America’s military capabilities are without peer in modern history. We have the technology to read license plates from space and build aircraft that are invisible to radar even as our submarines prowl silently in the ocean’s depths. And our greatest military asset – the men and women who make up our all-volunteer Armed Forces – are the most educated, motivated, and effective military cadre humanity has ever seen.
So why is it that America can win every battle but still lose (or at least not win) these endless wars? The United States spent $4.1 trillion in today’s dollars during World War II and managed to defeat the Axis powers in slightly less than four years. Today’s Wars on Terror, Iraq and Afghanistan have run up a tab of over $6 trillion over 18 years and nobody even knows what victory is supposed to look like. How in the world can the only remaining superpower and its premier fighting forces get bogged down in conflicts it doesn’t win?
I think the answer is pretty obvious. We don’t have a strategy for victory because, institutionally, America doesn’t really want to win. The status quo is big business for just about everybody but the US taxpayer. Let me explain.
First, let’s examine the administrative state (or Deep State, in today’s jargon). The unelected bureaucratic class in Washington was given an unprecedented opportunity in the wake of 9/11 when the Intelligence Community was reorganized and the Department of Homeland Security was born. Government bureaucracy has metastasized at an unfettered pace ever since, all under the guise of “keeping us safe.” Politicians are loath to criticize this growth and exorbitant spending for fear of being called “weak on national security.” It’s the contemporary equivalent of McCarthyism.
This administrative state has created quite an empire. A decade ago, the Washington Post’s Dana Priest and Bill Arkin published Top Secret America that revealed there were nearly 1300 government organizations and almost 2000 private companies working on national security, counterterrorism, or homeland defense projects in over 10,000 locations just in the United States. Over 850,000 government employees had Top Secret clearances (or about 1.5 times the total population of Washington, DC at the time). Given that these are 2010 figures, one can only imagine what that empire looks like today.
Don’t forget that the Prime Directive of any government bureaucracy is to survive, grow and prosper. Every year, each little department or agency will want a bigger slice of the budget pie: more personnel and/or material resources. That’s how functionaries and administrators measure success and advance their careers. I know this because I was once a government employee.
This bureaucratic class has also created quite a little annuity for itself. With the proliferation of government contractors seeking to continue riding on the government spending gravy train, these bureaucrats have a very lucrative second career awaiting them when they retire from government service. Examine government contractor job listings virtually anywhere in the United States and most of them will require an active security clearance (often Top Secret/SCI). Of course, those clearances are given by the government to other government bureaucrats, who can then parlay those clearances into big money after they leave government service.
It’s not just our civil servants. Senior flag- and field-grade officers wind up with profitable executive positions at major defense companies or as a media pundit. Even enlisted personnel – many with combat experience in a special operations capacity – get top-paying jobs with contractors either in the States or back overseas.
The War on Terror and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have presented the administrative state with a tremendous growth industry, one that has remained untouchable by politicians and legislators. Neither the civilians nor the military have any interest in victory because that would upset their very gainful and largely unsupervised profit stream.
Certainly the contractors aren’t wishing for victory any time soon. They have no interest in putting an end to the Beltway’s budgetary black hole that has rewarded them with a steady flow of record earnings. And the politicians don’t seem to have the courage, will, wisdom, or stomach to peel themselves away from partisan politics to do their constitutional duty and regulate spending that has spun out of control.
In fact, the only ones who would benefit from ending these wars are the American taxpayers and their unborn generations that will be left with the bill. But there isn’t any evidence that anybody in Washington has any interest in helping them.
Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler published a booklet in 1935 entitled “War is a Racket.” In the book, he railed against the war profiteers and industrialists during World War I who had profited astronomically from the suffering of war, especially by those who had fought in the trenches under absolutely atrocious conditions. Butler’s message rings just as true today as it did in 1935: if you want to stop war, take the profit out of it.
In his farewell address to the nation in 1961, President Eisenhower warned us about the potential influence of “the military-industrial complex” and the economic dangers of massive government deficit spending. Turns out he was right.
The reason why American doesn’t win endless wars is simple: greed.
Depending on the source, the targeted killing of the commander of the IRGC Quds Force, MGen Soleimani, in a Baghdad drone strike last week seems either to be the prelude to World War 3 or a seminal victory in the war against Iranian state terrorism. While Iran will undoubtedly retaliate in some dramatic manner, neither Tehran nor Washington really has an appetite for full-blown war. At the end of the day, today’s tensions will begin to subside and Soleimani will be replaced by another Iranian general. Each side may lose a piece or two on the board, but the game will continue.
We killed Al-Qaeda leaders Anwar al-Awlaki and Osama bin Laden in 2011, but over the first weekend of 2020 Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab killed three Americans at a joint Kenyan-US base. We killed “Caliph” Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi a few weeks before that, but in just that short span of time ISIS has killed over 100 in the Sahel and Nigeria.
We’ve seen this movie before. Killing terrorist icons makes us all feel good, but it does absolutely nothing for us at the strategic level in this war. Names change but the violence goes on. The groups survive under new management. The Iranian general is just our latest trophy kill in the Terror War.
We deserve actual victory for the six trillion dollars we have spent on endless wars since 9/11 and the thousands of American lives that have been lost.
Dave’s Take: If a Single Phone Call is an Impeachable Offense, who do we Hold Accountable for Afghanistan?
The sitting president of the United States made a phone call to the president of Ukraine last summer during which he raised the issue of Ukraine investigating a potential political rival. The majority party in Congress has now drafted Articles of Impeachment, saying that this was an abuse of presidential power.
In contrast, the war in Afghanistan has ground on for 18 years. Thanks to a trove of documents obtained by the Washington Post, we now know that presidents, cabinet secretaries, generals, diplomats, and bureaucrats of every stripe have been lying to us all along when they said we had a strategy for victory in that country. The evidence is pretty clear that they had no clue “who the bad guys” were and didn’t even have any real plan for winning the war. This is prima facie evidence of how we have been fighting, and losing the War on Terror since the beginning!
Afghanistan has cost the lives of 2300 US servicemembers and we have poured over one trillion dollars down a rabbit hole. If a single phone call that didn’t result in the death of a single service member or the expenditure of money other than the release of funds already earmarked for that country represents an impeachable offense, then Congress better get to work holding people accountable for the debacle in Afghanistan.
Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post has delivered a not-so-surprising conclusion in his series of articles on the war in Afghanistan. Senior military and civilian US officials have been lying to us for the entire 18-year span of the war. They made optimistic claims they knew to be false and hid evidence that the war had become unwinnable. All the time they were telling us they had a strategy for victory in Afghanistan, they never really had a clue what was going on or how (or even if) it actually could be won.
Whitlock’s The Afghanistan Papers harkens back to the infamous Pentagon Papers of the early 1970s. They show that – from the most senior to the most junior – our leaders and bureaucrats in all the administrations since 9/11 have altered data points, misstated developments and events, and downright lied to us about the war’s progress from the very beginning. Given the dismal progress of the war and the obvious lack of any semblance of a strategy for victory there, this does not come as a surprise.
The salient takeaway from Whitlock’s work is the astonishing, nearly ubiquitous level of dishonesty and duplicity and officials’ total lack of concern for the lives of our service members in that conflict. Generals, bureaucrats, politicians, analysts and diplomats all were complicit in the waste of trillions of dollars to keep the military industrial complex chugging along and put service men and women on one deployment after another, often leading to the breakup of their families and a lifetime of psychological trauma. All the while they knew it was a lost cause.
This wasn’t a Democrat or Republican problem or an elected official versus bureacrat problem. It wasn’t a military or civilian problem. It was – and still is – a Washington problem. It is the symptom of a government that no longer has any fear of accountability because it can just say and do anything and nobody will care. It has less to do with partisan politics and more to do with the caliber of personal character inside the Beltway.
There’s a reason why we shouldn’t trust politicians. They lie. Now that appears to be a good reason not to trust anyone in the government.
Saturday marked the 35th Annual Navajo Airlift and over 40 private pilots and aircraft donated their time and airplanes to deliver tons of clothing, toys, blankets, and other necessities to Gallup, NM to be distributed by Thoreau Navajo Outreach and SouthWest Indian Foundation. We’ve participated for around 20 years and it’s always the start of our holiday season.
Be part of something larger than yourself. You won’t regret it.
Recent ISIS attacks in Mali have killed 49 Malian soldiers and one French military member. A Tajik border guard and a policeman were also killed a few days ago in an ISIS ambush on a checkpoint near the border with Uzbekistan. On a brighter note, the Tajiks managed to kill 15 of the ISIS attackers.
We don’t hear any reports of this violence in the US media, which is exclusively focused on domestic political issues. But it is evidence that despite the loss of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a US special operations raid in northwestern Syria, the group is still as violent as ever and it is still expanding its footprint in North Africa and Central Asia.
Baghdadi had ceased being a commander of day-to-day operations when he went into hiding. Nevertheless, the group has an experienced cadre of battle-proven field commanders who have now shown they can still mount violent and bloody terrorist attacks. They will surely adapt to the loss of Baghdadi and will be eager to pull off a revenge attack in the West.
The 2011 Arab Spring saw popular revolts in the Arab world that toppled long-entrenched rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The bloody civil war in Syria began as part of a wave of protests against the rule of Bashar al-Asad in 2011, when dissidents hoped to oust the Syrian president as quickly as their Egyptian counterparts had shown Hosni Mubarek the door. Things obviously didn’t turn out that way.
But now we are seeing days and days of demonstrations in Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt and some of these, particularly in Iraq, have become quite violent. The primary driver behind these protests is that the citizens in those countries are fed up with corruption. Well over half the populations in these three countries are below the age of 30. They face chronic unemployment and poverty while seeing the elites enrichen themselves at their expense.
In Iraq, things have gotten so out of hand that Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s shadowy Quds Force, has come in to advise the Iraqi government on how to put the demonstrations down. Iran does not want to lose its political gains in its neighboring Arab vassal state and Soleimani and his Quds Force certainly know a thing or two about repressing populations.
The protests in Lebanon have forced the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who will remain in caretaker status until a new government is formed. Iraq is listed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world and Lebanon is not far behind. The Lebanese balked when the government unsuccessfully attempted to impose taxes on such banal, day-to-day things as WhatsApp calls as a way to prop up the budget for a country whose economy has fallen off the rails and whose public officials (at all levels) have their hands in the citizens’ wallets.
Much of the same frustration has boiled over in the police state of Egypt, where a young population faces a stagnant economy and high unemployment. President Sisi”s tough crackdowns on protestors does nothing to solve the country’s economic woes or provide accountability for the corrupt officials of his inner circle. It’s the same set-up that forced Mubarek out of power.
Then there is a bright spot: Sudan, where protestors were finally able to oust President Omar Bashir when the Sudanese military eventually decided to side with the protestors and put Bashir in jail. Power-sharing negotiations between the demonstrators and the military took some time, but now we see an arrangement that offers a new government run by a joint military-civilian council. The Sudanese public will now have a place at the table, at least.
The young people of 2011’s Arab Spring were not able to achieve all their goals. It remains to be seen whether the young people of 2019’s Arab Spring II will fare any better.
Sadly, the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is more significant to us than it is to the rank and file members of the extremist group. ISIS drew its power from the brutality of its violence. But years of being in hiding and on the run combined with a dearth of personally inspiring video or audio messages over the years made him a relatively bland figure. Baghdadi was no charismatic propagandist in the style of Awlaki or bin Laden. His fugitive status precluded any active leadership over Islamic State and the loss of his territory rendered him an impotent caliph without a caliphate. In the end, many of his own members saw him as just a venal, corrupt imposter.
But that doesn’t mean ISIS is dead. Since Baghdadi was already out of the loop, others in the group have current leadership and operational experience. These hardliners will want to show that, while the “caliph” may be dead, ISIS itself is still very much alive and very capable of carrying out significant attacks. These terrorists have a strong presence in places like Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Indonesia, and many other countries around the world and they may find Baghdadi to be more useful to them in death than he was in life.
There is no shortage of followers in Western Europe (France, Belgium, and the UK) who have embraced the Islamist ideology and could drive a vehicle into a crowd or worse on relatively short notice and with very little planning. This is a time for increased vigilance and not backslapping or celebration. Leaders and people can always be replaced; the ideology is the real target and we have done very little to combat it. There is no military solution to achieving victory over Islamist terrorism.
The death of Osama bin Laden brought justice to the man who planned and executed the attacks on 9/11, but it did not result in the death of Al-Qaeda. Similarly, Baghdadi’s death will bring a sense of satisfaction to us but will not, ultimately, eliminate ISIS. As long as the Islamist ideology exists, there are those out there who will self-radicalize and embrace it. And some of them will want to do something to declare their loyalty to it.
In 1796, our first president warned us about becoming too involved in foreign affairs and entanglements in which we had no national interest, especially among the European countries. He recommended staying away from alliances altogether, except during times of extreme or severe danger, and then maintaining them only for the duration of such necessity. Washington worried that allies and alliances would distract us from the good faith and republican values upon which the young United States of America had been founded.
The famous St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V, on the other hand, describes the eternal bond that is established by those in battle: “For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” For those who have fought together, that phrase is more than just a slogan or a bumper sticker.
George Washington could not have envisioned the world of the 21st century on the cusp of his retirement. America’s ascension to superpower status after World War II and as “Leader of the Free World” during the Cold War could never have been predicted in his time. Nuclear weapons, globalism, international terrorism, transnational drug cartels, world commerce, and even cyberwarfare have forced America into various international alliances by virtue of our position in the world. With our ongoing trade wars with China and the European Union, as just one dimension of our contemporary foreign entanglements, would it even be possible to disengage ourselves from the rest of the world and just go back to the simpler times of 1796?
Many of our warfighters and military leaders, who have fought with the Kurds against ISIS, have criticized our sudden abandonment of their “blood brothers” in favor of an invasion by Turkey, which lately has not been acting much like an ally. Others with no first-hand experience in the fight simply take a cold, objective, dispassionate view and believe it is time to cut our losses and heed George Washington’s advice (at least in Syria).
Who’s right and who’s wrong? That will be decided by history.
Yes, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, there really is a Santa Claus! The erstwhile caliph must undoubtedly be gloating over the hasty, disorganized US retreat from Syria and the potential to free thousands of detained ISIS fighters from Kurdish prisons, as Kurdish soldiers are drawn from guarding prisoners to confront the invading Turks. ISIS has already carried out several bombings inside Kurdish territory even as the US had to send F-15E fighter bombers to destroy sensitive munitions abandoned at its former headquarters to prevent them from falling into Russian hands.
In fact, without actual eyes on the ground, we no longer have any idea of how many ISIS prisoners or their family members have already managed to escape. Those fighters in detention had not been rehabilitated. They still are loyal to the ISIS cause and would be ready, willing, and able to carry out a terrorist operation in the Middle East or a Western country if they had the opportunity to do so. It was recently estimated that about 2,000 of the 10,000 ISIS detainees were “foreign fighters,” with an unknown number being of Western origin. Any of those that manage to escape will be bringing their hatred for the West home with them. To avert a terrorist incident, our intelligence and security services have to be lucky every time; to attack us, they only need to be lucky once.
The president has said that he is not concerned about terrorists “7,000 miles away.” It’s worth remembering that Osama Bin Laden planned the 9/11 attack from thousands of miles away. Had we been more concerned about him during his decade of terrorist attacks leading up to September 11th, perhaps we could have prevented the greatest surprise attack on America since Pearl Harbor. Small numbers of ISIS terrorists and sympathizers have managed to carry out devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice, London, Berlin, and elsewhere. Here in America have we forgotten the carnage from the San Bernardino and Pulse Nightclub shootings?
Then there is the potential propaganda boon as ISIS will inevitably show the US retreating from Syria with its tail between its legs, even as the group enjoys a nascent resurgence in Iraq and – now – in northeast Syria. Baghdadi can show that the group has defeated the most powerful Crusader army on the planet. This will be great for the group’s online recruitment efforts. And, of course, we still haven’t lifted a finger to defeat the terrorist, Islamist ideology.
With the release of the US and Kurdish stranglehold on ISIS in Syria, the color has already returned to the caliph’s cheeks as he sits in his own Santa’s workshop planning his next move. It’s gonna be a great Christmas this year!