The Highly Profitable Racket of Building Foreign Militaries

W.J. Astore

Is building effective security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere really what the U.S. military and government is about? Given the total collapse of the Iraqi military in 2014 and its Afghan equivalent in 2021, I’d have to say no. What are these efforts really all about? A few heretical thoughts:

  1. The top priority is profits for America’s military-industrial-Congressional complex. Foreign military forces are always provided with loads of U.S.-built weaponry, much of it unneeded or inappropriate to their capabilities and missions. When these forces collapse, as they did in 2014 and this summer, enemies such as ISIS or the Taliban are the recipients of plenty of new weapons funded by the American taxpayer. In short, the U.S. arms its (failed) proxy armies and its enemies as well, which almost guarantees more fighting and/or bombing in the future. Call it a win/win for weapons makers even when the U.S. loses.
  2. If profit-making is the top priority, so too is making it last. Until they utterly collapse, often without much combat, America’s proxy militaries are never fully ready to stand on their own. They always require more U.S. training and funding, that is until the lie is exposed.
  3. Along with profit-making, it’s important for the U.S. military to look good while providing the training. Looking good requires lying about progress. And so America’s proxy militaries are always making progress (on paper, if nowhere else) which helps everyone involved get promoted while keeping the money flowing.
  4. Along with perpetual profits and promotions, these proxy militaries must never be allowed to become independent from the U.S. military. Sure, the U.S. government says it’s seeking “standalone” forces, but in practice Iraqi and Afghan forces were always dependent on U.S. logistical support as well as air power. Which is just the way the U.S. government wanted it and wants it. Dependency ensures pliability and control (until the inevitable collapse, that is).
  5. In sum, one must always follow the money and ask, who is profiting the most from these “training” efforts? Most of the billions and billions spent on training and equipping these militaries goes to the military-industrial complex and to local warlords. It sure didn’t go to Iraqi or Afghan foot soldiers. Again, failure here is its own success; the longer it takes to build “reliable” proxy armies, the longer the money flows to military contractors in the USA. And if your proxy military collapses, maybe you can even rebuild it (at ever higher costs) or at least fight the enemy that captured the expensive high-tech weapons funded so generously by the U.S. taxpayer.

I hope this list is useful as one reads an article at Foreign Affairs, “Why America Can’t Build Allied Armies,” sent to me by a friend. It’s not that America can’t build them. It’s more that we really don’t want to build them; indeed, that there are perverse incentives to do a half-assed job, making money all the while, until the rot can no longer be hidden.

Allow me to explain. The author of this article assigns blame mainly to the “partner” militaries, suggesting these “partners” in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t interested in building effective militaries: they’re interested in money and power instead. Displacing blame onto our “partners” is always good fun, but shouldn’t the U.S. government have recognized this dynamic instead of feeding it? (Let’s face it: the U.S. is driven by money and power as well.)

In fairness to the author, she does advise that maybe the U.S. government should smarten up and stop throwing money at foreign militaries. Here’s an excerpt:

But the United States also has another option: it could scale down its train-and-equip efforts altogether. Rather than using advisory missions as the preferred option for addressing local security threats, it could instead reserve such programs for states with strong national institutions and a demonstrated interest in building better militaries. This pathway would lead to the termination of most U.S. security assistance projects, including the ongoing effort to build the Iraqi security forces.

Too often, the United States’ efforts to train and equip foreign militaries have been motivated by bureaucratic logic rather than sound strategy. The fall of Kabul exposed more than the rot within the armies the United States builds. It also exposed the rot within the United States’ approach to building them.

Sound advice, except the author doesn’t discuss how much these “train-and-equip efforts” are really money laundering operations for the military-industrial-Congressional complex. War is a racket, as General Smedley Butler taught us, and building hollow legions overseas, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan or earlier in Vietnam, is a racket that pays very well indeed.

36 thoughts on “The Highly Profitable Racket of Building Foreign Militaries

  1. I wish I knew how we set up foreign militaries. My question is if we cut the ties with the family and community of the soldiers that we train? Our military is set up to do that so that our soldiers will turn and shoot on their own. If we didn’t do that in Afghanistan then it would be expected that any soldiers that we trained would put their guns down and walk away. I learned this in a Coup 401 class and after reading Samuel Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies.

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    1. A fascinating question. Reminds me of Kent State, when national guardsmen fired on unarmed student protesters. What does it mean when a military fires on its own people? A military sworn to support and defend the Constitution, and students exercising their Constitutional right to assemble and protest?

      One thing it means: We failed properly to train our own military. And if we can’t train our own military, we have no business training anyone else’s.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Unfortunately, our military is set up that way to keep Coups from happening. With the National Guard being sent to places like Afghanistan, they are primed to shoot on their own should an uprising happen here, because they are now conditioned to looking at everyone as the enemy. I have nephews in the National Guard who came back from Afghanistan and they are so brainwashed that they frighten me now.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Kent State is easily explained. The Guardsmen were indoctrinated to believe that the protesters weren’t “like” them: they were cowards who’d shirked service by going to college, and were, in effect, traitors. They spit on uniforms and betrayed everything our country stands for; they were probably Commie sympathizers. When such vermin threatened the Guards with rocks and bottles, it was a simple choice.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. A decade ago, I was teaching a college class on U.S. History. I mentioned Kent State and drew blank stares from the students. So I went on YouTube and played this video and we talked about it.

      I was blown away that virtually all my students, in roughly 2010, had no knowledge of what had happened at Kent State, as if 40 years ago was 4000 years ago.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. An addendum: there’s no reason why this video should be age-restricted. It shows one college student “dead on the ground,” as CSNY sang about. All Americans should see this video and think, do we want to see this repeated, again and again, on America’s streets? Because it’s coming … more and more … and I just hope I’m wrong about this.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Don’t you think that’s par for the course in the 21st century, though? They don’t teach history in any depth at all anymore; betcha more than half of this year’s high school seniors couldn’t list the date for the moon landing, let alone those for the Civil War. And Civics has gone the way of the dodo. We not only don’t learn the lessons of history, we no longer learn even the most basic facts.

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        1. Somewhere between spring of 1988 and Nov. 1991 I was having a bar conversation with a Vietnam Army Vet about 7 or 8 yrs my senior and a woman about 10 years my junior, both co-workers. It was about the Vietnam/America war years and was genial. Eventually the young lady interjected to ask “which side” we were on, North or South. Unfortunately the reaction from both of us was an incredulous “what!?” which just immediately shut down her inquiry, and effectively ended the conversation.
          After some time I came to the conclusion that during her school years and coming of age Vietnam was a taboo subject. It just wasn’t spoken of. It has since developed its own false history and narrative, partly due to silence and an unwillingness to face that we too can commit heinous acts.
          WJ just wrote of the general ignorance of Kent State. Understandable if all who wear the uniform are heroes, then actions that are less than heroic must be erased from History.

          Liked by 1 person

    3. On their album “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him,” the Firesign Theater devoted a few minutes to a skit dealing with the arrival of the Spanish in the New World. The last thing they do is bring in a priest with a Father Flanagan brogue who tells the natives, “Domini, Domini, Domini, yer awl Catlicks now!”
      Similarly, when we deal with Third World “security forces” we give the generals a bunch of cash, give the cannon fodder weapons and camo gear, show them which is the business end of their weapon, and say, “You’re soldiers now!”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha Ha. In the rare case an anti-war voice gets on mainstream TV, there are several pro-war voices to provide “balance.”

        Matthew Hoh recounted a story. He went on Dan Rather; was interviewed for three hours about Afghanistan; when the show came out, his entire interview was left on the cutting room floor. Pentagon mouthpieces got plenty of airtime, however.

        Someone high up had complained about Hoh and probably threatened to pulls ads, funding, access, etc. And so we get a narrow range of “acceptable” views and consent is manufactured.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Just so you know:

        “When [Phil] Donahue was brought on in 2002, MSNBC was excited for the ratings that he was expected to bring. However, the network quickly began to worry that Donahue would be a “dif­ficult public face for NBC in a time of war”—especially considering that NBC was owned by General Electric (which, among other things, was a weapons manufacturer; Extra! Update, 4/03).

        Apparently to compensate for his position, Donahue was told to “balance” every antiwar guest with two pro-war guests (FAIR.org, 12/22/04; CounterSpin, 8/13/21). Except in the case of filmmaker activist Michael Moore, for whom three pro-war voices would be required.”

        Three pro-war voices to “balance” Michael Moore! I know he’s a big guy, but he’s not THAT big!

        https://fair.org/home/after-25-years-theres-a-reason-msnbc-cant-look-back/

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  2. Propaganda keeps the costs to taxpayers at an all time high. They have played the con on most all of this countries citizens; and the payoff is astronomical for the MICC. The masters of war have played the worship card at public events for so long, that nobody is able to question the narrative without getting showered in a ration of shit for such displays of unpatriotic behavior. But, if you can get outside the box labeled “Blind Faith”
    and realize that you are paying premium rates for lack of quality, and diminished results; one will come to the conclusion that this countries return on their investment is a bust. This has to be the highest cost for failures in the history of military investment. We will hopefully get out from the clouds of smokescreens that blind our awareness, and round up the cons that operate on shakedown street; demanding some accountability for the last 2 decades of greed, excess, loss of life, and lack of respect for those who bravely questioned the false narratives while serving under the power hungry narcissists, who’s greed was well served by the taxpayers purse. What a rip-off! I hope the next time the military budgeteers come around offering their high priced protection; the public will say no thanks! We don’t shop here anymore!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Here is another fellow that is not likely to be interviewed on the Cable “News Networks”.

    A US Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who posted a video demanding accountability from military leaders over the evacuation of Afghanistan has been relieved of his duties and will leave US service, the marines and the officer involved said on Friday.

    Stuart Scheller posted his video to Facebook and LinkedIn on Thursday, the day 13 US service members, 11 of them Marines, and reportedly as many as 170 Afghans, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at the airport in Kabul.

    “I have been fighting for 17 years,” said Scheller, then commander of the advanced infantry training battalion. “I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders: ‘I demand accountability.’” Scheller said he was “not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan for ever, but I am saying: ‘Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say, hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram airfield, a strategic airbase, before we evacuate everyone?’ Did anyone do that?

    “And when you didn’t think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say, ‘We completely messed this up’?https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/aug/27/us-marines-stuart-scheller-video

    Scheller takes the view from the boots on the ground, Micro view. The Macro view from the Pentagon, Defense Department and the Military-Industrial Complex, including the contractors, is all went according to plan, billions maybe trillions in profits.

    Accountability!!! No way, No Way, NO WAY. That is not the way the System Works. Cover it Up, Stone Wall it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Accountability. Imagine that.

      We were taught you can’t have authority without responsibility. Accountability. Turns out the system works just fine at the top without pesky attempts at holding people responsible.

      That is, unless there’s some political advantage to be gained, as the Republicans contemplate investigations of Biden and the Afghan withdrawal once they gain control of the House:
      https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/08/27/mccarthy-gop-afghanistan-troop-deaths/

      Here’s the text, if you can stand it:

      Soon after the nation received the terrible news about the killing of 13 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, some Republicans immediately called for President Biden’s resignation. Others refrained from that, instead signaling that once back in power, they will launch major congressional investigations into what happened.

      Congressional oversight into the failures of the withdrawal is indeed a must. But we should be clear on what Republicans really mean when they say this.

      If Republicans take back the House, it will go a long way toward ensuring that we do not get anything close to full accountability for the Afghanistan debacle. They will deliberately circumscribe their investigations to limit them to only the culpability of the Biden administration.

      This places big obligations on Democrats. While they control Congress, they should launch much broader investigations into the entire 20-year disaster. Unfortunately, the horrible news might leave them so politically fearful that they insist on a narrower accounting to show distance from Biden.

      The true GOP intentions are clear from this new CNN report on a conference call among House Republicans on Thursday. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told them that calling for Biden’s resignation is counterproductive. Instead, they should sit tight for big investigations later:

      “Promise you there is going to be a reckoning,” McCarthy, who spoke to Biden by phone on Thursday, told members on the GOP conference call, according to sources. “We are going to hold every single person accountable.”
      McCarthy also told an NBC reporter that if Republicans win the House, there will be multiple committee investigations into various aspects of the withdrawal.

      You might recall that McCarthy famously exulted in 2015 that GOP Benghazi investigations were a success because Hillary Clinton’s “numbers are dropping.” We know this is exactly what would animate House GOP investigations into the Afghanistan withdrawal.

      A key tell in this regard comes from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a member of GOP leadership. She declared that the deaths were “solely” due to Biden’s “incompetent leadership.”

      Solely. There you have it: Republicans would focus investigations only on the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal, to make sure his “numbers are dropping” before the 2024 presidential race.

      Let’s be clear: The administration’s withdrawal should be the subject of congressional inquiries. We need to know whether intelligence failed to adequately register the likelihood of a quick collapse by the Afghan government and army, or whether decisions were made in spite of what the intelligence got right. We need to know about failings in the process granting visas to Afghan refugees. And much more.

      But looking only at these things would be insufficient. Surely a genuine reckoning into what we’re seeing now would take as its premise that it is the outgrowth of a much broader series of mistakes and failures.

      “There’s great danger in zeroing in only on the decisions of the last few months,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told me. “That’s politically convenient for Republicans. But it absolves an enormous set of decisions that got us to this point.”

      What’s more, Murphy points out, this would invite “scrutiny only of war withdrawals, which is a pretty dangerous precedent to set.”

      What might a broader accounting look like?

      “First you have to ask, was there an alternative to an occupation?” Murphy told me. “Second, once it was clear that the Afghan military couldn’t stand on their own, why didn’t we start planning for withdrawal immediately?”

      “It became clear early on that our training missions weren’t working,” Murphy continued. “So even during the first decade of the war, more questions should have been raised about whether the training missions were ever going to succeed.”

      James Dobbins, a State Department special envoy during the Bush and Obama administrations, notes a real accounting could also look at why the United States didn’t accept the Taliban’s offer of a surrender soon after the United States’ swift routing of the group.

      “Among the things Congress should look at is the early rejection of the Taliban’s offer, and the subsequent treatment of Taliban figures that were willing to work within the new system and were imprisoned for years,” Dobbins told me.

      That could reckon with something even bigger: the susceptibility of key decision-makers to letting “anger over 9/11” preclude that possibility, Dobbins said. He added that Congress could investigate why officials never debated the possibility of a Taliban comeback, which is what happened.

      Meanwhile, Arash Azizzada of Afghans for a Better Tomorrow says a full reckoning could examine why so many Afghan civilians died during our occupation. “The withdrawal has been executed as poorly as the occupation has been executed for the last 20 years,” he told me.

      Still another possibility might be to look at why Congress so readily ceded so much warmaking authority to presidents throughout that period, a failure that goes back decades but had particularly terrible results during the global war on terrorism.

      “Congress has to look at themselves,” Pam Campos-Palma, a defense council member at the Truman National Security Project, told me. A key component of this, she said, is why lawmakers “blindly accept the word of generals.” Importantly, this would target lawmakers “who have been there the longest.”

      Which might be one reason this doesn’t happen. But it still should…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The mental gymnastics required here are simply mind boggling. Trump set up the deal for withdrawal in May, but never did any preparation whatsoever? And that’s Biden’s fault, how? No question the logistics have been horribly bungled, but the Rethugs set things in motion, then abandoned their agreement. It’s a pure-D cluster, but the blame should be spread far and wide.

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      2. William, I remember your words recently that told of the apathetic approach to the forever war by the citizens of this country we represent. This lack of attention to detail has produced predictable results; but now everyone wants to armchair the last 2 decades. It doesn’t matter which billionaire, one wearing right leather loafers or one who wears loafers of left leather, whichever ones bought the chair their sycophants tired asses now occupy in Washington; both of these teams entitled members should have had this war on their agenda every morning they showed up to their gilded perch. The results show they didn’t pay attention either. But….
        Now they want to tell it, “ like it is!” Really, you and every citizen had 20 years and plenty of Vietnam historical perspective to understand that one day we were going to be leaving. We also had 20 years of tea leaves served up to the local population by our maitre de’s of mayhem; so we could have at least read those leaves correctly. They were either going to help us pack our belongings and assist us in loading whatever we felt necessary to leave with onto our departure flights; or they were going to
        “ let the door hit us in the ass” on the way out. Isn’t it just fabulous that everyone now has an opinion about our misadventures.
        This all smells like profiteering, from the prosecution of the military agenda, to the execution of the wind down and exit. The entitlement class of millionaires and billionaires have always been living large and leaving devastation in the wake of their excessive lifestyle. The water isn’t fit to drink, it’s so poisoned it’s barely fit to shower in; the soil is a toxic soup of pesticides and artificial fertilization, which has weakened everybody’s immune response; the air is so thick with solvents and heavy metals that you can’t slice it with a saws-all, and our lungs are permanently scarred. Forever wars are just another aspect of their “ I just don’t give a damn” behavior; that has produced utter destruction for humanities reality; but it was a boon to their bottom line. And that is all that matters in their plastic throw away world of the fake and phony.
        There was a soldier’s mother who taught her son the score and let him know….
        “Stupid is, as stupid does!”
        Creation deserves better, May it soon be so!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I am confused. Biden is to be investigated for the deaths of 13 service members but the three presidents before him are not to be investigated for the deaths of over 2000 service members?? So those 2000+ service members don’t matter? Just the deaths of those whom the Republicans want to exploit for their own political ends?

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Sorry. My sarcastic tone about being confused did not come through. I think its disgusting how the Republicans are looking to exploit the tragic death of 13 people for political gain while aiding and abetting the processes that led to those deaths.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. I have been thinking about the Afghanistan debacle.

    Did the High Command in the Pentagon, CIA and other Organs of State Security actually believe the Afghan Government’s security forces could with stand a Taliban attack??? Is it possible this High Command was deluded by years of “Yes Sir” it is working, publicly, that they could not conceive of a catastrophic collapse of Afghan Government Forces?? Or did they know all along a swift collapse would happen and that scenario could only be discussed in whispers in the bathroom.

    I feel fairly confident the Field Grade and Boots on the Ground types knew how quickly it would unravel.

    The hope may have been among the upper echelons of the military and political that we would have a window of opportunity to get out of maybe a couple of months or so. So a target date of August 31 had been set and then a couple of months later the Afghan Government would fall. Instead it was Blitzkrieg by the Taliban and their version of Guderian and Rommel slicing and dicing the government forces. As seems to be the custom in Afghanistan our War Lord and Drug Lord “Allies” quickly changed sides.

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    1. It seems “they” were only on “our” side when we were there and paying them.

      When the gig was up for us, it was up for them, too. It no longer was profitable for “them” to pretend they were on “our” side. In short, the legions we built were ghost ones, having no substance.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Lets face it the Jigs up now wherever we go. I say we stop being the Policeman of the world forevermore. All we’re building is houses of cards in these foreign lands. Lets start taking care of our own– starting with the Fams. of the these honored 13 who died trying…R.I.P!!! One even from my Home State of Massachusetts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The final arrogance of US, the failure to inform themselves about Afghan strengths , and their peoples spirit or even to inform their own. I’ve heard it called the “gook syndrome” American policymakers suffer from it constantly. They tend to underestimate grossly the capabilities and determinations of people who committed the sin of not having been born American, esp. “gooks” whose skin are less than white…!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have sensed a popular sentiment disparaging the soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA). From some of what I am reading it does not seem fair to demean their fighting skills or courage.

    For example, an article in the Christian Science Monitor described how as the Taliban overran the countryside it was impossible for the ANA units who were encircled to get supplies. I have a hard time blaming soldiers for yielding when they are running out of ammo. ANA elite units tended to fight to the death because they knew they were going to be killed anyway.

    https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2021/0820/Afghanistan-How-the-Taliban-won-over-northern-ethnic-minorities

    Another point. The ANA soldiers had lost much of their fighting spirit due to the open corruption in the Afghan gov’t. I have a hard time blaming soldiers who refuse to die for a corrupt regime.

    https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2021/0820/Afghanistan-How-the-Taliban-won-over-northern-ethnic-minorities

    We trained the ANA to fight our kind of war, relying on firepower and air support. When that was gone how were they supposed to fight? Its not the ANA’s fault that they were trained to use tactics that they were not given the weapons to implement.

    The people to hold accountable are those who misjudged the situation in Afghanistan and then lied about progress. The corrupt Afghan leaders should also be held accountable. Instead these people are blaming the foot soldiers for not selling their lives dearly after being sold out by their government (with the complicity of our leaders).

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