Operation Enduring War

W.J. Astore

War Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

It’s another very warm and very humid day here in the Bracing Views HQ.  As the situation in Afghanistan continues to go poorly, at least from the perspective of the U.S. government, I thought I’d reflect on a comment I made with the theme of “Wherever we go, there we are.” In other words, wherever America makes war, we bring certain aspects of ourselves and our culture with us.  What do I mean by this?

When America intervenes in (or invades) countries like Iraq and Afghanistan in the stated cause of “freedom” (recall these operations were unironically named Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, proving that the U.S. government can out-Orwell George Orwell), we bring anything but freedom.  That’s because our “freedom” wars feature an almost total reliance on the military (no surprise there), and the military simply isn’t about freedom. That military is trained for kinetic ops, i.e., murderous violence; and that military features “force multipliers” (bombs and missiles and chemical agents of various sorts, otherwise known as weapons of mass destruction) to subdue various “enemies” while limiting American casualties.

At the same time as lots of foreigners are being killed, Americans generally maintain a stubborn ignorance of the foreign country in which we’re involved.  Their history doesn’t matter; all that matters is putting bombs on target and killing the “right” people, the bad guys, whoever they are.  Even as the war starts going poorly, predictably because we don’t really know who the “bad guys” are, nor are we sensible enough to recognize we’re the “foreigners” and often the real bad guys, the U.S. military proceeds to engage in a mindless pursuit of “victory,” however poorly defined, which in the end degenerates to a desire not to be labeled a “loser” in any war, no matter how stupid and unnecessary it is.

Related to this is the reality that once a war gets ginned up, there is an overwhelming desire by war profiteers in the U.S. military-industrial complex to keep the good times rolling.  Look at how long the Vietnam war lasted, or the Afghan war for that matter.  Decades of “good times” await war profiteers as long as American troops are kept in harm’s way, busily hammering away at “freedom,” because “our” troops must be “defended” at any cost.

Americans in general, ignoring obvious evidence to the contrary, have a strong bias that U.S. troops are always fighting on the side of the angels.  Who really wants to believe otherwise?  Such a bias makes it easier for us to wash our hands of the whole sordid affair.  And whether you like it or not, the U.S. military always fights in your and my name.

There are many other factors at work to explain the woeful nature of America’s wars, but the ones I mention above are important, I think, as we examine how dreadful America’s “freedom” wars turn out to be.  And when these freedom wars end poorly, as they do, the very last organization to shoulder any blame is the U.S. government.

Perhaps that’s truly the lead feature of U.S. war-making today: Even when you lose, and lose badly, war means never having to say you’re sorry.

For the Pentagon, sorry seems to be the hardest word

15 thoughts on “Operation Enduring War

  1. The simplest enduring explanation for why the U.S. Military exists comes from Against Empire, by Michael Parenti (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1995):

    “In 1907, Woodrow Wilson recognized the support role played by the capitalist state on behalf of private capital [emphasis added]:

    ‘Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused.’

    Later, as president of the United States, Wilson noted that the United States was involved in a struggle to ‘command the economic fortunes of the world.’ “

    Liked by 4 people

    1. And then we have this:

      “Since World War II, the U.S. government has given over $200 billion in military aid to train, equip, and subsidize more than 2.3 million troops and internal security forces in some eighty countries, the purpose being not to defend them from outside invasions but to protect ruling oligarchs and multinational corporate investors from the dangers of domestic anticapitalist insurgency” [emphasis added]

      “U.S. leaders profess a dedication to democracy. Yet over the past five decades, democratically elected reformist governments were overthrown by pro-capitalist militaries that were funded and aided by the U.S. national security state.” — Against Empire

      Simple, straightforward racketeering. Nothing whatsoever to do with “democracy” or “rules” or “values.”

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Making the world safe for capitalism and profit, one country at a time.

      I like that bit about “no useful corner…left unused.” I’m sure there are a few “useless” corners that are content to be useless in the eyes of the ruling oligarchs.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I know you’ve referenced him before in previous articles, but I reminded again of Gen. Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket” speaking tour and book in the 1930’s. Still so unfortunately true.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. We really don’t think of what we do to ourselves, pretty much out of sight. Even further out of sight (do we even bother to think?) is what the impact on the countries we assault. We also always need to go back to see what we used to think versus what we have learned. (i.e. I really believed the Tonkin Gulf incident was real).
    BTW: good book is “Crash Course” by H. Bruce Franklin (hbrucefrankling – dot com). I learned we have had “assets” – air assets in particular, very active ones, in Vietnam since late 1945, covertly. 17 years of secret flying and other secret combat involvement.
    The other day, a whim hit me to make a comparison of Vietnamese losses to our 58,200 (+/-) military lives lost. Here is my short result – the impact on the death figures is 270 times worse than for the US, equivalent to us in the US losing almost 16-million instead of 58,200.

    1970 populations:
    Vietnam 43.4 million
    United States 205.1 million == 4.726 times larger than Vietnam

    58,200 = US military loses

    2,000,000 Vietnamese civilians both sides (from Vietnamese 1995 release of numbers)
    1,100,000 NVA and Viet Cong
    Add in the 200,000 to 250,000 estimated South Vietnamese soldiers who died, using 225,000 as a back-of-the-envelope interpolation
    3,325,000 x 4.726 == 15,713,950 US equivalent to Vietnamese killed in the war
    15,713,950/58,200 = 269.99: the number of times population (numbers only) impact on Vietnam vs US
    or 270 times the population impact, in numbers only using 1970 populations.
    Not even looking at emotional, and other impact
    Or: US population in 2019 estimated at 329.2 million == 1.6 times more people today in the US than in 1970
    Equivalent to 25,145,385 those US soldiers and civilians if they were killed in 2019 (essentially today)

    Those, of course, are just numbers. Blips. Dots, No-see-ums.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw an interesting article by Jacqueline Hazelton who is a professor at the US Naval War College. The article is in Foreign Affairs, so you may need a subscription to read it. If not the link is https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2021-07-15/hearts-and-minds-myth

    She states that based on the historical record the idea of using democratic reforms and rule of law as the basis for winning a counterinsurgency is pure fantasy. Counterinsurgencies are won with bullets, violation of civil liberties, cutting deals with elites and warlords, mass imprisonment and killing innocent people, etc. As she says the facts show that winning comes “at a ghastly moral cost.” I don’t know her position well enough to agree with other things she has written, but I think this point is well taken. It means that the military leaders who are writing and speaking about setting up democracies and winning hearts and minds to achieve our aims are either ignorant of history or liars.

    It seems ironic that we claim we can bring democracy to other countries when we haven’t maintained a democracy ourselves. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, dark money, the revolving door, lobbyists, corruption, if we can’t stop these in our own country how dare we claim to be able to set up democracies elsewhere. Of course that claim is for the sheeple who need to be given some palatable myth about why our troops have to go over “there”. I am quite sure our elite classes have no intention of setting up a functioning democracy there when they aid and abet undemocratic processes here.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. “It means that the military leaders who are writing and speaking about setting up democracies and winning hearts and minds to achieve our aims are either ignorant of history or liars.”

      Easy answer to a false dichotomy. Regardless of what our military “leaders” actually know about history, they will lie anyway, just to keep in practice; just so they won’t forget how.

      At counter-insurgency school at Coronado Island, circa 1969, our instructors translated that “win their hearts and minds” mantra into actionable military jargon: “Grab ’em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow.” Later, David Petraeus found some of those old training manuals of ours and got a university to award him a Ph.D. for plagiarizing them. If you want an accurate image of the U.S. military in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq — to pick only three examples — picture oversized Americans dressed up in 60+ pounds of high-tech “camoflage” gear, shouting bad high-school English at bewildered foreign nationals, while grabbing at the crotches of any local men and boys (and not a few women) unfortunate enough to come within range of their ignorance and paranoia.

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    2. I have read my share of COIN (counterinsurgency) theory. Typically, it all starts with an insurgency that the U.S. considers to be illegitimate, e.g. a communist takeover coming from the outside that is contrary to the people’s will. Assuming that to be the case, there is an opportunity for COIN because you can count on the support of some of the people in resisting the insurgents.

      But what if it’s a civil war and the U.S. chooses the wrong side, the unpopular one, the illegitimate one, as we basically did in Vietnam? (I know it’s more complicated than that, but bear with me.). All the COIN in the world won’t help if you’re propping up a corrupt and illegitimate government that lacks the people’s support. For once U.S. forces leave, that corrupt govt will collapse, usually fairly quickly, as we’re witnessing in Afghanistan and as we saw in Vietnam.

      COIN is a seductive theory with very limited applications. People like Petraeus sold it as some kind of panacea, but events in Iraq and Afghanistan showed the harsh reality of limited and flawed theories applied to unfavorable situations.

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  5. Do I understand you to say, Michael, that all government accolades aside, the people who are tramping around the globe protecting Our American Way of Life (which includes, among other things, systemic racism and the suppression of voting rights) are not, in fact, heroes, let alone “the best and brightest”?
    In this year of grace, who are the “good guys”? Are there, in fact, any “good guys” left?
    How have we reached the point where, thanks to the internet, a 13-year-old can become a worldwide “influencer” (ugh) within a matter of days, but the voices of those who look at the US and its “foreign policy” and say, “This ain’t right” for all practical purposes to go unheard and have little effect on anything?
    O tempora, O mores …


    1. Yes, BUTSUDANBILL, you certainly do understand my vitriolic viewpoint when it comes to the U.S. military’s imperial adventurism which began with the Spanish American War (April 21 – August 13, 1898), possibly the shortest and most consequential “war” in American history. A truly “Splendid Little War,” as Teddy Roosevelt called it, speaking for the oligarchic ruling class which he — along with Woodrow Wilson — faithfully represented. Over a century later, the United States has yet to recover from this “victory,” although the days of the disintegrating American Empire do seem numbered at this point in the flow of Inexorable Time. If I only had a more extensive vocabulary or greater facility with language, then I could possibly better express my utter contempt for this discredited institution more clearly. But you get my essential drift.

      And I agree that those of us who demand dissolution of the defunct and debilitating U.S. military do indeed seem to go unheard. Still, as Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote at the conclusion of her poem “Dirge Without Music”:

      I know.
      But I do not approve.
      And I am not resigned.

      Or, as Mahatma Gandhi said about the Four Stages of Revolutionary Change:

      First they ignore you.
      Then they laugh at you.
      Then they fight you.
      Then you win.

      Or, as the Chinese have said for millennia: “You don’t use good iron to make a nail, and you don’t use a good man to make a soldier.” For most of their long history, the Chinese have understood “soldier” to mean “bandit” and “sailor” to mean “pirate.” Still a quite useful and adequate appraisal of the U.S. military — if not the militarized U.S. Government — today.

      The U.S. military does not “protect” any “way of life” with which truly decent people would want to associate themselves. Rather, as designed, it “projects” the insatiable demands of Accumulated Wealth and Power (pardon the redundancy) both downward upon a domesticated American working class and outward towards the planned exploitation of foreign working classes.

      Anyway and to conclude, when I think of the U.S. military’s Joined Chefs of Stuff headed by General Mark A. Milley, I cannot help but recall WWII General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell’s comment about the military’s officer-caste promotions: “The higher up the tree the monkey climbs, the more of his behind you can see.” Quite a few monkeys’ asses at the top of the greasy tree now.

      Thanks for the inspiration.

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  6. A friend of mine, a fellow captain in the Air Force in 1991, had this to say:

    “You wage war long, you wage it wrong.” This is certainly true for a democracy.

    The U.S. has chosen to wage war long — and wrong — and thus democracy withers away.

    It amazes me that the first core value of the Air Force is “Integrity first.” Yet we lie and lie about “progress” in various wars. The second core value is “Service before self,” but far too many are putting self (promotions and the like) before and above service. Finally, the third core value is “Excellence in all we do.” Now who can say the U.S. military’s performance has been “excellent” in any way?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If those 3 most excellent of core values were diligently practiced ; I would imagine, war would be the rarest of behavioral choices acted out. Leadership is struggling to meet it’s expectations more often than not. What is difficult for the mind to process is this. How come we always revere and reward those who function at these levels of performance????

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  7. In one of my favorite movies, Dances With Wolves there is a scene where the tribe that Kevin Costner has befriended is fighting another tribe. He reflects that he is exhilarated about fighting not for “freedom” or some ideology but for a clear and immediate goal: to protect the people with which he lives, those that he knows and cares about. This is an epiphany for him as he had been uniformed military accepting what he was told and willing, in the opening scenes, to throw his life away for it.

    Self defense is a reasonable motivation for any human being to have and it’s interesting that the fiction that this is what we fight for is maintained by the military and government. Remember Reagan saying that if the Sandinistas were not stopped in Central America they would be on the Texas border? With Afghanistan and Iraq and in particular regarding ISIS we heard about fighting over there instead of here.

    Many gun advocates paint the picture of defending the home from invaders, though home invasions are extremely rare. It’s the same attempt to stimulate the gut reaction of self defense…”they” are coming for you and yours. Don’t consider the real danger in owning a firearm. Instead consult your imagination and picture yourself heroically defending the hearth.

    In WW2 it was a reasonable argument. Hitler really did have designs on us and he had no reservations about expansion along with the crushing of other forms of government and the killing of non-Germans.

    But to say what the US is about militarily today has anything to do with real self defense is absurd. It’s all about securing the ability to make a profit anywhere in the world. It is war for investors, the 1%, with the 99% doing the work. I’m sorry to say there is no shortage of those who sign up.

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    1. Yes to the points you raise. Hence, the change of official U.S. nomenclature in 1949: from honestly referring to “The War Department,” to dishonestly calling a vast, self-serving, corporate bureaucracy “The Defense Department.” Possibly the greatest propaganda coup of all time, effected by the replacement of a single, comprehensible, one-syllable word by a two-syllable euphemism: one infinitely disingenuous and perfectly suited to the exploitation of American credulity by a transnational corporate oligarchy.

      And all for the lavish and ruinous maintenance of an enormous — “professional” — institution incapable of defending American buildings from Timothy McVeigh’s fertilizer truck bomb or 19 suicidal Saudi Arabians armed with U.S. commercial jet airliners and box cutters from U.S. stationary stores. Any foreigners seriously wishing to “attack” the United States can do so far more easily and inexpensively from within the borders of the United States itself: precisely where one will not encounter any organized, knowledgeable, and effective “defense” whatsoever. Too busy setting up a new “combatant command” for Afghanistan headquartered in Florida.

      Still, since the object of Orwellian Permanent War (or Permanent “Defense”) is principally the impoverishment and totalitarian control of — first and foremost — the American people, one would have to admit the effectiveness of this policy, at least as viewed by the Global 1%.

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