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A New Season in Military Fashions

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Posted on Sep 14, 2010
U.S. Army / Sgt. Derec Pierson

By William Pfaff

President Barack Obama has promised a fundamental review of American policy toward Afghanistan this December. In the meantime, his decision seems compromised by the continuing military and civilian “surge” to Afghanistan ordered soon after Obama took office in 2008. The Pentagon is constructing bases for the new arrivals on a giant scale with all the customary civilian appurtenances of American military life—fast food franchises, bargain-price exchanges and other amenities—as if building gated communities around the world for eventual commercialization (or unforeseen abandonment) were the business with which it is most comfortable.

This base construction would seem to suggest that, whatever the president’s views of where the United States stands with respect to Afghanistan and the Taliban in December, the American military is not planning to saddle up and go home.

This recalls how the basic decisions on fighting in Afghanistan were already taken before Obama’s inauguration. Gens. Petraeus and McChrystal, and the Pentagon planners, had the troops already in transport from Iraq to Afghanistan, and the new counterinsurgency program for Afghanistan drafted, well before the new president and his family had finished looking around the White House. “Sign here, Sir.” The Pentagon has its own vision of what lies ahead in which novice presidents are not taken too seriously. They are, after all, the professionals.

In the past, what they have achieved in exercising their professional skill has not always been a success. Vietnam and Iraq will not rank in the history books with Bull Run or Lee’s campaigns in Northern Virginia. But American military men usually concentrate on the basics, which cannot always be said of the civilian geo-politicians who purport to tell them what to do, and who sometimes put forward very wide-ranging views indeed on the interests at stake in these wars and the global perspectives upon which the U.S. should conceive its future.

A random riff through what came into my e-mail today from centers of international military reflection produced a Washington presentation by the Center for a New American Security. It promotes a new book by Robert D. Kaplan called “Monsoon,” which deals with the geopolitical significance of the Indian Ocean states, notably China and India, in their future relations with the U.S. Kaplan’s admirers say that the Indian Ocean zone is where “the fight for democracy, energy independence and religious freedom will be lost or won, and where American foreign policy must concentrate if the U.S. is to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.”


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I find this a mysterious statement. Why the Indian Ocean rather than the Pacific or Atlantic? Other than that, both China and India have coasts opening out eventually into the Indian Ocean (as well as the Pacific), and the author is greatly interested in India and China as growing strategic powers in the region, rival to the U.S. The Indian Ocean is a maritime energy transport route of interest to China (and Japan, and other East Asian powers), but where do democracy and religious freedom enter into the calculation?

I also saw (reprinted from a Paris journal) a Canadian analysis of the future role of Canada’s military forces, in what is predicted to be a future of “expeditionary counterinsurgency,” in which Canada is said now to be experienced and expert (chiefly as auxiliary to U.S. forces). I have no doubt that this is so, but I do not see why Canada, with a reputation for fielding a tough army indeed in World Wars I and II, and in Korea, wants to volunteer for a new career helping the U.S. become the global hegemon? (I crossed the Pacific on a U.S. troop ship on its way to Korea whose last passengers had been Canadian infantry—they had all but taken the ship apart to amuse themselves; the American sailors remained traumatized.)

This Canadian forecast said that “Transformation” is the new military buzzword, meaning reorienting the military institution for “the complex insurgencies” that “planners say will dominate the 21st century.” Robert Gates, the U.S. secretary of Defense, was quoted as saying that Afghanistan provides the “laboratory” for this change.

NATO has a “Transformation” command function, to turn its troops to “expeditionary counterinsurgency,” and the U.S. Marine Corps general (James N. Mattis) who held that NATO command was in August made Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command, which runs the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from its headquarters in Tampa, Fla.

Obviously we are in a new season in military fashions. What would happen if NATO’s successful transformation into a vast counterinsurgency army (for the 21st century) were actually to be followed by a real and unfashionable war, like the one those Canadian soldiers went to Korea to fight?

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at
© 2010 Tribune Media Services Inc.

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LocalHero's avatar

By LocalHero, September 20, 2010 at 7:17 pm Link to this comment

I nominate changing the name of the ‘Department of Defense’ to the ‘Department of Barbaric Attack, Slaughter & Murder.’

That way even people like Mike789 will know what “projection of power” actually means.

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By tomas, September 16, 2010 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Get that monster, Mattis, OFF MY PAYROLL!!!!  I am a taxpayer and a patriot, he sullies our country’s and my name.

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By smeeagain, September 16, 2010 at 9:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Let’s see, the Pentagon that couldn’t protect us on 9/11 (the senior generals/admirals were out to lunch with their secretaries and left orders not to be interrupted, or something like that), the Pentagon that let the Rethugs use them like kleenex in the 2000 military absentee ballot scandal and electoral fraud that installed Bush II(what about your oaths to the Constitution, Generals?)—this Pentagon is now planning the future of the world?

Why are we listening to treasonous, wealthy or wealthy-to-be revolving door generals?  Mattis, the psychopathic butcher of Fallujah is commander of Centcom? What have we descended to?

Mike789, are you active duty?

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By Flummox, September 15, 2010 at 9:53 am Link to this comment

So Mike789, the generals want to start killing people around the Indian Ocean to make way for their corporate master’s domination of emerging markets there. What exactly do you get out of this “projection of power”?

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, September 15, 2010 at 7:37 am Link to this comment

To the wealthy elites they are legitimate. And so it is with the USA, whatever its controllers want they are getting it so far. Except attack on Iran. If their cost benefit changes they will.

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By FRTothus, September 15, 2010 at 7:22 am Link to this comment

“Insurgents” are those that work against legitimate rule.  Rule by wealthy elites is not legitimate.  Rule by a foreign occupier is not legitimate.  Rule by corporations is not legitimate.  Rule by US-installed dictators is not legitimate.
“Insurgent” is a code word for anyone, anywhere, that objects to imperial, top-down, elite rule.  Yet, journalists who know better (or should know better) still toss the word around, compounding the lies and abetting the crimes of empire and the terror of the National Security State, and yes I’m talking to you Mr Pfaff.  If you cannot use words properly, Mr Pfaff, perhaps it is time you find a different way to make a living where accuracy and truthfulness are not required.

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By copernicist, September 15, 2010 at 6:44 am Link to this comment

Mr Pfaff writes:

Kaplan’s admirers say that the Indian Ocean zone is where “the fight for democracy, energy independence and religious freedom will be lost or won, and where American foreign policy must concentrate if the U.S. is to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.” 
I find this a mysterious statement… The Indian Ocean is a maritime energy transport route of interest to China (and Japan, and other East Asian powers), but where do democracy and religious freedom enter into the calculation? [end quote]

[Well, ya know how it is: we gotta have SOME excuse for Fightin’ Them Injuns-Darkies=Whomevers Over in Wherever-istan-igrad-ville
[As Mr Pfaff, when tongue not in cheek, knows all too well:
We, US, the Good People-of-the-Ground-Zeroist Faith have to BURN all those Born-as-Sinners to save their souls….while..
Our Annointed Thinkers and Cunning-Planners (aka The Worst and The Dumbest) have to Find A New Pay-Any-Price-Bear-Any-Burden….whenever their Previous Cookie-Crumbles but before ongoing Fiasco is fully Flushed down their throats…]

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Mike789's avatar

By Mike789, September 15, 2010 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

As a vet, I am not totally against, but rather in favor of, the projection of power. In spite of this penchant, I am extremely cautious, owing to the manner in which subterfuge has dominated and subplanted our rationale for that projection.

The problem is the way in which such endeavors may be foisted upon us under the guise of whatever the 100 IQ populace will find convincing. I wish they’d desist with the geo-politically correct boilerplate and obfuscation of cold, hard facts.

Our leaders tend to think that we “cannot handle the truth” or more precisely, “realpolitik”. This is utter nonsense. I’d much rather be told the ugly truth than be lead by the nose and later find out it was all a phony construct. If we start out with the truth, we might be more successful. We’d have less baggage to manage.

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By ofersince72, September 14, 2010 at 11:09 pm Link to this comment

Typical mainstream article.

Why are we there? Ha ha ha ha ah ah ha ha ha ha ........

The Internation Ivestors that own our government and

its military told us to, thats why.

Profit , profit, profit….Obama knows this…

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, September 14, 2010 at 6:05 pm Link to this comment

Maybe Glenn Beck is wrong and that what Pres. Obama means by “transformation” of the country was in the military realm, not socially! Also with his right wing credentials (via actions) would put Pres. Obama on Beck‘s side in many areas of corporate Capitalism. Not that Beck would ever make that about face any more than acknowledging that his embracing of Dr.MLK Jr. is a false one and use for propaganda convenience. (Dr.MLK Jr. was for most of what Glenn Beck says he is vehemently against.)

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