Low-Intensity Conflict: Yuppie Warfare
At times, the most amazing things happen, things that help clarify just what is going on politically. One of those times happened today when, to pass the time, I read an essay entitled, “Low-Intensity Conflict: A Growing Threat to Peace,” written by Michael T. Klare and published in a book entitled, Peace: Meanings, Politics, Strategies.
To get right to it, Klare argues that what is called “low-intensity conflict” has been US policy for some time before 1989, when this book was published. It consists of four particular types of military action or war making: counterinsurgency, pro-insurgency, peacetime contingency operations, and military show of force. As Klare puts it: “From a low-intensity conflict point of view, the United States is at war, extensively, aggressively, and with every evidence of continuing this activity.” [p.114]
Of course, “low-intensity” does not mean low levels of violence, bloodshed, or savagery. Low-intensity conflict in Guatemala took over 100,000 lives, and other actions have taken at least that number. Moreover, low-intensity warfare is a post-Vietnam phenomenon because it keeps “U.S. involvement . . . sufficiently indistinct and inexpensive,” both financially and personnel wise, thereby avoiding “the strident demonstrations and antimilitaristic attitudes of the Vietnam era.”
It is, as Klare puts it so nicely, “the ultimate in ‘yuppie’ warfare” as “it allows privileged Americans to go on buying condominiums, wearing chic designer clothes, eating expensive meals at posh restaurants, and generally living in style without risking their own lives, without facing conscription, without paying higher taxes, and, most importantly, without being overly distracted by grisly scenes on television.” [p. 115] As Klare sums it up: “”Hence, by definition, low-intensity conflict is that amount of bloodshed, torture, rape, and savagery that can be sustained overseas without triggering widespread public disapproval at home.” [p. 115] And, of course, as the aftermaths of 9/11 or the Boston marathon bombing illustrated so well, even “grisly scenes on television” need not deter and will even fortify our “yuppie war-making.”
Quite obviously, such warfare was perfectly adaptable to the alleged “war on terror.” But it would be prudent to keep in mind that its purposes preceded Bush’s and even Reagan’s wars on terror, encompassing “anyone in the Third World who calls for a radical restructuring of the global system.” As General Maxwell Taylor put it: “As the leading affluent ‘have’ power, we may have to fight to protect our national valuables against envious ‘have-nots.’” Or as it was put in a Rand Corporation study of 1977: “There is a non-negligible chance that mankind is entering a period of increased social instability and faces the possibility of a breakdown of global order as a result of a sharpening confrontation between the Third World and the industrial democracies.” [p. 115]
In 1988, a report of U.S. Commission in Integrated Long-Term Strategy said that focusing on the USSR was tunnel vision and as such would blind us to situations that have “an adverse cumulative effect on U.S. access to critical regions, on American credibility among allies and friends, and on American self-confidence.” So, in order to protect ourselves from “a world of obvious ‘have-nots’,” who are too many to kill off or to keep out with walls, “the cheapest solution is to hire or co-opt armies of thugs and mercenaries [or jihadists], and use them to starve and terrorize populations to the point that they are too dispirited, or too frightened, or too weak to resist.”
And if this seems like an extreme interpretation of U.S. policy, just consider what is now going on in Syria, Iraq, and the Middle East generally, including the creation of thousands upon thousands of refugees who are threatened with homelessness and even death. What better way “to so terrorize the population – by inculcating a constant fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night, followed by blindfolding, torture, mutilation, and death – that it remains silent no matter what hideous crimes against humanity are being committed?” [p. 117] And think how well drones and drone strikes fit into this scenario. Now, populations can be terrorized from thousands of miles away, with the terrorists nowhere to be seen, and with whatever “collateral damage” that occurs serving to advance the cause. Hence, it would seem that accidentally bombing weddings or hospitals serve the cause of low-intensity conflicts.
Klare also points out, because there continue to be those who oppose such conflicts, that low-intensity warfare “is a strategy aimed not only against the envious ‘have-nots’ of the Third World, but also against those Americans who speak out against U.S. intervention in internal Third World conflicts . . . Domestic public opinion is the home front in the global struggle against U.S. ‘enemies,’ and low-intensity conflict strategy is addressed as much to this front as to overseas fronts in Central America, South Africa, and elsewhere.” As one spokesperson for such conflicts put it: “It is vital that the American public and our policymakers be educated as to the realities of contemporary conflict, and the need to fight little wars successfully.” [p. 119]
As with the Vietnam War, the hearts and minds to be “won” were in the United States as well as in Vietnam. And, it would seem, that campaign has been successful, at least in the United States. For now, one must “support the troops” regardless of the war they are involved in. Anything else seems tantamount to treason.