Thursday, May 26, 2011

Libya: In search of a NATO victory.

   With nothing decisive happening in Libya, it's understandable that in today's instant gratification crack whore media environment, the news people would move on to the next "big thing", which in the US at the moment is a masturbatory fascination with tornadoes. Don't get me wrong, I love tornadoes. All those human interest stories of grandma getting whipped into the air by cyclonic atmosphere action get me breaking out the popcorn and laughing my ass off. Sure it's fucking terrible and people die but what I love most about tornadoes is the fact that no politician can go on TV and declare a war against them. It's pretty much accepted among us humans that nature is off limits as far as retaliation goes. Apart from chopping down more rain forest or watching 200 species of planetary whatever go extinct every day, there's not much we can do to 'combat the threat' of an existential enemy called 'the biosphere'.

   Human instigated shit is a whole different story though.

   If some sad sack Middle Eastern dude had planted a bomb that killed a few hundred people in Middle America where the tornadoes hit there'd be someone to blame which would make people feel a whole lot better. Just spend a few billion and blow up the the fucker's family and friends and neighbors and call it all square. 'Justice' gets done human style. But with nature the perpetrator every one of us has to admit that dying 'unfairly' is pretty much one of the hazards of being alive in the first place. A CNN reporter on scene as I write just reported that there is the upcoming threat of more 'weather'. Holy shit, is that guy serious? I mean, weather is a real bitch isn't it? It has this sneaky habit of following you everywhere you go!

   Weather talk means that the media have pretty much moved on when there's nothing sexy happening in war zones. For Libya that means Geraldo is back in his river side mansion on the Hudson after dodging bullets paying a visit to the 'Libyan rebels' to give Fox News viewers a heads up when nature isn't the one pulling the trigger. But that focus means you might miss some interesting shit going down in the Middle East. And I'm not even bothered with Syria. That's just a boring internal struggle where the citizenry are up against 57 different varieties of internal security forces. Kind of like the Heinz ketchup of torture and disappearance. The guy on the street doesn't stand a chance and no foreign power is going to get involved because last time I checked, Syria wasn't a major oil exporter.

   One fun bit of news out of Libya this week was that NATO destroyed Gaddafi's 'navy'. That story managed to break into the headlines because it has a positive spin and sounds like victory. But those coastal defense boats were a bunch of sitting ducks with nowhere to hide and I doubt Gaddafi cares too much. He's got bigger problems like dodging Tomahawks. Besides, they were a '"a navy in theory only", kind of like when the Kaiser rolled out his fleet at Jutland in 1916... that fleet was more useful doing nothing in port and being a 'threat' than actually doing any fighting. The problem with that strategy for Gaddafi is that he has no counter to NATO air strikes. No modern radar air defense network and nothing to stop them blowing up his shitty frigates and maritime patrol boats. What he wouldn't do for a few batteries of the Russian S-300 system eh? A few of those would have made this into a true popcorn war.

   One fun thing to emerge from Libya this week was the fact that the Royal Navy are going to launch Apache helos off the deck of the Amphibious Assault Ship HMS Ocean to provide close air support to the rebels. That really shows the weakness of NATO once the US took a 'support role'. You really miss those A-10s. Tornados (not the atmospheric kind) and French Rafales just can't loiter over the battlefield providing close air support. So the British had to come up with a stop gap measure. With the UK's last aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal decommissioned, that's revealed a glaring hole for NATO war planners. Launching ground based Apaches off a ship smacks of desperation but what can you do when you're stuck with a war you can't walk away from and Gaddafi won't die already. The term "mission creep" doesn't get anymore textbook than this.

   The French too are throwing some choppers at the problem. Thing is, choppers suck. They're pretty good 'fast tanks' and give you a high attack value put they're paper defensively. Hell, in 2003, a bunch of Iraqi farmers brought down an Apache with AK fire. The British will probably use all four Apaches (damn military budgets are tight these days outside the US) at high altitude and use their 30mm Gatling guns to fuck up small bunches of Gaddafi's infantry. Like the US were seen doing in the Wikileaks "collateral murder" vid. One wonders if Gaddafi still has a few SA-6 launchers lying around for a sitting duck like a mile high hovering chopper.

   One funny thing I saw used was a French "concrete bomb". I shit you not. I thought it was a joke at first but sure enough the French were dropping laser guided lumps of stone on Gaddafi's tanks. The more I thought about it the more sense it made. No explosive means no collateral damage. A direct hit on a tank is gonna flatten it like in some Loony Tunes cartoon and get sanctimoniously reported in Le Monde so the Frogs can feel how noble they are not killing civilians.

The Loony Toons inspired French 'concrete bomb'.

   NATO has long since put to rest any pretence that murdering a foreign head of state is uncool. When "Odyssey Dawn" got started that was the official position of the US even as the British nailed Gadaffi's compound on the first night. Looks like they had the right idea if they wanted to win this thing quickly. Still, you gotta admire wily old Gaddafi. That guy is a survivor type. Reports are that he's moving constantly and trusting nobody. And his Ukranian nurse has bailed so there's nobody to 'monitor his blood pressure' which sucks for him.

   Like I said before this war will probably come down to economics.

   The rebels, in control of the oilfields and some key refineries on the coast, have proved they can play ball. A number of oil tankers have successfully filled up and bagged the rebels $100 million per load. It's a demonstration like this, not speeding around the desert in junky pick up trucks that truly wins you support in the Western oligarchy. All the humanitarian crises in the world don't warrant intervention unless somewhere along the line there's a chance to turn a profit. The rebels have shown that they can.

   The other question now is how much cash does Gaddafi have to keep Tripoli afloat? It's a pretty big city, full of Gaddafi loyalists. At least so long as the money rolls in. So far, Gaddafi has doubled public sector and army pay. NATO has stepped up attacks on the city and bombed the fuck out of every building that ever housed more than ten soldiers. Still, blitzes like that usually just harden those being bombed London 1940 style. But NATO doesn't have any other good options. Unless they can land a bomb on Gaddafi things are just going to drag on according to the depth of his bank account. He is trying reach out to the international community in an attempt to end this shit. He's feeling the heat. His prime minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi is understood to have sent a letter to a number of foreign governments proposing a ceasefire that would be monitored by the African Union and United Nations, unconditional talks with the opposition, the drafting of a new constitution and amnesty for both sides in the fighting. I'm sure a beach side condo somewhere sunny and access to his offshore bank accounts for Gaddafi and the in-laws seems like a pretty good deal right now but I doubt he'll get it. NATO are too pissed off now and anything less than a dead Gaddafi is going to smack of a French and British failure in front of the Americans. That'll sting hard especially after the US successfully iced Bin Laden.

   Of course, things are going to get nastier the longer this goes on. Misurata was ugly. But that would be nothing compared to a sustained siege of Tripoli. I seriously doubt the rebels could mount such an attack on their own but that's probably what the British Apache and 12 French Tiger helos are for. Close air support for an advance into Tripoli. Probably quite a few UK and French "Special Forces" on the ground to direct the attack. You never know how strong the castle is or how resilient its inhabitant are going to be until you try some sort of ''probing attack. Right now, it's not clear if the city would capitulate at the sight of rebels in Green Square. Baghdad fell rather easily despite the hype once the marines made it to the airport. Perhaps NATO are banking on a similar capitulation.

   I wonder if the Euros have the balls to go for it.

   At the very least it'd sure knock tornadoes off the front page.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Osama Bin Laden: Requiem for a NeoCon Dream.

  Osama Bin Laden is finally dead.

  I wasn't really impressed to tell you the truth. Sure, it was some kind of cultural rite of passage when I first heard the news but all the people screaming "USA! USA!" in the bar where I happened to be at the time got me thinking. Was some guy on dialysis in Pakistan really America's worst enemy? For me, since 9/11, America has always been America's own worst enemy. Bin Laden was the Orwellian 'Emmanuel Goldstein' that provided a nation a bogeyman that the corporate oligarchy could rally the plebs around and point to and say - 'that is your enemy, that is the architect of your fear, focus your Twin Tower anger there'. All the fun stuff that made the newly dawned 21st century shit you can trace back to that moment. 'Orange terror alerts', 'anthrax letters', Nigerian 'yellow cake' were all part of a general uncertainty that ramped up the fear. The Madrid and London bombings mid decade heightened the sense that there was an existential enemy of Western civilization out there and ready to blow us up if our vigilance ever slipped. The 21st century took a sudden nosedive just as it dawned. The new century was not going to be the idyllic postmodern 'war free zone' the brochure promised a new century could be just because the Cold War had ended.

   That's not to say that Bin Laden and al-Qaeda weren't a threat. Neither is it to say 9/11 wouldn't have happened without him. But his support for that attack was at best spiritual and certainly not material. That he was clearly an enemy of the United States is true. But the big guy on the playground always spawns haters. I mean, that's basic schoolyard logic. It was America's overblown reaction, or premeditated reaction if you consider the Iraq WMD debacle, that set the tone for the 21st century. Bin Laden helped out with that. He embraced the media attention. 9/11 made him a 'terrorist celebrity' and he seemed eager to play the role of international villain. In a world where you can be whirled into fame on some shitty reality show, he embraced the ultimate show. He accepted worldwide fame and found himself the figurehead of a terrorist franchise called al-Qaeda. That he can be linked to the suicide speedboat attack on the USS Cole in 2000 and the African embassy bombings in 1998 seems clear but arbitrary. Those attacks were small fry in the grand scheme of things and before 9/11 were minor inconveniences on the back of a superpower, like mosquito bites at a garden party.

   Bin Laden was the rogue son of a royal family of Saudi oil providers that have for decades had successive US administrations sucking at the tit of Middle East energy dependence. The wayward son of royalty thing always hinted at something a little more sinister. But the flow of spice always kept the media at bay and the hard questions were never asked. His involvement with the CIA during Soviet Afghanistan in the 1980s is certainly interesting. He was once a 'US man' when Stinger missile launchers were being dished out to the Mujahadeen to bring down Russian Hinds in that Soviet wasteland the US are knee deep in now. But a SEAL bullet in the eye has a tendency to end awkward questions. And a burial at sea cancels debate. A little too neat for me and somewhat unconvincing outside Western media.

   I think the famed military-industrial-complex learned their lesson when they dug Saddam Hussein out of his hole in Tikrit, dressed him up in a suit and put him on trial in an Iraqi court with the world media present. The question of who provided Hussein with the chemical weapons he used against the Kurds, a crime he was ostensibly on trial for, became ancillary and somehow immaterial to the issue at hand and the question was duly struck down by the 'judge'. That was when the trial was revealed to me as a farce. It was pretty funny really. It made me think of that old Judge Roy Bean quote from the Wild West. "First we'll give him a fair trial, then we'll hang him!" And they sure did.

   The people who run this world weren't going to make the same mistake again.

   Osama Bin Laden needed to die. And properly this time.

   In one sense, he had served his purpose and outlived his usefulness in the West's post Cold War need for a new bogeyman after the Soviet Union went belly up. As the ice melted, there was no longer a need for an astronomical military budget and America's war economy was faced with collapse. The corporate oligarchy scrambled for a new enemy but there were no other superpowers left on the block. So the enemy became fear itself and the American people, with a nominal say in how their taxes get spent (that is if you subscribe to the theory that the US is a functioning democracy) became the fertile ground for NeoCon bullshit. Clinton in the 90s was passed off as a blowjob addict while the real power players behind the scenes planned and waited for their time to grab the last untapped oil field in the Middle East.

   But they still needed a patsy.

   Saddam Hussein fit the 'evil dictator' profile and got caught up in the post 9/11 tumult. Over 60% of Americans thought he had something to do with 9/11 at the time of the invasion. Thank's corporate media!

   The timing of Bin Laden's death turns out to be quite fortuitous. The war in Afghanistan is a clusterfuck and everyone knows it cannot be won; whatever winning was ever meant to mean in the graveyard of empires. Even the hardcore zealots that run the military industrial complex know this now and they need an exit strategy that involves calling the figurative and military desert they created 'victory'. General Pyrrhus' old line is as relevant as ever it seems.

    Of course, the exit strategy cannot involve negotiating with "terrorists". Even the numbskulls that watch Fox News know that much. But an opportunity has arisen from Bin Laden's death. The arch Bond villain is gone and now things get suddenly a whole lot easier for those who could have stemmed the bleeding a long time ago. Negotiations with the Taliban now become possible and not just for the US but also for Mohammad Omar, leader of the largest Taliban faction, who can now break his ties with al-Qaeda without losing the support of his own followers. After all, he only promised Bin Laden protection and not the entirety of al-Qaeda.

    This is, of course, assuming that al-Qaeda ever really existed outside of international media and the Pentagon. Sure they existed as a brand and got shitloads of free advertising (I'm still smiling sardonically at the image they released the other day of Bin Laden watching himself on Al-Jazeera remote control in hand... how meta) but al-Qaeda never had any true structure or physical shape; being more like some kind of terrorist McDonalds franchise but without any restaurants or drive thrus. True, ideas run the world today on our media driven dystopian sci fi planet and that is the genius of the corporate oligarchy who run things now. The enemies they create, existential in nature, are without physical shape or location. That's why I always found the idea of al-Qaeda a little too expedient. Non existent in men or material, their power came tailor made for a superpower to wage an ideological turf war, a battle of ideas against the collective mind of its own people. Easy when a few corportions own all the TV channels. Out of the natural rage that followed 9/11, the authorities said the enemy were in Afghanistan and Iraq. And that was good enough for a 'democracy' and a gullible citizenry to wage war.

    It was a winning idea from the start.

    That the 'war on terror' is really a war against the citizens of Western nations by their own governments is certainly an interesting idea. One wonders if it is an idea meant to die with Bin Laden's death. Certainly China never seemed to care about this 'war' beyond the cover it provided when killing a few protesting monks in Tibet. They soon got with the global program and called their enemy 'terrorists' when they saw how effective it could be. A new way of handling the media had emerged. Throw the word 'terrorist' at people you don't like and buy legitamacy. Torture even got a new name, a subtle redefinition and 'enhanced interrogation' was allowed to slide except for token grumbles from the 'far left'.

    The new 21st century paradigm was clear. Fear itself was the enemy and it struck from desert sands where the oil happened to be. Roosevelt warned a shaky nation after Pearl of the real enemy but things have shifted in ways Orwell or Huxley of even Eisenhower's sign off speech couldn't have imagined. There are no nation states anymore and there are no clashes of cultural ideas because we, no matter what country we happen to be in, are subject to the same forces, commodity prices, oil prices, stock market upticks, wayward bankers... a brave new world of international elites and globalized commerce.

    The new paradigm became the promotion of fear itself as a motive force by world governments, something that would sicken Roosevelt but how could he have known the global dystopia that would ensue after America sold its manufacturing base to transnational elites in the decades after WWII? The rise of global communications and corporate power centers united oligarchys across the world and made fools of those who believed in the quaint 20th century idea of nation states. "Good wars" between cultural ideologies like WWII won't exist in the 21st century because we're all bound together through mutual dependencies. Total war as Clauswitz defined it has become unprofitable and obsolete as part of this brave new world. In a post nuclear world, regional war is unthinkable and unprofitable. It's easier to pick up squares on the global chessboard and make quiet moves where you can pick up territorys on the cheap. Economic hitmen are key.

    9/11 was a turning point in the post modern land grab.

    Bin Laden's rag-tag rebel alliance were elevated to celebrity status after the attack. Three thousand people died which is peanuts really when you place it in world military history. 70,000 were flash fried at Hiroshima, the Russians bled 30 million in WWII and even in US history, 23,000 casualties were notched up in a day on American soil at Antietam. Has modern society made us so soft to human suffering? Did we ever think we could escape the history? Apparently so in the public imagination because that imagination was easily hijacked by those who told us who the enemy was after the towers fell. The enemy were towel heads in a foreign desert where the oil is.

    That's probably going to be Bin Laden's legacy in military history, showing that superpowers are not invincible, that empires are never monolithic and set in stone but are malleable and have soft underbellies. Bin Laden showed that civilians in empires, as TE Lawrence described the British in 1915, are "fat" and softened to the 'good life' and therefore easily swayed to a cause against an external enemy when their leaders say 'they did it'. Hell, Göring of all people said it best in this exchange at the Nuremburg trials:

Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

Interviewer: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

It's easy for me to say now but I was never scared of al-Qaeda. That I never even took them seriously. But I do admire the Brits on that front. After the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, I liked the fact that the next day the British were back on the Tube and buses with an attitude of fuck you. But that's true of a lot of people in many countries... they're smarter than their own governments. Somehow that didn't translate so well in the USA. A corn farmer in rural Iowa, an oil engineer in Texas, all were convinced by corporate spokesman Bush when he went on TV and announced the danger from a shadowy group of international 'terrorists' who wanted to kill them.

Let's face it, terrorism worked.

According to Wikipedia, the goals of al-Qaeda were as follows.
  1. Provoke the United States into invading a Muslim country.
  2. Incite local resistance to occupying forces.
  3. Expand the conflict to neighboring countries, and engage the U.S. in a long war of attrition.
  4. Convert Al-Qaeda into an ideology and set of operating principles that can be loosely franchised in other countries without requiring direct command and control, and via these franchises incite attacks against countries allied with the U.S. until they withdraw from the conflict, as happened with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but which did not have the same effect with the 2005 London bombings
  5. The U.S. economy will finally collapse under the strain of too many engagements in too many places, similarly to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Arab regimes supported by the U.S. will collapse, and a Wahhabi Caliphate will be installed across the region.
   Four out of five ain't bad for a terrorist franchise. With the collapse of Egypt to "democracy" and all not perfect in the Wahhabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it looks like the west is running out pet of dictators on payroll. Number five on that list sure has the potential to backfire horribly for the US and for al-Qaeda and give the two biggest and strategic Sunni Arab countries something they haven't tasted since before the oil age; self determination. That kind of thing makes the corporate and royal families on all sides shit bricks.

   Whoever is responsible for unleashing the "War on Terror", it doesn't seem to matter anymore. Surely the mission has been accomplished in Western nations and in the US. They have become a voluntary surveillance society beyond INGSOC's dreams. The US has the stake in Iraq's oil it wanted on the global chessboard but neither it nor Bin Laden could have bargained for the fall of Middle East power structures and the for-hire Western employed dictators that were toppled by Arab youth.

   It seems the result of this war was equally unpredictable on the Arab side. Bin Laden could never have imagined himself obsolete, but a new wave of protest suggests that he is, in Tunisia, in Egypt, Yemen and Syria, perhaps even in Saudi Arabia, the jewel in the crown of Western oil policy. The Arab youth of today want a piece of the action they see on Facebook and Twitter. To them, that's freedom. And maybe it is. At least in comparison to the Wahhabi 'Muslim paradise' Bin Laden was selling. It certainly is a better deal. 21st century Arab kids don't want his brand of international pariah speaking for them. Perhaps he really was just an old man with a TV remote control in his hand hoping for a glimpse of himself in the 'reality show' the world has become.

  For Bin Laden, growing old and unnecessary was far more painful then the headshot.