Route-Stepping? Our Way to WWIII

Scare-tactic allusions to war allow Bush to push an extremist agenda.

Gregory D. Foster

Route-step, march” is a per­mis­sive mil­i­tary com­mand that directs a march­ing for­ma­tion to con­tin­ue with­out a set cadence. So, route-step” also is a com­mon term of dis­par­age­ment for slop­pi­ness and indis­ci­pline – an apt char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, as it hap­pens, for America’s cur­rent response to world affairs. We lit­tle peo­ple, absent more vig­i­lance and skep­ti­cism, are in dan­ger of being route-stepped into World War III by our rulers and their ide­o­log­i­cal acolytes.

Proclaiming that we are at war, especially world war, strengthens the president's hand as commander-in-chief and concentrates his power.

If World War III” sounds hyper­bol­ic and alarmist, that’s because it is. Pre­cise­ly for that rea­son, it is the pre­vail­ing lin­gua fran­ca of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion and those on the right who seek to solid­i­fy their hold on pow­er by cow­ing the public.

Pres­i­dent Bush him­self, who has unwa­ver­ing­ly stuck to call­ing the hunt for ter­ror­ists the Glob­al War on Ter­ror, has recent­ly tak­en up the claim that we now face World War III. But the most out­spo­ken pro­po­nent of this the­sis is for­mer U.S. House Speak­er and puta­tive pres­i­den­tial aspi­rant Newt Gin­grich. In pub­lic appear­ances, inter­views and news­pa­per com­men­taries, he has made the World War III mantra the cen­ter­piece of a Churchillian patois designed to bur­nish his qual­i­fi­ca­tions as a prospec­tive com­man­der in chief.

Speak­ing in apoc­a­lyp­tic terms of los­ing mil­lions of Amer­i­cans to weapons of mass mur­der, Gin­grich would have us believe that all of the crim­i­nal­i­ty, mil­i­tarism and ter­ror­ism in the world – from North Kore­an mis­sile fir­ings, to Mid­dle East vio­lence, to Iraq and Afghanistan, to alleged ter­ror plot­ters in Cana­da and Eng­land – is con­nect­ed in some uni­fied whole of civ­i­liza­tion­al con­fla­gra­tion. The only rea­son­able response is an all-out effort to achieve total victory.

Of course, pro­claim­ing that we are at war, espe­cial­ly world war, strength­ens the president’s hand as com­man­der-in-chief and his claims to con­cen­trat­ed pow­er; ratio­nal­izes con­tin­ued glut­to­nous defense spend­ing and restric­tions on civ­il lib­er­ties and dis­sent; puts Con­gress, the media and an oppo­si­tion par­ty devoid of all cred­i­bil­i­ty on nation­al secu­ri­ty mat­ters on the per­ma­nent defen­sive; and instills fear in an elec­torate there­by more will­ing to for­sake pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty for Big Broth­er protection.

More­over, to invoke World War III is to evoke World War II, the last great, nation­al­ly uni­fy­ing, Manichean, total war against reg­nant evil per­son­i­fied by Hitler. To be able to com­pare an ene­my fig­ure­head like Osama bin Laden to Hitler, char­ac­ter­ize one’s adver­saries as fas­cist (Islamo-fas­cist), and accuse one’s crit­ics of being his­tor­i­cal­ly illit­er­ate appeasers (in the man­ner of Neville Cham­ber­lain), is to cre­ate a cos­mic sym­me­try of fear­ful acquiescence.

As Gin­grich has been the White House’s de fac­to rhetor­i­cal proxy at home, Israel has been America’s con­tin­u­ing mil­i­tary proxy in the Mid­dle East – a provo­ca­teur extra­or­di­naire whose recent mil­i­tary cam­paign in Lebanon well served the Bush administration’s hopes for turn­ing the rhetoric of world war into real­i­ty. There is a long-held, deeply inter­nal­ized mis­con­cep­tion among much of Washington’s pol­i­cy elite that Israel is supreme­ly com­pe­tent at deal­ing with ter­ror­ism. Exploit­ing this mis­con­cep­tion, Israel act­ed as it invari­ably does (and as its Wash­ing­ton soul­mates invari­ably do): polit­i­cal­ly, tac­ti­cal­ly and mil­i­tar­i­ly, devoid of strate­gic com­pre­hen­sion, sen­si­tiv­i­ty or insight. The result was a deba­cle that mul­ti­plied the strate­gi­cal­ly debil­i­tat­ing effects of America’s Iraq debacle.

Polit­i­cal expe­di­en­cy, not strate­gic desider­a­ta, clear­ly moti­vat­ed both Israel’s actions inside Lebanon and the Bush administration’s coun­te­nanc­ing of those actions. Oth­er­wise, both par­ties would have sought to:

  • Strength­en Lebanon’s gov­ern­ment, rather than irrepara­bly weak­en it by destroy­ing large seg­ments of the country’s infrastructure.
  • Exploit the inher­ent dis­uni­ty of inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism rather than give its dis­parate per­pe­tra­tors grounds for com­mon cause.
  • Win the hearts and minds of peo­ple whose loy­al­ties have now turned to Hezbol­lah and like-mind­ed groups.
  • Con­tribute to region­al and glob­al demil­i­ta­riza­tion through a mea­sured, dis­crim­i­nat­ing use of force that assid­u­ous­ly dis­crim­i­nat­ed between com­bat­ants and non-combatants.

Clear­ly, two things char­ac­ter­ize the Bush administration’s approach to inter­na­tion­al affairs. First, the high pol­i­tics of state­craft have giv­en way to the low pol­i­tics of par­ti­san jock­ey­ing. Sec­ond, the strate­gic exer­cise of pow­er has been over­whelmed by the tac­ti­cal use of force – to the extent that our for­eign pol­i­cy has been com­plete­ly mil­i­ta­rized. The inevitable result, absent a coun­ter­vail­ing exer­cise of demo­c­ra­t­ic pre­rog­a­tive by the Amer­i­can peo­ple, will be the Third World War those now in pow­er have set us up for.

Gre­go­ry D. Fos­ter is a pro­fes­sor at the Indus­tri­al Col­lege of the Armed Forces, Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The views expressed here are his own.
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