Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace

Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace – Book Review

Richard Halloran

Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace. By Ralph Peters. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Press, 2003. 337 pages. $22.95.

A pen in the hand of Ralph Peters, as regular readers of these pages can attest, becomes a harpoon. In his latest collection of articles, Beyond Baghdad, the lances that Peters hurls are worthy of the finest Nantucket whaler of yore.

Target number one is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and what Peters calls “his fawning train of courtiers.” High-priority targets include Muslim terrorists, Saudi Arabia and other Arabs, liberals led by former President Bill Clinton, the French, the Germans, other Europeans, and airpower. Those who are spared the wrath of Peters, and indeed are objects of his affection, are soldiers, women, and Israelis.

Like all harpooners, Peters sometimes misses his mark. He admires China, overlooking Chinese genocide in Tibet, the suppression of Uighurs in the western province of Xinjiang, territorial claims through the South China Sea almost to the shores of Indonesia, border skirmishes with India, the 20 million who died in the Cultural Revolution, the massacre at Tienanmen, and the history of the Middle Kingdom as the would-be suzerain of Asia.

Peters also hurls shaft after shaft at the American press and television news, asserting that most correspondents “simply don’t understand what they are seeing.” He may or may not be right, but he fails to make his case. One thirsts for an authoritative quote, a hard fact, a few examples, some shred of evidence that a novice copy editor would have demanded.

Peters is a retired Army intelligence officer and a prolific writer of books, articles, and fiction under his own name and as Owen Parry. He says, and this reviewer agrees, that he has “always been suspicious of books compiled from newspaper pieces.” He gets away with it in this case because there is a flow to his collection, although it is marred slightly by repetition.

Peters’ sharpest barbs are aimed at Mr. Rumsfeld’s “posse of commissars, creatures with no first-hand experience either of the military or of the savage harshness of this world.” Peters asserts: “They ridiculed the voices of experience, even implying that those in uniform had a yellow streak, while the civilian lions safe at their Washington desks were models not only of wisdom but of courage.” Peters is relentless on this point: “If war is too important to be left to the generals–a cheap platitude–then military policy is far too important to be left to political hacks. We speak no treason when we tell the truth to our fellow citizens.”

That’s early in this book. Later, Peters thunders:

The civilian planners, the shameless know-it-alls in expensive

suits, who overruled the military’s request for additional ground

forces will bear a measure of responsibility for every American

combat death caused because a soldier was simply too tired to react

swiftly enough, because troops were falling asleep over their

guns, and because they were asked to achieve miracles–and have been

doing so on the cheap.

Airpower is magnificent, Peters says, but “you cannot take prisoners, or protect refugees, or secure crucial facilities and resources from the air. And you certainly cannot stop genocide or ethnic cleansing from the sky.” That takes boots on the ground.

Peters argues that among the reasons Osama bin Laden the leader of the terrorist al Qaeda gang still at large as of this writing–fears America is because of “our acceptance of women as full-fledged human beings.” Bin Laden, Peters concludes, “is not only terrified of God, but also scared of the girls.” On a more affirmative note, Peters says: “Women’s self-emancipation is a primary source of America’s present power, wealth, and social energy.”

Peters faults the Bush Administration for failing to address “the obvious source of fundamentalist terrorism, subversion, and hatred: Saudi Arabia.” Supporting the Saudis, he asserts, “is the most preposterous and wrongheaded policy in American history since the defense of slavery.”

He widens that criticism to a litany of flaws in the Arab world: “It contains not a single world-class university. No Arab state is a true democracy. No Arab state genuinely respects human rights. No Arab society fully respects the rights of women or minorities.”

The author is equally acerbic about the French. “Paris isn’t a ‘third force,’ but a third farce,” Peters maintains. “French behavior in the current crisis is obsessive, not reasoned, and ultimately self-defeating.” He concludes: “Every American who dies in this war will have a French diplomatic bullet in his or her body.”

Of the Germans: “Most difficult of all for us to stomach were remarks from members of the German government comparing President Bush to Hitler.” Europeans, he writes, “talk a great deal, do very little, and blame the United States for homegrown ills.” The European Union is “an indispensable employment agency for Europe’s excess bureaucrats.”

Some of the articles by Peters have been published in this journal, but many chapters originally appeared in the New York Post, the conservative tabloid. From that vantage point, he fires at this reviewer’s former employers at the cross-town New York Times: “The next time GI Joe goes out to thrash one of your pet dictators, ask a military man what’s going down, instead of trusting the croissant commandos on your staff.”

Like some others who criticize “the media,” Peters generalizes but fails to cite examples to prove his point. Instead, he sets up straw men so that he can skewer them in the breastplate. He laments “confused, alarmed reporting.” By whom and what was reported? He points to “dire warnings about an impending bloodbath.” In what news dispatch or TV report? “I’m sick of being told how brilliant our enemies are.” Who said that, when, and where? Peters accuses but doesn’t tell us.

Altogether, Ralph Peters is an angry man who can write, and no one–repeat, no one–should ever have any doubt about where he stands on any issue.

Reviewed by Richard Halloran, free-lance writer and former foreign and military correspondent of The New York Times.

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