Wednesday, September 05, 2007

John Robb on Perpetual War

Along with Barnett's first book, I consider John Robb's Brave New War one of the best reads out there. He's got a knack for creating his own context which frequently makes more sense than many other writers out there.

Robb's most recent post makes a case for the likelihood of a perpetual war. Heavily paraphrasing (sorry!), his factors are threefold:

1. Marketing. One of the main lessons from Vietnam - spell out what you're fighting for. Referring to government war hawks:
However, they do have the ability to maintain support within a small but vocal base -- as seen in the use of weblogs to generate grass roots support for war -- and the capability to trump those that call for withdrawal (by keeping the faintest glimmer of potential success alive and using fear/uncertainty/doubt FUD to magnify the consequences of defeat).
As we increasingly rely on the internet for news, our own ability to judge the worthiness or popularity of arguments is difficult to gauge. How do you know when a site or story is authentic, or how many other people are actually reading and responding? News has become ambiguous, and everyone seems to be entitled to their own facts these days.

2. Justification of the nation-state. Now, I'm no anarchist, but I think it's fairly established that the twin towers of globalization / capitalism and democracy are headed for an ugly clash. The power of government has been steadily eroding proportionate to the rise of global capitalism. What does government still have the advantage at? Makin' war and dishin' fat contracts!

Governments are the only actors in the world which can be held accountable if an act of terror occurs. Therefore, they can allowably consume more and more resources, and do things we would only trust a government (as opposed to a private company) to do: spying, waging war, etc. As we've only had the Bush Administration for the past 7 years, it's hard to know if this is a long-term trend or simply another cute Bush aberration, but I'd bet on the trend, no matter who is in the White House in a couple years.
Of course, this desire for war at the political level is complimented by the huge number of contractors (and their phalanxes of lobbyists) attracted by the potential of Midas level profits from the privatization of warfare.
3. Privatization halts accountability. Sure, we're responsible for some screw-ups in Iraq, but what has been the tone of the reporting on the subject? If I had to pick one word, it would be detached. Instead of discussing events on the ground, we argue about the wording in reports. Honestly, it has more to do with the complexity of the situation (read: no sound bites) than anything. When it comes to "war" are you talking the uniquely autonomous Kurdistan v. the rest of Iraq, Sunni v. Shia, Al Qaeda in Iraq v. Allawi, Iran v. U.S. (proxy war) or what? There are just so many ways to frame this conflict...

Back to the subject:
The use of a professional military in combination with corporate partners has pushed warfare to the margins of political/social life. A war's initiation and continuation is now merely a function of our willingness/ability to finance it. Further, since privatization mutes moral opposition to war (i.e. "our son isn't forced to go to war to die") the real damage at the ballot box is more likely to impact those that wish to end its financing.

No comments: