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Return of the Rubber-type Army
June 15, 2014 - Harry Eagar
Some things don’t change very much. Every few years, the foreign despots the United States bankrolls get in trouble, and the rightwingers assert that with just a little push, they can be propped back up. No real cost to us.
So the downfall of Maliki in Iraq is following a well-known script, which it is convenient to call the “Return of the Rubber-type Army.”
The phenomenon goes back to 1919, when President Wilson was tricked into believing that 100,000 fierce Russian fighters who could not wait to restore the tsar were ready to eliminate the Bolsheviks. All they required was money (of course!) and the stiffening of a few soldiers from the Arsenal of Democracy.
So Wilson sent a regiment of Michiganders to Murmansk. The 100,000 tsarist patriots did not show up, and before the Americans were withdrawn they had suffered some of the highest casualty rates of any American troops ever.
The truth was that no one who had a choice was going to choose to die so that Nicholas could accumulate more pretty enamel Easter eggs.
This story has been played out again and again, at the Bay of Pigs, in South Vietnam, in China, in Iran and lately in Syria and Iraq.
But the classic statement of the rightwing fantasy of farmers dying to die for them was made by A.J. Liebling in his “Wayward Press” column in the New Yorker in April 1951.
The United States was interested in having the North Korean and Chinese Communists driven out of Korea, though not so interested that it wanted to pay the blood-price itself. That was a job for poor farmers, preferably brown ones.
The rightwingers, like soon-to-be Speaker of the House Joseph Martin, wanted to “unleash Chiang Kai-shek,” who, conveniently had an idle army holed up on Formosa, whence they had fled after being trounced by the Chicoms in 1948. What would be more desirable than to ship them to Korea, where they would fight for the democracy they had not felt like fighting for in their homeland?
The truth was, in China these men had (for the most part) thought that what they were being asked to die for was landlordism and oppression of people like themselves, and they had voted by running away. It was the closest the Kuomintang ever came to democracy.
But that was not the point made by Liebling. He was concerned about the phony claims of the size of this army. He used an old gag from the printer’s trade about rubber type, which could be stretched or squeezed to fit whatever task was at hand. In this case, he ridiculed the varying claims about the size of the Chinese army available, which ranged from 450,000 to nearly 1,000,000, with several other estimates in between.
If the United States were ever to support a democratic regime led by more or less honest patriots, there no doubt would be a reservoir of patriotic men and women ready to die with our support. But seldom has the United States ever done so. The outstanding exception was under Franklin Roosevelt, where we supported patriots, not all of them democrats by any means, but who were at least not being asked to die so that the rich could get richer.
Instead, we have almost always backed murderous kleptocrats like Mobutu and Mubarek. We can go further than that. While both Democratic and Republican administrations have put their muscle behind these criminals, those have been the only kinds of local leaders that rightwingers have supported.
If I have overlooked any counterexample, I am sure someone will easily correct me.
Now, the notional Iraq army is throwing away its weapons and going back to the farm, just like the tsar’s soldiers in 1917. If reports can be believed (and maybe they can), the still-intact formations in Baghdad are wearing mufti under their uniforms so they can desert as soon as they have the chance.
This is not Barack Obama’s doing. When Incurious George invaded in 2003, he had made no plans for a successor government. It was supposed to arise from the ashes spontaneously.
To the extent that any preparations were made at all, Incurious George wanted the Iraqis to be led by Chalabi, a Sunni grifter with no political base who had not lived in Iraq for a generation. Small wonder that the majority Shia distrusted American bona fides and when they got their man, Maliki, inserted into the money pipeline from Washington, they made a point of showing their independence of American colonialism by running an old-style Arab despotism.
Something very similar is going on in Afghanistan, and it is hardly likely that the notional national army of that fake state will last much longer.
American rightwingers, most prominently John McCain, who has been closely involved in three wars, all of them lost, want to repeat the Rubber-type Army approach. There not only is no chance it will work from here on out, there was never any chance it could have worked, given the corruption and stupidity of the Bush policy.
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Ready to die for what?