Friday, February 8, 2008

The Army Manual and Colonial Policy

by Norman Markowitz

There is an article in the New York Times, which should trouble anti-imperialists, although it is being propagandized or "spun" as a positive step. The U.S. Army is revising its manual to deal with "stabilizing war torn nations," along with defeating battlefield enemies. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense (i.e. old CIA man) Gates notes, are not to be seen as "anomalies," but as "the ones most likely to be fought in the years ahead," i.e., the wave of the future. The discredited term of the Vietnam War, counter-insurgency, has been revived in an uncritical way.

The rationale for counter-insurgency in the 1950s and 1960s (the imperialist rationale) was that it was an alternative to fighting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, through what John Foster Dulles called "massive retaliation." Then it was filled with cold war liberal fairy tales about both searching and destroying the insurgents with one hand and bringing economic and social reforms into countries with the other--the Green Berets to do the killing, the Peace Corps to do the healing. In the NYT story it is much more "modest." The goal, the army says is to attract officers who will be able to act in "advising foreign security forces and assisting in civil affairs."

The British did this sort of thing for a long time, but they called themselves an Empire, and then a Commonwealth. By the 1930s they were declaring colonies like Egypt and Iraq "independent states" (they even got Iraq into the League of Nations) but providing such "assistance" through military forces and civilian advisors. Other colonial powers, the French particularly, began to try to do the same thing. Everybody, except apologists for colonialism, pretty much saw this as colonialism with another name and a less direct way of rule. Certainly people in the "war torn nations" who have in the case of Iraq had this played on them before will see it in those terms.

Leaving aside the fact that present and future "war torn nations," will, if they follow the Iraq example, be war torn because of U.S. military intervention, the manual revision goes hand in hand with the Bush
administration's policies of establishing an informal empire maintained by unilateral U.S. military force, something very different from the NATO bloc approach of the cold war period (when all the major capitalist
states were united against the global Communist movement and saw in its great power, the Soviet Union, as an enemy to be confronted and possibility fought in a nuclear WWIII). Today, the major capitalist powers and a state that does not fit easy description, Russia, (which, a little like Czarist Russia, is economically and politically very weak but has military power that the advanced imperialist states fear) can only see such policies as a threat to their own interests, increasing the possibilities of eventual inter-imperialist conflicts that could produce a major war. The U.S. NATO bloc was of course the most powerful imperialist alliance system in history, but the imperialism that Bush has embarked on and which the army manual represents is closer to what Lenin was talking about--that is, a militarization of policy that increases the possibility of big inter-imperialist wars.

In terms of U.S. history, while the army under the control of U.S. diplomatic officials and corporations played such a role in Central America and the Carribean in the aftermath of the Spanish-American-Cuban- Filipino War, the U.S., even with its global system of military bases in Europe, Korea, and many other places, never made the kind of intervention that the manual (which is a training manual) envisages an explicit part of general military policy, in part because U.S. imperialism as a global forces operated through allies, and clients aka puppets, not, through military colonial occupation.

In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt formally abandoned the policy of stationing U.S. marines in Latin American countries for a long period of time to maintain "stability" in the interests of U.S. business, calling for a "Good Neighbor Policy" with Latin America (troops for withdrawn although U.S. intervention continued indirectly, most dramatically in Cuba where a revolution was undermined and Batista was supported as dictator). With the development of the cold war, U.S. policy worsened in Latin America, and many scholars saw the Truman Doctrine as essentially a globalization of that policy. But the U.S. never trained its soldiers, whether they were draftees as they were until the early 1970s or volunteers, to be a colonial army of occupation over a long period of time.

John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee now benefiting from the attacks on him by Right-wing conservatives, has talked about a hundred year presence in Iraq and has identified himself both with classic military counter-insurgency and the sort of policy that the army manual is now presenting. This is further reason to work to defeat the Republican party in 2008 and to educate people to the dangers of McCain's military foreign policy generally, which, whatever theatrical conflicts he has had with Bush in the past, offers to continue the worst of Bush's foreign policy.

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