Drain the pool

Posted on

A quote deep in a piece (“Pentagon Draws Up a 20-30-Year Antiterror Plan”) dropped deep into the news pages of the New York Times caught my eye today: “The first stage [of the Pentagon’s long-term anti-terror campaign] is to attack the most immediate threat, Al Qaeda. ‘Overall, the campaign against terrorism is to drain the pool,’ the [senior defense] official said. ‘How do you do that on a global basis? You pick your fights. You go after the most dangerous threat first, Al Qaeda. You deny them safe haven elsewhere.'” (For the rest of the piece see below.)

For a 58 year-old guy, who lived through the Vietnam era, this rang a distinct little bell. Mao Tse-tung, the Chinese communist revolutionary leader, once famously compared the people to the sea and the revolution’s guerrillas to fish swimming in the sea of the people. Early in the Vietnam conflict, American military (and civilian) officials spent a fair amount of time studying the works of the Chairman for pointers on anti-guerrilla warfare and spoke endlessly of “draining” that sea, or alternatively, of draining “the swamp” (which turned those guerrillas into so many mosquitoes, assumedly a notch below fish). “The pool” — a hopeful military image actually, being so small — assumedly sits somewhere between the hopeless sea and the difficult swamp (which so easily turns into that Vietnam horror, “the quagmire” that we were always sinking deeper into).

You all know that saying, generals are always fighting the last war. In our case, it’s probably two old wars: World War II, as absorbed on screen by the baby boomer generation, in which, by picture’s end, the Marines always advanced; and of course Vietnam, the real war, you might say, of my generation, whose final images (remember those helicopters being pushed off the decks of aircraft carriers?) were of the cavalry in flight, the marines in retreat. Despite many efforts at rehabilitation, Vietnam now lies in an exceedingly shallow grave — like one of those massacre sites where the hurriedly buried bodies are already poking through the soil. Vietnam, which from the age of Reagan to now our leaders have attempted to discard time and again — remember when the President dad, then President himself, proclaimed that we had “kicked” the so-called Vietnam syndrome? — remains the secret text of the present crisis.

As for the rest of this Times insider report, a couple of days ago I expressed my awe that the Pentagon was already planning its bombers of 2030 and 2040. Now, it turns out they’re proudly planning a war against terrorism for 2020, and 2030, too. Imagine, this is a period of years that would take us almost from the onset of World War I to the end of World War II, or through well more than half of the Cold War. Is this success? For military and militarizing dreamers maybe, but for the rest of us a thirty-year campaign against terror is an abject admission of failure. (Note, by the way, now that we have a “homeland” rather than a country or a nation, the military is planning a “heightened role” in its “security.” Insecurity might be a better word.)

I’ve included as well an equivalent piece from page 15 of today’s Washington Post on postwar Iraq, where most American planners seem, these days, to reside (planning, as the article so delicately puts it in passing, “the defense of the country’s oil fields” and the installation of an Arab democracy, someday, maybe, a little, skip the elections). The piece notes that “even under the best of circumstances, U.S. forces likely would remain at full strength in Iraq for months after a war ended, with a continued role for thousands of U.S. troops there for years to come.” Years to come, maybe those same 20 to 30 years mentioned in the Times.

These are, in a sense, pallid, humdrum pieces (though I find them fascinating), examples of the encoded, read-between-the-lines reportage our press does from imperial Washington. Just the news, folks, nothin’ goin’ on here. Tom

Pentagon Draws Up a 20-to-30-Year Anti-Terror Plan
By Eric Schmitt
The New York Times
January 17, 2003

January 17, 2003

WASHINGTON – The nation’s top military officer has approved and sent to the armed services and the Pentagon’s worldwide commands a comprehensive plan to combat terror that includes confronting countries that sponsor terrorism, senior defense officials say.

Taking on state sponsors of terror could involve military force or the threat of force, administration officials said. But that would not necessarily mean a direct attack, officials said. For example, a military offensive to defeat Iraq, which some American intelligence officials say has some links to Al Qaeda, could send a strong message to Iran and Syria to stop backing Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based guerrilla group that is listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department.

The 150-page classified document, called the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism, provides the first long-term, strategic framework for the military on how to carry out its portion of the campaign against terror

To read more of this New York Times piece click here

U.S. Plans Interim Military Rule in Postwar Iraq
By Peter Slevin and Bradley Graham
Washington Post
January 17, 2003

U.S. military commanders will likely rule Iraq for at least several months in the aftermath of a U.S.-led ouster of President Saddam Hussein, according to Bush administration blueprints for Iraq’s future that outline a broad and protracted American role in managing the reconstruction of the country.

The administration’s plans, which are nearing completion, envision installing a civilian administration within months of a change of government, U.S. officials said. But the officials said that even under the best of circumstances, U.S. forces likely would remain at full strength in Iraq for months after a war ended, with a continued role for thousands of U.S. troops there for years to come.

Iraqis relegated to advisory roles in the immediate postwar period would gradually be given a greater role, but they would not regain control of their country for a year or more, according to current U.S. thinking.

To read more of this Washington Post piece click here