The U.S. Military’s Limited Critique of Itself Ensures Future Disasters

President Trump has selected Army Lt Gen H.R. McMaster to be his new National Security Adviser. McMaster is a “warrior” and a true believer in military power, applied intelligently, that is. He has been highly critical of political power brokers in Washington, DC, and wrote a book on the mishandling of the military during the Vietnam War. Back in 2013, he wrote an article for the New York Times, an article I critiqued in the following post. McMaster, intelligent and well-read, nevertheless is defined by his military experience, seeing “security” as something to be attained through the savvy use of power by warriors like himself.

Bracing Views

War is political, human, and chaotic.  Who knew? War is political, human, and chaotic. Who knew?

W.J. Astore

In the New York Times on July 20, Major General H.R. McMaster penned a revealing essay on “The Pipe Dream of Easy War.”  McMaster made three points about America’s recent wars and military interventions:

1.  In stressing new technology as being transformative, the American military neglected the political side of war.  They forgot their Clausewitz in a celebration of their own prowess, only to be brought back to earth by messy political dynamics in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

2.  Related to (1), the U.S. military neglected human/cultural aspects of war and therefore misunderstood Iraqi and Afghan culture.  Cultural misunderstandings transformed initial battlefield victories into costly political stalemates.

3.  Related to (1) and (2), war is uncertain and unpredictable.  Enemies can and will adapt.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these points, or in the general’s broad lesson that “American forces must…

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11 thoughts on “The U.S. Military’s Limited Critique of Itself Ensures Future Disasters

  1. warrior or not…anyone talking to soldiers that saw action could have done an analysis…let’s start with M. Ali….no vietnamese called him by the N – word – how did the Black soldiers feel about fighting the war against an indigenous people tired of colonial powers trying to control them (under the guise of anti-communism/domino theory…draftees with no choice, the educated headed north or became COs, “just get a body count” to show progress, officers serving six months and enlisted the full year in country, being sent out on night patrol into ambushes, 500 pound bombings, napalm and agent orange….


  2. The U.S. military does “critiques” of itself? Since when? I can remember more honest and forthright times when we would use the word “whitewash.” Two iron laws of bureaucracy explain and define the U.S. military: namely, Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle. I would say that U.S. Army General McMaster exemplifies and personifies both. “The work will expand to fill the time alloted for its completion” and “Everyone tends to rise to their level of incompetence.” And as far as learning curves apply to National Security Advisers, how about this from one of the position’s most (in)famous prototypes:

    “…remarkable, considering how long the war lasted and how intensely it was reported and commented upon, that there are really not very many lessons from our experience in Vietnam that can be usefully applied elsewhere …” — Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a 1975 memo to President Gerald Ford (quoted by Andrew Bacevich in Washington Rules, 2010)

    At any rate, I wrote my own critique of the U.S. military’s ongoing misadventures a decade ago, at a time when Deputy Dubya Bush and Sheriff Dick Cheney had only wrecked Afghanistan and Iraq for four years. At any rate, let me explain to the militarily uninitated what “learning” means to a career ticket-puncher like Army Lt Gen H.R. McMaster:

    Let’s Already Do It Again

    Let’s already do it again
    Let’s write with no ink in the pen
    On the paper no trace of the egg on our face
    Let’s already do it again

    Let’s start on our very next loss
    With a coin and some dice and a toss
    Let’s forget this here game where we’ve come up so lame
    The next time around we’ll be boss

    Let’s hurry to do it again
    With the chorus still shouting “Amen!”
    Before we can think of the fact that we stink
    Let’s pour on the perfume and then…

    Let’s you and him get in a fight
    Then we’ll get involved for a night
    Helping out here and there, we’ll of course gladly share
    What was yours that we’ve “earned” with our might

    The brass needs a billet or two
    And some soldiers in order to screw
    A few jumbo jets and they’ve got no regrets
    Not with CNN asking their view

    They “can do,” you see, though they can’t
    Rhetorically venting their rant
    They talk a good show then the battle they slow
    Making “long time” the footprint they plant

    A “journey,” they say, not a “race”
    Attempting to save naked face
    In four years and more*, they’ve produced a “long war”
    Of their “victory” — no sign or trace

    Let’s unlearn our history now
    And not ask about why or how
    While still sort of numb and sufficiently dumb
    Let’s not any learning allow

    We failed in Vietnam before
    Despite all the blood, guts, and gore
    Yet no fortune’s vast for our leadership caste
    To squander on warbucks galore

    A syndrome we need to construct
    To conceal the true fact that we’re fucked
    Our governing group has just stepped in their poop
    Now they’ve got to deny that they’ve sucked

    We need war to prop up the few
    Who really have nothing to do
    Their lack of a skill means that others must kill
    To produce all the “metrics” they skew

    The Worst and the Dullest, they paint
    Every failure with their smell and taint
    In a rut or a groove, they have set out to prove
    What Tweedledee said “isn’t” ain’t

    We’ve got the worst leadership team:
    A truly mad, nightmarish scream
    But screwing the pooch while a backside they smooch
    To them seems like just a wet dream

    Wherever they came from, who knows?
    Incompetence in them just grows
    They get us bombed stiff then they jump off a cliff
    Demonstrating what already shows

    We just hung a man in Iraq
    Once gone, though, we can’t get him back
    Now without any rope, down the slippery slope
    Our excuses get ever more slack

    They talk of a “spike” and a “surge”
    All to cover a fear and an urge
    They’ve shot our last wad, now they’ve left it to “GAWD”
    To figure out where next to splurge

    They’ve had all the time that they need
    To knock off the bullshit and screed
    With their flat learning curve, they’ve one hell of a nerve
    To demand more sick bodies to bleed

    This ain’t good and it’s got to stop
    Whatever they try at they flop
    If left at the helm they’ll just wreck the whole realm
    In planting their dragon’s teeth crop

    So let us dismiss these vile men
    Now mainly less rooster than hen
    Before they can blow what at sundown they crow:
    “Let’s already do it again!”

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2007

    Note* “more” (in terms of years) means any number added to four that equals fifteen and counting …


  3. For those who might desire a real critique of the U.S. military and its institutional imperviousness to anything resembling “learning,” I suggest tuning in to a brief video (accompanied by a transcript) from The Real News Network (October 25, 2009) featuring someone who knows about these things. See:
    Ellsberg: From Vietnam to Afghanistan — As President Obama decides what to do in Afghanistan he must learn the lessons of Vietnam
    . President Obama, naturally, learned nothing and took another eight years not to learn it, choosing to surround himself with “advisers” who had learned no more than he had. Anyway, Daniel Ellsberg provides one of the shortest and most succinct overviews of corporate/military mindlessness that i’ve ever read. I highly recommend making a copy of the transcript and keeping it handy for regular future reference as these corporate/military misadvdnetures continue to metastasize.


  4. Any military officer who believes winning Anwar in Afghanistan is possible is an ignorant fool.
    Especially after watching the USSR fall to them after after a 10 year debacle.
    He’s a corporate trained tool who thinks that dressing ‘like a warrior’ makes you one.
    His acceptance of Trump as his commander shows his character better than anything else.


    1. Before shipping out for the now-defunct Republic of South Vietnam in June of 1970, I had to endure thirty-two weeks (eight months) of Vietnamese language training followed by another eleven weeks of Counter Insurgency School. Almost a whole year of preparation for service in the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent. Our unannounced mission: to kick the can of an unwinnable war down the road until a new U.S. administration could get stuck with the loss.

      We had to read some books about the French Indochina War (the first one) by authorities like Bernard Fall. When we enlisted men read in the books how the French military had lost to the highly motivated Viet Minh forces, the obvious question arose: “Since the French already tried all this Counter Insurgency stuff and failed at it, why are we studying how to do the same things?” Came the answer from our “better educated” officer instructors: “We’re not the French.” That certainly cleared things up. Then I deployed to spend the next eighteen months basically doing what the French had done while losing just like they did. To the Vietnamese who defeated us, we certainly didn’t look just like the French. We Americans had more money.

      Then came Afghanistan (the warm-up) and Iraq (the plunge) — or Vietnam II and Vietnam III, as I saw it. In only a couple of years time, by 2006, the twin sorry messes had devolved into intractable predictable failure with yet another failed Commander-in-Brief desperately searching for any way to drag out the disaster until another administration could get stuck with the loss. Enter Barack Obama in 2009 looking like a neutered housefly searching eagerly for some used flypaper to land on. Enter Donald Trump in 2017 looking like …

      I’ve lived through this dreary debacle thing so many times now, I can easily see and understand the enlisted men in Baghdad and Kabul listening to their “better educated” officers reassuring them: “We’re not the Mongols. We’re not the Greeks, the British, or the Soviets, either.” No doubt that clears things up. To the Iraqis and Afghans who have defeated us, though, we just have more money than they do (since they have practically none).

      Anyway, as the predictable insanity rolls along from U.S. administration to U.S. administration and from decade to decade, I can only reiterate my own little feeble demand:

      Bring Home the Buy Time Brigade

      The Buy Time Brigade is busted
      It’s run out of money and luck
      The guy at the top can’t be trusted
      Because he does not give a fuck

      He starts with his missions “accomplished”
      After which he unravels the gain
      Then spinning his endless excuses,
      He covers up losses and pain

      Commanding, Commandments, commanded:
      He’s fallen in love with command
      Stone deaf to how he’s been backhanded
      By voters and their reprimand

      The people don’t like what he’s doing
      They’ve told him both time and again
      They’re tired of his endless pooch-screwing
      They want the war over by ten:

      That’s minutes, or hours, or bedtime
      That doesn’t mean weeks, months, or years
      For those who don’t listen, it’s dead time
      Like getting tossed out on their ears

      The blood and the billions have vanished
      It’s time for the twerp to atone
      To Dante’s tenth level he’s banished
      A new low for just him alone

      Or maybe Dick Cheney will join him
      To smirk at his armpit and sneer
      Which Dubya will take as a coin hymn
      A chant to make money and cheer

      The Fig Leaf Contingent from Asia
      Has come back again to be heard:
      “Fuck him and his fucked-up Fantasia!
      No Lyndon Baines Bush: Texas turd!”

      And no more from old Tricky Dickies
      Those Kissingers, Nixons, and Fords
      The vampires who left us with hickeys
      From bleeding our necks for their gourds

      Just cut off the money and maybes
      Just quit all the stalling for time
      We don’t need these rats with their rabies
      To rob us of our last thin dime

      The Buy Time Brigade has no reason
      Except to die fighting for zilch
      To parasites we’re open season:
      Our pockets and veins they will filch

      Yet still with these gruesome reminders,
      Obama has hired the same jerks
      Who always advise bloody nonsense:
      Like staying with what never works

      “We’ll know what we see when we see it,”
      Says Holbrooke of what he can’t state:
      Like one damned good reason for staying
      Where wise ones leave early, not late

      Yet greed knows no limits too hyper,
      And before all our regiments fade,
      It’s past time to pay off the piper
      And bring home the Buy Time Brigade

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006-2010


      1. “like a neutered housefly searching eagerly for some used flypaper to land on”

        That’s Lierature and I love it


  5. About that “limited critique” guy — who still remains on active military duty — with whom President Donald Trump just saddled himself after firing Michael Flynn for all the wrong reasons, Moon of Alabama has this to say (jFebruary 22, 2017):

    [Begin Extended Quote]

    The War Hawks Rolled Donald Trump

    President Trump’s first National Security Advisor Mike Flynn got kicked out of office for talking with Russian officials. Such talks were completely inline with Trump’s declared policies of détente with Russia. (I agree that Flynn should have never gotten the NSA job. But the reasons for that have nothing to do with his Russian connections.)

    Allegedly Flynn did not fully inform Vice-President Pence about his talk with the Russian ambassador. But that can not be a serious reason. The talks were rather informal, they were not transcribed. The first call is said to have reached Flynn on vacation in the Dominican Republic. Why would a Vice-President need to know each and every word of it?

    With Flynn out, the war-on-Russia hawks, that is about everyone of the “serious people” in Washington DC, had the second most important person out of the way that would probably hinder their plans.

    They replaced him with a militaristic anti-Russian hawk:

    In a 2016 speech to the Virginia Military Institute, McMaster stressed the need for the US to have “strategic vision” in its fight against “hostile revisionist powers” — such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran — that “annex territory, intimidate our allies, develop nuclear weapons, and use proxies under the cover of modernized conventional militaries.”

    General McMaster, the new National Security Advisor, gets sold as a somewhat rebellious, scholar-warrior wunderkind. When the now disgraced former General Petraeus came into sight he was sold with the same marketing profile.

    Petraeus was McMaster’s boss. McMaster is partially his creature:

    He was passed over for brigadier general twice, until then-Gen. David Petraeus personally flew back to Washington, D.C., from Iraq to chair the Army’s promotion board in 2008.

    McMaster was peddled to the White House by Senator Tom Cotton, one of the most outlandish Republican neocon war hawks.

    McMaster’s best known book is “Dereliction of Duty” about the way the U.S. involved itself into the Vietnam War. McMaster criticizes the Generals of that time for not having resisted then President Johnson’s policies.

    McMaster is likely to “resist” when President Trump orders him to pursue better relations with Russia.

    Trump has now been boxed in by hawkish, anti-Russian military in his cabinet and by a hawkish Vice-President. The only ally he still may have in the White House is his consigliere Steve Bannon. The next onslaught of the “serious people” is against Bennon and especially against his role in the NSC. It will only recede when he is fired.

    It seems to me that Trump has been rolled with the attacks on Flynn and the insertion of McMaster into his inner circle. I wonder if he, and Bannon, recognize the same problematic development and have a strategy against it.

    [End Extended Quote]

    As President Obama proved beyond a doubt by the end of his own lackluster presidency when the U.S. military and CIA had gotten completely out of control, President Trump appears soon likely to appreciate why “Commanded” better suits his job description than “Commander.” And he has only his own ignorance and narcissistic vainglory to blame for what now awaits him.

    So in the Libyan fable is it told
    That once an eagle, stricken by a dart,
    Said when he saw the fashion of the shaft,
    “With our own feathers, not by others’ hands,
    Are we now smitten.”
    — Aeschylus


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