Andrew Bacevich: The US in the Middle East – “There Is No Strategy”

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By Andrew J. Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. Originally published at TomDispatch

We have it on highest authority: the recent killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan marks “an important milestone.” So the president of the United States has declared, with that claim duly echoed and implicitly endorsed by media commentary — the New York Times reporting, for example, that Mansour’s death leaves the Taliban leadership “shocked” and “shaken.”

But a question remains: A milestone toward what exactly?

Toward victory? Peace? Reconciliation? At the very least, toward the prospect of the violence abating? Merely posing the question is to imply that U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world serve some larger purpose.

Yet for years now that has not been the case. The assassination of Mansour instead joins a long list of previous milestones, turning points, and landmarks briefly heralded as significant achievements only to prove much less than advertised.

One imagines that Obama himself understands this perfectly well. Just shy of five years ago, he was urging Americans to “take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.” In Iraq and Afghanistan, the president insisted, “the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.”

“These long wars,” he promised, were finally coming to a “responsible end.” We were, that is, finding a way out of Washington’s dead-end conflicts in the Greater Middle East.

Who can doubt Obama’s sincerity, or question his oft-expressed wish to turn away from war and focus instead on unattended needs here at home? But wishing is the easy part. Reality has remained defiant. Even today, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that George W. Bush bequeathed to Obama show no sign of ending.

Like Bush, Obama will bequeath to his successor wars he failed to finish. Less remarked upon, he will also pass along to President Clinton or President Trump new wars that are his own handiwork. In Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and several other violence-wracked African nations, the Obama legacy is one of ever-deepening U.S. military involvement.  The almost certain prospect of a further accumulation of briefly celebrated and quickly forgotten “milestones” beckons.

During the Obama era, the tide of war has not receded. Instead, Washington finds itself drawn ever deeper into conflicts that, once begun, become interminable — wars for which the vaunted U.S. military has yet to devise a plausible solution.

The Oldest (Also Latest) Solution: Bombs Away

Once upon a time, during the brief, if heady, interval between the end of the Cold War and 9/11 when the United States ostensibly reigned supreme as the world’s “sole superpower,” Pentagon field manuals credited U.S. forces with the ability to achieve “quick, decisive victory — on and off the battlefield — anywhere in the world and under virtually any conditions.” Bold indeed (if not utterly delusional) would be the staff officer willing to pen such words today.

To be sure, the United States military routinely demonstrates astonishing technical prowess — putting a pair of Hellfire missiles through the roof of the taxi in which Mansour was riding, for example. Yet if winning — that is, ending wars on conditions favorable to our side — offers the measure of merit by which to judge a nation’s military forces, then when put to the test ours have been found wanting.

Not for lack of trying, of course. In their quest for a formula that might actually accomplish the mission, those charged with directing U.S. military efforts in the Greater Middle East have demonstrated notable flexibility. They have employed overwhelming force and “shock-and awe.” They have tried regime change (bumping off Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, for example) and “decapitation” (assassinating Mansour and a host of other militant leaders, including Osama Bin Laden). They have invaded and occupied countries, even giving military-style nation-building a whirl. They have experimented with counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention, retaliatory strikes and preventive war. They have operated overtly, covertly, and through proxies. They have equipped, trained, and advised — and when the beneficiaries of these exertions have folded in the face of the enemy, they have equipped, trained, and advised some more. They have converted American reservists into quasi-regulars, subject to repeated combat tours. In imitation of the corporate world, they have outsourced as well, handing over to profit-oriented “private security” firms functions traditionally performed by soldiers. In short, they have labored doggedly to translate American military power into desired political outcomes.

In this one respect at least, an endless parade of three- and four-star generals exercising command in various theaters over the past several decades have earned high marks. In terms of effort, they deserve an A.

As measured by outcomes, however, they fall well short of a passing grade. However commendable their willingness to cast about for some method that might actually work, they have ended up waging a war of attrition. Strip away the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel reassurances regularly heard at Pentagon press briefings or in testimony presented on Capitol Hill and America’s War for the Greater Middle East proceeds on this unspoken assumption: if we kill enough people for a long enough period of time, the other side will eventually give in.

On that score, the prevailing Washington gripe directed at Commander-in-Chief Obama is that he has not been willing to kill enough. Take, for example, a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed penned by that literary odd couple, retired General David Petraeus and Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon, that appeared under the pugnacious headline “Take the Gloves Off Against the Taliban.” To turn around the longest war in American history, Petraeus and O’Hanlon argue, the United States just needs to drop more bombs.

The rules of engagement currently governing air operations in Afghanistan are, in their view, needlessly restrictive. Air power “represents an asymmetric Western advantage, relatively safe to apply, and very effective.” (The piece omits any mention of incidents such as the October 2015 destruction of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz by a U.S. Air Force gunship.) More ordnance will surely produce “some version of victory.” The path ahead is clear. “Simply waging the Afghanistan air-power campaign with the vigor we are employing in Iraq and Syria,” the authors write with easy assurance, should do the trick.

When armchair generals cite the ongoing U.S. campaign in Iraq and Syria as a model of effectiveness, you know that things must be getting desperate.

Granted, Petraeus and O’Hanlon are on solid ground in noting that as the number of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan has decreased, so, too, has the number of air strikes targeting the Taliban. Back when more allied boots were on the ground, more allied planes were, of course, overhead. And yet the 100,000 close-air-support sorties flown between 2011 and 2015 — that’s more than one sortie per Taliban fighter — did not, alas, yield “some version of victory.” In short, we’ve already tried the Petraeus-O’Hanlon take-the-gloves-off approach to defeating the Taliban. It didn’t work. With the Afghanistan War’s 15th anniversary now just around the corner, to suggest that we can bomb our way to victory there is towering nonsense.

In Washington, Big Thinking and Small

Petraeus and O’Hanlon characterize Afghanistan as “the eastern bulwark in our broader Middle East fight.” Eastern sinkhole might be a more apt description. Note, by the way, that they have nothing useful to say about the “broader fight” to which they allude. Yet that broader fight — undertaken out of the conviction, still firmly in place today, that American military assertiveness can somehow repair the Greater Middle East — is far more deserving of attention than how to employ very expensive airplanes against insurgents armed with inexpensive Kalashnikovs.

To be fair, in silently passing over the broader fight, Petraeus and O’Hanlon are hardly alone. On this subject no one has much to say — not other stalwarts of the onward-to-victory school, nor officials presently charged with formulating U.S. national security policy, nor members of the Washington commentariat eager to pontificate about almost anything. Worst of all, the subject is one on which each of the prospective candidates for the presidency is mum.

From Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford on down to the lowliest blogger, opinions about how best to wage a particular campaign in that broader fight are readily available. Need a plan for rolling back the Islamic State? Glad you asked. Concerned about that new ISIS franchise in Libya? Got you covered. Boko Haram? Here’s what you need to know. Losing sleep over Al-Shabab? Take heart — big thinkers are on the case.

As to the broader fight itself, however, no one has a clue. Indeed, it seems fair to say that merely defining our aims in that broader fight, much less specifying the means to achieve them, heads the list of issues that people in Washington studiously avoid. Instead, they prattle endlessly about the Taliban and ISIS and Boko Haram and al-Shabab.

Here’s the one thing you need to know about the broader fight: there is no strategy. None. Zilch. We’re on a multi-trillion-dollar bridge to nowhere, with members of the national security establishment more or less content to see where it leads.

May I suggest that we find ourselves today in what might be called a Khe Sanh moment? Older readers will recall that back in late 1967 and early 1968 in the midst of the Vietnam War, one particular question gripped the national security establishment and those paid to attend to its doings: Can Khe Sanh hold?

Now almost totally forgotten, Khe Sanh was then a battlefield as well known to Americans as Fallujah was to become in our own day. Located in the northern part of South Vietnam, it was the site of a besieged and outnumbered Marine garrison, surrounded by two full enemy divisions. In the eyes of some observers, the outcome of the Vietnam War appeared to hinge on the ability of the Marines there to hold out — to avoid the fate that had befallen the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu slightly more than a decade earlier. For France, the fall of Dien Bien Phu had indeed spelled final defeat in Indochina.

Was history about to repeat itself at Khe Sanh? As it turned out, no… and yes.

The Marines did hold — a milestone! — and the United States lost the war anyway.

In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that those responsible for formulating U.S. policy back then fundamentally misconstrued the problem at hand. Rather than worrying about the fate of Khe Sanh, they ought to have been asking questions like these: Is the Vietnam War winnable? Does it even make sense? If not, why are we there? And above all, does no alternative exist to simply pressing on with a policy that shows no signs of success?

Today the United States finds itself in a comparable situation. What to do about the Taliban or ISIS is not a trivial question. Much the same can be said regarding the various other militant organizations with which U.S. forces are engaged in a variety of countries — many now failing states — across the Greater Middle East.

But the question of how to take out organization X or put country Y back together pales in comparison with the other questions that should by now have come to the fore but haven’t. Among the most salient are these: Does waging war across a large swath of the Islamic world make sense? When will this broader fight end? What will it cost? Short of reducing large parts of the Middle East to rubble, is that fight winnable in any meaningful sense? Above all, does the world’s most powerful nation have no other choice but to persist in pursuing a manifestly futile endeavor?

Try this thought experiment. Imagine the opposing candidates in a presidential campaign each refusing to accept war as the new normal. Imagine them actually taking stock of the broader fight that’s been ongoing for decades now. Imagine them offering alternatives to armed conflicts that just drag on and on. Now that would be a milestone.

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  1. Jeff

    Almost nice. Just one error. Why should these wars be won? They are just to be fought, to consume the stuff the MIC builds, so they can build some more, and earn some money on the way.

    Btw, John Helmer says October is payback time.

    1. hemeantwell

      That’s the ballpark of my thinking as well. Along with the MIC bennies, hasn’t the Great Game, as the Brits so nauseatingly put it, always involved an element of who can subject who to the greatest level of enmirement and attrition? I’m sure the Israelis see this as a second best solution, vastly preferable to stabilized and likely hostile states. It puzzles me that Bacevich doesn’t address this more directly.

      To veer into the conspiratorial/very dark, we should consider whether the Admin’s read of medium-term climate change has things going so badly in the ME that it’s useless to plan on any stabilization.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        The simple explanation is Obama has largely given the Middle East his usual effort which is to claim to be a grand moderator, hit the front nine, give support to the usual suspects, and then hit the back nine. The guy had no clue about his signature legislation. Why would he care about the Middle East?

  2. Ranger Rick

    We’re witnessing the endgame of the conflict in the Middle East: walls. The broken window theory of foreign policy is only as good as the economy of the nations interested in fixing those broken windows. Once the money runs out, the international response to each new atrocity in the Middle East is stern condemnation and little else.

    1. cirsium

      Surely, the solution is for the United States to stop breaking the windows in the first place.

      1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

        Wars used to be fought for outcomes like treasure, resources, spoils. Today the war-making itself IS the treasure. Ask Fedex, who has a no-bid multi-million $ contract to fly pallet loads of bottled water from Seattle to Baghdad, or Lockheed-Martin, who constructs incredibly complex multi-million dollar robots (Hellfire missiles) that are destroyed the first time they’re used.
        This is not von Clausewitz territory….well, in a sense it is, the strategy makes 100% sense given the desired outcomes.
        The collapse of the existential Soviet enemy and supposed upcoming “peace dividend” put the MIC sector in a complete panic. Problem solved. Any discussion of “strategy” and “objectives” outside of this raison d’etre is just hoo-haw.

  3. Softie

    There is a strategy that is to let MIC+Wall Street steal as much as possible from taxpayers and future taxpayers. That strategy requires a perpetual war.

  4. MikeNY

    Short of reducing large parts of the Middle East to rubble, is that fight winnable in any meaningful sense?

    And I’m not at all sure that’s ‘winning’. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria already seem to be largely rubble. Yet somehow, the will to fight us remains, even grows … imagine that.

  5. EndOfTheWorld

    Obama won the election as a peace candidate. He defeated Hill because he was more of a peacemonger than her, then the repugs were pretty easy to beat, for the same reason. The majority of the American citizens can clearly see the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions were disastrous mistakes. That’s the reason for the success of Trump—he called the Iraq invasion a mistake. Jeb Bush had to run home to his momma. Obama, IMHO, would have liked to somehow pull out completely but found it easier said than done. From the beginning of his presidency many people were blaming HIM for the Iraq debacle, and they still are. Right now he’s trying to run out the clock and hand it over to the next guy.

    1. James Levy

      Obama discovered that inside the Beltway fighting is never going to cost you politically. Hell, he withdrew major combat units from Iraq exactly according to George W. Bush’s timetable and was still excoriated for “running away” (despite the fact that he couldn’t get the Iraqis to agree to any Status of Forces agreement and therefore couldn’t stay without going to war with the people we were ostensibly there to protect!).

      People seem to have missed, among his more positive statements, that Trump has pledged to “destroy” ISIS. We can expect more of the same, I would bet, from his administration if or when it takes office.

      1. tegnost

        Since hillary did so much to create isis in the first place I think we can be pretty sure she’s all in on that point as well. After reading the long form “emaillgate” article over the weekend, the point that keeps coming to mind is how, after her saudi friends created the bogey man that would invite our bombs to destroy libya’s infrastructure, hillary kindly gave the “moderate rebels” a list of preferred bankers and oil companies they should use to rebuild the country. Disaster capitalism at it’s finest, brought to you by hillary clinton.

        1. tegnost

          as you pointed out recently, james, we’re between a rock and a hard place with these two…

          1. James Levy

            My only point was that the Washington Consensus is always interventionist and pretending that Trump is a “peace” candidate is, in my estimation, as self-deluding as thinking Nixon or Obama were. Clinton is a four-square imperialist.

            1. tegnost

              agreed, he doesn’t seem very peaceful, and he could find having that much power in his hands intoxicating

            2. EoinW

              Actually Trump has the potential to be a peace candidate on the only foreign relationship that really matters : Russia. He will talk to Putin, something no one else in Washington will do. This is important as avoiding nuclear war should be the #1 foreign affairs issue. Instead you have the neoCons playing chicken with Russia.

              Regarding the middle east, all of western society – from the top to the bottom – has shown how morally bankrupt it is. When you can turn the Iranians, Taliban and Assad into good guys then there is nothing left to do but go home.

              1. Quantum Future

                EoinW – Great analysis. What all this is about is energy policy. Energy and money are the two most important subjects regarding national security. I wished instead of $9 trillion on investment losses which were mostly graft, we subsidized the hell into hydrogen and natural gas vehicles and hen told the Russians as a customer we hsd better choices if needed. Now some energy policy was subsidized and properly so.

                I hate it, but some violence is necessary. But Smedley Butler and War is a Racket is a reality. The Russians have to remember WW2 and losses which were horrendous. So playing chicken with them is very bad as you mentioned because pushing the big red button to avoid being a vassal seems a real concern. Humiliating them never helps. Dignity matters. If there was less graft, the EU and US would be more enegy independent. As it stands the US can do without Russian energy but Europe cannot.

                Some dealmaking must be plausible but I am no expert. And just stating Russia only respects strength alone is a cop out. From a tactical position Russia is surrounded. The Chinese are not there friends.

      2. Take the Fork

        Perhaps. But I think it will be not just more of the same, but the same-but-more.

        Bacevich has elsewhere noted how US national security policy has undergone an “Israelification.” Meaning ground wars characterized by technology and the swiftness it allows, supplemented by targeted assassinations. Obama has eagerly embraced the latter as a means to avoid the former. It has not worked.

        But Obama never embraced the other side of Israeli policy. That is using soldiers, bolstered by walls, for their ancient mission: preserving territorial integrity through border protection. Trump claims he will do just this. Coupled with his apparent willingness to embrace the Israeli objective of preserving a racist, apartheid, ethno-state, Trump will complete the Israelification of the US.

        In this light, the Neoconservatives’ fear and loathing of Trump baffles me.

  6. paul greenwood

    Short of reducing large parts of the Middle East to rubble, is that fight winnable in any meaningful sense?

    Reducing sand to rubble seems to have the cart before the horse. It is far easier to destroy any US city as a functioning entity than it is to effect a similar mess in large areas of desert with a few villages and diesel generators. Far easier to render money managers in a tower as cascading ash than it is to defeat an inexhaustible supply of disposable foot soldiers with a C4 belt and an AK-47

    1. Kris

      That may the situation now, but both Libya and Iraq, prior to being destroyed, were wealthy countries with large modern cities and many of the systems and infrastructure we associate with advanced western countries. I get the point that that is what we are dealing with now, and in Afghanistan, perhaps always were. But it seems to me important to always start first with what those countries were like before we destroyed them. Being so isolated and propagandized, many US citizens (not attributing this to you, btw) don’t realize that there is advanced civilization in other countries (except, possibly, western Europe).

      1. JTMcPhee

        Lebanon and Syria were wealthy countries with large modern urbane cities too. Gee, what happened in those places? is one little starting point for another trip down memory lane. As Reagan said about setting up a bunch of Marines to get truck-bombed to death in Beirut, “Mistakes were made, yada yada something about responsibility…” Not a word about Israel or Saudi Arabia or any of that other complicated stuff that complicates the complicated decision about where to invade next… and which weapons and training to deliver to which moderate insurgents…

        And can I make another pitch for people to read a book by a CIA paramilitary, Gary Schroen? He’s the kind of guy the CIA sends in to help nudge and destabilize and all that other stuff in conflict areas where the skills of warcraft and sneaky-pete-craft get applied just because there are people with those skills who are looking for something to do to move along the career path. He does give a litte look at the tools of his trade, the gifts of large blocks of US currency, weapons, little gewgaws that the tribal warlords he tries to line up behind “US interests” might favor. Does not mention gifts of Viagra to several older warlords, and is pretty frank about the incompetence (from his standpoint as a paramiltary doing skullduggery of the Great Game kind, and the real nature of the complexity of the cultures that make up the Game in The Graveyard of Empires. The book is “First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan,” and here is one juicily ironic review of the book and the activities of the “Jawbreaker” team:

        While America held its breath in the days immediately following 9/11, a small but determined group of CIA agents covertly began to change history. This is the riveting first-person account of the treacherous top-secret mission inside Afghanistan to set the stage for the defeat of the Taliban and launch the war on terror.

        Gary Schroen was hardly expecting to take on such a job. Like the veteran officer in countless cop movies, he was planning for retirement when disaster struck. After 9/11, at age fifty-nine, he was drafted back for his most dangerous assignment: to lead a handpicked team of operatives deep into Afghan territory and prepare the way for an American assault.
        Comprised of seven agents, experts in fields ranging from communications to medicine to weaponry, the group called “Jawbreaker” found itself in hostile terrain while identifying targets for U.S. bombs and coordinating U.S. forces with the Northern Alliance (NA), the organized opposition to the Taliban dictatorship.

        Jawbreaker struggled to maintain coherence within the NA, which had been deprived of its charismatic leader Ahmad Shah Masood when he was murdered on September 9 by an al-Qa’ida bomb concealed in a camera. The success of Schroen and his group would mean the collapse of the Taliban, the disruption of al-Qa’ida, and the end of Afghanistan as a sanctuary for terrorists. Impeding Jawbreaker’s progress was the absence of a Taliban infrastructure that could be targeted, a Pakistani government eager to interfere, and a “rash and reckless” U.S. government, that did not know the most effective way to attack.

        As thrilling as any novel, First In is a uniquely intimate look at a mission that began the U.S. retaliation against terrorism-and reclaimed the country of Afghanistan for its people.

        And for the brave, you can go to the CIA web site and read what they have to say, institutionally, about the heroic exploits, also dripping with irony:

  7. thoughtful person

    Bacevich does a good job pointing out how military actions often don’t make sense if the goals of said actions are truely the stated ones.

    In my opinion, we get closer to the truth of the matter, when we look at actions, and give a lot less weight to the discourse.

    From what I can see, for the MIC, with the end of the cold war came the alarming possibility of a peace dividend, a rolling back of the importance of the military, a drastic drop in defense spending for M (and their corporate profits, for I, as well as campaign finance$ from lobbyists, C). A new enemy was needed to justify new and expanded spending. It seems around the end of 1990’s, the new target was chosen: the middle east and Islam. A war of civilizations was on the menu, which could likely drag on indefinitely, until something better came along.

    If you look at the totality of military actions as well as actions of US allies, “soft” power as well (one example, think of Saudi funding of extreme Islamic ideology) you don’t see the establishment of western style democracies across the middle east. You see actions which fan the flames of war, extremism and desperation.

    If you just look at what our military and political leaders say, it’s insanity. Which I think is Bacevich’s point. If you look at the money, (and the control of “the earths energy heartland” is a valuable commodity no doubt as well), perhaps the actions start to make some sense in a Machiavellian way.

    1. SufferinSuccotash

      Look at the money by all means, but also avoid unicausal explanations for something as incoherent as US policy towards the Middle East over the past several decades. There’s also the factor of real or perceived political expediency, particularly the desire of Democratic administrations to avoid appearing “weak” or “soft” on defense, terrorism, etc., plus the bipartisan failure after Carter to educate the American people about the need for a realistic energy policy. And there’s the ideological element: the neoconservative belief that it’s the raison d’etre of the US to make the rest of the world afraid of the US. Take these unappetizing ingredients, combine, stir and simmer from 1979 to 2016–I take the Iranian Revolution as the point when US policy-making began going off the rails. Not surprisingly we have a multicausal mess on our hands.

    2. av av

      Addition to our military insanity:
      “is far more deserving of attention than how to employ very expensive airplanes against insurgents armed with inexpensive Kalashnikovs” or in the case of 9/11 a bunch of boxcutters.

    1. JTMcPhee

      We troops, in our 1966 BasicCombat Training, learned from a jocular black sergeant, a veteran and survivor of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, that the Army NEVER RETREATS! No, the Army “makes strategic rearward advances to previously prepared positions.”

      I occasionally wonder what became ofSergeant Parks…

  8. Jef

    The resource rich countries of the ME prior to 911 were enjoying serious growth and prosperity. Most were on tract to increase consumption of their own FF production exponentially. Libya in particular had built up amazing infrastructure.

    Now everything has been blown to rubble and rebuilding is, for the most part, simply not happening. In Iraq the historic sites and much of the civilian infrastructure were destroyed but the oil infrastructure was fiercely protected.

    All the wars in the ME have been very successful at destroying demand. Even with production reduced it is a net gain for the West.

  9. DJG

    Bacevich is a former officer, so his insights are always bracing. The question in this electoral campaign is who truly speaks for peace, which is necessary to get the U S of A away from the self-created swamp of privatized military functions (bad on so many levels), use of the military as a means of enforcing foreign-policy fantasies (which Obama and H Clinton are guilty of, let alone the Bush family), persecution of whistleblowers (don’t forget that Chelsea Manning’s great sin may have been leaking the videos of the slaughter of civilians and journalists), and then the economic destruction in the “homeland” to maintain all of this waste.

    Just mention in conversation that you plan to vote for peace. My interlocutors mainly are Clinton people. Mentioning peace will get a blank look. And the rather distasteful truth is that many upper-middle-class feminists would rather have Clinton than peace, which means that feminism may now be one more spent force in the culture wars that have ruined everything (feminism, religion, eroticism (if it ever existed in the U.S.), literature, even food).

  10. EndOfTheWorld

    The only true peace candidate is Bernie. Trump said the Iraq war was a bad mistake, sent Jeb back to his momma, but now, having beat off the repug opponents, he is posing in a more aggressive stance. Bernie VOTED AGAINST THE IRAQ WAR, as he clearly stated, and therein lies his peacemonger credentials. He had to walk a fine line in the campaign, and not be a blatant peacemonger, but I heard him say once we need to be less aggressive in foreign policy. That about sums it up. And he let Hill have it with both barrels for her kissing up to Henry the K. When she tried to nail him down on who his foreign policy advisors were, he immortally replied “It sure ain’t Henry Kissinger—I’ll tell you that.”

    1. Ignim Brites

      There is no peace candidate in part because there is no partner for peace (and there cannot be). The only possible strategy for the US is disengagement. But that means giving up the Pax Americana strategy. And there is no one advocating that, not even Trump.

  11. Uncle Bruno

    Winnable if the goal is to prevent the formation of stable governments that pursue the interests of their own population. Seems like they’ve done a very good job in that respect.

    1. Lumpenproletariat

      That’s akin to the Chomsky/Parenti/etc. explanation of the Vietnam War result. Granted the US officially lost. But the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians lost a whole lot more.

      -millions of deaths
      -ravaged economy
      -psychological scars (which were greeted with muted schadenfreude here)

      The US wins when any non conforming nation is burnt to the ground. Ditto for Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc. Problem is, there actually is blowback and the US’ power to impose devastation without consequences is limited.

  12. Alfred


    Divide and conquer.

    Expediency rules the day and corruption rules the night.

    The essence of US policy in the middle-east.

    There is no control of others if they control themselves.

    The fallacy of US policy in the middle-east.

  13. Ed

    As other commentators have noted, either there is no strategy or there is an amazingly brilliant strategy directed against the American people.

  14. Take the Fork

    Bacevich has elsewhere noted how US national security policy has undergone an “Israelification.” Meaning ground wars characterized by technology and the swiftness it allows, supplemented by targeted assassinations. Obama has eagerly embraced the latter as a means to avoid the former. It has not worked.

    But Obama never embraced the other side of Israeli policy. That is using soldiers, bolstered by walls, for their ancient mission: preserving territorial integrity through border protection. Trump claims he will do just this. Coupled with his apparent willingness to embrace the Israeli objective of preserving a racist, apartheid, ethno-state, Trump will complete the Israelification of the US.

    In this light, the Neoconservatives’ fear and loathing of Trump baffles me.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Where is the “dog that didn’t bark” in Bacevich’s essay above — AIPAC?

      Israelification explains at least as much as the other alleged actor — oil supply — as to why the U.S. desperately clings to its costly, destructive Middle Eastern tar baby.

      In March, we just watched Hillary and Trump dutifully troop to the AIPAC coliseum and promise America’s grateful, eternal loyalty. Now it’s as if it never happened — just background noise, like kitten videos or something.

      1. Take the Fork

        Media coverage of Trump repeats ( ad nauseam and in a desensitizing and counterproductive manner) charges of racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, rudeness and simple bad taste. But I have yet to hear a charge of antisemitism.

        Strange, because with the exception of Sheldon Adelson, American Jews seem more united in opposition to Trump than any other group, at least on the television, websites and op-ed pages. This seems to run the gamut from principled opposition to sour grapes to near-hysteria. Just yesterday Richard Cohen sounded like he was any minute expecting his door to be kicked in by StormTrumpers.

        But no charges of antisemitism.

        I wonder why that is.

  15. ewmayer

    …if we kill enough people for a long enough period of time, the other side will eventually give in.

    Because it worked so well in Vietnam! (But already there the “permanent war is good for business” dynamic was firmly in place. When you drop any old-fashioned notion about such efforts being about “winning” in any traditional military/political sense, the actual logic underlying the Empire of Chaos M.O. becomes instantly clear.)

    @Ranger Rick: Once the money runs out … That’s just the point – as the MMT crowd around here so love to point out, for a monetary sovereign like the US, the money will *never* run out. It may end up debased a infinitum and the domestic non-MIC/non-Wall-Street economy left in ruins, but that sort of thing mainly hurts the commoner rabble, so who cares?

  16. Jim

    As far back as I can remember, going back many decades, I have heard that Mohammed Ali Baba or whoever has been killed marking a decisive victory for Truth, Justice and the American Way and that everything will be fine now. Then a little later it is said that Mohammed Ali Daba or whoever has been killed marking a decisive victory for Truth, Justice and the American Way and everything will be fine now. Then a little later …

  17. Jim

    Who can doubt Obama’s sincerity? After all he told us that we could keep our … Oh the hell with it.

  18. gordon

    The US wars in the ME are obviously winnable from Israel’s point of view. All its hostile neighbours are being bombed into the stone age. What’s not to like?

    1. Quantum Future

      Gordon – Have to say Isreal attacked first and often so response was justified. To a point. Has it gotten retarded now? Yes.

  19. RBHoughton

    Some people have argued above that maintaining Afghanistan as a battlefield ensures jobs for us in the towns where our arms and ammunition is manufactured, but that would be a simple transfer of wealth from the American people to the arms manufacturers. There is another possibility.

    Our policy is to kill anyone arising to a position of leadership. The intent may be inferred to be an assurance that chaos continues.

    Why should our policy be to deny Afghanistan stability and leadership? Well, our usual reason for throwing our weight around the planet is commercial as the people arguing for arms sales as the basic reason we are there have plausibly suggested above.

    Might there be another benefit we seek for? What valuable asset do Afghans produce that we wish to engross to our own profit? Answers on a postcard to Mr Snow c/o Santa’s Grotto.

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