The Wars of Ralph Peters

Slowly, but inexorably, the world is drifting towards the prospect of an all-out war between the United States and North Korea.  At the very least such a conflict is likely to result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, most of them Koreans.  It also raises the very real possibility of the first nuclear exchange in history.

Primary responsibility for this terrifying prospect lies with the North Korean regime and the Trump administration.  A tyrannical despot with no other cards to play with except nuclear ones has attempted to wrest diplomatic and economic concessions from an unstable, chaotic and rudderless administration led by a sociopathic narcissist unconstrained by moral or humanitarian considerations or even any basic understanding of foreign policy.

Both North Korea and the US have bluffed and blustered to the point when neither of them can back down without losing face – unless some external pressure is brought to bear.  Yet such pressure is dangerously absent.   China appears paralysed and unwilling to intervene to prevent Kim Jong Un’s nuclear brinkmanship.  Trump’s allies have either been passive, or like our idiot foreign secretary, have actively supported the ‘tough’ US stance that has painted North Korea into a corner.

As consequence, the world is in very real danger of being dragged towards nuclear war by clowns and political gargoyles who either have no idea of the risks and consequences of what they are doing, or don’t care if they do know.   The North Korean regime undoubtedly knows that if there were a nuclear or even a conventional war, much of the country would be destroyed, and its provocations are clearly predicated on the on the possibility that the US can be brought to the negotiating table before such an outcome occurs.  But that is a big if when dealing with an administration for whom war offers possibly the only escape from political annihilation, impeachment and historical disgrace.

So this is as bad and as dangerous as it gets, and we will need common sense, diplomatic skill, sustained international pressure and crisis management, and very cool heads to defuse the situation.  What we absolutely do not need are the maniacal prescriptions of ex-lieutenant-colonel Ralph Peters.  For those who aren’t familiar with the name, Peters is a former US intelligence officer, turned novelist and military pundit, and a particularly bloodthirsty neocon and exponent of unconstrained US military violence.

Peters has not time for scruples about civilians lives or collateral damage, for fluffy strategies about soft power, or the democracy-building civic projects advocated by David Petraeus and the disciples of ‘COIN’ – countersinsurgency.  For him war is only about ‘Carthaginian’ solutions based on destruction, killing and the shedding of ‘blood’ – a concept that seems to arouse a visceral pleasure in him, as it does for the neocon imagination in general.

Peters first made a name for himself as a war pundit in an influential article in 1997 for the US military journal Parameters on ‘constant conflict’. Faced with a future of ‘multiple conflicts in mutating forms around the globe’, Peters argued that ‘the de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing.’

In the autumn of 2004, Peters returned to the same theme in a piece for the New York Post on the brink of the second US assault on Fallujah,  in which he argued ‘The most humane thing we can do in that tormented city is just to win, to burn out the plague of fanaticism and prove to Iraq’s people that the forces of terror will not be allowed to enslave them…Even if Fallujah has to go the way of Carthage, reduced to shards, the price will be worth it.’

For Peters, the price is always worth it, and virtuous destruction is a kind of health cure for sick peoples who rarely happen to be white.  Such ‘remedies’ are especially required, and even essential, when dealing with ‘civilisational’ conflicts against ‘savages’ or ‘barbarians’.   In a discussion paper for the National Intelligence Council’s future (NIC) 2020 Project, written in 2004, Peters urged the US military to inflict ‘virtuous destruction’ on its global Islamist enemies, on the grounds that ‘there is no substitute for shedding the enemy’s blood in adequate quantities’ .

In the 21st century’s new conflicts, it was no good simply destroying things, Peters argued, or trying to distinguish between fighters and civilians because ‘ Such a policy not only complicates the achievement of victory, but extracts no serious policy from the population…Enemy populations must be broken down to an almost child-like state…before being broken up again.’

It is tempting, at first sight, to see Peters as a descendant of the ‘war is cruelty, but you cannot refine it’  philosophy advocated by William Tecumseh Sherman in the American Civil War.  But Sherman, for all his overheated rhetoric, was a humane and thoughtful man, who knew war at first hand and was revolted by it, and whose actual practices were never as extreme as his proposals.

Peters is very different.  Like many neocons, he is essentially a bloodthirsty voyeur, who has never personally experienced war or combat and observes the mass slaughter that he advocates from a comfortable distance.  Where Osama bin Laden once crowed about the mass murder of ‘crusaders’, Peters celebrates the destructive power of the most powerful military nation in the world, and his single obsessive demand is that this power should be used ‘virtuously’ by inflicting punitive destruction on America’s enemies, whoever they are.

It is no surprise therefore, to find him once again advocating similar solutions for North Korea in the Murdoch press.  In an article in the New York Post last month  Peters asked his readers whether ‘ we kill our enemies with sufficient ruthlessness at the outset, or do we attempt to minimize North Korean casualties and expose ourselves and our allies to the prospect of a drawn-out mutual butchery?’

For Peters there is only ever one answer:  ‘ in warfare there’s no substitute for killing your enemy and all those who support him. And you keep on killing until the enemy quits unconditionally or lies there dead and rotting.’

There are those, and Rupert Murdoch is almost certainly one of them, who find this kind of talk from an ex-military man, bracing, ‘truthful’ and sexy.  And yesterday, Peters was at it again, arguing for a preemptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, on the grounds that ‘Better a million dead North Koreans than a thousand dead Americans.’

As is often the case, Peters presented this equation as a form of realism, since ‘If there is any real hope of a peaceful solution, of course that would be preferable. But we cannot rely on miracles or mirages.’

In fact diplomatic negotiations are neither miraculous nor chimerical.  They could happen, but Peters doesn’t want them, and never does.  He is a true patriot, unwilling to ‘sacrifice American lives to shield the consciences of intellectual elites who, from protected positions of immense privilege, insist that all human life is precious.’

Instead Peters coolly advocates ‘ a million dead North Koreans’ from his own position of immense privilege.  He even has the gall to give this bloodlust a patina of pseudo-philosophical gravitas.  For Peters ‘warfare has been humanity’s ultimate means of resolving intractable issues since the first cave-dwellers went at the gang from the cave down yonder with rocks. We may not like it — I don’t — but to insist that war isn’t humanity’s sometimes-necessary default means of survival is to ignore all of human history.’

And again

‘I realize this column will leave liberals aghast, while even conservatives cling to lullaby chatter. I do not relish death or human suffering. But it would be immoral to allow North Korea to develop an arsenal capable of attacking our military, our cities and our allies.’

In fact this column ought to leave anybody aghast, and no one should be fooled by his faux-revulsion.  Once again,  Peters has demonstrated that he is a disingenuous hypocrite as well as a depraved and bloodthirsty savage.   Once again the man who claims not to ‘like’ war or ‘relish’ death or human suffering advocates mass slaughter as the only ‘solution’ and a reluctant last choice, and once once again Rupert Murdoch has given him a platform to do it.

But this time, unless the world can find a way to bring the Trump administration and the North Korean regime to their senses, there is a very real possibility that Ralph Peters might just get the total war he has dreamed about for so long, and Asia and the rest of the world may be sucked into a hell that could – and should – have been prevented.

Bombs and Chocolate

For liberals who saw last week’s missile strikes in Syria as a belated but welcome act of humanitarianism, Donald Trump was always going to be an awkward president to share the moral high ground with.   One minute he might be talking about beautiful babies and the children of God, but then he gives interviews with a Fox News ‘journalist’ named Maria Bartiromo, which contains sequences like this:

BARTIROMO:   You redirected navy ships to go toward the Korean Peninsula. What we are doing right now in terms of North Korea?

TRUMP:  You never know, do you? You never know. I don’t want to talk about it.  We are sending an armada, very powerful.  We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier, that I can tell you. And we have the best military people on Earth.  And I will say this.  He [Kim Jong Un] is doing the wrong thing.  He is doing the wrong thing.

BARTIROMO:  Do you…

TRUMP:  He’s making a big mistake.

BARTIROMO:  — do you think he’s mentally fit?

An interesting question, particularly when directed at Trump, who remains enigmatic and replies:

I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I don’t know him.  But he’s doing the wrong thing

This doesn’t actually answer the question of ‘what we are doing right now’ in North Korea, but the bragging about the power of American weapons and the barely-concealed threat in these observations ought to be as alarming as North Korea’s equally deranged and reckless nuclear diplomacy.   Things do not get any better when Trump and his interviewer turn their attention to  the bombing of Syria that thrilled so many liberal hearts:

BARTIROMO:  When you were with the president of China, you’re launching these military strikes.

TRUMP:  Yes.

BARTIROMO:  Was that planned? How did that come about that it’s happening right then, because right there, you’re saying a reminder, here’s who the superpower in the world is, right?

This is the kind of question that gives journalists a bad name.  In Bartiromo’s world,  it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for a US president to order military strikes over dinner in order to remind a foreign head of state ‘who the superpower in the world is’.  And Trump is as excited as she is:

TRUMP:  You have no idea how many people want to hear the answer to this.  I have had — I have watched speculation for three days now on what that was like (INAUDIBLE).

BARTIROMO:  When did you tell him?

TRUMP:  But I’ll tell you (INAUDIBLE)…

BARTIROMO:  Before dessert or what?

Another crucial question, which gets the following astonishing answer:

TRUMP:  But I will tell you, only because you’ve treated me so good for so long, I have to (INAUDIBLE) right?  I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We’re now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.  And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?  And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert. We’ve just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing.

So it turns out that the man who expressed the will of the ‘international community’; who finally stood up to evil after all these years of Obamesque caution and vacillation; who bombed Syria because he couldn’t stand the sight of dead babies, is also a man who boasts of firing missiles while eating ‘the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.’   And when he does so, he does it with the approval of a ‘journalist’ who can only shake her head in admiration and say:

Unmanned?  Brilliant.

That ‘brilliant’ is a darkly hilarious counterpoint to Trump’s troglodyte braggadocio. Bartiromo is clearly still stuck in the low-tech world  where US pilots strapped themselves to missiles and waved stetson hats, which is sooo last century.    Trump, on the other hand, knows that things have moved on.  William Tecumseh Sherman did not love war, even though he waged it harshly.  George Patton thought war was hell but loved it anyway.  Trump just loves it, almost as much as he loves chocolate cake:

TRUMP:  It’s so incredible.  It’s brilliant.  It’s genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.  I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.  So what happens is I said we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.

Even the unctuous Bartiromo has noticed that these weapons were not fired at Iraq, and feels the need to point this out to the president:

BARTIROMO:  (INAUDIBLE) to Syria?

TRUMP:  Yes. Heading toward Syria. In other words, we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading toward Syria.  And I want you to know that, because I didn’t want him to go home.  We were almost finished.  It was a full day in Palm Beach.  We’re almost finished and I —what does he do, finish his dessert and go home and then they say, you know, the guy you just had dinner with just attacked a country?

Let no one say that Trump doesn’t understand strategy or diplomacy.  Just because he won’t shake Angela Merkel’s hand doesn’t mean he is going to eat dessert with the Chinese premier and not tell him that he’s, like, attacked a country.

Several possibilities come to mind while considering these astounding words.  Clearly Trump is a moral imbecile, who is too stupid to consider that juxtaposing making war and eating chocolate cake and dessert might be considered inappropriate, and perhaps just a little flippant, shallow and lacking in presidential gravitas.  It’s also possible that war actually is a trivial activity for Trump, of no more importance and significance than eating chocolate cake, in which case he is probably a deranged psychopath who ought to struggle even to get a firearms license – let alone run the world’s only superpower.

But whatever the glaring defects in Trump’s monstrous personality, his psychopathic behaviour is also a systemic consequence of American militarism.   It’s the same unlimited global military power that enabled Ronald Reagan to order the bombing of Tripoli on no evidence.  It’s why Bill Clinton could fire missiles at a Sudan medical facility while he was being investigated for having weird sex with an intern, and why George Bush could invade Iraq on the basis of lies and fabrications.  It’s why Hilary Clinton could giggle ‘ we came, we saw, he died’ following the extrajudicial execution of Gaddafi.  And it’s also why the former community leader Barack Obama could sign off on a weekly kill list during his ‘Terror Tuesday’ meetings.

They did this because they could.  Because America has a unique ‘right’ and the ability to fire missiles and bombs at any country or target anywhere in the world for whatever reason.  Trump – despite his previous aversion to gratuitous military adventures during his campaign – has now taken up this role with a dangerous gusto and a total lack of understanding of the world he is operating in or the potential consequences of his actions.

Domestic political considerations partly explain this volte face, but Trump’s childlike enthusiasm for all things military also exhibits alarming signs of megalomania that are more commonly associated with Kim Jong Un, with their references to ‘my military’ and ‘my generals’, and his glassy-eyed worship of America’s powers of destruction.

Following last week’s MOAB bomb strike on Afghanistan, Trump was quick to suggest that he was responsible for it, bragging ‘Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do is I authorize my military.  We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job as usual. So we have given them total authorization.’

Trump’s choice of wording hinted that he had given the order to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb in history, even though one of ‘his’ generals has since said that the decision was taken without consultation with the White House.   Either way, the satisfaction that Trump has taken from it is not an encouraging sign, for those who would rather not see this crazed clown stagger into World War III with Boris Johnson’s head sticking out of his pocket like a pet gonk.

Because it is impossible to believe that the US would drop a 21,000-bomb simply to eliminate some 30-odd Islamic State terrorists.  To do such a thing would be such an incredibly disproportionate concentration of resources that one could only conclude that Trump and ‘his’ generals have lost the plot.

It is far more likely that the MOAB is a message aimed at America’s other ‘adversaries’, including North Korea and Iran.   That is the only thing about the use of this horrendous weapon that makes any sense, insofar as there is anything sensible about Donald Trump, and this possibility really ought to give some pause to those who believe that a man who conflates bombing with eating chocolate cake is the great moral hope of a new international order.