Trump Loves to Win, But American Generals Have Forgotten How

By Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University.  His most recent book is America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. Originally published at TomDispatch

President-elect Donald Trump’s message for the nation’s senior military leadership is ambiguously unambiguous. Here is he on 60 Minutes just days after winning the election.

Trump: “We have some great generals. We have great generals.”

Lesley Stahl: “You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.”

Trump: “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. OK, look at the job they’ve done. They haven’t done the job.”

In reality, Trump, the former reality show host, knows next to nothing about ISIS, one of many gaps in his education that his impending encounter with actual reality is likely to fill.  Yet when it comes to America’s generals, our president-to-be is onto something.  No doubt our three- and four-star officers qualify as “great” in the sense that they mean well, work hard, and are altogether fine men and women. That they have not “done the job,” however, is indisputable — at least if their job is to bring America’s wars to a timely and successful conclusion.

Trump’s unhappy verdict — that the senior U.S. military leadership doesn’t know how to win — applies in spades to the two principal conflicts of the post-9/11 era: the Afghanistan War, now in its 16th year, and the Iraq War, launched in 2003 and (after a brief hiatus) once more grinding on.  Yet the verdict applies equally to lesser theaters of conflict, largely overlooked by the American public, that in recent years have engaged the attention of U.S. forces, a list that would include conflicts in Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

Granted, our generals have demonstrated an impressive aptitude for moving pieces around on a dauntingly complex military chessboard.  Brigades, battle groups, and squadrons shuttle in and out of various war zones, responding to the needs of the moment.  The sheer immensity of the enterprise across the Greater Middle East and northern Africa — the sorties flown, munitions expended, the seamless deployment and redeployment of thousands of troops over thousands of miles, the vast stockpiles of material positioned, expended, and continuously resupplied — represents a staggering achievement. Measured by these or similar quantifiable outputs, America’s military has excelled.  No other military establishment in history could have come close to duplicating the logistical feats being performed year in, year out by the armed forces of the United States.

Nor should we overlook the resulting body count.  Since the autumn of 2001, something like 370,000 combatants and noncombatants have been killed in the various theaters of operations where U.S. forces have been active. Although modest by twentieth century standards, this post-9/11 harvest of death is hardly trivial.

Yet in evaluating military operations, it’s a mistake to confuse how much with how well.  Only rarely do the outcomes of armed conflicts turn on comparative statistics.  Ultimately, the one measure of success that really matters involves achieving war’s political purposes.  By that standard, victory requires not simply the defeat of the enemy, but accomplishing the nation’s stated war aims, and not just in part or temporarily but definitively. Anything less constitutes failure, not to mention utter waste for taxpayers, and for those called upon to fight, it constitutes cause for mourning.

By that standard, having been “at war” for virtually the entire twenty-first century, the United States military is still looking for its first win.  And however strong the disinclination to concede that Donald Trump could be right about anything, his verdict on American generalship qualifies as apt.

A Never-Ending Parade of Commanders for Wars That Never End

That verdict brings to mind three questions. First, with Trump a rare exception, why have the recurring shortcomings of America’s military leadership largely escaped notice?  Second, to what degree does faulty generalship suffice to explain why actual victory has proven so elusive? Third, to the extent that deficiencies at the top of the military hierarchy bear directly on the outcome of our wars, how might the generals improve their game?

As to the first question, the explanation is quite simple:  During protracted wars, traditional standards for measuring generalship lose their salience.  Without pertinent standards, there can be no accountability.  Absent accountability, failings and weaknesses escape notice.  Eventually, what you’ve become accustomed to seems tolerable. Twenty-first century Americans inured to wars that never end have long since forgotten that bringing such conflicts to a prompt and successful conclusion once defined the very essence of what generals were expected to do.

Senior military officers were presumed to possess unique expertise in designing campaigns and directing engagements.  Not found among mere civilians or even among soldiers of lesser rank, this expertise provided the rationale for conferring status and authority on generals.

In earlier eras, the very structure of wars provided a relatively straightforward mechanism for testing such claims to expertise.  Events on the battlefield rendered harsh judgments, creating or destroying reputations with brutal efficiency.

Back then, standards employed in evaluating generalship were clear-cut and uncompromising.  Those who won battles earned fame, glory, and the gratitude of their countrymen.  Those who lost battles got fired or were put out to pasture.

During the Civil War, for example, Abraham Lincoln did not need an advanced degree in strategic studies to conclude that Union generals like John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, and Joseph Hooker didn’t have what it took to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia.  Humiliating defeats sustained by the Army of the Potomac at the Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville made that obvious enough.  Similarly, the victories Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman gained at Shiloh, at Vicksburg, and in the Chattanooga campaign strongly suggested that here was the team to which the president could entrust the task of bringing the Confederacy to its knees.

Today, public drunkenness, petty corruption, or sexual shenanigans with a subordinate might land generals in hot water.  But as long as they avoid egregious misbehavior, senior officers charged with prosecuting America’s wars are largely spared judgments of any sort.  Trying hard is enough to get a passing grade.

With the country’s political leaders and public conditioned to conflicts seemingly destined to drag on for years, if not decades, no one expects the current general-in-chief in Iraq or Afghanistan to bring things to a successful conclusion.  His job is merely to manage the situation until he passes it along to a successor, while duly adding to his collection of personal decorations and perhaps advancing his career.

Today, for example, Army General John Nicholson commands U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.  He’s only the latest in a long line of senior officers to preside over that war, beginning with General Tommy Franks in 2001 and continuing with Generals Mikolashek, Barno, Eikenberry, McNeill, McKiernan, McChrystal, Petraeus, Allen, Dunford, and Campbell.  The title carried by these officers changed over time.  So, too, did the specifics of their “mission” as Operation Enduring Freedom evolved into Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.  Yet even as expectations slipped lower and lower, none of the commanders rotating through Kabul delivered.  Not a single one has, in our president-elect’s concise formulation, “done the job.”  Indeed, it’s increasingly difficult to know what that job is, apart from preventing the Taliban from quite literally toppling the government.

In Iraq, meanwhile, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend currently serves as the — count ‘em — ninth American to command U.S. and coalition forces in that country since the George W. Bush administration ordered the invasion of 2003.  The first in that line, (once again) General Tommy Franks, overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime and thereby broke Iraq.  The next five, Generals Sanchez, Casey, Petraeus, Odierno, and Austin, labored for eight years to put it back together again.

At the end of 2011, President Obama declared that they had done just that and terminated the U.S. military occupation.  The Islamic State soon exposed Obama’s claim as specious when its militants put a U.S.-trained Iraqi army to flight and annexed large swathes of that country’s territory.  Following in the footsteps of his immediate predecessors Generals James Terry and Sean MacFarland, General Townsend now shoulders the task of trying to restore Iraq’s status as a more or less genuinely sovereign state.  He directs what the Pentagon calls Operation Inherent Resolve, dating from June 2014, the follow-on to Operation New Dawn (September 2010-December 2011), which was itself the successor to Operation Iraqi Freedom (March 2003-August 2010).

When and how Inherent Resolve will conclude is difficult to forecast.  This much we can, however, say with some confidence: with the end nowhere in sight, General Townsend won’t be its last commander.  Other generals are waiting in the wings with their own careers to polish.  As in Kabul, the parade of U.S. military commanders through Baghdad will continue.

For some readers, this listing of mostly forgotten names and dates may have a soporific effect.  Yet it should also drive home Trump’s point.  The United States may today have the world’s most powerful and capable military — so at least we are constantly told.  Yet the record shows that it does not have a corps of senior officers who know how to translate capability into successful outcomes.

Draining Which Swamp?

That brings us to the second question:  Even if commander-in-chief Trump were somehow able to identify modern day equivalents of Grant and Sherman to implement his war plans, secret or otherwise, would they deliver victory?

On that score, we would do well to entertain doubts.  Although senior officers charged with running recent American wars have not exactly covered themselves in glory, it doesn’t follow that their shortcomings offer the sole or even a principal explanation for why those wars have yielded such disappointing results.  The truth is that some wars aren’t winnable and shouldn’t be fought.

So, yes, Trump’s critique of American generalship possesses merit, but whether he knows it or not, the question truly demanding his attention as the incoming commander-in-chief isn’t: Who should I hire (or fire) to fight my wars?  Instead, far more urgent is: Does further war promise to solve any of my problems?

One mark of a successful business executive is knowing when to cut your losses. It’s also the mark of a successful statesman.  Trump claims to be the former.  Whether his putative business savvy will translate into the world of statecraft remains to be seen. Early signs are not promising.

As a candidate, Trump vowed to “defeat radical Islamic terrorism,” destroy ISIS, “decimate al-Qaeda,” and “starve funding for Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah.” Those promises imply a significant escalation of what Americans used to call the Global War on Terrorism.

Toward that end, the incoming administration may well revive some aspects of the George W. Bush playbook, including repopulating the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and “if it’s so important to the American people,” reinstituting torture.  The Trump administration will at least consider re-imposing sanctions on countries like Iran.  It may aggressively exploit the offensive potential of cyber-weapons, betting that America’s cyber-defenses will hold.

Yet President Trump is also likely to double down on the use of conventional military force.  In that regard, his promise to “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS” offers a hint of what is to come. His appointment of the uber-hawkish Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser and his rumored selection of retired Marine Corps General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis as defense secretary suggest that he means what he says.   In sum, a Trump administration seems unlikely to reexamine the conviction that the problems roiling the Greater Middle East will someday, somehow yield to a U.S.-imposed military solution.  Indeed, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, that conviction will deepen, with genuinely ironic implications for the Trump presidency.

In the immediate wake of 9/11, George W. Bush concocted a fantasy of American soldiers liberating oppressed Afghans and Iraqis and thereby “draining the swamp” that served to incubate anti-Western terrorism.  The results achieved proved beyond disappointing, while the costs exacted in terms of lives and dollars squandered were painful indeed.  Incrementally, with the passage of time, many Americans concluded that perhaps the swamp most in need of attention was not on the far side of the planet but much closer at hand — right in the imperial city nestled alongside the Potomac River.

To a very considerable extent, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, preferred candidate of the establishment, because he advertised himself as just the guy disgruntled Americans could count on to drain that swamp.

Yet here’s what too few of those Americans appreciate, even today: war created that swamp in the first place.  War empowers Washington.  It centralizes.  It provides a rationale for federal authorities to accumulate and exercise new powers.  It makes government bigger and more intrusive.  It lubricates the machinery of waste, fraud, and abuse that causes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to vanish every year.  When it comes to sustaining the swamp, nothing works better than war.

Were Trump really intent on draining that swamp — if he genuinely seeks to “Make America Great Again” — then he would extricate the United States from war.  His liquidation of Trump University, which was to higher education what Freedom’s Sentinel and Inherent Resolve are to modern warfare, provides a potentially instructive precedent for how to proceed.

But don’t hold your breath on that one.  All signs indicate that, in one fashion or another, our combative next president will perpetuate the wars he’s inheriting.  Trump may fancy that, as a veteran of Celebrity Apprentice (but not of military service), he possesses a special knack for spotting the next Grant or Sherman.  But acting on that impulse will merely replenish the swamp in the Greater Middle East along with the one in Washington.  And soon enough, those who elected him with expectations of seeing the much-despised establishment dismantled will realize that they’ve been had.

Which brings us, finally, to that third question: To the extent that deficiencies at the top of the military hierarchy do affect the outcome of wars, what can be done to fix the problem?

The most expeditious approach: purge all currently serving three- and four-star officers; then, make a precondition for promotion to those ranks confinement in a reeducation camp run by Iraq and Afghanistan war amputees, with a curriculum designed by Veterans for Peace.  Graduation should require each student to submit an essay reflecting on these words of wisdom from U.S. Grant himself:  “There never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword.”

True, such an approach may seem a bit draconian. But this is no time for half-measures — as even Donald Trump may eventually recognize.

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  1. DanB

    As much s I have appreciated Bacevich’s views over the past decade, my reaction to this is that he’s asking the wrong questions. Just what would a “victory” in these imperial interventions look like? Does he really think our military is protecting our nation? I don’t.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I believe his point is narrower. Victory in Afghanistan and Iraq would (in the eyes of the establishment) have involved the pacification of those countries with pro-capitalist and pro-western nominally democratic governments in charge (i.e. puppets). That is what the explicit and implicit aim of those invasions was to be. The military was charged with achieving those ends, and they failed (as they’ve failed elsewhere). And yet, even by the criteria set by the establishment, there has been zero accountability.

      And this is the double failure of Washington. You might give them some credit if they were competent imperialists. But they are the worst of all worlds. They are reckless imperialists who can’t even achieve their own stated aims with a modicum of competence. Real imperialists of the past would be rolling around laughing at this lot.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you. Well said. You are right to make the distinction between competent, incompetent and real imperialists. My parents came to the UK from a colony in the mid-1960s and talk about the colonial officials they came across. It was the same with my grandparents. I have come across the aspiring neo-cons on the make (and on the take) in the City, marking time until they can be parachuted into a safe seat. Few, if any, speak a foreign language and / or spent much time abroad. They give the impression of playing chess from Tory Central Office or some “think tank”, but with other countries and lives of people they know nothing, much less care, about. As we watched Obama being crowned in 2009, one (an aspiring Tory MP and former central office staffer) forecasted that Obama would go down as the worst president in history and added that Bush would go down as one of the greats. I made my excuses and went home.

      2. Foppe

        They’re not imperialists, they’re corporatists. Graft is the object, and given that construction companies like Halliburton and mercs like Xe don’t bankroll Ds, and since bombing campaigns are easy to keep up/out of the news, the money has now shifted to drones.
        As such, they’re not failing, except insofar as they are losing access to markets. And that isn’t really the case either, since the iraqi don’t form a market that matters; whereas the notional ‘rebuilding effort’ — which did provide opportunities for looting — is/was pretty much over anyway, once it became impossible to deny it “failed”.

        1. hemeantwell

          I think they are imperialists in the sense that, as William Appleman Williams and others have argued, their primary orienting goal is to extend and sustain the US dominance of a world market. If you read what US foreign policy and military planners were saying in after WW2, that’s an inescapable conclusion. Your focus on the corporation takes as a given what those planners have felt they need to strategically and militarily secure. Bacevich consistently avoids this issue and so ends up promoting a naive and implicitly hopeful view of US motives and the flexibility with which they can be pursued.

          It’s really quite something to go back and read Dean Acheson testifying to a congressional committee that, unlike the Soviet Union, the US requires steady expansion of the world market to survive. He sounds like Rosa Luxemburg.

        2. b.

          Close but not quite there yet… who benefits?

          The US is a nation of racketeers, which are perfecting the corruption of services into means of converting tax revenue into private profits. Some of these services are in fact essential, all have been – at least until recently – unassailable regardless of merit. Examples are housing, education, health care, private transportation… and of course “national security”. The rackets trace back to the exceptional US economic circumstances of WW2, and the leading racket was well established at the end of the Eisenhower presidency (his CYA address notwithstanding).

          For the “self-licking ice-cream cone” of military/security/intelligence/public safety expenditures to continue to grow exponentially, it is not only unnecessary for the tax-purchased services and goods to be functional, let alone deliver results – it is positively counterproductive. The question is not whether any captured government institution is dysfunctional, the question is merely whether and how the profitability it delivers to the “accounting control frauds” in charge of the incumbents can be increased.

          There are many aspects of this particular proud strain of dysfunction capitalism – US weapon exports, “foreign aid” to Israel or Saudi Arabia, support for proxy forces, actual direct expenditure of armaments, and of course force modernization and extension are some of the many flavors. The fuel cost alone for moving men and materiel “fuels” entire industries. It would not at all be surprising to find that those 700 bases maintained – and expanded – are completely useless – if not even significant liabilities – while at the same time improving the bottom line of many suppliers. PMC’s and the growing industry supporting ever-increasing logistical “needs” are another vector of the disease. Terrorism, of course, and the market for global and domestic surveillance and “public safety”, is both a consequence and a pretext. The perfect racket produces its own justification while profit shares increase and “product” cost decrease.

          It is the privilege of the continental US that, wedged between two oceans, a colony of the crown and a failed state, that it is largely insulated from the blowback of the various theaters of war profiteering (this is, after all, the major advantage the national security racket has over the competing domestic leeches). It stand to reason that the weaker the coupling to the fallout from profitable dysfunction, the longer trends that cannot continue… will.

          Iraq 2003 might well have been the last time that any of the major industries involved had any earnest intention to profit from the theater itself. Libya, Syria, Yemen etc. are in the main write-offs, pretexts that open profit channels but not part of it. It is usually ignored that the main issue China and Russia have with the US and its minion states is the abrogation of the concept of sovereign nation stages, going all the way back to Clinton’s interventions in the Balkans. By accident or design, US foreign policy is one of scorched earth, preferring failed states to nations capable of resistance. This, too, is a consequence of that “splendid insulation”.

          1. JTMcPhee

            Thank you, b., for saying clearly what so many of us perceive dimly through the fog of propaganda, and struggle to name.

            Next question: is there a prayer of catalyzing a healthier political economy, or do we ordinary people just live until we die, as best we can manage? Maybe “judiciously studying the actions” and talking learnedly about them among our percipient selves, until even that illusion of action is finally blocked?

            “In the end, he found he could not help himself: He loved Big Brother.”

        3. steelhead23

          The truth is that some wars aren’t winnable and shouldn’t be fought.

          Success in any enterprise requires the definition of a goal. I believe that the goal of U.S. military action in MENA is two-fold: display fealty to Israel and the kings of the Arabian Peninsula; and to grow the corporate coffers of the MIC here at home. Defined in that way, the U.S. military has “hit it outta da park.” Winning? Winning was a pipe dream of the likes of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Cheney knew better and took GWB along for a ride.

          Let us pray that President Trump’s small mind and loose tongue substantially degrades the willingness of the U.S.’s partners to continue to play along. May he make America un-great again. Amen.

        4. john bougearel

          In the US today, we have raised a whole generation of kids where “winning matters not.” To that extent we, and our generals – whether imperialistic or corporatistic, are all “special snowflakes” that deserve “participation trophy’s” so we don’t cry and act out over not winning. I say give all our general’s another star for starting and participating in wars that can’t be won to begin with. Where participation and not winning is the objective. Three cheers: hip, hip, hooray!

      3. Kemal Erdogan

        I am highly suspicious that publicly stated goals of the wars were the actual targets. My take is that the actual goal has always been to keep those places in chaos; on US terms and under its control. with a safe US military base to punch those second-rate nations if necessary; By that measure, I believe both the Iraq and Afghan invasions were a success but they cannot pat each other’s backs publicly.

        However, they must now admit that they did not think the case of Iraq through, and the case of Syria is a complete failure, raising the stature of Russia to a super power again, while slowly but surely losing influence on Iraq and Egypt. But, that, arguably, could not have been realistically expected of the generals of the time to predict.

        1. Fiver

          While I agree on some points, it’s just not the case that Russia has regained ‘superpower’ status – there is no comparison between the USSR at its peak relative to US power and Russia versus the US today. What Putin has done is mount a very impressive defense through an extended effort to penetrate the hardened bunkers of Imperial Washington group think with one important thing to get clear: The people and leader of Russia believe Russia exists and Russia will act to defend itself.

          But Washington’s head is denser than lead.

    2. Lee

      I think that may have been his point, albeit delivered obliquely, as in his statement that “some wars should not be fought”; his quote from Grant, “There never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword”, as well as elsewhere in the piece.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Grant’s rise from drunk who couldn’t get a job in 1861 and W Scott’s efforts to recruit Bobby Lee, a guy who was out of the army for years by that point, are indications the general class was never particularly competent.

    3. Norb

      I think you need to re-read the post again. He is asking the right questions and provides a history lesson besides. The beginning paragraphs could be interpreted as the standard, we need victory fare, but all is designed to lead to his final prescription for action- all the while being very diplomatic and appreciative to those who serve in the military.

      Drain the swamp indeed, extricate the military from our national misadventures and retire the top brass more intent on career advancement that the true needs of the nation. Problems solved and we can move on as a nation. Will the world fall apart, if true men and women of honor step forward, I highly doubt it.

      Pretty radical stuff actually, but something that resonates with many people, people without a voice. Change will come from within the military, and it is refreshing to hear words of sanity form those inside the military system-Tulsi Gabbard for one.

      Could Trump shake up the gridlock, we shall see. Like a toxic mine tailing pit, once the retaining walls are breached, the effluence tends to spill out very quickly.

  2. Whine Country

    Silly question: Does the fault lie in our generals or in our commander in chief? Which leads to another silly question: Who does our commander in chief answer to?

    1. Pete

      The generals seem to be only as effective as the policy they are prescribed to carry out. They ultimately answer to the President. So if they’re ordered to carry out an impossible task they will obviously fail and they will kick the can down the road to save their own reputations. There isn’t too much of an incentive to win if you’re a careerist either which many of them are since the military is a giant welfare program/bureaucracy largely based on licking boots to advance. It might be nice to add another accolade to that fat stack of attendance ribbons on their chests but that’s all it is. Also, even if you were super serious about winning the war look at what happened to Shinseki when he clashed with the civilian leadership over the numbers of troops needed to pacify Iraq post-war. He was marginalized and finally canned altogether.

  3. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves. It will be interesting to read the comments from OIFVet, PFC Chuck and historian James Levy. Back to the grind in freezing London.

      1. tegnost

        Levy made as good arguments in good faith as a person could on the prevailing topic at that time and in the end just seemed frustrated by the acrimony, I know I’m pretty sick of it still and I for one wouldn’t mind if he came back now that the wheel has turned. It’s best for all concerned to accept that it’s a new chapter…imo

        1. ambrit

          Yes, the good doctor should resolutely shoulder the burden of “opposition party spokesman” and return to the fray. If we all took every slight and injury offered online to heart, there would be nary a rational word communicated, and, we would have much recourse to the suppressed Rogers Profanisaurus.
          Besides, Upstate New York must be cold now, and the Professor spending a lot of time being housebound.

        2. integer

          I stood in James’ corner once or twice as he started lashing out, as I thought he was just having a few bad days. It went on and I simply ran out of patience with him when he wrote his farewell screed and signed off with:

          James P. Levy, Ph.D. FRHistS, a man who never hid behind a goddamned nom de plume

        3. Fiver

          Didn’t know he ‘left’ but agree. I enjoyed his comments over the years and would certainly hope he returns.

  4. Colonel Smithers

    It will be interesting to hear from readers if they have colleagues who are former service men and women. There has been an influx in the City since the crisis, but they were always there in fewer numbers. Some thrive in admin / COO roles, but many are frustrated and last no more than a couple of years. Dad retired from the Royal Air Force in March 1991 after 25 years. He found it difficult to settle in civilian life (employed as a doctor at St Mary’s hospital in west London) and left at the end of 1991 for a development project in southern Africa (a year or so of being a middle class welfare junkie masquerading as a Foreign Office adviser) and twenty years working for Persian Gulf despots around MENA.

    1. Whine Country

      I’m a Vietnam vet and I did respond but it has been ignored as usual. The point of my post was that the generals do what they are ordered to do by the commander in chief and the problem lies with whoever that is at any given time. From that flows the logical point that we elect the commander in chief and don’t really pay much attention to what he orders. The fault lies with the electorate. Bacevich has made the point (as have others) that when the draft was eliminated voters no longer had skin in the game and became ambivalent which is why the founding fathers set up the system with the citizen soldier as a cornerstone principle. The president at any given time just does what he wants and the only possible means of accountability is through the voting booth. Our wars last stopped when the populace had skin in the game and made it extremely clear to Nixon that we wanted an end. We have met the enemy and he is us.

      1. weinerdog43

        The fault lies partly with the electorate, but also with Congress. For more than a decade, Charlie Rangel has been introducing bills to reinstate the draft. Crickets from Congress.

        I’m a former member of the Selective Service Board, and yes, they still exist. A draft in order to be effective, cannot offer deferments (a la Dick Cheney) and still be fair. Only until those who order the wars have family members (including women) subject to a draft, will we cease our idiotic imperialist impulses.

      2. Norb

        While all you say is true, 40 years of corporate evolution in the political sphere has changed the equation. As the last election cycle has shown, any attempt to alter current relationships will need political activism intended to change the system not just gaining office to make slight course corrections. We as a people are too far off course for that. The Vietnam era was a turning point and business interests mobilized to never let that fiasco- people power- take root again. They have been very successful in their mission, but now they have to deal with the problem of an unwanted and underused population. The unemployable if you will.

        Re-instituting the draft is no longer necessary and would be counterproductive to the corporate mission. As long as our current standing army can be paid off, why bother with a draft, it is no longer necessary. You avoid the military coup problem also. Our military continues to be bought off and as long as the economic incentives supporting an excessively large military remain unchallenged, the draft is unnecessary. Unnecessary from the maintenance of corporate power that is. Corporate power must be minimized first, then talk of a draft will make more sense. What values are learned in the military today? USA has ben turned into a corporate brand.

        Being poor, unemployable, or one illness away form such a fate is the new skin in the game. While national service is a force that must be worked into our social responsibilities, its true meaning for strengthening and protecting the people has been subverted into a tool for corruption. Voices within the military that call for a return to the ideal of a citizen soldier instead of a mercenary warrior is what I think Bacevich has in mind.

        1. voxhumana

          “now they have to deal with the problem of an unwanted and underused population. The unemployable if you will.”

          I call them the “discontinued.”

        2. Whine Country

          Norb I think you are one of the few who get it. I think that Bacevich is one of the few who are hopeful that there will be more.

  5. cocomaan

    Andrew Bacevich, as usual, writes a great article.

    But Grant and Sherman benefited from having a war with a clear goal: destroy the Confederate army and its government.

    I hesitate to call anything happening with the US in the Middle East or North Africa or SE Asia a “war” of that nature. There are no clear objectives. There are no criteria for an end of the conflict.

    Instead, this looks a whole lot more like the North’s occupation of the South during Reconstruction. We all know how that ended: the North had to pull itself out after an economic depression, more or less leading to a reign of terror through Jim Crow.

    The United States is trying to do Reconstruction in a whole lot of spheres and is failing at that because it’s generally an impossible enterprise.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I would disagree that there were no clear objectives. The objective was to turn Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya, etc., in to countries like Egypt or Jordan or Indonesia – weakened pro-western (or at least western-dependent) puppets with a sheen of democratic respectability, where US corporations could roam free. I don’t think there is any need to read anything else into the objectives – that is the ‘ideal’ for the neocons, and that was their objective, both stated and unstated.

      1. RUKidding

        You make a good, concise case for what the real objectives are for these unending expensive wars. Of course, this level of clarity re these goals are seldom stated to the populace at large. Rather we’re mostly fed bullshit about terrrrists and being kept “safe” and other noodleheaded claptrap.

        Given your definition, however, with which I agree, the Generals have still FAILED. And again, where’s the accountability? There is none.

        Trump plans to give himself and all the other Oligarchs, and the corporations giant tax cuts. There will be some in the middle class who experience a tax increase. Yet we’re supposed to bloat the MIC budget by some huge amount … for what purpose?? So Trump can build hotels, golf courses and casinos in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq? Not being all that snarky.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, as I said above, the neocons objective have been an abject failure. They display incompetence at all levels. And yet nobody pays the price. And the fact that the neocons don’t try to fire the generals who failed (as numerous political leaders in the past have done) is a reflection of both their incompetence and the fact that the wars have become the ultimate in self licking ice creams.

          1. Norb

            While a plan might not be 100% successful, I don’t see how you characterize the neocon program an abject failure. It is chugging along just fine. If waste and chaos are states of being that directly benefit your program, they are probably 90% successful.

            If war is a racket, then the good times roll on and talking about failed generals being replaced, or accountability will be served by getting hold of better generals, those sentiments must make them chuckle when they are discussing their private positions. Win/Win for the neocons.

            Ordinary people make the mistake of believing that the current crop of leaders have their interests in mind at all. They do not. If Clintons Public/Private mumbo jumbo didn’t clear you of that thinking I don’t know what will.

            The proper way to think about these things is the neocon plan is succeeding wonderfully but they are truly too short sighted- i.e. stupid in the long term- to understand the consequences. They understand short term profit completely and how to dispense physical power but little else. Consequences and payback are externalized in their world. If you live in the moment, who cares about the future. As the illuminist Karl Rove once stated, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

            Well, people don’t stay passive actors forever. Just as nature cannot absorb carelessness forever. A day of reckoning will come- it alway does. Failure is in the mind of the beholder. It depends on perspective. As the neocons double, tripple, quadruple down on their policies, they will be able to ride the flaming mess into the ground. Think Clinton.

            It is up to us- the sane- to realize the success of the neoliberal program and want out- or off- or whatever phrase makes sense. In our wars of misadventure, it will be those in the military that finally say enough is enough. If someone pulls that off, it would be viewed as the most courageous act in decades.

            1. neo-realist

              In our wars of misadventure, it will be those in the military that finally say enough is enough. If someone pulls that off, it would be viewed as the most courageous act in decades.

              30 years in lockup for Chelsea Manning is a warning for those, I suspect, who want to say “enough is enough.” I also believe that your ability to move up the hierarchy to make those decisions to keep fighting is determined by your willingness to continue to see through the neoliberal project.

            2. PlutoniumKun

              I disagree to the extent that the ideological neocons had a very clearly stated and unambiguous strategic purpose – re-engineering the world as America’s corporate playground, with any possible competitor (i.e. Russia and China) firmly penned in. This meant replacing all the mid-size States which were still refusing to be part of the Washington Consensus. Its no secret or mystery about what they were seeking. In this, they have failed – Afghanistan remains in chaos, Iraq is more Iran controlled than US controlled, Iran still refuses to come to heel, and Russia and China are making increasing inroads to Central Asia, eastern Europe, Africa and South America. The neocon project is slowly unravelling, with Trump hopefully about to put it out of its misery.

              The issue of war profiteering is something that I see as something entirely different. What the neocons failed to anticipate was that their Clash of Civilisations would result in a hugely powerful military-industrial process which has become self replicating. There are now more people in Washington who’s job depends on finding more wars to fight than there are people employed to stop wars. This is the neocons fault, but its not the neocons project – they are just useful idiots for the profiteers.

              1. Norb

                I don’t make a distinction between the neocons and the profiteers. The worst possible outcome from this neocon disaster would be for the profiteers, the rentiers, to be able to reconstitute their hold over society- or to hold onto it for that matter. What will it take, complete destruction of the biosphere for people to understand that cooperation is the only means of survival?

                While I agree with what you are saying, if desiring a peaceful world is on your agenda, then every effort must be made to not allow the rentiers to take the position of, well now, we overstepped somewhat, will do better next time.

                Making neat divisions is the reason humanity is in the predicament we find ourselves in the first place. We have dissected the whole into so many parts, it is no longer recognizable.

                Modernity has been a dissecting force- a unifying force is needed.

              2. Brian M

                I agree with so much of the analysis here. But why do people insist still (especially given his recent appointments) that Trump has any interest at all in putting “it” out of our misery?

                Color me skeptical.

              3. Fiver

                Agree with Brian M.’s comment – it’s such a pleasure to read a good exchange, as is the one with Norb.

                Re Trump, I am increasingly alarmed especially vis a vis military actions in the Middle East and elsewhere. Trump’s picks for military and security are frightening in their closeness to Netanyahu’s fevered anti-Iran stance, as well as carte blanche to go after ‘terrorists’ all over the region – all over the world. There’s a book written by Micheal Flynn (Trump ‘s pick) and Michael Ledeen that I’m told is illuminating.

                Trump is strongly connected then to the group Foundation for The Defense of Democracies. Doesn’t look good.

      2. cocomaan

        Hey Kim, as RUKidding says, I wouldn’t argue that those are clear objectives, because the generals that are being talked about above aren’t being told up front that they are working toward that goal.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think you’re exactly right about those being the objectives.

        1. visitor

          Those are the ultimate political goals and the ends of the wars — but generals are never given them as objectives in this form.

          Concisely, the objectives of any general are threefold:

          1) destroy the enemy forces;
          2) break their will to fight;
          3) control the territory under dispute.

          They learned that at the military academy — after all, these were the fundamental principles articulated by Carl von Clausewitz almost 200 years ago.

          Well, in those purely military terms, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Syria are total failures.

          Enemy forces destroyed? They seem inexhaustible.

          Territory controlled? Those countries have basically been “no-go” areas ever since war started.

          Breaking the enemy’s will to fight? Mmmwaaahahahahaha.

          Trump is correct on this point: job not done. At all.

          1. River

            Glad you brought up Carl von Clausewitz. I remember the Newsweek article when Gen. Tommy Franks said there were 9 centers of gravity in Iraq. The article took this as some type of wisdom. It was clear that Franks hadn’t even read the Cliff notes version of On War as there is only one center of gravity according to Carl von C in which you focus your effort on.

            Probably one reason when Franks was put on the Outback Steakhouse board of directors it did so poorly and was pulled out of Canada. He was a great strategist after all /sarc.

            Part of the problem with the U.S military is that the Army sees enemy #2 as the Air Force and Navy. Gotta get those dollars.

            Another problem is that the U.S fails at the oft quote dictum of Sun Tzu, know yourself and know your enemy. The U.S seems to create the enemy they would like to fight rather than the one that’s actually there and as a nation has no sense of self anymore. They don’t understand their limitations or even their strengths it seems. It seems the Pentagon and the Gov. thinks throwing money equals effectiveness. I’d argue that the unlimited money is the problem. Actual innovation often stems from being limited in some way. Mother is the necessity of invention and all that. Look the German assault teams that were born out of desperation in the final days of WWI. This concept helped tremendously in WW2 and it wasn’t unlimited money that created them.

            In America’s defense they are great at logistics side of war.

            1. H. Alexander Ivey

              To further this thread as to why the generals have failed:

              If the point of these wars is to install a pro-Western style (aka USA business friendly) society and government, a point to which I agree is the reason for the US’s fighting, then how, in God’s name!, are you going to do that when the point of a military is to destroy things and kill people? (words taken from the cover of DoD’s documents). The US military is not to build things and help people! The generals are asked to do what their own training prevents them and those they direct from doing.

        2. JTMcPhee

          Generals and admirals are all adept politicians and bureaucrats. they have to be to get to that level in the structure. War-fighters, no so much, with few exceptions, .

          From all I can see, it’s all about looking, emphasize “looking,” STRAC, a term from my callow military youth: , a pejorative applied to ambitious second lieutenants and Real Lifer Troopers with those creases in their fatigues and dress greens you could cut your finger on. And sucking up. And kicking down. and feathering one’s nest, both now (“Petraeus scandal puts four-star general lifestyle under scrutiny,” and “going forward” (generals never retreat — they “execute strategic rearward advances to previously prepared positions,” as in “Pentagon’s revolving door in full swing,”

          Anyone remember this 2010 bit of PowerPoint-ia? “‘When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war:’ US generals given baffling PowerPoint presentation to try to explain Afghanistan mess,” (And note the Brass Balls of the contractor, PA Knowledge Group Ltd, claiming a COPYRIGHT over this obvious work-for-hire.) This kind of stuff is the daily grist of the strategic/tactical mill that grinds out body counts, serial deployments in search of missions, and the endless floods of corrupt cash, destabilizing weapons and internal and external subterfuges, along with a lot of wry humor and a large helping of despair for the Troops and the mope civilians who “stand too close to Unlawful Enema Combatants ™”.

          It’s long seemed to me one of the many failings of the species is that some of us produce wise counsel that actually looks to the horizon and beyond, like the fundamental questions articulated by Sun Tzu about whether to commit the peasants who pay for it to a prolonged foreign war with long supply lines that will bankrupt the nation — And then the idiot few that gain, psychically or monetarily, from conflict, blow that kind of fundamental test of wisdom off and “go to war” or more accurately “send other people to hack and blast each other while the senders get rich.”

          There’s a fundamental problem that to me gets too little attention: What the Empire is doing is an entirely Barmicide game. Our rulers here in the Empire are pretty good at the procurement, deployment and logistical mechanics of Milo Minderbinder’s complex Enterprise, the “war as a racket” thing, the extracting of public wealth to build shiny or stealthy or smart “systems.” But as Bacevitch notes, they get to completely escape from the consequences of Only-tool-in-the-box monomania, of applying the big hammer of “War” to the subtle tasks of creating and maintaining a survivable space for the species. Which patently is not the “goal” in any event. And never answered, as pointed out, is the daring question of “what is the goal/are the goals, and what actions or refraining from actions are likely to get there?”

          The talk about “asymmetric warfare” is mostly whining about little wogs who dare to adopt the wisdoms of other ambitious and thoughtful humans, like the Afghans and, yes, even ISIS, on how to defeat (within the terms of the game they are playing and understand that the Empire does NOT understand the terrain or the rules or moves) invaders and colonialists and even corporatists. Though the latter are often victorious in the after-conflict processes, if you can’t clobber your enemy, corrupt him! works too.) There are wheels within wheels, of course, and “we mopes” in the Imperial homeland are too busy eking out a survival locally to even try to contemplate let alone understand the complexities of even the Middle East, let alone the Great Game being played out again with Russia and China and the aggressive and Teutonic bosses of the Eurozone… All while the “defence” establishment figures out ever more exotic ways to kill humans, via code (genetic and cyber) and “smart weapons” like autonomous killing robots “on land, in air, at sea…”

          So is it just the inevitable case that Empires rise up, loot, murder, grow the usual huge corrupt capitals and the militaries to support the looting and keep the mopes in line, and finally succumb to some kind of wasting disease where all the corruption and interest-seeking honeycombs and finally collapses the structure? Is there no other way for humans to organize, because so many of us have the drive to dominate and to grab all the pleasure and stuff we can get away with?

      3. pictboy3

        I’ve grown up hearing commentaries that echo this one as relating to our foreign policy adventures since WWII, and if you take a results oriented approach, they’re probably true. But having gone to school for foreign policy work and talking to people who were involved with the foreign policy apparatus (doing the leg work, not the people at the top who basically have no idea what they’re doing), I’ve become more and more convinced that it’s simply incompetence.

        I think that the people dictating policy are basically a bunch of Tom Friedmans, who are utterly convinced that their empirically wrong views about how policy is executed are correct. Look at Iraq in the aftermath. Not only did they get not understand that the Sunnis and Shia might not have the best of intentions towards each other, but US companies aren’t even getting all the plum oil contracts. Now surely a country that guarantees the security of the Iraqi elite could ensure that it’s own companies got the best deals?

        I think the most probable explanation is that they believed their own propaganda. They believed that the Iraqis wanted to be a liberal democracy with a free market, and that US firms would obviously be the most competitive in a bid for the oil contracts. People like Kerry believe in the ideas of human rights and war crimes, condemning the Russians for bombing Aleppo even though we do the exact same thing with a ever so slightly less flimsy justification.

        1. RUKidding

          Yes, again, good points, esp in re to the fact that US companies aren’t even getting the plum oil contracts. We were told by feckless Cheney via W that there would be that magical mythical Iraqi “Oil Dividend” that would not only pay for the War on Iraq – essentially giving us back the money we spent on it (conveniently ignoring the collateral damage of many US combatant deaths, and many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizen deaths, but who cares about that piddling, trifling detail) – as well as getting more besides.

          Eh? And then what? Well that Dick, Cheney, got very very rich offa US taxpayer dollars, and no doubt some other Oligarchs did as well. But we never ever got paid back for our “investment” in “freeing” the Iraqi’s from their oppressor, Saddam.

          And that salient detail was flushed down the memory hole, and duly noted, that at least the Oligarchs did learn ONE lesson from that bullshit, which is to never ever again even go so far as to make a promise that the hapless proles in the USA will ever see one thin dime from these foreign misadventures.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          I can’t talk from personal experience but I’ve read plenty of foreign policy publications of the type taken seriously by academics and politicians, and I’d agree with you. Some are laughably stupid, they don’t know the first thing about the countries they are talking about. It wasn’t just Bush jnr in 2002 who didn’t know the difference between Shia and Sunni, I strongly suspect that many ‘experts’ consulted had only the faintest knowledge of what they were dealing with. There are a scary number of second and third rate intellects roaming around sharing their ‘knowledge’.

          I think the standard textbook for this should be Graham Greenes ‘The Quiet American’. I’ve always been amazed at the prescience of that book (he pretty much predicted the arc of the Vietnam War in 1959), but I always think of the main character, Pyle, when I see yet another Middle Eastern mess. Pyle is a generally well meaning young man with far too much power, who is convinced by some academic that he has the key to sorting out the whole Vietnam mess. Needless to say, lots of innocents die because of his half baked ideas. The establishment is full of Pyles, although many I think are not quite so well meaning.

      4. Ignacio

        I would like to agree with you, but I don’t. First and foremost the US is the greatest spender in weapons, and why does anyone spend in weapons if there is not plan to use them? The first objective is to use the weapons and avoid piling a dusting mountain of missiles, bombs, or any other kind of armament. Many wars are mainly the testing battlefields for new weaponry. For that reason, having endless localized wars can be quite useful. Besides using it, the second objective is spread fear. I have it, I have the will to use it, and I am well trained. Spreading fear migth not be the best strategy but is has clearly been one of the main objectives in some cases, particularly Iraq.

        The best case of a president looking for an excuse to use the weapons and spread fear was G.W. Bush and Iraq v2.0. The fact that Bush excuses were clumsily manufactured and exposed without shame in the UN is a feature. It means: when we decide that we will attack you nothing will stop us. No democratic control and no international rules can stop us.

        All the rest is palaver.

        1. Mark P.

          ‘why does anyone spend in weapons if there is not plan to use them?’

          And yet the U.S.’s recent, most stupendously expensive weapons systems are unusable. Literally, they cannot be used for most practical purposes in combat.

          The F-35, for instance, has trouble flying and would be bested by air fighters of the previous generation in combat. The Littoral Combat Ship’s aluminum superstructure would burn down to the waterline if ever one were hit by a missile (among other problems). And there are other projects that are almost equally ridiculous.

          The point is, of course, that with their cost overruns and sheer unusability, these projects continue precisely because they’re stupendously profitable. The American economic system is utterly dependent on such military Keynesianism, which is a principle means of redistribution from rich U.S. states to small ones. And consequently we live in a world reminiscent of the world of useless wepfash designers — weapons fashions designers — envisaged by Philip K. Dick’s The Zap Gun.

          One takeaway may be that the U.S. can either have the largest level of military Keynesianism in history or win its wars. It apparently cannot do both.

  6. voteforno6

    Remember when Trump threatened to fire a bunch of generals? That really upset a lot of people in Washington. Replacing a flag officer is a very complicated affair – they have a whole rotation system set up, to move them from one job to another. That’s certainly reflected in the combat commands as well. They all need to check that box, in order to burnish their credentials. It seems to be just achieving that rank is the real accomplishment. Measuring their performance afterward is irrelevant – in that way, it’s very similar to how CEOs are treated in the corporate world. It would be nice if Trump fired a bunch of generals, just because we have too many of them already. I don’t see that happening, though.

    1. Bill Smith

      Generals get removed.

      Mattis was retired a year early because he didn’t get along with Obama. Whatever “get along’ means.

      Flynn left early.

      Remember McChrystal?

    2. Enquiring Mind

      Rotation may have benefits of exposure to new areas and skill development opportunities. It may also hide failures, and demonstrate the military equivalent of the “dance of the lemons” that shuffles incompetent, corrupt or lazy principals around to different schools. There is more of a meritocracy in the military, with less overt politicization, although the politics takes different forms. I write that sadly as one from a family that supports the military and has many veterans.

      American discussions about military are sidetracked easily by any number of stakeholders. Politicians posture for patriotism (alliteration intended to elicit Porky Pig), while collecting campaign cash. They are only the most visible of those that would shout down or hijack any objective discussion of mission failures or weapons systems debacles such as the F-35. Their less visible neo-con enablers, dual loyalty pundits and effective taskmasters all have their snouts in the trough and their rear ends displayed to the citizens. If there is no other change in DC than to unmask those Acela bandits, then many will applaud.

  7. Eureka Springs

    War is failure. Do not engage. And for dawgs sake do not arm, train, fund al Q types. I think the last point in re Trumps way of doing things will be most telling.

    That would be victory.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Precisely. The US is situated in the safest neighborhood on the planet — oceans on two sides; Canada and Mexico on the other two.

      All of the other dozens of nations in the western hemisphere get along just fine without a global network of military bases and a 350-ship navy.

      What the f*** is our problem? As history demonstrates, a value-subtracting global empire is an infallible recipe for economic decline.

  8. a different chris

    To try to look at the bright side, here’s the thing about military people who are “uber hawkish”, or actually managed to get a nickname like “Mad Dog”…. they like decisive, “clean” (funny word to use for blowing people and the landscape to smithereens, but that’s what people label it as) engagements where bad guys are taken out and good guys rejoice.

    If they are, and I’m sure they are, smart enough to see that this is exactly not what the Middle East messes are, they may well tell Trump “let’s just get our stuff and go home”.

    What we have been trying to do in the ME is not, and has never been (going back to before us, the Russians in Afghanistan) anything where a military makes any sense at all. It’s police+political work at best, and despite what we’ve been turning the police departments into at home, police work is very, very different from military work. Hopefully the warrior types see this, whereas the Hillary Clintons of the world simply won’t.

    Again, no more than just hoping…

    1. Plenue

      The US can win any standup fight. We quickly smashed the Taliban’s military, and Saddam didn’t last long at all. It’s the long, grinding guerrilla war that comes after that we inevitably lose. And even there we will win 99% of the engagements (if all else fails, drop a giant bomb on them) and yet sooner or later we’ll run home with our tail between our legs.

      1. blert

        Washington is addicted to gold-plated occupations.

        Whereas the only route to success is minimalist, an economy of force strategy.

        That also entails economy of injuries.

        Occupying forces ought to spend most of their time like Firemen — in their bunks back at the barracks. That’s how success was achieved in the 19th Century. ( British Empire, American nation, French Empire. )

        Such a scheme is still working wonders in South Korea. Not a whole lot of casualties that way.

        Nation building is crazy all across the ummah. They won’t suffer it. You would NOT believe the amount of infrastructure blown up by our Iraqi allies — as a financial hustle.

        It took forever for the American Army to figure out that the reason the power system kept crashing was that the fellow building it up was corrupt and cashing in hugely by re-doing the same work five times over. He would pull security off the power grid at point X so that his cousins could dynamite the towers. Yes, he fled when the jig was up.

        With his departure, the system started to work. This fiasco was an extreme embarrassement to the US Army and the Iraqi officials. The perp had his whole clan involved. (!) Yes, this story is suppressed. Guess why ?

        The dollar figures involved are staggering.

        There were hundreds of Shia grifters, too.

        1. Fiver

          That’s a hoot – as if there was ever any intention of actually rebuilding a functioning, independent Iraq ! From the get-go the US did what they’ve always done, and that is to actively seek out the the worst of what’s available in terms of leadership in order to maximize the flow of benefits to the dominant US power interests of the day. This has been the operating principle of US empire-building for 3 centuries.

    2. MojaveWolf

      I’m not even remotely keeping up w/political reading the last couple of weeks, but the only thing I know about Mattis is that he convinced Trump torture was not the way to go. This stands in his favor.

  9. Synoia

    1. The Generals have won. They are Generals.
    2. The Military does not win wars, it prolongs the stalemate until the enemy’s economy collapses.
    3. With no public definition of win (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria), what is win?
    4. The MIC is very lucrative. There are man, many winners there.

  10. blert

    The Bush Administration arrogantly assumed that all peoples are enough alike that they can be rescued the same way as Western Europeans were — after the Nazis were driven off.

    This premis was an epic error for the ages.

    The entire Washington establishment — to include the Pentagon — and the MSM went along with this premis.

    In many ways they STILL buy into it.

    You never read MSM articles questioning whether Iraqis or Afghans can buy into republican democracy. The assumption is that the whole world is waiting with baited breath to achieve this Western political-cultural ideal.

    But Islam proscribes democracy, and these lands are emotionally Islamic in the extreme. When queried, virtually every man demands Shariah law, under Islam.

    Changing Afghan culture is what doomed the Soviet ‘project.’ So the Pentagon was not ever going to touch cultural issues. This has proved very controvesial as Afghans practice pederasty on a grand scale. Likewise, the NATO nations were not going to ‘touch’ the opium trade.

    They were also wholly dependent upon Pakistan for logistics. Ultimately, a second rail route was established at horrific expense across Russia. But no military specific goods could travel by that route.

    So the entire campaign was both necessary — to punish al Qaeda and the Taliban — and unwinnable in a WWII sense. There never was a thought about expanding the scope of the conflict up to WWII purportions, of course.

    The problem is not that of Pentagon leadership.

    The folly starts at the strategic level — straight out of the White House.

    It was a mistake for Bush to be so optomistic, grandiose.

    It was a mistake for Obama to run away from Iraq. A corps sized garrison force would’ve permitted him enough influence to stop Maliki from sabotaging his own army — with crony appointments. ( The Shia simply did not have enough senior talent. So he over promoted his buddies and his tribe. This set the stage for ghost soldiers and a collapse in morale across entire divisions. )

    The correct solution, in 2011, was to endure — like we have in South Korea.

    The correct solution, in 2009, was to NOT expand Afghan operations. I spent many an hour arguing the folly of said expansion. It was inevitable that after any expansion there would be a massive draw down — which would destablize the Kabul government.

    The correct solution for both was a steady-state, economy of operations mode — with the US Army largely standing idle in their barracks — letting the locals run all day to day operations.

    You end up with the best of all worlds, low American casualties, low interference with the locals, yet a psychological back-bone for young governments –– who are financial cripples.

    At this time, the best route is to cut off Pakistan from all Western aid, and to entirely stop Pakistani immigration to the West. Islamabad is as much an enemy of the West as Riyadh or Tehran.

    This would also help calm Pakistan down, as it’s the cultural embarrassment vis a vis the West that’s driving Pakistanis crazy. Let them interact with their blood cousins, the Hindus of India. That’ll be plenty enough modernity for Islamabad and Riyadh.

    Pull out of Syria… entirely. Stop funding al Nusrah — which is an acknowledged branch of al Qaeda.

    Egypt has entered the conflit on the side of Assad, Iran and Russia, most recently. The “White Hats” are a fraud.

    1. Fiver

      Whoever it was you were arguing with was half-right if he/she took all the advice. Your depiction of Muslims/Islam as culturally barred from notions of ‘democracy’ for example, are entirely disproved by the fact that the US deemed it necessary to intervene in virtually all the post-War independence/national movements in order to terminate democratically elected Governments and instead install US puppets and/or the military in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Pakistan. Look at pictures of life in Kabul Afghanistan prior to Brzezinski’s bright idea to overthrow the socialist Government of Afghanistan via the CIA and jihadists in ’79 – women in skirts, long-hairs everywhere, a people open to goods and ideas and science and art and whatever else they found interesting and useful and worth absorbing from Western culture – but that’s not what we had in mind for them at all. Not one bit. Not then and not now despite who knows how many trillions of dollars and empty words spent – not one of them necessary, not one.

  11. voislav

    Comparing “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan with Civil War or such conflicts confuses the issue and shifts the responsibility from the policy makers to the military. Iraq and Afghanistan are not wars, they are occupations and as such are unwinnable.

    US is caught in a typical occupation trap, where they want a subservient regime that is under their control. Subservient regimes are subservient because they lack a large power base and are dependent on their foreign backers. A subservient regime with a power base does not stay subservient for long, they quickly develop an independent streak at which point you have to overthrow them and install a different, weaker regime.

    US imposed regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan are classic examples of this. Al-Maliki in Iraq was a marginal figure before becoming prime minister, similar to Karzai in Afghanistan. The new leaders, Ashraf Ghani as the new Afghan president and Haider Al-Abadi as the Iraqi prime minister are both ex-pats that only returned to the country after US occupation. Both Al-Maliki and Karzai have been in power long enough that they were starting to develop a power base and show signs of breaking away from the US, so they had to be replaced.

    Stabilizing a subservient regime with a weak power base requires US presence and boots on the ground. A subservient regime with a strong power base that can support itself quickly stops being subservient and has to be replaced. A “victory”, where US troops would not be necessary for the regime support, means loss of control over the regime.

    So US is stuck in a loop. Political considerations force them to build up a regime to a point of independence, only to have to tear it down when it looks like it might go against American interests. US military takes the blame because they have to fight the latest insurgent group CIA built up to effect regime change.

    1. Fiver

      How else can you roll-out something as grotesque in scope as Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations’ aka the 30-year ‘war on terror’ and then sustain it in spite of the fact the evident desires of all the peoples living where all of these horrors occur are peace, stability, a home, work, a life, a future? The very fact that this was presented as a 30-year undertaking from the get-go makes clear the goal was never a ‘win’ in any conventional sense, more like collective punishment to the third generation – in other words, attempting to completely erase the identities of Muslim peoples.

  12. Mick Steers

    I would never gainsay that many technocratic, careerist general officers might be looking for ways to enhance their glory and bid up their asking price for CNN slots and board positions at Lockheed Martin. But the swamp you seek to drain has an apex predator; wealthy and powerful civilians. I seem to recall some generals, Eric Shinseki and Jay Garner come to mind, who tried to bring a little truth to power and avoid the biggest mistakes of the Iraq war.

    Ideologues in the administration had other plans. The first being the original sin of the war itself, supported by a vast industry of defense, finance and media interests who knew opportunity when they saw it. As for now, what the hell is the mission that the military is supposed to win? I get the sense we will have our next big, proper war on account of using the military to solve problems that no military could, like say a GWOT.

    Eisenhower’s prophecy has metastasized so deeply into the body politic, only a profound change in the views of the citizenry could possibly make a difference. Short of economic or military upheaval, it’s hard to see how do we do this when our best paying jobs are strategically sprinkled across the country, making every procurement and every base sacrosanct to even the most liberal, libertarian or even peace-nick politicians? So, isn’t the swamp much larger that the military officer corps? Drain this one part, and it would fill back in rather quickly if that was the main thrust of our attack on this nightmare.

    I suspect Trump is headed to the White House partly because a significant number of people concluded that social upheaval will be hastened by his administration, and that the consequences, whatever they may be, will be worth bearing so that we can rebuild on the ashes of the neoliberal/neoconservative era.

    I sympathize, but with three college aged daughters, I was willing to work for, wait for, another shot at a Bernie Sanders shaped attack on the system rather than throwing a Trump grenade. Trump will only disrupt the system by accident, and absolutely unpredictably. His family’s interests are superbly served by the status quo, give or take a tax break or another busted union. It’s madness not to see his run for presidency as a vanity project run amok. If his cabinet and congress play him right, it’s pedal to the metal for the most reactionary, avaricious, vindictive and bellicose impulses in this country.

    Someone might get hurt, and with bugger all to show for it.

    1. Fiver

      Good comment, though I believe the narrative of Trump as the incredible one-man giant killer will prove as bogus as the rest of the Election, i.e., he had some very, very powerful help and it shows in his risible appointments.

  13. Leigh

    Isn’t victory the one thing we seek to avoid?

    If there were victory anywhere, it would mean “the end”, and everyone knows arm sales cannot, should not, must not, end. After all, it is the only industrial endeavor we are still good at.

    1. RUKidding

      Yes, well there’s that as well. And that’s not an insignificant issue. So again, the witless proles are fed endless propaganda about terrrrrists and being “safe” in order to keep on keeping on. Trump played the rubes about safety with his vitriolic Anti-Muslim rhetoric. Although Trump claimed not to want to continue the wars, I seriously doubt he’ll do one damn thing to make improvements in this regard.

  14. Colonel Smithers

    Have readers seen / thought of the amount of decorations modern US generals and admirals wear in comparison to their WW2 equivalents? I know Uncle Sam has been in permanent war for a long time, but does beating up Grenada and Panama count? The other lot to wear a lot of bling are the welfare junkies occupying Buck House.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Compared to Ike and Bradley, but Beedle wrote a book where he claimed credit for single-handedly winning the war. West Point is ultimately a self selective group which poses a set of problems. What kind of kid wants to be a soldier for 30 to 40 years at age 16 when they need to start the application process? No one accidentally winds up at West Point or the other academies anymore. What kind of kid in 1810 thought he could carry on for Washington at age 16? I bet he’s arrogant and loves pomp and pageantry.

      I’m convinced we need to draft the officer corp from college bound seniors.

  15. Fec

    From Nafeez Ahmed, last year:

    Unfolding the Future of the Long War, a 2008 RAND Corporation report, was sponsored by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Army Capability Integration Centre. It set out US government policy options for prosecuting what it described as “the long war” against “adversaries” in “the Muslim world,” who are “bent on forming a unified Islamic world to supplant Western dominance”.

    1. susan the other

      Interesting. Rand was enlisted to write up a report almost a decade later on a decision that was made in 2000 when Little George decided to run for office. Making it appear to have just evolved into this situation today, no doubt. Remember Rumsfeld’s name for the ME war in 2002 was “Odyssey Dawn”. When he first tried to call it a “Crusade” he horrified everyone and had to find something more genteel. But Odyssey Dawn clearly says it all – it will be a very long war and it will carry us around the world and we will stagger in confusion but in the end we will find our way. Not the kind of war you can win by “bombing the shit out of em,” as Donald might do. The victory we will get from Odyssey Dawn will be the benefits of attrition and engagement. But the devastation we cause will never be worth it.

  16. Chauncey Gardiner

    Bacevich: …”Yet here’s what too few of those Americans appreciate, even today: war created that swamp in the first place.  War empowers Washington.  It centralizes.  It provides a rationale for federal authorities to accumulate and exercise new powers.  It makes government bigger and more intrusive.  It lubricates the machinery of waste, fraud, and abuse that causes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to vanish every year.  When it comes to sustaining the swamp, nothing works better than war.”

    Appreciated Bacevich’s three questions, particularly the second. Far past time to come clean on the real strategy in MENA. The mission and “the job” of military leaders has NOT been to bring America’s wars to a timely and successful conclusion. Instead, there is a strategy to balkanize that region, keep it in chaos, keep the American people in perpetual wars and “support our troops” mode, threaten Europeans with a flood of immigrants, assure profits for the MIC and access for oil majors, and simply keep the military and other agencies occupied. “Winning a war” (and subsequent occupation) in terms of “bringing conflicts to a prompt and successful conclusion” doesn’t appear to be high on the priority list of those who set the nation’s geopolitical and military strategy. Project for a New American Century indeed.

    In terms of “draining the swamp” that war has created, as Bacevich points out, the names mentioned as prospective appointees as national security adviser and defense secretary are not cause for optimism that the incoming administration will implement policies that will lead to resolution rather than perpetuating this mess.

  17. David

    Well, the US military’s performance in WW1 and WW2, often against weak opposition, was less than stunning. They won their battles with massively superior firepower, for the most part. But many of the same criticisms that Bacevich makes could be, and indeed were, made of the Vietnam War, which is an odd omission from his article. If anything, the level of generalship then was probably worse than it is today.
    But the real problem does, indeed, lie in Washington; Accepting that the US strategy in Iraq, for example, was indeed to create a pliable, pro-western democratic state, it’s not clear that there was actually much the military could do when it started to unravel because of the inherent stupidity of the idea. At what the military call the “operational” level of war, there seems to have been a complete thought vacuum in Washington. I can imagine successive generals asking the political leadership “yes, but what exactly do you want me to do ” and never getting a coherent answer.

  18. optimader

    Nor should we overlook the resulting body count. Since the autumn of 2001, something like 370,000 combatants and noncombatants have been killed in the various theaters of operations where U.S. forces have been active. Although modest by twentieth century standards, this post-9/11 harvest of death is hardly trivial.

    figure ~$5T squandered to date
    A dozen terrorism scholars gave a wide range of answers when asked to estimate how many members there are, how the numbers have changed during al Qaeda’s lifespan and how many countries the group operates in. Analysts put the core membership at anywhere from 200 to 1,000

    My recollection is toward the low end ( towards 200ppl) at the time of GWB addle-minded decision to pull the relatively modest special forces resources out of Tora Bora in Afghanistan that had the AlQ Principles in the crosshairs. Instead GWB pursued a bizarre and unrelated non-sequitur mission of tipping over SH in Iraq– allegedly because Saddam had threatened his Dad?

    What was a reasonable response with explicit objectives to remedy a criminal act (as well at the time with fairly unanimous sympathies of other Countries) could have been accomplished with a modest Military footprint before getting the fk out of Afghanistan.

    Instead it was scaled up into stupid endless Perpetual War without achievable objectives.

    In retrospect divide $5T by 200-1,000 and consider how little it may have cost if 9/11 had been treated as a criminal act by non-state actors, instead of sticking our foot into the role of destabilizing other sovereign countries, killing /antagonizing the citizens and generally fking up their countries??

    Am I missing something here?

    1. jrkrideau

      Am I missing something here?
      No, George W. Bush wanted a war in Afghanistan. IIRC, just after 9/11, the Taliban offered to extradite the Al Quaeda leadership to an agreed-upon Muslim country if the USA provided reasonable evidence to justify extradition.

      In response the USA invaded. What should have been a simple police/justice department procedure turned into total insanity but there was a pipeline at stake, hence Karzai.

  19. rd

    I think the US is falling into the old imperialist trap of thinking of these places as countries with capital cities and leaders recognized as such by the population. The British had that issue in the 1770s when they captured the capital(s) of the new US but the revolution didn’t stop. External superpower (French) support was able to keep the resistance functioning and the British eventually gave up. Both of those superpowers kept duking it out on other battlefields for another 30 years.

    Yugoslavia was a temporary post-WW II construct based on a personality cult of Tito. When he died, the real Yugoslavia turned out to be a bunch of tribes that really, really hated each other and it all went to pieces.

    North America is unusual with a huge moat around it other than a little isthmus at the south end. Even so, there are millions of illegal immigrants that come over that isthmus or cross over the southern moat (Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean) over the years. Only three countries (Mexico, US, Canada) are in play and those borders have been stable for over a century. This was after the US fought a massive civil war to keep that basic structure instead of having another country. Even so, Quebec has come close to secession, Texas and California mumble about it periodically, and Mexico effectively has a civil war with drug cartels. However, this is VERY stable compared to nearly anywhere else in the world, so it leads us to false equivalencies about how other parts of the world should work.

    Putting in corrupt leaders with no popular support doesn’t work as we have recently proved again in Afghanistan and Iraq after having proved it previously in Vietnam and Cuba (pre-Castro). The Afghanistan outcome may have worked better if the concept of Afghanistan disappeared and NATO had worked with each region to come up with rational boundaries based on historical tribal alliances. T.E. Lawrence had drawn a map like that for Iraq c.1918 but it did not fit the colonial power requirements.. Turkey vs. the Kurds and Iran linking with the Shiites ensured that natural map wasn’t going to happen in 2003 either.

    So, it is not clear what victory means in these areas. I think in many cases our concept of victory is very different than what the locals think is acceptable. It appears that Assad, Russia, and Iran may be “victorious” in Syria because it is clear they are willing to wipe out the village to save it. They may find that there is nobody left there to rule though, so they will repopulate those areas with allies, thereby probably sowing the seeds for another future war.

  20. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    The nearest analog to what the US is trying to do in all these places is a lot like the imposition of the Spanish Empire; total destruction of native culture and replacement with Roman forms. The places the Spanish controlled are still broken, so don’t look for success in this endeavor anytime soon

    1. optimader

      The nearest analog to what the US is trying to do in all these places is a lot like the imposition of the Spanish Empire
      At least the Spanish had a quantifiable, albeit indefensible objective (resource extraction) that drove their predatory behavior. Our quizzical form of imperialism is a net resource drag with fuzzy morphing objectives

    2. rd

      Say what you want about the British Empire, but they did leave behind functioning legal and political systems in most of the countries they controlled. In India’s case, they also left them a common language since there are so many languages there. Many of the countries remained in the Commonwealth after independence which is something that none of the other colonial powers achieved.

      I think the key was the British focused on empire as an extension of commerce, not ideology (they already knew they were superior, so they didn’t have to prove it, which allows for pragmatism). In the end, when it was clear that they couldn’t hold on, they backed out more gracefully than many other empires.

      1. Fiver

        On behalf of crushed and looted indigenous peoples and cultures everywhere, thanks especially for capitalism, guns and your elastic God.

  21. Ranger Rick

    If there’s one thing we can hope for in a Trump presidency, it’s going to be Trump looking at the disaster of biblical proportions that continues to unfold in the arena of government contracting. It doesn’t matter which sector his gaze falls upon, he’s going to find an appalling failure in contract negotiation: the F-35, the Zumwalt, the LCS, the KC-46, the B-21 (really, just the idea of cost-plus contracts in general), the SLS, the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, the EPA’s Superfund, the Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” and “No Child Left Behind” mandates, the ACA, the dollar value on whatever classified contract the telecommunications industry has to spy on the American people, the private contractors presently employed by the military to perform its duties — the list is endless.

    1. rd

      The military0industrial complex has perfected the art of putting parts of the design, manufacturing, testing, and deployment of these programs into just about Congressional District so that everybody wants their constituents to have a shot at one part of the trough.

      This is how empires fall. Asymetrical economic and military warfare against entrenched bureaucracies and corruption.

  22. jo6pac

    potus wants to make money giving speeches after office and also needs $$$$$$$$$$$ for his lieberry.
    The merchants of death will hire him for those speeches and send money for lieberry.
    The generals of today help the merchants of death make money so when the retire they can go to work for the merchants of death.
    The idea is to never win so there is always an enemy so the merchants of death can continue to profit.
    The easy way to control a country is to have chaos all the time. This makes easier to steal resources and keep citizens from pulling their own levers of justice. We only have to look at Amerika but other countries around the globe have the same going on. austerity for all.

    The .01% would like to thank you for staying at each others throats.

  23. Joaquin Closet

    I matriculated at one of the U.S. Military Service Academies. I had my share of classes on “War Footing,” “War Strategies” and “War, War, War – The Scarlet O’Hara Doctrine.” (That last one was mine and mine alone.)

    And then I took the typical post-grad Naval War College assortment of “think-tanked” war symposiums. All for naught, I must say.

    Then came my time in the field. Most of my peers were good soldiers, junior officers…and even a few were leaders. But no one I knew had the stomach for the orders passed down – they were seen just as watered-down “march-in-place” bullshit until the next wave of senior leadership flew in.

    We junior officers were in the field just as much as our men – I’d say half (or more) of my squadrons were comprised of men and women on their second, third, fourth – or more – tours of duty. I’m so glad they didn’t hear the bullshit we had to listen to. In fact, to this day, my greatest gift to my men and women was the translation and humanizing effect of taking bullshit orders and making them palatable for them.

    No, we haven’t won a war since WWII for many reasons; but, in my humble estimation, the two biggest culprits are politics and logistics. For one, our politicians don’t know what it’s like to wage war, what it’s like for the combatants or the civilians seemingly always caught in the middle. Or what the hell we’re going to do in the off-chance that we win one of these puppies.

    No, the Generals have not forgotten how to win wars – in fact, there are no generals alive now who ever had the good fortune to win one. So the Generals don’t know how to win wars.

    Oh, by the way – this was during Vietnam. Nothing has changed.

    1. Wombat

      Glad to read a comment from someone with first hand experience. Generals know how to win conventional wars, where success is measured based on % enemy destroyed or seizing an objective. One could argue Norman Schwarzkopf won the 1st Gulf War, only difference is that U.S. Generals weren’t left to perform humanitarian functions after. As the author eludes to — but still doesn’t stray from attacking the competence of senior military leaders– without an objective can success be determined? If one’s mission as a Colonel is to lead a Brigade security operation on a Forward Operating Base for a year, can he/she be successful based on the author’s arbitrary standards of success? I would argue with minimal casualties and no breaches over the year, the mission would be a success, but these everyday successes are neglected. Accordingly, if a Component Combatant Commander leads coalition operations in Iraq for two years with 0.05% coalition casualties and no FOBs being breached, shouldn’t that be a success?

      It’s too bad that General’s success can’t be measured like their CEO equivalents based on an quarterly earnings, instead they have to answer to often ill-informed civilian leadership being judged by vacant metrics and arbitrary standards by those like Bakevich. At least the military’s top executives (Generals) make about 4x their median worker’s salary. These men and women could take far better jobs in the MIC or the Corporate Realm, many I’m sure stay for noble reasons to lead their servicemembers.

  24. knowbuddha

    Sounds like the lament of an aging mafia don that’s forgotten what he’s talking about is illegal. “Why can’t our generals pull off a good old-fashioned smash and grab like they used to? They must be incompetent!”

    That’s so last millennium. We’ve moved on, don. Smash & grabs are penny ante. Now the game is Full-Spectrum Dominance.

    Joint Vision 2020 Emphasizes Full-spectrum Dominance

    So I don’t think an old-fashioned smash & grab has been the goal for a long time. For decades (ever since WWII?) we’ve been trying to regime change our way to the goal of every Hollywood mad scientist and super-villian: everlasting world dominance.

    What have they actually accomplished? Hard to say, from my vantage point. “Insufficient data,” as the old Star Trek computer said.

    I know that one of the main goals is to prevent there from ever being any threat to our dominance. So while China and Russia aim for Eurasian integration, we’re all about it’s disintegration. We’re also determined to keep the EU from ever threatening our dominance. South America is slipping the yoke, but we haven’t given up.

    At the very least, our generals are doing a smashing job of spreading chaos. And then there’s weaponized economics.

    Here in the “Homeland” (genuflects), on the “home front,” in the domestic “battle space,” it’s important to realize that when the Pentagon says “full-spectrum dominance,” that means us, comrades. Wall-to-wall surveillance? Check. POTUS power to execute or disappear dissidents? Check. Torture enshrined in secret laws and the public mind? Check.

    On what level are the relevant decisions being made: public discourse, or top security? We’re not privy to the councils where super secret intelligence is discussed and the big decisions are made. We’re out here, on the receiving end of weapons-grade PSYOPS.

    So what are we talking about, here? I don’t think analyses based in kayfabe will ever arrive at real insight. Analyzing events in terms of the cover stories meant to dupe us is much ado about nothing.

    The above article was published in 2000. Obama never renounced FSD. AFAIK it’s still the strategy. Why doesn’t the esteemed colonel frame his analysis in terms of our official defense posture? Are we any closer to FSD, or not?

    But I must say, nice job of framing the debate. /s

    As far as any hope for change under the new don, I don’t see any. He’d have to publicly renounce FSD, wind down the empire of bases, and find something to do with all those now in its employ, all while “pivoting” to climate change and rejuvenating the economy, to actually respond to our actual conditions. The Don is many things, but a martyr for peace and Mother Earth ain’t one.

    I’ll be impressed when the colonel starts calling our wars crimes against humanity and for their immediate cessation and full reparations. “Moar better generals” will not succeed at accomplishing a basically insane strategy. Until then, I’ll file Bacevich under “modified limited hangout.”

    1. Fiver

      While I agree with much of what you say, I think this is too harsh on Bacevich, who is trying to frame an argument that might get heard in some circles, whereas comments from you or I would be slotted ‘fringe’.

      That said, I think of FSD as including all the levers of power and that in both senses the US has in my mind certainly sought to weaken the EU, Russia, China, the usual suspects in South America and elsewhere. The so-called ‘war on terror’ I regard as a radically out-of-bounds criminal undertaking from start to present and one very likely to get worse. I see Russia and China being encircled, Rand speculating openly about when it’s optimum to hit China. I see so much spending that even if you assume 90% is thrown down the toilet, the rest still beats the nearest, badly trailing competitor. And now, with Trump, I think there’s going to be a giant push to ensure definitive first-strike ability of some variety, as well as a much more bellicose stance overall. Right now, the US doesn’t have to invade or occupy Iran to destroy it. It doesn’t have to invade or occupy China to throttle it – though the latter would obviously be tremendously disruptive, the US as of now is still in the better position.

      I see this as a horror race of possible futures: a final push for true global hegemony vs the global economy smashing the wall of global environmental limits. The next 10 years will make or break the whole thing, I fear.

      As to psyops, the very firs thing to ask is how it came to pass that a 1-man Tweet show became Leader of The Free World.

  25. ewmayer

    “But can he do anything about it?” — Don’t go to war without a damn good reason seems like it might be a pretty good start. Despite his typically being all over the map on this – e.g. tough-on-terrorism-and-ISIS – I found myself repeatedly surprised during the primary season at Trump being the only major-party candidate – even including Bernie – to consistently talk good sense on Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Russia.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Agreed. I was surprised, too. Of course, it’s the working class children in the flyover states who join the military and go to war, and come back maimed or with PTSD to a rotten job market. So that may have been politically astute on Trump’s part and, if so, good for him.

  26. VietnamVet

    Andrew Bacevich is correct if one wears blinders and looks strictly at DoD Generals. The reality is that there is a Western Imperium that is intent only on short term profits and has degenerated into looting its own people and destroying sovereign nations. The Vietnam War showed that colonial wars could not be fought with a conscript army. The volunteer US Army is too small to put a platoon of soldiers in every village and town square in Afghanistan let alone Iraq. The endless wars were unwinnable from the get go. The globalist empire is supremely efficient in looting taxpayers, trashing Deplorables and spreading regime change campaigns across the world. The forever wars are being fought by proxy forces with Western military support without a single thought for their deadly consequences to make money.

  27. Synoia

    Let’s be brutally frank.

    The US both wants an empire, but also wants to pretend it is encouraging democracy everywhere.

    Objectives where the result is deceitful and duplicitous behavior. Ask the Indians about the methods, or the beneficiaries of the “Monroe Doctrine.”

    The British wanted an empire. A simple objective. If you are not England, you are a colony, and we, the English, make the rules.

    At the heart of American activities is a kernel of deceit. Self determination for people, but only if you do what we say. The kernel of deceit poisons every walk of life connected to Washington. Every single one.

    The US is called the empire of chaos. It could also be called the empire of Deceit. Do as we say, but we are not taking any responsibility for you if you do what we say. Don’t do what we say, and we will fund your opposition until they stuff a dagger up you ass.

  28. medon

    I don’t understand why we’re in the Middle East at all. The US seems taken by the 4000 year old, 5th grade concept of controlling the “Fertile Crescent.” Why don’t we just buy the oil we want at prevailing prices.

    Winning for the Boykin-ites is when the Middle East becomes Christian! lol As Smedley said. “It’s a racket.”
    Whatever, then there’s Israel’s push to steal Palestinian gas and pipe it thru Syria and Turkey to markets in the Europe.

    1. blert

      1) You’ve got Qatar crossed up with the West Bank.

      2) Israel has plenty of its own natural gas it wants to export.

      Helping out Wahhabist Qatar is not in the playbook.

      Wahhabish ~ Nazisim in all but name.

      They line up almost perfectly… right down the line… starting with pathological Jew-hatred.

  29. Davidt

    Think about Democrats using identity politics to claim religious fervor and war used to show being strong on defense. With both political parties using corruption to align power and control at home and abroad.

    Choosing your enemies carefully, for you will become them.

  30. Dick Burkhart

    Right on, Andrew!

    Let’s just pull out of the Middle East and do everything we can to de-escalate these wars: especially to keep the other great powers out too, unless called back in as a true UN peacekeeping force after the locals have found a way to cool things down.

  31. Clark Landwehr

    The US military was the first part of the government to be turned into a business, the first neo-liberal institution created in America. The real problem is that the US military is run by managers and not soldiers. The Germans used to make fun of the British Army in WWI by calling it an army of lions led by donkeys. The US military is an army of lions led by managers.

  32. fresno dan

    War on Crime.
    War on Poverty.
    War on Cancer.
    War on Drugs.
    War on Terror.

    So many, many wars….so little victory.
    A cynic might suggest its all a PR campaign

  33. S Haust

    Oddly enough, Tomdispatch does not appear to be on (drum roll)


    Are they that stupid and careless or is it meaningful?

  34. Paul Art

    If Andrew is looking for a denouement to the Military Industrial complex then one need look no further than the British empire – specifically what made it shrink and shrivel very rapidly. WWI and WWII. The decimation of the economy and the inability to keep spending money to maintain empire is what reversed the entire machine. It will be the same with the US as well. As long as the dollar is high and Wall Street keeps it that way, there will be no pressure to do anything different. When people start going hungry and jobless and start getting the bejesus bombed out of them as happened during the blitz then they begin to understand what war truly means. In America there has been no war for too long and the people here know nothing about war’s sufferings and privations. There was a little window via the draft during ‘Nam’ but that’s about it. Nothing will happen until a majority of the populace start hurting real bad.

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