recent combat become rooted in the institutional culture. Similarly, we shouldn’t let personnel policies that were developed in peacetime hurt our wartime performance.

One such person is the current darling of Washington.

There is a history here. During the 1980s, a Princeton graduate student noted in his dissertation that, about a decade after the fall of Saigon, the Army’s 10-month staff college assigned 30 hours – about four days – for what is now called low-intensity conflict. This was about the same as what the Air Force was teaching at the time. That grad student was then-Army Major David Petraeus.

Gates’ only concession to decorum is to call all of this “counterinsurgency.”  But that is not much of a concession.  In saner times, the idea that the full might of the most powerful military in the history of the world ought to be devoted to worldwide “counterinsurgency” operations would be instantly recognized for what it is: a statement of crushing imperialism, aggression, and ruthless domination.

Gates has become an open advocate for a forever war on the poor of this world who choose non-compliance with structures of power in their local habitations.  As a way of maintaining hegemony in a world of dwindling resources, this may be the only live option.  But to those who do not wish for hegemony, it ought to be anathema.  

More to the point, the extent to which Gates’ recent turn goes unremarked-upon in the popular press and unrejected by the American people is the extent to which we as a nation have utterly collapsed as a shining beacon on a hill.  The light will have become a baleful warning, a red and flashing achtung.  A planetary distress signal with no one out there to save us.

21 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. Also at DailyKos.

  2. but perfectly in line with past Neo-con position papers and strategies regarding the positioning of America’s interests.

    One thing you mentioned that needs to be stressed. Gates, as you said is getting away with it because he isn’t some screaming volatile personality. That bothers me because it means the press will give people like him a pass because his behaviour ( calm and rational ) does not match up with the words/ideas. So. We can have public figures advocating genocide and who knows what else and as long as they say it nicely, no problem. A bit of a reflection of our culture of outrage and confrontation turned on itself.

    • Valtin on May 15, 2008 at 6:52 am

    follow the coverage Chris Floyd has been giving to the current assault on Sadr City, which will be Gates’s Fallujah.

    The fighting is Sadr City is concentrated along a demarcation line, Al Quds Street (Jerusalem Street), between areas loyal to nationalist cleric Motqada al-Sadr and areas now under the control of the violent sectarian factions backed by both the United States and Iran; i.e., the Iraqi “government.” In addition to bombing residential areas and leading Iraqi government troops in attacks, American forces are also erecting a massive concrete wall, 12 feet high, along three miles of Al Quds street, in attempt to seal off the recalcitrant neighborhoods….

    Meanwhile, civilians in Mosul are likewise fleeing or hunkering down in the face of a major assault by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent reports that one of Iraq’s largest cities has been turned into a “ghost town,” as likewise fleeing or hunkering down in the face of an attack by U.S. and Iraqi forces. The latter have launched the attack because, they say, the city has been under the control of “al Qaeda in Iraq” for many months.

    That’s right; as Juan Cole notes, one of Iraq’s largest cities has been in the hands of what is supposed to be America’s deadliest enemies in Iraq – even while Americans has been bombarded with propaganda about the “success” of the surge. This is the same city, by the way, that is routinely trumpted as a “success story” in the glittering career of General David Petraeus, architect of the “successful” surge.

     

  3. But tell me,

    In saner times, the idea that the full might of the most powerful military in the history of the world ought to be devoted to worldwide “counterinsurgency” operations would be instantly recognized for what it is: a statement of crushing imperialism, aggression, and ruthless domination.

    Which saner times were these (since what Gates envisions is only a continuation of longstanding U.S. policy)? And who would have instantly recognized this?

  4. situation in Myanmar, Gates was very careful about stating that invading Myanmar’s airspace was a non-starter (contradicting statements from the State Dept).

    Kinda weird considering what you’ve outlined above…unless violating a nation’s sovereignty under “responsibility to protect” is the only option off the table.

  5. Gates is ex CIA…Central Fuck Up Agency made up of hillbillies from across America looking for excitement…people like Markos Moulitas and Booman of Booman Tribune who promote CIA ideas and CIA writers on their websites.

    Gates is from Kansas somewhere in Witchita….probably the suburbs. He’s an unbearably ignorant man.

    He probably worked with Larry Johnson of Booman tribune in Central America as they both sought to torture and destroy nations there. Maybe he had contact with the Moutitsas family or members of the Junta in El Salvador that the Zunigas were connected with.

    He was probably helping out in the buying Cocaine in exchange for Arms….sending the Coke to addicts in the U.S. who funded the War in Central America.

    He was deeply involved in Iran Contra.

    All around nice guy…Maybe the idea that he’s against war in Iran is a ruse….it might not be…but a dummy like this can be turned around easily.

    He has a Phd in Russian history…..I guarantee that it’s utterly useless as I’m sure he doesn’t speak the language AT ALL…they never do…it would require actually having to live there…not study about Russia…

    These people think they can understand things without contact.

    He is an example of the worst kind of scum the Earth gives life to.

    • geomoo on May 16, 2008 at 9:55 am

    This brings great clarity.  Gates’ words are something I might read and be mildly bothered by without really getting it.

    One of the most clever things is the unexamined assumptions, especially the assumption that we will have adversaries and that we will necessarily be fighting:

    as our adversaries – which include nation-states – look to exploit our vulnerabilities and avoid playing to our strengths.

    The assumption of the permanent war underlies everything. It’s as though we are living in a video game in which the concept of peacetime has never been introduced.

    That’s a terrific essay.  I’m going to quote you just to underline the wholeness and solidity of your understanding, along with the precision of your expression.

    Gates has become an open advocate for a forever war on the poor of this world who choose non-compliance with structures of power in their local habitations.  As a way of maintaining hegemony in a world of dwindling resources, this may be the only live option. But to those who do not wish for hegemony, it ought to be anathema.  

    True, true, true.

    • OPOL on May 16, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    that first Gates quote is particularly chilling (not that the rest aren’t).

    In saner times, the idea that the full might of the most powerful military in the history of the world ought to be devoted to worldwide “counterinsurgency” operations would be instantly recognized for what it is: a statement of crushing imperialism, aggression, and ruthless domination.

    How true LC.  I wonder if we’ll ever see such sanity again.

Comments have been disabled.