The Pentagon’s Imperial Overstretch and Victory Culture (Engelhardt)

Tom Engelhardt, author of the scintillating classic, The End of Victory Culture writes at :

Overwrought Empire: The Discrediting of U.S. Military Power
By Tom Engelhardt

Americans lived in a “victory culture” for much of the twentieth century.  You could say that we experienced an almost 75-year stretch of triumphalism — think of it as the real “American Century” — from World War I to the end of the Cold War, with time off for a destructive stalemate in Korea and a defeat in Vietnam too shocking to absorb or shake off.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, it all seemed so obvious.  Fate had clearly dealt Washington a royal flush.  It was victory with a capital V.  The United States was, after all, the last standing superpower, after centuries of unceasing great power rivalries on the planet.  It had a military beyond compare and no enemy, hardly a “rogue state,” on the horizon.  It was almost unnerving, such clear sailing into a dominant future, but a moment for the ages nonetheless.  Within a decade, pundits in Washington were hailing us as “the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome.”

And here’s the odd thing: in a sense, little has changed since then and yet everything seems different.  Think of it as the American imperial paradox: everywhere there are now “threats” against our well-being which seem to demand action and yet nowhere are there commensurate enemies to go with them.  Everywhere the U.S. military still reigns supreme by almost any measure you might care to apply; and yet — in case the paradox has escaped you — nowhere can it achieve its goals, however modest.

At one level, the American situation should simply take your breath away.  Never before in modern history had there been an arms race of only one or a great power confrontation of only one.  And at least in military terms, just as the neoconservatives imagined in those early years of the twenty-first century, the United States remains the “sole superpower” or even “hyperpower” of planet Earth.

The Planet’s Top Gun

And yet the more dominant the U.S. military becomes in its ability to destroy and the more its forces are spread across the globe, the more the defeats and semi-defeats pile up, the more the missteps and mistakes grow, the more the strains show, the more the suicides rise, the more the nation’s treasure disappears down a black hole — and in response to all of this, the more moves the Pentagon makes.

A great power without a significant enemy?  You might have to go back to the Roman Empire at its height or some Chinese dynasty in full flower to find anything like it.  And yet Osama bin Laden is dead.  Al-Qaeda is reportedly a shadow of its former self.  The great regional threats of the moment, North Korea and Iran, are regimes held together by baling wire and the suffering of their populaces.  The only incipient great power rival on the planet, China, has just launched its first aircraft carrier, a refurbished Ukrainian throwaway from the 1990s on whose deck the country has no planes capable of landing.

The U.S. has 1,000 or more bases around the world; other countries, a handful.  The U.S. spends as much on its military as the next 14 powers (mostly allies) combined.  In fact, it’s investing an estimated $1.45 trillion to produce and operate a single future aircraft, the F-35 — more than any country, the U.S. included, now spends on its national defense annually.

The U.S. military is singular in other ways, too.  It alone has divided the globe — the complete world — into six “commands.”  With (lest anything be left out) an added command, Stratcom, for the heavens and another, recently established, for the only space not previously occupied, cyberspace, where we’re already unofficially “at war.”  No other country on the planet thinks of itself in faintly comparable military terms.

When its high command plans for its future “needs,” thanks to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, they repair (don’t say “retreat”) to a military base south of the capital where they argue out their future and war-game various possible crises while striding across a map of the world larger than a basketball court.  What other military would come up with such a method?

The president now has at his command not one, but two private armies.  The first is the CIA, which in recent years has been heavily militarized, is overseen by a former four-star general (who calls the job “living the dream”), and is running its own private assassination campaigns and drone air wars throughout the Greater Middle East.  The second is an expanding elite, the Joint Special Operations Command, cocooned inside the U.S. military, members of whom are now deployed to hot spots around the globe.

The U.S. Navy, with its 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carrier task forces, is dominant on the global waves in a way that only the British Navy might once have been; and the U.S. Air Force controls the global skies in much of the world in a totally uncontested fashion.  (Despite numerous wars and conflicts, the last American plane possibly downed in aerial combat was in the first Gulf War in 1991.)  Across much of the global south, there is no sovereign space Washington’s drones can’t penetrate to kill those judged by the White House to be threats.

In sum, the U.S. is now the sole planetary Top Gun in a way that empire-builders once undoubtedly fantasized about, but that none from Genghis Khan on have ever achieved: alone and essentially uncontested on the planet.  In fact, by every measure (except success), the likes of it has never been seen.

Blindsided by Predictably Unintended Consequences

By all the usual measuring sticks, the U.S. should be supreme in a historically unprecedented way.  And yet it couldn’t be more obvious that it’s not, that despite all the bases, elite forces, private armies, drones, aircraft carriers, wars, conflicts, strikes, interventions, and clandestine operations, despite a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy that never seems to stop growing and into which we pour a minimum of $80 billion a year, nothing seems to work out in an imperially satisfying way.  It couldn’t be more obvious that this is not a glorious dream, but some kind of ever-expanding imperial nightmare.

This should, of course, have been self-evident since at least early 2004, less than a year after the Bush administration invaded and occupied Iraq, when the roadside bombs started to explode and the suicide bombings to mount, while the comparisons of the United States to Rome and of a prospective Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East to the Pax Romana vanished like a morning mist on a blazing day.  Still, the wars against relatively small, ill-armed sets of insurgents dragged toward their dismally predictable ends.  (It says the world that, after almost 11 years of war, the 2,000th U.S. military death in Afghanistan occurred at the hands of an Afghan “ally” in an “insider attack.”)  In those years, Washington continued to be regularly blindsided by the unintended consequences of its military moves. Surprises — none pleasant — became the order of the day and victories proved vanishingly rare.

One thing seems obvious: a superpower military with unparalleled capabilities for one-way destruction no longer has the more basic ability to impose its will anywhere on the planet.  Quite the opposite, U.S. military power has been remarkably discredited globally by the most pitiful of forces.  From Pakistan to Honduras, just about anywhere it goes in the old colonial or neocolonial world, in those regions known in the contested Cold War era as the Third World, resistance of one unexpected sort or another arises and failure ensues in some often long-drawn-out and spectacular fashion.

Given the lack of enemies — a few thousand jihadis, a small set of minority insurgencies, a couple of feeble regional powers — why this is so, what exactly the force is that prevents Washington’s success, remains mysterious.  Certainly, it’s in some way related to the more than half-century of decolonization movements, rebellions, and insurgencies that were a feature of the previous century.

It also has something to do with the way economic heft has spread beyond the U.S., Europe, and Japan — with the rise of the “tigers” in Asia, the explosion of the Chinese and Indian economies, the advances of Brazil and Turkey, and the movement of the planet toward some kind of genuine economic multipolarity.  It may also have something to do with the end of the Cold War, which put an end as well to several centuries of imperial or great power competition and left the sole “victor,” it now seems clear, heading toward the exits wreathed in self-congratulation.

Explain it as you will, it’s as if the planet itself, or humanity, had somehow been inoculated against the imposition of imperial power, as if it now rejected it whenever and wherever applied.  In the previous century, it took a half-nation, North Korea, backed by Russian supplies and Chinese troops to fight the U.S. to a draw, or a popular insurgent movement backed by a local power, North Vietnam, backed in turn by the Soviet Union and China to defeat American power.  Now, small-scale minority insurgencies, largely using roadside bombs and suicide bombers, are fighting American power to a draw (or worse) with no great power behind them at all.

Think of the growing force that resists such military might as the equivalent of the “dark matter” in the universe.  The evidence is in.  We now know (or should know) that it’s there, even if we can’t see it.

Washington’s Wars on Autopilot

After the last decade of military failures, stand-offs, and frustrations, you might think that this would be apparent in Washington.  After all, the U.S. is now visibly an overextended empire, its sway waning from the Greater Middle East to Latin America, the limits of its power increasingly evident.  And yet, here’s the curious thing: two administrations in Washington have drawn none of the obvious conclusions, and no matter how the presidential election turns out, it’s already clear that, in this regard, nothing will change.

Even as military power has proven itself a bust again and again, our policymakers have come to rely ever more completely on a military-first response to global problems.  In other words, we are not just a classically overextended empire, but also an overwrought one operating on some kind of militarized autopilot.  Lacking is a learning curve.  By all evidence, it’s not just that there isn’t one, but that there can’t be one.

Washington, it seems, now has only one mode of thought and action, no matter who is at the helm or what the problem may be, and it always involves, directly or indirectly, openly or clandestinely, the application of militarized force.  Nor does it matter that each further application only destabilizes some region yet more or undermines further what once were known as “American interests.”

Take Libya, as an example.  It briefly seemed to count as a rare American military success story: a decisive intervention in support of a rebellion against a brutal dictator — so brutal, in fact, that the CIA previously shipped “terrorist suspects,” Islamic rebels fighting against the Gaddafi regime, there for torture.  No U.S. casualties resulted, while American and NATO air strikes were decisive in bringing a set of ill-armed, ill-organized rebels to power.

In the world of unintended consequences, however, the fall of Gaddafi sent Tuareg mercenaries from his militias, armed with high-end weaponry, across the border into Mali.  There, when the dust settled, the whole northern part of the country had come unhinged and fallen under the sway of Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda wannabes as other parts of North Africa threatened to destabilize.  At the same time, of course, the first American casualties of the intervention occurred when Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in an attack on the Benghazi consulate and a local “safe house.”

With matters worsening regionally, the response couldn’t have been more predictable.  As Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post recently reported, in ongoing secret meetings, the White House is planning for military operations against al-Qaeda-in-the-Magreb (North Africa), now armed with weaponry pillaged from Gaddafi’s stockpiles.  These plans evidently include the approach used in Yemen (U.S. special forces on the ground and CIA drone strikes), or a Somalia “formula” (drone strikes, special forces operations, CIA operations, and the support of African proxy armies), or even at some point “the possibility of direct U.S. intervention.”

In addition, Eric Schmitt and David Kilpatrick of the New York Times report that the Obama administration is “preparing retaliation” against those it believes killed the U.S. ambassador, possibly including “drone strikes, special operations raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden, and joint missions with Libyan authorities.”  The near certainty that, like the previous intervention, this next set of military actions will only further destabilize the region with yet more unpleasant surprises and unintended consequences hardly seems to matter.  Nor does the fact that, in crude form, the results of such acts are known to us ahead of time have an effect on the unstoppable urge to plan and order them.

Such situations are increasingly legion across the Greater Middle East and elsewhere.  Take one other tiny example: Iraq, from which, after almost a decade-long military disaster, the “last” U.S. units essentially fled in the middle of the night as 2011 ended.  Even in those last moments, the Obama administration and the Pentagon were still trying to keep significant numbers of U.S. troops there (and, in fact, did manage to leave behind possibly several hundred as trainers of elite Iraqi units).  Meanwhile, Iraq has been supportive of the embattled Syrian regime and drawn ever closer to Iran, even as its own sectarian strife has ratcheted upward.  Having watched this unsettling fallout from its last round in the country, according to the New York Times, the U.S. is now negotiating an agreement “that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.”

Don’t you just want to speak to those negotiators the way you might to a child: No, don’t do that!  The urge to return to the scene of their previous disaster, however, seems unstaunchable.  You could offer various explanations for why our policymakers, military and civilian, continue in such a repetitive — and even from an imperial point of view — self-destructive vein in situations where unpleasant surprises are essentially guaranteed and lack of success a given.  Yes, there is the military-industrial complex to be fed.  Yes, we are interested in the control of crucial resources, especially energy, and so on.

But it’s probably more reasonable to say that a deeply militarized mindset and the global maneuvers that go with it are by now just part of the way of life of a Washington eternally “at war.”  They are the tics of a great power with the equivalent of Tourette’s Syndrome.  They happen because they can’t help but happen, because they are engraved in the policy DNA of our national security complex, and can evidently no longer be altered.  In other words, they can’t help themselves.

That’s the only logical conclusion in a world where it has become ever less imaginable to do the obvious, which is far less or nothing at all.  (Northern Chad?  When did it become crucial to our well being?) Downsizing the mission?  Inconceivable.  Thinking the unthinkable?  Don’t even give it a thought!

What remains is, of course, a self-evident formula for disaster on autopilot. But don’t tell Washington. It won’t matter. Its denizens can’t take it in.

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

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt


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  1. This reminds me of the lyrics of that 1960s protest song – “when will they ever learn?”

    Here in Britain we are just now learning of the true, horrifying extent of the human rights abuses perpetrated by our soldiers in Kenya during the Mau Mau wars. This included setting fire to people and castration with pliers. It makes me ashamed to be British even though it happened before I was born.

    We were taught in school that the British empire was a force for good – civilising the natives etc. The reality was that it was a great way of extracting wealth from less powerful people and using indiscriminate violence if those people tried to organise or protest.

    Sadly, US culture seems to be a gun culture. My rule of thumb is that one can start watching a US film (sorry, movie) at any point and that within 5 minutes a gun will be fired or brandished. I don’t know how you turn that around. Keep up your good work.

  2. To an outside observer, this article seems to be more critical of the Libya war than how I remember Prof. Cole’s writing on the subject. i.e.

    In the world of unintended consequences, however, the fall of Gaddafi sent Tuareg mercenaries from his militias, armed with high-end weaponry, across the border into Mali.  There, when the dust settled, the whole northern part of the country had come unhinged and fallen under the sway of Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda wannabes as other parts of North Africa threatened to destabilize. 

    do you agree with this assessment and if so, could you clarify your position?

  3. Empire does not feel so great; virtual strip searches at the airport, government surveillance, high taxes to fund the wars, broken legal system if you are brown, degraded democracy, etc. But then perhaps these are the benefits of empire. I liked it the old way!

  4. Ah, the the neocons favorite whipping boy Paul Kennedy had it all right in his “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” didn’t he?

    Tom, this covers a lot of what happened in the time since Prof. Kennedy’s book was published. What you haven’t touched on that he covered in his analysis of previous great powers was the corrosive effect military spending has on economic development. Despite the claims of some, there really is no reason that we should be exporting all our manufacturing jobs, let alone cutting non-defense related research at universities and in the private sector. Defense spending isn’t the only culprit (a host of misguided economic policies are also to blame) but it’s a major culprit as we continue to invent new enemies.

    The only other thing I’d say is that it’s not entirely the professional military’s fault–the lobbyists and politicians are equally if not more guilty. The generals didn’t want to invade Iraq–the chickenhawks did.

    Anyway, just my two cents on an excellent article.

  5. Attributing this problem to the Pentagon, instead of to the political leadership, is a glaring error that greatly impedes understanding of the issues he tries to write about.

    I don’t know why you keep linking to him as if he is some kind of insightful expert on military matters. He is to military affairs what the average internet libertarian is to tax policy: they don’t know anything except that they’re against some stuff, but they use enough big words to fool people who also don’t know anything about the field into thinking they are well-informed.

  6. For example, the Pentagon was very strongly against involvement in the Libya War. This was widely reported, with Secretary of Defense (and career Pentagon figure) Robert Gates making public statements against involvement all over the media. Obama overruled the military establishment when he decided in favor of supporting the international action.

    These are not well-informed people. They are not reality-based. They’re happy to merely check their guts and assume that the facts of every situation just gotta be what their pre-determined narrative predicts they would be.d

    • Would you consider Andrew Bacevich (US Army Ret.) to be sufficiently reality based? His arguments may be more damning than Engelhardt’s, because as a real conservative he fears the same things that Eisenhower feared in 1960 – the destruction of the civilian laws, economy, and governmental legitimacy by the worship of the military and its solutions.

      • Bacevich is excellent. He definitely knows his stuff.

        I don’t always share his positions, because I bring a different ideological viewpoint, but his arguments are always, from what I’ve seen, very solidly grounded in a deep understanding of the situations he writes about.

    • Robert Gates made a selective point; citing MacArthur, that sending land armies into Asia or the Middle East was folly. In the Libya case the politicians actually seem to have followed his advice, restricting American involvement to peripheral action; unlike GW Bush, who relied on the advice of those involved in the Project for a New American Century, almost all of whom were from the political world and lacked military experience. Gates, judging that US forces were depleted after Iraq and Afghanistan, was arguing against those in the pentagon who wanted to insert forces and he seems to have carried the day. PS. Your critique that Engelhardt ignored the primary role of the political realm would have been more effective had you refrained from using silly name calling in your final paragraph.

      • Gates went further than that, arguing that there was no important American interest in Libya that would justify any intervention.

  7. Tom and Nick are always great to read at the Dispatch. This is no exception.

    I don’t think this article plumbs the depths of the militarization of our foreign policy.
    The fertile minds at the Air War College have endowed us with the “Interagency” concept, under which all aspects of foreign policy have to be coordinated with the appropriate Regional Combatant Commander. This (AWC) is the institution that gave us the “Centers of Gravity” and “Revolution in Military Affairs” in the 1970’s that looked like terrorizing civilian populations to me.
    When I was last there, “Interagency” was the hot topic at the National Defense U.

    In Afghanistan, “Interagency” means that the diplomats at State have to show how their activities will leverage military power in the advancement of military objectives. For USAID, it means that all assistance, stabilization and development efforts must serve as adjuncts to the kinetic operations of the local/ Regional Command. Doesn’t take a clinical sociologist to see how that affects local indigenous populations.

    The “Interagency,” more than anything else, explains our failure in A’stan. It conveys that the US is in Afghanistan solely for US benefit. The locals may be ignorant, but they ain’t dumb.

    • Nits to pick with details in the article:

      **** While we currently DO have 11 active nuke carriers,
      USS Enterprise is on her Victory Lap, circling the globe on a farewell tour before being decommissioned in December. She isn’t intended for combat operations, only for information operations.
      Of the remaining 10, at least 2 or 3 are always in a long term “availability” for overhaul or refueling, and 1 or 2 more are either recovering from deployment, or preparing for one. So, at any given time, there are only 5 – 7 active Carrier Task Forces or Carrier Strike Groups ready for combat. With 1 always on station off Pakistan to provide air support in A’stan, 2 dedicated to provocations in the Strait of Hormuz, 1 in the Eastern Med, 1 in the North or South China Sea, and 1 off each US coast, we appear to be short a couple hulls. Secondary missions elsewhere (S.E.Asia, S. Pacific, S. America, Africa and disaster response) are curtailed. Alternately, we may have taken on too much mission.
      The USS Gerald Ford, Enterprise’s replacement, won’t be commissioned until 2015 at the earliest, nor ready for deployment until at least 2016.

      **** The President has at his disposal a third “private army.” Despite a prohibition in US law, and a repudiation in the Declaration of Independence, the US now relies on multiple armies of Mercenaries to implement covert foreign policy initiatives. Dr. Cole won’t allow comments on such forces in Syria, but they are also employed in Yemen, Somalia, Honduras, Colombia, trans-Sahel, and who knows where else.

      **** While US drone strikes appear to contravene international law, it would be easy for the Pakistani Air Force to shoot them down. See video of the drone shoot-down over Negev last week. They don’t. Ergo, the PAF tacitly permits these missions.

      **** If the President’s extrajudicial killings by drones of people he doesn’t like were law enforcement activities, they would clearly be illegal. But he characterizes them as military actions on the global battlefield, where all’s fair. The implication is that we are at war with the entire rest of the world. And maybe even the enemies of the President within our own borders.

      • Reviewing my post immediately above, one glaring omission jumped out:
        doesn’t the US plan to use Carrier Strike Groups in the coming battles over the last terrestrial frontiers at the poles ?
        As long as we’re dependent on manned aircraft, carriers can’t economically operate in Arctic or Antarctic theaters. I don’t understand why, exactly.
        I think that is a contingency mission for the carrier AFTER the Gerald Ford, the PCU (CVN-79)USS John F. Kennedy, due in 2020 or later (Romney hints he would pour billions into accelerating that.)

      • The implication is that we are at war with the entire rest of the world.

        No, the implication is that the enemy with whom we are at war – al Qaeda – is located in several different countries.

        Are they not located in several different countries?

      • “If the President’s extrajudicial killings by drones of people he doesn’t like were law enforcement activities, they would clearly be illegal. But he characterizes them as military actions on the global battlefield, where all’s fair. The implication is that we are at war with the entire rest of the world.”

        The above-cited statement is just plain silly. The President does not authorize drones to kill “people he doesn’t like,” and there is no “implication that we are at war with the entire rest of the world.” Drones are targeting a terrorist leadership that has openly planned and committed attacks against the United States and U.S. interests.

        The drones are primarily targeting Al-Qaeda leaders and operatives, as well as those of affiliated terrorist organizations, in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia because that is where they are operating. One would have to be paranoid and delusional to suggest that that implies “we are at war with the entire rest of the world.”

        • Why hasn’t the U.S. targeted other “terrorist”
          groups like Hezbollah, the IRA, the P.L.O. or the Sendero Illuminoso with drone assassinations?

          Who drew up the extrajudicial assassination approval system?

          How was the system approved?

          What legal grounds is it based on?

          What burden of proof is required before one is deemed worthy of the “hit list”?

        • “Why hasn’t the U.S. targeted other “terrorist”
          groups like Hezbollah, the IRA, the P.L.O. or the Sendero Illuminoso with drone assassinations?”

          Because they are not planning and executing attacks against the United States.

        • Why hasn’t the U.S. targeted other “terrorist”
          groups like Hezbollah, the IRA, the P.L.O. or the Sendero Illuminoso with drone assassinations?

          Because Congress hasn’t invoked its war powers against them, as it did against al Qaeda and their Taliban allies in the September 2001 AUMF.

          Who drew up the extrajudicial assassination approval system?

          How was the system approved?

          Base-stealing terminology aside, the answer is, the same people who draw up the target-selection process in any war.

          What legal grounds is it based on?

          The invocation of Congress’s war powers in the September 2001 AUMF – that is, their declaration of war against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

          What burden of proof is required before one is deemed worthy of the “hit list”?

          The same as in any other war – although there does seem to be an even higher standard in play here.

    • The “interagency” concept was not hatched at the Air War College. No doubt it is taught and discussed at the Air War College, as it is at all the service war colleges, including the National War College. Likewise at the State Department and the various foreign affairs agencies it is emphasized and goes by various tags, including the “Whole of Government” approach. It has always been around, though, in one form or another. It simply has gained greater credence as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

      You seem to think the interagency process subordinates the civilian foreign affairs agencies to the Pentagon. It does not. Your statement that “all aspects of foreign policy have to be coordinated with the appropriate Combatant Commander” is simply untrue, as is your statement that “In Afghanistan, “interagency” means that diplomats at State have to show how their activities will leverage military power in the advancement of military objectives.”

      The military, State Department, and all U.S. government agencies closely coordinate their activities, of course; but the military does not set policy, and the State Department and other agencies most definitely are not subordinated to the military, in Afghanistan or anywhere else. And believe me, our Embassies in Asia (for example) do not “coordinate all aspects of foreign policy” with the Pacific Command’s Combatant Commander. When it is necessary to coordinate their activities, they coordinate as equals in the implementation of policy set by the White House in Washington, DC. That is how the interagency process works in all aspects of foreign policy and in all geographic areas of operation.

      • Yeah, the military does not set policy. Tell that to the Vietnamese. Tell that to the taxpayers who cough up a lung paying for F-35s that will never see combat any more than the F-22 has. And who “sets policy” in Notagainistan, where “the front” and the Doctrine of the Day are moving targets, and gee, who was that general who was so really smart and wrote the book on the ineluctably failed tactics of COIN/nation building that pretty much set the policy that you say we don’t, or is it ought not to try, to do? Any number of weapon systems with their coteries and flacks in the military, now they don’t kind of nudge “policy” in the direction of actions that involve procurement and deployment and replacement of those weapons, do they?

        As to drone use, YOUR statement is the silly one. Hiding behind grammatical quibbles and pretending to all kinds of deep knowledge of what is clearly a violation of national sovereignties, among other really good reasons why it is “bad policy,” and ought to make an “American” who has the interests of the whole country, not just the neocon few and the Great Gamers, just vomit. Your repeated claim that FATA leaders attending a jirga, and their neighbors who dare to come to the aid of the survivors of the first warhead, who are “double-tapped” by Hellfires are “terrorist leaders [who] openly planned and committed attacks against the United States” is simply self-justifying BS, that is not even mitigated by the sly addition of that meaningless phrase “and U.S. interests.”

        You are all about demanding precision and definition and citations and all that on the part of other people here. How about listing how people who are being Hellfired are “attacking the US,” and more especially just what do you mean by that phrase “U.S. interests”?

        People who think the way you do will be the death of all of us. All the while being so cock-sure they know it all, and are carrying out the plans of the Almighty or Manifest Destiny or some such crap. Or are cynically suckering the rest of us, every chance they get, into swallowing their deceptions and illusions and delusions that have gotten all of us into this imperial dead-end death spiral.

        But once again, buddy, not to worry. The Juggernaut you are riding won’t be deflected a tiny fraction of a radian by plowing over the bodies of the rest of us…

        • Yeah, the military does not set policy. Tell that to the Vietnamese.

          How about we tell it to the Libyans, who were rescued from massacre by their dictator because President Obama overruled the advice he was getting from the Pentagon?

          Tell that to the taxpayers who cough up a lung paying for F-35s that will never see combat any more than the F-22 has.

          Funny thing about the F-22: the project was cut off by this President, again against the advice coming out of the Pentagon. Just like the missile defense bases in Eastern Europe. Just like the Future Combat Systems program. Just like the abandonment of the Iraqi bases. For an agency that sets national policy, they sure seem to be getting stiff-armed a lot lately. You know, it’s almost as if the Vietnam War ended four decades ago, and this isn’t Groundhog Day.

          And who “sets policy” in Notagainistan

          Of course the military sets daily policy in a war zone. That isn’t the question.

          All of that said, of course the uniformed military has a great deal of influence over policy, but it is not wise to overstate how much influence, to the detriment of recognizing the agency of the political leadership. Elections have consequences.

  8. Don’t just mention the Pentagon and the CIA.

    Look at the entire U.S.intelligence community, which includes the National Security Agency(who is almost never discussed – even though its budget and personnel dwarfs that of the CIA),the Defense Intelligence Agency, DEA Intelligence, Marshals Service Intelligence, Army Intelligence, FBI Counterintelligence, Office of Naval Intelligence(the oldest federal intelligence group in America – founded in 1882), IRS Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, and the police intelligence divisions attached to state and local police departments who have relationships to the above-listed federal agencies and you have a massive covert network of operatives with billions of dollars of annual funding that exerts significant influence over domestic and international affairs.

    A good reference source for this history is the 1973 book by L.Fletcher Prouty, “The Secret Team”. The same year, the groundbreaking book “The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence” was published and was the impetus of the impanelling of the Church Committee, which revealed abuses of U.S. intelligence and resulted in a contempt of Congress conviction for former CIA Director Richard Helms.

    The entirety of America’s intelligence presence before the beginning of WWII were a small room of file cabinets in the State Department. The U.S. following WWII took the lesson of the USSR and Nazi Germany and passed the National Security Act of 1947 which established the basic framework of the U.S. civilian intelligence community.

  9. The wars can go on autopilot, because the people are on autopilot. For example, their is zero transparency about how decisions are made about drone strikes. Nonetheless, we all believe what we are told (the drones just kill the worst of those who are trying to kill us). People generally don’t want to think about the conflicts their military is involved in, and our politicians are happy to provide simplified stories.

  10. America has no private military by design within the Constitution that allowed no “quartering of troops, and no standing army.” That means that the military is used when necessary to defend America, not to cultivate a military-industrial complex always in demand because of President’s personal desires.

    Standing armies ready for self protection cannot occur overnight but neither must they be allowed to dictate the pay and conditions under which they work. Voluntary armies were convened to solve that problem and keep the military from becoming its own tyrant, or at the behest of a Congressional or Presidential tyrant.

    The military has suffered the same fate as the Congress, seduced and bloated by pay from a time when voluntary service was considered an honor, now reduced to bribery for performance – or worse, their own tyrants who hold captive the American people and their tax dollar while most of them pay little or nothing, and do insider trading on the side to become wealthy.

    The hypocrisy of how we do what we think is good government is positively amazing.

  11. Where in the Constitution does it say that the US has an eternal mandate to keep troops and installations in 130+ countries, maintain enough nuclear weapons to destroy the human race many times over, or slaughter anyone who is a threat to become a threat to become a threat to all of the above?

    Amazing that Justice Scalia and the entire right side of the political spectrum have nothing to say about “original intent” here, isn’t it? While Democrats who can properly say that the Constitution has had to evolve on both domestic and foreign policy should still be forced to explain why the evolution that was necessitated by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union didn’t evolve into anything very different after they disappeared and were replaced by guys hiding in caves. Re: John Quincy Adams and America as “dictatress of the world”.

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