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Tomgram: Nick Turse, Killing People, Breaking Things, and America's Winless Wars

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

It's the timing that should amaze us (were anyone to think about it for 30 seconds). Let's start with the conflict in Afghanistan, now regularly described as the longest war in American history. It began on October 7, 2001, and will soon reach its 15th "anniversary." Think of it as the stepchild of America's first Afghan War (against the Soviets), a largely CIA affair which lasted from 1979 to 1989. Considered a major victory, leading as it did to the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, it also devastated Afghanistan and created close to the full cast of characters for America's second Afghan War. In reality, you could say that Washington has conducted a quarter-century-plus of warfare there (with a decade off). And in the Pentagon, they're already talking about that war's possible extension well into the 2020s.

And then, of course, there's Iraq. Where even to begin to count? You could start perhaps with the military aid and assistance that Washington gave Saddam Hussein in the eight-year war that followed his invasion of Iran in 1980, including crucial information that the Iraqis could use to target Iranian troops with their chemical weapons. Or you could start with that victory of all victories, the first Gulf War of 1991, in which the U.S. military crushed Saddam's troops in Kuwait, showed off the snazzy techno-abilities of the mightiest force on the planet... and er, um... somehow didn't unseat the Iraqi ruler, leading to years of no-fly-zone air war until that second, ultimate victory, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which led to... er, um... a disastrous occupation, various insurgencies, and finally the withdrawal of American forces in 2011 before... er, um... the Islamic State emerged triumphantly to smash the American-trained Iraqi army, taking over major cities, and establishing its "caliphate." That, of course, led to America's third Iraq War (or is it the fourth?), still ongoing. In other words, at least a quarter-century of conflict and possibly more with no end in sight.

And don't get me started on Somalia. Who, after all, doesn't recall the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu (known here as the "Black Hawk down" incident)? Twenty-three years later, the U.S. is still bombing, missiling, and raiding that country which is, by now, a terror disaster zone. Or Yemen, where the U.S. began its drone strikes back in 2002 and has never stopped as that country went over a cliff into civil war followed by a disastrous Saudi-led invasion that the U.S. has backed in a major way, including supplying cluster bombs and white phosphorous to its forces. And Libya? From the moment in 1986 when the Reagan administration sent in the U.S. air power to take out "terrorist training" sites in Tripoli and Benghazi, as well as the residence of the country's autocratic ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, on and off hostilities continued until the NATO/U.S. air intervention of 2011. That, in turn, brought on not just the end of Gaddafi's rule, but a failed state filled with actual terrorists.

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Syria is, of course, a Johnny-come-lately to American war, since Washington has been bombing there for a mere two years, and Special Forces operatives only entered the country relatively recently. And Pakistan barely counts: just 424 drone strikes over 12 years. A mere nothing when it comes to American warfare in this era. And as if to make the point about all this, just a few weekends ago, the U.S. launched bombing or missile strikes in six of those seven countries (skipping only Pakistan), all six now being either failed states or close to that. It's quite a record of unending warfare, largely against -- with the exception of Saddam Hussein's military -- lightly armed insurgents and terror groups of various sorts in countries that are generally now verging on collapse or nonexistent.

If you've ever wondered how those inside the planet's self-proclaimed mightiest military force assess their handiwork over these last 15 (or for that matter 50) years, it's fortunately no longer necessary to guess. Thanks to TomDispatch's Nick Turse, we now have a document from within that military which will answer your every question on war, American-style, even if those answers beg questions all their own. Tom

Win, Lose, or Draw
U.S. Special Operations Command Details Dismal U.S. Military Record
By Nick Turse

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Winning: it's written into the DNA of the U.S.A. After all, what's more American than football legend Vince Lombardi's famous (if purloined) maxim: "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing"?

Americans expect to be number one. First Lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the "greatest country on Earth." (Take that, world public opinion, and your choice of Germany!) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, touting America as "the greatest country that has ever been created." Her rival, Donald Trump, who for political gain badmouths the country that made him rich and famous, does so in the hope of returning America to supposedly halcyon days of unparalleled greatness. He's predicted that his presidency might lead to an actual winning overload. "We're going to win so much," he told supporters. "You're going to get tired of winning. You're going to say, 'Please, Mr. President... don't win so much'" And I'm going to say, 'No, we have to make America great again... We're gonna keep winning.'"

As Trump well knows, Americans take winning very seriously. Look no further than the U.S. gold medal count at the recent Rio Olympics: 46. The next highest total? Great Britain's 27, almost 20 fewer than those of the country whose upstart rebels bested them in the eighteenth century, the nation's ur-victory. The young United States then beat back the Brits in the early 1800s, and twice bailed them out in victorious world wars during the twentieth century.

In the intervening years, the U.S. built up a gaudy military record -- slaughtering native tribes, punishing Mexico, pummeling Spain -- but the best was yet to come. "Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world," boasted President Barack Obama in this year's State of the Union address. In this he echoed his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, in May 2001, declared that "America today has the finest [military] the world has ever seen."

In the years between those two moments of high-flown rhetoric, the United States military fought in nine conflicts, according to a 2015 briefing produced by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the umbrella organization for America's most elite forces including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets. The record of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, according to SOCOM: zero wins, two losses, and seven ties.

This dismal record is catalogued in a briefing slide produced by SOCOM's Intelligence Directorate last September and obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act. "A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges" -- a timeline of conflicts ranked as wins, losses, and ties -- examines the last 100 years of America's wars and interventions.

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"Gray zone" is an increasingly popular term of the trade for operations conducted somewhere on the continuum between war and peace. "Traditional war is the paradigm," the briefing slide asserts. "Gray zone conflict is the norm."

While he finds a great deal to fault in SOCOM's analysis, retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, believes its assessment of post-9/11 conflicts "is quite accurate." Although American politicians like Hillary Clinton regularly insist that the U.S. possesses "the greatest military" on the planet, they avoid addressing the question of what the country's armed interventions have actually accomplished when it comes to policy goals -- the true measure of success in war. "We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost," Bacevich says. "That's simply a fact."


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"A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges" -- A September 2015 briefing slide produced by the Intelligence Directorate of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

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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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