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General News    H4'ed 2/4/20

Tomgram: William Astore, The Self-Defeating Military

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Here was the headline that recently caught my eye: "Former Top U.S. General Dunford Joining Unicef."

Okay, you knew it was a joke immediately, right? There's really only one conceivable headline of that sort when you're talking about a figure like four-star general Joseph Dunford, Jr., who commanded the 5th Marine Regiment in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and all U.S. (and NATO) forces in Afghanistan from 2012-2014, then became commandant of the Marine Corps, and, until last October, was the only chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Trump era. I'm sure you've already more or less guessed, but here's the actual headline that caught my eye the other day: "Former Top U.S. General Dunford Joining Lockheed Martin's Board."

How boringly (or do I mean boardingly) everyday can you be? After all, where else but to big defense contractors do top U.S. military commanders go to rake in the spoils of the system they've promoted and supported all their lives? Here, for instance, is a headline from last year about former Trump-era Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis, a four-star with a similarly impressive military CV: "Jim Mattis Rejoining General Dynamics Board of Directors." That's right! Unlike Dunford, he wasn't even joining, but rejoining the board of a giant weapons maker, since he had initially signed on in 2013, having just retired from the Marine Corps.

And as the Washington Post has reported, those two generals now are part of a roiling mass of former military and national security figures who "sit" on such boards or work as lobbyists for the giant defense contractors. As Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson so sagaciously put it when talking about her most recent acquisition, "General Dunford's service to the nation at the highest levels of military leadership will bring valuable insight to our board." The only question here is "insight" into what exactly in a world in which generals like Dunford have overseen America's unsuccessful forever wars for years before passing through that famed Washington revolving door into the "industrial" part of the military-industrial complex with their military ties intact. What a system for victory, if you're talking not about the wars themselves but those triumphant defense giants -- and what a loss if, like retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore, you're talking about our otherwise "self-defeating military." Tom

The Art of the Deal, Pentagon-Style
Wars Without Victories, Weapons Without End
By William J. Astore

The expression "self-licking ice cream cone" was first used in 1992 to describe a hidebound bureaucracy at NASA. Yet, as an image, it's even more apt for America's military-industrial complex, an institution far vaster than NASA and thoroughly dedicated to working for its own perpetuation and little else.

Thinking about that led me to another phrase based on America's seemingly endless string of victory-less wars: the self-defeating military. The U.S., after all, hasn't won a major conflict since World War II, when it was aided by a grand alliance that included Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's godless communists. And yet here's the wonder of it all: despite such a woeful 75-year military record, including both the Korean and Vietnam wars of the last century and the never-ending war on terror of this one, the Pentagon's coffers are overflowing with taxpayer dollars. What gives?

Americans profess to love "their" troops, but what are they getting in return for all that affection (and money)? Very little, it seems. And that shouldn't surprise anyone who's been paying the slightest attention, since the present military establishment has been designed less to protect this country than to protect itself, its privileges, and its power. That rarely discussed reality has, in turn, contributed to practices and mindsets that make it a force truly effective at only one thing: defeating any conceivable enemy in Washington as it continues to win massive budgets and the cultural authority to match. That it loses most everywhere else is, it seems, just part of the bargain.

The list of recent debacles should be as obvious as it is alarming: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen (and points around and in between). And even if it's a reality rarely focused on in the mainstream media, none of this has been a secret to the senior officers who run that military. Look at the Pentagon Papers from the Vietnam War era or the Afghanistan Papers recently revealed by the Washington Post. In both cases, prominent U.S. military leaders admitted to fundamental flaws in their war-making practices, including the lack of a coherent strategy, a thorough misunderstanding of the nature and skills of their enemies, and the total absence of any real progress in achieving victory, no matter the cost.

Of course, such honest appraisals of this country's actual war-making prowess were made in secret, while military spokespeople and American commanders laid down a public smokescreen to hide the worst aspects of those wars from the American people. As they talked grimly (and secretly) among themselves about losing, they spoke enthusiastically (and openly) to Congress and the public about winning. In case you hadn't noticed, in places like Afghanistan and Iraq that military was, year after endless year, making "progress" and "turning corners." Such "happy talk" (a mixture of lies and self-deception) may have served to keep the money flowing and weapons sales booming, but it also kept the body bags coming in (and civilians dying in distant lands) -- and for nothing, or at least nothing by any reasonable definition of "national security."

Curiously, despite the obvious disparity between the military's lies and reality, the American people, or at least their representatives in Congress, have largely bought those lies in bulk and at astronomical prices. Yet this country's refusal to face the facts of defeat has only ensured ever more disastrous military interventions. The result: a self-defeating military, engorged with money, lurching toward yet more defeats even as it looks over its shoulder at an increasingly falsified past.

The Future Is What It Used to Be

Long ago, New York Yankee catcher and later manager Yogi Berra summed up what was to come this way: "The future ain't what it used to be." And it wasn't. We used to dream, for example, of flying cars, personal jetpacks, liberating robots, and oodles of leisure time. We even dreamed of mind-bending trips to Jupiter, as in Stanley Kubrick's epic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like so much else we imagined, those dreams haven't exactly panned out.

Yet here's an exception to Berra's wisdom: strangely enough, for the U.S. military, the future is predictably just what it used to be. After all, the latest futuristic vision of America's military leaders is -- hold onto your Kevlar helmets -- a "new" cold war with its former communist rivals Russia and China. And let's add in one other aspect of that military's future vision: wars, as they see it, are going to be fought and settled with modernized (and ever more expensive) versions of the same old weapons systems that carried us through much of the mid-twentieth century: ever more pricey aircraft carriers, tanks, and top of the line jet fighters and bombers with -- hey! -- maybe a few thoroughly destabilizing tactical nukes thrown in, along with plenty of updated missiles carried by planes of an ever more "stealthy" and far more expensive variety. Think: the F-35 fighter, the most expensive weapons system in history (so far) and the B-21 bomber.

For such a future, of course, today's military hardly needs to change at all, or so our generals and admirals argue. For example, yet more ships will, of course, be needed. The Navy high command is already clamoring for 355 of them, while complaining that the record-setting $738 billion Pentagon budget for 2020 is too "tight" to support such a fleet.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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