Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Global Slumlord

The ongoing collective punishment of Palestinians by Israel and the US reminded me of an article written two years ago about new developments in the field of military warfare against urban civilian populations as a means of exercising colonial control. Having witnessed one of the naval exercises in urban warfare on San Francisco Bay in the late 1990s, I was intrigued by what writer Mike Davis called the "Sharonization of the Pentagon's worldview."

On April 19, 2004, as American Marines attempted to subdue Fallujah--a resistant city of 300,000--Davis wrote about the background of "the very nightmare that American military leaders desperately wanted to avoid...urban warfare against a determined foe, employing the house-to-house equivalent of guerrilla tactics known to cancel out many of the advantages of overwhelming firepower and advanced war technology."

According to Davis, since the early 1990s, facing an ever more global imperial mission into the "arc of instability" (the energy heartlands of our planet), the American military has been in preparation mode -- preparation for a grim future fighting in the sprawling slum cities of the Third World. In The Pentagon as Global Slumlord, Mike Davis observes, "the Marines have again unleashed indiscriminate terror... slaughtering at least two hundred women and children in the first two weeks of fighting."

Looking back, Davis notes that the Mogadishu debacle of 1993--when neighborhood militias inflicted 60% casualties on elite Army Rangers--forced U.S. strategists to rethink what is known in Pentagonese as MOUT: "Militarized Operations on Urbanized Terrain." ...Israeli advisors were quietly brought in to teach Marines, Rangers, and Navy Seals the state-of-the-art tactics -- especially the sophisticated coordination of sniper and demolition teams with heavy armor and overwhelming airpower -- so ruthlessly used by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza and the West Bank.

Artificial cityscapes (complete with "smoke and sound systems") were built to simulate combat conditions in densely populated neighborhoods of cities like Baghdad or Port-au-Prince. The Marine Corps Urban Warfighting Laboratory also staged realistic war games ("Urban Warrior") in Oakland and Chicago, while the Army's Special Operations Command "invaded" Pittsburgh. Today, he says, many of the Marines inside Fallujah are graduates of these Urban Warrior exercises as well as mock combat at "Yodaville" (the Urban Training Facility in Yuma, Arizona), while some of the Army units encircling Najaf and the Baghdad slum neighborhood of Sadr City are alumni of the new $34 million MOUT simulator at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

To help develop a geopolitical framework for urban war-fighting, Davis recalls, military planners turned in the 1990s to the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank established by the Air Force in 1948. Says Davis, one of the most important RAND projects, initiated in the early 1990s, has been a major study of "how demographic changes will affect future conflict." The bottom line, RAND finds, is that the urbanization of world poverty has produced "the urbanization of insurgency" (the title, in fact, of their report). ...

One of the RAND cookbooks ("Aerospace Operations in Urban Environments") even provides a helpful table to calculate the acceptable threshold of "collateral damage" (aka dead babies) under different operational and political constraints. To MOUT geeks, writes Davis, "Iraq is a laboratory where Marine snipers and Air Force pilots test out new killing techniques in an emergent world war against the urban poor."


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