Reinforcing Failure in Afghanistan

Saighan 05-2011 -
The Tough Terrain of Afghanistan (Photo by Anna M.)

W.J. Astore

Back in 2009, as the Obama administration was ramping up its ill-fated surge in Afghanistan, I wrote the following article on the contradictions of U.S. military strategy in that country.  Like the British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century, both defeated by the Afghan people as well as the harsh environment, the Americans in the 21st century are a foreign and invasive presence in Afghanistan that will ultimately be fought off and ejected.  (Interestingly, the U.S. military has it exactly backwards, seeing itself as antibodies to a foreign terrorist threat in Afghanistan.)  Despite the weight of history and the lack of U.S. progress in Afghanistan over the last two decades, the U.S. government in 2018 refuses to withdraw, wasting an additional $45 billion a year on a trillion-dollar campaign that’s gone nowhere.

Little did I know in 2009 that, nearly a decade later, the U.S. military would still be mired in that country, yet still be talking about some kind of victory in a war that retired General David Petraeus says will last for “generations.”  The British and Soviets learned their lesson and withdrew; when will the U.S. learn the lesson of Afghanistan and withdraw?

Why is the U.S. military still there?  If it’s to suppress terrorism or the Taliban, the exact opposite has happened: terrorism has spread and the Taliban has grown stronger.  The heroin trade has also accelerated.  Is it about gas pipelines?  Strategic minerals?  Bases from which Iran can be attacked?  Maintaining American “credibility”?  All of the above?  I would guess most Americans have no clue why the U.S. military is still in Afghanistan, other than some vague notion of fighting a war on terror.  And in war vague notions are a poor substitute for sound strategy and communal will.

Here’s my article from 2009:

In the U.S. debate on Afghanistan, virtually all experts agree that it’s not within the power of the American military alone to win the war. For that, Afghanistan needs its own military and police force, one that is truly representative of the people, and one that is not hopelessly corrupted by drug money and the selfish concerns of the Karzai government [now gone] in Kabul.

The conundrum is that any Afghan military created by outsiders — and America, despite our image of ourselves, is naturally seen by most Afghans as a self-interested outsider — is apt to be viewed as compromised and illegitimate.

Committing more American troops and advisors only exacerbates this problem. The more U.S. troops we send, the more we’re “in the face” of the Afghan people, jabbering at them in a language they don’t understand. The more troops we send, moreover, the more likely it is that our troops will take the war’s burdens on themselves. If history is any guide, we’ll tend to push aside the “incompetent” and “unreliable” Afghan military that we’re so at pains to create and celebrate.

We have a classic Catch-22. As we send more troops to stiffen Afghan government forces and to stabilize the state, their high-profile presence will serve to demoralize Afghan troops and ultimately to destabilize the state. The more the U.S. military takes the fight to the enemy, the less likely it is that our Afghan army-in-perpetual-reequipping-and-training will do so.

How to escape this Catch-22? The only answer that offers hope is that America must not be seen as an imperial master in Afghanistan. If we wish to prevail, we must downsize our commitment of troops; we must minimize our presence.

But if we insist on pulling the strings, we’ll likely as not perform our own dance of death in this “graveyard of empires.”

A little history. Some two centuries ago, and much like us, the globe-spanning British Empire attempted to extend its mastery over Afghanistan. It did not go well. The British diplomat in charge, Montstuart Elphinstone, noted in his book on “Caubool” the warning of an Afghan tribal elder he encountered: “We are content with discord, we are content with alarms, we are content with blood; but we will never be content with a master.”

As imperial masters, British attitudes toward Afghans were perhaps best summed up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ninth Edition (1875). The Afghans, according to the Britannica, “are familiar with death, and are audacious in attack, but easily discouraged by failure; excessively turbulent and unsubmissive to law or discipline; apparently frank and affable in manner, especially when they hope to gain some object, but capable of the grossest brutality when that hope ceases. They are unscrupulous in perjury, treacherous, vain, and insatiable in vindictiveness, which they will satisfy at the cost of their own lives and in the most cruel manner …. the higher classes are too often stained with deep and degrading debauchery.”

One wonders what the Afghans had to say about the British.

The accuracy of this British depiction is not important; indeed, it says more about imperial British attitudes than it does Afghan culture. What it highlights is a tendency toward sneering superiority exercised by the occupier, whether that occupier is a British officer in the 1840s or an American advisor today. In the British case, greater familiarity only bred greater contempt, as the words of one British noteworthy, Sir Herbert Edwardes, illustrate. Rejecting Elphinstone’s somewhat favorable estimate of their character, Edwardes dismissively noted that with Afghans, “Nothing is finer than their physique, or worse than their morale.”

We should ponder this statement, for it could have come yesterday from an American advisor. If the words of British “masters” from 150 years ago teach us anything, it’s that Afghanistan will never be ours to win. Nor is an Afghan army ours to create. Like the British, we might fine-tune Afghan physiques, but we won’t be able to instill high morale and staying power.

And if we can’t create an Afghan army that’s willing to fight and die for Karzai or some other government we consider worthy of our support, we must face facts: There’s no chance of winning at any remotely sustainable or sensible cost to the United States.

Nevertheless, we seem eager to persist in our very own Catch-22. We may yet overcome it, but only by courting a singularly dangerous paradox. In Vietnam, our military spoke of destroying villages in order to save them. Will we have to destroy the American military in order to save Afghanistan?

For that may be the ultimate price of “victory” in Afghanistan.

An Addendum (2018): This year, the Trump administration’s Afghan “strategy” seems to be to pressure the Pakistanis by withholding foreign aid, to bomb and drone and kill as many “terrorists” as possible without committing large numbers of American troops, and to “brown the bodies,” i.e. to fight to the last Afghan government soldier.  That’s apparently what the U.S. military learned from its failed Afghan surge of 2009-10: minimize U.S. casualties while continuing the fight, irrespective of the costs (especially to Afghanistan) and lack of progress.  So I was wrong in 2009: Unlike the Vietnam War, in which the U.S. military came close to destroying itself in a vain pursuit of victory, the Afghan War has been tamped down to a manageable level of effort, or so Washington and the Pentagon seem to think.

What Washington experts will never seriously consider, apparently, is withdrawal from a war that they already lost more than a decade ago.  Thus they commit an especially egregious error in military strategy: they persist in reinforcing failure.

Update (4/2/18): Just after I wrote this, I saw this update at FP: Foreign Policy:

“This is not another year of the same thing we’ve been doing [in Afghanistan] for 17 years,” Gen. Joseph Dunford , chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Washington Post. “This is a fundamentally different approach.”

That notes of optimism comes as the Taliban have made significant territorial gains, with the group now openly active in 70 percent Afghanistan’s territory. Afghan military forces, meanwhile, are taking casualties at a record level. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani continues to drum up support for a peace initiative that would bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, but so far a a breakthrough appears far off.

11 thoughts on “Reinforcing Failure in Afghanistan

  1. “This is not another year of the same thing we’ve been doing [in Afghanistan] for 17 years,” Gen. Joseph Dunford

    No, this is another turning point.

    *Jan 17, 2018 – drones are redeployed in Afghanistan. U.S. bases here are abuzz with activity. Numerous military officers used a phrase often repeated during this war: “We’re at a turning point.”
    *Jan 16, 2018: Government forces recaptured Marjah [where] Afghans had ousted the Taliban eight years ago in one of the largest operations of the war — one officials were confident then would mark a turning point.
    *Dec 18, 2017: Czech Army Gen. Petr Pavel, chief of NATO policy and strategy: “There is a thread of branding every year as crucially important. 2018 will be different from others.”
    *Nov 28, 2017 – The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said Tuesday that coalition forces have “turned the corner” in the fight against the Taliban.
    *Nov 27, 2017: USNews: “Victory or Failure in Afghanistan: 2018 Will Be the Deciding Year”
    *Nov 10, 2017: Gen. John Nicholson: “Yes, I think the conditions are set for success. [Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani has said he believes we are turning a corner, and I agree.”
    *Oct 4, 2017 – Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, received a frustrated and sometimes angry reception during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee …. Mattis then expanded on the Pentagon’s new strategy to “regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile and sustain” operations in Afghanistan. (R4+S)
    *Aug 22, 2017: SecState Tillerson: “We believe we can turn the tide of what has been a losing battle over the last year-and-a-half or so.”
    *Aug 22, 2017, General Votel, Central Command: “We’re turning a big ship here and there are challenges.”
    * Aug 22, 2017: Former president Hamid Karzai dubbed the US stance on Pakistan in its new strategy as a “turning point.”
    * Aug 21, 2017: WSJ: Putting forth his own strategy is a “turning point” for Trump because it means he takes ownership of the US involvement in the conflict
    * May 10, 2017: Washington Post: “A soldier’s death and a possible turning point in long-running Afghan war”
    *May 10, 2017: ChicagoTribune: “Mark De Alencar was the first American killed in combat in Afghanistan in over four months. Now his death could mark a new stage in America’s longest war.”
    *Feb 9, 2017: McCain: “This new administration has the opportunity to turn the page and finally give our commanders the resources and authorities they need”
    *May 22, 2016: MSN: The death of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in an American drone strike may be a turning point for Taliban and their Pakistani Army patrons.
    *Feb 2, 2016: Campbell: “Afghanistan is at an inflection point”
    *Oct 5, 2015: Campbell: “Where they [ANA] were just a couple of years ago to where they are today is pretty astounding.”
    *Feb 12, 2015: Campbell: “[Resolute Support] represents a significant paradigm shift.”
    *Dec 29, 2014: Campbell: “What a change from the day that President Ghani took over.”
    *Dec 28, 2014: Campbell: “we can see that Afghanistan and our Coalition are at a critical turning point.”
    *Dec 28, 2014: Obama: “2014, therefore, is a pivotal year. Together with our allies and the Afghan government, we have agreed that this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan.”
    *Dec 23, 2014: General Campbell: 2014 proved to be a time of critical transition in Afghanistan
    —–also see Campbell: May 9, 2011: MajGen John Campbell: “But I really do think that as people look back, and they’ll say 2010 was the year in Afghanistan. It’s the year that we finally put more resources in here. We had the right leadership [Petraeus], the right strategy. And I think that was a turning point.” . . . suck, suck
    *Dec 15, 2014: Obama: “So, stepping back for a moment, we’re at a turning point [in Iraq and Afghanistan].”
    *Nov 6, 2014: NATO’s Stoltenberg: “Next year, we will open a new chapter. The future of Afghanistan will be in Afghan hands.”
    *Oct 11, 2014: Kerry: “History will hopefully be able to judge that [the unity government] was a turning point.”
    *Jun 16, 2014: Dunford: The next several weeks will be important.
    *May 2, 2014: Dempsey Calls Election ‘Turning Point’ for Afghan Forces
    * Apr 26, 2014: Voters are hoping the election marks a turning point in the troubled country.
    *Mar 27, 2014: Obama: 2014, therefore, is a pivotal year
    *Apr 5, 2014: Gateway House: Afghanistan: At a Turning Point
    *Apr 2, 2014: Kerry called the elections “a pivotal moment after more than a decade of sacrifice and struggle.”
    *Mar 28, 2014: Stoltenberg will take over at a turning point in NATO’s history.
    *Nov 15, 2013: Hillary Clinton: ‘Turning point’ for Afghan women
    * Oct 19, 2013: Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who remarked in a speech that that Kunduz had been “a turning point not only for the Bundeswehr, but also for German society.”
    * Aug 17, 2013: The handover of responsibility on Tuesday marks a significant milestone in the nearly 12-year war and marks a turning point for American and NATO military forces.
    * Jun 18, 2013: The handover of responsibility marks a turning point for American and NATO
    military forces
    *May 3, 2013: Kerry: This is a pivotal moment for both Afghanistan and Pakistan
    *Mar 8, 2013: Hagel: I believe that we are at a very important moment in this campaign
    *Mar 8, 2013: NYPost: [Hagel’s] unannounced visit comes at a turning point in the conflict.
    *Dec 12, 2012: Panetta: We’re at a turning point. You know, we’ve been in war for 10 1/2 years, almost 11 years, since 9/11. It’s the longest period of warfare in the history — continuous period of warfare in the history of this country. And we’re now seeing a turning point: brought the war in Iraq to an end. In Afghanistan, where I’ll go next, get a chance to look at the campaign plan that General Allen put in place to ultimately draw down in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
    *Dec 14, 2012: Panetta: In many ways, look, we’re at a turning point.
    *Nov 20, 2012: Panetta: We are at a turning point after 10 years of war — over 10 years of war.
    *Sep 27, 2012: Panetta: We did turn a very important corner.
    *Sep 17, 2012: Panetta: Let me just say a few things. As I’ve said before, I think we’re at a turning point, certainly after 10 years of war,
    *June 7, 2012: Panetta: We are, as I said, at a turning point after 10 years of war.
    *May 3, 2012: Panetta: 2011 was really a turning point. In 2011 the Taliban was weakened significantly. They couldn’t organize the kind of attacks to regain territory that they had lost, which is something they have done in the past. So they’ve been weakened.
    * April 18, 2012: Panetta: As I’ve said, 2011 was a real turning point. It was the first time in five years that we saw a drop in the number of enemy attacks.
    * April 17, 2012: Panetta: NATO at ‘Pivotal Point’ in Afghan Mission
    *Dec 18, 2012: Leon Panetta cites turning point in Afghanistan war
    * December 14, 2011: Panetta was less than 34 miles from the Pakistan border when he told U.S. troops they have reached a turning point in the war.
    *Jun 23, 2011: A White House official said Obama hoped that Americans would see Wednesday night’s speech as a “pivot point” in the almost 10-year-old war
    * April 21, 2011: Gates: “I think it’s possible that by the end of this year we will have turned a corner just because of the Taliban being driven out, and, more importantly, kept out.”
    * May 9, 2011: MajGen John Campbell: “But I really do think that as people look back, and they’ll say 2010 was the year in Afghanistan. It’s the year that we finally put more resources in here. We had the right leadership [Petraus], the right strategy. And I think that was a turning point.”
    * March 15, 2011: “FOB DELHI: International troops in Afghanistan face the prospect of a spring offensive by the Taliban every year – but this time the US-led alliance believes it could mark a real turning point in its favour.”
    *Jan 10, 2011: A senior administration official, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force Two during the flight to Kabul, said Biden’s surprise visit marks “a pivot point” in the United States’ Afghanistan policy.
    * Aug 31, 2010: Nick Clegg said Nato’s military campaign in Afghanistan was “turning the corner” today
    * Aug 7, 2010: The British withdrawal from Sangin . . . represents a major turning point, possibly the beginning of the end for British forces in the country.
    * Jul 21. 2010: SecState Clinton, at a conference of foreign leaders: “Today was a real turning point!”
    * Jun 14, 2010: The discovery of the minerals could certainly represent a significant turning point for Afghanistan
    * Mar 31, 2010: NATO sees Kandahar battle as Afghan turning point
    * Feb 26, 2010: UK General Sir David Richards: “A year ago the Taliban thought they had us on the run, but now the tables have been turned.”
    * Feb 20, 2010: “Western officials believe that a turning point has been reached in the war against the Taliban, with a series of breakthroughs suggesting that the insurgents are on the back foot for the first time since their resurgence four years ago.”
    * Jan 28, 2010: Adm. James G. Stavridis: “This complex attack in the capital was repelled entirely by Afghan security forces. That is a signal change. A year ago, it would have been coalition forces that responded to that attack. . .2010 is the year. This is the time.”
    * Sep 29, 2009: NPR: A Turning Point For Afghan War, And For Obama
    * Sep 9, 2009: Exum: A Grim Turning Point in Afghanistan?
    * August 31, 2009: “Monday marks the end of August, a month with both good and bad news out of Afghanistan — and the approach of a key turning point.“
    *Aug 31, 2009: TIME: Both elements signal the arrival of a pivot point in Afghanistan, and one that is looming in Washington.
    * February 6, 2008: “But the ties that bind NATO are fraying badly – and publicly – over just how much each member state wants to commit to turning Afghanistan around. ‘It’s starting to get to a turning point about what is this alliance about,’ says Michael Williams, director of the transatlantic program at the Royal United Services Institute in London.”
    * Aug 16, 2007: Defence Secretary Des Browne said in an interview published Thursday that Britain’s mission in Afghanistan could be at a turning point to bringing increased stability there.
    * July 23, 2007: “Taken together these may reflect a turning point in how the war in Afghanistan is to be waged.”
    * September 12, 2006: NYTimes: “The Afghan front is at a critical turning point that imperils many of the hard-fought successes of the early phase of the conflict and the prospects for snaring bin Laden.”
    * September 22, 2005: “Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s foreign minister, called the recent parliamentary elections ‘a major turning point‘ on his country’s path to democracy.”
    * January 27, 2004: “A statement from U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called the enactment of the constitution a ‘turning point for the Afghan nation.’”
    * February 26, 2003: “The growing aggressiveness by guerrillas is a relief for US forces, who greet the possibility of a real engagement with the Taliban as a possible turning point in the war. ‘We want them to attack us, so we can engage them and destroy them,’ says one Special Forces soldier from the US firebase at Spin Boldak, who took part in the initial firefight that led to Operation Mongoose.
    * December 2, 2002: “But in ‘Bush at War’ there’s a glaring omission. Woodward misses the turning point in the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda forces. It’s as though the most important scene had been left out of a movie, say, where Clark Kent turns into Superman.”
    –Early entries by Joshua Foust


    1. Grimly amusing. And just plain tragic for the people on the receiving end of this endless war.


  2. The link to the WaPo article provided the following: >> Over four days, generals and advisers traveling with Dunford fanned out across the country to gather information on the readiness of Afghan forces and their foreign advisers. << Almost sounds like NFL or NBA scouts looking for prospects.

    The WaPo column is typical of today's McMega-Media, cut and paste quotes from so called "experts" that offer only more war and no admitting that the previous strategies have been failures. I guess after 18 years of war in Afghanistan you could determine on your own, we have failed but, the author cannot write this – The Warrior Cult cannot be held accountable. The author of this column is a perfect example of the intellectually vacant style of reporting that now dominates our entire McMega-Media.

    As I read the WaPo article I was struck by the same type of reporting that echoed throughout Vietnam, with few exceptions here and there.

    When I was in Vietnam, the ARVN at US prodding invaded Laos. The operation was called Lam Som 719 from 8 February and 25 March 1971. The ARVN would be on their own in a ground operation. This was going to be test of Vietnamization. The US would provide the air cover. Lam Som 719 was hyped to be the first real test of the ARVN to go it alone. This test was false in three respects since the US had provide the bulk of the mobility, logistical support, and tactical air strikes. Combined U.S./ARVN helicopter losses totaled 168 destroyed and 618 damaged. The operation was a complete failure.

    I suspect somewhere in the bowels of the Defense Department and our "Intelligence Community" there are documents that conclude the operation in Afghanistan is a failure but will never see the light of day. It is also a probability that having selected only those for promotion that agree with the decision that we must never admit defeat in any form, any honest critique will not be forthcoming.


    1. Victory and defeat: terms that show remarkable malleability. There are always metrics that can be invented to show “progress,” like the bodycounts and truck counts used in Vietnam.

      But though the American public might be fooled for a time (when it’s even paying attention), the Vietnamese, Afghan, and other peoples know the score.


      1. You will have to get caught up with the relevant Orwellian euphemisms, Bill. The U.S. military has not “failed” in Afghanistan. Quite to the contrary, it has “succeeded” catastrophically, just as it succeeded in Iraq, Libya, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and quite a few other “underdeveloped” countries too poor and backward to prevent the United States military from “helping,” by which we mean turning them into bloody “shitholes,” to use President Donald Trump’s colorful characterization. I can remember once reading about Saigon, Vietnam, as “the Paris of the Orient,” only when I got there in July of 1970, the place looked like a stinking, olive-drab shithole with most of the population reduced to whoring for the Americans as the only way to make a “iving.”

        At any rate, to fully appreciate the true accomplishments and limitless progress achieved by our Vaunted Visgoths, Dogs-of-War Mercenaries, and Corporate Camp Followers — which collectively constitute the U.S. military Rube Goldberg machine — one has to savor the subtle semantic implications of the adjective “catastrophic.” For my part, I took a stab at this catastrophe-appreciation thing seven years ago. Consider:

        “George W. Bush has admitted the US failed to plan for a speedy victory in Iraq, describing the sudden collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime as a “catastrophic success.”
        the Australian, August 30, 2004

        … and …

        “There is a theory which has not yet been accurately formulated or given a name, but which is very widely accepted and is brought forward whenever it is necessary to justify some action which conflicts with the sense of decency of the average human being. It might be called, until some better name is found, the Theory of Catastrophic Gradualism…. The formula usually employed is ‘You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.’ And if one replies, ‘Yes, but where is the omelet?’ the answer is likely to be: ‘Oh, well, you can’t expect everything to happen all in a moment.'” — George Orwell, “Catastrophic Gradualism” (1946)

        So, Bill, I suggest learning to conceive of all that “progress” and “corner-turning” in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains as:

        Another Catastrophic Success

        With their tails tucked proudly ‘tween their legs
        Advancing towards the exit march the dregs
        Of empire, whose retreat this question begs:
        No promised omelet, just the broken eggs?

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2011

        I suggest that we demand of our egg-breaking Corporate Military Junta: “Where’s the omelet? Time’s up.”


      2. Mike: Nothing succeeds like failure, right?

        Yes, no omelets, lots of broken eggs, and all for an obscene price. Meanwhile, the “chefs” claim more Michelin stars.


      3. “Victory and defeat: terms that show remarkable malleability.”

        Not just malleable terms, Bill, but interchangeable ones, as in the Fourth Slogan of the (Property) Party, namely:

        Defeat is Victory

        Although generally understood as mutually exclusive, as George Orwell explained in THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM, the ‘Book within a Book’ from the dystopian operations manual, Nineteen Eighty-Four:

        “These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy; they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be forever averted — if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently — then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.

        In the current American incarnation of Oligarchical Oceania, Inc., the official oxymoron consisting of the contradictory elements “cold” and “war” — rather than the dreaded simplicity of “peace” — finds renewed expression in the Third Slogan of the Party:

        War is Peace

        That the reverse of this contradiction might also hold sway in the United States — i.e., Peace is War — received a definitive analysis by Sheldon S. Wolin in his masterful book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (2006):

        “[The so-called ‘Cold War’] was ‘cold’ only in the sense that the two antagonists did not engage each other in a shooting war. During that era, which lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1987, the United States fought two very hot wars, first in Korea, then in Vietnam. It suffered a stalemate in one and defeat in the other, both by Soviet proxies. If we add the defeat in Iraq [not to mention Afghanistan], we might be tempted to redefine superpower as an imaginary of power that emerges from defeat unchastened, more imperious than ever.”

        Hence, with each new defeat by Southeast Asian peasants or Afghan poppy farmers and goat-herdes in the the foothills of the Hindu Kush, the mindless U.S. miltiary Rube Golberg machine grows larger, consuming ever-greater proportions of America’s dwindling economic resources, proffering endless excuses while still demanding more of everything for … well … you know … whatever … just because …

        To paraphrase (in the realm of socio-political analysis) what T. S. Elliot said about Dante and Shakespeare: “Orwell and Wolin divide the world between them. There is no third.” (Although Chalmers Johnson and Michael Parenti deserve honorable mention)

        More on oxymoronic, jargon encrusted Orwellian Newspeak as a carefully crafted totalitarian weapon against working-class economic democracy as time allows …


  3. re: Peace is War (Or is it the other way ’round?)
    from the recent US National Security Strategy, with its four pillars:
    Four pillars
    1. Protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life
    2. Promote American prosperity
    3. Preserve peace through strength
    4. Advance American influence

    Reading further, the US has “interests” throughout thee world that require military action of one kind or another. They are of course political and economic (they go together) and have nothing to do with national security.


    1. Thanks for reading and summarizing the so-called “US National Security Strategy,” Don. I doubt if I could have waded through it without suffering terminal brain-lock from overexposure to Orwellian Newspeak drivel: specifically, “doubleplusgood duckspeaking” (Maniacal Military Dialect), a subject worthy of analyis in its own right, but perhaps more on that should time and energy permit …

      Leaving aside for later deconstruction the individual items in your list, you cut through the bureaucratic bullshit to the essence of the ostensible “strategy” in your final sentence when you properly note that the vague and vapid euphemism “interests” has nothing to do with “national security,” but only serves to disguise “political and economic” (but we repeat ourselves) grasping after more, always more of … well … everything for the benefit of … well … you know … them. So, what do we mean by “everything” and whom do we mean by “them”? The duck-like quacking noises employed by the authors of the “US National Security Strategy” — dutifully transcribed into Korzybskian “spell-marks” bearing a faint-but-unclear resemblance to “words” — do much to obfuscate and little to clarify, possibly their only real intention.

      Like when someone asked President Eisenhower how he intended to explain a particular policy to the nation. His answer: “Don’t worry. I’ll just go out there and confuse ’em.” Bottom line: We should not assume that our Corporate Military Junta ( i.e., “government”) actually (1) knows of a truth worth telling, or (2) would share that truth with us proles even if they did. Consciously-Crafted Confusion, Manufactured Mendacity, Managed Mystification, or whatever one wishes to call it, does a great job of hiding not just ignorance and incompetence, but malfeasance and outright criminality as well. So we can expect nothing but impenetrable confusion from official pronouncements — especially military ones — and should proceed from the following premise, enunciated by the independent American journalist I. F. Stone: “Governments lie.”

      Let us, then, in defense of our own sanity and meager worldly possessions, begin by understanding what Michael Parenti names as “the two basic reasons why the United States assiduously remains an armed superpower even though lacking a pretext of an opposing superpower: First, a massive military establishment is needed to keep the world safe for global capital accumulation. Second, a massive military itself is a direct source of immense capital accumulation.” [emphasis added] – Against Empire (1995)

      In other words, immense global capital accumulation — and not something as silly and subordinate as a “nation” — accounts for the massive U.S. military, both as a major source and principal enforcer of this self-serving system. These two interlocking and ruthlessly reinforcing reasons — or “pillars,” if you will, of the International Money-Changers’ Temple — explain why Michael Parenti advises us not to employ the nation-state as a primary unit of analysis. Instead, he suggests that we recognize a global class of immense capital accumulators as dictators of policy and programs to “governments” the “presidents” and “prime ministers” of which function like the local managers of Kentucky Fried Chicken or Pizza Hut franchises in relation to remote corporate CEOs and major stockholders (but I repeat myself).

      Now let us reconsider the four “individual” items listed as “pillars” of the “US National Security Strategy” — what we might more accurately describe as corporate directives issued to local managerial “leaders” of “nations” or “homelands” (principally “American”):

      1. Protect the system of immense global capital accumulation
      2. Promote the system of immense global capital accumulation
      3. Preserve the system of immense global capital accumulation through subordinate-state (primarily U.S.) military violence
      4. Advance the interests of immense global capital accumulation — essentially a restatement of directives (1), (2), and (3) above.

      These trans- and supra-national corporate directives, as understood by the local manager of the “American Homeland” fast-buck franchise: namely, US President Barack Hussein Obama, boil down to: “Disrupt, Degrade, Dismantle, and Defeat” any and all impediments to immense global capital accumulation.

      For some reason, though, the four “pillars” — having resolved themselves into essentially one — see item (4) above — conjur the image of a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest. What could account for the hysteria and sense of panic now gripping the global class of immense capital accumulators, other than the realization that all hyper-leveraged Ponzi schemes ultimately collapse when the exponential demands for more free money run into the finite and declining linear supply of real economic production.

      Not four “pillars.” Rather, four metaphorical synonyms for “Not a leg to stand on.”


      1. I’m taken by “protecting the American way of life:” Highest of industrialized nations in homicides, prison population, maternal & infant mortality, income discrepancy and work-year, and lowest in health care, longevity, etc. So what’s to protect?
        Meanwhile we should keep in mind that currently the US is being jerked around by three minor alleged enemies, Russia, Iran and North Korea, whose military budgets are respectively 10%, 1% and 1% of the Pentagon’s budget. But we should be afraid, very afraid.

        And then there’s China, surpassing the US economy for eight years and currently investing in commercial networks to everywhere on earth, and there’s not a damn thing the US can do about it. Nothing. . . .Stick that in your pillar, Washington.


      2. I agree with Parenti, Mike. The business of America is business, and war business is a big part of that, especially since we’ve exported so many jobs to places like China but have protected military manufacturing jobs due to “national security priorities.” We dominate the world’s arms trade because it’s one of the few things we value; simple as that.

        But Americans (and here I talk mainly of our various elites in government, the media, the military, but I repeat myself, to borrow your line) also are captives of myths, such as the myth of American exceptionalism, the myth our presence overseas enhances “stability” and facilitates “freedom.” Those myths help to perpetuate our imperial presence as much as naked self-interest of “global capital accumulation.”

        I’d also add that our elites are publicity hounds and glory-seekers (and often chicken-hawks too). Like so many bad actors (double meaning intended), they want to dominate the stage of world events. Ham actors, acting in ham-fisted ways, but always hamstrung by various opponents who, in the end, have the home court advantage. The latter know that America’s traveling troupe of bad actors, as much as they want to dominate the stage, have to move on to their next farcical or tragic performance.

        Am I being too cynical here? Well, I haven’t had my morning coffee yet …


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