Friday Morning Thoughts

Johnny Rocco (with gun) wants more

W.J. Astore

A few thoughts on this Friday morning:

1. Andrew Bacevich at describes 24 stories/questions that are being ignored or neglected by the mainstream media as they obsess about Donald Trump. I’d like to add #25 to his list, as follows: Why is everything in America classified? The constant appeal to classification, to secrecy, prevents the discussion of vitally important military and security matters in public.  Is the real target of all this secrecy our rivals and enemies, or is it the American people?

Related to my #25, of course, is the persecution of “whistleblowers” for allegedly violating secrecy.  Under the Obama administration, people were accused of sedition and treason when their real “crime” was trying to keep the American people informed about what their government is really doing.

In short, when did the USA become the former Soviet Union, with its own NKVD/KGB and a state-controlled media that essentially promulgates and enforces the dictates of the powerful?

2. Afghanistan is a mess. According to this morning’s SITREP at FP: Foreign Policy, “Defense and intelligence officials are warning that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is likely to get worse before it ever gets better, despite the presence of thousands of U.S. troops and tens of billions invested in building and funding the faltering Afghan security forces.”

“’The intelligence community assesses that the political and security situation in Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in military assistance by the United States and its partners,’ Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a Senate hearing Thursday. The Pentagon is looking to add another 3,000 troops to the effort there in the coming months, pushing American advisors closer to the front lines to work directly with Afghan forces in the fight.”

After sixteen years of American/Coalition efforts, the Taliban is resurgent, yet the only strategy U.S. generals can offer is more troops and more money to train Afghan security forces that are mostly unreliable and often non-existent.  Why can’t the U.S. military admit defeat and leave?

Consider a sports analogy.  Last week, the Yankees-Cubs played an 18-inning game, eventually won by the Yankees.  Game over.  Imagine if the Cubs had said, “OK — We lost.  But we want to keep playing.  Maybe another 18 innings.  Maybe forever.  We just want to keep playing until we can claim, falsely even, that we’ve won.”  We’d label the Cubs as crazy.  As poor sports.  As deluded.

But this is what America is in Afghanistan.  We’ve lost in extra innings but we still want to keep playing — forever, it seems.

Daniel Ellsberg nailed it back in 2009.  The U.S. is a foreign power in Afghanistan engaged in a bloody stalemate that cannot be won.  Yet America persists, in part because U.S. presidents kowtow to military “judgment” and the idea that to withdraw from Afghanistan is to appear weak and unmanly.

3. Speaking of issues of manliness, Donald Trump (among others) likes to use the phrase “taking the gloves off” to refer to hyper-aggressive military actions. When did bare-knuckle brawling become a smart way to fight? Actually, it’s a great way to break your hand.  Boxing is dangerous enough while wearing gloves, yet our Washington “fighters” are ready to get down and dirty by doffing their gloves.  As I’ve written before, far too many Americans (and people in general) have died in the name of big-boy pants and similar machismo nonsense.

4. At, Army Major Danny Sjursen succinctly summarizes the U.S. military’s strategy in one word: More. As Sjursen puts it in his article:

Predictions are always a dicey matter, but recent history suggests that we can expect military escalation, which already seems to be underway in at least three of those countries.  More, after all, remains the option of choice for America’s generals almost 70 years after MacArthur went head to head with his president over Korea.

What then is to be expected when it comes to the conflict with ISIS in Iraq, the complex, multi-faceted Syrian civil war, and America’s longest war of all, in Afghanistan?  All signs point to more of the same. Open up a newspaper or check out a relevant website and you’ll find, for example, that U.S. Afghan commander General John Nicholson wants a new mini-surge of American troops dispatched into that country, while the U.S. commander in the fight against ISIS, General Stephen Townsend, may require yet more ground troops to “win” in Iraq and Syria.

More is the mantra of America’s generals.  It’s how they measure their influence as well as their success.  In this, they remind me of the gangster Johnny Rocco in the movie “Key Largo.”  When Humphrey Bogart asks Rocco what he wants, Rocco pauses, after which Bogart has the answer that Rocco seizes upon: More.  Will he ever get enough?  Rocco answers: Well, I never have.  No, I guess I won’t.

Even though Trump has promised a major hike in military spending for 2018, the Pentagon is already clamoring for more.  Like Johnny Rocco, America’s generals and admirals can never get enough.

5. Finally, a dire lesson from history. When strong men seek to take over a government, they first seek to seize or neutralize the military and police forces of their country. It’s a time-tested formula.  Consider Trump’s early actions.  From his hiring of generals and his promises of scores of billions more for the Pentagon as well as to his hiring of good buddy Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and his firing of James Comey at the FBI, Trump is well on his way to winning over and controlling the agencies of violence and enforcement in the U.S.

Does America await its very own Reichstag moment?

9 thoughts on “Friday Morning Thoughts

  1. The articles by Andrew Bacevich and Danny Sjursen do indeed merit analysis and discussion, along with Daniel Ellsberg’s timeless, definitive comparison of Afghanistan with Vietnam. I encourage everyone to read and reflect upon them. I also recommend reading Chapter II: Permanent War, in Chris Hedges’ excellent book Death of the Liberal Class for more excruciating, detailed examples of what I prefer to call Warfare Welfare and Makework Militarism. More on these later.

    For the present, though, I’d like to cite two other sources in partial rebuttal to Bill Astore’s strange concluding sentence: “Trump is well on his way to winning over and controlling the agencies of violence and enforcement in the U.S.” Really? It seems to me that precisely the opposite has occurred, as it normally does at the beginning of every new President’s period of bureaucratic housebreaking (if not neutering). See:

    (1) The Military Now Runs US Foreign Policy. And as Trump’s recent turnabout shows, the establishment will brook no dissent from the reigning orthodoxy, by Patrick Lawrence, The Nation (5/2/2017)


    (2) JFK vs. the Military, by Robert Dallek, The Atlantic: Special JFK Commemorative Issue (August, 2013)

    As a matter of historical fact, no U.S. President has regained control over our country’s “agencies of violence and enforcement” (i.e., repression) since the end of the Second World War. Not even former Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who found himself upon leaving office reduced to a feeble and ineffective pleading for some later President to do something about the “Military Industrial Complex” that he himself had nurtured for his own political advantage while President. None of his successors took him seriously and we can see where that has led us. No U.S. President ever gives up a usurped power that his predecessors have handed him. The usurpations of power only continue accumulating. If President Donald Trump regains even a modicum of control over the Lunatic Leviathan, then he will have done what no president in the last seventy-two years has managed to do. Ask former President Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry what happens when our country negotiates a diplomatic deal with another country that the Pentagram and CIA do not like and will not tolerate.

    Personally, I do not think that Donald Trump has it in him, since he appears devoid of any guiding principles or philosophy of government. On the other hand, he also appears shamelessly opportunistic and willing to say or do just about anything, just to see what happens. As a result of this completely experimental approach to “management,” he could occasionally stumble upon something that works. At this point, who can really tell?

    For a bitterly amusing take on Endless Afghanistan and the 180-degree whiplash change of partisan view regarding the formerly employed FBI Director James Comey [the Democrats condemned him then adored him while Republicans adored him then despised him], see the following two Jimmy Dore shows on Youtube:

    Staggering Cost For One Solider For One Year Overseas

    Caught: Democrats Wanted Comey Fired Up Until Trump Fired Him

    Finally, getting back to Bill Astore’s strange concluding statement: Shouldn’t we want the President, as Civilian Chief Executive Officer of our government, to take over and control these secretive and out-of-control bureaucracies? I mean, do we really want another J. Edgar Hoover running the FBI and blackmailing other government employees from the shadows? Do we actually think that these rogue bureaucratic elephants (like the Pentagram and CIA) will voluntarily curb their own lusts for ever greater power and control? The Buck, as they say, stops with the President, and the people can force the Congress to remove him from office should he order a burglary and then cover up for it (like Nixon) or get an illicit blowjob and lie about it (like Clinton), depending upon whether the Democrats or Republicans control Congress. So far as I know, Donald Trump has done neither of these things, so for the present we will have to deal with the President we have and not the one we wished we had but never get.

    I don’t think much of Donald Trump and I really don’t think he will amount to anything. But then, neither did his three immediate predecessors. If he somehow manages not to start World War III — or even Cold War 2.0 — I will consider us all very lucky indeed. But given the bipartisan Permanent War Party and its trillions of dollars of vested interests, I don’t think President Trump has a chance. He’ll eventually fold like a wet noodle, if he hasn’t already. All of our Presidents do.


    1. Mike: We want a president who understands his constitutional oath. Also, ideally a president should have some respect for democracy and due process. Trump’s instincts are authoritarian, and I’m not sure he’s even read the Constitution.

      Trump is courting the military. He’s not leading it. He has a strange love affair with military battle flags and flight jackets and tough-guy generals like Patton and MacArthur. In short, he’s not a strong civilian who’s exercising command and control over the military. Instead, he seems to be attempting to seduce it with money and rhetoric, i.e. lots of sweet talk and praise along with some occasional, mostly uninformed, criticism.

      Meanwhile, he continues to celebrate police while talking tough about law and order. Firing the FBI Director sends a signal of “Be loyal to me, or else.” Sessions is loyal. Mattis is loyal. McMaster? So far, it seems.

      Like you say, it’s a power game, and perhaps Trump is in over his head. But he’s been underestimated before.

      If nothing else, the man knows the art of the con. Can he do it on the biggest stage? Why not, if his interests align with other authoritarian elements in American society.


      1. Meanwhile, back to Afghanistan, I recall a Taliban assessment of the battlefield situation as succinct as any I’ve heard: “You [the U.S.] have the watches; we have the time.”

        Afghan males wish to be left alone to treat their females like dogs, turn their boys into “dancers,” and kill each other. (And this clay we’ve chosen to form into some sort of constitutional democracy.)


  2. You mention in your article the Pentagon wants to send an additional 3,000 troops into Afghanistan. I thought I would place that into perspective. Afghanistan is 252,072 square miles with a population of 33,332,025. Now Texas is 268,581 square miles with 27,862,596 people. Placing 3,000 more troops into a country the size of Texas and expecting to change anything is ludicrous.

    As a Baby Boomer I can recall in my history books that covered the second world war, showing arrows relentlessly advancing toward Germany, Italy and Japan. We knew that behind the arrows we controlled the turf. With the exception of Korea which wound up virtually static, our major wars since then, Vietnam, and Afghanistan have been devoid of arrows. Iraq had arrows for a brief time and then they disappeared.

    At least from what I have read of history, the enemy is often under rated. Napoleon’s massive Grand Army was swallowed up and destroyed in Russia. Napoleon won all the major battles, but lost the war. Napoleon underestimated the Russian will to resist. Hitler, made the same mistake with the Soviet Union, under estimating the Soviet will to resist, even after the Soviets had taken crushing losses.

    I had read some place, where LBJ made a similar misjudgement of Ho Chi Minh, for the first time in LBJ’s political life he met an opponent who could not be bought off or threatened into giving in.

    Our political leadership and military leadership has made similar mistakes ever since Bush the Younger ordered the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq. The will to keep fighting against the USA is not deterred by bombs, artillery, drones or helicopter gunships, or any other modern weapon we have. There maybe some political leaders and high military sorts who realize we cannot win (what ever winning looks like) but they are silent.

    Marine Corps General Smedley Butler had right -> The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.


    1. You raise some good points, especially about underestimating one’s adversary. I can remember LBJ boasting: “I’ve got Ho Chi Minh’s pecker in my pocket.” Sure he did. I can also remember when Ho Chi Minh died and Americans thought: “Oh, good. Now the North Vietnamese will quit.” They didn’t. I think of Uncle Ho almost daily now when I read of our vaunted Visgoths (or their flying robot assassins) killing “Al Qaeda’s #2 or #3 leader” in some peasant village or mountain valley I never heard of. I mean, if Obama’s murdering of the unarmed Al Qaeda #1 guy, Osama bin Laden, didn’t make Al Qaeda or ISIS (or whatever these people call themselves this week) quit, then why bother? Even worse, though, if you want to defeat the U.S. military, you don’t need to kill our generals or political “leaders” (but I repeat myself). You simply let them have a “war” and put them in command of it — then sit back and watch as the “generations” roll by.

      Also, you make a good geographical comparision of Afghanistan with the state of Texas, only we need to add that two-thirds of this “Texas” sits in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.

      Good work.


      1. What’s more, for every # 1, 2 or 3 you kill, you create X nbrs 1, 2 and 3 who fight each other to fill the vacancy. So instead of having one #1 whom apparently you had identified and were capable of keeping track off you suddenly have three possibly alltogether unknown ones, three more profiles to prepare of your adversaries. In addition you have the understandably disgruntled families of those whom the drone attack killed together – or instead of – the intended target. Even if they do not volunteer to join the ranks of terrorists, they often will have no choice as those terrorists will come and knock on the door saying “they killed your father/brother(s)/son(S)/cousin(s)”, now you have to help us avenge them. Otherwise we’ll assume that you’re supporting the murderers.
        And as always, it is the local population which ultimately pays the price, having one of its enemies multiplied by three. So as far as I can tell with my non-military but common sense brain, killing them has only one purpose : PR, boasting about supposedly having eliminated an ‘imminent threat’.


  3. There are Forbidden Questions as well as Forbidden History. The Forbidden History was revealed in among other books, Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee and Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States.

    Marine Corp General Smedley Butler is also Forbidden History: “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.”

    Ike decades later would warn us about the Military-Industrial Complex. Sandwiched between Smedley Butler’s quote and Ike’s warning were the Dulles Brothers. You can read that sordid history in The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, by David Talbot.

    Dulles Brothers were like the Crips and Bloods in suits, it was all about power, turf and expanding the franchise of American Imperialism on a global scale. Leftists, or Socialists who became too frisky in opposing Imperialism were targeted.

    The United States is close to completing a series of arms deals for Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, another win-win for the Wall Street-Security-Military-Industrial Complex. Oh, well, we cannot manufacture clothes, tennis shoes, Christmas Toys, or computers here in the USA. Maybe US officials will discuss that last close election they had in Saudi Arabia. Opps that’s right they do not have elections in Saudi Arabia. I wonder can American woman assigned to our embassy in Saudi Arabia drive a car???


  4. Editor Tom Engelhardt has his own titles which introduce the articles he features at TomDispatch. I find them a welcome and succinct summation of the main points developed in the articles themselves. For example: where Andrew Bacevich calls his piece, Forbidden Questions? 24 Key Issues That Neither the Washington Elite Nor the Media Consider Worth Their Bother Tom Englehardt adds: “What Obsessing About You-Know-Who Causes Us To Miss.” Where Danny Sjursen entitles his article, Everyone Loves the Troops and Their Generals, But History Indicates That Military Advice Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be, Tom Englehardt simply warns of The Hazards of Military Worship.

    While I very much liked Mr Englehardt’s titles, I thought that they fell a little short, not for want of effort or intelligence, but simply because they I didn’t exploit a worthy concept to its fullest potential. For instance, instead of “Military Worship” ( a pretty good choice of words) I would have preferred “Military Idolatry,” because I want to distinguish vain, self-serving, hypocritical religious practice [i.e., the Republican party] from the simple, self-effacing and generous (if not, pious) kind [like, Buddhism]. As for the sobriquet* Mr Englehardt used to denote the narcissistic real estate fraud and cable-tv game show host now currently occupying the White House (except on weekends), “You-Know-Who” misses the essence of the Trump phenomenon. I would have chosen “All-About-Him” (because, to him, everything is). If “All-About-Him” doesn’t connote a lifetime of nurtured narcissism, then nothing does.

    While I could write a doctoral dissertation on the subject of Military Idolatry — starting with debunking the ludicrous assumption that Americans “love their generals” [most Americans can’t even name one] — I’ll stick with the “You-Know-[Fill in the Blank]” usage for now. This kind of linguistic shorthand relies above all on the assumption of widespread public familiarity, perhaps to the point of saturation [i.e., no further input accepted]. Yes, Donald Trump did achieve some degree of public recognition through his TV game-show gig on The Apprentice, but that degree of media exposure pales in comparison to that which we associate with You-Know-Her, because everyone on Planet Earth with access to a television does think that they know her and a majority of those people don’t like what they know about her. In other words, having long since reached the saturation point of public recognition, any further attempt to jam more of You-Know-Her into the public consciousness will only result in atavistic rejection, with the insoluble irritant coming right back out of solution, so to speak. The American public in about 40 of our 50 states simply cannot take any more of You-Know-Her and have tried to tell her so: twice.

    At any rate, combining and paraphrasing Tom Englehardt’s two fine introductory titles, I would say that The corporate media obsession with All-About-Him and You-Know-Her has prevented the long overdue debunking of Military Idolatry. Delving further into the two articles that more-or-less explore this deliberate media distraction from vital inquiry will take more time than I have available now. But I thought I’d try and make a start …

    Note * Sobriquet – Wikipedia

    “A sobriquet (/ˈsoʊbrᵻkeɪ/ SOH-bri-kay) is a nickname, sometimes assumed, but often given by another. Distinct from a pseudonym that is assumed as a disguise, it usually is a familiar name, familiar enough such that it may be used in place of a real name without the need of explanation.”


    1. I like “all-about-him,” Mike. And Idolatry has its resonances as well. When I wrote my book on Paul von Hindenburg, I called him an “Icon of German Militarism,” which caught the way Germans during and after WW1 elevated him to a demi-god-like status. There was a Hindenburg craze in Germany and people had his busts and statues and image everywhere. We don’t see that in the USA (not yet, anyway).

      The icons of American militarism are our weapons. Our warplanes, our drones, the MOAB, and so on. They have become the iconic symbols of an idolatry of destruction. I’ll probably write about this today.


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