The Aspen War Games—No Place For Old Peaceniks

by | Aug 11, 2015


ASPEN. This fair summer camp for the (very) fortunate got double-whammy’d by the War Party on Sunday.

First there was a “debate” about whether ISIS should be “contained” or “defeated”. That was followed by a glowing progress report from General John Allen. He is President Obama’s Special Envoy for the Global Coalition of the Unwilling and Unable (to fight ISIS), and the gist of his speech was that 6,000 airstrikes since last August have been winning droves of hearts and minds in the Upper Euphrates valley.

This was all for the edification of the pooh bahs of the foreign policy establishment who were in town for the annual Aspen Strategy Group conclave. The latter bills itself as “a bipartisan foreign policy group that includes legislators, experts, journalists, policy practitioners, members of academia, and business leaders”.

No it’s not. It’s an off-campus exercise in mendacity, vapid group-think and narcissistic self-glorification by the perpetrators of Washington’s endless foreign policy catastrophes. Once a year they come to admire each other and split hairs about pointless tactical differences.

The debate about “containing” versus “defeating” ISIS proved that in spades. In fact, the “exterminate ISIS” team embodied an exact caricature of the bipartisan folly which has congealed in the Washington War Party.

Not surprisingly the #2 chair in the duo was occupied by a an-out-and-out neocon warmonger, Professor Phillip Zelikow. He was an architect of the Bush wars on WMD and head of the 9/11 Whitewash Commission. His case boiled down to shouting vehemently that the Islamic hordes are heading for Times Square.

So America needs to obliterate the 200,000 citizens of Raqqah, Syria before they get us. Never mind that there is not one iota of evidence that the self-appointed enforcers of Islamic purity who occupy a few dusty desert towns in the Upper Euphrates have any intentions or capacity to attack the fleshpots of Broadway and 42nd.

But what was dispositive was that the #1 chair on the perpetual war team was occupied by Michele Flournoy. Not only was she Obama’s #2 at DOD and now Hillary Clinton’s SecDef designate, but she is ostensibly a legatee of what was once the Democratic Party’s left-leaning peace wing.

No more. Ms. Flournoy has climbed Washington’s slippery pole of power by growing a heavy plume of hawkish feathers. Accordingly, she presented not a single coherent argument about how ISIS is a threat to the safety and security of the citizens of Lincoln NE or Springfield MA. Her case amounted to nothing more than a glib recitation of ISIS’ murderous brutalities, beheadings and benighted barbarisms.

But as John Quincy Adams so profoundly observed, America’s security does require that it search the world for monsters to destroy. Ms. Flournoy was naturally oblivious to that profound truth because she is a credentialed member of the Washington War Party.

Yet at least since the end of the cold war—when the whole military industrial complex, NATO, and international security apparatus should have been disbanded for lack of a genuine industrial state enemy—searching for monsters to destroy has been the very raison d’ etre of American foreign policy. And it has surely been the source of the endless catastrophes that have ensued.

To wit, in the great wash of history did it really matter to America which tyranny—that of the brutish Saddam Hussein or the repressive Sharia law based regime of Sheikh al-Sabahcontrolled the oilfields on the Kuwait/Iraq border?

After all, legitimate national sovereignty had nothing to do with it. Iraq was never a country, but only a spoils-of-war map drawn by British and French diplomats in 1916 and subsequently held together by the sword of dictators and generals; and Kuwait was a Bedouin settlement of no particular legitimacy, which had prospered only due to the deals its chieftains made with British Petroleum after the oil discoveries of the 1930s.

Besides, the answer to oil shortages everywhere and always is high prices, not the Seventh Fleet. This truth has been demonstrated over and over in the last half-century—not the least in the current cycle.

High oil prices at $150 per barrel lasted a few months in 2008 and tottered above $100 a few years thereafter, but have now been buried as far as the eye can see by an outpouring of shale, tar sands and other lower grade or costly-to-extract hydro-carbon supplies from provinces all over the planet. OPEC is no more, and the opulent princes of the Persian Gulf will one-day be scrambling to fuel up their 747s for a final bon voyage.

Stated differently, economics will out, and whatever sovereign controls the bounty of mother nature buried beneath the desert sands of the Persian Gulf and North Africa will produce all of it they can.

Every dictator of the last half-century proved that—from Muammar Gaddafi, to Saddam Hussein to the mullahs of the Iranian Republic. Indeed, the politically induced shortages have all been the work of the Washington War Party’s perennial sanctions and embargoes; these slight “shortages” were cooked up by the denizens of the Aspen Strategy Group, not blood-thirsty men in black turbans.

Needless to say, as the Aspen Strategy Group carried on its simulacrum of debate and analysis, the original grey-haired perpetrators of the Persian Gulf oil security myth were all there to cheer them on, including Brent Scowcroft who advised Bush the Elder to draw a pointless line in the Kuwaiti sand.

Yet, as we now know, what actually got implanted in the sand were the boots of the American army in Saudi Arabia. It was Washington’s spurious meddling in the $40 billion dispute between Saddam and the greedy princes of Riyadh over who owed what from their joint war on Iran during the 1980s that resurrected a Wahhabi fanatic named Osama bin Laden from obscurity, and ultimately enabled the flukish calamity of 9/11.

As bin Laden ranted in his famous “Declaration Of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,

The latest and the greatest of these aggressions, incurred by the Muslims since the death of the Prophet (ALLAH’S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM) is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places [Mecca and Medina] -the foundation of the house of Islam, the place of the revelation, the source of the message and the place of the noble Ka’ba, the Qiblah of all Muslims- by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies. (We bemoan this and can only say: “No power and power acquiring except through Allah”)…

But once bin Laden’s tiny cohort of fanatical jihadists—never numbering more than a few thousands according to the CIA itself—was unleashed, the War Party proceeded to add insult to injury. It mistook the US military’s easy time of shooting Saddam’s ducks in a barrel on the Kuwaiti desert as evidence of Washington’s war-winning prowess; and the popularity of CNN’s first ever live action war games as an endorsement of the American peoples’ appetite for foreign adventurism.

So under the clueless authority of Bush the Younger, the denizens of the Aspen Strategy Group added lies and dissimulation to the sin of false pride. That is, they carried out an unprovoked Shock and Awe invasion of a country that had never, ever threatened America, had no capacity to harm the American people, and no connection whatsoever to the fanatical sect that pulled off 9/11 against all odds.

Stated differently, 9/11 was a domestic public safety and policing challenge; it was not a mission for the Pentagon’s conventional war machine that had been mistakenly built by Ronald Reagan to fight a Soviet Union that no longer existed. Yet once the American war machine was unleashed on the fragile polity that Saddam had stapled together with machine guns and canisters of deadly gases, the furies of historical grudges and sectarian grievances were inexorably unleashed.

The truth is, Washington mid-wifed ISIS by hanging Saddam and destroying a brutal but serviceable regime which had at least been based on the secularist tenants of Baathist nationalism. Saddam had a penchant for brandishing rifles and liquidating dissidents, but he had no cotton for beheading infidels.

That was the modus operandi of the Shiite militias that got a free hand once Saddam was gone. And it was these vengeance seekers who ran riot over the land between the two rivers after the American people properly elected a peace candidate pledged to extricate Washington from its grizzly mayhem in Iraq.

Likewise, the reason more than anything else that the Sunni lands of western Iraq fell to the butchers of ISIS last summer was that they offered a shield of protection against the vengeance of the Shiite vigilantes and the monumental corruption and theft of the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Even then, however, their lighting conquest was made in Washington. That is, ISIS conquered not by the “sword” of Sunni fundamentalism at all, but owing to the massive arsenal of tanks, Humvee’s, field artillery, lethal weaponry, and ammunition and advanced paraphernalia of 21st century warfare that had been deposited by the American military.

Indeed, during the debate about “containment” versus “rollback” Sunday afternoon there occurred a moment of clarity that explains why the War Party’s abominations go unchecked.

David Petraeus, the disgraced general who’s misbegotten “surge” campaigns caused the pointless deaths of more than 1,000 American servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose egomaniacal strutting led him to drop the CIA’s black book of secrets on Paula Broadwell’s pillow, had the cheek to stand up and explain that it was Obama who blew his victory in Anbar province.

Yes, that’s exactly what the man said!

Did the audience give the ex-general the Bronx cheer he deserved or did the moderator call foul ball? No they did not. The moderator invited him to star in the next debate and the audience welcomed the blithering nonsense he offered in the guise of a question.

Well, here’s the real question. Who’s infinitely dumb idea was it to spend $25 billion purportedly training and equipping an “Iraqi” army in what by 2007 was an utterly failed state, rent asunder by sectarian strife that was beyond recall?

Yes, it was David Petraeus and his congressional sponsors like the rabid war-mongers, Senators McCain and Graham, who did exactly that.

The only reason that there was even a debate about the proper anti-ISIS strategy in Aspen yesterday was because the War Party in its wisdom left behind in Sunni lands 2,300 Humvees, 74,000 machine guns, 40 Abrams tanks, and countless more accoutrements of war with what was, in fact, a Shiite militia wearing Iraqi uniforms—–uniforms they instantly shed when it came to defending Sunni towns against the descending hordes of ISIS.

Needless to say, the War Party learns nothing and never quits. Thus, yesterday’s team of ISIS eradicators had yet another scheme. By their lights, “containment” of ISIS in its pitiful desert redoubts is not enough. Channeling Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign slogan, they claimed that America can settle for no less than “victory” over ISIS.

Yes, and that is to be accomplished with no American boots on the ground. The eradication is to be carried on by the Sunnis themselves.

Say what?

Would that be the Sunni nation of Turkey, equipped as it is with NATO’s best 1,000 planes, 5,000 tanks and a professional military of 500,000? Well, not exactly—there are complications due to the Kurdish issue and the obsession of President Erdogan with liquidating the Shiite/Alawite regime of Bashar Assad before getting around to vanquishing the Sunni caliphate.

Actually, it’s far more preposterous than that. Until he was repudiated at the polls in June, thereby quashing his plans to turn Turkey into his own caliphate via constitutional amendment, Erdogan had not lifted a finger against ISIS and, in fact, allowed Turkish territory to be used as a wide-open staging and recruiting station by the butchers of Raqqah.

But now he has a new game plan. Namely, to feint a cross-border bombing campaign against ISIS, which is really a thinly disguised cover to make war on the Kurdish enclaves of northern Syrian and Iraq.

Why? The better to stir up anti-Kurdish venom among the Turkish electorate, thereby depriving the Kurdish nationalist party the 10% vote it needs in the up-coming snap election to retain its seats in the Turkish parliament and to block Erdogan’s plans to amend himself into the nation’s constitution as a Presidential dictator for life.

Next, of course, is the real irony. The only great Sunni tribe that has shown itself willing and able to fight ISIS is the Kurds. But Kurdistan—a nation of 30 million—doesn’t even have an army because it was the one large tribe that came back from Versailles empty-handed and without a nation of its own.

So its people remained scatted among hostile Shiite governments in Iraq and Iran, and bombed and prosecuted by a newly mobilized war party in Ankara. They only boots the Kurds will be putting on the ground are the ones felled by the Turkish air force.

Likewise, to the south is the 88 million strong Sunni nation of Egypt. But it goes without saying that General al-Sisi, its newly legitimized dictator by way of Washington’s renewed $1.5 billion flow of aid and weapons, will not be sending his army to the Upper Euphrates. He needs the entirety of his 469,000 man military to keep the population of Egypt subdued.

In the case of the vast Sunni population of Saudi Arabia (about 25 million), the prospects of raising an anti-ISIS fighting force under the auspices of the government in Riyadh are between slim and none. The House of Saud knows full well that if it sends its army to Syria it will defect to the Sunni jihadists side in short order.

So whence cometh the Sunni boots on the ground that will be needed to eradicate the purported 20,000 ISIS fighters? Why, at last Washington has gotten busy identifying, recruiting, vetting, training, and deploying the proverbial “moderate” Syrian rebels who want to take back their country from the jihadists.

After years of jabbering and a half billion dollars spent, however, here is what the War Party has accomplished. Namely, in recent weeks Washington fielded a force of 60 soldiers—that’s right, there are no zeros missing—which promptly met its doom.

Its commander and deputy were captured by the Nusra Front, several members were killed and by the sound of press reports the balance has already defected or disappeared into the rubble of the former Syrian state.

Yes, this is beyond pathetic. But here’s the thing. The opposing side in the Aspen debate was at least sober enough to advocate “containment” rather than indulging in the juvenile game of where’s the Sunni Waldo.

But they never did say how long the US would have to “contain” ISIS by bombing the 81,000 square miles it controls, or whether this would constitute taking it back to the stone age or merely recognizing that it was already essentially there.

Notwithstanding that Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, and Raqqah were once respectable centers of civilization and commerce, the truth is there is next to nothing left there after years, even decades, of US instigated warfare. So the so-called Islamic State is no state at all—just a backwater dystopia that is utterly incapable of ever mounting a threat to America’s security.

That’s because the blood-thirsty fanatics who run it are killing the commerce, the population, and even the flocks and fields on which these quasi-subsistence villages once depended. For crying out loud, according to General John Allen himself, the whole joint is running on revenue of less than $1 billion per year; and most of that comes from a few bedraggled oilfields that have not yet been destroyed.

Don’t these geniuses know how quickly oil wells give out when they are starved for maintenance and spare parts? And what kind of crackpots really think that as abhorrent as it is—that a real state with a modern military capability can finance itself on the slave trade of young women and by hostage taking?

This is nuts! The War Party’s futile effort to “contain” ISIS by relentless droning and bombing of the unfortunate towns and villages caught up in its snare is accomplishing only one thing—and it amounts to a monumental self-inflicted setback.

Namely, it provides horrific, living color video proof that the crusaders are still visiting mayhem on the innocent and Allah-fearing peoples of the putative caliphate. And it is the overpowering magnet that brings new recruits streaming in to join the fight against the Great Satan in Washington.

The way to stop ISIS, therefore, is to ground the bombers and drones; send home the spotters, trainers and other infrastructure of intervention; forget about who controls the oil—it will be produced by someone; and recognize that American has no dog in the 1300 year old fight between Sunni and Shiite.

Indeed, the elephant in the room during the Aspen debate was the Shiite Crescent. That is, the 100 million Shiite citizens of Iran; the rump of Iraq in Bagdad and the south; the Alawite/Shiite minority of the Assad regime in Syria and the Hezbollah/Shiite fighters who represent 45 percent of Lebanon and constitute its largest political party.

All of them have been condemned to the sword as apostates by the ISIS caliphate, and at the end of the day they are the one force that can keep the latter bottled-up in its miserable territories until its bloody regime collapses of its own inhumanity.

Alas, when it comes to the Shiite Crescent—a group of Islamic nations no better or worse than the brutal tyranny of Egypt or the glutinous obscenity of the Persian Gulf sheikdomsthe War Party cannot see straight. They are utterly clueless as to why the Iranian regime has been so hostile to the American Imperium’s plans for a better world.

Let’s see. The CIA did overthrow Iran’s elected government in 1953 for the sin of nationalizing the nation’s oilfields. Washington did stand 100 percent behind the Shah’s 25-year rein of plunder and helped him organize and operate the Savak—an internal secret police so brutal and murderous as to make the East German Stasi seemed civilized by comparison.

Yes, and the neocons of the Reagan White House did tilt toward Iraq after its unprovoked attack on Iran. Indeed, they went so far as to use the CIA’s spy satellites to act as spotters for Saddam’s chemical weapons attacks on Iran battle forces—often just teenage boys armed with wooden rifles.

And their successors in the administration of Bush the Elder did identify the Iranian Republic as the new enemy to replace the fallen Soviets, thereby keeping the military industrial complex and CIA surveillance state alive and funded at its accustomed levels.

Likewise, they did induce Bush the Younger to identify Iraq as part of the Axis of Evil in his 2002 State of the Union address. That is, they proclaimed Iran among the nations slated for the cleansing force of a Washington orchestrated “regime change” and that its leaders, like Saddam, would be disposed of at the end of a hangman’s rope.

So they don’t like us—profoundly so. Yet the leaders in Tehran have had the good sense to bend over and accept Obama’s humiliating deal to exchange a non-existent nuclear weapons program and 15 years of an international nuclear inspection proctology for the right to re-enter world commerce and the community of nations. Even then, they will fight and contain ISIS because their survival depends upon it.

None of these realities penetrated the Aspen War Games this weekend. Indeed, as General Allen droned onand, yes, the man was droning profusely—about the scores of godforsaken Syrian border towns that have been allegedly liberated from ISIS, the police forces that have been stood up, the fresh recruits that have joined the so-called Iraqi Army, the thousands of ISIS fighters who have been sent to a better world, the thousands of teachers and medics that have been put into the field, I closed my eyes.

I then did hear the voice of General William C. Westmoreland echoing over the decades. We are winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people, he intoned; we are Vietnamizing the conflict; the strategic hamlet program has become a swell success; we are building schools and clinics in the rice paddies; the body count of dead Viet Cong is swelling by the day.

It was all one giant tapestry of BS, of course, which temporarily camoflauged the catastrophe of LBJ’s war and the genocidal destruction that it inflicted on an innocent people.

Still, General Allen’s completely bogus progress report reminded me why I was a Peacenik way back then; and of why I remain one even now.

Reprinted with permission from David Stockman’s Contra Corner.


  • David Stockman

    David Stockman was elected as a Michigan Congressman in 1976 and joined the Reagan White House in 1981. Serving as budget director, he was one of the key architects of the Reagan Revolution plan to reduce taxes, cut spending and shrink the role of government.

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