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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Military missions.

Dana Priest, in The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military, writes:

The US government had grown increasingly dependent on its military to carry out its foreign affairs. The shift was incremental, little noticed, de facto.... The military simply filled a vacuum left by an indecisive White House, an atrophied State Department, and a distracted Congress.

Thomas Powers, reviewing the book, comments:

When Priest began her travels the ballooning of the mission was simply an interesting fact; if the United States wanted to attempt something abroad — distribute food in Somalia, stop ethnic killing in Kosovo, put drug dealers out of business in Colombia — it asked the military to take on the job. After September 11 this American dependence on its military immediately began to drive the Bush administration's response to the challenge posed by Islamic terror. Priest makes no attempt to prove which came first — a visceral preference for military solutions or practical resort to the military tool that lay readiest to hand. But the result, she says, is a war on terror that is all war; and a "mission" whose prospects reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the military instrument chosen to carry it out.

He has plenty to say about the weaknesses of military force as a diplomatic tool — but I was also struck by this paragraph about one of the chief spoils of war in Iraq. It isn't oil:

The paper trail left by decades of effort to build weapons of mass destruction will not be the only target of American cleanup teams. "A key element of US strategy in the global war on terrorism," [Douglas J.] Feith told the senators [on February 11], "is exploiting the information about terrorist networks that the coalition acquires through our military and law enforcement actions." He is referring to the "information" collected by Iraqi intelligence services; in other words, the files. The biggest intelligence bonanzas come at the end of wars, when the very people who compiled the files hand over the keys and explain where everything is. Police states are notorious for the obsessive keeping of files, and dictators with dreams of world power want to know everything about everybody. Saddam Hussein's secret police have been collecting information on political movements, terrorist groups, arms dealers, rich bankers and businessmen, and rival leaders since he came to power in 1968. This trove of secret information about the dark underside of Arab and Islamic politics will not be an incidental benefit of an American military occupation lasting two years or more, but will be one of the first targets of occupation forces.

Oh, and then there's this: "[T]here are two rogue states with programs to build nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The theory says that both have to go, and if President Bush can be taken at his word, he thinks the same thing. To me the implication seems clear: Iraq first, Iran next." (Some background reading here.)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 12 March 2003 at 5:20 PM

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