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Don’t Walk Away From War

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Posted on Jun 12, 2014

Photo by Jayel Aheram (CC BY 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 4)

4. The U.S. military can’t win its wars.  This is so obvious (though seldom said) that it hardly has to be explained.  The U.S. military has not won a serious engagement since World War II:  the results of wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq ranged from stalemate to defeat and disaster.  With the exception of a couple of campaigns against essentially no one (in Grenada and Panama), nothing, including the “Global War on Terror,” would qualify as a success on its own terms, no less anyone else’s.  This was true, strategically speaking, despite the fact that, in all these wars, the U.S. controlled the air space, the seas (where relevant), and just about any field of battle where the enemy might be met.  Its firepower was overwhelming and its ability to lose in small-scale combat just about nil.

It would be folly to imagine that this record represents the historical norm.  It doesn’t.  It might be more relevant to suggest that the sorts of imperial wars and wars of pacification the U.S. has fought in recent times, often against poorly armed, minimally trained, minority insurgencies (or terror outfits), are simply unwinnable.  They seem to generate their own resistance.  Their brutalities and even their “victories” simply act as recruitment posters for the enemy.

5. The U.S. military is not “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” or “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known,” or any of the similar over-the-top descriptions that U.S. presidents are now regularly obligated to use.  If you want the explanation for why this is so, see points one through four above.  A military whose way of war doesn’t work, doesn’t solve problems, destabilizes whatever it touches, and never wins simply can’t be the greatest in history, no matter the firepower it musters.  If you really need further proof of this, think about the crisis and scandals linked to the Veterans Administration.  They are visibly the fruit of a military mired in frustration, despair, and defeat, not a triumphant one holding high history’s banner of victory.

As for Peace, Not a Penny

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Is there a record like it?  More than half a century of American-style war by the most powerful and potentially destructive military on the planet adds up to worse than nothing.  If any other institution in American life had a comparable scorecard, it would be shunned like the plague.  In reality, the VA has a far better record of success when it comes to the treatment of those broken by our wars than the military does of winning them, and yet its head administrator was forced to resign recently amid scandal and a media firestorm.

As in Iraq, Washington has a way of sending in the Marines, setting the demons loose, leaving town, and then wondering how in the world things got so bad—as if it had no responsibility for what happened.  Don’t think, by the way, that no one ever warned us either.  Who, for instance, remembers Arab League head Amr Moussa saying in 2004 that the U.S. had opened the “gates of hell” in its invasion and occupation of Iraq?  Who remembers the vast antiwar movement in the U.S. and around the world that tried to stop the launching of that invasion, the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to warn of the dangers before it was too late?  In fact, being in that antiwar movement more or less guaranteed that ever after you couldn’t appear on the op-ed pages of America’s major papers to discuss the disaster you had predicted.  The only people asked to comment were those who had carried it out, beaten the drums for it, or offered the mildest tsk-tsk about it.

By the way, don’t think for a moment that war never solved a problem, or achieved a goal for an imperial or other regime, or that countries didn’t regularly find victory in arms.  History is filled with such examples.  So what if, in some still-to-be-understood way, something has changed on planet Earth?  What if something in the nature of imperial war now precludes victory, the achieving of goals, the “solving” of problems in our present world?  Given the American record, it’s at least a thought worth considering.

As for peace?  Not even a penny for your thoughts on that one.  If you suggested pouring, say, $50 billion into planning for peace, no less the $500 billion that goes to the Pentagon annually for its base budget, just about anyone would laugh in your face.  (And keep in mind that that figure doesn’t include most of the budget for the increasingly militarized U.S. Intelligence Community, or extra war costs for Afghanistan, or the budget of the increasingly militarized Department of Homeland Security, or other costs hidden elsewhere, including, for example, for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which is buried in the Energy Department’s budget.)

That possible solutions to global problems, possible winning strategies, might come from elsewhere than the U.S. military or other parts of the national security state, based on 50 years of imperial failure, 50 years of problems unsolved and wars not won and goals not reached, of increasing instability and destruction, of lives (American and otherwise) snuffed out or broken?  Not on your life.

Don’t walk away from war.  It’s not the American way.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt


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