This year’s Oscar for best military comedy has to go to the island-claiming “war” between those great military powers, Spain and Morocco. It was a sidesplitter from beginning to end. Just imagine the battle of Iwo Jima turned into a Muppet movie, or the Bill Murray character in Caddyshack hitting Omaha Beach.
The Spanish and Moroccans had to overcome some tough competition for this award, especially from the US Air Force. First the boys in blue decided to drop a 1500-lb, laser-guided wedding present right on the bride and groom at a Pushtun wedding in Tora Bora. “Here comes the bride, there goes the neighborhood” — in little tiny pieces.
Maybe it was a mercy killing-if you think what 40 years alive as an Afghan wife would be like, instant death probably looked good to the blushing bride. Or maybe it was a mercy killing on behalf of the groom – after all, she probably had a nasty beard. And you know those Pushtuns aren’t all too fond of women anyway.
The funniest bit was that the shredded guests turned out to be relatives of Hamid Karzai. He was so upset he publicly scolded the USAF. “Be more careful which weddings you obliterate, for goodness’ sake! Those people were my cousins!”
The USAF apologized, sort of. They said some wedding guests had fired on one of their planes. Turned out this was just the Pushtun way of celebrating: firing an AK47 into the air. The Pushtun way always involves firing an AK. How do Pushtuns cook soup? Fire hot tracers into the pot. How do Pushtuns clean house? Trick question: they don’t. But if they did, it’d be by blasting the floor with an AK on full automatic. How do Pushtuns vote? Put a 7.62mm round through the candidate of their choice. Not the ballot, the candidate.
So if you’re going to start killing Pushtuns every time they fire an AK, you may as well wipe out the whole tribe. Which, come to think of it….
The USAF had another hit comedy last month, when a small plane crossed the no-fly zone over the White House. Bush and Cheney dived under their desks and called for a fighter intercept, but by the time the USAF got a single F-16 up, the Cessna was long gone. When Bush’s handlers asked what the hell took them so long, the USAF said, and I quote, “We hadn’t thought about protecting the White House.”
Your tax dollars at work.
But funny as the USAF can be, it couldn’t match the laff-o-lympics riot put on by Spain and Morocco in their fight over the Isle of Parsley.
In case you weren’t following the story, Spain and Morocco both claim this tiny island off the Moroccan coast. They even have different names for it: the Spanish call it “perejil” which means “parsley,” and the Moroccans call it “Leila” which supposedly means “night” in Arabic. (Personally, I thought “Leila” was the name of that Eric Clapton song about stealing George Harrison’s wife, but if the Moroccans say it means “night” I guess they know what they’re talking about. They’re the Arabs, not me.)
This island is worthless scrub. No water, no houses, nobody living there except a herd of goats. As far as I know, nobody did a referendum with the goats whether they wanted to go with Spain or Morocco. They were just grazing the chaparral as usual on July 11 when out of nowhere a couple dozen Moroccan “gendarmes” occupy the island and run up the Moroccan flag.
In the Muppet-movie version, this is where Gonzo in a big turban and his belly-dancing chickens sail in, with Dom DeLuise as the Admiral waving a plywood scimitar.
From a military standpoint, the interesting question is, why did the Moroccans just send a few gendarmes? Why not land real troops with shoulder-fired SAMs, a few anti-ship missiles? That stuff is light enough now that infantry can carry enough to defend itself pretty well against air/sea attack.
But that would be real war. Most countries can’t do real war. It’s too expensive. And now that everybody’s got a video camera, real war looks bad — too gory, too messy. If they’d had video cameras at Gettysburg, the North would’ve elected a peace-at-any-price candidate like McClellan by the biggest landslide in history.
So armies are just big theater groups now. They’re used to make “gestures” — sitcom war, Muppet war.
The Moroccan army:
lean, mean, not too far between
The Moroccans could never handle a real war, even against a spineless theme-park like Spain. The Moroccan Royal Air Force (FARM) flew F-5s — the Plymouth Valiant of fighters — till this year, when their rich friends the Saudis donated 20 used F-16s. But having the planes is one thing; getting decent pilots, radar techs and maintenance crews is another. If it was just a matter of buying hardware, the Saudis would be a military power in the Middle East.
The people who really run Morocco — the usual clique of army officers plus corrupt royal family — know from bitter experience that their army is worthless. From 1976 to 1989 (or 1991, depending on whose story you believe), the Moroccan army tried to wipe out a guerrilla movement called POLISARIO, from the Spanish Sahara independence movement. They failed so badly they had to build a giant sand wall on their southern border because the POLISARIO guys in their Toyota pickups (the true weapon of the early 21st century) were not only holding on to Spanish Sahara but actually starting to attack Moroccan towns. POLISARIO even occupied Lebueirat, a big military base in southern Morocco, in 1979. The Moroccan defense minister was dumped, and the King ordered the sandcastle barrier — not exactly a vote of confidence in his Royal Army.
And if all that wasn’t enough to convince the Moroccans to stick to fake/comedy war, there’s the fact that Spain’s been in NATO since 1982, so if you fuck with them you’re basically fucking with the US. It’s true that the US has a lot of sleazy little arms deals and quasi-alliances with Morocco too, but remember the Falkland War. That was a war between the UK and Argentina, both with close links to the US — and the US showed pretty clearly they’ll always side with the NATO white folk. The US was openly pro-British. Hell, we even passed on satellite intelligence that helped the Brits find and kill a harmless old Argentine “battleship,” the General Belgrano. This poor old hulk was about as dangerous as a floating log, but thanks to US data, a Brit nuke sub found it and blew it to bits, killed 2,000 poor stupid Argentine draftee sailors.
So the Moroccans know they couldn’t win a real war with Spain. That’s why they purposely sent the weakest possible force — a dozen cops: because it’s less embarrassing when cops get expelled than it is when your whole army gets butt-fucked and sent home in a cargo hold. Just ask the Argentineans. After the Brits kicked their asses in the Falklands, the junta fell. The fatcat colonels running Morocco wouldn’t risk that happening to them.
The gendarmes didn’t last long on the island. They’d probably been ordered not to resist, so when the Spanish choppered in 75 special forces to boot them off, the Moroccans surrendered without a fight. They were handcuffed and taken off the island. Not exactly Iwo Jima II. A gated retirement community on Bingo night gets rowdier than this.
In the Muppet version, this would be Miss Piggy in a bullfighting uniform, shouting “Ole! Andale, andale!” while she rounds up Gonzo and his Muslim chickens, karate-chopping anybody who dawdles. Dom Deluise, the Moroccan admiral and special live human guest on the show, falls head over heels in love with her, and they sail home doing a comedy duet — a nice peaceful ending, you’d think.
But you can always count on hometown media to promote war, as long as it’s not going to happen to them. So back in Spain and Morocco, the papers and TV were busy stirring up the civilians.
This is when the nutcases come out to play: when their homeland has been insulted. So naturally, after Moroccan TV showed the gendarmes being led off by the Spanish infidels, a 27-year-old Moroccan civilian decided to take things into his own hands. A one-man jihad, comedy style.
This Moroccan Rambo steals a rowboat and paddles over to the island, armed with a Moroccan flag and a bottle of pills. That’s all. No gun, no scimitar — just the flag and the pills. The lone Moroccan would be played by Kermit, natch. Little Kermie, in a rowboat, singing about peace and love and all that crap, sweeping Senora Piggy off her feet. They’d agree to share the island, and the movie would end with a big show number, with Gonzo’s bellydancing chickens arm-in-arm with Senora Piggy’s flamenco-stompin’ Spanish Special Forces.
It didn’t go that well when the real Moroccan looney got to the island. He planted the Moroccan flag on the island — so far so good — but when the Spanish troops come over to arrest him he gulped down the pills. I guess his plan was to OD right there on the Isle of Parsley and go down in history as one of Morocco’s great martyrs. Or maybe the pills were Ex-Lax, and he wanted to explode, you know, kill the Spanish with shit-shrapnel.
But he didn’t even manage to OD. Pretty lame.
I don’t want to brag or anything, but I went to high school with people who could find a way to OD on every single thing you have in your bathroom. Including tap water. This one guy we called “Medfly” actually drank a bottle of malathion. And lived, sort of. And this pansy-ass Moroccan can’t even manage to OD with a bottle of pills?
It’s a sad commentary. The human race is going to hell in a Honda.
Sadder for the Spanish, because they used to be the meanest fucking soldiers on the planet. 400 years ago, the thought of facing Spanish infantry would send most European armies running. Cortez and Pizarro stomped whole empires with a few dozen men. But they brought back so much booty the country just got lazy and weak. And now Spain can’t do much but run beach hotels for soccer hooligans.
It must be sad to be a Spaniard now, when your best days are long gone. I’ve always wondered about that with Europeans — if you’re a German or French guy living now, do you feel bitter because your country used to kick ass all over the world, but now it can’t do anything? Like Spain can’t even kill a Moroccan in a rowboat? If it was me, I’d be depressed. Maybe that’s an America-centric idea or something, but I’m not trying to be snotty about it. I just wonder.
But to be fair, the rest of the world isn’t much better. War these days is mostly bluff. It’s all woofing, cheap propaganda, PR stuff.
The fight over this stupid island was just a sideshow. The real fight is over a couple of pieces of Moroccan coastline that the Spanish still hold, thanks to some old colonial treaties (the same way the US claims Guantanamo). The Moroccans were sending a message to the Spanish: suppose we march a few thousand Moroccan civilians into those colonial holdovers? Do you squeamish Spaniards really have the balls to machine-gun 10,000 Moroccan civilians right there in front of the TV cameras?
The Moroccans have already tried this kind of “civilian invasion” technique — and it worked. They took the whole of the Spanish Sahara by sending 350,000 Moroccan civilians marching over the border. Totally unarmed, daring the guards to kill them. And not a shot was fired. The Moroccans had won a huge chunk of territory without firing a shot.
The story of the Spanish Sahara is very weird, and still not settled. The Spanish got it as a consolation prize at the Berlin conference of 1884, where the Europeans divided up Africa. Nobody else wanted this chunk of desert (average rainfall, zero), so they let poor old Spain have it. Although the population was tiny and disorganized, the Spanish still needed help from the French to keep the locals under control. After WW II, when the European powers started getting out of Africa, the Moroccans saw that the Spanish were too weak to hold the place, and started moving in themselves.
There was a lot of fancy talk at the UN about a referendum — about letting the nomads decide their own fate, but the Moroccans weren’t buying. They weren’t squeamish Europeans. They’ve got all the ingredients for expansion: a big birthrate, a greedy Army clique running the country, a strong religion. The Moroccans decided to grab the whole territory before the UN could organize a referendum.
On November 6, 1976, the Moroccans assembled 350,000 civilians at their southern border and marched into Spanish Sahara. Men, women, children, all waving green flags, yelling the usual “God is great” cheerleader routine. The UN just let them through. Like the Bosnians found out at Srebrinica, UN troops are about as much protection as a toilet-paper condom.
The funny thing is, the unarmed Moroccan civilians did a much better job of taking Spanish Sahara than the Moroccan army did of holding on to it. POLISARIO started a guerrilla war with Algerian backing and weapons, and they ran rings around the Moroccan army. Until the Moroccans built their sand wall, POLISARIO units in their Toyotas were hitting anywhere they wanted, then fading into the dunes. Right now it looks like the Moroccans won’t be able to hold the place much longer. The Spanish are pushing the UN to get that referendum going. (Jeez, it’s only 25 years late! Why all this rush?), and it looks like they might finally succeed. In fact, one of the reasons the Moroccans decided to push the Spanish up north is that they want the Spanish to back off down south.
So the whole Spain/Morocco mess turns out to be a pretty good sample of war in the 21st century.
Which is a real downer. The lessons are all pretty depressing. For example: actual military capability doesn’t mean much. Armies are for making gestures, not fighting. The best way of invading a territory you want is the way the Moroccans used in their “Green March” into Spanish Sahara: assemble a big crowd of civilians and send ‘em across the border, daring your enemy to wipe them out on-camera, live.
Not many people in the US noticed the Green March, but a lot of land-hungry juntas and oligarchies in the third world paid real close attention. Morocco had invented a new way of invading and seizing another country — and the coolest, funniest part is it’s a way invented by the one and only Gandhi himself! I predict, you’ll see a lot more Green Marches, with floods of unarmed “helpless civilians” walking over borders and daring troops to shoot them.
It’s a weird thought, that the wars of the 21st century will use a warplan developed by Gandhi. But it seems pretty likely. Of course there’ll be countermeasures developed over time. Counter-mobs, maybe: your mob of unarmed civilians vs. our mob of unarmed civilians. Lots of jostling, rugby techniques. It won’t be pretty, but it’ll work. It’ll come down to camera work — like, can our people die sadder than yours? Can our shot children look sadder than yours? They better start teaching “How to Make Home Videos” at West Point. If they haven’t already.
This article appeared in issue #146 of The eXile in July, 2002.
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