The Art(ifice) of War

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Our peace-loving organ of the state, a.k.a. the New York Times has come through once again. On the fifth anniversary of our glorious act of generosity towards the Iraqi people, "all the news that’s fit to print" carefully features the finer thoughts of a remarkably sorry set of warmongers and war aficionados.

From the beginning, Iraq seemed in 2002 and early 2003 from inside the Pentagon to be little more than a boutique war. By the third anniversary, it appeared to be deliciously tart entertainment for the Washington elites, subject of oohs and ahhs for the cocktail class. Has it become, just this week, a case for serious intellectual retrospection, and even debate, among the imperialistas?

Astoundingly, the moral magicians who justify our foreign policy are quite pleased with themselves. George W. Bush recently shared his perception the war in Iraq has been "good for the economy." For the elite policy makers, the finely manicured, smooth browed, and well-nourished political class, what we have here is the greatest action flick in the world, with endless sequels.

We might call it "American Chainsaw Massacre," or "Hostel: The Country." Deranged yet powerful psychopath runs amok, killing innocents and not-so-innocents alike, incorporating lots of meaningless destruction and plot twists, with an ambiguous moral lesson that dawns only faintly, and only at the end, after everyone is dead.

This motion picture, this designer occupation, this expensive excursion into the lives of others, is what the war-supporting chattering class debates. Iraq is an artificial war, expending other people’s lives, other countries’ livelihoods, other mother’s children, and blood that doesn’t seem quite real to those in the velveteen theater.

The imperialistas discuss the merits of what they have watched from afar, with an eye to medium, believability, artistic direction and creative misdirection.

This artifice of war, this deception of others and themselves, is certainly useful in evaluating any possible neoconservative legacy. But to understand America and Iraq today, we need look no further than that ancient warrior whose advice has stood the test of time.

In Sun Tzu’s Art of War, we find that "all warfare is based on deception." Given that the Iraqis, and Afghans for that matter, understand completely what is happening, how and why — to the extent that no American politician may visit either country alone, without advance warning, flak jacket, armored vehicle, military escort and air cover. Strangely enough, the only deception going on relating to the "war in Iraq" is the domestic deception of Americans themselves, by their government and its media.

Under Sun Tzu’s tutelage, we would hide our capabilities and proclivities from the enemy. Instead, the government has banned soldier blogs and cut soldier Youtube access, all to protect innocent Americans back home. Where we would remain mysterious in our interrogation techniques vis–vis the world, instead Americans remain the only nationality still confused about what goes on in Guantanamo.

Sun Tzu would have us feign weakness in the face of an enemy that impresses us, in order to confuse and mislead him. Instead, we boast — as recently relieved CENTCOM commander Fallon suggested — that we will crush our insignificant enemy like ants. One wonders towards whom such language is directed. I suspect our logistic, financial, tactical, strategic and moral weakness is apparent to the most casual observer throughout the Middle East and the world. Only the American heartland waits anxiously for the latest pump-me-up story from Washington.

Sun Tzu may not have known everything, or even much at all. But he noticed this:

Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State…. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. … One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory.

Our own leader and sovereign has declared victory in Iraq, several times, in fact. His chosen successor has called for a century of occupation, and hopes to lead the nation into many more such glorious wars. Bush as a poor performer in the Air National Guard, and McCain as a challenged pilot in Vietnam really isn’t the problem. The problem is that they imagine they are playing the top general — or chief psychopath — in the movie of the week.

This artifice of war, cherished by neoconservatives and the other moral dimwits in Washington and New York, must be turned upside down. Remember — it’s not war! To understand what it is, and it is indeed complex, one must avoid the New York Times and check out Winter Soldier, held in DC this past weekend. Listen to IVAW member and Winter Soldier participant Geoff Millard, interviewed here by Scott Horton before the event, and by me just afterwards.

Sun Tzu wrote of war as an art — but Iraq today isn’t war in a Sun Tzu sense. Sun Tzu understood war as extremely expensive, extremely deadly, and an existential threat for the initiating emperor. Truly, our fun and games in Iraq meet these criteria. But wise strategists view war as a serious national decision — not a weekend blockbuster, measured by tickets sold, budgets exceeded and stars showcased.

Bad reviews and flat ticket sales kill movies, and they can also kill artificial wars like the one now playing in Iraq. There is a bit of resignation in the voices of the war cheerleaders, a small sign of self-awareness. This portends the end of the movie. With a little help from the latest recession, impending imperial collapse, and networks like IVAW, antiwar.com and this website, we may already have everything we need to close the show in Iraq, and bring all the troops home.

LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.

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