Why the American Military Is Doomed

General Flynn (FP: Foreign Policy)
General Flynn (FP: Foreign Policy)

W.J. Astore

Is the U.S. military doomed?  I’d say yes.  But it’s not because our troops are uncommitted, our weapons are bad, and our tactics are flawed.  Rather it’s because of the conventional wisdom in Washington and the Pentagon that continues to commit our troops to unnecessary and unwinnable wars.

This conventional wisdom is perhaps best summed up in a speech by retired Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, the ex-chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  It’s worth reading the speech in full, not because it’s especially original or insightful, but because it’s so unreflective and representative of Washington’s collective wisdom.

Here are General Flynn’s main points as I see them:

1. The American public must be committed to an open-ended ideological war “for decades.”

2. That war is against “grotesque” Islamic extremists who “hate our ideals” and who are “committed to the destruction of freedom and the American way of life.”

3. To win the war, America must be ready to use “overwhelming power” to defeat or deter the enemy, even if the U.S. must act alone.

4. Special Operations Forces (SOF) must be “well resourced” for this war, meaning they must be expanded even further and given even more money and latitude.

5.  The model for this ideological war against extremist Islam is Ronald Reagan’s war against communism.

That is General Flynn’s strategic vision.  It’s a vision widely shared within the Pentagon.  And it’s a vision that dooms America to defeat.

Why?  Mainly because radical Islam is a political/religious/social phenomenon.  It is not amenable to military solutions.  Indeed, the more America makes it into THE enemy, the more legitimacy organizations like ISIS gain within their communities and across the Muslim World.

Military force is a blunt instrument, even when it’s applied by the Special Ops community.  Expanding the American SOF presence throughout the world is a recipe for more blowback, not more victories.  Consider how well we’ve done so far in Afghanistan or Libya or Yemen.  Or for that matter Iraq.  Can anyone say that U.S. military intervention has produced stability in these countries?  Has it contributed to the defeat of radical Islam?  Indeed, in destabilizing Iraq and Libya and Yemen, has the U.S. not contributed to the spread of Islamic extremism?

Military professionals like General Flynn really know only one solution: “overwhelming power” applied “for decades.” And if you don’t accept their solution, they dismiss you as misguided (at best) or as arguing for “Retreat, retrenchment, and disarmament,” which “are historically a recipe for disaster,” according to General Flynn.

Well, I’m not aware of anyone seriously arguing for disarmament (fat chance of that happening in the USA!).  I’m not aware of anyone arguing for “retreat,” as if this was the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.  I’m not aware of anyone seriously working toward “retrenchment”; indeed, the SOF community keeps expanding, already mounting operations in 105 countries around the world in FY2015 (i.e., since October 2014).  It’s easy to bayonet a straw man, general.

I have a few words for the general: Committing the American military to an ideological war “for decades” against radical Islam is pure folly.  Chances are you won’t hammer it into non-existence: your blows will just spread it further, while wasting the energies of America and the lives of its troops.

Stop looking to Reagan and the collapse of communism for lessons and start looking at the actual results over the last 20-30 years of American meddling in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen.  And tell me: Is this what “victory” looks like?  You want to double down on “overwhelming power” applied “for decades” as defending American “ideals” and “way of life”?

Which “ideals” are those, exactly?  A permanent state of war in which military men are deferred to as the heroes and sages of the moment?

No thanks.