State of (Military) Failure


Tom Engelhardt

Reposted from and used by permission.

Someday, someone will write a history of the U.S. national security state in the twenty-first century and, if the first decade and a half are any yardstick, it will be called something like State of Failure.  After all, almost 15 years after the U.S. invaded the Taliban’s Afghanistan, launching the second American Afghan War of the past half-century, U.S. troops are still there, their “withdrawal” halted, their rules of engagement once again widened to allow American troops and air power to accompany allied Afghan forces into battle, and the Taliban on the rise, having taken more territory (and briefly one northern provincial capital) than at any time since that movement was crushed in the invasion of 2001.

Thirteen years after George W. Bush and his top officials, dreaming of controlling the oil heartlands, launched the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (the second Iraq War of our era), Washington is now in the third iteration of the same, with 6,000 troops (and thousands of private contractors) back in that country and a vast air campaign underway to destroy the Islamic State.  With modest numbers of special operations troops on the ground and another major air campaign, Washington is also now enmeshed in a complex and so far disastrous war in Syria.  And if you haven’t been counting, that’s three wars gone wrong.

Then, of course, there was the American (and NATO) intervention in Libya in 2011, which cracked that autocratic country open and made way for the rise of Islamic extremist movements there, as well as the most powerful Islamic State franchise outside Syria and Iraq.  Today, plans are evidently being drawn up for yet more air strikes, special operations raids, and the like there.  Toss in as well Washington’s never-ending drone war in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, its disastrous attempt to corral al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen (leading to a grim and horrifying Saudi-led, American-supported internecine conflict in that country), and the unending attempt to destroy al-Shabaab in Somalia, and you have at least seven wars and conflicts in the Greater Middle East, all about to be handed on by President Obama to the next president with no end in sight, no real successes, nothing.  In these same years Islamic terror movements have only spread and grown stronger under the pressure of the American war machine.

It’s not as if Washington doesn’t know this. It’s quite obvious and, as TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse, author of the highly praised Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, points out today in his latest report on the U.S. military’s pivot to Africa, the pattern is only intensifying, something clearly recognized by key American commanders. What’s strange, however, is that none of this seems to have caused anyone in the national security state or the military to reconsider the last 15 years of military-first policies, of bombs dropped, troops dispatched, drones sent in, and what the results were across the Greater Middle East and now Africa. There is no serious recalibration, no real rethinking. The response to 15 years of striking failure in a vast region remains more of the same. State of failure indeed!

Be sure to read Nick Turse on how U.S. military efforts in Africa show more regress than progress.

2 thoughts on “State of (Military) Failure

  1. “Pivoting” again? Didn’t the U.S. military just “pivot” to Asia? What gives with the basketball metaphors as national U.S. military doctrine?

    I feel like the exasperated Captain Kirk in the second new Star Trek movie when he says to Dr. McCoy: “Enough with the metaphors!”

    Which reminds me of ten years ago when in utter exasperation at U.S. military “minds” making another unholy mess of things in several countries simultaneously, I wrote:

    The Tipping Point Turns the Corner

    Around the next corner the tipping point turns
    As the good ship capsizes and sinks
    While the mad metaphors and flawed figures of speech
    Guarantee that no one really thinks

    So the dots get connected with crayon lines drawn
    By the journalists flogging clichés
    Like astrologers linking the stars into shapes
    Telling fortunes as long as it pays

    At the end of the tunnel the dominoes fall
    As the oil spots to flypaper stick
    With his boots on, George Custer fights to the last man
    Making even the strong stomach sick

    As they stood up, we stood down — just not right away
    With our shoulders to shoulders we marched
    When the morning came corpses piled up in the morgues
    Like some laundry loads unwashed and starched

    Like the city that shines on the top of a hill
    With a thousand or more points of light
    Now the current flows only an hour a day
    So in sweltering blackness they fight

    They’ve a government, now, freely chosen at last
    By the parties that somehow had won
    Our ambassador, though, had to choose their PM
    When we didn’t like what they had done

    Sure, they can’t leave the Green Zone without getting killed
    Our officials, too, travel by plane
    Sneaking into and out of the country unseen
    By the people who think us insane

    But he won’t cut and run says the man who ain’t there
    From his purpose he swears he won’t swerve
    “Bring ’em on!” taunts the juvenile joker in jeans
    Clearing brush on his Texas preserve

    As the world watched in horror, he drove off a cliff
    Then he stumbled around in a daze
    Now he says – after three years of chaos and death –
    That he might have misused a trite phrase

    “It’s as easy as shootin’ a bird in a cage,”
    Says the Texas stud hamster of quail
    When the rodents ride roughshod the feathered will flee
    From the drunken dudes gone off the trail

    And we’ve got us some mantras from Vietnam days
    Like “we’re there ’cause we’re there ’cause we’re there”
    So when once we go somewhere, that means we can’t leave
    Like that German boot-planting affair

    And the logic swirls faster in circles that swim
    Like our friends won’t respect a retreat
    See, they’d rather we kept acting stupid and blind
    Till we wind up a pile of dead meat

    And our foes will not fear us if we should act smart
    Which assumes that they fear us when dumb
    An American innocence, surely, that comes
    From a depth that you simply can’t plumb

    The octopus fascist sings swan songs sedate
    Reinventing the same words and tune
    So the president babbles of going to Mars
    When we can’t even get to the Moon

    Like the light of an oncoming train in the dark
    We see hopefulness ever draw near
    We’re on track, can’t you see, to a glorious dawn
    So we’ll stay the curse, never you fear

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006

    As we “pivot” to Africa, let us recall
    How we make up new words for “defeat”
    Did we not “pivot” smartly to Asia last year
    From those desert lands where we got beat?

    So away let us pivot from South China seas
    Back to Africa where we first spawned,
    For a basketball war that our generals play
    In their heads where a thought never dawned.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2016


  2. I like this: And our foes will not fear us if we should act smart
    Which assumes that they fear us when dumb

    Exactly. Reminds me of the Bushies who said, You were right (in opposing the Iraq war) but for the wrong reasons (because you’re pacifist pussies) but we were wrong for the right reasons (because we’re real men who wear “big boy” pants).

    I need to find my big boy pants article and re-post it.


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