Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight

Tulsi Gabbard’s promotion to major

W.J. Astore

Donald Trump attended a high school military academy.  But when the Vietnam War came calling, he developed heel spurs that kept him out of the military.  In the case of Joe Biden, it was asthma that kept him on the sidelines of that war.  Dick Cheney had multiple student deferments and “higher priorities” than serving, as he put it.  George W. Bush got a safe spot in the Texas Air National Guard.  John Kerry, ironically, did serve in the military during Vietnam but famously turned against that war.  His service was “Swift-boated” into infamy even as Bush/Cheney were being applauded by some for their alleged toughness.

When it comes to service in the military, U.S. politicians typically vote with their feet, meaning they double-time away from joining the ranks.  This is nothing new, of course.  During the U.S. Civil War, the rich could pay for substitutes if they were drafted.  When it comes to war, it’s very often a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.

Interestingly, there are two Democratic candidates who are veterans of America’s most recent wars: Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.  According to his website, Mayor Pete “served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and took an unpaid seven-month leave during his mayoral term to deploy to Afghanistan. For his counterterrorism work, he earned the Joint Service Commendation Medal.”  Sounds impressive, yet a “joint service commendation medal” is a standard-issue medal for any company-grade officer who completes such an assignment without screwing up in a major way.  It’s a little like a participation trophy in a Little League tournament.

Despite Mayor Pete’s fairly limited military experience, his web site boasts that if he’s elected president, he’ll take office with the most military experience since George H.W. Bush, who served in the U.S. Navy in combat during World War II.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s military record is far more extensive than Mayor Pete’s.  She joined the Army National Guard soon after 9/11 and deployed to Iraq during some of the most bitter fighting in that country.  She’s currently a major in the Guard and has spoken extensively about how her military service informs her positions against wasteful, regime-change, wars.  According to her web site, “Having experienced first-hand the true cost of war, Tulsi made a personal vow to find a way to ensure that our country doesn’t continue repeating the mistakes of the past, sending our troops into war without a clear mission, strategy, or purpose.”

Tonight, there’s yet another Democratic debate featuring Mayor Pete as well as Congresswoman Gabbard.  It will be interesting to see if they’re called on specifically for their views on military issues, such as Trump’s recent decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria.

In fact, I’d like to hear the views of all twelve Democrats on that stage tonight on the question of America’s forever wars, and why these wars have illustrated that old story of war being in the service of the rich even as the poor pay the ultimate price.  Given America’s supine Congress, our presidents have enormous power over life and death in making war across the globe.  When are we going to rein that power in?  When are we going to stop fighting foolish and destructive wars that have nothing to do with safeguarding America?

Until we honestly — even ruthlessly — address these questions, America will continue to witness generational wars for the rich fought by the poor.

17 thoughts on “Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight

  1. As you point out, the rich and connected managed to avoid the draft.

    I just read Andrew Bacevich’s Breach of Trust in which he makes a very strong argument that going to a volunteer armed force let loose the demon of continual foreign adventures. At the other extreme is Erik Prince urging a mercenary private force (that he will be happy to provide). Given that the resistance to the draft and the resistance of the troops helped get us out of Vietnam while Prince’s Blackwater company helped make a mess in Iraq, it’s hard not to stand with Bacevich, but he makes the point that having volunteers takes the heat off the citizenry who can comfortably avoid the dangers and responsibility of serving and ignore what is going on across the waters.


  2. I don’t support the endless war in Afghanistan, especially after reading about the behaviour of the American troops there; but what should have the US done after 9/11 ?


    1. Because I felt certain that the subject of withdrawing U.S. war-workers from Syria would come up at the most recent Democratic party joint press conference (misleadingly called a “Presidential Debate”) I tried doing some preparatory research and found, among various books and Internet articles, the following three audio podcasts:

      10/14/19 David Stockman on the Media and Establishment Hysteria over Syria, The Scott Horton Show (October 15, 2019)

      10/11/19 Danny Sjursen on Syria and the End of America’s Forever-Wars, The Scott Horton Show (October 13, 2019)

      Ep. 1510 Syria, Trump, and the Kurds: Scott Horton Tells the Story, Tom Woods, (October 9, 2019)

      I won’t post the transcripts in their full length here because of length considerations, but I will quote from them in the discussion which surely will follow these so-called “debates.” I have so far seen only one review of the night’s broadcast from the Concentrated Corporate Media and it rather conformed to my expectations regarding Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s principled opposition to regime-change wars and the attacks upon her that would surely ensue should she attempt to enunciate her critique. I have seen only one such jaundiced review so far, from an Internet outfit called Vox. I won’t supply a link to this piece of garbage, but for those who want to read the whole thing, you can Google:

      “5 winners and 3 losers from the October Democratic presidential debate
      Winner: Bernie Sanders. Loser: Joe Biden.”
      By Dylan Matthews, Zack Beauchamp, Sigal Samuel, Ella Nilsen, and German Lopez

      … [I just skipped down to the following and almost barfed as I processed this extraordinary excursion into ignorance and mendacity] …

      Loser: Tulsi Gabbard

      The congresswoman from Hawaii has premised her entire candidacy on fierce opposition to US military adventurism abroad. Tonight, she had a chance to distinguish herself during a lengthy foreign policy debate — and made a series of blatantly false statements.

      First, she described the Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria, which is controlled by America’s Kurdish allies, thusly: “the slaughter of the Kurds being done by Turkey is yet another negative consequence of the regime change war we’ve been waging in Syria.”

      The US is not waging a war of regime change in Syria (as Biden pointed out later in the debate). American troops are in northern Syria assisting Kurdish forces in combating the ISIS presence in the country. The reason Turkey invaded the Kurdish-held territory is that it sees the Kurds as terrorists and doesn’t want them to have a quasi-state on its border. And it was able to launch the invasion because President Donald Trump pulled out US troops.

      But Gabbard’s comment wasn’t a one-off error. Again and again, Gabbard called for an end to the “regime war in Syria,” which is simply not what’s happening there. She bizarrely blamed the “regime change war” for the Syrian refugee crisis, instead of the murderous regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has indiscriminately attacked populated areas.

      When Buttigieg challenged her shaky analysis, saying that “the slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal,” she accused him of supporting “endless war.” His response was succinct and devastating:

      “You can put an end to endless war without embracing Donald Trump’s policy, as you’re doing.”
      — Zack Beauchamp

      So, there you have it fellow Crimestoppers. Nothing in the above hatchet job in any way conforms to the hours of expertise that I assimilated from the Scott Horton interviews and from what I have experienced of endless war over the course of my lifetime. But I need some sleep before debunking this crap. Others can perhaps carry the ball for awhile. …


  3. “What should the US have done after 9/11?”
    In the glory days of its dim and misted past, the FBI would identify a criminal and then hunt them down. And in most cases, they got them, one way or another. The ghost of Al Capone will back me up on this.
    The US knew who was responsible for 9/11 and yet, instead of a relentless pursuit intent on removing the individual, they declared yet another futile “war on …” (see: “war on poverty,” “war on drugs,” et al.), delivered years of weekly updates which served only to highlight the ineptitude and incompetence of the (at times seemingly reluctant) pursuers, and elevated their target to a legendary status to rival that of Keyser Sose.
    Oh, and along the way, they took over from the Russians in Afghanistan, much as they took over from the French in Vietnam.

    As for politicians taking a stand against endless military actions, that won’t happen because to do so is considered nonsupport of “our troops” (never mind where your tax dollars go). Yeah, well …
    The fact is, I’m 65 and – apart from the Cuban Missile Crisis – I’m hard-pressed to identify a legitimate threat to “the land of the free and the home of the brave” in my lifetime.

    A volunteer army guarantees any real engagement by the electorate, being made up of those who (depending on how things go on any given day) become heroes who gave their all for their country (media-speak) or nameless chumps/chumpettes who knew what they were getting into and weren’t forced into enlisting (far more common among the electorate though never publicized).
    A revival of the Draft would certainly get the public interested in reining in The Pentagon, Congress, and their corporate sponsors – footage of planes unloading recently filled aluminum coffins tends to do that* – but the children of power/money/influence would still skate. “Money talks.”

    *How many years has it been since the networks stopped publicizing the return of troops from around the globe or publishing weekly lists of the true cost of our endless military actions?


    1. Just two paragraphs from the Scott Horton discussion with David Stockman. A pretty good overall summary.

      [25:47] David Stockman: “You can’t even begin to enumerate what a complete mess we made of the inherently fragile situation in Syria. And now we come to the point where the Kurds may be our victim twice. First because we fostered the Islamic State and second, when Trump finally said that we couldn’t stand between the Turks and the Kurds, some of them become a victim again. Well, you know, where does it all stem from? Washington mucking around in a country and a territory that never should have been on the radar screen at all [emphasis added].”

      [26:29] Scott Horton: “Well yeah. As we were discussing at the beginning here, the obvious solution is working itself out right now. That is, they’re bringing the Syrian Army in there and, I guess – according to the Reuters reporting and all that – Russia is hosting the talks and there doesn’t seem to be any question whether the Turkish Army and the Syrian Army are going to go to war. [And,] The whole point of bringing the Syrian Army in there is so they can tell the Turks: “There. We are the border security that you don’t have to be when we’re in this buffer zone.” Deprive them of their excuse for intervention. And, apparently, that’s going to work it looks like.”

      I wish Congresswoman Gabbard had hit Mayor Pete and Ukraine-Joe Biden with just those two observations. Perhaps she did, but I’ve yet to see any reporting on that. I know she understands this history, but when Mayor Pete hit her with the slur about adopting President Trump’s policies, I would have loved to hear her say: “On the contrary, President Trump is trying to co-opt mine.” If the Democrats don’t follow Tulsi Gabbard’s lead on this, Donald Trump will have successfully pilloried them as unreconstructed war-mongers even further to the right than John Bolton. How stupid can these morons get?


  4. I have to write about last night’s “debate,” but this article is typical of how the Syrian mess is being spun in the mainstream media:

    At a gathering last Saturday night of military and intelligence veterans, one topic shrouded the room: President Trump’s decision to abandon Kurdish fighters in Syria who had fought and died to help America destroy the Islamic State.

    “It’s a dagger to the heart to walk away from people who shed blood for us,” one former top CIA official who attended the black-tie dinner told me later. A retired four-star general who was there said the same thing: Trump’s retreat was an “unsound, morally indefensible act” and a “disgrace” to America and the soldiers who serve this country.

    This sense of anguish was pervasive among those attending the event, several attendees said. It was an annual dinner honoring the Office of Strategic Services, the secret World War II commando group that was a forerunner of today’s CIA and Special Operations forces. The event celebrated the military alliances that have always been at the center of American power. It was a bitter anniversary this year.

    It’s probably impossible for Americans to fully grasp the sense of betrayal felt by the Syrian Kurds, who suffered 11,000 dead and 24,000 wounded in a war that we asked them to fight. But perhaps we can understand the shame and outrage of the Special Operations forces who fought alongside them and now see the Kurds cast aside to face their Turkish enemies alone.

    “It will go down in infamy,” said one Army officer who served in the Syria campaign. “This will go down as a stain on the American reputation for decades.” Those may sound like extreme sentiments, but they’re widely shared by those who served in the Syria mission. For these soldiers, abandoning an ally on the battlefield is about the worst thing that can happen.


    1. Thanks for the link to the WaPo article, Bill. As you know, Ignatius is a long-time propaganda outlet for the CIA (“Can’t Identify Anything”) bunglers and the Deep State Borg generally. Still, he really lays that crocodile-tear, weeping and wailing shit on with a trowel. He apparently doesn’t even know that the Kurds have swiftly made a deal with President Assad who has deployed the Syrian Arab Army — along with Russian military and diplomatic support — to protect the Syrian Kurds from any threatened Turkish “slaughter.” So how will Ignatius spin the fact that President Assad — Mr Evil Incarnate — is now protecting the Kurds from America’s NATO ally Turkey. What ever happened to that “T” as in “treaty” part of NATO?

      Who has betrayed whom? Really, Ignatius along with all those CIA and “Special Ops” crybabies do not seem to have kept up with even the last week’s current events in Syria. Russia has done good work here in brokering this inevitable settlement. The United States military has proved its usual bumbling belligerent self. No one invited them to invade and occupy any part of Syria. And if their Turkish allies wish to invade their invasion, then they really don’t have much to bitch about. Some “ally.”


  5. As an essentially single-issue candidate so far, Tulsi Gabbard makes more sense to my inexpert ears than any of the other candidates. Wading through the barrage of information and misinformation is not something I’m inclined toward from the irrelevant comfort of my armchair. That’s the charge of our elected officials. The predisposition to engage vs. disengage is what interests me most. Sure, precedent, continuity, and honor figure in (e.g., abandoning or betraying allies), but the U.S. has a poor record of costly intervention, reckless meddling, and disastrous outcomes. Putting the brakes on military adventurism, if that’s the right phrase to describe Tulsi Gabbard’s position, is far preferred over the perennial willingness to venture into armed conflict.


    1. Well and clearly stated, Brutus.

      “There is a tide in the affairs of men
      Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
      Omitted, all the voyage of their life
      Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
      On such a full sea are we now afloat;
      And we must take the current when it serves,
      Or lose our ventures.” — Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

      To my experienced Vietnam veteran’s ears, Representative Gabbard indeed makes more sense than all her detractors when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Still, she faces a hurricane of hysterical, ignorant war-propaganda from her own party which will do everything in its considerable power to marginalize and discredit her. As in 2016, the corporate Democrats have stupidly let Donald Trump move to their Left — towards the real center of the American electorate — on the issue of foreign non-intervention. Tulsi Gabbard has clearly discerned the current of anti-interventionist truth and has tried to sail with it. But her party has, as usual, chosen to dash itself upon the jagged rocks of reality clearly showing above the low tide water line.

      Sorry if I have mixed up my literary metaphors here.

      About what you have correctly called: “the perennial willingness to venture into armed conflict,” Congresswoman Gabbard reminds me of the only two Senators — Wayne Morse (D-Oregon) and Ernest Gruening (D-Alaska) — who voted against the infamous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: a stampede to war in South East Asia perpetrated upon America and Vietnam by President Lyndon Johnson. Their principled stand earned them nothing but contempt from the rest of Congress and the Corporate Stenographic Media — and I eventually wound up doing a year-and-a-half deployment to the now-defunct Republic of South Vietnam. I fear that the same sort of opprobrium and wasted military service time will happen to Congresswoman (and National Guard Major) Gabbard. Still, she has the tide of truth on her side and has launched her little boat upon it. May she make it safely home again.


  6. For all those CIA and “Special Ops” crocodile crybabies, former U.S. Congressman Dr Ron Paul has the straight skinny for them. Let them dry their red, swollen eyes and try looking around at what just happened. See: Washington is Wrong Once Again – Kurds Join Assad to Defend Syria, Information Clearing House (October 15, 2019).

    The article by Dr Ron Paul also has an embedded video for those who would like a young Syrian lady to explain things. Interested persons can just cut to that if they wish. See:
    Syrian Exposes Media Lies About Syria Withdrawal.

    The U.S. military and its associated dogs-of-war mercenaries really need to butt out of Syria and just go home. Other, more rational persons and governments can settle things with a lot less murderous mayhem. If this displeases the Sordid Arabians and Zionist Occupiers of Palestine, then Too. Damn. Bad. How about a little “loyalty” from them? Or do they regard pimped-out U.S. war-workers as nothing more than cheap hired janitors fit only to clean their toilets? [I think we all can pretty much figure out the answer to that rhetorical question]

    Anyway, as Jimmy Dore likes to say about those Americans who have allowed Trump Derangement Syndrome to rob them of any critical thinking skills: “Trump has broken their brains.”


  7. Somewhere back in this or the previous discussion thread, someone — most likely a troll — speculated that skullduggery must have lain behind President Trump’s “seemingly” abrupt decision to withdraw (or reshuffle) some pimped-out U.S. war-workers from North East Syria. So, in response to this silly paranoia, I thought I’d share a relevant bit of Scott Horton’s radio interview with David Stockman, former Congressman and Director of OMB (the Budget Department) in the Reagan administration:

    [Begin Transcript]

    [5:42] David Stockman: “… among other things, abandoning an ally and all that, there’s this chorus of denunciation about the process. The Lone Ranger in the oval office, and so forth, you’ve hit the point exactly on the head. Had he actually tried to execute this policy, which is the right policy, getting the hell out of Syria overall, but specifically out of that hot spot with American forces who shouldn’t be there. Had he done it through the normal bureaucratic procedures of review and vetting, it would have leaked long ago and he would have been stopped dead in the water, because Lindsey Graham and most of the war-mongers would have been flocking down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House demanding that he continue this war that they don’t want to end.

    After three years, Trump is beginning to realize that he’s surrounded by enemies, that he is home alone, as I sometimes say, in the Oval Office, and so this time he struck by surprise.

    And now this has set in motion a train of actions that will maybe clarify the whole Syrian situation: that Washington’s policy was to destroy the state of Syria and the tolerable balance that the Assad regime [i.e., government] had struck between all the minority ethnic and religious groups in the country, and that would easily have kept the Caliphate, so-called, from even emerging in the dusty plains and small towns of North East Syria [emphasis added].

    Save for U.S. intervention — the massive flow of arms and money and materiel to the radical Sunnis –all of this is now being revealed as the real disaster that Washington imposed [emphasis added].

    Because, if Assad can reconcile with the Kurds, which is clearly what is going to happen and come to the defense of the border, they’ll make a deal with the Turks to put in place this safe zone that they want on the border so that the millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey which are overwhelming the state in their fiscal capacity, and come back home. I think it’s going to sort itself out. I don’t want to be overly optimistic, but this may be the biggest defeat that the neocons and Washington interventionists have had in a long time. And, maybe, in a good point in time, as well, before the upcoming election. The electorate might be awakened from its slumber here to see what sweeping change we need in our foreign policy as a result of the window of disaster that is now opening up in Syria [emphasis added] .”

    [End Transcript]

    In a former discussion thread I provided a transcript of a video interview with Representative Tulsi Gabbard where I went a little rough on her for not answering directly a question about what she would do to get this Syrian regime-change war over and done with. She had evaded and waffled, I thought, blaming President Trump for not getting a negotiated deal — which she rightly advocated — a year before when he had previously said that he would withdraw our U.S. invaders from Syria. She did not consider, I thought, what David Stockman said above: namely, that no matter what President may have wanted to do, the Deep State Swamp at the CIA, Pentagram, and Congress would have leaked and torpedoed his plans, which they swiftly and certainly did. President Trump may actually have learned from that experience and kept his negotiations quiet this time until he had a deal worked out, and only then announce it and put it into motion. Now all those who would have undercut his policy can only now seethe in impotent rage. It may have taken Donald Trump three years to learn something about how the Washington D.C. Swamp actually works as opposed to a family business, but better late than never.


  8. During one section of his interview with David Stockman, Scott Horton shared some headlines that he had come across recently:

    Jerusalem Post: “Can Israel trust the U.S. after Syria withdrawal?”

    Jewish Daily Telegraph: “Senator Lindsey Graham calls troop withdrawal from Syria a Nightmare for Israel.”

    Reuters: “Israel Uneasy over Trump’s Refusal to Stand By Kurds”

    New York Times: “Israelis Watch U.S. abandon Kurds and Worry ‘Who’s Next?’

    Scott Horton: “I think I kind of maybe figured out what’s going on as far as the motivation for the panic attack on TV, David.”

    Then, later, David Stockman comes back to this emotional blackmail — or “guilt trip” — thing that America’s favored Bad Puppet parasite loves to run on gullible Americans so as to extort from them billions of dollars of tribute annually. Mr Stockman has a truly unique perspective on this, one that I wholeheartedly share:

    “Maybe it’s a huge lesson to the world that you were reading in some of those headlines, “Can you trust Washington?” It’s a wonderful thing. The world has to stop trusting Washington. It has to stop joining wars when Washington calls them. They have to stop joining the Coalition of the Willing. They should be unwilling all the way along.

    How refreshing. Let the “betraying” begin and continue. Soon the U.S. military will find no one willing to “ask” for its “help.” I could only hope to live so long.


  9. As for an honest, ruthless, assessment of the currently evolving situation in Syria — the premier foreign policy issue immediately facing the U.S. government — Graham E. Fuller (a former CIA official who can actually identify something) has provided one for those interested. Sure wish this guy had done the moderating at the so-called “debate.” Anyway, See: Everybody Betraying Everybody in Syria – After some eight years of civil conflict, the situation in Syria is basically reverting to the pre-conflict norm , by Graham E. Fuller, Consortium News (October 16, 2019).

    [To begin with]:

    … the bottom line of the story is that after some eight years of civil conflict, the situation in Syria is basically reverting to the pre-conflict norm. The Syrian government is now close to re-establishing its sovereign control again over the entire country. Indeed, Syria’s sovereign control over its own country had been vigorously contested, in fact blocked, by many external interventions — mainly on the part of the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and a few European hangers-on — all hoping to exploit the early uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and overthrow it. In favor of what was never clear.

    The U.S. has been trying to covertly overthrow the Syrian regime off and on for some 50 years, periodically joined on occasion by Israel or Saudi Arabia or Iraq, or Turkey or the U.K. Most people assumed that when the Arab Spring broke out in Syria in 2011 that civil uprisings there too would lead to the early overthrow of another authoritarian regime. But it did not. This was in part due to Assad’s brutal put-down of rebel forces, in part because of the strong support he received from Russia, Iran and Hizballah, and in part because large numbers of Syrian elites feared that whoever might take Assad’s place — most likely one or another Jihadi group — would be far worse, more radical and chaotic than Assad’s strict but stable  secular domestic rule.  

    Nonetheless over this entire time the U.S. has been willing to support almost any motley array of forces, including even extremist jihadi forces linked with al-Qaeda, to try to overthrow Assad. Washington has never gotten over the fact that Syria for over half a century has never bowed to U.S. or Israeli hegemony in the region, and has all along been a strong supporter of Syria’s secular — yes secular —Arab nationalism. The U.S. has therefore shown great willingness to “fight to the last Syrian” if necessary to achieve its ends.

    … [a comprehensive breakdown of all the relevant, detailed examples follows] …

    … [and in conclusion]:

    The most vociferous voices in Washington for sticking by the Kurds in Syria come from several sources. First, from those who reflexively oppose any policy of Trump under any circumstances anywhere. Second, those interventionists who seek to maintain U.S. armed presence in the region at almost all costs — and the untiring U.S. global task in their eyes is never finished. Third, there are many who want to keep Israel strategically happy and empowered. 

    The interventionist crowd in Washington wants the U.S. in Syria indefinitely as proof of our “credibility” to fight everybody’s war, and maintain American “leadership” — read hegemony — in the region. Sadly, the prolonged war agenda would not seem to do anybody in the region any good, including the U.S.

    One of the best articles that I’ve read on America’s failed and flailing foreign policy in the Middle East. Some really worthwhile reading.


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