Call it what you will -- Iraq War 3.0, the war against ISIS, the new Syrian War -- it was regularly headline-making news in this country in the second half of last year: the stunning advances of the Islamic State (IS) movement; its newly proclaimed "caliphate"; the collapse of the Iraqi Army; the Obama administration's spreading bombing campaign that, it was said, might last for years and years; the deployment of American advisers by the thousands. All of that and more was presented in the media as part of a narrative about The Greatest Threat in History, or at least in a while, and it was all News (with a capital "N") all the time.
In a sense, it all worked like a charm from the point of view of the Obama administration. In those headline-screaming months, a staggering 70% of Americans were convinced that the Islamic State was "the number one threat to American interests" globally. In other words, support for another endless war in the Middle East was already guaranteed when, as 2014 ended, IS gave way to Chris Christie's hug in Dallas; Jeb Bush's launch of his 2016 presidential campaign; Mitt Romney's hint ("I want to be president") that he would become the Harold Stassen of our age; freezing weather across the U.S. and ensuing massive "chain reaction" traffic pile-ups; and of course the murders in Paris that transfixed the planet (even while significantly more horrific terrorist slaughters from Yemen to Nigeria were largely ignored).
Meanwhile, the new Islamic State, its advances seemingly halted, struggles to rule several million people, while facing -- as the world's newest mini-petro state -- collapsing oil prices and a hole in its finances. The Syrian "moderate" opposition, to which the U.S. regularly proclaims its fealty, continues to go the way of the Dodo. Iraq remains desperately embattled and tripartite, awash in deaths and refugees. And above all, having evidently learned nothing from the dismal results of its previous efforts, Washington continues along one of the more strikingly dej--vu-all-over-again paths of recent times. It sends in air power in a major way, proclaiming, in a now familiar fashion, the staggering precision of its bombs and missiles, while the first accounts of civilian casualties begin to come in. It supports a Shia government in Baghdad, while Shia militias "cleanse" Sunni towns and villages; it tries to rally Sunnis via a new plan to form a "national guard" that looks suspiciously like the old Anbar Awakening; and above all, some of the very same American military men who, at a cost of $25 billion or more, once trained the Iraqi army, are doing it all over again, attempting to instill Baghdad's troops with the elusive "will to fight."
Been there, done that, it seems, is no impediment to war planning in Washington. It even turns out that there's an upside to all this. As State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren, author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, indicates today, bad as it may look in Iraq, it doesn't look that way for everyone, not at least if you happen to be a major defense contractor. Tom
America Is Open for Business in Iraq
(Psst... Wanna Buy an M1 Tank?)
By Peter Van Buren
At the moment, Iraq War 3.0 simply drones on, part bombing campaign, part mission to train the collapsed army the U.S. military created for Iraq War 2.0, all amid a miasma of incoherent mainstream media coverage. American troops are tiptoeing closer to combat (assuming you don't count defensive operations, getting mortared, and flying ground attack helicopters as "combat"), even as they act like archaeologists of America's warring past, exploring the ruins of abandoned U.S. bases. Meanwhile, Shia militias are using the conflict for the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis and Iran has become an ever-more significant player in Iraq's affairs. Key issues of the previous American occupation of the country -- corruption, representative government, oil revenue-sharing -- remain largely unresolved. The Kurds still keep "winning" against the militants of IS in the city of Kobani on the Turkish border without having "won."
In the meantime, Washington's rallying cry now seems to be: "Wait for the spring offensive!" In translation that means: wait for the Iraqi army to get enough newly American-trained and -armed troops into action to make a move on Mosul. That city is, of course, the country's second largest and still ruled by the new "caliphate" proclaimed by Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. All in all, not exactly inspiring stuff.
Team America's Arms Sales Force
In the midst of the December holiday news-dumping zone, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) quietly notified Congress of several pending arms deals for Iraq. DSCA is the Pentagon office responsible for coordinating arms agreements between American defense contractors and foreign buyers.
Iraq's Shopping List
Here's part of what the U.S. is getting ready to sell to Iraq right now:
* 175 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks;
* 15 Hercules tank recovery vehicles (you can't have a tank without the tow truck);
* 55,000 rounds of main gun ammunition for the tanks (the ammo needed to get the biggest bang for your bucks)
And what will all that firepower cost? Just under $3 billion.
Keep in mind that these are only the most recent proposed sales when it comes to tanks. In July, for example, General Dynamics received a $65.3 million contract to support the existing Iraq M1A1 Abrams program. In October, the U.S. approved the sale of $600 million in M1 tank ammunition to that country. There have also been sales of all sorts of other weaponry, from $579 million worth of Humvees and $600 million in howitzers and trucks to $700 million worth of Hellfire missiles. There are many more examples. Business is good.
Would You Like the Extended Warranty?
Iraqis have a saying: "The rug is never sold." It means that there's always more money to be made from any transaction. General Dynamics would agree. Arms sales work remarkably like consumer electronics (and Iraqi carpets). Want the extended warranty for your new smartphone? Extra battery? Accessories? Insurance against loss or damage? Suddenly the cost of your phone doubles.
Are Tanks Good for Anything Other Than Profits?
For Congress to approve the DSCA arms deals, the Department of Defense must certify that "the proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region." So the tanks to fight IS will have to be certified in writing not to affect the regional situation.
Whatever the Iraqis think they need the tanks for, America's nine-year-long slog through Iraq War 2.0 should have offered a lesson in how relatively useless heavy armor is for the kind of urban fighting and counter-insurgency warfare usually seen against a foe like IS. In fact, the logistics needed to maintain an M1 in combat can actually slow an advance, while the steel beasts are relatively easy targets in the confines of a Middle Eastern city like Mosul.
Maybe, in the end, some of those M1s will even land in Iranian hands, given the robust role that country is playing in the current Iraq war. America's front-line military technology could, in other words, find its way into the hands of people capable of a little reverse engineering to mine technology for Iran's own tank corps or to sell on the world market. It seems Baghdad is already sharing other U.S.-supplied weapons with Iranian-influenced Shia militias, so why not tanks?
Let's put it this way: from any point of view except General Dynamics's, the Islamic State's, or maybe the Iranians', these tank sales don't add up.
Call Your Broker
It's easy enough to toss around terms like "military-industrial complex" and equally easy to slip from there into what some might consider blood-for-oil conspiracy theories or suggestions that Iraq War 2.0 was all about the mega-contractor Halliburton's bottom line. While oil and Halliburton were certainly part of that past war's calculus, they can no more account for it than the piles of money General Dynamics is about to make selling tanks can alone account for Iraq War 3.0.
Still, it's hard to ignore the way defense companies find themselves buried in cash from selling weapons that aren't needed to people who can't use them, sales that are, in the end, likely to harm, not help, America's geopolitical interests. Perhaps it is better to see the immediate profits from such deals as just a part of a much bigger process, one that demands America have enemies to crusade against to ensure the survival of the national security state.
To such a "wartime" paradigm one just needs to plug in new bad guys from time to time, which is proving an ever-easier venture, since each of our previous wars and conflicts seems to offer a remarkably helpful hand in creating them. In this way, radical Islam has proven, with Washington's help, a worthy successor to the Soviet Union, itself once a superb money-making venture and a great way to build a monumental national security state.
Even as the Obama administration stumbles and bumbles along in search of a magical political strategy in Iraq that would make sense of everything, American weapons-makers can expect a bountiful future. In the meantime, Washington is putting forces in place that, by doing more of the same for the third time in a disintegrating Iraq in the middle of a fracturing region, guarantee more of the same. In that sense, you might say that American forces are partly in place to help promote the investment. If one needed an example of how the military-industrial complex works today, that might be it. Every mistake by Washington is a boon for future arms sales.
So if you've got money to invest in General Dynamics, you might want to call your broker.
Copyright 2015 Peter Van Buren