A Typical Democratic Official on the Pentagon and War

Jeh Johnson with Biden and Obama, 2013 (White House photo)

W.J. Astore

Jeh Johnson, formerly homeland security secretary under President Obama, showed how a typical Democratic official approaches the Pentagon and war as he spoke on ABC’s This Week on Sunday (11/15).  For Johnson, the Pentagon “is typically an island of stability” in the U.S. government, but President Trump was destabilizing that island because of recent changes to Pentagon personnel.  Trump’s changes could be driven by his desire to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, speculated Johnson, which was not a good thing:

“If he [Trump] wants troops out of Afghanistan, as I know most Americans do, we have to do it in a way that makes sense, in an orderly manner, and that comports with battlefield reality … in trying to strike a deal, you don’t unilaterally surrender your greatest point of leverage by unilaterally withdrawing troops before the Afghan government and the Taliban have stuck a deal. So this is very concerning and if I were in the Biden transition team right now, I’d be very focused … on restoring stability in our national security.”

We can’t surrender our “leverage,” those thousands of U.S. troops that remain in harm’s way in an unnecessary war that was won and then lost almost two decades ago, because it’s that “leverage” that will compel the Taliban, who have already won the war, to strike a deal with an Afghan government that exists mainly because the U.S. government props it up.  Makes sense to me.

By the way, only “most Americans” want our troops to come home?  Where are all the other Americans who want them to stay there indefinitely?  Within the Washington Beltway, I’d wager.

The Afghan war has always struck me as nonsensical.  Yes, some kind of response to the 9/11 attacks was needed, and initial U.S. military strikes in 2001-02 succeeded in toppling the Taliban, in the sense they saw no reason to stand and fight against withering fire.  At that moment, the U.S. military should have declared victory and left.  Instead, the Bush/Cheney administration decided on its own disastrous occupation, extended another eight years by Obama/Biden, even though we knew full well the extent of the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan in the 1980s. 

The Afghan war has lasted so long that I’ve been writing articles against it for more than a decade.  You’d think any sensible and sane Democrat would love to see U.S. troops withdrawn and the war finally come to an end.  Not so.  The war must continue in the name of “leverage” and “stability.”

I like Johnson’s truly absurdist reference to “battlefield reality,” which, if we’re being real for a moment, reflects a Taliban victory.  Unless the U.S. wants to occupy Afghanistan forever, with hundreds of thousands of troops, that victory is not about to be reversed.  And what kind of “victory” would that be? 

“Stability” is not preserved by fighting unwinnable wars on the imperial periphery, unless you’re talking about the stability of Pentagon finances and corporate profits.  Johnson’s wiki bio does mention he’s on the boards of Lockheed Martin Corporation and U.S. Steel, which certainly hints at a conflict of interest when it comes to offering advice on ending wars.

In the meantime, we probably shouldn’t tell our troops, whom we’re supposed to love and support, that we’re keeping them in Afghanistan for “leverage” until the “battlefield reality” is more in our favor.  That’s truly a recipe for endless war in a place that well deserves its reputation as the graveyard of empires.

Finally, a reminder to Democrats: your Pentagon is an island of stability, and your troops are creating the leverage that allows democracy to flourish everywhere.  If this makes sense to you, and if this is the guiding philosophy of Joe Biden’s national security team, we’re truly in deep trouble.

Bonus Lesson: The Pentagon is an “island” of government only if that island is roughly the size of Pangaea.

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of critical veteran military and national security professionals.

36 thoughts on “A Typical Democratic Official on the Pentagon and War

  1. This strikes me as yet another example of the “American exceptionalism” nonsense.
    The French got their asses waxed in Vietnam. No problem, that was the French, not us.
    And in Afghanistan, even the Commies had sense to finally pull out. No problem, that was the Russians, not us.
    There’s a storm blowing in off the North Sea, and I believe I just heard the time-honored phrase “Peace with Honor” splash against the window.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s funny: I had that same thought of “peace with honor.” But also of “a decent interval.” Nixon/Kissinger knew South Vietnam would fall; they merely wanted a decent interval between the treaty and the fall so they could avoid the blame.

      I wonder how long the “decent interval” will be in Afghanistan, assuming we ever pull our troops out? And, lacking hippies and peace activists, who’ll be the alleged backstabbers?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I would imagine the fix – I’m sorry, the contingency plan – already has that covered. We’ll know soon enough and it should be interesting because, as noted, there is no anti-war movement, no real resistance, so … place your bet now. Maybe we can get a pool going …

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Speaking of which, I watched an excellent movie the other night called “Eye in the Sky.” Briefly, it’s about remote-controlled drone strikes. Members of the military sitting in darkened rooms outside Vegas, piloting drone bombers launching Hellfire missiles at selected terrorist targets thousands of miles away. Collateral damage was reduced to percentages. Truly heartbreaking and frightening.


      2. I see no Peace and no “honor” in killing and dying to protect heroin-producing poppy fields for CIA-sponsored, boy-buggering Afghan warlords. The same goes for plundering Iraqi and Syrian oil fields for corrupt Arab oligarchies and global stock speculators. Rather, call the fuck-up-and-move-up US Military Shit Show:

        Peace With Horror

        A leper knight rode into view
        Astride his mangy steed
        A harbinger of violence
        A plague without a need
        An apparition of discord
        Upon which fear would feed

        His unannounced arrival meant
        He’d lost his leper’s bell
        And yet his ugly innocence
        Could not conceal the smell
        His good intentions only paved
        Another road to Hell

        With mace and lance and sword deployed
        He vowed in peace to live
        Through rotting lips he promised not
        To take, but only give
        He swore to only kill the ones
        Whom he said shouldn’t live

        He did not speak the language and
        He did not know the land
        So why the healthy shrank from him
        He could not understand
        Why did they want the water when
        He’d offered them the sand?

        Committing to commitments he
        Committed crimes galore
        As steadfast in his loyalties
        As any purchased whore
        A mercenary madman like
        His slogan: “Peace through War”

        His slaying for salvation masked
        An inner, grasping greed
        A lust for living good and well
        While looking past his deed
        A dead man walking wakefully;
        A graveyard gone to seed

        He planned to leave in “phases,” so
        He said to those back home
        Who’d heard some nasty rumors rife
        From Babylon to Rome
        Of murders in their name meant to
        Exalt their sacred tome

        But still he needed to “protect”
        Some pilgrims on the road
        Who for “protection” glumly paid
        A portion of their load:
        For this decaying derelict,
        An object episode

        When asked to give a summary
        Of what he had achieved
        He shifted to the future tense
        The gains that he perceived
        And spoke in the subjunctive mood
        To those he had aggrieved

        “The future life to come portends
        More suffering than now.
        Through me alone can you avoid
        What I will disavow:
        The promises I never made
        While making, anyhow.”

        “I unsay things that I have said
        And say I never did;
        Then say them once again to pound
        The meaning deeply hid,
        Down where the lizard lives between
        The ego and the id.”

        “I’ve given you catastrophe
        And called it a success;
        If you want other outcomes then
        Step forward and confess
        That you believed a pack of lies
        With no strain, sweat, or stress.”

        “You know the meaning of my words
        Lasts only just as long
        As sound takes to decay in air
        So that you take them wrong
        If you assign significance
        To my sly siren song.”

        “A ‘propaganda catapult’
        I’ve called myself, in fact;
        A damning human document
        Which I myself redact
        At every opportunity
        With no concern for tact.”

        “If you think what I’ve done before
        Has caused me to repent
        Or dream that I, in any way,
        Might let up or relent
        Then I’ve got wars for you to buy,
        Or maybe just to rent.”

        “I’ve little time to live on earth,
        So why should I reflect
        Upon the dead and dying souls
        Whose lives I’ve robbed and wrecked?
        I care not if they hate, just that
        They know to genuflect.”

        Thus did the ruin of a world
        Continue in its curse;
        The great man on his horse relieved
        The faithful of their purse
        And gave them bad to save them from
        What they feared even worse

        So onward to Jerusalem
        He staggered as he slew
        In train with sack and booty that
        He only thought his due
        For spreading freedom’s germs among
        The last surviving few

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2008

        Liked by 2 people

  2. My first question to Mr. Johnson and his cabal would be, “What exactly does the United States gain from this so-called ‘leverage’? The nation as a whole, NOT the profiteers?” I’d follow that up with, “Where is the direct, imminent threat to the U.S. if the Taliban controls Afghanistan? How would anything be different?” I’d be interested in an honest (if that’s even possible) discussion of those questions, especially considering that most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudis….


    1. Thank you very much for the link to what is the most powerful article I have read proving that the MIC has nothing to do with national security except those two words provide a front for personal ambition and business profit. I am passing it along to friends that I am trying to gently wean from MSM.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bravo! I was not aware of an announcement of this guy being the presumed new boss at DHS. I already today posted comments relating to a Trump allegation that he plans to withdraw some US forces from Afghanistan AND Iraq, prior to seeing this new article from Col. Astore. Same old, same old, ad infinitum. [Clarification on my “Bravo!” up front: I never approved of ANY military actions undertaken by the US and allies in the wake of 9/11, and I don’t believe the US ever had “victory” within grasp on Afghan soil.]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. On PBS, David Brooks praised Biden’s transition as the “Democratic A-Team” and that it “feels good” to have them in DC in charge.

    Brooks is the sober Republican voice on PBS.

    Jimmy Dore has a different take on this:

    I like the “non-partisan” think tank funded by the Koch brothers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have no use for David Brooks. I hear him on NPR News; didn’t know he was on TV to boot. Another benefit of having ditched cable TV, I guess.


      1. When (or if) Biden is challenged about these choices, I wonder if he says ‘you should’ve voted for Trump’ instead of ‘you should vote for Trump’ he often said when challenged by voters before the election…What’s funny and tragic here is that he’s railed against Amazon on taxes. Is Biden just not let in on the joke? Amazon runs ads on combating climate change all the time. At the same time Amazon’s profit engine is its cloud computing arm AWS which proudly serves all of the big oil and…you guessed it…Koch Industries.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. In addition, I understand that Amazon has refused to offer for sale a book that paints a positive picture of China’s response to the outbreak of Covid-19. And speaking of tech moguls, it seems that though Twitter (supposedly) banned Steve Bannon for suggesting Dr. Fauci be beheaded (!!), Mr. Zuckerberg of Facebook has no issue with keeping Bannon on his platform. Ethics take a seat way, way, way back on the bus while profits occupy the driver’s seat. But that ain’t news, is it??


    2. About David Brooks and those “good feelings” he gets when court sycophants like him contemplate manly men “in-charge” of stuff at our nation’s hindquarters:

      “… every time I brush against [President George W.] Bush I’m reminded that this guy is different. … A leader’s first job is to project authority, and George Bush certainly does that. … Bush swallowed up the room, crouching forward to energetically make a point or spreading his arms wide to illustrate the scope of his ideas – always projecting confidence and intensity.” — David Brooks, New York Times, Sept. 14, 2006.

      So now the semi-senile Joe Biden does it for him? David Brooks has certainly gone limp in more ways than one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Spreading his arms wide to illustrate the scope of his ideas” — not much of a “scope,” is it?

        Brooks is a perfect sycophant to the establishment of both parties. His PBS, NPR, and NYT gigs are safe for as long as he wants them.


  5. Jimmy Dore slices and dices a pro-war article at CNN. Remind me again why it’s bad news that Trump may withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 19+ years?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Head for your home bunker, Bill A.!! Trump has grossly endangered our National Security, don’t you see?? Taliban paratroopers will be dropping in on us any time now!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Jimmy Dore stays tightly focused here on deconstructing the loaded, smarmy, ingratiating language used by sycophant stenographers who make a comfortable living feeding off the Endless-Boondoggle-War Department and its death-grip on the national treasury. For those who would like written copy, I put together a transcript here. As Jimmy concludes the program:

      [11:11] “So these are just straight up lies. You could say it’s gaslighting or propaganda. But I’ll just say that it’s lying for the establishment because that’s what it is and here’s the two liars doing it today: Ryan Brown and Barbara Starr from CNN. It took two willing tools of the military-industrial-complex to put together this big a piece of propaganda. Ending a war is bad. Reckless. What are you? For ISIS? Are you against democracy? So this is CNN making sure more people get killed in Afghanistan. More soldiers get their legs blown off. More children, more farmers get decapitated. That’s what CNN, Ryan Brown, and Barbara Starr are doing. That’s what they do for a living. They push pro-war propaganda. To help bolster the profits of CNN by getting more ads from the military industrial complex and Wall Street.”

      “So, great job by Ryan Brown and Barbara Starr and CNN. Another garbage propaganda piece that turns out is always pro-war. And anybody who’s against it is a fucking nut.”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Here are some “facts” I’ve read over the years about Afghanistan, as a historian I welcome your input as to the accuracy. I know the situation is a lot more complex than I’ll ever know but this is what I’ve read.

    The 79 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was not really an invasion. The socialist government of Afghanistan had been having trouble with Islamic extremists for years and had repeatedly asked USSR for help. The soviets resisted intervention, worried about international repercussions, then finally gave in. This got western countries riled up, especially us. Ronald Reagan referred to the islamic fighters resisting the soviets as the “moral equivalent of our founding fathers.” The Taliban was/is an extreme islamic political party that never had any interests outside of Afghanistan. When the Taliban came to power after the soviets left, they were not allied with Al Qaeda but tolerated them because they were not strong enough to actually expel AQ from the country. The Taliban had been trying to establish normal relations with the world when they were toppled by US and the allies.

    True or not, I think we ought to get out. Unfortunately, like in Vietnam and other wars, we will leave hundreds of locals who helped us over the years to a horrible fate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My personal memory of events (my memory still functions pretty well) confirms the basic accuracy here, JERRY S. The Afghan regime calling itself “Socialist” was doomed, of course, just by dint of supporting such an idea. The US was allied with Pakistan, USSR vaguely with India, so the Soviets wanted an additional ally as a bulwark against US domination. The Russian Army (I wouldn’t call it very “Red” by that time, all things considered) was sent in to try to prop up the “Socialist” regime. Yes, that light of the world, Ronald Wilson Reagan, declared the mujahadeen (the extremist-Islamic guerrillas) “freedom fighters” and the CIA created the Frankenstein-Monster-to-be, Osama bin-Laden. The latter was alleged to have taken refuge in a cave in Afghanistan, and the US demanded the Taliban turn him over for punishment. Since “al-Qaeda,” whatever the hell that actually is, is a stateless organization, this was a “simple” matter of seeking to bring a criminal to justice, “a police matter.” But the Taliban allegedly declined to surrender their fellow extremist to the US, which the US used as pretext for committing the acts of war (WAR CRIMES) against the people of Afghanistan that continue to this day, under the rubric of “The Global War on Terror.” The US behemoth, of course, couldn’t care less that all these acts were and are, technically, violations of International Law. You want to apprehend a small band of terrorists who allegedly masterminded attacks on US soil, so you launch an undeclared PERPETUAL war against Afghanistan? And a list of other “nations” to boot? No, ladies and gentlemen, that is NOT the “legal” way to proceed. But the US gets away with just about anything it wants to undertake. “Might makes right.”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reagan’s comment, “moral equivalent of our founding fathers,” applied to the Contras in the 1980s, if I recall correctly.

    I agree that the Taliban pose no direct threat to the U.S.; they certainly didn’t in 2001. But if we keep fighting them forever, I wouldn’t blame them for widening their sphere of operations.

    Whether it’s Soviet troops or American troops, outsiders are invaders in the eyes of the Afghan people, most of whom just want to be left alone, like us, to live their lives as they see fit. That just makes sense to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For years now, US foreign policy has been committed to BOMBING MUSLIMS in various countries. As long as this continues, Muslims will continue to resist. Can we blame them??

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Amen on your essay. Trump finally does the right thing. Apparently rushing to complete some of what he said he would do.

    We do need someone in DC to shake things up if only it were someone with knowledge of what needs to be done rather than a man driven by greed and self aggrandizement. Trump rode in on understandable public anger at DC. We also had the disillusion of Obama being the same old wine in a brand new bottle.

    Trump did rid us of Hillary and this troop reduction is useful in showing the extent of beltway blindness by the uproar it has caused, allowing us all to hear the ridiculous justifications given for our military deployments.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Trump finally does the right thing.” But what is his motivation? Just to aggravate the hell out of the Dems and the Establishment on the whole. And leaving 2500 troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan guarantees their bases will still be active, ready to receive however much of a surge in troop strength the new administration may opt for.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t care about President (for about two more months) Trump’s motivation. And if having fewer troops deployed abroad “aggravates the hell out of the Dems and the Establishment”, then I say “Well and good. May we have some more of such aggravation, please?”

        I assume that all political office holders without exception have their own self-interest at heart and will do anything and everything to gain and hold on to power. If the rank opportunist Trump had really meant what he said about ending needless, ruinous imperial wars, then he wouldn’t have hired a single general officer for any position in his administration. But he knew nothing about the US Military Leviathan and naively thought that simply throwing more money at it would bring him “victory” and renown. I daresay he knows better now and has discovered what a sorry lot of greasy-pole-climbing, insubordinate losers he “commands” over at the five-sided-black-hole on the Potomac.

        But it has taken Trump too long to learn. Nevertheless, I welcome any troop reductions whatsoever as moving in the right direction. The real issue as Trump’s days in office dwindle involves the speed — short and hard deadlines — of troop withdrawals, not the vague and easily manipulated numbers (which the military, CIA, and State Department will lie about anyway). For a fact: any remaining troop presence greater than zero in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Libya — not to mention Germany, Japan, and Korea — represents a failure to “end” needless imperial wars. Consequently, “What part of none do you not understand?” ought to become President Trump’s only — and daily — demand of those who have sworn to obey the orders of the elected civilian authority — namely, him. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Let nothing of Donald Trump’s presidency become him as the leaving of it. Troops home for Christmas ought to do just fine.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Just had a friend ask me if these troop reductions to 2500 were a good thing. I said “Yes. Should be zero.” As in zero troops left in Afghanistan and Iraq.

        19 years in Afghanistan. 16 in Iraq. If not now, when?


    1. Susan Rice’s name is being bandied about for State Dept., and that’s one appointment I predicted a while ago. Her presence in this important Cabinet post would be part of a “diversity banner.” But above all, it ensures the continuation of Imperialist Business As Usual. Would Biden rescind the authority of CIA/Military to assassinate by drone anyone, anywhere, anytime? I VERY HIGHLY DOUBT IT!!


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