Reinforcing Failure

Send in the troops … there ought to be troops … don’t bother they’re here

W.J. Astore

I get a situation report (or SITREP) from FP: Foreign Policy.  I’ve pasted it below.  The gist of it is that Afghanistan is going poorly, therefore there’ll be no U.S. troop drawdown; and Iraq is going poorly, therefore the U.S. is sending more troops and money.

“Poorly” never seems to lead to the obvious conclusion: withdrawal.  Rather it always leads to escalation: more troops and more money.  So the U.S. always reinforces failure, exactly the opposite of sound military strategy.

The illogical nature  of U.S. foreign policy would surely befuddle Mr. Spock. Put differently, U.S. foreign policy has a “logic” of its own.  It goes something like this: Never admit mistakes.  Domestic politics always come first, so never leave yourself open to charges of “cutting and running.”  Never close an avenue to “influence” and future weapons sales, no matter if that avenue is a dead end.

No foreign policy update would be complete without a Republican charge of weakness or pusillanimity leveled against the Obama administration, hence the concluding comment by John McCain.

Here is the FP SITREP:

“The Institute for the Study of War recently released a map of Taliban strongholds throughout the country, showing the Taliban gains in the south.”

“A spokesman for the U.S. military command in Kabul tells SitRep that no U.S. servicemembers were caught up in the attack. In a statement, Gen. John Nicholson, head of U.S. and NATO troops in the country, said that the attack “shows the insurgents are unable to meet Afghan forces on the battlefield and must resort to these terrorist attacks.” Nicholson, who took command of America’s longest war last month, is still working to draw up a list of recommendations for what assets he’ll need. It’s expected he will ask that troop numbers remain at the current level of 9,800, and not drop to about 5,500 by the end of the year.”

“All eyes on Mosul. There are another 217 U.S. troops headed to Iraq to help security forces fight their way toward the ISIS-held city of Mosul, bringing the official number of American servicemembers there to just over 4,000. Hundreds more are in country but are not counted on the official rolls, meaning the real number is over 5,000, defense officials have said.”

“As part of the new aid package announced in Baghdad by Defense Secretary Ash Carteron Monday, the Pentagon will also start handing over $415 million to the Kurdish government to help pay their fighters, who have gone without pay amid a budget crunch due to falling oil prices.”

“The new troops will move out with Iraqi forces, advising local commanders at the battalion level, potentially putting them closer to the fight as the Iraqi army pushes north toward Mosul. Until this point, American advisors generally stayed at the division level or above. The new troops will also fly Apache helicopters that will strike ISIS fighters and man artillery systems, including the HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), which can fire multiple 200-lb. GPS-guided rockets over 40 miles. The HIMARS has already been used by U.S. forces to pound ISIS around Ramadi, and one U.S.-manned system has fired from Jordan into Syria in recent months. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the new deployment the kind of ‘grudging incrementalism that rarely wins wars.'”

8 thoughts on “Reinforcing Failure

  1. “Gen. John Nicholson, head of U.S. and NATO troops in the country, said that the attack “shows the insurgents are unable to meet Afghan forces on the battlefield and must resort to these terrorist attacks.”

    Apparently the General is not up to date on asymmetric warfare, a primary tactic used successfully by insurgents since at least Vietnam. Geez, can’t we do better than this “leadership?” I know they teach war-fighting strategy at West Point and in every US military professional education course. He must have heard of it.


    1. Great point. The General is doubtless being “political” and “spinning” the Afghan news, which is precisely what’s wrong. We’ve had 14 years of spin, and we’re not winning.

      Maybe there’s a slogan there: Spinning is not winning. All our political hacks, in and out of uniform, need to memorize that slogan.


    2. The U.S. military has become the perfect combination of Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle. Having no concrete objectives or deadlines for achieving them, the “work” of “doing military stuff” simply expands like yeast to fill the endless time alloted for its self-reinforcing continuation. As well, in any rigid, hide-bound bureaucratic hierarchy like the U.S. military, everyone tends to rise to their level of incompetence. With 17 commanding generals in fifteen years — just in Afghanistan — we now have a long (and still growing) list of already-forgotten names of “commanders” that no one will ever remember for “ending,” “concluding,” “wrapping-up,” “terminating,” “bringing to a close,” “finishing,” or anything that even remotely resembles “winning” as most English-speaking persons would understand that word. In fact, the military has a term for this perpetual cycling of officers through meaningless assignments on their way up the career ladder: “ticket punching.” That bureaucratic phenomenon probably explains the long series of lost American wars against backward third-world nobodies as well as anything. Personally, I like to think of America’s fraudulent, never-ending “wars” as Ordnance Expenditure Expeditions fueled by Commendation Accumulation Syndrome.

      Frances FitzGerald explored this self-serving American “military stuff” phenomenon in her classic book about America’s War on Southeast Asia (i.e., Fire in the Lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam). “In the provinces a rumor circulated that the Americans had forced the Thieu government to accept the new [conscription] law in order to carry out their real intentions of killing as many Vietnamese as possible; another rumor was that the Americans were attempting to prolong the war in order to maintain a market for their surplus production. The second rumor was an answer what for many Vietnamese was the most puzzling qustion of all: why, with all its great power, had the United States not won the war already?

      Based on my own military experiences in the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam over forty years ago, I would answer that question as it applies to America’s legion of bungling military meddlers in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, etc., today:

      If you knew what to do, you would have done it already. If you could have, you would have; but you didn’t, so you can’t. You’ve had long enough. Time’s up.

      Repeat that simple mantra, fellow Crimestoppers, every time someone mentions the U.S. military and the “military stuff” that it supposedly does somewhere over the horizon in some forsaken land of impoverished peasants for reasons no one can explain in pursuit of purposes that no one in an official position dares to acknowledge: namely, what George Orwell explained in “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” (the book-within-a-book in 1984): .

      The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the [economy] without raising the general standard of living.”

      The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.”

      War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. … All that is needed is that a state of war should exist. … The war, therefore, if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. … But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word ‘war’, therefore, has become misleading.”

      It seems to me that even the provincial Vietnamese with their endless rumors understood Americans and their war-just-to-have-war-as-a-money-laundering-scam-for-the-filthy-rich mentality almost as well as George Orwell did, even though such a clear-eyed understanding obviously escapes the typical American — much to the delight and profit of the corporate/political/military establishment that has robbed and pillaged them rapaciously for decades.


  2. When the US leaves, and the day will come when we must, three months max and it will be the Afghanistan we first met.


    1. The Graveyard of Empires has claimed another erstwhile empire. What sick fascination explains the allure Afghanistan holds for empires who simply cannot resist going there to die? Ditto for Vietnam, Iraq, etc. But still, the defrocked former American general and CIA director, David Petraeus — arguably the greatest self-promoting bullshitter in U.S. military history — argues that America should gird its loins, so to speak, and settle deeper into to the graveyard for generations to come. Another “sprint” unupposed across the Iraqi desert into undefended Baghdad has turned into another predictable — and for a favored few, an extremely profitable — glacier race. Honest injun. I kid you not. See (if you have the stomach for unmitigated horse shit):

      5 ‘big ideas’ to guide us in the Long War against Islamic extremism

      As I like to say, you can always tell when the U.S. military has lost another war the minute they start calling it “long.” And I suppose I should now augment that observation by adding: and you can always tell when the U.S. military doesn’t have a clue the minute they start calling their miniscule little ideas “big.” In fact, I think that even associating the word “ideas” with the U.S. military does unjustifiable violence to the very concept of thinking. The phrase, “career-promoting delusional fantasies,” or simply “ticket punching,” I think, better and more accurately describes what passes for “ideas” among America’s military “minds” (and I use that loaded word advisedly).

      As I wrote about the ineffable George “Deputy Dubya” Bush in the concluding stanza of my poem Hanoi Haiku, so too I say of General Dave:

      Where did we get him?
      How come we can’t do better?
      We look so stupid.


      1. I’m reading Bacevich’s new book on America’s wars in the Middle East. He has a quietly devastating section on Petraeus and the Surge. Petraeus has been an apple polisher and self-promoter since his days as a cadet at West Point. Bacevich makes clear a point that many people miss: The Surge had nothing to do with “winning” the war in Iraq. It had everything to do with providing an illusion that the U.S. defense establishment was making progress — and this was vital for the continued autonomy and dominance of the national security state.

        The Surge, in other words, kept Congress and other critics at bay; it maintained the status quo in which the Pentagon rules over foreign policy. That was the “victory” of the Surge that Petraeus gave to his fellow travelers. Small wonder he was largely forgiven for his affair and his compromise of national security in sharing top secret material with his mistress.


      2. Speaking of General Dave the Bullshitter: George Orwell, in his timeless essay Politics and the English Language, offered a few rules to follow in order to think critically about the effect of a particular word or phrase. Rule Number One advised, “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.” As a means of putting this advice into practice, I always substituted “trickle” or “dribble” whenever I came across the greasy neocon euphemism “surge,” which essentially involved taking months to locate a small number of troops for assignment to Iraq while flying tons of dollar bills from the U.S. treasury straight into Al Anbar province for General Dave’s use in bribing Sunni insurgents not to attack U.S. forces quite so much until the Bush/Cheney administration could sneak out of office without acknowledging their historic defeat.

        From my poem “Changing Commanders in Brief” (2009):

        Our generals trained for the last war,
        Their learning-curve zero or less.
        In six years they’ll figure out something;
        Just what, will be anyone’s guess.

        They had them a “surge” in their payments
        To “enemies” placed on the dole
        So they wouldn’t shoot us so often
        Because of their land that we stole.

        Our generals, though, won’t admit it:
        They’ve taken eight years to do what?
        Yet somehow they think we’ll applaud them
        For not knowing doodley-squat.

        They say they need more stuff and faster
        Yet won’t explain what they would do
        Except to extend their disaster
        By breeding more pooches to screw.

        Of course, once the U.S. military hauled ass and stopped bribing the Sunni malcontents, the Shiite goveernment of Nuri Al Maliki went back to persecuting them while the violence went back to its normal levels. Nowhere in his self-serving historiography does General Dave the Bullshitter acknowledge his principle contribution to the debacle in Iraq: namely, dumping uncounted millions of U.S. dollars onto a problem that the U.S. miltiary first created and then left to fester in the end. But General Dave the Bullshitter punched his own ticket and then went on failing upward to ever greater levels of incompetence. Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle personified.


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