How to Keep Losing Wars in the Middle East

Yves here. This is a useful and colorfully written post. However, it does have one sour note, in which it repeats what is more and more looking like disinformation: that Assad gassed his own citizens. As we stated yesterday, that claim fell apart in 2013 (see the definitive accounts by Seymour Hersh here and here). And the post from Gaius Publius yesterday, as well as others we’ve featured in Links, show that the campaign to pin the 2017 gassing deaths on Assad again don’t stand up to scrutiny.

By Major Danny Sjursen, a TomDispatch regular, a U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. He lives with his wife and four sons near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Originally published at TomDispatch

Make no mistake: after 15 years of losing wars, spreading terror movements, and multiplying failed states across the Greater Middle East, America will fight the next versions of our ongoing wars. Not that we ever really stopped.  Sure, Washington traded in George W. Bush’s expansive, almost messianic attitude toward his Global War on Terror for Barack Obama’s more precise, deliberate, even cautious approach to an unnamed version of the same war for hegemony in the Greater Middle East.  Sure, in the process kitted-up 19 year-olds from Iowa became less ubiquitous features on Baghdad’s and Kabul’s busy boulevards, even if that distinction was lost on the real-life targets of America’s wars — and the bystanders (call them “collateral damage”) scurrying across digital drone display screens. 

It’s hardly a brilliant observation to point out that, more than 15 years later, the entire region is a remarkable mess.  So much worse off than Washington found it, even if all of that mess can’t simply be blamed on the United States — at least not directly.  It’s too late now, as the Trump administration is discovering, to retreat behind two oceans and cover our collective eyes.  And yet, acts that might still do some modest amount of good (resettling refugees, sending aid, brokering truces, anything within reason to limit suffering) don’t seem to be on any American agenda.

So, after 16 years of inconclusive or catastrophic regional campaigns, maybe it’s time to stop dreaming about how to make things better in the Greater Middle East and try instead to imagine how to make things worse (since that’s the path we often seem to take anyway). Here, then, is a little thought experiment for you: what if Washington actually wanted to lose? How might the U.S. government go about accomplishing that? Let me offer a quick (and inevitably incomplete) to-do list on the subject:

As a start, you would drop an enlarged, conventional army into Iraq and/or Syria. This would offer a giant red, white, and blue target for all those angry, young radicalized men just dying (pardon the pun) to extinguish some new “crusader” force.  It would serve as an effective religious-nationalist rallying cry (and target) throughout the region.

Then you would create a news-magnet of a ban (or at least the appearance of one) on immigrants and visitors of every sort from predominantly Muslim countries coming to the United States.  It’s hardly an accident that ISIS has taken to calling the president’s proposed executive order to do just that “the blessed ban” and praising Donald Trump as the “best caller to Islam.”  Such actions only confirm the extremist narrative: that Muslims are unwelcome in and incompatible with the West, that liberal plurality is a neo-imperial scam.

Finally, you would feed the common perception in the region that Washington’s support for Israel and assorted Arab autocrats is unconditional.  To do so, you would go out of your way to hold fawning public meetings with military strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and suggest that, when it came to Israel, you were considering changing American policy when it comes to a two-state solution and the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine.  Such policies would feed another ISIS narrative: U.S. support for illiberal despots and the failure of the Arab Spring is proof that practicing Muslims and peaceful Islamists will never successfully gain power through the democratic process.

Key to such a losing strategy would be doing anything you could to reinforce ISIS’s twisted narrative of an end-of-days battle between Islam and Christendom, a virtuous East versus a depraved West, an authentic Caliphate against hypocritical democracies.  In what amounts to a war of ideas, pursuing such policies would all but hand victory to ISIS and other jihadi extremist groups.  And so you would have successfully created a strategy for losing eternally in the Greater Middle East.  And if that was the desired outcome in Washington, well, congratulations all around, but of course we all know that it wasn’t.

Let’s take these three points in such a losing strategy one by one. (Of course “losing” is itself a contested term, but for our purposes, consider the U.S. to have lost as long as its military spins its wheels in a never-ending quagmire, while gradually empowering various local “adversaries.”)

Just a Few Thousand More Troops Will Get It Done…

There are already thousands of American soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Syria, to say nothing of the even more numerous troops and sailors stationed on bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, and other states ringing America’s Middle Eastern battlefields.  Still, if you want to mainline into the fastest way to lose the next phase of the war on terror, just blindly acquiesce in the inevitable requests of your commanders for yet more troops and planes needed to finish the job in Syria ( and Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Yemen, and so on).

Let’s play this out.  First, the worst (and most plausible) case: U.S. ground forces get sucked into an ever more complex, multi-faceted civil war — deeper and deeper still, until one day they wake up in a world that looks like Baghdad, 2007, all over again.

Or, lest we be accused of defeatism, consider the best case: those endlessly fortified and reinforced American forces wipe the floor with ISIS and just maybe manage to engineer the toppling of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime as well.  It’s V-Day in the Middle East!  And then what?  What happens the day after? When and to whom do American troops turn over power? 

* The Kurds? That’s a nonstarter for Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, all countries with significant Kurdish minorities.

* The Saudis? Don’t count on it.  They’re busy bombing Houthi Shias in Yemen (with U.S.-supplied ordnance) and grappling with the diversification of their oil-based economy in a world in which fossil fuels are struggling.

* Russia? Fat chance. Bombing “terrorists”? Yes. Propping up an autocratic client to secure basing rights? Sure. Temporary transactional alliances of convenience in the region? Absolutely. But long-term nation-building in the heart of the Middle East? It’s just not the style of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a country with its own shaky petro-economy.

* So maybe leave Assad in power and turn the country back over to what’s left of his minority, Alawite-dominated regime? That, undoubtedly, is the road to hell.  After all, it was his murderous, barrel-bombing, child-gassing acts that all but caused the civil war in the first place.  You can be sure that, sooner or later, Syria’s majority Sunni population and its separatist Kurds would simply rebel again, while (as the last 15 years should have taught us) an even uglier set of extremists rose to the surface.

Keep in mind as well that, when it comes to the U.S. military, the Iraqi and Afghan “surges” of 2007 and 2009 offered proof positive that more ground troops aren’t a cure-all in such situations.  They are a formula for expending prodigious amounts of money and significant amounts of blood, while only further alienating local populations.  Meanwhile, unleashing manned and drone aircraft strikes, which occasionally kill large numbers of civilians, only add to the ISIS narrative.

Every mass casualty civilian bombing or drone strike incident just detracts further from American regional credibility.  While both air strikes and artillery barrages may hasten the offensive progress of America’s Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian allies, that benefit needs to be weighed against the moral and propaganda costs of those dead women and children.  For proof, see the errant bombing strike on an apartment building in Mosul last month.  After all, those hundred-plus civilians are just as dead as Assad’s recent victims and just as many angry, grieving family members and friends have been left behind.

In other words, any of the familiar U.S. strategies, including focusing all efforts on ISIS or toppling Assad, or a bit of both, won’t add up to a real policy for the region.  No matter how the Syrian civil war shakes out, Washington will need a genuine “what next” plan.  Unfortunately, if the chosen course predictably relies heavily on the military lever to shape Syria’s shattered society, America’s presence and actions will only (as in the past) aggravate the crisis and help rejuvenate its many adversaries.

“The Blessed Ban”

The Trump administration’s proposed “travel ban” quickly became fodder for left-versus-right vitriol in the U.S.  Here’s a rundown on what it’s likely to mean when it comes to foreign policy and the “next” war.  First, soaring domestic fears over jihadi terror attacks in this country and the possible role of migrants and refugees in stoking them represent a potentially catastrophic over-reaction to a modest threat.  Annually, from 2005 to 2015, terrorists killed an average of just seven Americans on U.S. soil.  You are approximately 18,000 times more likely to die in some sort of accident than from such an attack.  In addition, according to a study by the conservative Cato Institute, from 1975 to 2015 citizens of the countries included in Trump’s first ban (including Iraq and Syria) killed precisely zero people in the United States.  Nor has any refugee conducted a fatal domestic attack here.  Finally, despite candidate and President Trump’s calls for “extreme vetting” of Muslim refugees, the government already has a complex, two-year vetting process for such refugees which is remarkably “extreme.” 

Those are the facts.  What truly matters, however, is the effect of such a ban on the war of ideas in the Middle East.  In short, it’s manna from heaven for ISIS’s storyline in which Americans are alleged to hate all Muslims. It tells you everything you need to know that, within days of the administration’s announcement of its first ban, ISIS had taken to labeling it “blessed,” just as al-Qaeda once extolled George W. Bush’s 2003 “blessed invasion” of Iraq. Even Senator John McCain, a well-known hawk, worried that Trump’s executive order would “probably give ISIS some more propaganda.” 

Remember, while ISIS loves to claim responsibility for every attack in the West perpetrated by lost, disenfranchised, identity-seeking extremist youths, that doesn’t mean the organization actually directs them. The vast majority of these killers are self-radicalized citizens, not refugees or immigrants. One of the most effective — and tragic — ways to lose this war is to prove the jihadis right. 

The Hypocrisy Trap

Another way to feed the ISIS narrative is to bolster perceptions of diplomatic insincerity. Americans tend to be some of the least self-aware citizens on the planet. (Is it a coincidence that ours is about the only population left still questioning the existence of climate change?) Among the rare things that Democrats and Republicans agree on, however, is that America is a perennial force for good, in fact the force for good on Earth. As it happens, the rest of the world begs to differ. In Gallup global polls, the United States has, in fact, been identified as the number one threat to world peace!  However uncomfortable that may be, it matters.

One reason many Middle Easterners, in particular, believe this to be so stems from Washington’s longstanding support for regional autocrats.  In fiscal year 2017, Egypt’s military dictator and Jordan’s king will receive $1.46 and $1 billion respectively in U.S. foreign aid — nearly 7% of its total assistance budget.  After leading a coup to overturn Egypt’s elected government, General Sisi was officially persona non grata in the White House (though President Obama reinstated $1.3 billion in military aid in 2015).  Sisi’s recent visit to the Trump White House changed all that as, in a joint press conference, the president swore that he was “very much behind” Egypt and that Sisi himself had “done a fantastic job.”  In another indicator of future policy, the State Department dropped existing human rights conditions for the multibillion-dollar sale of F-16s to Bahrain’s monarchy.  All of this might be of mild interest, if it weren’t for the way it bolstered ISIS claims that democracy is just an “idol,” and the democratic process a fraud that American presidents simply ignore.

Then there’s Israel, already the object of deep hatred in the region, and now clearly about to receive a blank check of support from the Trump administration.  The role that Israeli leaders already play in American domestic politics is certainly striking to Arab audiences. Consider how unprecedented it was in 2015 to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticize a sitting president before a joint session of Congress in an Israeli election year and receive multiple, bipartisan standing ovations.  Even so, none of this prevented the Obama administration, domestically labeled “weak on Israel,” from negotiating a record $38 billion military aid deal with that country. 

While violent Palestinian fighters are far from blameless, for 40 years Israel has increasingly created facts on the ground meant to preclude a viable Palestinian state.  Netanyahu and his predecessors increased illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories, built an exclusion wall, and further divided the West Bank by constructing a network of roads meant only for the Israeli military and Jewish settlers.

Although most world leaders, publics, and the United Nations see the Jewish settlements on the West Bank as a major impediment to peace, the current U.S. ambassador to Israel was once the president of a fundraising group supporting just such an Israeli settlement.  The notion that he could be an honest broker in peace talks borders on the farcical.

All of this, of course, matters when it comes to Washington’s unending wars in the region.  Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis, soon after leaving the helm of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), recognized that he “paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”  So, you want to lose?  Keep feeding the ISIS narrative on democracy and Israel just as the Trump administration is doing, even as it sends more troops into the region and heightens bombing and drone raids from Syria to Yemen.

Send in the Cavalry…

If the next phase of the generational struggle for the Middle East is once again to be essentially a military one, while the Trump administration feeds every negative American stereotype in the region, then it’s hard to see a future of anything but defeat. A combination of widespread American ignorance and the intellectual solace of simplistic models lead many here to ascribe jihadist terrorism to some grand, ethereal hatred of “Christendom.” 

The reality is far more discomfiting. Consider, for instance, a document from “ancient” history: Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the United States.  At that time, he described three tangible motives for jihad: U.S. occupation of Islam’s holiest lands in the Middle East, U.S. attacks on and sanctions against Iraq, and American support for Israel’s “occupation” of Jerusalem.  If ISIS and al-Qaeda’s center of gravity is not their fighting force but their ideology (as I believe it is), then the last thing Washington should want to do is substantiate any of these three visions of American motivation — unless, of course, the goal is to lose the war on terror across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. 

In that case, the solution is obvious: Washington should indeed insert more troops and set up yet more bases in the region, maintain unqualified support for right-wing Israeli governments and assorted Arab autocrats, and do its best to ban Muslim refugees from America.  That, after all, represents the royal road to affirming al-Qaeda’s, and now ISIS’s, overarching narratives. It’s a formula — already well used in the last 15 years — for playing directly into the enemy’s hands and adhering to its playbook, for creating yet more failed states and terror groups throughout the region.

When it comes to Syria in particular, there are some shockingly unexamined contradictions at the heart of Washington’s reactions to its war there.  President Trump, for instance, recently spoke emotionally about the “beautiful babies cruelly murdered” in Idlib, Syria.  Yet, the administration’s executive order on travel bans any Syrian refugees — including beautiful babies — from entering this country.  If few Americans recognize the incongruity or hypocrisy of this, you can bet that isn’t true in the Arab world.

For ISIS, today’s struggle in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere is part of an unremitting, apocalyptic holy war between Islam and the West.  That narrative is demonstrably false.  The current generation of jihadis sprang from tangible grievances and perceived humiliations perpetrated by recent Western policies.  There was nothing “eternal” about it.  The first recorded suicide bombings in the Middle East didn’t erupt until the early 1980s.  So forget the thousand-year struggle or even, in Western terms, the “clash of civilizations.”  It took America’s military-first policies in the region to generate what has now become perpetual war with spreading terror insurgencies. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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  1. Paul Greenwood

    Good commentary. It is however not foreign policy but domestic policy that sets US objectives. Since FDR stopped off on his way back from Yalta to steal Churchill’s ally King Ibn Saud with promises of US fealty, the State Dept has been there for US Oil interests. Harry Truman getting a suitcase of cash in 1948 election helped him follow Czechoslovakia in recognising Israel to the fury of the UK Government seeking to extricate itself from its Mandate.

    Now the huge flows of illicit funds from the Mogilevich Clan and the influence of Brighton Beach and Florida make the Yinon Plan a plain US obligation to dismantle every secular regime in the Muslim world. Just as MI6 and CIA aligned themselves with troglodytes in Afghanistan to destroy the Russia-backed regime in Kabul, so everywhere the primitives of the Muslim world have been natural allies with Western nations soaked in Saudi money

    1. Disturbed Voter

      The assumption that the West or the US are “good guys” is simply selling our book. People we bomb or shoot know what we are. At the total conversion of President Trump into a gun totting neocon that Senator McCain is proud of … tells all. War profiteering R us.

      1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

        The article uses the wrong operative definition of “winning”, have you checked the stock prices of military death merchant companies since the GWOT started? Of course the Pentagon dropped the MOAB (apparently without Trump’s knowledge), the thing was manufactured in 2003 and has a 15-year shelf life. Inventory! The American economy is a machine that puts human flesh and bone into one end and spits out offshore corporate profits for billionaires at the other. #Winning!

    2. Huey Long

      LOL @ the Brighton Beach reference !!! I live there and made the mistake of saying something positive about Putin at a bar on the boardwalk there. An old Ukrainian man there overheard me, turned red, and wanted to fight. I quickly downed my Baltika and got out of there unscathed, thankfully.

    3. bdy

      I’ll humbly suggest an addition to Lambert’s list of simple policies that people can get behind:

      PUMF — Prohibition of the Use of Military Force — making shots fired in anger an impeachable offense unless they are directly protecting Americans or Congress has declared war, and honoring extradition when American soldiers and politicians stand resonably accused of war crimes in foreign jurisdictions.

  2. FluffytheObeseCat

    A very good synopsis of our damaging tradition in the Greater Middle East. Coming from a very well trained, immensely well and expensively trained guy, who seems to be unable to disguise his tremendously low opinion of the slovenly, feckless civilian masses he’s writing to about it.

    How he’s managed to ignore the decades of intense, aggressive propaganda directed at us – and it’s inevitable malign effects – is unclear to me. Possibly a man who has not been stupefied by a life of small, humiliating failures cannot ever understand the ‘why’ of our ignorance.

    The one thing I sure have noted over the past 2 decades is how a low opinion of the average American seems to be the one characteristic shared by top people on both ends of our socio-political spectrum. It’s just an accepted background view for them all. They take offense when I make note of it, because, you know, it’s just obvious ‘truth’. Not anything biased or wrong.

    1. Norb

      This condescending elite attitude emanates from the conversion of citizens into mere consumers. Neoliberal ideology has painted everyone in the hierarchy into a corner. The higher democratic principles that once brought the nation together in common cause have been discarded in favor of the base economic relationship of master and slave. It is that simple. The complexity arises out of trying to disguise that fact.

      So what we have in the west is a corrupt elite trying desperately to sell a failed ideology. The ideology of exploitation. Doubling down is the only strategy, with the end game manifesting in open violent conflict. The game goes on and on, slowly grinding down the population and environmental carrying capacity.

      Socialism is the only logical answer to these pressing global problems, but the exploitation faction will not allow it to manifest in society. They are constantly vigilant to crush any manifestation, and then justify the absence of social equality as somehow the work of nature. Social equality is the work of men/women. It is a conscious choice of human creation. Unequal societies must be maintained by some form of force.

      Gross inequality is the radical and unnatural force- not the trend toward balance and equality.

    2. Huey Long

      In America it is taboo to discuss the quantity and negative effects of the Bernays Sauce force fed to the populace.

      1. Ed Miller

        Bernays Sauce… Not bad. I think of the propaganda as Bernays-o-Grams. Does anyone even remember the telegram? I must be ancient. LOL

        1. Huey Long

          I remember watching old Lassie re-runs and Looney Tunes as a kid with plot lines featuring telegrams, however I am too young to ever have sent/received one.

  3. animalogic

    This article appears to suffer from confusion amounting to delusion.
    The author wishes to imagine that the US wants to lose in the M.E. (Gee, imagine !)So, he imagines dropping conventional forces into Iraq or…Syria. He then deals with the consequences: which fail to include either Russia or the fact that the US has been in/directly supporting (directing) the extremists from the beginning. In fact, the “war on terror” appears to be “as advertised” by elites & the MSM for 16 odd years.
    The author blithely operates under the assumption that the US has ANY credibility in the M.E left to lose ! — even though he later references the Gallop polls which demonstrate just how much the world trusts the US.

  4. Ed

    Why do people keep commenting on events in the Middle East as if what has happened there is a mistake or failure when the policy to destroy and divide these countries is explicitly stated in policy papers.

  5. Lindsay Berge

    Why not send Australian troops again? The 3rd Light Horse captured Damascus, entering unopposed after the Battle of Megiddo, nearly 100 years ago. Obviously time to teach Johnny Turk another lesson!

  6. knowbuddhau

    I’m with Ed and animalogic. First thing I do, when I see an article like this, is to search for “crime” and “illegal.” The author seems to think there’s nothing criminal or illegal about our wars in the ME. BTW, how can they be “wars” when Congress hasn’t declared them as such?

    It’s as if, once started, there’s no consideration higher than “winning.” What would that look like? Would the major be complaining if we had successfully installed puppets everywhere? If the societies of the ME were dominated by “our bastards,” made safe for US oil companies and other corporations, colonized and colonialized to the nth degree, their populations be damned, would that be “winning”?

    What ever happened to Iraq’s mythical WMD? Abu Ghraib? Relentless propaganda for well over a century (“Remember the Maine!”) makes no appearance here.

    Us “silly-villains” are just so stupid, with our “rising fears” that just come out of nowhere.

    “Every mass casualty civilian bombing or drone strike incident just detracts further from American regional credibility.”

    Bwahaha! As if committing the most grave war crime of all, aggressive war, several times over, hadn’t done that already. And I just love that “just” in “just detracts.” Reputational damage, that’s all, nothing more.

    Officers so well educated they know better than to call our crimes “crimes.” Now that’s valor. /s

    1. knowbuddhau

      Wait, I was wrong, propaganda does make an appearance: “child-gassing acts.” Classic.

      Is the problem with our ME wars, and the rest for that matter, in the way they are prosecuted? Or in the fact that they are waged to begin with, as illegal crimes of aggression?

      Dear major, what gives us the right to decide the fates of other nations?

    2. Eureka Springs

      Also look for:

      What’s the mission?

      We create ISIS al CIAduh, Nusrah etc… arming, training, funding. We installed Saddam, Shah and so many others. Support Israel, Saudi etc..

      One doesn’t need to win if one doesn’t play/initiate blood sport at all.

  7. craazyboy

    Whew. Alt Universe Version: “The Siege Of Aleppo”

    The US builds 5 military bases in N. Syria and moves in 150,000 troops. Alliances are formed with Kurdish Freedom Fryers and our remaining Allies Of The Iraqian Republican Guard. Satellite Intel indicates mortar fire and terrorist troops wearing red uniforms in Aleppo. It is assumed “likely” by Theater Command and Boots in DeeCee they are armed and dangerous. The battle plan is updated to begin a “March on Aleppo”.

    The plan executes well, losing only one fourth of the troops to the enemy, scoring at a fine 2 to 1 kill ratio in urban warfare and an unfortunate ambush in a box canyon between tall mountains. Moral is good, but another estimated one quarter of the troops went missing – desertion is suspected.

    Theater Command decided it needed a coverup story to keep moral high. They spread a rumor these missing in action troops went to Allah and are now with their 72 Virgins and received the Purple Heart Medal for getting killed by someone.

    Aleppo is successfully surrounded. Theater Command calls for a cease fire, to be broken at a latter date. Beyoncé flies in to perform her new show, “Dirty Dancing With My Baby Bump”. Holds kickstarter to fund the platinum black gold single release.

    All seems to be going well. Theater Command decides they need to update the plan.

    Part Two: “We’ll lay siege!”

    Trooper to Theater Command:

    “Per your instructions, Sirs, we have shut off all the water mains in the city and blocked off all the roads. The supermarkets should be empty any day now! Spies indicate the terrorist command center is in Aleppo City Hall. They did say there is a head on a spike out front that looks like the old mayor. He has what appears to be most of his liver stuck to his skull with a fork!

    Our spies also warn that it is “likely” that there is a stockpile of Sarin_Like_Gas in City Hall. Russia says so too.”

    Theater Command to Trooper:

    “So… yer say’in we should open a can of Sarin_Like_Gas and blow up their stockpile of Sarin_Like_Gas ?”

    Trooper to Theater Command:

    “Ummm….with all due respect Sirs, I’d say “Nein” or “Nyet” to that. All the gas might blow around in the wind, and may even come this direction! But of course yer just testing me! hahaha. You guys are the tricksters!”

    Theater Command to Trooper:

    “Hmm. Yes. Hahahaha. I suppose same problem with Tomahawks, then. So, lay siege to the city?”

    Trooper to Theater Command:

    “Good idea, Sirs. I’ll get that underway. That should soften up the populace and they’ll put pressure on the new Mayor. Aleppo City Hall could fall in a week!”

    Part 3 – Two weeks later:

    Theater Command to Trooper:

    “Whew. We’re here. That wasn’t too bad. But anything worthwhile isn’t easy, I always say. Always. Let’s move the rest of the troops into the building. It looks mostly defensible still. I get dibs on the rooftop. Some may still need to camp out back. Have them post a watch guard. Terrorists, ya know.”

    Part 4 – Two and one half weeks later:

    Theater Command to Trooper:

    “What was your plan for supplies, trooper?”

    Trooper to Theater Command:

    “Er…well, we are surrounded by Hezbollah, Sirs. Some look like blond haired Americans wearing combat fatigues. But not that many. Thank Allah. We just have angry armed townspeople and angry battle tested Shiites to fight.”

    Theater Command to Trooper:

    “What about our “Sarin_Like_Gas” stockpile?”

    Trooper to Theater Command:

    “Turns out those are cases of one liter Mountain Dew bottles, er, Sir. I suggest we ring up Assad and propose an Alliance. He not Shiite. He’s the other kind and they hate each other.”

    Theater Command to Trooper:

    “Good thinking Trooper. Yer a life saver. [pats Trooper on the rump and winks. “Deliverance” music plays in background.]”

    Theater Command to Switchboard Operator at Damascus City Hall:

    ” Hello, hello? Da? Is Assad there??…..No?!…YOU ARE HEZBOLLAH?????!”

  8. Skip Intro

    The whole concept of ‘losing’ demands not only a concept of winning, but also categories of winners and losers. If those making the decisions make a lot of money and create enough instability in enough places that they are insured even more money in the future, as well as enough political power to keep their gravy train running indefinitely, it seems naive or disingenuous to suggest they are losers. The battle is not between the arbitrary and increasingly fluid ‘two sides’ in some war, but between war itself and the majority of humanity that opposes it.

    1. jefemt

      Your comment prompted a reaction and thought. First, well of course not, there is huge money in war, and no money in Peace.
      And then the question: How much money IS there in Peace/ less war? Black and white hard dollars analysis, numbers that sing off the page.
      I’m overtaken by indolence and sloth this morning (depression?!), so won’t attempt a back of napkin Hank Paulson legal tablet thumbnail analysis.
      It would be the savings of unfunded liabilities of ‘excessive’ beyond-borders true ‘defensive’ military spending, predominantly in US, but China and Russia would be in there. And the unfunded liabilities of the pensions and medical support of Vets.
      What money is there to be made in Peace? Exporting clean water/ sanitation infrastructure technologies and devices, sustainable agricultural systems / technologies, educational systems / infrastructure, housing/community development . Lots of business there. Could Raytheon and its shareholder Trump re-tool? There’s a senior thesis for someone to research and roll out… the peace-profit/ dividend.
      But what we do to ‘defend’ “our” oil and resources around the world?

      1. Mark P.

        The U.S. spends $4 billion a day on the MIC currently, to cut to the chase and away from the waffle.

      2. Wisdom Seeker

        OP wrote “And if that was the desired outcome in Washington, well, congratulations all around, but of course we all know that it wasn’t.” Actually, no, we don’t. We have no idea what the desired outcome is. We haven’t declared war or even had a national conversation to agree upon shared goals, much less measured achievement relative to those goals.

        So War becomes another special interest, able to wield a large fork at the pork barrel.

        jefemt, I agree that there’s a ton of money to be made with Peace, but it’s not made by the same people who make the War. Note that these people include the bondholders who buy the Treasuries that are issued to pay for the War, and then pay out perpetual interest thereafter since the debt ain’t being paid off. Your Pension dollars, hard at work in the Middle East, earning you nothing real but saddling your children (and all the other taxpayers) with a lifelong burden of interest payments…

        Another issue with the Peace Dividend is that it’s more broadly distributed and harder to account for. But broadly speaking, consider the benefits of bringing each group of 100,000 soldiers back from overseas. Instead of consuming tax dollars, they will increase demand and production here at home, producing and consuming with the rest of us. Let’s assume each soldier and their gear and consumables costs $100,000/year in government spending. Bringing them home nets a reduction of $10 billion/year in the deficit. Let’s also assume that they go to work at about the median income level, say $40,000/year in production (income). That’s $4 billion a year in productive GDP (as opposed to War GDP which is destruction not construction) which nets another $1 billion/year in additional tax revenue at federal state and local levels.

        A more refined analysis will change the numbers but won’t change the big picture.

    2. Huey Long

      it seems naive or disingenuous to suggest they are losers

      You have a point, after all if war is the desired state of affairs I’d say they’re winning handily. Without perpetual war an awful lot of folks in this country would be out of a job as the US is by far the world’s largest arms exporter.

      For more info on the domestic roots of perpetual war, check out this essay by Col. Chuck Spinney:

  9. jfleni

    Better title “How to keep losing the Republic”. Whoever thinks that this nonsense will go on forever is crazy.

    A pox on them all; pull out now; leave the “Israeli Entitity” and the insane Princelings to their own devices. As the Irish said in 1921 “Ourselves alone”.

  10. John Wright

    The USA’s foreign policy is a re-branding spin on “White Man’s Burden” that encouraged colonialization in the 18th/19th centuries.

    Where previous incarnations brought Christianity and European rule to the “savages”, now it is bringing a secular religion of Democracy/neoliberalism/corporate control to, usually resource rich, countries around the world with USA military actions.

    The more liberal humanitarian hawk species, represented by emeritus and active members such as Samantha Power, Hillary Clinton, Nicholas Kristof and Tom Friedman KNOW the USA’s foreign policy in (insert foreign region) is proceeding with the best of intentions to help the target nations.

    On the good news front, that the foreign war encouraging New York Times is seeking to sub-lease out eight floors of its New York headquarters is indirect evidence that the Times is losing relevancy and power to influence events.

    Maybe the USA’s population is becoming aware that if another foreign country came to the USA with the military means to change the USA, this foreign country would not be “welcomed as liberators”

    1. JTMcPhee

      A foreign country has already come to to the USA with the military means to change the USA. That foreign country is MICistan, and its capital is Insidethebeltwaia. With lots of Fifth Columnists, and phalanxes of post-Supra-national corporate persons, just hopping to help the invaders complete the subjugation…

    2. Paul Greenwood

      I thought “White Man’s Burden” was Kipling’s commentary on the Spanish-American War

  11. John B

    Interesting article. A peril of using irony on the web, though, is that it sometimes goes unrecognized. A sense of irony seems to be inversely proportional to ideological intensity.

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      Possibly. I found the irony to be quite identifiable, surprisingly pleasant, and welcome. The writer’s expectation that it would ‘fall on deaf ears’ however, was also palpable. And unsurprising. The weird collection of comments that followed this post probably only hardened his views about the essential worthlessness of the civilian population (if he chances to ever see them). However, most of them had one disjointed, but consistent point: that ‘we’ shouldn’t be playing Imperial games in the Greater Middle East at all. Not for all the oil in Ghawar.

      I agree with this belief. Everytime I drive on an under-repaired road, in the richest state in the nation, California, I agree with it again in my head.

      I still hold to the belief that we are not quite the scum we’re mocked up to be by our media and our myriad, dueling elites. I’m tired of their perennial ‘disappointment’ in our inadequacies. in large part because, from what I see, we average schmucks mostly aren’t as shallow and skanky as our infotainment media and prominent Instagram feeds would have you believe. There are +314 million people in this country. The low tens of millions who watch and agree with the crap on our slavering, witless ‘news’ shows every day don’t amount to even 15% of the total. Throw in everything else – every copy of USA Today, etc. – and you still don’t get near 20%.

  12. DH

    The fundamental problem I have observed is the focus on retaining post-WW I colonial country boundaries. In most cases, these have fenced in groups of people who really don’t like each other and that historically were segregated geographically. However, colonial governments and post-colonial strongmen effectively forced internal migration so that formerly segregated people are often interspersed.

    Creation of “democratic government” generally means that the biggest group can now dominate government and exclude the other groups from power and economic progress. Local tribal strongmen arise in the oppressed groups and armed resistance takes hold. In many cases, religion is the glue that binds the different groups together and intolerance for other religions flourishes. That is usually just another way of manifesting ethnic divisions though.

    So should Afghanistan actually be Afghanistan, or should it be several separate countries with logical geograhic and ethnic boundaries, each with its own tribal leadership?

    Should Iraq exist as Iraq, or should it be southeast Iraq (Shiite), northern Iraq (Kurd), and western Iraq (Sunni). The surrounding countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) all want the current Iraq boundaries to remain because a weak, fragmented Iraq increases their power.

    One of the reasons that North America has been stable for 200 years is because after very contentious 1700s and early 1800s, there are rational borders between the US and Canada and Mexico that simply aren’t worth fighting over. The biggest time of instability since the early 1800s was the American Civil War where the great internal contradictions of slavery and agricultural/industrial divides boiled over. This is similar to what is going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Palestine today.

    This interview with Aaron O’Connell this morning was also interesting on how and why the US does not learn the lessons from Vietnam.

    1. Paul Greenwood

      Ah you think Woodrow Wilson was wrong to trap so many Austro-Germans in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Galicia and that arbitrary boundaries made it essential that the Reich brought its people home such as the Sudetendeutschen ? You may well be right

      1. DH

        Wrong example. Your example is a “To the victor goes the spoils” case where Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire lost the war they started and borders were redrawn to create independent countries. Hitler and WW II would probably not have occurred without the massive impossible reparations payments demanded by France that led to the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic.

        The colonial powers generally worked with either arbitrary lines or deliberately structured boundaries to encompass competing groups so that they wouldn’t get organized against the colonial powers. In many cases, the colonial countries would empower a minority to administer the majority, knowing that the minority would not turn against the colonial power because they themselves would get wiped out by the majority. When the colonial collapses occurred after WW II either a strongman from the minority group took over or the majority took over. Saddam Hussein, Assad etc. are all examples of that culture. The Pakistan-India partition was an example where two groups decided (through riots etc.) to separate upon the departure of Britain due to cultural and religious differences – they have an uneasy peace and stand ready to toss nuclear weapons at each other.

        A slightly different example is Ukraine – Crimea was historically part of Russia for a couple of centuries until Khrushchev moved it to within expanded Ukraine borders. This didn’t matter as long as the Soviet Union existed but it meant that Russia main warm-water naval base (Sevastopol) was now in Ukrainian hands after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Once Ukraine started leaning towards the west, then Russia wanted to secure its naval base and fomented the takeover of Crimea. Now they want a land bridge to Crimea, so they are continuing to foment turmoil in eastern Ukraine so that they can annex enough territory to have a secure land route to Sevastopol. This is a case where Russia is following a perfect cold-blooded logic of their own interests, similar to when the US invaded Panama. However, it is officially against international law to takeover parts of other countries unless they declare war on you.

  13. Whine Country

    The larger issue is that the military has clearly become completely separated from the people. This is a forest v. trees situation. With a military and foreign policy that is completely unaccountable to us, it does little good to focus on tactics. 15 years of war with no declaration of war from Congress? Come on man. Now we learn that the President is really not even in charge but can be manipulated by this unaccountable power. And if that is not bad enough, he was manipulated into doing something that no reasonable person can justify as LEGAL! We either have a nation of laws or we don’t. Clearly we don’t – and that’s the problem. Just git er done. Whatever “it” is.

  14. Kalen

    For imperial rulers loosing a war is wining a war since what they seek is justification of militarism and exigent circumstances of theft of national treasure.

    Roman empire spent 500 years fighting barbarians even when 90% of Roman legions were hired barbarians themselves as well as many Roman generals were barbarians nobody from Roman elites wanted peace as unprofitable.

    You want to overthrow this abhorrent US regime? Demand peace, unconditionally!

  15. Steven

    “It’s too late now, as the Trump administration is discovering, to retreat behind two oceans and cover our collective eyes.”

    – I beg to differ. We might need to fight a holding action for a few years while we get our act together environmental sustainability-wise. But by simply doing what we need to do to keep the planet habitable, we can make all that Middle Eastern oil irrelevant. If I am reading it correctly, a chart from the 2014 U.S. Energy Information Administration Monthly Energy Review suggests that 71 of the oil consumed by the US is used for transportation.

    Absent further improvements in battery technology, some of that use may be unavoidable. But by electrifying transportation in the industrialized world, ‘the leader of the free world’ and its “indispensible people” could leave the people in the Middle East alone, free to work out their problems (or not) by themselves.

    Alas, however, it can not do that because people like Trump need to keep adding zeros to their bank accounts to, as he put it, “keep score”. Without the ability of money to earn more money, the monetary wealth of the world’s 1% becomes recognizable for what it is – mostly U.S. government “Debt that can’t be repaid (and) won’t be.” That would mean among other things an end to the hot check-writing privileges of U.S. and Western politicians. It would mean an end to the 1%’s stranglehold (with the trillion dollar Saudi monarch’s foremost among them) over U.S. and Western governments. With no more chump change multimillion dollar bribes US politicians like HRC (and Trump?) would be free to do the right thing (though as Swift suggested they would probably take the bribe anyhow to adhere to their principles).

  16. beth

    Imagine, the U.S. government sent our troops to the ME to install new governments amenable to our oil companies, and in the process, installed a new, bigger, better warrior president in the U.S.

    Now we are winning everywhere.

    1. Steven

      The U.S. government didn’t install “a new, bigger, better warrior president in the U.S.” HRC and her Democratic Party did. Sanders might have been just as crazy as our other two ‘choices’ (SIC!) when it came to matters of Empire. But now thanks to crooked Hillary we’ll never get a chance to find out.

      For that matter, who knows what Trump might have done if Perez and his Russia-baiting party had just accepted responsibility for the defeat they so justly deserved and ‘move(d) on’ rather than playing politics with Armageddon?

      P.S. Is there anyone out there who knows what to do besides just sit back and wait for the end?

  17. JTMcPhee

    Thoughts and observations for the day, on reading the post and grinding my teeth in frustrated rage:

    The military is a wonderful hierarchy. Here’s a look into the fundamentals of the thinking and organizational forms and principles that rule, for anyone interested in trying to understand the complexities that are leading us closer to Armageddon and demolition of any kind of “democracy” as a mope might understand the term:

    Defense Department
    Intelligence and Security
    Doctrine, Directives and Instructions

    Doctrine is the fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application. (Joint Pub 1-02)
    The joint publication hierarchy provides a framework for joint doctrine and joint tactics, techniques, and procedures. The organizational structure follows traditional joint staff lines of responsibility to the maximum degree possible. Each series provides for a keystone manual as the first publication in the series. The keystone manuals constitute the doctrinal foundation of the series. There are a number of online sources for joint doctrine and related publications.

    The Department of Defense (DoD) issues a large number of Directives and Instructions. The purpose of these issuances varies; however, all of them are used to internally manage the business of the DoD.
    DoD Directives are broad DoD policy documents containing what is required by legislation, the President, or the Secretary of Defense to initiate, govern, or regulate actions or conduct by the DoD Components within their specific areas of responsibilities. DoD Directives establish or describe policy, programs, and organizations; define missions; provide authority; and assign responsibilities.
    DoD Instructions implement the policy, or prescribes the manner or a specific plan or action for carrying out the policy, operating a program or activity, and assigning responsibilities.

    The DoD Directives and Instructions are numbered according to the following eight major subject groups:

    • 1000 – Manpower and Personnel (Civilian, Military, and Reserve)
    • 2000 – International and Foreign Affairs
    • 3000 – Plans and Operations, Research and Development, Intelligence, and Computer Language
    • 4000 – Logistics, Natural Resources, and Environment
    • 5000 – Acquisition and Administrative Management, Organizational Charters, Security, and Public and Legislative Affairs
    • 6000 – Health
    • 7000 – Budget, Finance, Audits, and Information Control
    • 8000 – Information Management ….

    Let’s start with a random selection of terms and their definitions, from the War Department’s “Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms.” There is so much material for an ironist to work with it is overwhelming – a “target-rich environment.” One can go to any page in the dictionary and come up with Milbabble terms that ought to be laughed out of town, but the guys who organize their thinking by use of the terms have, you know, all the big guns, and all the incentive to keep on doing more of the same and pretending that they want a different result:

    airborne mission coordinator — The designated individual that serves as an airborne
    extension of the component commander or supported commander responsible for the
    personnel recovery mission. Also called AMC. See also combat search and rescue;
    combat search and rescue task force; personnel recovery coordination cell.
    (JP 3-50)

    airborne operation — An operation involving the air movement into an objective area of
    combat forces and their logistic support for execution of a tactical, operational, or
    strategic mission. The means employed may be any combination of airborne units, air
    transportable units, and types of transport aircraft, depending on the mission and the
    overall situation. See also assault; assault phase. (JP 3-18)…

    air-capable ship — A ship other than aircraft carrier; aircraft carrier, nuclear; amphibious
    assault ship, landing platform helicopter; general purpose amphibious assault ship; or
    general purpose amphibious assault ship (with internal dock) from which aircraft can
    take off, be recovered, or routinely receive and transfer logistic support. See also
    aviation ship. (JP 3-04)

    air component coordination element — An Air Force component element that interfaces
    and provides liaison with the joint force land component commander, or commander
    Army forces. The air component coordination element is the senior Air Force element
    assisting the joint force land component commander, or commander Army forces in
    planning air component supporting and supported requirements. Also called ACCE.
    (JP 3-30)

    air corridor — A restricted air route of travel specified for use by friendly aircraft and
    established for the purpose of preventing friendly aircraft from being fired on by
    friendly forces. (JP 3-52)

    aircraft carrier — A warship designed to support and operate aircraft, engage in attacks on
    targets afloat or ashore, and engage in sustained operations in support of other forces.
    Designated as CV or CVN. CVN is nuclear powered.

    aircraft cross-servicing — (*) Services performed on an aircraft by an organization other
    than that to which the aircraft is assigned, according to an established operational
    aircraft cross-servicing requirement, and for which there may be a charge. Aircraft
    cross-servicing has been divided into two categories: a. Stage A cross-servicing: The….

    complex contingency operations — Large-scale peace operations (or elements thereof) conducted by a combination of military forces and nonmilitary organizations that combine one or more of the elements of peace operations which include one or more elements of other types of operations such as foreign humanitarian assistance, nation assistance, support to insurgency, or support to counterinsurgency. See also operation; peace operations. (JP 3-57)….

    foreign internal defense — Participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency. Also called FID. (JP 3-05)

    foreign military sales — That portion of United States security assistance authorized by the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, and the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, as amended. This assistance differs from the Military Assistance Program and the International Military Education and Training Program in that the recipient provides reimbursement for defense articles and services transferred. Also called FMS.

    foreign military sales trainees — Foreign nationals receiving training conducted by the Department of Defense on a reimbursable basis, at the country’s request.

    foreign national — Any person other than a US citizen, US permanent or temporary legal resident alien, or person in US custody. [Hmmmm…]

    foreign nation support — Civil and/or military assistance rendered to a nation when operating outside its national boundaries during war, or operations other than war based on agreements mutually concluded between nations or on behalf of international organizations. Support may come from the nation in which forces are operating. Foreign nation support also may be from third party nations and include support or assistance, such as logistics, rendered outside the operational area. Also called FNS. See also host-nation support. (JP 3-57.1)

    insurgency — The organized use of subversion and violence by a group or movement that
    seeks to overthrow or force change of a governing authority. Insurgency can also refer
    to the group itself. (JP 3-24) [definition as of 15 April 2012] [Note that this, and subsequent revisions, would include a whole lot of activities conducted by the US of A…]

    [NOTE – as part of the multi-billion-dollar, constantly operating effort to manage the military by coordinating its terminology, the definitions change to fit the current climate – hence, the following definitions of insurgency and insurgent were the old “no longer operative” text in the Dictionary as of 31 August 2005.]

    insurgency — (*)An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict.

    insurgent — Member of a political party who rebels against established leadership. See also antiterrorism; counterinsurgency; insurgency. (JP 3-07.2)

    And here’s the latest definition: insurgency — The organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region. Insurgency can also refer to the group itself. (JP 3-24) Same issue – is that not what our rulers are doing every stinking day?

    And the following are what results, practically invisibly, from all those activities in foreign lands and domestically:

    Incremental costs — Costs which are additional costs to the Service appropriations that
    would not have been incurred absent support of the contingency operation. See also
    financial management. (JP 1-06)

    Note that no version of the “Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms” includes any definition of “war,” although the word is used, shall we say, frequently, and I guess grokked by all the insiders. Nor are there definitions of “battle,” or “combat”… And there is no definition of “victory,” nor one of “success” or “successful,” though the latter two get used a lot, to define other Milbabble terms and provide elements of efficiency assessments for officers… Also, the only uses of the word “democracy” are in the list of acronyms at the end of the dictionary, and those are only part of the Potemkin-front names of subsets of US AID, and the Department of State… “DCHA — Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (USAID),” and “DRL — Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DOS).”

    Also note that a whole lot of credentialed people, adept at testing methods and steeped in the bureaucratic mind set and inured to our imperial idiocies, will look at what’s in JP 1-02 and the current un-numbered “Dictionary,” and in response to any critique of the whole thing or its elements, offer “So what’s the big deal? This is just an organizational tool, and each definition can be parsed to render it perfectly sensible and consistent.” And that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? “We” just get dragged along by our own credentials and capabilities and biases…

    War will continue until the planet is exhausted, far as I can tell…

  18. Tim

    And so you would have successfully created a strategy for losing eternally in the Greater Middle East. And if that was the desired outcome in Washington, well, congratulations all around, but of course we all know that it wasn’t.

    Speak for yourself. I don’t know that it wasn’t.

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