A Request for New Pentagon Chief: No More Stupid Wars and No More Wasteful Pentagon Incompetence
December 2, 2014
Bruce Fein / The Washington Times & Ivan Eland / AntiWar.com
The US Senate stands between President Obama and the initiation or continuation of stupid wars that sacrifice lives and money on fool's errands that make the nation less safe -- the very definition of insanity. The Senate should refuse to confirm any Secretary of Defense nominee who declines to promise resignation if directed by Mr. Obama to fight a gratuitous war with no clearly defined or achievable national security objective or without express congressional authorization.
New Defense Secretary: No More Stupid Wars
Bruce Fein / The Washington Times
WASHINGTON (November 27, 2014) -- Like Horatius at the Bridge, the US Senate stands between President Obama and the initiation or continuation of stupid wars that sacrifice lives and money on fool's errands that make the nation less safe -- the very definition of insanity.
The Senate should refuse to confirm any Secretary of Defense nominee to succeed Chuck Hagel who declines to promise resignation if directed by Mr. Obama to fight a gratuitous war with no clearly defined or achievable national security objective or without express congressional authorization.
Massachusetts Republican Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge set the standard of Senate wisdom and courage in defeating President Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations Treaty that would have obligated the United States to defend every boundary in the world at the whim of the White House. He should be an inspiration to new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
The most important qualification for any Defense Secretary is knowing what wars are worth fighting. Wars in self-defense in response to an actual or imminent attack on the United States by a state or non-state actor capable of inflicting mass civilian casualties or crippling key infrastructure clearly qualify. Other justifications for war are problematic.
Carl von Clausewitz taught in "On War": "War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means." If a war is fought in the absence of a defined political goal that is more than a hail Mary pass, it is war for the sake of war -- an obscenity to civilized peoples. No nation should send its soldiers into harm's way like the "Charge of the Light Brigade" for light, transient, undefined or futile causes.
Colin Powell, former National Security Adviser and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in "My American Journey": "In 1991, I was asked why the US could not assume a 'limited' role in Bosnia. I had been engaged in limited military involvements before, in Vietnam for starters. I said, 'As soon as they tell me it's limited, it means they do not care whether you achieve a result or not. As soon as they tell me 'surgical,' I head for the bunker." I criticized the pseudo-policy of establishing a US 'presence' without a defined mission in trouble spots. This approach had cost the lives of 241 Marines in Lebanon."
Applying the wisdom of Clauswitz and the experience of Mr. Powell, Mr. Obama's war against the Islamic State (IS) is as stupid as was President Ronald Reagan's dispatch of Marines to Lebanon in the midst of a civil war. Mr. Obama says the war is to "degrade and destroy" IS. That is a meaningless tautology. Every war ever fought has included the goal of killing the enemy. A political objective is something more, for instance, regime change, partition, adherence to international conventions, or otherwise.
In addition to lacking a political objective, Mr. Obama's war against IS is doomed to failure on its own terms. IS recruitment is fueled by corrupt, tyrannical, sectarian governments that we cannot alter. To kill individual members is as pointless as whack-a-mole. Military leaders are convinced, sotto voce, that the prospects of destroying IS are nil without substantial US ground troops, which are not part of Mr. Obama's strategy.
Moreover, Mr. Obama's IS war lacks congressional authorization. The US Constitution's makers believed that no war was worth fighting if the president could not persuade a majority of the House and Senate to support it by an express declaration or its equivalent. They understood that the president, unlike Congress, has a conflict of interest in deciding on war because it aggrandizes executive power.
Everything that discredits Mr. Obama's war against IS applies in spades to his continuation of war in Afghanistan via executive agreement: It lacks any defined and achievable political objective; it is irrelevant to the safety of Americans or the security of the nation; and the president has not convinced Congress to vote in favor of its necessity. Lt. Col. Chris Hossfeld told The Washington Post that he was clueless as to the mission of troops recently scheduled for deployment: "Now it's something bigger than us fighting and winning. That doesn't matter. It is up to the Afghan forces. . . . What does winning look like? It's difficult right now to truly define it."
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reveals in his memoir, "Duty," that despite his conviction that Mr. Obama's war in Afghanistan was stupid and unwinnable, he remained in office seemingly undisturbed that men and women would die on his watch for a political mistake.
The Senate needs to ensure that the next Secretary of Defense is made of sterner stuff.
For more information on Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.
In Afghanistan, a Continuing Trend of US Military Incompetence
Ivan Eland / AntiWar.com
(December 2, 2014) -- As US forces withdraw from parts of Afghanistan, the Taliban is making gains in several areas of the country. The Afghan police and army are slowly giving way, despite the United States spending 13 years and tens of billions of dollars training those forces.
When the United States completes its withdrawal from ground combat at the end of this year, this unfavorable trend will undoubtedly accelerate -- that is, if the Afghan security forces don't collapse altogether, as did similarly US trained Iraqi forces in that country.
Thus, in the longest war in American history, the US military has failed to pacify Afghanistan -- as had the mighty British Empire three times in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the Soviet superpower more recently in the 1980s. In fact, an outside force has not pacified Afghanistan since Cyrus the Great of Persia did it in ancient times.
Why did the United States have the hubris to think it could succeed in taming Afghanistan, when all of these other strenuous efforts had failed? Because many in the American foreign policy elite, media, and citizenry believe in "American exceptionalism."
As propounded by politicians of both parties -- for example, Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright in the Democratic Party and people such as John McCain and his sidekick Lindsay Graham in the Republican Party -- America is the "indispensable nation" to a world that cannot do without its solving most major problems using military power.
Yet despite the current public fawning over military personnel and veterans of American wars, the US military has been fairly incompetent in most major engagements since World War II that required significant ground forces -- with only Desert Storm in 1991 being an unvarnished success in recent years.
The US armed forces are probably more powerful than any other military in world history, both absolutely and relative to other countries, yet their battlefield performance has not been that great, especially against irregular guerrilla forces in the developing world.
In the post-World War II era, the US military managed to fight the then-poor nation of China to only a draw in the Korean War (1950-1953); lost the Vietnam War (1965-1973) to rag tag Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese; and made the same mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq and Afghanistan -- initially using excessive firepower and alienating the population, the allegiance of which is key to fighting guerrillas.
Even in lesser ground operations against small, weak foes, the US military has not performed all that well. Although successful, the invasions of Grenada and Panama exhibited embarrassing snafus, such as friendly fire casualties caused by the inability of US services to adequately communicate and coordinate and the wanton destruction of civilian areas and excessive casualties in what was supposed to have been a surgical operation, respectively.
The hostage rescue mission conducted in Iran in 1980 had to be aborted. Finally, US interventions in Lebanon and Somalia under the Reagan and Clinton administrations, respectively, led to ignominious cutting and running from those countries after successful enemy attacks -- inspiring Osama bin Laden to believe he could compel US withdrawal from overseas interventions by launching terrorist attacks against US military forces (the USS Cole) and facilities overseas and even American territory.
Whenever the US military has a setback, it usually hints around that the civilian leadership of the country was more to blame. And civilian leaders are partly to blame in most of these instances, but the military should not escape public scrutiny for these disasters -- which it largely has.
The problem is that the American public feels guilty for the alleged abuse of returning Vietnam-era veterans and for the fact with an all-volunteer Army, the average citizen doesn't need to sacrifice much during all these American military adventures overseas.
Of course, if the public really wanted to do something to support American service personnel, it should put a stop to them fighting and dying in faraway developing nations to allegedly combat much exaggerated threats to the United States. However, sufficient public outrage needed to end the conflicts was not evident for either the Afghanistan or Iraq wars.
But what exactly went wrong in Afghanistan? As in Vietnam and Iraq, the US military has not been fighting conventional armies, such as Iraqi forces during Desert Storm, which it is best at. Instead, in all three places, it was conducting what amounts to military social work.
US armed forces are fighting guerrillas that melt back into an all-important supportive indigenous civilian population. In Vietnam, initially, US forces used excessive firepower, which alienated civilians; in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US military, forgetting the lessons of Vietnam, did the same thing.
But American citizens ask, "Aren't our forces more benevolent than the brutal Taliban? Why does the Taliban still get so much support in Afghanistan?" The answer: because they are Afghans. As my book, The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Seldom Won, notes, when fighting indigenous insurgents, the foreign invader never gets the benefit of the doubt.
This central point makes it difficult for great powers to win wars against insurgents, no matter how nice they try to be to the civilian populace. And the US military is usually fairly unfamiliar with the language and culture of distant lands of intervention, thus making it difficult to get good information about who is a guerrilla and who is not.
Often the only way to win a counterinsurgency is to annihilate the entire country with indiscriminate and potent violence; yet the Soviets used such scorched earth policies in Afghanistan and didn't win. Furthermore, the US military would have difficulty selling such a morally bankrupt policy, which amounts to "destroying a country in order to save it," in a republic.
America is exceptional, however in a way the nation's founders realized but has long been forgotten. Being far away from the centers of world conflict, the United States has probably the best intrinsic security of any great power in world history. Thus, the founders had the luxury of being suspicious of standing armies in a republic.
Furthermore, as in any other public bureaucracy, when people are spending other people's money, things often go awry. Thus, sending the military to war should only be done in the most dire cases of national security. Military restraint was the founders' vision, but we have drifted far from it into a militaristic society in constant war.
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