How the US Military Is Failing

Yves here. I’m running this post because I anticipate many readers will be frustrated by the way it fails to connect certain dots or even makes false inferences. For instance, Bacevich repeatedly argues that ordinary citizens pay no price for the military. In terms of physical risk and psychological toll, that is unquestionably true. But in a system that believes in the balanced budget fiction at the Federal level, the American big ticket military comes at the expense of social services spending and even keeping up our infrastructure. To think that citizens aren’t paying for a “lots of guns, hardly any butter” set of priorities is false. It would be more accurate to say that voters have been sold on the proposition that all this pork is somehow necessary and in a money-driven election system, can’t do much about it even if they were so inclined.

It also seems misguided to blame the huge cost of our bloated military on its all-volunteer status. The US also had lavish commitments to military spending in the 1960s, including the space program, which was glorified as exploration but was clearly driven by fear of the Soviet Union getting ahead of us. The defense contractors have managed to tap into the biggest money vein in the world and continue to suck as much out of it as they can, even if justifying that level of expenditure requires ongoing nation-breaking.

By Andrew J. Bacevich, who trying to write a book about how we got Trump. He is the author, most recently, of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. Originally published at TomDispatch

The purpose of all wars, is peace. So observed St. Augustine early in the first millennium A.D. Far be it from me to disagree with the esteemed Bishop of Hippo, but his crisply formulated aphorism just might require a bit of updating.

I’m not a saint or even a bishop, merely an interested observer of this nation’s ongoing military misadventures early in the third millennium A.D. From my vantage point, I might suggest the following amendment to Augustine’s dictum: Any war failing to yield peace is purposeless and, if purposeless, both wrong and stupid.

War is evil. Large-scale, state-sanctioned violence is justified only when all other means of achieving genuinely essential objectives have been exhausted or are otherwise unavailable. A nation should go to war only when it has to — and even then, ending the conflict as expeditiously as possible should be an imperative.

Some might take issue with these propositions, President Trump’s latest national security adviser doubtless among them. Yet most observers — even, I’m guessing, most high-ranking U.S. military officers — would endorse them. How is it then that peace has essentially vanished as a U.S. policy objective? Why has war joined death and taxes in that select category of things that Americans have come to accept as unavoidable?

The United States has taken Thucydides’s famed Melian Dialogue and turned it inside out. Centuries before Augustine, the great Athenian historian wrote, “The strong do what they will, while the weak suffer what they must.” Strength confers choice; weakness restricts it. That’s the way the world works, so at least Thucydides believed. Yet the inverted Melian Dialogue that prevails in present-day Washington seemingly goes like this: strength imposes obligations and limits choice. In other words, we gotta keep doing what we’ve been doing, no matter what.

Making such a situation all the more puzzling is the might and majesty of America’s armed forces. By common consent, the United States today has the world’s best military. By some estimates, it may be the best in recorded history. It’s certainly the most expensive and hardest working on the planet.

Yet in the post-Cold War era when the relative strength of U.S. forces reached its zenith, our well-endowed, well-trained, well-equipped, and highly disciplined troops have proven unable to accomplish any of the core tasks to which they’ve been assigned. This has been especially true since 9/11.

We send the troops off to war, but they don’t achieve peace. Instead, America’s wars and skirmishes simply drag on, seemingly without end.  We just keep doing what we’ve been doing, a circumstance that both Augustine and Thucydides would undoubtedly have found baffling.

Prosecuting War, Averting Peace

How to explain this paradox of a superb military that never gets the job done? Let me suggest that the problem lies with the present-day American military system, the principles to which the nation adheres in raising, organizing, supporting, and employing its armed forces. By its very existence, a military system expresses an implicit contract between the state, the people, and the military itself.

Here, as I see it, are the principles — seven in all — that define the prevailing military system of the United States.

First, we define military service as entirely voluntary. In the U.S., there is no link between citizenship and military service.  It’s up to you as an individual to decide if you want to take up arms in the service of your country. 

If you choose to do so, that’s okay. If you choose otherwise, that’s okay, too. Either way, your decision is of no more significance than whether you root for the Yankees or the Mets.

Second, while non-serving citizens are encouraged to “support the troops,” we avoid stipulating how this civic function is to be performed.

In practice, there are many ways of doing so, some substantive, others merely symbolic. Most citizens opt for the latter. This means that they cheer when invited to do so. Cheering is easy and painless. It can even make you feel good about yourself.

Third, when it comes to providing the troops with actual support, we expect Congress to do the heavy lifting. Our elected representatives fulfill that role by routinely ponying up vast sums of money for what is misleadingly called a defense budget.  In some instances, Congress appropriates even more money than the Pentagon asks for, as was the case this year.

Meanwhile, under the terms of our military system, attention to how this money actually gets spent by our yet-to-be-audited Pentagon tends to be — to put the matter politely — spotty. Only rarely does the Congress insert itself forcefully into matters relating to what U.S. forces scattered around the world are actually doing.

Yes, there are periodic hearings, with questions posed and testimony offered. But unless there is some partisan advantage to be gained, oversight tends to be, at best, pro forma.  As a result, those charged with implementing national security policy — another Orwellian phrase — enjoy very considerable latitude. 

Fourth, under the terms of our military system, this latitude applies in spades to the chief executive. The commander-in-chief occupies the apex of our military system. The president may bring to office very little expertise pertinent to war or the art of statecraft, yet his authority regarding such matters is essentially unlimited.

Consider, if you will, the sobering fact that our military system empowers the president to order a nuclear attack, should he see the need — or feel the impulse — to do so. He need not obtain congressional consent. He certainly doesn’t need to check with the American people.

Since Harry Truman ordered the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, presidents have not exercised this option, for which we should all be grateful. Yet on more occasions than you can count, they have ordered military actions, large and small, on their own authority or after only the most perfunctory consultation with Congress.  When Donald Trump, for instance, threatened North Korea’s Kim Jong-un with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen,” he gave no hint that he would even consider asking for prior congressional authorization to do so. Trump’s words were certainly inflammatory. Yet were he to act on those words, he would merely be exercising a prerogative enjoyed by his predecessors going back to Truman himself.

The Constitution invests in Congress the authority to declare war. The relevant language is unambiguous. In practice, as countless commentators have noted, that provision has long been a dead letter. This, too, forms an essential part of our present military system.

Fifth, under the terms of that system, there’s no need to defray the costs of military actions undertaken in our name. Supporting the troops does not require citizens to pay anything extra for what the U.S. military is doing out there wherever it may be. The troops are asked to sacrifice; for the rest of us, sacrifice is anathema.

Indeed, in recent years, presidents who take the nation to war or perpetuate wars they inherit never even consider pressing Congress to increase our taxes accordingly. On the contrary, they advocate tax cuts, especially for the wealthiest among us, which lead directly to massive deficits.

Sixth, pursuant to the terms of our military system, the armed services have been designed not to defend the country but to project military power on a global basis. For the Department of Defense actually defending the United States qualifies as an afterthought, trailing well behind other priorities such as trying to pacify Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province or jousting with militant groups in Somalia. The United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are all designed to fight elsewhere, relying on a constellation of perhaps 800 bases around the world to facilitate the conduct of military campaigns “out there,” wherever “there” may happen to be.  They are, in other words, expeditionary forces.

Reflect for a moment on the way the Pentagon divvies the world up into gigantic swathes of territory and then assigns a military command to exercise jurisdiction over each of them: European Command, Africa Command, Central Command, Southern Command, Northern Command, and Pacific Command. With the polar icecap continuing to melt, a U.S. Arctic Command is almost surely next on the docket. Nor is the Pentagon’s mania for creating new headquarters confined to terra firma. We already have U.S. Cyber Command.  Can U.S. Galactic Command be far behind?

No other nation adheres to this practice. Nor would the United States permit any nation to do so. Imagine the outcry in Washington if President Xi Jinping had the temerity to create a “PRC Latin America Command,” headed by a four-star Chinese general charged with maintaining order and stability from Mexico to Argentina.  

Seventh (and last), our military system invests great confidence in something called the military profession. 

The legal profession exists to implement the rule of law. We hope that the result is some approximation of justice. The medical profession exists to repair our bodily ailments. We hope that health and longevity will result. The military profession exists to master war. With military professionals in charge, it’s our hope that America’s wars will conclude quickly and successfully with peace the result. 

To put it another way, we look to the military profession to avert the danger of long, costly, and inconclusive wars. History suggests that these sap the collective strength of a nation and can bring about its premature decline. We count on military professionals to forestall that prospect.

Our military system assigns the immediate direction of war to our most senior professionals, individuals who have ascended step by step to the very top of the military hierarchy. We expect three- and four-star generals and admirals to possess the skills needed to make war politically purposeful. This expectation provides the rationale for the status they enjoy and the many entitlements they are accorded. 

America, the (Formerly) Indispensable

Now, the nation that has created this military system is not some “shithole country,” to use a phrase made famous by President Trump. We are, or at least claim to be, a democratic republic in which all power ultimately derives from the people. We believe in — indeed, are certain that we exemplify — freedom, even as we continually modify the meaning of that term.

In the aggregate, we are very rich. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century we have taken it for granted that the United States ought to be the richest country on the planet, notwithstanding the fact that large numbers of ordinary Americans are themselves anything but rich. Indeed, as a corollary to our military system, we count on these less affluent Americans to volunteer for military service in disproportionate numbers. Offered sufficient incentives, they do so.

Finally, since 1945 the United States has occupied the preeminent place in the global order, a position affirmed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991.  Indeed, we have come to believe that American primacy reflects the will of God or of some cosmic authority. 

From the early years of the Cold War, we have come to believe that the freedom, material abundance, and primacy we cherish all depend upon the exercise of “global leadership.” In practice, that seemingly benign term has been a euphemism for unquestioned military superiority and the self-assigned right to put our military to work as we please wherever we please.  Back in the 1990s, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it best: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

Other countries might design their military establishments to protect certain vital interests. As Albright’s remark suggests, American designs have been far more ambitious.

Here, then, is a question: How do the principles and attitudes that undergird our military system actually suit twenty-first-century America? And if they don’t, what are the implications of clinging to such a system? Finally, what alternative principles might form a more reasonable basis for raising, organizing, supporting, and employing our armed forces? 

Spoiler alert: Let me acknowledge right now that I consider our present-day military system irredeemably flawed and deeply harmful. For proof we need look no further than the conduct of our post-9/11 wars, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

These myriad undertakings of the last nearly 17 years have subjected our military system to a comprehensive real-world examination. Collectively, they have rendered a judgment on that system. And the judgment is negative. Put to the test, the American military system has failed. 

And the cost so far?  Trillions of dollars expended (with trillions more to come), thousands of American lives lost, tens of thousands of Americans grievously damaged, and even greater numbers of non-Americans killed, injured, and displaced.

One thing is certain: our wars have not brought about peace by even the loosest definition of the word.

A Military Report Card

There are many possible explanations for why our recent military record has been so dismal.  One crucial explanation — perhaps the most important of all — relates to those seven principles that undergird our military system. 

Let me review them in reverse order.

Principle 7, the military profession: Tally up the number of three- and four-star generals who have commanded the Afghan War since 2001. It’s roughly a dozen. None of them has succeeded in bringing it to a successful conclusion. Nor does any such happy ending seem likely to be in the offing anytime soon. The senior officers we expect to master war have demonstrated no such mastery.

The generals who followed one another in presiding over that war are undoubtedly estimable, well-intentioned men, but they have not accomplished the job for which they were hired. Imagine if you contracted with a dozen different plumbers — each highly regarded — to fix a leaking sink in your kitchen and you ended up with a flooded basement. You might begin to think that there’s something amiss in the way that plumbers are trained and licensed.  Similarly, perhaps it’s time to reexamine our approach to identifying and developing very senior military officers. 

Or alternatively, consider this possibility: Perhaps our theory of war as an enterprise where superior generalship determines the outcome is flawed. Perhaps war cannot be fully mastered, by generals or anyone else. 

It might just be that war is inherently unmanageable. Take it from Winston Churchill, America’s favorite confronter of evil. “The statesman who yields to war fever,” Churchill wrote, “must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

If Churchill is right, perhaps our expectations that senior military professionals will tame war — control the uncontrollable — are misplaced.  Perhaps our military system should put greater emphasis on avoiding war altogether or at least classifying it as an option to be exercised with great trepidation, rather than as the political equivalent of a handy-dandy, multi-functional Swiss Army knife.  

Principle 6, organizing our forces to emphasize global power projection: Reflect for a moment on the emerging security issues of our time.  The rise of China is one example. A petulant and over-armed Russia offers a second. Throw in climate change and mushrooming cyber-threats and you have a daunting set of problems. It’s by no means impertinent to wonder about the relevance of the current military establishment to these challenges. 

Every year the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain and enhance the lethality of a force configured for conventional power projection and to sustain the global network of bases that goes with it. For almost two decades, that force has been engaged in a futile war of attrition with radical Islamists that has now spread across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa.

I don’t know about you, but I worry more about the implications of China’s rise and Russian misbehavior than I do about Islamic terrorism. And I worry more about changing weather patterns here in New England or somebody shutting down the electrical grid in my home town than I do about what Beijing and Moscow may be cooking up. Bluntly put, our existing military system finds us focused on the wrong problem set. 

We need a military system that accurately prioritizes actual and emerging threats. The existing system does not. This suggests the need for radically reconfigured armed services, with the hallowed traditions of George Patton, John Paul Jones, Billy Mitchell, and Chesty Puller honorably but permanently retired.

Principle 5, paying — or not paying — for America’s wars: If you want it, you should be willing to pay for it. That hoary axiom ought to guide our military system as much as it should our personal lives.  Saddling Millennials or members of Generation Z with the cost of paying for wars mostly conceived and mismanaged by my fellow Baby Boomers strikes me as downright unseemly. 

One might expect the young to raise quite a ruckus over such an obvious injustice. In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed their righteous anger over the absence of effective gun controls in this country. That they aren’t comparably incensed about the misuse of guns by their own contemporaries deployed to distant lands represents a real puzzle, especially since they’re the ones who will ultimately be stuck with the bill.

Principles 4 and 3, the role of Congress and the authority of the commander-in-chief: Whatever rationale may once have existed for allowing the commander-in-chief to circumvent the Constitution’s plainly specified allocation of war powers to Congress should long since have lapsed. Well before Donald Trump became president, a responsible Congress would have reasserted its authority to declare war. That Trump sits in the Oval Office and now takes advice from the likes of John Bolton invests this matter with great urgency.

Surely President Trump’s bellicose volatility drives home the point that it’s past time for Congress to assert itself in providing responsible oversight regarding all aspects of U.S. military policy. Were it to do so, the chances of fixing the defects permeating our present military system would improve appreciably.

Of course, the likelihood of that happening is nil until the money changers are expelled from the temple.  And that won’t occur until Americans who are not beholden to the military-industrial complex and its various subsidiaries rise up, purge the Congress of its own set of complexes, and install in office people willing to do their duty. And that brings us back to…

Principles 2 and 1, the existing relationship between the American people and their military and our reliance on a so-called all-volunteer force: Here we come to the heart of the matter.

I submit that the relationship between the American people and their military is shot through with hypocrisy. It is, in fact, nothing short of fraudulent. Worse still, most of us know it, even if we are loath to fess up. In practice, the informal mandate to “support the troops” has produced an elaborate charade. It’s theater, as phony as Donald Trump’s professed love for DACA recipients.

If Americans were genuinely committed to supporting the troops, they would pay a great deal more attention to what President Trump and his twenty-first-century predecessors have tasked those troops to accomplish — with what results and at what cost. Of course, that would imply doing more than cheering and waving the flag on cue. Ultimately, the existence of the all-volunteer force obviates any need for such an effort. It provides Americans with an ample excuse for ignoring our endless wars and allowing our flawed military system to escape serious scrutiny. 

Having outsourced responsibility for defending the country to people few of us actually know, we’ve ended up with a military system that is unfair, undemocratic, hugely expensive, and largely ineffective, not to mention increasingly irrelevant to the threats coming our way. The perpetuation of that system finds us mired in precisely the sort of long, costly, inconclusive wars that sap the collective strength of a nation and may bring about its premature decline. 

The root cause of our predicament is the all-volunteer force. Only when we ordinary citizens conclude that we have an obligation to contribute to the country’s defense will it become possible to devise a set of principles for raising, organizing, supporting, and employing U.S. forces that align with our professed values and our actual security requirements.

If Stormy Daniels can figure out when an existing contract has outlived its purpose, so can the rest of us.

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  1. SS

    As a naturalised citizen of America, formerly from India..I had a chance to interact with many fellow Americans of European extraction on the issues discussed above. Here is a common thread I hear
    a. They only vacation in Europe. Very few have been to India or even consider it. Let alone the Middle East(most think I am muslim or that India is a muslim Middle Eastern country!)
    b. Second , many come out and say ” they dont like my kind over there” meaning they dont like Americans. One guy came and said “you might be ok as you look like them”
    I see vacations to India increasing but the point I wish to make is this: unless we promote cultural missions to new lands, we really wont see the point that we are all the same at the core!Going to paris or Greece or London does not count.
    But when leaders( not just Trump and Hillary and Albright) on both sides revert to faux patriotism and jingoism, the citizenry usually does not know any better.
    Wars in far lands would stop if more people travel is my point….But I dont see this changing any time soon.
    Wars are fought with drones and bombing a village is no different than a kid bombing a village in his play station. The west has taught the world well and now Assad and many do it with recklessness…..

    1. Disturbed Voter

      The elites choose behavior that leads to war. And they aren’t living their whole lives in the village they were born in. They are the most cosmopolitan. Think maharajas and their gold and diamond decorated elephant cavalry. The peasantry always has been expendable.

      Thanks to modern communication and media, I can make a phone call to Ulan Bator if I wanted. Google Translate lets me write to anyone on the planet. I can indirectly experience other countries at will, thanks to YouTube etc. I don’t have to physically go there.

    2. a different chris

      Yeah I actually don’t agree with your (very well considered and presented) points. The people that don’t travel actually* are the least interested in fighting “over there”. Why do you think there is so much emphasis on how somehow those guys buzzing around the desert in hyped up Toyotas can be a threat to here? The creation of the Dept of Homeland Security is no accident, they want the majority of the people (Americans that don’t travel) to feel that their imperial adventures are exactly not that, but instead necessary battles to keep the Hordes away.

      It’s “not well publicized” – aka buried – information today, but it was freaking hard to get Americans fired up about Hitler and Hirohito. Without Pearl Harbor nothing was apparently going to happen, sad as it was for our Generals chomping at the bit.

      Now maybe I can agree that more travel by the hoi polloi would inform them that the Barbarians are Not At The Gate, but the other thing about the American underclass is that not only do they not travel but they really, really can’t. Poor pay, tiny vacation alotments.

      *as always, you can always find anybody to say whatever, but…

      1. John Wright

        re: “t was freaking hard to get Americans fired up about Hitler and Hirohito.”

        Some anecdotal information to support this case.

        I was in a library a few years ago and looked at a Life magazine that was published just prior to the Dec 7,1941 Pearl Harbor attack.

        It featured a midwestern congressman who knew his constituents did not want to go to war, but the congressman seemed to be leaning toward going to war.

        Hollywood also helped by issuing the patrotic Sergeant York movie, also before Pearl Harbor.

        As Goering said, it it the leaders want to go to war, not the people.

        Volunteer army or not, I don’t see much appetite for war in the USA unless the population is stirred up by TPTB.

  2. SS

    How does one define a conculusion to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when it really entails Nation building. The wars were started as a reaction to 9.11 so it is not like world war 2 where we are fighting a defined army.

    1. pretzelattack

      nation destroying, forever and ever. got to keep churning to maintain the cash flow. a conclusion is not desired.

    2. a different chris

      Iraq had a nation until we broke it. Not a great nation, but you know better than a lot of the others.

    3. rd

      Historically, it is generally not possible to “win a war” on another nation’s soil without crushing the other side so that they effectively cease to exist or are exhausted. So I think the US military has been handed impossible tasks since the end of WW II as they are effectively required to nation-build, which they are not equipped to do. The generals that pushed back on these tasks were replaced by the civilian leadership or not promoted in the first place.

      Carthage ceased to be a thorn in Rome’s side only when it was wiped out and the land salted. Native Americans were wiped out by disease in the 1500s – 1700s which allowed Europeans to take over the continent. Germany’s defeat in WW I left them in a position where they were humiliated but able to recover which resulted in WW II. Germany and Japan were essentially reduced to parking lots in WW II so the populations were exhausted and wanted to reconstruct their societies in a peaceful way.

      The rapid occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq meant that those countries were humiliated, but not exhausted. Clueless American leaders then tried to Westernize their governments in a nation-building exercise which backfired badly. We are left with a destabilized region as a result.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        This is an important point.

        The UK did succeed in colonizing India at low cost, but they were very skilled at playing local leaders off against each other.

        1. Hayek's Heelbiter

          But we mustn’t forget the British misadventure in Kabul in 1842 (a.k.a. The Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army), both an echo and harbinger of every foreign power who thought they could sort out vortex of the country.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Misadventures like Kabul in 1842, the 66th Regiment at Maiwand in 1880 and the 24th Regiment at Isandhlwana in 1879 happened but were not the norm. The British genius was in turning former enemies into subordinate allies.
            The British had a helluva fight against the Gurkhas but afterwards took them into their army in a relationship that has become legendary, even after India became independent (the Indian and British Army took half each of the Gurkha Regiments) . The British also had hard battles against the Sikhs in the 1840s but afterwards they became a mainstay of the British Army in India.
            The British Army officers that wanted to knew how to form regiments of these troops across the world and nearly all stayed loyal. Probably they took as their model the Roman army and their allied units. I think that it came down to not only discipline but also respect. Loyalty went down as well as up. I have read of Green Berets officers doing the same in Vietnam by living with them and sharing their lives. I think though that modern officer training works against this sort of thing happening now.

  3. Mark

    The different attitude demonstrated in the quotes at the beginning is quickly explained in the way war was prosecuted in ancient and medieval times. War always required either large mercenary forces or a significant part of the population of a principality, be it as peasant levies or free citizen armies. Thus war over a single season is painful but possible while war over many seasons or enduring war will cripple the state, when mercenaries are used by depletion of slaves in the gold/silver mines and when citizens are used by missed harvests and eventual famine. Eventually even the Roman Empire was not able to take enough slaves to keep the war machine going. The move to professional standing armies in modern times circumvents these problems but war was still limited by the aristocratic or even absolutistic forms of government which make any losses by the state also losses by the monarch and ruling nobles (L’État c’est moi means the losses of the state are also mine). In our real existing capitalist democracies this link is broken because it is quite possible for those in power to enrich themselves and their social circle without a negative effect on their personal situation as long as the war does not become total. This means that they never want peace but never ending war and occupation in Afghanistan or constant cold war scares are good and make lots of money for some people while WW3 would be too much of a good thing and ruin the game.

  4. animalogic

    “The root cause of our predicament is the all-volunteer force.”
    This article is embarrassingly naive.
    The above quote is indicative: a symptom is taken as a cause.
    This article simply fails to comprehend the politics animating the military. Blame the military for Afghanistan, Iraq etc etc ? It’s the military’s fault its government is bent on hegemony at any cost ? Its the military’s fault that it is consciously employed to generate chaos & failed states ?
    A pax Americana ? Imagine Orwell’s boot on the face of the world.

    1. Pokie

      Conscription didn’t stop the United States from fighting the civil war, both world wars, or in Vietnam – although, in the latter case, the draft and the protests against it did help end American aggression in Indochina, but with enormous costs to American social harmony. Congress stopped conscription because they didn’t want to deal with the related constituent complaints of why are we there. Military chose no conscription because they would have greater control over who was selected. Besides, no conscription salaries must increase to attract volunteers.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I think if you look at some of the comments made by senior Military figures in Congress, you can see precisely that it is the militaries fault. Its a long time since any General has done any more than hint of the real truth of what they are doing. The foreign expeditionary forces of the US have long become a self licking ice cream. The root cause may be cowardly and stupid politicians, but the military have been quite happy to play the game.

        1. whine country

          Bravo for you sierra7 – you managed to say in only 7 words what my post below took way too many words to try to say.

    3. whine country

      The idea behind a predominantly conscripted military is that the “Citizen Soldier” serves to prosecute a war, properly declared by Congress (and thus in theory supported by our voting citizenry), with the sole purpose and motivation to end the war and return to his or her former life. (My father was required to serve for the DURATION plus 6 months, I was fortunate to get a shorter “sentence” of a fixed two years) There is no motivation for those who are drafted to do anything other than that and, for example, make advancement of their long term career objectives their mission in life. With respect (sorry Yves), those who pooh pooh the idea that the all volunteer military is a big problem are invariably those who have never served in combat and have no idea of what it entails even at a conceptual level. As a Vietnam era conscript, I can tell you some facts that are undeniably true based on personal observation: Virtually ALL who were drafted to serve did so only reluctantly considering the alternatives to be worse. Volunteers did so ONLY because they saw the potential of serving in some capacity to be better than being drafted and thus increasing their chances of being assigned to combat units. Gays openly advertised their gayness in order to be discharged and returned to civilian life. Women were virtually guaranteed that they would serve only in areas that were guaranteed to be safe from hostile action. Even then lifers (career military) would exercise all of their clout to serve away from Vietnam EXCEPT young infantry officers who wished to fill out their resume to advance career goals. (Friends who flew on slicks – aka HUEY helicopters – told stories of them flying Generals at 3,000 feet over combat areas in order for the General to qualify for a combat medal). Today gays and women WANT to serve and in particular participate in combat – Why? Because their mission now is their career advancement. Sure, these are generalizations. Marines have always (well almost always) been volunteers. But Marines and others like them have always made up a rather small part of the total military over the years. Bacevich is a former Army officer who served in combat and knows full well what it is really like. Fortunately for us he chose to not continue in a career where to talk truth is to begin to end your career, for it is precisely that career mission that has contributed substantially to the current lack of motivation to end wars – the career has become the most important driving force for the conduct of the vast majority of “volunteers”.

  5. Expat

    The ruling elite did away with the draft in response to the Vietnam War protests. Of course, they realized that poor, uneducated Southern whites and poor, inner-city minorities would join out of patriotism or necessity so a draft was not needed as long as the flag was waved and the economy was kept at a certain level.

    I don’t have much contact with Americans these days but when I do, the opinions and interests seem to be very different from those on this site. Even my well-educated, wealthy siblings (Coastal elites) tend to have a knee-jerk military reaction to most problems. All around air bases in America, people don’t complain about the noise; they welcome the “sound of freedom”. A few dead soldiers killed in a country we invaded illegally (and which most Americans never knew existed) is not a call to question why we were there; it is a call to blow the shit out of every remaining brown person in that mysterious place.

    Simply put, I believe Americans are enamored with the military and guns. It’s part of American culture and history. Walk softly and carry an AR-15. Pacify ’em with a Krag. …from my cold, dead fingers, to the shores of Tripoli.

    The violent, militaristic agenda suits Washington and Wall Street for many reasons. As long as Americans writ large like it, then America will remain what the rest of the world knows it to be, a military empire steeped in violence.

    1. Stephen Gardner

      I think you are very right here. The behavior of our military reflects American culture. Until Americans collectively change their minds about America’s role and divine right to destroy any country that resists we will continue misbehaving and blaming other countries for resisting. I fear the only way we will stop is with a humiliating military defeat. Unfortunately, we are likely to strike back in a world ending way.

    2. Carolinian

      Well in the end the Iraq war was very unpopular and it wasn’t that popular in the beginning either despite government and media propaganda designed to “sell the product” as one Bush apparatchik said. Americans are into violence and are constantly bombarded with it in their movies and tv. They are also quite ignorant about the rest of the world–one charge, at least, that couldn’t be laid on that British empire.

      But it seems to me there’s no question that this mindless militarism comes from the top down and the generals who run the military are very much part of the policy and not just the executors. After all they go on television and give their opinions and have played a big role so far in the Trump administration.

      There’s probably no solution other than the military, as it did in Vietnam, to face massive failure and popular rejection. Unfortunately they will be taking the rest of us down with them and given the decayed state of our democracy there seems to be little that the many millions of Americans who object can do to stop them.

      1. sierra7

        I don’t believe there is any path to change in our view or operation of our military. I believe we are to far down the slide into a self-destructive abyss because of our belief in “American Exceptionalism” and it’s propagandizing by the political and media/education classes. History is littered with “empires” that believed they were the answer to all the problems of the world; or they felt that they were so powerful that no one could withstand their policies of force. Conscription would have brought the politicians to the debate table; without it we are no different than those of the past who used devoted mercenaries to carry out their policies. General S. Butler was almost totally correct in stating that, “War is a Racket”. War also brings some of the most corrupt policies within that country that pursues those policies as a routine. We are on the path. Perpetual war seems to be the policy of this country. PNAC (Project for a New American Century) devolved in the mid to late 1990’s spell out just what this country had in mind for the 21st century and beyond. And those that formulated that document are still roaming the halls of our government or deeply embedded in those institutions that heavily affect the war making policies and beat the drums for “American Exceptionalism”. The illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the penultimate move by the Bush administration (as had his father in all the propagandizing for the 1991 invasion of Iraq) to carry out those directives described in the PNAC document.
        Without war most military brass will stagnate as far a advancements/promotions are concerned. We are now a nation that cannot back off of the “military-industrial-complex”. It will collapse our economy.
        Noam Chomsky described quite nicely how the political machine works in his documentary in the early 1990’s: “Manufacturing Consent”. It would be instructive if more people would spend some time to watch it.
        We have diminished the purposes of the UN (along with other nations); rebuilt NATO thru obfuscation, outright lies to Russia and twist (blackmail) those member nations into doing our dirty bidding.
        Who is going to put a stop to all the propaganda about our involvement in “spreading democracy” around this planet? How many millions of people will it take to flood the roads to the capital?
        Lastly Mr. Bacevich according to the article states that the ordinary citizen is not affected by our wars. That has to the be most outrageous statement made especially by an ex-military individual. He must not hear the pitiful screams and cries of mothers, fathers, and other family members when notified that their child has been taken from them through the violence of the “war of the week”. Military spending in any form except in the direct physical defense of your nation is a crime against all the thoughts, perceptions, dreams or desires of the ordinary citizen.
        We need to stop this insanity.
        (Caveat: I’m a 5 year military vet. pre and during the Korean War.)

    3. FluffytheObeseCat

      My experience in living here within the U.S. over past two decades, is that the most casual, militaristic blowhards are not from the trailer parks in “flyover”. They are from the McMansion classes. Because wealth is greatest on the coasts, casual warmongers tend to be surprisingly well-represented there, despite all the propaganda to the contrary.

      Your well-to-do coastal siblings are unremarkable in their views, and would not be out of place among their peers at country clubs, or Broadways shows, or the theme hotels at Disneyworld, or any of the other super-American haunts of the upper middle classes. Including gentrified urban centers where “everyone” drinks craft beer, and voted for Hillary.

      If you want to find people who have some quiet questions about it all, you’re better off going somewhere full of shabby “little pink houses” out of some 2 decades old lite rock song.

      1. Altandmain

        I agree. It should be the upper middle class and the rich who are conscripted for war.

        It is also why Hillary Clinton’s militaristic record was not a liability but a great asset to these people.

        Many probably see the wars as an opportunity to make capital gains money on military contractors like Lockheed Martin. Particularly around the DC area, many work in the so called Defense industry.

      2. schmoe

        Do you live in the South? In the 2008 Presidential election of Obama v. “Bomb bomb Iran” McCain,Obama took 85% of the vote in the city of Seattle(cherry picking a specific stat). That is not an example of people outside of “flyover” country being militaristic.

  6. The Rev Kev

    There is something that I am wondering about here that is way outside my area of knowledge. Granted that there is a disconnect between the American people and their military as it seems that unless you know someone that was a vet, it does not seem to effect normal American life. My question is whether things would have turned out different if the US had not gone over to being a fiat currency back in the 70s. You would think that jacking up the Pentagon budget by hundreds of billions would or should have an effect on things like common taxation but instead you see massive giveaways in taxation to corporations instead. I was just wondering if things would have been different if there had not been a move to fiat currency. It just seems to have taken away the urgency of having things fixed or even reformed.

    1. Disturbed Voter

      Yes. To paraphrase Cicero, war requires oceans of money. If fiat currency did’t exist, it would be necessary to invent it (and China was first). Since about 1940, not even 1965, we can have both guns and butter, thanks to fiat currency. It was realized even by Lincoln, that war can’t be prosecuted without bankers, and fiat.

      Yes, we could make the public in general feel the pain of our wars of choice, but that isn’t the point. The point is … resourcing elite display and plebeian consumerism (same as in ancient Rome). The break thru of Marius, was extending the right to fight, to the poor classes, and motivating them to do so. Before that, war was an elite activity … and from that time forward, the powers that be, realized they could outsource it to the plebs … as the Senate had already mostly done to the lower elites.

      If you actually want to impose an effective cost, on our collective violent activity, you need to put pressure on the Senate, not on the Plebs. But don’t hold your breath that the Romans or us, would ever do that.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I think its not so much a case of there being an unlimited amount of money from a fiat currency, but the fact that Military Keynesianism has become the de facto method of regional development in the US. Even the interstate highway was justified as military expenditure. Eisenhower talked about the Military-Industrial Complex, but even this understates it – the US has become, as Voltaire described Prussia, an army with a state, not vice versa. Military expenditure is simply how the US government now operates, its the classic situation of a man with a hammer seeing every problem as a nail.

      When even Sanders found himself having to support the F-35 to keep jobs in Vermont, you can see the problem is nearly irreversible.

      1. polecat

        “you can see the problem is nearly irreversible.”

        Yeah, well .. nothing, via war gaming, a few thousand new ‘Suns’ can’t, uh .. solve ! Our ‘leaders’, both civilian and military seem ever to want to confront a nebulous boogie man .. with the implicit idea that “If you want to come take away my nukes, you’ll have to do so from my cold, dead, flash shadow !”
        I’m on the third stone, with nowhere to go.

        Personally, I prefer to continue to be housed in living, breathing, unradiated tissue, but that’s just me … × billions !

      2. James McFadden

        “Do you know what is an indestructible weapons system? … One funded in all 50 states.” Stephen Cohen

      1. The Rev Kev

        True, but historically most governments did not want a war to go on till their gold ran out which would be as disastrous as running out of military-age men. There are ways around it like loans and other measures such as when Lincoln issued Greenbacks during the US Civil War but in both cases it was painful to redeem them after the war was finished.

  7. Tyronius

    The above comment touches on the real modern purpose of America’s military industrial complex but stops short.

    America’s military is no longer for fighting or winning wars; it’s for generating profits. The materiel, machinery and manpower of our modern military is a source of unending revenue for support contractors large and small, who duly send lobbyists to Washington in order to perpetuate their racket by any means necessary.

    American owned corporations and financial interests around the world provide the ‘objectives’ and the domestic media apparatus of manufacturing consent provide the cover of legitimacy and desirability of the activities- all the while handsomely profiting while breathlessly ‘reporting’ the ensuing drama.

    In short, America’s military industrial complex is not and for most of America’s history has not been about defending America’s security but rather it has been effectively utilized to extract profits from groups ranging from the American taxpayer to foreign suppliers of resources of all kinds.

    It isn’t a ‘defense’ force, it’s a tool for forced extraction. The notion that it defends America is a convenient ruse, one continually trotted out to cover up and excuse blatant exploitation and repression worldwide.

    No, let’s call our armed forces what they really are; they’re the world’s greatest gang of enforcers working for the world’s largest mafia deployed to maintain control of the global block for the purpose of extracting ‘protection’ money from everyone on it.

    Viewed from this perspective, our various general’s ‘inability’ to bring (highly profitable) wars to an end is the main purpose rather than a symptom of failure. Understanding that is how they got the job in the first place.

    As an aside, I found the article’s suggestion that Russia is ‘overarmed’ to be the height of hilarious hypocrisy!

    1. Disturbed Voter

      This. Humans in general, and Americans in particular, aren’t going to choose an economy based on peaceful meditation, making your own thread/cloth/clothing, walking 250 miles to gather salt … in general having a lifestyle that even Indians reject anytime they have the opportunity to do so. Gandhi and MLK are only useful, in their respective countries, as martyrs for a cause that people only give lip service to.

      War is politics by other means. Politics is the distribution of power. Power is used to garner excess resources. And using those excess resources for elite display and consumerism, is what civilization is all about. This began with the invention of agriculture, which led to cities … and cities led to war. War in the West, in Greece aka Europe 1.0, began over boundary disputes in a resource weak terrain … as it did in Sumer. Unfailing crops that were always bigger than the population required, made peace the rule in Egypt. Rome is Europe 2.0, where criminality was endemic, the Republic and later the Empire showing that crime does pay.

      It is true, that war is a poor choice … but since WW II started in Europe, the war economy has been continuous in the US, even before we officially entered. That is what pulled the US out of depression and prevented a return to depression. There is no butter, without guns … and stopping would destroy the economy. Choosing war is an effect of choosing success and prosperity. The narcissism and materialism we choose, is a consequence of our spiritual bankruptcy.

    2. JCC

      “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

      ― Smedley D. Butler, War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America’s Most Decorated Soldier

    3. James

      America’s military is no longer for fighting or winning wars; it’s for generating profits.

      I was wondering when someone would finally say it.

  8. voteforno6

    Mr. Bacevich touches on the problems with senior military leadership. It would be interesting to see him go into greater detail on that. As in the civilian world, more and more benefits are accruing to the top in the military – just look at the proliferation of general officers. In my opinion, there is a problem of careerism in the officer ranks. An officer gets a command that lasts for two or three years, checks that box, and then moves on to the next box. It’s almost mechanical, how they rotate general officers. That, more than anything, I think, is why we’ve seen so many commanders in Afghanistan. Even if some of them did a half-decent job, that person would rotate out before long. How do you think they would react if they were told they couldn’t leave until they ended that conflict? I suspect that we would see more outside-the-box thinking.

    1. Roger Bigod

      This check-the-box careerism contributed to our loss in Nam. For the lower ranks of officers, the tour of duty was a year. The first six months were spent in the field and the second six months back at headquarters. It took six months to learn something of the terrain, the local province chief, the enemy and the RVN forces. Not to mention the language and customs. By the time the officer was oriented, he was replaced. Clearly,the effectiveness of the mission was sacrificed to the interest of individual ambition within the organization.

      This was for lower officer ranks. I don’t know how high it went, but Westmoreland was in command of MACV for 4 years.

      With conscription, there’s a tension between draftees and career personnel (“lifers”). Toward the end, this contributed to the fraggings. The lieutenants and captains needed action so that their Officer Efficiency Reports looked good. The privates, not so much.

  9. Tomonthebeach

    When I was drafte in 1968, I ran to the nearest Navy recruiter to avoid foxhole service. Back then recruiters said the Navy was not just a job but an adventure. After 32 years of service, for me it was an adventure. Alas, today, the AVF is just a job from E1 up to the JCS Chief.

  10. RickM

    If Tripp, Brandon, Katie, and Muffy were as likely to come home in a box through Dover in the dead of the night as Billy, Jose, Tameka, and Maria, the cost of war would be visible to those whom it “benefits.” Therefore an inescapable Draft would lead to our political “leaders” hearing from home about the tangible costs their neo-imperial adventures. No, the children of Bush Clinton Obama & Trump LLC would not be in any particular danger, but all those local doctors, lawyers, business owners, “investors” in the cities and suburbs? Yes. This would make a difference. Charlie Rangel was right.

  11. Jim Haygood

    The armed services have been designed not to defend the country but to project military power on a global basis.

    Only when we ordinary citizens conclude that we have an obligation to contribute to the country’s defense …

    Nice set of non sequiturs … sad waste of pixels.

  12. der

    To do any of what Andrew Bacevich is suggesting Americans would need to start with their 2 party platforms principles and attitudes and the 535 elected “leaders” who agree to them. A high hurdle that just trying to have a conversation with high school students about violence in their classrooms suggests we will not get over.


    After nearly eight years of a Democratic Commander-in-Chief who has frequently placed strategic and ideological limitations and shackles on our military, our enemies have been emboldened and our national security is at great risk. Our country faces a national security crisis, and only by electing a Republican to the White House will we restore law and order to our land and safety to our citizens.

    Tyranny and injustice thrive when America is weakened. The oppressed have no greater ally than a confident and determined United States, backed by the strongest military on the planet.

    Quite simply, the Republican Party is committed to rebuilding the U.S. military into the strongest on earth, with vast superiority over any other nation or group of nations in the world. We face a dangerous world, and we believe in a resurgent America.

    Democrats believe America must continue to have the strongest military in the world. Donald Trump has called our military “a disaster.” We reject that view of our brave men and women in serving in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. They perform admirably while sacrificing immeasurably.

    Defense Spending

    We support a smart, predictable defense budget that meets the strategic challenges we face, not the arbitrary cuts that the Republican Congress enacted as part of sequestration. We must prioritize military readiness by making sure our Active, Reserve, and National Guard components remain the best trained and equipped in the world. We will seek a more agile and flexible force and rid the military of outdated Cold War-era systems.

    1. der

      And after reading/watching today’s news I failed to add not only have the 535 pledged to the party platform, for the most they’re stupid.

  13. blennylips

    Okay, this is the soon to be obligatory reference to

    On the Psychology of Military Incompetence
    It demonstrates the pithy, unequivocal force of the book. The writing is powerful but elegant, direct and yet subtle. This excellence of style, plus the impelling way in which the contents are arranged, make the book a comparative rarity—a factual and theoretical treatise which can …

    I just started it last night. Must Read.

    James Levy
    June 3, 2015 at 11:31 am

    1. blennylips

      Please forgive me for this extended excerpt to illustrate the delicious point of view of this author, Norman F. Dixon (

      WAR IS PRIMARILY concerned with two sorts of activity – the delivering of energy and the communication of information. Most combatants are involved with the former, a few – generals among them – with the latter.
      In war, each side is kept busy turning its wealth into energy which is then delivered, free, gratis and for nothing, to the other side. Such energy may be muscular, thermal, kinetic or chemical. Wars are only possible because the recipients of this energy are ill prepared to receive it and convert it into a useful form for their own economy. If, by means of, say, impossibly large funnels and gigantic reservoirs, they could capture and store the energy flung at them by the other side, the recipients of this unsolicited gift would soon be so rich, and the other side so poor, that further warfare would be unnecessary for them and impossible for their opponents.

  14. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Dear Yves,

    Cannot say how much it warmed my heart to see Thucydides quoted.

    Apropos of which in the run up to the invasion of the Iraq many of the speeches justifying the Athenian invasion of Syracuse could have been lifted verbatim and repeated by Washington and the pundits at the time.

    And we all know how THAT turned out.

    Except that only a few of us, perhaps mostly concentrated in the NC readership, were aware of these echoes across the millennia. Still, you must admire Washington and the punditocracy for their incredible single-pointed work ethic and obsession to prove Santayana right, no matter what the cost.

  15. Socal Rhino

    I always find Mr. Bacevich to be thoughtful and insightful, obviously well informed. And most readers of this site likely share much common ground with him. I find it odd to see the dismissive tone of commenters here. Perhaps because our host framed the text with some caveats – if Yves had led into this with “must read” or “important” would the reaction have been different, i wonder.

    1. AbateMagicThinking But Not Money

      Those who choose to start war are doing it either as a means to boost wilting legitimacy or to raise/hold their position in the legitimacy stakes. Those on the other side of the equation have the existential choices. Therefore the idea that peace is the goal of war is alien to me.

      The idea that the America is a military with a state attached rings very true (thank you PlutoniumKun). The clues to this being true are the Surgeon General and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

      As to how the US public pays for the military; it is the contempt shown by the former and serving military. In order to kill efficiently, as the military must, contempt for the enemy is required, When push come to shove the ultimate enemy of any military is its state’s own civilians.

      My view is that the US military likes to promote a sanctimonious veneer. I’m wondering how this rubs up against what has come to be perceived as the porn-star presidency,


    2. Steelyman

      In general I do read Bacevich and agree with him often enough. But this article demonstrates that he too has succumbed to the anti Russian tropes of the military and political establishment.

      Russia is described as “petulant” “over armed” and as a country that misbehaves. Possibly true but equally applicable to the USA yet Bacevich doesn’t seem inclined to use such emotive and biased language to describe the actions of his own country.

      Secondly, and also possibly open to argument, is his constant emphasis on the superb qualities of the US military. At this stage, after the ongoing fiascoes of Iraq and Afghanistan, this particular article of his professional faith seems somewhat quaint.

  16. Amfortas the Hippie

    I’m gonna toss a few anecdotes.
    during the Bush Darkness, a local boy was killed in some sandy place, and his mom rallied the whole town(at the football stadium, no less) and got on the microphone and lambasted all who were against the war. The gist of the “logic” was that since her boy died in that fashion, we must continue to fight over there, because to do otherwise would “dishonor his service”.
    My letter to the editor went point by point refuting all this specious nonsense(never printed, so no crosses burned in my yard)
    the other day, wife and I were in the golf cart in the pasture…and she talked about a friend of a friend’s sister’s son who had been killed in some sandy place.
    I pointed out that we are only connected to the various wars by such tenuous degrees of separation…we don’t hang with anyone who is on active duty, or has a kid over there.
    I have grown up with a step-dad who was paralised in 68 in Nam(T-7)….he never speaks of the war, save on the rare occasion that his platoon visits(in which case the whiskey flows and I sit silently listening). Mom and I have spent almost 35 years converting him to American Liberalism, and the deep awareness in him that his war was not for “Freedom” or what have you is what drives many of his periodic outbursts….it’s too hard to look at that, even though he has become acutely aware that he lost the use of his lower half for the greed and reckless indifference of ideologues with little grasp of the needless suffering their vehement warmongering causes.
    Ergo,I support the troops by living with one for most of my life, and being on call for when he gets shitfaced and falls out of his wheelchair.
    Like my stepdad, I firmly believe that we can best support the troops, former and active, by ceasing to make more wounded(body and soul) warriors, ending our global empire, and stopping the greedheads from poking various hornets nests.
    A few times, my boys…due to the influence of other parents on their buddies…have said that they want to be a marine, or whatever.
    Before I refer them to my stepdad….who will take them to the porch and harangue them for hours…I tell them in no uncertain terms that I will gladly shoot them in the knee before I let that happen.
    (stepdad says that I’d hafta beat him too it,lol)
    war is a racket in which the not-rich do the dirty work of the rich.
    Here, in this far place, isolated from the noise and the haste, we pay the price for a war that ended more than 45 years ago….physical and psychological and emotional and spiritual wounds that will never heal.
    It is stupid and inhuman.
    we should stop.

  17. Futility

    I usually also enjoy reading Mr. Bacevich as he’s well informed and does not hold back criticism. I have to admit, though, that I found this piece somewhat lacking. He seems to be trapped, as a former officer of the military, in the view that the US military is designed to defend the “Homeland” and thereby fails to understand its real purpose which was succinctly expressed here by other commenters: that its purpose is now the extraction of money from the public and a means for Military Keynesianism in underdeveloped regions of the country, which nicely explains why the US keeps losing wars.
    It only appears that Trump didn’t get the memo that he’s just supposed to keep the machine running not risk WW3 as he might well achieve in his escalation in Syria.

    And ‘overarmed Russia’ was uncharacteristically tone-deaf ( does this metaphor work? It’s not my native language).

  18. tc

    Simple way to find out how much the public actually supports all these military adventures – bring back the draft with no exceptions in the 18-22 age group, men and women.

  19. James McFadden

    “War does not determine who is right, only who is left.” Bertrand Russell
    World peace will come when Americans rise up and topple their war machine.

  20. RandyM

    When America closes down its 800 plus military bases around the world, when it begins to moth ball most of its military equipment, when it takes a meat ax to its military budget, when it stops telling the rest of the world how to live, then it can consider bringing back the draft.

  21. Victor Sciamarelli

    I would like to add to this thoughtful article that in contrast to every other industrial country in the world, war for Americans is always an away game. American civilians simply have no war experience. And while Hollywood’s war movies are filled with graphic violence, the media and military consciously sanitize our real wars. When Private Bradley Manning leaked the video of an American helicopter killing a Rueter’s reporter and eleven others, he was sentenced to solitary confinement.
    Also, it is possible our nation has more young people than the military requires, if so, then commitment could be expanded to other areas, such as emergency response, hurricane relief, etc, so that everyone has a sense of national service.
    In addition, perhaps we should view war from another angle other than winning. There are a number of articles warning us about the militarization of the police, but I’ve never read about the policizing of the military as an alternative view of the military’s mission.
    You can choose any large city, but say Chicago for example, and ask what are the police doing there? If the crime rate miraculously dropped to zero in 2019 and remained there in 2020, the police would not declare victory and go home.
    The force might decrease in size, or if there is an increase in crime, more officers will be hired and trained — our domestic surge — but there will always be a police force. So what are the doing?
    We know that the police are not the cause of the crime rate, otherwise, we should hire Canadian or German police whose cities like Toronto and Munich have much less crime, but that is unthinkable.
    Most officers take “To protect and to serve” seriously, but the effect of the police force is to provide sufficient order and security so that we can go about doing our business — and what is that business? Domestically it is protecting elite interests, some good things, and some things like inequality, financial fraud, and overcharging Americans for healthcare and education, not so good.
    Maybe we should think of our troops in the ME for all these years as helping us go about doing our business? Again what’s that? Internationally, once again it’s protecting elite interests, called “vital interests,” like the control of oil, resources, and markets, so that we can overcharge the rest of the world too.
    Lastly, as I scan some news on the internet this morning there is talk of confrontation in Syria, what will Trump’s response be, and rising tension with Russia. I did not see an article suggesting that the tentative meeting between Putin and Trump be accelerated to resolve this problem. Why not invite Putin to Mar-a-Lago, no golf and no cheesecake until they come to an agreement.
    Furthermore, much has been said about China’s economic and military power. If the US is worried about China then so is Russia, perhaps more so, it shares a long border with China. Syria should be an opportunity. If Russia and the US cooperate they could more effectively deal with China — Lots to talk about, the sooner the better.

  22. Seymour B

    What is this, I can’t even, etc.:

    Tally up the number of three- and four-star generals who have commanded the Afghan War since 2001. It’s roughly a dozen. …

    The generals who followed one another in presiding over that war are undoubtedly estimable, well-intentioned men…

    A dozen estimable, well-intentioned men, and all ended up with the same result…

  23. James McFadden

    Regarding Yves comment “To think that citizens aren’t paying for a “lots of guns, hardly any butter” set of priorities is false.”
    I think you are correct that the balanced budget fiction is used to promote the myth of choosing between guns and butter, but the underlying reason for cutting butter is rooted in the neoliberal ideology of destroying all social programs — rooted in the anti-socialist ideology that came out of Wall Street, the CFR and CIA — funded by capitalists like the Rockefellers — and more recently promoted by think tanks funded by Koch, Mercer and others. Even without the war machine, I suspect these capitalists and their institutions would find other rationals to gut social programs and “reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      well…the military is sort of “socialist” isn’t it?
      in the Simplified with Big Letters American Version?
      For all it’s faults and blunders, the VA has been very good to my Step Dad, for instance.
      We are expected to believe that all that money came from somewhere.
      People I know think it came from them, or the mythical National Credit Card….for which they feel responsible.

  24. Synoia

    By common consent, the United States today has the world’s best military. By some estimates, it may be the best in recorded history.

    Rated by whom?

    We send the troops off to war, but they don’t achieve peace. Instead, America’s wars and skirmishes simply drag on, seemingly without end. We just keep doing what we’ve been doing, a circumstance that both Augustine and Thucydides would undoubtedly have found baffling.

    The military prepare countries for rule by the conquerors.

    What if the chaos and confusion in the ME is the objective?


    1. Does AIPAC/Isradel benefit form the chaos?
    2. Do Sunnis’ if they like the Shia in Chaos?
    3. Does the US like non-aligned countries in chaos (eg Venezuela, Syria, etc?
    4. Does the US still practice the tenants of the Monroe doctrine?

    1. Disturbed Voter

      The American Empire is the British Empire continued by other means. Our behavior is just like that of the British Empire in the 19th century. This is not an accident. The Great Game continues with Russia and China.

      1. Grebo

        The British Empire ruled Nigeria with 400 British soldiers and no helicopters. The pattern was usually to allow private companies to do the initial colonisation then the government would take over when the company screwed up. There were relatively few instances of the British forces turning up en mass out of the blue and destroying viable states.
        America does things differently.

  25. susan the other

    I think Bacevich is turning the dialog in the right direction. And I apologize for a too-long comment. I haven’t changed my mind about the way we operate. I still think that if we had spent 8 or 10 trillion dollars making the Middle East modern and prosperous we’d be way far ahead now. Things would have fallen into place. Even in Syria and Iran which are the sticking points. Pepe Escobar recently called the war “pipeline-istan”. He said a new pipeline from Iran’s massive natgas fields going to Turkey and on to the EU seems to be winning out. And now today we look like we are going to a hot war over it. Even France is ready to gadhafi Assad. Brutal.

    So, aside from our trusty allies, the US military in a Nutshell: Afghanistan. It is not an unintended quagmire. It is a dedicated outpost come hell or high water. For a variety of reasons: rare earth minerals and lotsa gold in the southern mountains; the possibility for a big water diversion project (think @ the Mekong); justified mistrust of Pakistan; a prime corridor of land for a Caspian pipeline; a natural canyon gateway into and out of China; a position for maintaining our area of interest and for holding Iran in a state of siege; supporting Saudi Arabia and our own stake in ME energy resources which we have developed since FDR – a significant investment by us; and an obvious position to interfere in everything going on in Central Asia including the Belt and Road and the Eurasian economy. Not to mention the lucrative heroin trade. And I’m sure there are other reasons developing like it was expensive to get there and we don’t want to do that mobilization again and now we have to consider that being there puts us in a good position to turn off fossil fuels at the spigot if we have to (for global warming or to control some unanticipated misuse). No doubt there are other reasons.

    So the military is very useful and effective, imo. And it should be expanded. Really. Expanded to fulfill a mandate to repair the environment and assist other countries to do so. Only if we give the military this new obligation would it be justified to start a new draft for compulsory service to protect the planet. Because we won’t need troops much longer – all the killing will be done by drones and cyber.

  26. baldski

    The fact that the Pentagon is the largest owner/operator of Golf Courses in the World (over 170), should make Trump jealous and you’d think he would do something about it.

  27. Altandmain

    The wars have nothing to do with security. Actually they make the world a less secure place for Americans. It is about keeping the defense (really offense) industry rich.

    It is time to acknowledge the nature of this. Rich people get the profits and poor people have to die for the wars because they have limited opportunities in the civilian world.

    Unless and until these gross economic inequities are remedied and educational and employment opportunities are made available to all, only those young men and women whose families earn an annual income exceeding $250,000 will be subject to mandatory military service with few if any exemptions other than REAL, documented and severe medical impairment. This “Fairness Draft,” will accomplish three important goals. First, it helps furnish the manpower necessary to sustain the AVF and ensure the national defense. Second, it satisfies both the intent of the social contract and the principle of distributive justice by ensuring that the burden of military service is shared equally by all segments of the population, regardless of economic status. Lastly and. perhaps most importantly, as the cost-benefit analysis changes, that is, should the lives and well-being of the children of the privileged and the wealthy – the progeny of bankers, corporate executives, politicians etc. – be placed at risk, the frequency and number of wars will decrease significantly.

    This would be a good start. The rich, who get the capital gains from the defense industry are not going allow this one without a very bitter fight.


    I am often genuinely bemused by American discourse. So many here are or believe in a particular mission the US has.
    “Liberating” ” bringing freedom or democracy” – why not call it civilizing other people – like some time ago during the killing of the native Americans.
    Since American politics affect more or less the whole planet, everybody should have a right to decide…so the best would be to strengthen the international organization, recognizing the international court and stop bombing other countries.
    The United States has no business to tell other countries how to be. But an international body could.
    I think it would be an excellent start to forbid weapons exports and nationalize the weapon industry. Right know the profits are private, but societies as a whole are paying the costs. As long as the benefits are so enormous, this military/industrial complex will never stop to push for new “defense” weapons…
    Just read an excellent book “What is America” by Ronald Wright, which leaves me with the impression, that one of the problems is the fairy tale believes Americans seem to have about their country. Time to grow up and look honestly and thoroughly at American History.

  29. Chauncey Gardiner

    Agree with Andrew Bacevich that War Powers need to be taken away from the Executive branch and restored to Congress in accordance with the Constitution. That action needs to be accompanied by campaign finance reforms to reverse the fiction of corporate personhood and private funding limits imposed. An annual GAO audit of the Pentagon should be required, together with a set of specific principles and objectives that must be met prior to sovereign engagement in or funding of military actions. These would include specific determinants that must be met before the exercise of military force is justified, require exhaustion of diplomatic alternatives prior to initiating use of military force, a public statement of the explicit goals of any military action, and compliance with the Geneva Convention and UN Human Rights resolutions in the conduct of any military action. It has also become clear that government propaganda needs to again be outlawed and penalties imposed for violations, including removal and permanent bans from public office and suspensions of broadcasting licenses by those who engage in such propaganda. This issue is closely intertwined with concentration of media ownership and the financial benefits of war for a few. Media ownership needs to be broken up, the fairness doctrine restored, and the Glass-Steagall Act reinstated.

  30. RBHoughton

    America’s problem is the same as Britain’s problem before – when settling a quarrel with another country its absurd to insist on unconditional surrender. Every time we try to do that we get bogged down and ultimately defeated. The successful Russian advance across Europe in WWII was an exception that induced our belated Normandy invasion.

    The Melian dialog is an authority the Pentagon approves. I know it was stated explicitly by Britain in the run-up to the Opium War, and Generals everywhere can hardly be brought to battle unless they suppose they will win. But there are other Greek thoughts on the possibility of peace that West Point and other military academies might be encouraged to teach as well.

    How about “give your defeated enemy a golden bridge to retire across?” If western Generals recognised the enduing value of that they might become a valued part of society again instead of resembling rough-riding abusers skimming the rest of society. I learned from a West Point graduate that he was taught “Democracy is mob rule.” If that represents the quality of military scholarship no wonder the country has a problem.

  31. The Rev Kev

    There are a series of pages talking about the problems facing the American officer corps – mostly self created – starting at and which I came across before.
    The pages linked at the bottom are worth following up to give an understanding how the US officer corps produces so many bad leaders such as Petraeus. Glad to see at the side that this site appears in the Blogroll section.

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