Since the U.S. Military Lost the Last Two Wars It Fought, Is There Reason to Think “Boots on the Ground” Anywhere Is a Good Idea?

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I rarely write on military affairs, but with the pot boiling in Ukraine and Syraqistan, The Tragedy of the American Military by James Fallows comes at an opportune time, and has the merit of speaking some very obvious but unspoken truths, which the NC readership may wish to factor into its thinking. Were the rhetorical question in the headline to have been written in Latin it would, no doubt, have been marked with the particle num. In English, the implied answer is obviously “No” and Fallows, who seems to have called his shot on Iraq correctly, back in 2002, even while bending over backward to give “the war party” fair treatment (“Iraq: The Fifty-First State“), helps explain why.

First, the U.S. military lost both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (Pause to explain that although the usual suspects, and some of the more colorful locals, made a great deal of money on both wars, that’s not synonymous with “winning.” States make war, commit their citizens to the wars they make, and win or lose them. That is true even in the mercenary world of Renaissance Italy, in the age of the city-, and not nation-state.) Fallows writes:

Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. No decent person who is exposed to today’s troops can be anything but respectful of them and grateful for what they do.

Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes.

If, as Aristotle says, “We are what we repeatedly do,” then that’s what “we” are: Losers. Fallows goes on:

Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much.

Even these days, a trillion or two is a lot of money.

Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.

So, oopsie, right? And now we’re going back to “train” the Iraqis again! Remember the old A-A joke, except not, that “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results”? How many wars do the ruling factions of our political and national security classes plan on losing, anyhow? Three? Four? (Before moving on, I admit there’s a genre of analysis that claims we really won Iraq and Afghanistan, that this or that really important strategic objective was achieved, whatever. However, these advocates need to persuade the political class of this, because if the political class believed we won those wars, there would be victory parades, and one of the parades would be politicians taking credit.)

Second, there’s been (almost) no accountabilty for losing the wars whatever. There’s been (almost) no accountabilty in the political class. Fallows again:

It is striking how rare accountability has been for our modern wars. Hillary Clinton paid a price for her vote to authorize the Iraq War, since that is what gave the barely known Barack Obama an opening to run against her in 2008. George W. Bush, who, like most ex-presidents, has grown more popular the longer he’s been out of office, would perhaps be playing a more visible role in public and political life if not for the overhang of Iraq. But those two are the exceptions. Most other public figures, from Dick Cheney and Colin Powell on down, have put Iraq behind them. In part this is because of the Obama administration’s decision from the start to “look forward, not back” about why things had gone so badly wrong with America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But such willed amnesia would have been harder if more Americans had felt affected by the wars’ outcome. For our generals, our politicians, and most of our citizenry, there is almost no accountability or personal consequence for military failure.

Nor has there been accountabitility in the national security class:

Wlliam S. Lind is a military historian who in the 1990s helped develop the concept of “Fourth Generation War,” or struggles against the insurgents, terrorists, or other “nonstate” groups that refuse to form ranks and fight like conventional armies. He wrote recently:

The most curious thing about our four defeats in Fourth Generation War—Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan—is the utter silence in the American officer corps. Defeat in Vietnam bred a generation of military reformers … Today, the landscape is barren. Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change. Just more money, please.

During and after even successful American wars, and certainly after the standoff in Korea and the defeat in Vietnam, the professional military’s leadership and judgment were considered fair game for criticism. Grant saved the Union; McClellan seemed almost to sabotage it—and he was only one of the Union generals Lincoln had to move out of the way. Something similar was true in wars through Vietnam. Some leaders were good; others were bad. Now, for purposes of public discussion, they’re all heroes. In our past decade’s wars, as Thomas Ricks wrote in this magazine in 2012, “hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness.” This, he said, was not only a radical break from American tradition but also “an important factor in the failure” of our recent wars.

Nor — shifting away from Fallows — has there been any accountability for our famously free press. I pointed out an especially shocking, or not, example of airbrushing on Iraq from Times Editor Baquet the other day; and rather than multiply examples, I’ll simply provide this video of The Moustache of Understanding, Thomas Freidman, speaking on the rationale for the Iraq war:

and note that Freidman still has a platform at The World’s Greatest Newspaper, and is treated as a Serious Person at Davos.

So, to recap, we’ve got a military that lit a trilllion dollars or so on fire and threw it into the air in the process of losing two wars, while firing no generals; and we’ve got a national security and a political class that looks on blankly, twiddling their fingers, whistling a little or occasionally humming, for what, thirteen years? while the smoking, bloody ball of severed limbs and torn metal rolls, gathering speed and size, downhill. This is imperial decadence of a Caligulan scale. To reframe the question posed by the headline: Do you want Caligula putting “boots on the ground” in Syria or Ukraine? Again, a rhetorical question marked with the particle num. Though I don’t know if there’s a Latin way to say “Not ‘No.’ Hell no!”

In this post, I won’t go into the causes of our current plight. (It might, after all, be no bad thing to have a military so bad that we can’t, sensibly, send it to war, although checks and balances were supposed to handle that function.) I’d like to draw out some future institutional implications that will play out for the next few decades (absent serious change). As it turns out, we’re optimizing the Federal civil service for Veterans:

Obama began accelerating the hiring of veterans five years ago in response to the bleak employment prospects many service members faced after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq.[1] It is the government’s most visible effort to reward military service since the draft ended in the 1970s.
Veterans benefit from preferential hiring for civil service jobs under a law dating to World War II, but the administration has boosted the extra credit veterans get, giving them an even greater edge in getting those jobs. The government has also set hiring goals for veterans at each agency, and managers are graded on how many they bring on board, officials said.
Last year, veterans made up 46 percent of full-time hires, the Office of Personnel Management said. They now represent a third of the federal workforce, holding positions well beyond the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.

I have literally no idea what the effects of optimizing Federal hiring policy to employ the former military will be, but I imagine a sociologist or anthropologist would find much of interest:

On a recent Monday, the entire team trickled into a lunchtime staff meeting in the basement of their L’Enfant Plaza headquarters. The employees talked openly about their different work styles. Matt Frazer, who came from the private sector, said that if he found a different way to get something done, he would try it. But, he told the veterans, “you guys don’t question the path to get to your goal.”

At the same time, he acknowledged some envy over the veterans’ bond. “It’s like you have your own fraternity,” he said.

Bob Landau, also a non-veteran, defended those who came from the military, saying they are more driven. “Civilians just get promoted because of time,” he added [very much unlike Generals, eh?]

During the meeting, it was hard to distinguish who had served in the military and who had not. Some of the non-veterans kept their hair in the tight-and-high style favored by the military.

They ribbed each other over whether anyone could tell them apart.

“This is where it starts,” Landau joked, rolling his eyes in anticipation of the war stories to come.

Dominance games…. (To be clear, I’m not blaming the grunts, at least any who participated in Abu Ghraib or took trophies and are unrepentant — such incidents, to my mind, being at least in part symptoms of demoralization stemming from the so evidently rotten leadership, not to mention an ill-defined mission.)

The same optimization seems to happen, more subtly, in the 20%. Returning to Fallows:

whether or not this was a conscious plan, the military gets a substantial PR boost from the modern practice of placing officers in mid-career assignments at think tanks, on congressional staffs, and in graduate programs across the country. For universities, military students are (as a dean at a public-policy school put it to me) “a better version of foreign students.” That is, they work hard, pay full tuition, and unlike many international students face no language barrier or difficulty adjusting to the American style of give-and-take classroom exchanges. Most cultures esteem the scholar-warrior, and these programs expose usually skeptical American elites to people like the young Colin Powell, who as a lieutenant colonel in his mid-30s was a White House fellow after serving in Vietnam, and David Petraeus, who got his Ph.D. at Princeton as a major 13 years after graduating from West Point.

At this point, let me note that Colin Powell [genuflects] was responsible for selling Bush’s manufactured WMD evidence to the UN while making the case for the Iraq War; and that “scholar-warrior” Petraeus got taken down in a weird scandal involving sex with his biographer (!). If these two examples are the best and brightest (the “people like”) of the officer corp, I have to say I don’t think much of them; gullible at the very best in the one case; narcissistic in the other.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say we were setting ourselves up for a lot more self-licking ice-cream cones.

* * *

So, on the narrow question of policy, yeah, we’d be nuts to send our military into either Ukraine or Syria. They’re losers. Worse, because they’re never held accountable for failure, we’d just be setting ourselves up for more losing, down the line.

On the broader question, I have no idea what the implications are of optimizing Federal hiring for the enlistees in a military that lost two major wars, or of populating the political and national security classes with officers who led those enlistees to failure, while nobody held them accountable. I can’t imagine anything good. Imperial decadence, as I said. Iceberg? What iceberg?

NOTES
[1] Heaven forfend that the employment prospects of all citizens improve!

NOTE
A joking dialog:

QUESTIONER: How will we know when the aircraft carrier is obsolete?

ADMIRAL: When it fails in war.

I don’t think the process of decadence visible here is at anywhere near an end, and I think we have barely seen the consequences of it, so far.

UPDATE In budgetary terms, the military doesn’t deserve the money. So we should take it away from them. Lots of it. Fallows also has an entertaining segment on the F-35. Bernie should straighten himself out on that before he becomes a national figure.

Print Friendly
Tweet about this on TwitterDigg thisShare on Reddit0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Facebook0Share on LinkedIn5Share on Google+0Buffer this pageEmail this to someone
This entry was posted in Guest Post, Middle East, Politics on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

148 comments

  1. jjmacjohnson

    “No decent person who is exposed to today’s troops can be anything but respectful of them and grateful for what they do.”

    The big lie that perpetuates war. I can think of many people, women and children who can be anything but respectful for what the military has done in two countries in particular in the last 13 years.

    1. par4

      Exactly! Why should I respect people who volunteer to commit WAR CRIMES in foreign countries that have never attacked the U.S.?

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Because mostly they’re working class kids with dead-end prospects who are heavily propagandized and see the military as a way out? Not everybody can have a political understanding as nuanced as yours.

        For myself, I blame the leadership far more.

        1. EoinW

          Fair enough, blame the leadership but do the troops get a free pass? According to Nuremberg they are war criminals.

          In Canada I run into this all the time. People oppose the war but support the troops. To me it is obvious hypocrisy. They want it both ways. Typical of a morally ambivilent populace. The simple fact is that you can’t prosecute the war without troops.

          I’ve often wondered what it must have been like to be German in the 1940s and supporting, or suppose to support, the Wehrmacht. I need wonder no more. The thing I debate with myself is what’s the largest terrorist organisation in the world? Is it the US military or NATO? Remember those Sunnis in ISIS are dead end kids and just as highly propagandized. Does that make it less criminal for them to be cutting off heads?

          1. Whine Country

            Below I have listed the names of all enlisted personnel prosecuted for war crimes at Nuremberg:

            1. steve dean

              According to the “Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis Powers”, only the leaders of the Axis were to be tried at Nuremburg.

              Lower level officers and enlisted were tried seperately in the four occupied zones.

              Also, MacArthur held tribunals in the South Pacific.

          2. McKillop

            In the Toronto Star (can’t get a successful link to work) there is news that “Eight applications from war resisters to stay in Canada as permanent residents, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds as well as spousal sponsorships, were denied. Four war resisters have received removal orders, including one last month”.to remain in Canada.
            “The Conservative government has been vocally opposed to granting war resisters refugee or permanent residence status, but the group is not without support.”
            Sorry that I can’t link to this story, written by Patty Winsa, published on Sunday Feb. *th in The Toronto Star.

            1. Michael

              Unless there was a change, that has been Canadian policy since 9-11. People in my activist circles (2001-2005) looked at the possibility of moving to Canada using the status of a war resister. They found out that it was not possible but they could have easily been wrong.

        2. bmeisen

          Thanks Lambert for going here into the belly of the whale. Relieve individuals of responsibiltiy when they make catastrophically flawed choices? Privatise profits, socialize losses? Tough call.
          Just don’t send GIs to the Ukraine – who took Berlin, coming up on 70 yrs ago? Who defeated Hitler? The Russians, the Red Army, the human waves, the sargents cooked on vodka gunning down the pathetic grunts who hesitate when they hear the order “Charge!” Count on Putin to use the proven tactics.

        3. MikeNY

          For myself, I blame the leadership far more.

          As do I. But I do not exculpate the troops. They are human beings and moral agents, and nothing can relieve them of the responsibility they have as moral agents. Furthermore, the reflexive veneration / lionization / adulation of the troops as ‘heroes’ is part of the military psychosis of the United States: our tendency to see force as the answer to every question. We must question this. We cannot completely excuse or exonerate anyone who commits atrocities of war, from the President and Generals to the troops. Because such atrocities are inexcusable.

          There’s so much press now about post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety etc. etc. in returning troops. This shouldn’t be a surprise: it is what happens to a normal human psyche when a person participates in barbaric acts.

          1. rusti

            Furthermore, the reflexive veneration / lionization / adulation of the troops as ‘heroes’ is part of the military psychosis of the United States

            And this is positively bizarre to a lot of outside observers. The propagandistic rituals blending sporting events and military culture, the idea of offering up a first-class seat on an airplane, the whole magnetic ribbon industry…

            I’m a bit more sympathetic than some here. Kids are brainwashed by the people they trust from a young age about the virtues of military service and don’t realize it was all bullshit until they actually get deployed. At that point you’re in so deep it must be shattering to try to reform your world view.

          2. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

            Seems to me alot of “human beings and moral agents” went to the streets or left the country instead of getting on a plane bound for Vietnam.
            The bigger question about The United States of Amnesia (Gore Vidal’s phrase) forgetting we haven’t won a major engagement since Normandy is that you can ascribe it to stupidity if you like…or you can decide it was by design. It used to be that wars were fought for treasure, land, control of assets, nowadays the war-making itself IS the treasure…just ask Dick Cheney’s pals.

          1. vidimi

            to expand on this, while i feel heartfelt sorrow for those poor men and women who enlist because they can’t find work or can’t afford a higher education, or those who, in the heat of the moment (e.g. 2001-2002) feel the compulsion to serve la patria in harrowing times, but there’s also a significant number, often from the bible belt but not only such as chris kyle, who join because they hate the Other and want to kill some Them. While their brainwashing deserves pity, I’ll hand out my sympathy on an individual basis.

            also, as others have pointed out, you cannot be grateful for soldiers’ service in the military like you can be grateful for that pair of socks you got on your birthday that you didn’t want because it’s the thought that matters. the consequences of that service are so devastating both at home and away that society is immeasurably worse off because of it. supporting troops can only make sense if you actually support what it is they are doing which is what makes it such a con. this slogan, which is just a modern-day prayer of america’s religion of war, creates cognitive dissonance which weakens peoples’ resistance to warmongering and must be snuffed out.

      2. Larry

        I think you underestimate the reasons that many people sign up for military service. I would argue that a good deal of the people in the military sign up to be part of something bigger than themselves. The ads portray military deploying aid and keeping America safe, as well as gaining respect from members in their community. And if you are not the type that sees yourself going to college, there is a career path and a chance to learn about technology and travel the world. While we could certain judge these people for carrying out orders and not defecting, that is harder than it appears.

        My inclination is heap hate on the civilian leadership of the military. After all, it’s not the grunt on the ground who sent himself to one of our battlefronts.

        1. hemeantwell

          There’s no reason to set up an opposition between joining because job options are paltry and joining to be part of something bigger than themselves. Rationalization and embellishment are part of almost any job, and topping off military pecuniary/career benefits with the aura of Sacrifice and National Bonding is in a strong sense nothing more than the operation of the pleasure principle, particularly when you’re describing motivational hierarchies relevant to the US military as it careens across the globe in the name of Freedom.

          Also, implicit to what you’re saying is one of the more dismal tenets of the dismal science, which is that market-based employment is self-interested, not community-interested. To go off, I’d guess the problem there is that so many jobs don’t actually create something of value to the community, so the real basis for that justification has eroded.

      3. Praedor

        They most certainly were not ALL “war criminals”. Simply fighting in Iraq (an illegit war) does NOT make one a “war criminal”. Intentional abuse/murder of prisoners or civilians makes one a war criminal as a soldier, not simply entering into combat. You join the military, you do NOT get to pick and choose what fights you will go to. You get orders to deploy in country X for this operation or for a combat operation and that’s what you do. Want to get to the war criminals on the broader scale? It’s those who pushed for an illegal war (this includes politicians AND Pentagon personnel so involved).

        I served in Iraq combat and I was most certainly not a “war criminal”. If I’d actually seen abuse/murder of prisoners or civilians I would damn-well have intervened and pushed for justice. The OBLIGATION for all military personnel is to disobey unlawful orders but down in the lower ranks it is VERY hard to tell unlawful from lawful orders on the minute scale. It is clearly an unlawful order to abuse prisoners. Period. It is clearly an unlawful order to attack civilians. From those obvious examples it quickly gets very very foggy from there.

    2. Katniss Everdeen

      Not to mention what Fallows writes before your quote:

      ” By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years.”

      Really? ALL measures?

      From what I hear, or, more to the point DON’T hear, today’s “professional” military is riven with levels of sexual assault and violence that could not stand even the slightest whiff of outside scrutiny (and is, therefore, ferociously shielded from it) and appallingly low levels of physical and mental fitness that would never have been tolerated “during the draft-army years.”

      Then there is the branch of the military that is tasked with the readiness and safeguarding of our beloved “nuclear arsenal.” God knows what’s going on there, but trained, disciplined and motivated hardly seems to describe THAT situation.

      So, I guess one could glorify “today’s professionalized military” as Fallows does, but it doesn’t make it any more true.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I should state upfront I have never served in the military. Until quite recently I worked for the Military Industrial Complex as a lowly contract engineer.

        I cannot comment on the quality of the ordinary soldiers fighting our wars. I have worked with many of the commissioned and non-commissioned officers both currently in service and those retired to jobs working in the Military Industrial Complex, and can say from experience, those I have worked with were well-trained, intelligent and committed to performing their work with excellence. They were also generally very conservative, and strongly disinclined from taking any initiative contrary to what they perceived as what they were told to do — they follow orders. As an aside, I might observe it is this quality of not questioning and always trying to follow orders which probably recommends veterans to our government civil service — other than the obvious considerations of not putting a lot of disgruntled people with military training into the streets, unless they suffer from mental illness. [For them, we build prisons, though I fear, for some of them, a very very few I hope — we make them police officers — fire with fire.] The result is a civil service and contractor force which executes as directed by their bosses. The bosses come from the higher ranks and chosen backgrounds and know how to build local empire, create cash kitties, and build internal alliances to preserve rice bowls. These skills appear to compose a basis for promotion to the higher ranks on the procurements side of the military and of course in the civil service. Indeed these seem to be the same qualities and skills our public education works hard to instill — often in spite of the best efforts of our teachers.

        As for your comment about sexual assault and violence in the military — as a guy, I am curious what you expect from a bunch of revved up young jock types in a mixed force kept in places like Iraq for long periods of time with little or no outlet for their animal drives. These guys are definitely not ready for a cell in a monastery. I do not intend to in any way justify what goes on. On the other hand, who thought this setup was a good idea? Remember where the term “hooker” comes from. I am not advocating for prostitution, but I am suggesting that putting a bunch of young guys with a bunch of young women in a military unit, and allowing no outlets for some strong animal drives is a situation requiring a good deal more than military training and discipline.

        After all this — why is it a good thing “today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years”? Are efficiency and competence the best measures for an Army? Those qualities also fit Adolf Eichmann. Today’s all professional military is just plain a bad idea. Our national interests are not well-served by such an Army. Going to war has become too light a matter. The tail of that professional Army has been “wagging the dog” since the great Victory celebrated in Lambert’s parade.

        1. fds

          I also think a coed military is PR B.S. As far as penile-frustrated army men, in Europe and Asia, these guys are in much more happy dating environments. four years in Iraq (most military personnel never get near combat) is worth five-eight years in Germany or Japan.

          Heck, I am aware of military snafus, I also have a health care degree. I want to join the military but I can’t because of selectivity when it really comes down to it. 20-year plus military guys, who when joined the military, were deadbeats and on the lowest rung of society, are now lording it over the mass uncommissionable youth trying to get in.
          The drawback of a hyper-educated, independently-minded soldier force is that, when a dunderhead war gets too hot, like Falluja, people aren’t going to go along with the armchair gun play.

      2. Praedor

        I have served and I know full well what’s wrong with those overseeing the nuclear arsenal. Complete and total loss of morale and mission. Technically, they are still there to serve as part of deterrence (deterring Russia and China, primarily, from an unlikely nuclear attack – at least one hopes though the doomsday clock has been moved closer to midnight) but in reality, they are fallen from the topline prestige point in the military that they held during the Cold War to backroom red-headed stepchildren. They don’t feel they are important or have a (real) mission but they have to live and breath their job 24/7. That leads to all kinds of very real problems in the leadership and amongst the rubber-meets-road troops. It isn’t particularly difficult to “get” this problem. Again, practically overnight those forces went from cream of the crop golden boys to the “oh yeah, those guys”.

        1. fds

          As it should. The existence of that force is making the world less stable. It induces nuclear force modernization. There is no threat for it to counteract. We should have put the money into destroying more nuclear stock abroad.

    3. Dave

      The men and women who fight the wars do so within a political paradigm. It is the paradigm of fighting a war abroad without inconveniencing the voter at home. These were not wars of nation states. These were in the truest sense Uber Scale police actions. If they were true nation state wars then we would have sent in enough ground pounders to control the entire nations of Iraq and Afghanistan. That would have required a draft commitment on the scale of World War II. I repeat it was a false paradigm, that has failed.

    4. Jack

      I’m going to take it to an extreme, and fully expect to get little or no support in my views. I hate soldiers period. To steal a George R. R. Martin line:

      “A Knight’s a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and The Lady’s favours, they’re silk ribbons tied ’round the sword. Maybe the Sword’s prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it’ll kill you just as dead. Well, bugger your ribbons, and shove your swords up your arses. I’m the same as you. The only difference is, I don’t lie about what I am. So, kill me, but don’t call me a murderer while you stand there telling each other your shit don’t stink. You hear me?”

      A soldier is someone whose job is to make dead anyone their government tells them to kill, or to facilitate that killing through some support function. From where I’m standing that’s called murder, and it being sanctioned by a piece of paper doesn’t magically make it not murder. You can argue that the killing is at times genuinely needed, but that will never make it noble.

      We know from Vietnam that when the soldiers refuse to follow orders imperial policy grinds to a halt. This should be taken a step further and people should simply refuse to sign up in the first place.

      “Go kill people for you? No, go fuck yourself.”

      I don’t care how indoctrinated someone is or how dead-end their life seems. There is always a choice, and you could choose not to kill for your government. That so many recruits come from places that claim to love the Baby Jesus only makes things worse…

  2. peter

    The author pauses to explain that although the usual suspects, and some of the more colorful locals, made a great deal of money on both wars, that’s not synonymous with “winning.” States make war, commit their citizens to the wars they make, and win or lose them. Further on he explains that 2 trillion dollars is a lot of money, even today.

    So the author acknowledges that every war has its “winners”, but that in fact this is not the point. The US lost the war “as a nation”, spent tons of money in the process and should learn from its mistakes. I guess that would indeed be a no-brainer, but to look for answers in the fields of anthropology or sociology to explain the repeated mistakes is pushing the envelope a bit. I still believe that “money” is indeed the very point.

    It’s an errant notion that our governments compare ‘cost’ and ‘revenues’. They do NOT. That’s not what it’s about in places like Iraq. Some people keep using this as an argument on why the war could not have been about oil, for example, as the costs could never be recouped by the potential income in oil. But keep in mind that costs are socialized and revenues are privatized. If we assume for the moment that our governments serve corporate interests alone, costs can be taken out of the equation. In fact, it can be argued that some governments just love running up the public bills. That helps in forcing through some ideological puppet projects later when these bills are due and people start worrying about the debt. Social benefits reduction/destruction comes to mind. That’s exactly what we saw happening in the US. If it would be the other way around (ie, corporations/banks paying for war, and revenues going to the tax payer), would there be war? My rule is to never underestimate the allegiance of the political system towards corporate interests, especially in times of poor economic indicators and low presidential approval rates (as during Bush II, before the Twin Tower disaster).

    War is an exceptional tool to transfer income and wealth from the tax payer to the usual suspects. Those “subsidies” should not be trivialised in the decision making process.

  3. James Levy

    I have an overwhelming problem with this “best military in the world ” crap. It’s completely impossible to make such a claim. We have no idea who has the best army soldier-for-soldier. The Americans here (Fallows and all like him) are confusing money and “stuff” with excellence. They are two different things. The United States may have the best army, navy, and air force, or they may just be mediocre and have all the best “kit” (as the British would say). I have no idea. These writers and editors have no idea. That 99% of Americans swallow such claims whole is part of the problem. It gives them a sense of invincibility that makes committing to these atrocious wars palatable. It fosters the delusions of exceptionalism that make negotiation and diplomacy impossible. Why negotiate when out “warriors”, the “greatest army in History” can just mop the floor with these untermenschen (use your pejorative du jour). Fallows is being an enabler here by buying a premise with nothing behind it but jingoism and wind. The quicker we analyze the actual performance of the military and stop projecting images of greatness and omnipotence on it the better.

    1. Yves Smith

      Counterinsurgencies, which are the kind of wars we are trying to win, require I am told numerical superiority of 10:1. And on top of that, you have to be competent at running government, as in providing services to the locals. We made a huge priority at the end of WWII of getting services in place in war-torn areas ASAP, not that that was easy. By contrast, in Iraq, looting took top priority. The safety of the locals, getting the electrical grid and the hospitals working again, was simply ignored.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        In World War II, the U.S./French/UK sectors wound up with the “good” Germans. Much of the nazi election strength was in the East, and the “good” Germans always had the threat of the Western allies leaving. The Soviets and the French were restrained in the post war period.

        1. Vatch

          Just curious: how are “good” and “bad” Germans in post WWII defined? Are militaristic Prussians the “bad” Germans, who were in the Soviet zone? If it’s Nazis, what’s your source for your claim that much of the Nazi electoral strength was in the east? Bavaria, in the south, in the American zone, was the birthplace of the Nazi party. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I recall reading in Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism that the only place where the Nazis achieved an electoral majority before Hitler became chancellor was in Schleswig Holstein. That’s adjacent to Denmark, and was in the British zone.

          Of course, I might be misremembering what I read, or the author might have been wrong.

          1. James Levy

            You are not misremembering. The Nazis got their strongest support in rural Schleswig Holstein and their poorest support in Berlin. Nazi support was largely from the Mittelstand: farmers, artisans, small businessmen. They had a lot more trouble with Big Business until 1932. Industrial workers, to their credit, remained overwhelmingly Socialist and Communist.

      2. MartyH

        Note that “CounterInsurgencies” are often actions to put down “insurgents” fighting for what they consider their country, their culture, their government. One Oligarch’s insurgents are another movements “Freedom Fighters.” In general, folks who are fighting for their dignity and heritage are tough if not outright impossible to beat with armies etc. that simply don’t understand their fervor.

        Looks to me like the “Insurgents” in Afghanistan have defeated two Sooper-Powers in a row. I’d bet the ratio was way bigger than 10:1 in both tries to put that one down.

      3. optimader

        “Counterinsurgencies, which are the kind of wars we are trying to win, require I am told numerical superiority of 10:1.”
        wrong order of magnitude.
        I believe this is considered the seminal study, by James T. Quinlivan at Rand http://www.rand.org/pubs/periodicals/rand-review/issues/summer2003/burden.html

        Personally, I don’t believe there were ever clear (static) definitions of what constituted winning in Iraq2 and Afghanistan.
        Iraq1, I think a case can be made that the underlying (real) objective was met –leaving a frozen broken State with a USG controlled oil production/export capacity.

        Burden of Victory
        The Painful Arithmetic of Stability Operations
        “…The British are acknowledged as the most experienced practitioners of the stabilization art. To maintain stability in Northern Ireland, the British deployed a security force (consisting of British army troops plus police from the Royal Ulster Constabulary) at a ratio of about 20 per thousand inhabitants. This is about the same force ratio that the British deployed during the Malayan counterinsurgency in the middle of the 20th century….”

        1. Yves Smith

          We are talking apples and oranges. That article discusses ONLY the number of “policemen” required to protect a population. It does not discuss the provision of services (it assumes those are handled) nor does it deal with an active rebel force.

          The 10:1 figure is an estimate of the size of the occupying force needed to defeat an active counterinsurgency, as in ratio of counterinsurgents to insurgents. The figure I have came from the book Military Misfortunes, written by three top military historians, and they used that number SPECIFICALLY in the context of our failed operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in an update to the original edition of the book.

      4. different clue

        As I remember, when Franks first assigned Garner to lead the initial Occupation of Iraq; Franks’s concern was indeed with restoring electrical grids, getting hospitals working, assuring safety, etc.
        That’s why he sent Garner. Garner assumed the ongoing existence of the Iraqi Army in its present at-that-time form with all its Baathist officers, etc. So these concerns were not immediately simply ignored from the outset.

        The fact is, those concerns were actively set aside and sabotaged on purpose by the BushAdmin in order to create chaos and burndown in Iraq ON PURPOSE, in order to create the neoconservative Year Zero ON PURPOSE. That is why the CheneyBushites removed Garner and sent in Bremmer, to get the destruction started. So no. Not simply ignored. Actively destroyed by a destructionist administration appalled and enraged at the sight of Garner maximizing for these very things (safety, grid, hospitals, etc.) to begin with.

    2. fresno dan

      I agree. It was a real eye opener when I started reading criticism of the US military with regard to WWII – really, if the US had faced Germany with only England without the Soviet Union, the West would have not prevailed and likely would have been crushed. (a lot of hypothetical s – a smarter German leader would probably not have declared was on the US, would the west have used an atom bomb on Europeans, etc., etc.)
      So we have a whole mythology (aided and abetted by “liberal” Hollywood of how great our military is) about ourselves.
      So let’s look at our war record:
      Nortth Korea – fought to a stalemate – a country we outnumber…what 20 or 30 to 1?
      North Vietnam – LOSS – a country we outnumber – what – 30 or 40 to 1?
      Grenada – resounding victory WOO WOO!!!!!
      Iraq I – victory
      Iraq II – Loss or stalemate – I’ll let the reader decide….again, overwhelming supposed “superiority”
      Afghanistan – Loss or stalemate – I’ll let the reader decide….again, overwhelming supposed “superiority”

      The propaganda, the hype – I think it is all done to preclude any thinking or criticism of how the country is run.
      Or maybe ourselves – maybe we’re just not a brave as the movies say we are.

      1. Vatch

        Minor point about the Korean war: when China entered the war, we no longer outnumbered the opposition.

      2. bruno marr

        So, let’s give the Ukraine a go, right? Russia will crush the next fool (military) that attempts the Plains of the Ukraine.

      3. LifelongLib

        Even when we won, the U.S. has been lucky in its opponents:

        American Revolution: Much of England opposed the war and had little enthusiasm for fighting it.
        War of 1812: Ditto, plus most of the English army was tied up fighting Napoleon.
        Civil War: North had about triple the non-slave population and much more industry than the South.
        WW 1: U.S. had much greater industry than Central Powers, who as well were already nearing exhaustion from 3+ years of war. Only a few months of serious fighting, yet we lost 100,000 men.
        WW 2: Again U.S. had much greater industry than Axis, plus 3/4 of German army tied up fighting the Russians.

        1. LifelongLib

          Forgot the Mexican American War, where the U.S. had better weapons and Mexico was politically divided.

        2. vidimi

          i thought the u.s. lost the war of 1812? didn’t the canucks burn down the (original) white house then?

  4. Llewelyn Moss

    Until the US Taxpayers come to the realization that the MIC Does Indeed Exist, and that it has been squeezing them like a Boa constrictor for the 50 years, nothing will change. Not to worry, the US is close to bankrupcy and will soon go the way of the old USSR — collapsing under the weight of military spending. See you all in Bananna Land.

  5. TarheelDem

    The politicians who are making the decisions and the generals who keep driving them towards war in order to get their battle experience forget the fundamental political reality of a military. The fundamental purpose of a military is to deter aggression. When you go to war to test it, you have lost some of that power already. George W. Bush took the world’s sole superpower and broke that power by deciding to test it in a rematch of Vietnam. All the people who claimed that we lost Vietnam because we were not persistent enough cheered him own. Unless empires are wiling to bear huge costs and commit unspeakable atrocities, they cannot even attain temporary victories with a counter-insurgency strategy; yet, counter-insurgency is the great white whale of the US military. Post-Vietnam, the “Powell doctrine” was supposedly what would keep us from losing wars. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, not only did the Bush administration pursue wars of choice and impatience, they did it by violating every point of the Powell doctrine–every point. And intimidated by the possibility of having his Presidency delegitimized by the racism within the US military, President Obama doubled down on those same failures while the Republican Congress had calculated hissy fits about weakness every time President Obama moved even slightly toward sanity.

    We have a Republican Party desperately trying to hide the severe failures in foreign policy of the Bush era, a Democratic Party in disarray, and a President trying to hold everything together until the 2017 Inauguration. The most sane move he could make is remove US boots on the ground from the areas in which they have come to hate the people they are “liberating” and let the locals put their conflicted politics back together themselves.

    The reason that Republicans like John McCain and Lindsay Graham want boots on the ground in Syraqistan is they want to drive President Obama into a conspicuous failure that hides the massive failure of Republican and neoconservative foreign policy ideas. The President should not allow himself to be bullied into doing that this time. But having surrounded himself with Clintonites in foreign policy, even that is not likely to happen.

    It is obvious that further boots on the ground means further catastrophe for the locals and for domestic policy.

  6. Jack Skwat

    We haven’t won any war since WWII, and that includes the Korean “Conflict” and the Vietnam “Fuckknuckle.” You can tell which “war” I fought in, no?

    Anyway, our superior “power” is not useful against any country populated by people whose predominant skin pigmentation is just south of faint ochre. Lack of uniforms, centralized power, or strategies more current than “shoot, run, hide” is gonna be death for us. Not even Sun Tzu can help us.

    The U.S. Military currently utilizes a 800 million dollar plane which can be brought down by a ten dollar box of electronics sold in most Chinese black markets. Unless or until we develop “loincloth strategems” for fighting fire with fire, we’ll continue to feed the military-industrial complex beast and prop up countless military and political careers with its detritus.

  7. ChuckO

    I for one do not believe that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We failed to achieve our maximal goals. If you want to call that losing, okay. However, we achieved the minimal goals, sowing chaos in those countries, making it impossible for either country to form a coherent government capable of opposing us and our interests in the region.

    1. Katniss Everdeen

      “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

      So sayeth Madeline Albright.

      We fight to fight. We can always conjure up the appearance of a “win” if necessary, but then we’d be stuck conjuring up a reason for another fight. It’s far more efficient to keep the same fight going indefinitely, and periodically sweeten the pot when interest seems to be flagging.

      1. EoinW

        That makes sense. The US spends more on its military than anything else and has the most powerful military in the world. Only natural for nation states to use the asset they invest the most in. Just ignore the parasitic relationship between that military and the US taxpayer.

      2. Brindle

        I live in a Western state with a strong mining sector, I recently I saw a bumper sticker on a huge Dodge 4×4 Pickup truck–“Earth First–we’ll get the other planets later”. That seems to be the attitude of both the extractive industries as well as the military to a large degree—massive hubris.

        1. bruno marr

          …my guess is northern Nevada. Somewhere near the Cowboy Poetry events. Just think, you’re the NV of all the other States.

      3. optimader

        Yeah, she’s basically evil.
        Albright never understood that deterrence is the real value of military capability. Employing military resources depreciate their effectiveness and should be a last resort. Just because you have a shiny new firetruck doesn’t mean you should set the neighborhood on fire.

    2. EoinW

      That sounds more like Israel’s goals than US goals. But it’s a good point, though based on the assumption that was the intended and unstated goal. Was Iraq simply about eliminating Saddam and the Baath party? Then it was a success. Not sure how Afghanistan can be called a success when Taliban are well positioned to retake control of the country when the time is right.

      If the goal of the US military is to just play hitman or destroy countries, I must point out the CIA had much better success in the past. Plus America didn’t destroy developing nations, they ended up taking them over economically. Even if one creates a narrative that reflects success in Afghanistan and Iraq, the goals make absolutely no sense. Certainly no sense in benefiting the USA. Doesn’t that make them a failure from the start?

      1. Mike

        Re “Not sure how Afghanistan can be called a success when Taliban are well positioned to retake control of the country when the time is right.”

        That is, in a sentence, the farce. The Taliban are the ethnic majority. Its like saying “the white people in the USA are well positioned to retake control”. The Taliban are awful, terrible people, but they are not our enemies. They are not grouped at borders around the USA getting ready to invade Texas and Oklahoma and take your bacon and sausage and pork chops. The folks who made the most money from the invasion of Afghanistan made that up, and most folks in the USA bought it.

        Retake control? So, the idea is that they are not in control now? And, that they are some tiny group of radicals bent on destruction of the West as we know it? Go look up the gas pipeline being built across Afghanistan, and also look at which country is developing the worlds largest untapped copper mine, you’ll see who benefits. And its not the USA.

        1. fresno dan

          C’mon – everybody knows the Taliban are an existential threat, what with their fleet of class ZZMMM super subs, 12 football fields long, loaded with MIRV and MARV intercontinental ballistic missiles, their fleets of transcontinental bombers, or well as their mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles….

          Wha??!!???! They DON’T HAVE ANY of that stuff? Just donkeys and some AK47’s? Well….I understand donkeys are good swimmers…they could swim across the ocean or som’thin….

      2. Praedor

        The entire goal in Iraq was clearly set out in Project for a New American Century. We simply decided to go after Iraq for whatever reason could be thrown together such that enough of the public would believe it and go for it, then invade with intent of creating a neoliberal “paradise” of privatized everything. Utter fail. So, on that point I’ve gotta say Iraq was a complete failure (thankfully). Iraq’s oil still (primarily) belongs to Iraq, not the US, so there’s that loss, the immense, obscene US embassy in Iraq is a shrinking shadow of its original “glory” (thankfully), and the local government is NOT in our pocket (thankfully). Fail, fail, fail.

        To a large extent this all holds true of Afghanistan too. A precarious US-supported government holed up in little islands of shrinking stability. The entire place would be much MUCH better off today if we had stayed out of it when the USSR was engaged. The USSR brought women’s equality to Afghanistan, as well as a large dose of modernity to the bulk of the nation. We jumped in with the US-created (future) Al Qaeda ONLY because they were opposed to the Soviets. Stupid stupid stupid.

    3. Lambert Strether

      See the post for my pre-response:

      (Before moving on, I admit there’s a genre of analysis that claims we really won Iraq and Afghanistan, that this or that really important strategic objective was achieved, whatever. However, these advocates need to persuade the political class of this, because if the political class believed we won those wars, there would be victory parades, and one of the parades would be politicians taking credit.)

      Go convince the political class. They don’t believe it. They don’t even try to fake it.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Did the United States lose or win the wars in Iraq? The wars in Afghanistan? Your argument: “I admit there’s a genre of analysis that claims we really won Iraq and Afghanistan, that this or that really important strategic objective was achieved, whatever. However, these advocates need to persuade the political class of this, …” — is a two-edged sword. You cannot win a war without clear, attainable, military — that’s the key word, military — objectives. On the other hand, you cannot lose a war without clear, attainable, military objectives.

        As for the political class owning the win … or the loss — our political class will only own what might buy credit at the ballot box or when chasing campaign funds. None of the many and constantly changing goals and objectives stated for the wars in Iraq and wars in Afghanistan would buy much credit for anyone, win or lose and certainly not for our political class. Even the most fanciful and unattainable goals, such as equal rights for women in Afghanistan or building a working democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan, are dangerous goals for any politician to own — win or lose. Suppose our Army succeeded at those goals? How would the political class respond when asked why we cannot have equal rights for women or a working democracy … here?

      2. Jackrabbit

        @Lambert

        But they did try to fake it. Remember “Mission Accomplished”?

        Even our fakery fails. That’s why the public won’t support more wars and neobons now have to “outsource” conflict by conducting proxy wars.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Pretty low standard, if you ask me; that was damp squib from the Bush adminisration believing its own press releases, and even they were surely disabused of such notions very shortly. Where are the ticket tape parades down Broadway? Who ran on winning the wars? Why haven’t we yet declared “Iraq Victory Day”? And so forth.

          1. cassiodorus

            I gather you noticed ChuckO’s sarcasm: “However, we achieved the minimal goals, sowing chaos in those countries” — at any rate, it’s clear that government policy only exists at all today because government representatives are more or less clients of corporations, and because corporations universally want the profit rates to remain high. Billionaires decide our policies. Bill Gates gets education, Pete Peterson gets budgetary decisions, and the Koch brothers get Republican state-level policies. Iraq was probably the baby of a few oil and Halliburton billionaires and of Erik Prince, billionaire founder of Blackwater (now Academi) and Bush administration connection:

            http://www.salon.com/2007/10/02/blackwater_bush/

            So I gather nobody really cares if the US lost Iraq as long as the profit rates stay high.

            1. Lambert Strether Post author

              Well, it’s called a ruling class because it rules, as Arthur Silber (who is writing again, another proof that blogging, and Arthur, are not dead).

              That said, I don’t think the “Committee of the Ruling Class” model had adequate explanatory power when invented, and I’m not sure it does now. (If it does, that would mean we’re at the very bottom of a karmic cycle ;-)

              1. cassiodorus

                Whoever said the individuals who comprise the ruling class had to form committees in order to rule? Part of the reason for why their actual, real-life rule precipitates such chaos, cruelty, and manifest folly is that the ruling class is made up of individuals with distinct, unique personalities, and that the individuals behind these personalities have the power to rule without the assistance of committees.

      3. vidimi

        the flip side to your argument is that if the u.s. really lost in iraq and afghanistan, why then was no one held to account? perhaps it really is because the objectives were met (high oil prices, continued hegemony over world energy supplies, middle east in disarray, iran completely encircled, massive transfer of wealth upwards, etc).

    4. c1ue

      Shimzan and Bichler performed an analysis of oil company profits – and what stood out what the disproportionate portion that was reaped during periods of warfare in the Middle East.
      While this isn’t a smoking gun, there is no question whatsoever that the conflicts in Libya and Iraq and the ongoing Iran embargo substantially benefited the oil industry in general and Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE in particular.
      Thus from a specific perspective – that of American politicians bought or substantially influenced by foreign and/or domestic oil interests – Iraq and Libya were resounding successes.
      With Afghanistan, the same line could be said for Pakistani interests.
      After all, if we believe the massive flows of money into campaign contributions influence politician behavior with respect to their 1% donors, when would it be a stretch to not think the same of foreign donors?

    5. guest

      According to a guy called von Clausewitz, a military victory must fulfil the following conditions:

      a) control of the disputed territory;
      b) destruction of the adversary’s will to fight;
      c) physical destruction of the adversary’s forces.

      Now:
      a) Who left Afghanistan and Iraq without ever controlling those territories, and who has been extending its control over them? Certainly not the USA, NATO or their allies.
      b) Who threw the towel and left, exhausted and disgusted, and who never called it quits?
      c) Despite enormous expenses of material and systematic use of modern technology, the USA never managed to eliminate or break the Talibans, the Sunni rebels and their Al-Qaeda avatars, or the Shia militias (notably Muqtada al-Sadr). On the other hand, the USA ended up with huge quantities of military equipment destroyed or abandoned, and a significant fraction of troops incapacitated (crippled, hopelessly PTSDed, and a few thousands fatalities).

      It seems pretty clear that the USA lost. For that matter, the UK actually lost really badly: in Iraq and Afghanistan, the UK military had eventually to be replaced because it was incapable of holding on to its assigned zones of operations (Helmand and Bassra), and exited earlier than the USA. It is officially admitted that the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have left the UK military completely exhausted, its equipment completely worn out, and incapable of any further significant intervention in the foreseeable future (the high military brass in the UK is dismayed at the current state of the UK military).

      1. PIGL

        well luckily, there is no reasonably foreseeable danger that would require Her Majesty’s forces to be in high readiness. There is no likelihood of their being asked to repel the French, the Spanish Armada is already lost, and the Battle of Britain nobly won.

        Who wrote “the King grew vain, fought all his battles o’er again, and thrice he conquered all his foes,and thrice he slew the slain?”

        1. guest

          there is no reasonably foreseeable danger that would require Her Majesty’s forces to be in high readiness.

          But, but, ISIL/ISIS/IS! The deadly threat to democratic nations! And next Boko Haram too! Je suis Charlie! We are at war against terrorism!

    6. Justicia

      I thought our goals in the Iraqistan Wars were defeating terrorists on their own turf and bringing democracy to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve failed completely on both scores. Our ‘success’ has been to sow dragon’s teeth that rise up as new terrorist armies across the region.

    7. Yves Smith

      No, our goal was to exploit Iraq’s oil. Iraq has the second largest proven reserves in the world, and they are the really good stuff, light sweet crude.

      All the other rationales are ex post facto justifications.

  8. Llewelyn Moss

    Yes Republicans are sociopathic war profiteers. But I don’t give the Dems a free pass either.

    Obama does not get credit for ending the Iraq war. Obama hit the deadline of the Troop Withdrawal Treaty signed by Bush (may Dubya rot in hell). So Obama withdraws all the war toys from Iraq and moves it all to Afganistan. And now with impending troop withdrawal from afganistan, Obama fires up a new war against ISIS.

    Endless Pointless War — for profit. That is the reality. and to the MIC and its political puppets, dead soldiers and civilians that get in the way are just the cost of doing business.

    1. EoinW

      Muqtada al Sadr had more to do with getting the US out of Iraq than Obama did. He created a political hostility to the troops which forced Obama to get out. al Sadr has since retired from politics. Now guess who is coming back to Iraq?

      1. Mike

        I don’t believe you. Hostility towards the foreign invading troops was there since about day two, when someone from the USA, no one knows who, gave the order to disband the Iraqi military, and police, which caused the meltdown of their country. And plenty of hostility towards foreign invading troops from the carnage left behind from the invasion of Fallujah, where US used spent nuclear weaponry and white phosphorus. But its a great diversionary tactic to pin the blame of the whole disaster on one Iraqi, and of course one liberal democrat.

        1. EoinW

          Pinning the blame? I’m hardly blaming Iraq on Obama. A poster credited the President with getting out of Iraq and I was simply pointing out he was forced out and would have stayed if the Iraqis had allowed it. I don’t care if you believe me or not but we’re actually in agreement. At least we’re in agreement until you start reaching conclusions I never made.

        2. different clue

          Garner wanted to keep the Iraqi Army intact and in place. He kept it so every day (all 4 or 5 of them?) that he was there. That is why the Bushites had him removed and replaced with Bremmer, who went on to disband the Iraqi Army. I am not sure which Bushite in particular signed its name to the piece of paper removing Garner and installing Bremmer, so I can only say the Bushites in general diddit.

  9. NotTimothyGeithner

    The Iraqis didn’t really fight back in the Persian Gulf War, and virtually every military on Earth was in our coalition on a level. Desert Shield lasted six months. Vietnam and Korea were losses in the same sense.

    We beat the Spanish, but that was just one colonial oppressor versus maybe another. Our Latin American forays were almost always against non-intrusive governments. We took the Southwest from Mexico, but it wasn’t that populated and the Mexicans were probably tired of the Apache. The U.S. lost to Cochise in the Indian Wars, and only won when he was dead and the tribes weren’t united. The tribes only united when it was too late, and they split on the eve of Little Big Horn. Much of their fighting men struck out on their own as a gang and lost too many men destroying Custer’s company which was likely interested in talking given its size.

    The British beat us left and right in the War of 1812. The stuff at Fort McHenry only seemed like a win because the British goal was to burn empty government buildings for U.S. massacres in Canada.

    In the Revolution, Washington lost all the time including 7 hats and four horses, and they just never gave up because it’s their home despite fighting pre-Napoleonic Red Coats. The British army wasn’t facing a man power shortage at the time. Prisoners and the starving weren’t in the ranks of the 1770’s Red Coats. Those were Crack troops.

    Beating the thugs of the local barons is radically different than fighting locals. The baron’s thugs like they did in 2003 in Iraq can simply not fight. Locals can go home and wait until a better opportunity. You can’t train commitment. Even in World War I I, the fire bombing of Dresden by the U.S. killed almost as many people as died in the U.S. Civil War. We didn’t just fight the leaders. The German people were subjected to horrors, not that they didn’t deserve them, but the allies broke the will to fight. There were two million Americans just on the front line. That’s not the support troops.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Even the colonial empires of the 19th century, they weren’t replacing enlightened governments which was one of their advantages.

    2. c1ue

      The US defeated the Spanish in the Philippines, then proceeded to replace them as imperial oppressors in an insurgent suppression that left an estimated 500K native dead.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        That’s obvious, but the locals didn’t have a reason to side with the Spanish. In 2003, there was an expectation the U.S. would leave when it didn’t wmds and knocked out Hussein.

  10. linda amick

    A significant but totally unreported fact is when individual soldiers lose their willingness to support a war effort, the people running the war (oligarchs of all stripes) are virtually out of luck. Of course this effect is never measured and therefor the impact is arguable.
    However, towards the end of the Vietnam War soldiers began fragging their officers. Aerial bombers flew missions without dropping the bombs. It is mere coincidence that these actions corresponded to the ending of the war?
    In Ukraine now, literally millions of military aged boys are fleeing to Russia, Will this phenomena contribute to a peace agreement in Ukraine?
    In the same regard that every individual can make a difference in this life, soldiers refusing to fight could make a difference and drastically increase peace in the world.

  11. Noonan

    In order to win a war, a nation must completely destroy the enemy’s will to resist. The U.S. military has not attempted to do this in any conflict since 1945.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I am a fan of Sun Tzu — not Clausewitz, or General Sherman. We smashed the Germans and Japanese for reasons other than attaining victory. The bombing of Dresden, the fire bombing of Tokyo, did little to crush the enemy’s will to fight us. It punished their populations. We recently discovered the true intent for dropping nuclear bombs on Japan was a deliberate message to Soviet Russia.

      To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
      – Sun Tzu, the Art of War

      “To capture the enemy’s entire army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a regiment, a company, or a squad is better than to destroy them. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the supreme of excellence. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.”
      – Sun Tzu quotes

      Our Army captured the greater part of the Iraqi Army intact. Our political class disbanded the Iraqi Army and put them onto the streets unemployed. We rebuilt their will to fight, and gave them every reason.

      1. Ex-PFC Chuck

        A message to the USSR was part of the nuclear decision but not all of it. Extrapolating from Iwo Jima and Okinawa Marshall et al were estimating up to 500K casualties on Kyushu & more on Honshu. Truman realized that if those operations went ahead & the estimates held up, & word leaked that the nukes were available but not used, it would have created the biggest sh*tstorm in American history. He might not have escaped with his life.

  12. Vatch

    My understanding is that the U.S. did not lose the wars. The U.S. won the wars, but lost the peace. And until the U.S. government figures out how to win the peace, we should avoid putting “boots on the ground”.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Fortress Baghdad never materialized because the Baathists expected the U.S. to leave in short order. In Afghanistan, we control a few Ptomkin villages, but local warlords control the country. When U.S. forces leave, the carpet baggers will leave, and the Taliban or its successor will fill the vacuum as the puppet neoliberal government fails.

          1. Mike

            Warlords *are* the country, and always have been. The Taliban are the ethnic Pashtun, they are the ethnic majority. As horrible a people as they are, its their country.

        2. Jeremy Grimm

          Iraq and Afghanistan are counterinsurgency actions. The Army guides call it COIN: counter-insurgency or counterinsurgency. COIN is a very hot rock at the moment. It’s becoming a growing part of the stated mission for the Army.

          1. Katniss Everdeen

            Always wonder, in an “if a tree falls in the forest” kinda way, if there even ARE “insurgencies” that need to be “countered” until the US butts in and picks a side.

            (Good thing the army seems to have an app for that.)

            You have your freedom fighters or rebels or separatists or even patriots. But you don’t seem to have “insurgencies” that need “countering” until a country’s citizens want the US to mind its own business, and the US takes offense and decides to show ’em who’s the boss of them.

        3. James Levy

          The problem may be a misguided notion of winning the war. This was the classic German problem, the belief that if you have the best army and are superior in every tactical engagement, the strategy will take care of itself–winning wars equaled winning battles. This was an utter failure on the strategic level in 14-18 and again in 39-45. Most of history has not been the story of “decisive battles”–that is a phase that occurs under certain conditions, but is not really the story of most human conflict. Much of military history we are rediscovering was the story of raids, skirmishes, and sieges. The Americans rebuilt their military in the 1980s to be a super high-tech Wehrmacht (well, das Heer if you want to get technical) to fight the “Russian hordes” because we believed we needed finesse because we were going to be outnumbered and outgunned. That mentality, organization, and equipment issue has not really changed. For odd historical reasons we emulated the losers of the two biggest wars in history, and are now following in the German’s footsteps.

          1. optimader

            “the belief that if you have the best army and are superior in every tactical engagement”
            Turned out they didn’t and they weren’t.

      1. Ex-PFC Chuck

        Col. Harry Summers, a member of the negotiating team at the Paris conference that ended the war related in his book On Strategy a side conversation he had with one of the NV delegates. Summers had said to him, “you know yo did not defeat us in battle.” To which the NV guy replied, “Thst’s true. But it’s also irrelevant.”

        The Schwerpunkt, as the Clausewitzians would say, was in Washington, not Hanoi.

      2. vidimi

        counterinsurgency is just geek speak for war on the population. we call that ‘terrorism’ when the bad guys do it.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Semantics.

      No parades, no victory. If you want a litmus test, it really is that simple. Here’s what one looked like. If there was anything like this, I missed it.

      We can argue the details of how and why we lost, but lose we did.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Sorry — I feel feisty today and making parades the evidence for Victory is too tempting.

        That was indeed a Victory parade … as that was indeed a War. If we engage in a smaller war, say a “police action” or a few little foreign wars like the wars in Iraq, since they’re smaller and since most of us aren’t involved in them, wouldn’t the victory parade or more properly, victory parades be somewhat smaller and involve fewer of us?

        As a practical matter, is this the same nation as the nation that fought the War and celebrated their Victory as shown in the picture? The victor of a total war today, fought with today’s weapons, would hold no celebrations, no Victory parades. Did Pyrrhus wear laurels?

        The assertion our Army celebrated no Victory as a result of the Iraq wars and the wars in Afghanistan is true. However I cannot allow lack of Victory to mean our Army “lost” these wars, and I am also not arguing the Army “won” these wars. “Win” and “lose” — these terms better fit with sports and earlier times. They carry too much of honor and blame with them. The rank and file military already thinks of warfare too much in terms of sports. The Army did what it was directed to do. They went where ordered. Attacked and captured the objectives ordered. They occupied territory with too few soldiers and made best efforts at accomplishing impossible often changing goals, often by means and under constraints directed by our political class — and I include our generals in that political class. So I don’t agree with any notion of win or lose or attribution of honor or blame made to the rank and file of the Army. The rank and file of our Army deserve honor and a fair share of blame as well. Are they the best they can be, the Army of one, the Army strong? — no. Are they a reasonably well equipped and effective fighting force? For what it is worth, the answer is yes. Are we getting “bang for the buck?”, as they say, the answer is — that’s a bad joke. Does today’s Army have a clear mission? I don’t believe it does.

        I believe your questions were better put in terms of our country. Did our country win or lose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Clearly, our nation lost. Our nation lost a great deal in these wars. We lost honor, prestige as a world leader, respect as nation capable of acting in its best interests. We lost all pretense to the so-called “moral high-ground.”

        Should we send our Army into conflicts in the future? — put “boots on the ground?” I think that question is too broad. Should we put “boots on the ground” — again and still in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan … clearly the answer is HELL NO! Should we be involved in stirring the pot in the Ukraine — “put boots on the ground” … clearly the answer is HELL NO! This opinion has nothing to do with the quality of our Army. We have no clear national interests in any of these conflict areas. Furthermore, if we did have national interests in some other area of the world, the political class we employ today would be unable to perceive that interest and unable to successfully pursue it. “Boots on the ground” has turned into just another marketing slogan.

        Will there be conflicts in the future we should respond to as a nation? Clearly, the answer is yes. Are “boots on the ground” the best and only response? If so, we will live in, but may not live through, very interesting times.

        Does our Military Industrial Complex provide our soldiers with the best weapons? Having working in the Military Industrial Complex for most of my adult life, I believe I can assert unequivocally, the answer is NO! The Army blew how many billions on the Future Combat Systems? How much money did the Army waste in equipping our forces with poorly armored HMMWV’s only to spend more money “up-armoring” those vehicles and eventually replacing them with MRAP vehicles at great expense? Which weapon would you rather have — an M-16 or a Kalashnikov? Do we need soldiers and weapons for future conflicts and warfare? Of course, I hope not. Could we better spend the huge amounts of money, and thereby the efforts and energies of our people toward more meaningful goals than building the most expensive aircraft or the biggest possible target for our Navy to offer up to our enemies? I certainly hope so. I didn’t work for the Military Industrial Complex for any reason but the regular paycheck and a job difficult to outsource. I still remember the genuine passion of the people who put man on the moon. I went to one of the schools where they trained, and worked with some of the few who remained or returned after the great waves of layoffs which marked the end of the space race.

        We can do better than lead the world into chaos. We need more power generators and water purification vehicles, not tanks, not MRAP vehicles. We need to stock more rations and bulk foods. We need to keep a force of delivery transports. We need an Army not of soldiers, but linguists and anthropologists, armed and trained to use weapons, but also trained to speak the language and understand the people they are sent — to help — through the many many crises I see in coming all too soon in the future.

        I am not sanguine about the role this nation and people seem inclined to play in the future.

  13. terryA

    Perhaps the policy objective is not to win wars but to create chaos and instability. Terrorizing populations, assassinating political figures, and creating failed states establishes leadership vacuums that allow the US to occupy these states unchallenged, controlling their resources, and serving as a staging ground for other misadventure in the region. Certainly in Iraq and Libya, US interests have been met. In Iraq, when the installed government no longer bent to Washington’s will, that government was tossed and a compliant one installed.

    The “War on Terror” also serves as a transfer of national wealth to the corporatocracy. Funded through debt, it is also a multi-generational transfer, stealing from the future. Strether mentions the F35 program as a footnote, when in fact it is a poster child for the money pit that is the military-/security-industrial. Funding the war machine, staging wars, and arming the rest of the world is the ultimate consumable. War and weapons of war are strategic US exports. Peace is not profitable.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Yes, I’ve considered that theory. I’m not sure that’s a motivation of individual, opportunistic actors, or the systemic outcome of an utterly dysfunctional military. Blowback can have its effects without actors saying “Yay, blowback!” at every stage of the cycle.

      1. different clue

        But it would explain the BushAdmin’s careful and deliberate throwing-away of the battlefield victories over the targeted governments and the BushAdmin’s deliberate engineering of chaotic oppression designed to inspire unwinnable insurgency. It would explain the BushAdmin’s removal of Garner within days of Garner’s entering Iraq, and Garner’s replacement with Brenner ( or Bremmer or however that’s spelled). It would explain the BushAdmin’s deliberate obstruction of Zahir Shah’s re-entry into Afghanistan and the deliberate installation of Karzai as Afghan president in order to inspire a re-insurgency and bring back the Taliban.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Yes, in general I’m suspicious of the “incompetence” meme, preferring agency.

          The problem here is that the Bush adminIstration really was incompetent; classic fuck-ups, stoners without the stoned part. (Whoever thought we’d look back at James Baker and Peggy Noonan as avatars of good governance? So it goes….)

  14. 6th-generation Texan

    As I noted in an earlier post here, the American way of war since at least Vietnam has been to have the infantry blunder into contact with “the enemy” — and then to immediately hug the dirt and howl for air and artillery strikes to absolutely obliterate everything around (“we had to destroy the town in order to save it…”).

    Those tactics have failed to produce victory in the last half-century of America’s wars, Desert Storm excepted. That sole exception has led apologists to claim, paraphrasing Colin Powell, that “we don’t do guerrilla warfare — we do conventional warfare!”

    However, that assumes air superiority and the satellite/GPS functioning that enables the vaunted hi-tech precision weapons to be fully operable on a battlefield. If US/NATO forces ever actually found themselves facing Russian military forces on a Eurasian battlefield, those assumed advantages would quickly disappear due to killer satellites in space and Russian fighters and AAA sweeping the skies below (assuming the flying pig of an F-35 could manage to even make it into the air…).

    That would leave US/NATO armor and infantry to take on their counterparts in a straight-up fight. Well, not exactly, since now it would be the Russians with air superiority — not to mention their world-class artillery, which the US/NATO cannot even begin to match.

    Anyone insane enough (McCain and his neocon cronies) to actually deploy American military forces into a major war with Russia on their turf will be sending those forces to their destruction. The fight may (or may not…) be long and bloody, but the outcome is certain: Russian conventional forces will eventually obliterate any foreign conventional forces invading their territory. That begs the question of inevitable escalation to the use of tactical/strategic nuclear weapons, but that opens an entirely different can of worms….

    Amerika has not yet quite fallen to the level of Rome and Byzantium in the final twilight of their empires, simply because our generals have not yet taken to backstabbing each other for the glory of sitting for a few minutes on the throne while awaiting the next rival to emerge from the pack. In the theoretical scenario posited above (US/NATO invading Russia), the more relevant ancient parallel would be the Athenian expedition to Syracuse in the Peloponnesian Wars. The Athenian demagogues stirred up the citizens to vote for the invasion (“USA! USA! USA!!!”) of a distant country which had done absolutely nothing to them, and in the most classic example of hubris, the invading forces were completely and utterly destroyed. That same fate most assuredly awaits any US/NATO forces moving into Ukraine. Along with the trite definition of “insanity”, another applicable quote in this case would be “Those who fail to learn from history….”

  15. ScottW

    Remember in the old days when Congress would conduct hearings on the Iraq/Afghanistan wars and someone would ask a military officer, “What would victory look like?” None could come up with a coherent response.

    Violence never leads to positive change. Never.

  16. Norman

    Good to see that there’s finely people who are willing to “say it like it is”, not just remain silent. More and more, if the silent glass wall isn’t shattered, then the drain will continue until nothing is left. Blame, pick your flavor, but rest assured that those who represent you, look out for their own benefit, not yours. Take all those PAC’s out of the picture is a beginning, the rest will follow suit, but only if we stay focused and don’t let them mind f_ _k us in the process, as they have done to date.

  17. bmeisen

    Friedman’s dystopia, “… we could have gone into Saudia Arabia, we went into Iraq because we could.” Belongs on view in the Smithsonian permanent collection – a whole wall of monitors: Friedman, Powell at the UN, Bush and “Mission Accomplished”. Rotating rows like a portable chicken spit, emphatically low-tech, behind them Westmoreland, McNamara, and Henry Luce. Then a row with MacArthur, Curtis LeMay and Goldwater. Then Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

      1. bmeisen

        i can see myself toeing up to take a shot, and feeling dumb afterwards like i’ve just seen a troll and it’s me. however it is also helpful to recall what we – american kids in the 60’s – were told, and what we too often accepted naively: cronkite nite after nite with his body counts, 1100 nva, 6 marines. and on saturday we watched john wayne cleaning up the frontier. no wonder.

      1. bmeisen

        no need to defend jfk’s honor – there wasn’t any there anyway. i’m not even willing to give him credit for standing up to wallace – and here maybe yves has a helpful perspective – when the electoral college met after the election in 60 the alabama delegation broke rank and almost cost kennedy bigtime. he had to take a scalp.

  18. cnchal

    Last year, veterans made up 46 percent of full-time hires, the Office of Personnel Management said. They now represent a third of the federal workforce, holding positions well beyond the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.

    Soon it will be a prerequisite to have been in the military, to get a jawb in government.

    1. Katniss Everdeen

      Homeland Security has identified returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets as potential domestic “terrorists.”

      Maybe they just want to keep them close so that they can keep an eye on them. Or bring the hammer down on them when the public needs to be reminded of all the homegrown, lone wolf terrorist scum that calls this great country home. Hell, you can plant something on a government employee’s computer without ever leaving the office.

      It’s got to be a lot less messy than hanging out in homeless shelters trying to put that obligatory, periodic terrorist cell together and then busting it up. Some people are starting to catch on to that.

  19. lord koos

    The tragedy is not the military, it’s our elected officials. I’d guess most of the military leadership is not interested in fighting without clear, winnable goals or for wars that have little rationale. But they follow orders.

  20. ian

    I think part of the problem is what we ask the military to do.
    They should not be peace-keepers, nor engage in nation building. Their job is to win wars by killing as many of the enemy as possible, as fast as possible. Only fight when we are attacked and then fight to win – not ‘degrade some enemies capabilities’.

  21. VietnamVet

    James Fallows’ article is correct. Since my generation, Americans have had no contact with the military. We are witnessing tribal emotions pushed by corporate propaganda. If they had served, they would recognize what a SNAFU Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine really are. We are seconds away from a nuclear war. The Ukraine Civil War is the most dangerous crisis since WWII.

    All it takes, to avoid the humiliation of defeat, is for the White House to order air support for thousands Ukrainian troops and western contractors trapped in Debaltseve. A contest for air superiority between NATO and Russia starts WWIII.

    He also slides over some inconvenient truths. Vietnam showed that a people’s army of draftees will not fight a colonial war of occupation. Decades ago, while there, I naively concluded the only way to win the war was to make South Vietnam the 51st state.

    To win wars requires the draft, taxing the rich and eliminating the enemy. This will never happen. These are wars for profit that got out of hand like all wars do. Since I was hired as a veteran, I am prejudiced. The problem isn’t the civil servants, it is the wealthy and their politicians who subverted government from doing the public good. These forever wars are not in the best interest of the American people.

  22. different clue

    The military won both wars. The military secured both victories and handed them to the Civilian Government.
    The Civilian Government then threw both victories away.

    The Taliban were entirely driven out of Afghanistan. All the Afghans thought and expected the old king Zahir Shah to come back and take up a symbolic role as leader of councils leading up to a Great Council at which all the Afghan tribes and factions except the expelled Taliban would settle on leadership and governance. The Bush Administration actively suppressed and subverted that possibility and manipulated the Bonn meeting to pick Karzai President of Afghanistan the same way the Democratic Party Leaders picked Obama to be Democratic nominee. Also, the Bush Administration transferred marines away from Tora Bora and denied other support to the Tora Bora effort in order to engineer bin Laden’s escape, along with al Zawahiri, etc. The BushAdmin and its Karzai then worked to turn our militarily won peace into an unwinnable occupation which our military of course lost.

    The military won the Iraq war. The Saddamists were driven all the way out of power. General Garner was sent in to oversee a swift occupation centered on retention of all non Tikriti-clan Baathists in government and all Iraqi servicemen and officers serving in a kept-intact Iraqi Army till a different Baathist emerged to keep ruling Iraq as-it-was but without Saddam. It was the BushAdmin who actively removed Garner and replaced him with Brenner who brought in the Year Zero arsonists who burned Iraq all the way to the ground. Brenner
    and his people and their al Dawa Malikists turned the victory into a hated occupation which our military then lost. Occupations against insurgency are hard to win. But the BushAdmin created the Iraqi Sunni insurgency. Our military didn’t create that. The Garner approach would have avoided it.

    So it is some kind of blame-shifting to accuse the military of “losing” a victory when it was the Civilian Leadership which threw the two victories away on purpose and engineered unwinnable occupations against non-defeatable insurgencies in their place.

    The ISIS looks enough like an insurgency as to raise questions about whether American involvement could ever defeat it. The way to destroy it IN Syria is to switch sides and join Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran in supporting Assad in exterminating whomever and whatever he has to exterminate so as to exterminate every trace of armed resistance inside Syria . . . and capture and kill in detail every single armed resister within Syria. The only way to permit a defeat of ISIS within Iraq would be for Iran to terrorise, torture, and assassinate its “client” Shia leadership within Iraq into surrendering the Shia-supremacy policy against the Iraqi Sunnis Arabs. As long as the Iraqi Shias practice “reverse Saddamism” against the Arab Sunnis of Iraq, the ISIS insurgency against Iraqi Shia suprematism will continue. And only Iran can put a stop to that. Nobody else can.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      States win wars, not militaries. That said, if you use the helpfully introduced criteria from Clausewitz:

      a) control of the disputed territory;
      b) destruction of the adversary’s will to fight;
      c) physical destruction of the adversary’s forces.

      In no case was this achieved by the military, either, including (c). If the military had truly stamped out the embers, the flames wouldn’t have risen again, no matter what the civilians did. In each case, we had the illusion of control, the illusion of destruction. What you’re saying is akin to saying that the Napoleon won the Peninsular War because his generals won the first battles.

      1. different clue

        It isn’t the “military’s” fault when the military hands the state a victory which the leaders-at-the-time of the state proceed to throw away and destroy. I made that very clear and easy to understand. The military won those wars. The BushAdmin state then proceeded to destroy the peace and drive the people back into rebellion. The Taliban had all given up and fled to Pakistan. The Karzai vacuum/oppression invited them all back in. That would not have happened under Zahir Shah, which
        Bush threw away. I remember a retired diplomat-now-academic writing a long guest post about this over at Professor Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog some years ago.

        Same thing for Iraq. That’s what Garner was achieving. That’s why the Bushites removed Garner and installed Brenner . . . . to burn down Iraq and get the chaos and insurgency re-going.

        It is very hard to get a man of the left to understand something when his self-concept depends upon his not understanding it.

  23. Lambert Strether Post author

    Not to appear overly pragmatic, or to make the post overly instrumental, but from my often polemic perspective, I think there’s a good deal of overthinking going on here. I mean, a lot of people do know that corporations and factions are opportunistic and view war as a profit-making opportunity. Even me. Really.

    That said, if you want to gut the defense establishment and “end the wars”, as I do, then the following two talking points:

    1) We lost Iraq and Afghanistan and

    2) Nobody was held accountable

    are two very good starting points that work in any political context, i.e., on the right as well as the left.

    1. different clue

      How can any truth-based political movement be based on falsehood or faulty analysis? Ascribing the loss in Iraq and Afghanistan to incompetent military is falsehood-based analysis designed to protect the Bushites and hold them harmless for what happened. I am surprised to see a reality-based person-of-the-left accept that approach as “pragmatic”.

      I personally will respond to an analysis which understands that:
      1. The Armed Forces won the battles of Iraq and Afghanistan and the the Civilian Governators threw the
      victories and the peace away ON PURPOSE, and then ENgiNEERED the insurgency back INto existence
      ON PURPOSE in ORder to engage our armed forces in an unwinnable COIN effort. ON. PURPOSE.

      2. No ciVILian perpetrator, Bushite or otherwise, has been held accountable.

      When I see such an effort to direct scrutiny to the political heart of the Overclass ciVILian cancerpeople engineering the wars and the outcomes and making the decisions and the money, I will join that effort.
      In the meantime, I will not join in leftist scapegoating of the “military” who after all are NOT the people who fired
      Shinseki, Garner, etc.

      And when I see a non blameshifting-based analysis offered as to why we should cut military spending, footprints, mission-expectations, etc.; I will support that too. I can think of many such analyses to be made.

  24. Ignim Brites

    Don’t see any calls for withdrawing troops from Korea, Japan, Italy or Germany in the article or comments. Lost in the weeds?

  25. different clue

    Another example comes to mind of a military organization winning a war and then its Civilian Overlordship deliberately throwing the peace away on purpose. That example is the Civil War Between the States. Can anyone deny that it was Lee (CSofA) who surrendered to Grant (USofA) at Appomatox Courthouse? But then Lincoln got shot and Johnson became President. Johnson was pro-Plantationist and he re-habilitated every Plantationeer and high and mid-class Confederate power-excerciser who offered a cardboard-replica apology and pretense of loyalty to the USofA. He let them restore their organizations and power over social systems
    so they could create an insurgent force ( the Ku Klux Klan) and wage an insurgency against Reconstruction and
    rights for black people and so forth. They won the KKK insurgency and the USofA lost it and admitted losing it by withdrawing Federal troops. Then the Plantationeers were free to restore a post-bellum version of the ante-bellum social order which they had used to know.

    By your logic we would say the US military was incompetent because the USofA lost the war and the KKK Insurgency won the war. Since I reject that logic, I would say that the US military WON the Civil War Between the States and the US Civilian Authority then very carefully and deliberately threw the victory away and worked very cleverly to create an Insurgency which it could then lose to. Just as in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  26. Roland

    Funny kind of losing. The only places that get devastated are in the countries that “beat” the USA.

    Funny kind of losing. The “losers” can return at will to any of the battlefields on which they were allegedly defeated.

    Funny kind of losing. Everyone in the world keeps trading with the “loser” and accepts their currency without demur, while the winners can only trade with the loser’s permission.

    Funny kind of losing. The rulers of the “losing” state became richer than ever before, and effortlessly plan to wage more and more of their “losing” wars, all over the world.

    Funny kind of losing. It’s much safer and easier to be a member of the “losing” forces than to fight on any of the so-called “winning” sides.

    I think that before anyone refers to the USA as an Empire in decline, they should read Sallust’s Jugurthine War, which is a story of how an empire can rise in spite of political corruption, social instability, and military bungling. The Late Roman Republic was regularly humiliated by its weaker opponents; nevertheless Roman elites ruled the Mediterranean world for centuries afterwards.

    We can’t talk about victory or defeat in a particular war until we know the political aims of those wars. If the aim of the Iraq War was to create a stable liberal-democratic Iraq, then of course the war was a failure. But if the primary aim of the Iraq War was simply to smash a functioning independent sovereign Iraqi state, then the Iraq War was a brilliant success. After all, the current Iraqi “state” is too weak to cope with a non-state militia, without needing Imperial protection. Mission Accomplished.

    The example shown to the world in these sorts of wars is that no sovereignty will be permitted anywhere, without the approval of the globalist bourgeois. Decades of suffering await any who oppose the will of the globalist bourgeoisie.

    Seen from such a perspective, everything from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Libya, to Syria, to Ukraine, all appears as a series of grand-strategic victories, overseen by an unshakeable bipartisan political consensus at the Imperial centre.

    The Imperial subjects, whether at the centre or at the periphery, are indeed losing. But empires are not ruled for the benefit of their subjects. Empires are ruled for the benefit of their rulers, and these imperial rulers of ours prosper happily in their perfect safe flat fast bobo world.

    These rulers might not be unbeatable. But to beat them, someone is going to have to fight them hard and actually break their hard power. Who is going to do that? How many on NC would really want to see such a thing happen?

  27. t3chiman

    Re the recent ineffectiveness of the US military to achieve objectives, a question:
    Q: During the Occupation of Japan following the Japanese surrender ending WWII, how many US servicemen were killed by Japanese insurgents?
    A: Zero.

    There are a number of reasons for such an amazing fact, but the primary one is that the Americans were seen by many (e.g. women, farmers) as an improvement over their own, heavily MIC-influenced, political leaders. Also, the American GIs conducted themselves in a largely exemplary fashion–a tribute to wise leadership from MacArthur on down the line.

    So, a peaceful, sophisticated, effective, military operation can be accomplished. Something evidently changed in the 20 years following WWII. But what?

Comments are closed.