As much as everyone, especially America’s “friends” in Europe, are always throwing irritating stones at America, the US is still the only force in the world that can step in and try to actually DO something when things get out of hand. The US military is everyone’s working dog on a leash, because America is the only power in the west that is actually willing to risk large numbers of her soldiers in very dangerous situations. This usually boils down to professional American ground soldiers – the world’s working dogs who deal with other humans face to face, up close and personal, and almost always at their very worst and most terrifying moment. The following is very basic stuff, but it’s astonishing how much of it has been perverted into utter nonsense over the past ten years by abject ignorance, self-serving ulterior motives and really asinine politics in both the US and Europe.
People can talk all they want about fancy high-tech weapons of war, but such toys are mostly useless in unconventional warfare, in wars that do not involve great military powers battling each other with ships and tanks and planes over vast expanses of territory. I am a member of the most powerful conventional military force in the history of the world – a force that has been fighting for a decade an enemy who does not possess one single ship, plane, tank, missile or drone, an enemy who uses 2,000 year old tactics with nothing but hand-carried weapons and home-made bombs. In the end, all war boils down to humans engaging humans face to face. And when only one side has such a tremendous advantage in conventional big toys, no wars will ever be fought using most of them. For example, the US Air Force has the most advanced super-high-tech jet fighters in the world. They have always been at least 20 years ahead of anything else out there. But no American jet “fighter” pilot has ever actually fought anyone for a half century. Why? Because no one is stupid enough to challenge those flying super-computers. The US Air Force uses them as incredibly expensive bombers – something that could probably be done just as effectively with cruise missiles or artillery pieces. The jet “fighters” are a deterrent .. because they exist. In today’s real world, they are most useful because they can land on relatively small aircraft carrier decks. Those decks enable the jets to be launched from, and land on, a piece of defended America that can be easily moved all around the globe at will.
When one side has all the big-bang weapons, wars will only occur one-on-one among small groups of humans on the ground, between soldiers and fighters using weapons they can carry around in their hands. Unconventional warfare is The Great Equalizer. That kind of warfare means that the winner will be the side that knows best how to use, not their toys, but their brains. That kind of warfare makes individual bravery the most valuable resource on Earth, more valuable than all the ships and planes and tanks anyone can amass.
The US military has lost more than twice as many women in battle since 2002 than any continental European country, including Germany and France, has lost men, even though American women are barred from combat jobs. That one fact should tell you all you need to know about who carries the world’s toughest burden. US Army and Marine ground soldiers in specialties that comprise less than 10% of US military personnel have incurred over 98% of combat casualties since the latest wars began in 2001; they are primarily in infantry (including “re-purposed” armor and artillery people), special ops, combat medics, some MPs and a few others who do their thing on the ground, up close and personal, where the bad guys live – with little more than a rifle in their arsenal. Another fact to keep in mind is that less than one-half of one-percent (0.5%) of Americans today have any credible military experience at all. An awful lot of people anymore like to talk of things about which they have absolutely no real understanding, so unless you’re talking to a professional American Regular Army officer, take everything they say with a grain of salt.
Conventional warfare depends very greatly on powerful equipment like tanks and planes and ships. In the American context, this type of warfare is very aggressive, very fast, very fluid, rather “clean” and forward-leaning. The US conventional military projects itself very powerfully very far forward over great distances for lightning attack that overwhelms and destroys enemy forces as quickly as possible. Conventional warfare is all about killing people and destroying things, fast. Modern practice involves even going around, by-passing, some forces to concentrate surgical attack at the jugular vein, to defeat forces by cutting off the head first with minimum losses elsewhere. The 1991 Persian Gulf War and the first six weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are good examples of American conventional warfare; those two examples employed the same strategy and tactics that the US military would have used against the conventional Warsaw Pact in Europe. In 2003 some big enemy units in Iraq were simply left on the battlefield untouched because it wasn’t necessary to waste time destroying them when it was more effective to simply cut them off and isolate them from the rest of the Iraqi military. When the shooting stopped, when the command structure had been destroyed, when the enemy could no longer mount a coordinated effort, we then went back and rounded up those isolated units without much effort. The whole idea was to move so fast that the commanders of those field units didn’t even know the Americans had already gone past them, usually in the night. Those units that were by-passed on the battlefield were lucky. When a military force is in fast and fluid motion, its combat emphasis is primarily offensive, since the rapid motion offers enemy forces little time to study and attack largely unknown targets. US military forces in conventional mode can move so fast and powerfully that they can incur minimal casualties of their own; it’s much harder to hit a rapidly moving target.
Unconventional warfare is almost the exact opposite. It is far more dependent on ground soldiers, far less so on heavy potent equipment. The emphasis shifts much more to working with people than working with equipment. Unconventional warfare is usually very messy and very slow. It is also very manpower-intensive. In the American context, ground forces are deployed in a much more defensive stance that is static, backward-leaning, and more plodding (even if very small operations take place with significant speed). Most of the same principles apply whether the specific type of unconventional mission is military occupation, stability operations, counterinsurgency, guerrilla warfare, peacekeeping, reconstruction, etc.. The US military tries to secure territory and hold it. It then becomes a matter of helping people and building things. The US Army goes into a humanitarian, security, construction and training role with indigenous people while holding off and/or killing any enemy fighters who show up as a secondary part of the main mission. We want the locals to be able pick up where we leave off and defend themselves as quickly as possible. This requires a rather developed understanding of the local culture, language and customs. “Nation building” is unconventional warfare (of the “limited war” or “low intensity” variety) that involves all its many aspects and facets; it is very complex and slow stuff, usually fraught with very considerable personal risk on the part of the soldiers handed such a difficult static mission. When a military force is rather stationary, its combat emphasis shifts from offense to defense, because forces in a stationary status offer enemy forces time to study and attack well known targets, usually with hit and run tactics. US military forces in unconventional mode are far more vulnerable to attack, and the casualties they incur will inevitably rise. Static forces require significantly more personnel, personnel used in defending those personnel engaged in the operational mission while also trying to eliminate widely dispersed enemy fighters trying to disrupt that mission.
“Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a talented carpenter to build one.” – Sam Rayburn, who served as US Speaker of the House for 18 years between 1940 and 1961.
Even given the technological prowess of the modern US military, all wars still begin and end with very complex humans on the ground. War is the inescapable evidence that forward thinking and competent diplomacy have failed (or, of course, that diplomacy wasn’t forward thinking or competent to begin with). At that point those civilians who have failed need to step aside and not interfere with the military. Killing people and destroying things is easy; any moron can do it. Assisting people where they live and building worthwhile stuff that will last is really hard; only dedicated brains willing to risk their own lives can do it. But in dangerous static environments both have to be done while also protecting those doing it; this is what makes unconventional warfare (“nation-building”, etc.) so very challenging and personnel-intensive.
Most Americans have a view of “troops” as constituting an inexhaustible supply of inanimate widgets that the factory will keep spitting out as long as they’re needed and that those “troops” will be able to do whatever job that’s required. (The most important thing to such Americans is that “troops” are “someone else”.) The number of military people required for the mission, as well as the length of time needed to complete the mission, makes most types of unconventional warfare very costly and, for the most part, thankless. Conventional and unconventional warfare each require very different training, equipment and skill sets, plus entirely different ways of thinking. World War II saw the fluid conventional combat army steadily replaced as it moved forward by a whole new and very different static unconventional occupation army that fell in behind and filled the spaces of a very different kind of need. The first army was engaged in killing people and destroying stuff; the second army was engaged in trying to assist people pick up the pieces and arrange them in a better way forward. Those two separate and very different kinds of expert armies required a truly enormous investment in planning, preparation, personnel, money and brains. But it was, and remains, the only correct way to do it. There are no quick fixes, easy answers or short-cuts. General and Secretary of State Colin Powell was absolutely correct: “If you break it, you own it.” And if you own a broken country, you have to repair it so it can function in a way that is an improvement over the previous way, so that your effort and cost in breaking and owning it will not be wasted. If asked, Powell would also have said that you cannot “win” an unconventional war unless the role of your military forces is assisting the local people to take the lead in defending themselves; it is just not possible to win an unconventional war with conventional forces and tactics alone.
The smartest thing that an inferior force can do when faced with attack by a superior conventional force is to disperse, revert to small-unit unconventional warfare, to employ guerrilla, terror and similar unconventional tactics among the larger civilian population, to foment chaotic insurgency, to exploit the inherent weaknesses of the conventional force and force it to work against itself. This approach immediately reduces the effectiveness of stand-off conventional air, naval and artillery power. If the larger conventional force does not also shift its approach to unconventional warfare, it will have enormous difficulty prevailing, especially in an environment in which the enemy force is indigenous and dispersed among huge populations you are trying to win over. (This strategy has been repeated throughout history and has been faced by US forces in places like the Philippines in the 19th century, Vietnam in the 20th century and Iraq in the 21st century.)
Another important aspect of unconventional warfare is that it requires many years of very dangerous effort. The US military now tries to rotate its ground soldier personnel in and out of such wars in 12-month to 15-month tours. This may be beneficial to US soldier morale, but it places them at a distint disadvantage to enemy fighters who remain in place for the duration, while becoming ever more expert at what they do, on their own turf. When you do the arithmetic, you begin to realize that such rotations require an enormous number of people in order to maintain the numbers required of the mission. (How many cops are needed to keep continuous surreptitious surveillance on a single person for, say, two weeks? Three, each in 8-hour shifts, is the absolute minimum. But the actual number over two weeks will probably approach twenty – to keep an eye on just one person. Math is a bitch.) This, in turn, raises the need for extremely expert US unconventional warfare personnel. It also increases the need to immediately focus the main aspect of the mission on training and equipping friendly local forces so as to enable them to defend themselves with steadily increasing effectiveness.
Then there is the vague “tour” trick. All military personnel talk about “tours”. But just how long is a “tour”? Well, it depends on your military service branch. The vast majority of the US Regular Army (RA, “active duty”, “standing army”) today is made up of front line conventional combat arms (infantry, armor and artillery) units and personnel – that are expected to do double-duty as unconventional fighters, too. During “normal” times, most Regular Army unaccompanied (without family) combat zone deployments are for 12 months, and soldiers have about two years between deployments to train, re-equip and rest in the US. In 2007, the Army increased RA deployments to 15 months and kept home-time to one year in order to send and maintain an additional 25,000 soldiers for the “surge” in Iraq. Similar adjustments continued for the 2010 “surge” of an additional 33,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. It dropped back to 12 months in 2013. Over the past 13 years most Regular Army combat arms soldiers have served more time in combat than it took to wage World War II (45 months). Army National Guard and Reservist tours are usually for nine months, with an additional three months for pre-deployment training in the US. US Navy and Marine Corps tours are usually for six months (the typical length of a sea tour). Air Force combat zone tours can vary from 4 to 8 months. Quite obviously, despite all the whiz-bank high tech toys in the Air Force and Navy inventory, despite all the Army’s tanks and guns, standing army infantry personnel carry by far the major burden in today’s wars, just as they did in a very similar situation in Vietnam. These are soldiers like those who fought the US Revolutionary War, the US Civil War – centuries ago.
Most of this was of little or no concern when the US Army relied on very large numbers of “expendable” single young male draftees. But now that most soldiers are older, married and with children, the combat zone tours place considerable additional pressures on them which frequently make their way to the media back home. This is especially true when soldiers are employed in static missions, with their inherent periods of dull routine. (Recent Army studies indicate that, for such a standing force, most pressures begin to become evident in the 9-12 month period, so perhaps a 9-month tour, with a three year down-time in between, is the ideal for ground soldiers. But Congress has not authorized standing Army strength levels anywhere near what would allow such practices, so we just keep using them over and over again until they break.) Under such circumstances, the pressures on such professional volunteer soldiers can become so great that they simply opt to terminate their careers early, steadily eroding the professionalism of the remaining force and placing ever greater pressure on the Army to recruit (not draft) the kind of men needed from an ever less willing and qualified public. And infantry soldiers are the foundation source of Rangers, Delta, Special Forces; as basic infantry degrades, so do the more specialized infantry specialties.
If you want your military to play “World Cop” and run around engaging in all sorts of elective static humanitarian and “human rights” missions, engaging in all the many aspects of unconventional warfare (including counter-insurgency and “nation-building”), then the first thing you have to do is very significantly raise the numbers of ground soldier experts maintained in your standing professional military.
The most important nifty “space-age technology” used by the Army ground soldier is the same that it’s always been – his rifle and body armor. The best combat support he and his buddies get comes from their own Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, plus, of course, their own combat medics. (They also now finally have their own small short-range tactical surveillance drones.) And the guys who do all the heavy lifting, the Army combat arms soldier, are the guys least known by the public. Has anyone seen any fawning movie cameras or TV journalists following around members of the Special Forces, Delta, Rangers? How many grunts of the 10th Mountain Division, the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, the 1st, 3rd and 4th Infantry divisions – today’s Centurion-led legions – have you seen up there on the big screen? Their US posts are mostly closed to the public, and cameras are not welcome; these men prefer to do their talking on the battlefield, and rest while home. The publicity sought and given to the glamorous others is what “balances” out in the public’s mind what those others do … with the guys who actually do the hard stuff, and for a whole lot longer. Today everyone rides on the back of the lowly grunt.
Whenever Americans want their military to scurry off and attack some entity somewhere, they should always have ready a very intelligent answer to, “What comes next?” Throughout the 1990s, many Americans heaped all sorts of criticisms on President Bush I for “not finishing the job” with Iraq after the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Despite the fact that the mission, mandate, force structure and coalition in 1991 were all intended solely to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait, these people wanted the US military to continue on to Baghdad and “remove Saddam from power”, with no consideration of what comes next. Twelve years later, with a very different mission, mandate, force structure and coalition, the US military did, in six weeks of 2003, remove Saddam from power. But six years of war later, there was little criticism of President Bush I’s decision to end things where he did. America is literally full of “military experts” who simply don’t know what they’re talking about and apply far too simplistic “thinking”. Killing people and destroying things is easy; any dumb brute can do it. Assisting people and building worthwhile stuff that will last is really hard; this requires a lot of truly dedicated professionals. Just behold the colossal mess left behind after eight months of the unprovoked bombing of Libya when the pansy bombers were unwilling to send ground forces in to try to fix what they broke.
And Americans seem to lack the patience needed for “hard”, especially when their sons are steadily dying on the battlefield year after year. They also do not want to make the investment necessary in professional personnel, preferring instead to put their money into nifty machines. Americans are all about easy answers, short cuts and quick fixes. The hard truth is that the United States will not remain a single super-power forever. China, following America’s own playbook of the last century, will eventually rise to challenge America’s status with its own conventional super-power military in this century. Until that happens, America can retain its conventional super-power status in the world with perhaps 75% of the military hardware and 100% of the personnel it has today in its Regular forces, after which it will have to adjust to whatever is presented by a viable opposing super-power. But the irony of a single conventional super-power is that the wars in which it will find itself engaged will require a very different force structure, one able to engage with strength and competence in all the many aspects of unconventional warfare. And for that reality, America today has more than four times as much hardware as needed, but less than one-third of the personnel required in its professional forces. And almost all of that huge personnel shortfall is in ground soldiers. So, unless the nation is willing to fund and maintain the proper force structure required for today’s realities, all wars fought will take a really great toll on the lives of its infantrymen, armed with little more than a rifle.
“Cold” War Background
Mid-east oil had been so critically important to the US and NATO during the “Cold” War that the US military even had major war plans, depending on various Soviet scenarios and US time constraints, to keep that oil from falling into Soviet hands, with titles such as “OpPlan 2001: Plan To Die” – wherein major forces (such as the 82nd Airborne Division) would be very rapidly committed, mainly via air drop, with little or no support, solely to delay the Soviet advance until that force was completely obliterated on the battlefield. Drop two whole divisions into the desert in such circumstances, and you have sacrificed 50,000 of your own best men – solely to slow down an enemy advance and give other forces time to get organized. And, yes, the US military did, in fact, have such plans at the ready. But they also required local forces sufficiently strong enough to assist in slowing down a Soviet advance. Of strategic necessity then, to assist with such plans, it was therefore critical to have some modicum of dependency on regimes controlling that oil. This led of necessity, rather than of moral desire, to assisting such regimes to maintain their authority and lean toward the West. Global realities often made it agonizingly necessary to pretend not to see the atrocities such regimes often unleashed on their own people. Once the “Cold” War ended, once the Warsaw Pact was gone, the US then had a moral responsibility to right such past wrongs as best it could. But instead, as after the Russians left Afghanistan, the ascendant Baby Boomers did nothing but go home, leaving the messes their parents had created and supported in the Muslim World during the “Cold” War to fester on their own throughout the 1990s. This, obviously, was a major mistake, undertaken by those Baby Boomers in Washington and Europe with zero understanding of history, zero sense of ethics, and zero concern for the future.
When the Warsaw Pact imploded, there was only one thought in the minds of America’s Baby Boomer political “leaders” – to gut the US military as fast as possible and use that enormous “Peace Dividend” for other purposes. In Congress, it was a Baby Boomer Feeding Frenzy. They ALL wanted to grab as much as they could from the hated Defense Department and use all that money to buy as many votes as possible. The Pentagon was firing soldiers so fast and in such huge numbers that the military even had to effect a “stop-loss” policy to retain on active duty enough soldiers to prosecute the on-going Persian Gulf War. As soon as that war was successfully concluded, the firing re-commenced in earnest, and almost no one in the larger society even noticed it.
At the end of the “Cold” War, around 1990, American civilian political leaders made some very major errors in strategic thinking. Seeing that Europe was now free of the threat of Soviet communist domination, many in Washington concluded that “history had ended” (a view widely shared throughout self-centered Old Europe), and that all the US military henceforth needed to do was to be fully capable of defending America against any conventional threat that might rise in the future to challenge US military might. It was a great error based in no small part on Eurocentrism (elitist academics, foreign affairs specialists and diplomats thinking that only Europe mattered) along with the arrogance that comes with the sudden realization that America was now the single superpower in the world. Based on such “thinking”, the decision was made to reduce the US military by almost half, to make most of the reductions in soldiers while devoting the majority of remaining resources to maintaining a powerful conventional military (ships, planes, tanks, missiles, etc.). Equipment won out over people, in a really big way. (Manufacturing that equipment also provides jobs for civilians, who in turn vote for politicians who ensure their jobs.)
Over several years the US military budget was reduced by almost 50% as almost a million soldiers were fired and dumped on the street, the vast majority of whom had been devoted to important requirements of unconventional warfare, including counterinsurgency, civil affairs, military occupation, construction and engineering, psychological warfare, human intelligence, special operations, linguists, governance, military training, peacekeeping, etc.. What rudimentary military capability that remained in these fields was mostly shifted to the Reserves and National Guard. Those ground forces that were retained in the Regular Army were almost all potent conventional combat units like the 4th Infantry Division – powerful units that were all about killing people and destroying things. The Baby Boomer “thinking” seemed almost universal: Since the US was no longer faced with an opposing global ideology like Soviet communism, there was no longer a need to win “hearts and minds” among large foreign populations to enable them to resist such an ideology; the United States was thus no longer in the business of “nation building”. If an unforeseen extraordinary need arose beyond existing uniformed capabilities, the Defense Department could just contract commercial companies to provide it. America took the savings from those massive cuts and devoted them to domestic wants that had been on the backburner for a half century while the US military defended the world against Soviet communist aggression.
At the same time, both State and USAID were given significant extra spaces and funding to enable those agencies to conduct any minor “nation-building” that might need doing in the future. The primary method envisioned for this was having the bureaucrat spaces manage contractor companies actually engaged in “nation-building” activities. In the future, the US foreign affairs arena – Defense, State, USAID, CIA, etc. – was to go very heavily into as-needed commercial contracting. And so it did; as Defense atrophied, the other agencies ballooned with “off-the-books” commercial contractors. Commercial contractors, of course, provide jobs among the larger civilian community, jobs that exist outside the government’s responsibility for and to its own employees.
What everyone overlooked, however, was the fact that less than a decade after the West had put one opposing global ideology behind it – Soviet communism – there arose a whole new opposing global ideology – Islamic militant extremism – to pose an equally grave threat. And that new ideology, which “no one could have foreseen”, had been sitting there simmering all along. None of the Baby Boomer experts and politicians that American citizens employ to look and think ahead saw that new ideology, or recognized it for what it was. Many STILL don’t (or don’t want to). Just witness a 2014 statement by CIA Director John Brennan, who replaced General Petraeus, that remained focused on isolated groups and their leaders while completely disparaging the concept and potency of its ideology. His comments, while reflecting those of the Obama White House, are directly opposed to those of DIA Director Army General Flynn, who has a far more objective understanding of human reality. The Brennan view results in an attrition “strategy” that is focused on killing true believers. Worse, after ten years of this strategy nothing has changed except the ideology has spread wider, but they keep doing the same thing (and expecting a different outcome every time?).
Unfortunately, that 1990s “Great Peace Dividend” “thinking” overlooked three import facts:
One, Europe was NOT all that mattered in the world. There was a vast portion of the planet that had been kept quiet and sidelined all those years while the US kept the Warsaw Pact at bay, and that part of the world was populated by many hundreds of millions of pissed-off Muslims. Throughout the “Cold” War, the Muslim world was important to American strategy mainly because the US (and Europe) needed a reliable source of abundant oil, including oil to keep the huge conventional US military machine running (while also denying it to our enemy’s machine), so the main objective in the Mid-east had been to maintain “stability” there while checking the Warsaw Pact elsewhere. At the end of the “Cold” War, those Muslims were still pissed off, and some of them were pushing a new ideology of extremist militant Islam. But we just went home to play with our toys and luxuriate in our narcissism.
The second great error was a matter of very simple logic: the only way possible to challenge a single global conventional superpower is to challenge it unconventionally – with unconventional strategy, personnel and equipment. The mere existence of a single American conventional superpower guaranteed that any future wars for at least the next half century would be unconventional. So firing all those soldiers was the exact opposite of rational thinking. For the past ten years of the “War On Terrorism”, for example, the very safest place to be has been in a US Air Force uniform, safer even than civilian defense contractors providing support functions for US ground forces. During all that carnage, our enemy has done a very good job of staying even with us, even though this enemy does not possess one single ship, plane, tank, missile or drone. This enemy is 100% unconventional.
The third error was in overlooking the fact that you do “nation-building” in order to get a secure environment, not the reverse. Civilians engaged in “nation-building” need to be protected while they’re working their “magic” in what are usually very deadly environments, and this requires huge number of soldiers doing nothing but playing defense for very long periods. Military people can protect themselves while engaged in unconventional warfare, but civilians, including commercial contractors, can not. Civilian personnel doing “nation-building” require even more military personnel to provide protection – a secure environment – than do military personnel doing “nation-building”. Thus, this approach is even more personnel-intensive. It also requires the construction of huge “Little America” fortified bunker complexes to provide all the comforts of home to American civilians working in “hardship” locales and paid “hardship” bonuses. It then becomes problematic to get those very well-paid people to leave the bunkers, to work their own magic out there, and to supervise any contractors actually doing their thing out there. It’s a situation made-to-order for the waste of hundreds of billions of dollars of US taxpayer money, while accomplishing very little of lasting value.
These three great errors in “thinking” persisted throughout the 1990s, during the entire Clinton Administration. By 2001, the US military was standing there with its pants down — a conventional superpower that was fully prepared to fight the last war – against the conventional Warsaw Pact – but barely capable of engaging in the next war – one that HAD to be unconventional. In 2001 not only did the US Army not have hardly any soldiers expert in unconventional warfare, it had even discarded all the excellent 1970s manuals containing highly advanced unconventional warfare doctrine and was even in the process of closing down the world’s foremost institute for the study, and doctrine development, of unconventional warfare – the Peacekeeping Institute at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. (Closed for only a few weeks, after 9/11 the institute was immediately re-opened under a new name, and then struggled for the next six years to find people adequately expert to staff it.) Fortunately a few guys, like General Petraeus and General McChrystal, had studied the old Army manuals; it fell to them to figure out what had to be done with the resources available.
Another, fourth, consideration in the “thinking” behind the huge military cuts at the end of the “Cold” War was the existence of a US with a professional all-volunteer military that could be tasked to wage wars of little or no consequence to the nation’s security or its citizens. The professional Regular military is a rather isolated full-time society, with its own communities, language, history, standards, schools, police, hospitals, etc.. Transferring many critical spaces to the National Guard and Reserves, the thinking went, would require the calling up of these part-time people to support any future wars. This, in turn, would help ensure that the American public remained engaged in their nation’s wars. After all, if communities saw their police, fire, rescue, government, mechanical, construction, and other important services understaffed because of military duty, plus dead and maimed soldiers coming home in public (rather than to closed military bases), Americans would soon start demanding an accounting from their elected representatives. This thinking, too, turned out to be flawed: Americans don’t really care that much about their nation’s wars, regardless of their impact on local services, or to “someone else” – as long as the wars don’t involve “me”. Today’s professional military forces are almost unknown to the American public, which as a tendency to view them as they view people who serve part-time military roles.
So when the US Army was given the Afghanistan and Iraq missions, it had some Big Problems. Many Americans, based on some absurd ancient notion of a nobility drafting millions of dumb lower class warm-body “troops” to waste as cannon fodder, seem to have an exceedingly naïve view of professionally competent soldiers that runs, “Hire ‘em when you need ‘em; fire ‘em when you don’t.” The US military, including its combat army, is an all-volunteer highly competitive meritocracy. Of course, it’s relatively easy to fire those military people by the hundreds of thousands (no unions), but it takes a minimum of ten years to replace the level of professionalism you have fired and another five years to hand them very complex missions. (It takes even longer if you don’t have a very long established basic professional infrastructure, plus a nation and a governmental structure that’s worth defending, firmly in place like the US enjoys.) And even those periods get thrown out the window when you keep engaging in the entirely counter-productive practice of firing military people by the tens of thousands as if they were simple inanimate widgets every time there is a lull in the fighting. With that kind of “thinking”, it doesn’t take long to get to “garbage in, garbage out”.
The initial six-month US military mission in Afghanistan to route the Taliban and al Qaeda quickly “evolved” into a political “NATO” nation-building mission. With Afghanistan, the US HAD to rely very heavily on European “NATO” allies to handle the “peacekeeping” part of that evolved mission, while it used scarce special operations combat forces to go after the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Based on the way European forces are equipped, trained and staffed – mostly for static defense of borders and “peacekeeping” – this was a logical decision. Unfortunately, the Europeans, probably due to insufficient contributions of forces and political restrictions placed on them by their respective governments, proved to be not up to that task, so the mission in Afghanistan went from a one year military project to a decade-long political mess. It did teach the US military much about the utility of “NATO” in the 21st century, even if American political leaders prefer to keep those lessons to themselves.
The other necessity was to contract out a huge portion of the military mission to civilian commercial companies, few of which actually knew what they were doing, and especially in combat zones. This contingency, too, proved a failure. (See Footnote #1.) Waste levels of massive multi-billion dollar Defense, State and USAID contracts let to civilian companies in Afghanistan exceeded 60%; most of the other 40% was spent on keeping US forces supplied in the land-locked country. Americans have no concept of the astronomical cost of a gallon of gasoline by the time to travels under guard from Kuwait through the Khyber Pass to Kabul and into that Humvee’s gas tank – to provide 6 miles of travel per gallon. Huge numbers of conventional US soldiers were employed to provide the “secure working environment” needed by the bureaucrats and civilian contractors. Men trained and equipped for fluid offense suddenly had to function in static defense roles.
In Iraq, the conventional US military did a superb job during the first six weeks of entirely conventional warfare. But then ground soldiers who had trained all their military lives for very aggressive conventional warfare had to switch on a dime in a matter of hours to an entirely defensive unconventional warfare mode – without the training, equipment or expertise. That was probably one of the most remarkable military transitions-in-motion of any ground force in history, due in no small part to the discipline and leadership integral to the US Army, especially among its junior officers at the captain and major level. (During those first six weeks of conventional warfare, the US Marines also made history. The Marines have always been used for brief, short distance and very aggressive missions such as storming beaches to establish beachheads a few miles inland from shore for subsequent offloading of conventional forces and their equipment. But these Marines – the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force – very rapidly drove over 400 miles (650 km) inland, far from their supporting ships, just like a very powerful mechanized Army division, and even raced the Army neck-to-neck along a more difficult flank all the way to Baghdad. That was one of the most remarkable accomplishments in history for US Marines.) But there was still a very long road ahead. Unconventional warfare is very different from conventional warfare.
This is what a very astute Donald Rumsfeld, who had served twice as Secretary of Defense under two different presidents three decades apart, meant when he said, “You go to war with the army you have.” He said this shortly after firing a Secretary of the Army who was still pushing in 2002 a new gigantic two-vehicle artillery piece that needed its own C-5A to move around and would have had difficulty finding a proper role even in the conventional World War II. Soon after assuming his office in January 2001, Rumsfeld announced his firm intention, in view of the far too small personnel strengths imposed by Congress, to transform a US military designed mechanically to fight World War II (and a possible conventional war against the now-gone Warsaw Pact) in the last century into a lighter and more mobile force appropriate for this century considering the ground force personnel strengths authorized. But war intervened before much could be done except cancelling that asinine artillery piece. As the war in Iraq shifted from a conventional invasion to an unconventional occupation, now replete with a very potent insurgency, obvious ground force personnel weaknesses were compensated for by (1) pulling in every last Regular soldier manning trip-wire posts in over fifty locations around the globe and replacing them with National Guard and Reserve soldiers, (2) placing very heavy reliance on the repeat call-up of National Guard and Reserve soldiers, (3) re-training Army combat arms armor and artillery personnel for infantry duty, and (4) heavy reliance on civilian contractors and coalition allies wherever that was possible within their limited capabilities. Even so, as the war ground on, it was blatantly evident that the US military was very short on the most valuable resource of all – ground combat soldiers and related combat support personnel, especially those trained and equipped for unconventional warfare. (This did provide an opening for the very public Navy SEALs.) Once again, the US Marines found themselves back in the roles the had played during the Vietnam War – being used as conventional army infantry.
All sorts of immediate adaptations were necessary, and the burden fell on the infantrymen who were suddenly expected to perform simultaneously in four or five different functional areas of expertise. This was especially urgent after a civilian idiot diplomat fired the entire Iraqi army, leaving the US military with only a quarter of the number of personnel needed to secure and occupy the country. Incredibly expensive Air force and Navy “fighter” jets, with their “smart bombs”, and sea-borne Navy guided missiles, replaced Army armor and artillery pieces. (This enabled Army armor and artillery combat arms personnel to be re-trained and employed as infantry. Big tanks and artillery pieces have quite limited utility in unconventional warfare.) Plane-loads of freshly printed cash were flown in to shovel out to any civilian contractors who showed up and lay claim to their wheelbarrow portion of the “Gold Rush”. The war suddenly had a dozen different major interests all with their own “leaders” calling their own shots for their own self-interests. It was the most chaotic situation in the history of American warfare. The one question literally everyone asked was, “Who’s in charge?” The next question was, “What’s the mission?” Baby Boomer Brilliance was on stage under the floodlights in all its amazing glory, as the number of US killed and maimed soldiers rapidly piled up like cordwood. Those dead and maimed soldiers became the justification for ever more inept waste and madness. There’s Real Money to be had in America’s wars, for both contractors and bureaucrats, all justified by dead and maimed soldiers. It’s small wonder that no one wants to plan, prepare, staff, prosecute and conclude them properly behind a clear, firm and concise mission under one supreme military commander. There’s more money to be had in chaos.
So the US military prefers not to have too many problems going at once in the world. Thus, the primary interest of the United States, and especially its military, in the world is “stability”. The more stability, the less need for American soldiers. That’s the Simple Rule Of Thumb. Because America almost always has to exert her power alone, while others just sit there and watch, America can make such “stability” demands, can live with certain trade-offs, even if some “allies” don’t like it very much. America doesn’t always like some of its uglier “friends”, but that’s the price to pay when alternatives are so unpredictable, deadly and often worse. Generally, the United States supports entities that can maintain a certain stability in large populations in critical regions, especially if that stability contributes to global economic commerce, relative peace, and no regional wars. Even if we know what’s going on inside a country that is not nice, it’s one of the trade-offs that comes with being a superpower responsible for the whole world. Besides, it’s not the job of the US military to meddle in the internal affairs of any country (although our intelligence and special operations people sometimes do that on small scales when necessary).
Still, despite what one might conclude from myopic journalistic reporting, nothing in those critical world regions ever happens in a vacuum. The US military, since 1940, is ALWAYS somewhere close by off-camera and watching very carefully in every critical region. This has always been especially true, for example, of Egypt.
From a strictly strategic point of view, Egypt is critical in two major respects – (1) due to the US forcing both England and France out of the Suez Canal in 1956, Egypt controls the Suez Canal, which runs through her Sinai Desert and is critical to a major portion of global shipping, including the free flow of oil throughout the world, and especially oil en route to Europe, and (2) Egypt shares a rather long border with one of America’s closest real allies – Israel. Egypt is also a rather tenuous two-tiered society – with a small urbane, educated, cosmopolitan business-government-academic class standing over a really huge portion of the population that is dirt poor with its powerful and rather brutal domestic security police force. Holding it all together is the Egyptian military – today the country’s most respected institution. Between Cairo and Israel is the Sinai Desert, and through that desert runs the Suez Canal.
On 14 May 1948, with UN support, Israel proclaimed herself an independent state. The very next day, the armies of four Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq —attacked Israel from three sides, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. After a year of fighting that did not defeat the small infant Israel and her 750,000 citizens, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were established. Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. Israel went back to building a nation with millions of immigrants streaming in while hungry wolves all around were ever ready to pounce again.
By 1950, the British Empire had been heavily involved in Egypt for well over a century. The Suez Canal, built by Egypt in partnership with the French, was completed in 1869, but due to huge debts Egypt was soon forced to sell its interest in the canal to Great Britain in 1875. Both England and France then viewed the canal as their own property, as a business interest which they defended with military force. But the canal had become strategically important to global trade far beyond British and French business interests. In 1953 a coup in Egypt effectively replaced the king with General Nasser, who also controlled the army.
The Canal moved to front and center of Egyptian and global attention. The Suez Crisis in 1956 was a watershed moment in world history and had great impact in all that followed in the Mid-East and throughout the world until today. At the height of the “Cold” War with the Soviet Union, when Nasser demanded to nationalize the canal under Egyptian ownership and control, the crisis over the canal rapidly escalated. So the United States, under President Eisenhower, stepped in to force both Great Britain and France out of the Suez. The alternative was a war between Britain-France and Egypt – which would have invited in the Soviet Union. It was a very difficult decision, but one that had to be made to avoid another global war just as Russia was flexing her new-found nuclear muscle. Eisenhower simply threatened to call in British and French IOUs for huge American loans, loans which neither “empire” country could now afford to pay; both countries were living far beyond their means, and both countries backed down and left. It was the beginning of the end for both the British and the French empires.
America’s very assertive action in 1956, especially against England, led to the rapid decline of Great Britain as a global superpower, even at the cost of an assertive Egypt that was at that time strongly aligned with communist powers like China, and even at the cost that America had to fill all the voids left in the world by a drastically less potent British Empire. France in the 20th century was never regarded by America as a realistic problem, but France was so embarrassed by this US action in 1956 that France was never again a reliable partner of America. America’s 1956 action in the Suez also signaled to the world that the new superpower – the US – was fully prepared to assert her role in the world and defend with military force the Suez Canal against ANY power that would seek to obstruct the free flow of commerce through the canal. The Brits eventually patched up their differences with the US, but the French never did. (Even today, despite mutual smiles and occasional joint military exercises, usually involving naval forces, among US ground forces France remains something of a pompous joke – all bluster and no action.) So for most of the next half century, Egypt controlled the Suez, but she did so with America watching very closely from a powerful naval fleet in the Mediterranean. After the 1956 events, a small token force of UN soldiers was positioned in the Sinai near the Suez to keep an eye on things, but the US military was the implied power behind the UN flag.
Twice thereafter, in 1967 and in 1973, Egypt again made the major mistake of joining other Arab countries in attacking Israel with military force. Both times, Egypt paid a very costly price. Israel is a very close ally of America for many reasons, not the least of which is that Israel has been for 65 years the only democratic country in the entire Middle East. The Holocaust had overshadowed the very founding of the UN, and one of the UN’s first acts was the creation of an Israeli state. In fact, to deter genocide is enshrined in the UN Charter. It would take America no more than two minutes to decide to go to war with its full force to help Israel should that ever become necessary; no other country in the world, save perhaps England, enjoys such firm American assurances. Because America had spent so much money and other resources helping Israel to become strong enough to defend herself, Israel in both 1967 and in 1973 did not need the help of the US military to humiliate the Arab countries that were stupid enough to attack her. But, in both cases was that UN military monitoring contingent in the Sinai – that had proven totally ineffective.
In 1967 Egypt’s Nasser suddenly ordered the UN peacekeepers out of the Suez and massed her military forces, along with those of Syria and Jordan, in the Sinai Desert to attack Israel. But Israel didn’t wait and preemptively struck with lightning speed across the Suez and deep into Egypt. In six days she destroyed Egypt’s military, occupied the entire Sinai, including the Suez Canal, and simultaneously defeated both Syria and Jordan. Then she stopped, withdrawing her forces back to the Suez, but remained in occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and much of the Sinai – all areas from which it was easy to launch surprise attacks against Israel. In control of all areas which could threaten her, Israel position was suddenly the most secure in its history.
Egypt’s 1967 action cost her and Nasser the trust of America. The result was that Suez was effectively now under Israeli control, with America still off-shore with her fleet in the Mediterranean ensuring that shipping continued to flow through the canal unimpeded. It was up to Egypt to make peace with Israel, but nothing but a cease-fire remained in effect for years, and the US did not interfere as long as the canal remained open. Nasser was eventually replaced in Egypt by Anwar Sadat, a leader who was willing to work better with America and move his people to a greater degree of freedom. But Sadat desperately wanted to reclaim the Suez Canal for Egypt and was still bound by forces greater than him throughout Egypt and the Arab Muslim world, a world very heavily wrapped up in complicated things from the Koran and in explosive anti-Semitic emotion.
In 1973 Sadat, going along with that emotion, made the third stupid Egyptian mistake against Israel. On the early morning of the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, Egypt attacked from the Sinai across the Suez, while Syria and Iraq attacked Israel from the north, supported by Jordan and several smaller Arab states. Israel was caught off-guard by this massive multi-national attack on two sides, and initially suffered costly military set-backs on both fronts. But America held back, waiting for Israel’s request for help. It took several days before Israel was able to react in a well-coordinated manner, and when she did, she counter-attacked with a vengeance. Once again America did not get directly involved, but watched events closely from the Mediterranean. America did, however, meet Israel’s request for military re-supplies. Unfortunately, America’s NATO “allies” would not allow US cargo aircraft carrying supplies to Israel to fly through European airspace en route to Israel. US Air Force fighter aircraft also were denied permission to use European bases to provide escorts to the cargo aircraft. So the cargo planes took alternate routes, refueling in flight, and US Navy aircraft carrier planes provided protection to the cargo planes throughout the Mediterranean. Israel was able to push back all of her attackers over the next three weeks, but because she had not been prepared so well this time, she suffered rather heavy losses for such a small country. Both Israel and America then re-dedicated themselves to making certain that this did not happen again. Three times was enough. Everyone knew that Israel’s enemies would never get another such chance.
Once again humiliated by Israel, Egypt under Sadat finally saw the light under very strong American pressure. Egypt eventually made Muslim history by actually signing a peace treaty with Israel, and Israel withdrew back across the Suez and returned the canal to Egyptian control. This time, however, no one was going to rely on UN paper soldiers. This time, actual American ground soldiers took up positions in the desert between Israeli and Egyptian forces several miles back from the Suez under a “multinational task force” flag. This time the “UN” was America. Those American soldiers were there to provide both sides the guarantee that neither would again attack the other, because to do so they would first have to attack America, and American soldiers cannot be ordered out by anyone except the President of the United States. They would not stand idly by and simply watch as had the paper-tiger UN “force” twice before. Those “trip-wire” American infantry soldiers remained there in the desert for the next thirty-five years. The Multinational Task Force Sinai, under US Army command, is responsible for supervising implementation of the security provisions of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. (The majority US contingent of about 1000 Regular Army soldiers was replaced by US Army National Guard soldiers in 2002; the Army needed its Regular soldiers elsewhere.)
(The US Army has played similar roles in dozens of locations throughout the world for much of the last century, including for 45 years in military-occupied West Berlin and for 57 years and counting on the DMZ between North and South Korea. The US can place a few soldiers in dangerous places to keep powerful enemies apart because those soldiers are directly backed up by the entire US military. Whenever the US military has relied on UN partners, however, it has never gone well, as in Somalia 1993 (“Blackhawk Down”), so, as a general rule, the US military does not rely on such “partners”.)
Politicians and diplomats and professors and journalists talk. Talk is the cheapest thing there is. American soldiers DO things. Those thirty-two years of Regular American soldiers in the Sinai saw another very major process in the background that no one noticed.
The US military undertook the job of training the officer corps of the Egyptian military, mainly in the United States, and providing the Egyptian military with modern equipment. The most important part of this very long process was the training of Egyptian army officers according to American standards – thirty years of instilling American military values into the Egyptian military leadership, steadily teaching Egypt’s best officers all the way down to the company level. Today the 445,000-strong Egyptian military is one of the best military forces in the world. They probably would not be able to stand long against Israel’s super professional military, but they are indeed very professional, probably better even than most European military forces. A central part of American military training is instilling in every officer the firm conviction that a country’s military serves their country ONLY under civilian government control and does NOT ever impose itself on its own people. The operant word is serve, not oppress. This makes the Egyptian military unique in the Arab world; the Egyptian military serves the Egyptian people. Many Egyptian army officers, including General al Sissi, speak fluent English and know America very well. American Army officers know Egyptian army officers, especially at the senior levels; many are even close personal friends. No one knows more about Egypt and its military than do certain American Army officers. The Egyptian military is also dependent on the US for billions of dollars in equipment and other military aid without which they would not be nearly as effective. Potions of that military aid does truckle down through the Egyptian economy. The US military ensures that the aid, which represents a significant portion of Egypt’s economy, is never sufficient to invite the Egyptians to entertain thoughts of attacking Israel. (It is important to make a distinction between the Egyptian military and the Egyptian security police forces.)
Robert Burns, Associated Press National Security Writer, 4 February 2011: “The current scope of U.S. military assistance began with the signing of Egypt’s landmark peace treaty with Israel in 1979. It totaled $1.3 billion last year and includes air, land and naval support. Egypt is just one example of how the Pentagon has sought over time to improve its standing with foreign militaries by selling them U.S. weaponry, providing long-term technical support, holding joint exercises, having regular face-to-face meetings at senior levels, and bringing junior and mid-level officers to the U.S. to attend institutions like the National Defense University and the Army’s Command and General Staff College. The curriculum includes instruction in human rights, the principle of civilian control of the military, the U.S. Constitution and other elements of democracy. The theory is that such interaction will make foreign military leaders more inclined to accept U.S. views on the proper role of a military in society.”
President Sadat was assassinated in 1981, and was replaced by Hosni Mubarak. The US has always known that Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak ruled their country of 78,000,000 citizens under customarily harsh Arab standards, but has always been reluctant to get involved with Egypt’s internal affairs. Its primary concern was Egypt’s military – to try to ensure that Egypt did not pose a threat to the region or to Israel and especially to the Suez Canal, while also providing a reliable force of stability in the region around the Suez.
The Egyptian military will hold the country together, and be the patsy for inept politicians and naively impatient foreign “experts”, until the country is able to agree on a constitution, field an elected government, and select a leader. At that time, the Egyptian military will yield to that elected civilian leader’s direction – for better or worse. (A major problem will be that surviving politicians are those English-speaking elite who over the past decades have managed to work the system to their advantage to the detriment of the country’s vast population of abject poor. These Western-oriented “elitist” people will experience extreme difficulty gaining significant popular support, so it is very difficult to envision a popular leader emerging under democratic principles. Power will thus go to the faction with the best organization, and one oriented toward the country’s majority poor, an organization that speaks their language and can connect with their wants. The danger, of course, is that the best organized may also be the most extremist.)
Whenever the US military goes into dangerous situations, it may take along some “allies”, but, except for a few English language countries, it knows those “allies” will not be of much help if the going gets rough. So sometimes America has to make trade-offs, especially when it usually has to go alone into very dangerous places. It tries to quietly influence countries’ internal matters for the better, but it can only go so far without jeopardizing greater considerations. Whenever it does go in, it’s almost always a military mission that will take decades to complete – and always at the cost of many of America’s best citizens – her ground soldiers. America does not like to do that. It’s especially difficult when so many others are content to just sit and watch from the sidelines, and when America’s political leaders have a grossly inadequate understanding of the US military and military matters in general.
Overall Context – Iraq
When the US military went into Afghanistan in 2002, it was not seen as a mission that would take longer than a year of dangerous fighting. Most senior military personnel saw a six-month mission. The idea was to throw out the oppressive Taliban and decimate the dangerous Al Qaeda. Soon the State Department and its contractors developed more elaborate intentions for “nation-building” under a “NATO” umbrella. So the US military was expected to let the Europeans under “NATO” assist in getting the country on a path to self-governance in a mostly non-violent “peacekeeping” mission. That was still the thinking for Afghanistan when the US military went into Iraq in 2003. In the mind of the US military, Afghanistan was never a primary objective.
There has been an enormous amount of political nonsense surrounding Afghanistan and Iraq for the past ten years, especially inside America and throughout Europe – most of it wrapped up in Europe’s professed hatred of President Bush II as an excuse for not doing more in Afghanistan – an excuse that was finally revealed as phony when the Europeans also would not do more under an American president they liked – President Obama. A great deal of asinine political nonsense in the world is something the US military must always try to ignore or work around. The US military never considered Afghanistan itself as critical to the greater objective, and the greater objective was to set in motion events in the Muslim world that would lead to major internal changes in many other countries throughout the region. Most of the Muslim world does not care what happens in Afghanistan, since Afghanistan has always been a very unruly land full of many different minor fighting clans who have never viewed themselves as integral to a “country”. Trying to create a functional country out of Afghanistan was a mission that would take a quarter of a century or more; throughout history many have tried and none have succeeded.
Iraq, on the other hand, was the birthplace of civilization and smack in the middle of the Muslim world. It also had a population with a national identity. It is simply not possible to defeat an ideological unconventional enemy like Islamic militant extremism via a frontal attack. The only way to eventually prevail against such an enemy is to progressively render its support base ever less willing to render the requisite support. So Iraq was always a hundred times more important to the greater objective than Afghanistan. If necessary for US interests alone, Afghanistan could be dealt with like President Clinton did – by lobbing in a few cruise missiles whenever necessary. But if the US military could overthrow a tyrant dictator and help instill some measure of self-governance in Iraq, it just might set in motion a dramatic change in the thinking of all Arab-Muslims – a change that announced it was time for them and their rulers to join the 21st century.
But the whole thing about the relative importance of Afghanistan and Iraq got totally bent out of shape by stupid domestic American election politics, by people who never learned how to think, much less to think strategically, who were able to sell utter juvenile nonsense to really huge herds of naïve left or right voters.
And unfortunately a senior American civilian diplomat moron (Paul Bremer) decided to pull the rug out from under the US military in Iraq at the very worst moment. Once the country had been militarily defeated, just six weeks after the start of the attack, this idiot summarily disbanded what was left of the Iraqi army. With that one stupid act he created hundreds of thousands of unemployed and pissed-off Iraqi soldiers who had just been humiliated by the Americans, and left nothing in place to maintain order except an exhausted US Army fighting force – one that had gone in of necessity with only a quarter of the number of trained professional ground soldiers needed to secure and occupy the country alone. Very rarely in American history has such a stupid mistake been made by an American in a position of great responsibility during war. What’s even more incredible is that several other senior civilians in Washington naively took no objection to Bremer’s stupidity. (See Footnote #1.) It was as if literally everyone in Washington, exhilarated by the rapid conventional victory, had taken leave of their senses, and simply could not comprehend that the mission had only just begun, that what remained was bound to be enormously more difficult, and deadly.
The US Army had gone into Iraq, a country of 31,000,000 people, knowing that it had insufficient numbers of soldiers to run the whole country as an occupation force. The plan had been to use the Iraqi army, freed from its dictator and his ruthless clan, to maintain order in the country under US Army supervision and pay (while systematically weeding out Saddam’s Baathist Party henchmen). The US military had a huge army of civilian contractors standing by ready to repair the damage and get the country running full speed in short order, but the first order of business was to maintain security and order. Now, suddenly, the US Army was short well over 250,000 soldiers – and could not manufacture them quickly enough. (It’s easy for politicians to fire a million soldiers; rebuilding that kind of force a decade or more later takes at least twenty years. The best that can be done is to take five years to quickly grow another 40,000 American ground soldiers and put them on a path toward professionalism. They are just now beginning to come on line.)
Earlier, in 1991, the sole objective of the US military, under specific UN mandate, had been to eject Iraq’s invading military forces from tiny Kuwait. When the US military defeated Iraq’s military in the 100-hour Persian Gulf War, Iraq’s military was actually the world’s fourth most powerful military. Unfortunately that military had relied on Soviet Russian equipment, tactics and training – something the US military had trained for decades to quickly defeat in Europe. (The US strategic doctrine employed in 1991 and again in 2003 had been downgraded to a quite low classification and released to NATO allies during the 1980s so they could adapt their forces to the strategy. Thus it was no big secret, and should have been no big surprise to any knowledgeable military expert, including Saddam Hussein.) So, except for the fear arising from intelligence that they might use chemical or biological weapons, Iraq’s army was actually defeated in 1991 before the first shot was fired, and Iraq’s military leaders knew it. Saddam Hussein should have realized this when the second encounter developed in 2003. But dictators often get defeated by their own delusions, and none of his military commanders was willing to tell him the facts of life.
The biggest problems for the US military after defeating the Iraqi military a second time (in 2003) would be in trying to avoid protracted conflict among the three largest tribal groups, avoiding outside interference from Iran, and providing some measure of order and stability long enough to get the country running again so that the US military could leave as quickly as possible – all very difficult, but possible. However, with the 375,000-strong Iraqi army suddenly moved from a potential ally to a devoted unemployed enemy by an American civilian idiot, the task for American soldiers suddenly became enormously more difficult. So it took years longer than it should have, while taking a really huge toll in death and destruction – on all sides. Sometimes it is not so good that the US military always yields to civilian direction.
The country got completely out of control in rather short order. It took several years for a greatly undermanned US military, without the help of the Iraqi army, to eventually get a decent handle on the situation, especially since very many members of the disbanded and unemployed army were now a major part of the insurgency. The US Army did so mainly by pulling in every US soldier it could find manning trip-wire positions around the world, such as in the Sinai, including a thousand of America’s most elite soldiers – Special Forces green beret soldiers expert in parts of the world that have nothing at all in common with Iraq. All of these various American soldiers from everywhere had to learn about Iraq while under fire in Iraq. This problem was made even worse due to so many “partners” unwilling to go where it was dangerous in Iraq, so those “partners”, not nearly as effective as American soldiers, were mostly just dead weight making the US Army’s job even more difficult and complex. Such “partners” probably would have been more effective at “peacekeeping”, but were not helpful in situations that involved shooting and bombs and similar unpredictable dangers necessary to first establish “peace”. The only really proficient combat partners the US Army had were the insufficient numbers of Brits, Aussies and Canadians.
But, eventually, even in the middle of what seemed like endless years of total chaos and mayhem, the most significant event finally did take place: Iraqi citizens went to the polls and cast their free votes for their own leaders. They then dipped their finger into indelible purple ink to show they had voted and could not vote again. Many thousands of cellphone pictures and al Jazeera video of Iraqis with big smiles and purple fingers engaging in free democratic elections in the heart of the Arab Muslim world sent a huge psychological earthquake throughout the Muslim world. The “Arab Spring” had begun, but it would take years more for it to sink into the Arab-Muslim psyche. In the meantime there was still that matter of three distrustful tribal groups – Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurd.
One intended consequence of the initial US invasion of Iraq was great damage to Iraq’s communication infrastructure, including its telephone networks. The subsequent chaos in the country made repair of that infrastructure problematic at best. In very short order the most rapidly growing business in Iraq was the cell phone business. Today there are far more cell phones in Iraq than people. Those cell phones transmitted pictures all over the Mid-East, first to Iraqi friends and relatives who had fled Iraq for safety, and then to other friends who were citizens of other Muslim countries, and then to Al Jazeera and other television outlets all over the Muslim world. Those pictures of smiles and purple fingers set in motion the changes the US military had been hoping to accomplish all along – a very dramatic change in the Muslim mentality about their rulers. Unfortunately it’s been very messy, but the US military efforts in Iraq have gradually become increasingly more effective. Twice more over the next two years, Iraqis went back to the polls for more free elections – each time guarded by American soldiers and each time with lots of pictures and videos of smiles and purple fingers. (See Footnote #2.)
The whole concept of free elections, of self-governance, was completely new to Arab Muslims, so it’s not surprising that they still do not have a good handle on how to make it work. They just know it’s possible once you get rid of dictators. People who have lived their whole lives being ordered around are not quick to take initiative. But the Iraqis are steadily moving in the right direction, and this can be seen by all Muslims everywhere in the Arab world. It may not be pretty, but it’s still a positive movement. Americans believe strongly that everyone should be free to decide their own destiny, for better or worse, and a few of them are even willing to risk everything to help accomplish that. Democracy – or, better, self-determination, or self-governance – is not a disease, a virus; it’s a state of mind. It takes a while to take root in the mentality of long oppressed humans, but once it sets in, it cannot be deterred, or forgotten. It is the natural human condition. Everything else is a perversion. Everything else is the disease. But those finally cured of the disease need significant time to become comfortable with a better alternative – to make it work.
Positive motion was always far more possible in Iraq than it would ever be in Afghanistan, by a factor of at least ten, and far quicker and with much greater impact. Iraq had a very long background in history as a rich civilization, had very considerable experience with orderly governance, had a self-identity as one nation with central leaders, had a working national infrastructure, had a good system of education, health care, laws, even a worldly and educated middle and upper class plus a professional and experienced military. It also had a large sophisticated expatriate population living outside Iraq in America and Europe who could return to help re-build a free Iraq.
Those smiling faces waving their purple fingers had been set loose on the Muslim world, and they could not be erased from memory. Every Muslim everywhere now carries those Iraqi pictures in his and her mind. It’s only a matter of time. Iraq will stumble and fall, will bicker and fight, will pick itself up and try again, but self-governance is now taking root as an integral part of the Iraqi psyche, so eventually Iraq will succeed, and that type of success, that possibility, is spreading all across the Muslim world. The US Army has been gradually reconstituting, re-training and re-equipping a professional Iraqi army and security force to defend the country without US assistance, while insisting that the Iraqi military be comprised and led equitably by members of all three major groups – Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurd. And most of the cost of Iraq is now being borne by Iraqi oil – which did not, as everyone assumed, fall into American hands. American companies have helped Iraq rebuild and greatly improve its oil capacity. In the north, the Kurds, with whom the US Army’s Special Forces have been working for the past 25 years, have been running a fully functioning, vibrant, lawful and rapidly developing semi-independent state for years. (They also field a potent and very effective defensive military force, which includes women combat soldiers.) What eventually emerges in Iraq may not be what we would choose for ourselves, but it will be what free Iraqis chose for themselves. The critical key is for Iraq’s elected leaders to maintain the principles of inclusion that the US military has tried to instill in the Iraqi military, to ensure that all three groups are equitably represented and treated by their government. A continued potent US military presence will be required for years to ensure that inclusion, and mutual trust, remains a reality.
When the “War On Terrorism” was recognized in 2001 for the horror that it could become – a clash of civilizations – the West versus the Muslim world – the prospect for the US military was of an unwinnable war. The Muslim world is two billion humans strong. You cannot defeat such an enemy in unconventional war simply by killing every fighter who presents himself on the battlefield. That notion is childishly akin to the story of the little boy on the beach trying to empty the sea into his hole in the sand. The sea just keeps coming. Muslims would just keep coming. They would eventually exhaust all of America’s soldiers. Then there would be nothing between you and extremist Muslim domination of three-fourths of the world.
There is only one sane way to fight such a war: (1) Commit ground soldiers to fighting those enemy fighters who do present themselves on the battlefield and try to make it as costly as possible to them. This focuses military and public attention on one or two centers of conflict. (2) Use intelligence and special operations assets to track down and capture or kill the key clandestine network players. While this is going on, the far more important strategic mission HAS to (3) focus on the fighter’s support base– those two billion Muslims who keep rendering the support – the fighter recruit replacements, the weapons, the leader replacements, the money, the supplies, the spiritual guidance and fervor, The Mission – that keep the fighters coming, firmly believing that they will eventually prevail. You simply cannot win such a war unless you steadily render the support base ever less willing to render the support. The best way to do that is to show them a better way to realize their objectives. Iraq, smack in the middle of the Muslim world, plays that role. In the end, “nation-building” is far more effective than destructive warfare.
American ground soldiers waded straight into the lion’s den in Iraq in order to change the support base throughout the Muslim world. The first order of business was to rid Iraq and the world of a megalomaniac dictator who idolized Hitler, shaped his whole ruthless regime around the Nazi model and was determined to rule the entire Mid-east and force the West to kneel before his throne. Getting rid of that maniac and most of his gang proved to be the easy part. (See Footnote #3.)
Now, after the former French colony of Tunisia, Egypt further advances that role with the Muslim support base. And in Egypt the US military has a strong and effective ally – the Egyptian military it trained and equipped for over thirty years and still does. That military will now play the role of the US Army – by proxy – inside Egypt. It will provide the stability and maintain the country as a viable nation that does not disintegrate into chaos while the senior civilians sort out how to run the show according to the wishes of their people, while the people of Egypt transition from a dictatorship to some form of self-governance that permits all Egyptians to realize their own destiny. They respect their army more than any other institution in the country. They will follow its lead. They all want to wave their own purple fingers before the world’s cell phone cameras. Al Qaeda has always known the danger of this changing mentality. That’s why it made such a protracted and concerted deadly effort in Iraq before realizing that it could not win against powerfully emotional forces that had already been set loose among average Iraqi citizens.
Iraq’s free elections took the finger out of the Mid-East dictator dyke and began relieving a century of pent-up pressure. As expected, it took a while for the leak to grow into a major breach. People with brains know that there is only one thing to do when the flood is coming: Get the hell out of the way and let floods do what they do. They will go anywhere they want to go and do whatever they want to do along any path of lesser resistance. Later, if you wish, when the tide recedes, you can help those most affected to rearrange and rebuild the pieces according to their wishes. But standing there and trying to direct the flood with some sort of God complex will only make you another victim as well as the patsy for whatever goes wrong. The “War On Terrorism” is well on its way to being won – by Muslims. The critical role played in recent events throughout the Muslim world by the Qatar-based Arab television network Al Jazeera simply cannot be overestimated. Events similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt WILL play out in a number of other Arab countries in the months and years ahead. It will not be pretty, but it will happen. It’s only a matter of time. It was not the cell phones. It was not the internet. It was the pictures, the smiling faces and the purple fingers.
It has so far taken a terrible toll on America’s soldiers. Over 6,000 dead soldiers. Over 45,000 who came home with important pieces missing. But that’s what they do. They are American soldiers. They are different from other soldiers.
Now if the Europeans will just try to step up to their responsibilities in Afghanistan and help that place get itself organized. That job will take another twenty years before some positive results are realized. But that’s what Europeans MUST do. America has more important jobs elsewhere.
Addendum: The above, written earlier, was posted in February 2011. On 19 March 2011, the Egyptian people went to the polls for the first time. They voted in a referendum on a package of eight key constitutional amendments put forth by the military council that will shape the country’s political future — all of them designed to establish the foundations for parliamentary elections in June and a presidential race in August. After the voters of Egypt voted, they dipped their fingers in purple ink. Unfortunately the man who won the election was, predictably, the one with the best organization – one, Morsi, who fully embraced the Islamic militant extremist ideology. Rather than apply significant pressure to this elected leader to remain inclusive with his governance, the US (Clinton) threw its support behind him. And this led to truly massive Egyptian demonstrations against his leadership. Despite the fact that Morsi had purged the Egyptian military of “suspect” generals, the man he himself had selected to lead the Egyptian military eventually had to step in and seize power from him in order to avoid the country spinning completely out of control. His name is al Sissi, and he was trained in the US by the US Army. He is trying to reconstruct what the elected Morsi had dismantled with US State Department support.
In March 2011, four American women appointed to very high places (Clinton, Power, Rice and Albright) took the French bait and engineered the bombing of Libya. The effort, sold to the Russians and Chinese as a very limited “humanitarian” mission to protect people on the ground, was actually a cheap effort of the Obama Administration to jump on the “Arab Spring” bandwagon and bomb Libya to smithereens. Despite the lies told in the UN, “Hillary’s War” was really always about effecting “regime change” and thus earn Clinton the “street creds” that would enable her to ascend to the throne in 2016. Eight months later the bombs finally stopped, the country was in ruins, its leader was dead in a sewer, the Europeans refused to put the requisite soldiers on the ground, and the country presented a huge new playground for Islamic militant extremists. The whole exercise was just idiotic.
Citing a lack of a “status of forces agreement”, the Obama Administration withdrew the last US soldiers from Iraq on 18 December 2011, leaving no residual force behind. This was an incredibly stupid mistake, made solely to keep a promise made to American women voters and their clones. You do NOT invade and finally conquer a country at truly stupendous cost, only to walk away from it with the job half finished. You do NOT leave a country you finally own until YOU are ready to leave, until you are safe in the belief that what you leave behind will endure, that inevitable subsequent forces will not render everything, including 4,500 dead soldiers, a colossal waste. The absences of a SOFA, which was not needed for the US military to impose its presence, was simply a red herring behind which the Obama Administration could keep its domestic political campaign promise to “get out of Iraq”. Americans shamefully have gotten very used to telling the parents of dead and maimed soldiers, “Never mind.” We should have kept a potent residual force in Iraq to maintain pressure on its leaders to uphold principles of inclusiveness, to keep tribal animosities at bay, to force all three major parties to work together as one nation, and to give the Iraqi military time to mature as a unified fighting force defending all of Iraq. We did not do that. This stuff takes time, a lot of time. The country therefore now has little chances of surviving as one nation.
Over 6,000 dead soldiers and 45,000 maimed soldiers, but hundreds of commercial contractors made trainloads of taxpayer money – in the Trillions of dollars – while accomplishing almost nothing in both Afghanistan and Iraq. (Today some of those State Department and USAID contractors are busy manufacturing and disseminating propaganda, fomenting revolutions, etc., in countries like Cuba, Egypt, Ukraine, Russia. Many are women-owned companies, and most do their thing with the level of ignorance and incompetence usually expected. Using women-owned companies, of course, ensures that no one will ever be held accountable when things go wrong. It’s very difficult to determine just when and how Congress authorized State and USAID to engage in such activities, but it’s not surprising. Women in Congress like Nancy Pelosi are fervently dedicated to putting as many women as possible on the government dole, under any subterfuge possible.)
All of this, and much more, is a direct consequence of American civilians in very high places trying to operate in very dangerous areas that are way beyond their competence levels, exercising their plethora of rights with zero consideration of any of their responsibilities. These are simple-minded people who think war is all about playing whack-a-mole, about killing whichever bad guys show up on the battlefield and destroying them and their stuff. These are people who simplistically focus on this group or that group, on this lunatic or that lunatic. But, more often than not, those targets are just “shiny objects”. War is not about winning battles; war is about winning the war. In fact, it’s even possible, with a flawed strategy, to win all the battles and still lose the war. To win the war you first have to be able to properly define the enemy and fully recognize the threat, and, more often than not, that threat extends far beyond the battlefield. This enemy is an ideology – Islamic militant extremism – and it poses a very real and severe threat to all of Western civilization. Killing bad guys is only a part of the problem; the greater part of the problem is its support base. The Iraq War was an effort to establish an alternative to the ideology, smack in the middle of its support base. The US military was pulled out of Iraq before the most important part of its mission – winning the war – was completed.
P.S. “Western civilization” includes that portion which occupies the Russian Federation. Since the late-1990s, Russia has always been our most critically important potential ally for the 21st century. And Islamic militant extremism is an ideology – just like German Nazism and Soviet communism were.
Note: When you have already spent $400 Billion just trying to field the next US Air Force super-fighter (F-35), sooner or later to justify such staggering costs you need an enemy with the potential to ever field something that could possibly pose a threat to such and similar highly advanced and incredibly expensive weapons. The only countries on the planet who might eventually be able to do that are China and Russia, both of which, until now, spend only a small fraction of what the US spends on “defense”. One might reasonably pose the question of whether or not the US has been purposefully antagonizing Russia so as to re-create the potential threat needed by both “NATO” and the US-European defense industry – to justify what US taxpayers keep pouring into these bottomless pits. When you hear Air Force LTG Gorenc say, “This aircraft reinforces the way Americans go to war.”, you can’t help wondering what alternate universe this guy occupies. After all, for the past quarter of a century the Air Force and Navy have been using such weapons with total impunity primarily as armor and artillery systems supporting ground forces, and dropping bombs where soldiers want them to drop is not exactly rocket science. For the past fifteen years, the potent enemy faced by those Army and Marine ground forces, who have incurred over 98% of American casualties, has not possessed one single ship, plane, tank, missile or drone. Just who is doing our “thinking” for us? How many professional American ground soldiers can you pay and equip with $400 Billion? (Of course, continuing to play with this space-age thing keeps over 200,000 civilian voters employed in very good jobs in 45 states, and we certainly don’t want to fire them like we fire soldiers, do we?)
In the immortal words of Jackie Cogan in “Killing Them Softly” (USA, 2012), “I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business.”
It certainly doesn’t surprise me that huge ostracized Sunni parts of the Iraqi army in 2014 opted not to defend an “elitist” and entirely self-serving Iraqi Shi’ite government in the face of an enemy onslaught. Why would they? Because the self-anointed “special” people expected it?
All of the above adds up to what I call “Baby Boomer Brilliance”, which, of course, is almost entirely determined by our super-majority of women voters (and their clones).
Footnote #1. Defense Contractors. The invasion of Iraq lasted about six weeks, from 19 March 2003 to 1 May 2003. Invasion commander US Army General Tommy Franks (a veteran of Vietnam, 1967-68, a veteran commander of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and commander of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001) had assumed control of Iraq as the supreme commander of the coalition occupation forces, but a few days after Baghdad fell, General Franks retired. (He was replaced by an inadequately prepared and resourced General Sanchez.) An already-retired US Army general (LG Jay Garner) had been working for months on necessary follow-on actions after the initial defeat of Saddam’s forces had been accomplished. Garner had some trained forces at his disposal and a detailed plan that, in full recognition of US military shortfalls, required the participation of significant numbers of screened and vetted Iraqi army personnel to maintain control in their own country. But no sooner had Garner stepped in country than he was immediately sidelined by the sudden appearance of Paul Bremer (during the Franks-Sanchez transition) as US proconsul in Iraq. While the US military was rounding up members of the former Iraqi government and taking a brief break from the past six weeks of round-the-clock work, in May 2003 Bremer arrived in Iraq as the US Presidential Envoy. He immediately replaced Garner as Director of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. That barely nascent Office was transformed into the “Coalition Provisional Authority”, and Bremer, as “US Administrator of Iraq”, by virtue of the dominant leadership role of US military invasion forces, became the chief executive authority in the country. This position permitted him to rule by decree. In a blink, Franks was gone, Garner was gone, and Sanchez looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
The US military had done all the hard stuff, was about to exit stage left, and now a brilliant Baby Boomer civilian would come out of the woodwork, command the floodlit stage, wave his magic wand, and work enlightened wonders throughout Iraq before a whole adoring world in transfixed wonder of the American genius – Obi-Wan Kenobi himself.
Within ten days of his arrival in country, Bremer’s first and most notable decrees were Order Number 1, which banned the Ba’ath party, and Order Number 2, disbanding the Iraqi Army. General Garner, his forces and his stabilization plan were thus ignored by a civilian with no military experience. However, Bremer, a retired career State Department diplomat employed for the previous 14 years by very well-connected New York consulting firms, also knew very well that the US military was no longer nearly manned to handle large unconventional warfare adequately (such as counter-insurgency, occupation stabilization, “nation-building”, etc.), and he was a strong proponent of filling that huge military shortfall with private commercial contractors. By disbanding the Iraqi army, he single-handedly not only created a whole army of unemployed insurgents but also created an immediate enormous vacuum that simply had to be filled as rapidly as possible by those contractors, but without an overall strategy or command and not nearly with sufficient prior planning or current coordination and direction. Bureaucrats at State, USAID, DoD, and the new “Coalition Provisional Authority”, filling spaces specifically to address such matters, were hardly equipped to properly supervise that colossal flood of really huge contracts. All of this happened during the first two weeks of May 2003, immediately after the fall of Baghdad. It happened so rapidly, in fact, that it seemed to have been a secret plan long in place but known only to a very few insiders. The US military was essentially a bystander to political and business events beyond its control, knowledge or understanding – in a war it had been tasked to prosecute. Its casualties predictably began to mount.
The entire Iraqi army, the world’s fourth largest, was now unemployed, unable to even provide for their families. They were not pleased, especially since it was widely known that the Americans had even paid many of their top military leaders handsomely to defect during the invasion. As the country quickly spiraled out of control, in the great urgency the US Federal Reserve actually shipped 360 tons of plastic-wrapped pallet bundles of freshly printed $100 bills to Iraq to pay, not the Iraqi army, but those contractors for their services. And those contractors literally poured in; the Iraq “Gold Rush” was on. Billions of US dollars were handed out by the car-load, with little or no accounting.
Paul Bremer was quite simply The Ultimate War Profiteer Orchestrator.
And many of those contractors were carrying weapons. The reliance on heavily armed contractors rather than uniformed soldiers requires enormously higher pay for the personnel, a cost that is more than off-set by not having to provide those personnel with additional benefits, including such costs as medical treatment and care, college tuition credits, VA benefits, retired pay, etc.. When the government no longer needs the services, it simply terminates the contract and walks away, incurring no further costs and leaving the company to secure new contracts elsewhere, anywhere. But contractor companies are not highly trained military generals with a very well established and experienced command structure and highly disciplined trained personnel all subject to one set of laws, rules and regulations. And their motive is profit, at US taxpayer expense.
The contract hire is essentially a one-person contractor who is hired by a company with a government contract; as such, he is mostly responsible for his own ancillary costs such as medical, unemployment, and life insurance, which, if he is smart, he will buy himself using that very high pay. Most such contractors, however, do not. Even though he may be a US citizen originally trained at very considerable cost by the US military for an initial tour of service, he is, by definition, now a mercenary for hire, not subject to US or international laws governing warfare, very useful by government for “plausible denial”, “expediency”, etc., and well outside the normal US legal checks and balances. This can be useful in cases of kidnapping, assassination, prisoner torture, home invasion, “collateral damage”, etc., if this is the sort of activity in which you wish to engage. Part of this “lawlessness” was altered by a 2007 law making mercenaries in a US combat zone subject to US military law, but it is doubtful that this law can be legally upheld in court, especially considering that there is no requirement even for mercenaries to be US citizens, much less swear an oath of allegiance. A private company can hire anyone it wants to hire, and simply fire them whenever they screw up. In the chaotic environment of war, it’s very difficult to tell who is who, and it’s not uncommon for such armed mercenaries to deceptively present themselves as uniformed US military personnel subject to the chain of command, the UCMJ, the Geneva Conventions, etc., and even ordering around bona fide US military personnel. Some have also been known to present themselves as CIA government employees, rather than as contract hires of the CIA. The inherent chaos and confusion of war, and unnecessary death and destruction, can quickly spiral upwards. Just who is in charge?
Once you do away with a military draft (a Baby Boomer demand), your costs rapidly escalate, so it’s necessary to conduct a “cost-benefit” analysis to save money and get “someone else” to do some of the hard stuff under different arrangements. In 2012 there are more contract hires in both Iraq and Afghanistan than there are military personnel. And warfare is not the only venue for these armed mercenaries; many are now employed by companies with contracts in the never-ending “war on drugs”, in the “intelligence” (covert ops) business, in the “rendition” (kidnapping) and secret prisons (torture) enterprises, in the murder-by-remote-control (drone) business; in personnel security (such as for diplomatic officials), in US border security, even in US domestic disasters such as hurricane Katrina. Today paying contractors takes up two-thirds of CIA’s annual budget, and the Defense Department, State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Agency for International Development (USAID), even the FBI, NSA, all make extensive use of contractors, mostly in the shadows hidden from taxpayers and voting citizens. Such practices and people are rapidly turning the US into a secret prison, with all sorts of people operating outside US constitutional law and not even covered by the Fourth Estate. It’s all just another familiar Baby Boomer “solution” to get “someone else” to do the hard stuff, for “me”. While he was in Iraq, Bremer was not protected by the US military as had been the case in the previous 200 years of American history; he was protected by his own personal mercenary hires of the State Department. I still wonder if Bremer was a major shareholder in one or more of those very lucrative contractor companies. His position in Iraq enabled him to open the flood gates in one lightning fast act and change forever how America operates. It appeared that the very wide invitation for contractors to realize Very Major Profit was just as important to the original purpose of the invasion of Iraq as was the overthrow of Saddam.
It made me ashamed to be an American soldier.
We do need armed professionals in dangerous places because there is a real threat to our people out there. This is because a lot of other people out there just hate us. But how much of that hatred is due to the way we operate? If one of these mercenaries shows up at your door and says he’s a federal law enforcement official, who’s to know? Would you trust them? Why? What’s to say he’s not just another thug with a big weapon? What happens to these companies and their people when the US government doesn’t have any more contracts to let? Would you trust your life to someone who would rather chase the money than wear a US military uniform with pride? Armed personal security is one thing, but in a combat environment, I want the armed guy next to me to be operating under the exact same rules that I do. Anyone representing and defending the United States of America in a combat zone belongs in a clearly identifiable US military uniform – serving the nation, not themselves, regardless of pay. And they ALL must report to one single military commander in one very clear chain-of-command with one objective – to complete the precise mission and go home. Too much is changing with my country for big quick profit that has obviously not been well thought out. Of course, it would be a lot easier if we just worried about defending ourselves and our nation, rather than running all over hither and yon playing arrogant World Cop, sometimes even god, just to make emotional “me” feel better about being “me” and line the pickets of insiders operating in the shadows.
Note that I am addressing here only those contractors who are armed and perform para-military and para-police functions, including intelligence and security. Other contractors, after major hostilities have ceased, can meet military strength shortfalls by performing other necessary functions in a combat zone, such as utility re-construction (civilian road, airfield, port, electricity, water, fuel, communications, etc.); military logistics; military vehicle repair and maintenance, etc., probably as well as those functions can be performed by military personnel. It should be noted, however, that such contractors come at a premium cost and require a secure work and life environment in which to perform their functions; this requires significant numbers of armed military personnel to create and maintain that secure environment – personnel which must be diverted from fluid forward-leaning combat pursuits to perform defensive functions. (Such backward-leaning static functions are probably best filled by US National Guard and Reserves, as well as by most of our European “allies”.) A secure environment, including reinforced working and living structures, is also required by non-military government agencies (State, USAID, etc.,) also operating in a combat zone to provide other services, including humanitarian assistance, training, governmental liaison, etc..
Trained and armed soldiers performing these functions can also defend themselves, which at least reduces the numbers of people required. In the final analysis, it is highly debatable whether or not the transfer of many formerly military functions in a combat zone to civilian agencies and contractors is a net plus to either the combat effort or to the taxpayer. It definitely does greatly complicate the overall situation and the task of the combatant commander to bring hostilities to an end as rapidly as possible with the least destruction and loss of innocent life. If you’re going to prosecute a war, the last thing you need is tens of thousands of very needy “special” civilians running around and operating according to their own rules. It’s already enormously complicated just trying to herd dozens of military “ally” cats with their mostly token contributions.
As long as the US remains the world’s single conventional super-power, the likelihood of conventional wars is almost zero, while the likelihood of unconventional war is very high. (No sane nation state with a conventional military would challenge the overwhelming might of the US conventional military; the only realistic way to challenge the US militarily is via unconventional warfare.) Unconventional wars, which are greatly personnel-intensive, are extremely unpredictable and never conclude cleanly and firmly at a specific moment in a designated area. They (hopefully) simply gradually “peter out” with steadily declining loss of life interrupted by periodic spikes in hostilities (or “insurgencies”). It is during this long “peter-out” period when allied civilians operating in the combat region are at greatest danger; unarmed people assisting the war effort always make the easiest and most inviting targets for enemy unconventional fighters seeking the greatest psychological effect from even the smallest of acts. Thus the need for a secure environment – at significantly increased cost of money and resources. And just creating and maintaining that secure environment can be counter-productive to the war effort when it upsets large numbers of local citizens.
With few exceptions, the overall conclusion was that the sum of these enormous civilian contracts were extremely wasteful of taxpayer money; mostly haphazard; sometimes even counter-productive; excessively contributing factors to doubt and confusion about the military chain of command; subject to corruption; not subject to adequate quality controls; and they failed to contribute substantively to the overall military objectives of the war, primarily because they were not integrated appropriately into the battlefield commander’s mission and strategy, were not properly managed by highly qualified military experts, and frequently required the diversion of military personnel from their combat mission to defensive missions. The only positives was to reduce very long range taxpayer costs that would have gone to surviving professional soldiers in retirement while greatly increasing the huge taxpayer profits realized by hundreds of companies awarded contracts without demonstrated capability and not subject to proper oversight.
The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated in late-2014 that between $31 Billion and $60 Billion was lost to fraud during US operations in those two countries. This is about one-third of the money officially spent by Defense on the contracts. The Justice Department says it brought 237 criminal cases from November 2005 to September 2014 arising from war-zone misconduct – often contracting fraud. “We just were not equipped to do sufficient oversight and monitoring on the front end, and we didn’t have sufficient accountability mechanisms on the back end, which led to enormous problems,” according to Laura Dickinson, a national security law professor at George Washington University. This dollar figure is probably a gross UNDER-estimate. (And only a small portion of the fraud cases were prosecuted.) Then add to this the equal level of fraud committed by contractors for both State and USAID, plus CIA, also done without sufficient and competent bureaucrat supervision and oversight from their Little America bunkers. War profiteering has always been a problem, but never on the colossal scale as for both Afghanistan and Iraq and never so deeply “imbedded” in the war effort.
And what is the single factor that makes it all possible? The deaths and maiming of thousands of American ground combat soldiers.
In Iraq, the US employed 155,000 contractors — about the same as the number of US soldiers there — while toward the end of the Afghanistan War, 207,000 contractors supported 175,000 soldiers. Some were former soldiers, but the vast majority of them didn’t carry weapons; their jobs ranged from building barracks and staffing cafeterias to guarding diplomats. Halliburton, DynCorp, Blackwater and other companies were paid $200 Billion to build infrastructure, feed and support soldiers, and provide security in those two countries. Such major contractors subcontracted out parts of their contracts to other firms, which then sub-subcontracted to still other firms, a practice which made it harder and harder to track waste and fraud. Contractors also enable the government to circumvent the “no boots on the ground” and similar assurances made to American voters. One of the ways this is done is to surreptitiously employ civilian contractors to train foreign indigenous military personnel in military fundamentals. Not surprisingly they usually look just like real American soldiers – a practice which is now being copied by Russia in places like Ukraine. Such US-contracted mercenaries are already being used in Somalia, and are prepared to go to work again in Iraq.
About as many contractors working for the US have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq as US soldiers, but those deaths generally are ignored in assessing the cost of the wars. As of October 2014, 6,838 US soldiers had been killed in the two wars, while the estimated number of contractors killed was some 6,800. (That’s a total of 13,638 deaths on the American side – which is an astounding number when you consider that our enemy does not possess one single ship, plane, tank, missile or drone – the very toys upon which America’s claim as “super-power” rests. Unconventional warfare is The Great Equalizer.) Tens of thousands of additional contractors have been injured, with some losing limbs or suffering other permanent disabilities. These people are paid much more than real soldiers, but they don’t get veterans’ benefits, and a group of them have filed a class action suit against Blackwater, KBR, DynCorp, and other firms and their insurers alleging that they were denied medical care after being injured in war zones. Steven Schooner, a former White House military procurement official who now studies contractor policy at George Washington University, said Americans should be aware that “their government has increasingly delegated to the private sector the responsibility to stand in harm’s way and, if required, die for America.” But that is true only as long as those private companies are paid by the US government. When their services are no longer needed by America, these ever more competent and effective commercial enterprises are free to secure contracts from any other entity with the necessary money. They can also be purchased by any other entity that wants to own them outright, including potential enemy states. It is not inconceivable that American soldiers will one day be fighting mercenaries once built and employed by their own government.
Replacing really huge numbers of professional American soldiers expert in a really wide range of human endeavors absolutely essential to unconventional warfare, both during and after the cessation of hostilities, with as-needed on-the-fly contract hire companies was a conscious and deliberate “out-sourcing” “money-saving” decision of the Baby Boomer civilians in Congress, the CIA, USAID and the Defense and State departments during the period 1988-1992. Like almost all such Baby Boomer decisions, it was just stupid. It’s STILL stupid.
A recent Washington Post article attacked corporations for becoming “craftier at erecting barriers” between themselves and their workers by hiring individual contractors, temps or “some other version of out-sourced laborer” in order to avoid expensive costs like health care, minimum wages, pensions, etc., to “absolve themselves of responsibility for low wages and poor working conditions.” But the truth is that the sector most guilty of this practice is, in fact, the federal government, right there in front of the Washington Post, and most of its commercial contractors were made possible by bureaucrats setting up such companies from within government before they themselves joined the companies at the top and at top pay. A significant number of those companies working under State and USAID contracts are women-owned companies. No entity on the planet out-sources so much of its functions as does the federal government, a practice which very effectively conceals both the true size and true cost of government from the taxpayers who foot the bills. It also effectively creates a safety barrier behind which bureaucrats can shield themselves from responsibility and accountability for activities undertaken at their direction theoretically on behalf of the American people. And, of course, an added benefit is the ability of such contractor companies to avoid the laws that the people’s representatives established to manage and control government activities.
Regardless of what you think about these contractor companies, there’s one thing you can’t deny: They have collectively introduced into American “wars”, American “intelligence”, American “diplomacy”, American “aid”, a really really disgusting profit motive. It’s all about the money, someone else’s money. And NOTHING is what it seems anymore. As a professional American soldier, I don’t trust anyone unless they’re standing there right beside me in the exact same uniform. And then it takes me about 30 seconds to verify that he’s genuine, or just hiding behind my reputation.
It is this very profit motive that thoroughly undermines the whole concept of “moral imperative” and “just wars” on behalf of “human rights”, and relegates the whole discussion to the sewer.
Footnote #2: As an aside, in the late-1980s it was personal computers and what were known at that time as “white boards” that played a significant role in enabling Soviet communist rule in Warsaw Pact countries to disintegrate peacefully, orderly and without chaos or potentially catastrophic mistakes. The “internet” had originally been developed as a concept required by the US military as a communication system that could survive a global nuclear war. The thinking was that, if two computers still existed in different parts of the world, they could still talk to each other by rapidly routing broken-up data packets wherever there was still an open low-voltage telephone circuit in the “world wide web” so that the packets could arrive at the intended destination via any available routes and be automatically reassembled into a coherent whole. American universities doing secret research for the US military were the first users of this system under supervision of the US Defense Department’s very nerdy “Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency” (DARPA). I was using the “internet” in the 1970s for encrypted classified communications long before the public even heard of it.
By the late-1980s, the US military had moved its communications to more secure digital satellite systems, and President Reagan simply released its basic “internet” system to the world for free. It spread like wildfire via universities and such companies as Cisco and such organizations as Europe’s CERN, even into eastern Europe. Long before dozens of companies started to develop the internet’s seemingly unlimited potential, it was still a basic communications system, requiring a little knowledge of Bill Gates’ use of Basic binary code. Private citizens in Eastern Europe could quickly share information they knew was not filtered by their governments. The sharing of that information via Basic text by posting it on public “white boards” enabled huge populations all over eastern Europe to know that what was happening was true and to make maximum use of that information to coordinate their own actions without false rumors or panic. It also enabled communist governments to know that what was happening was not some great conspiracy of the West. The US military was a full participant in that process of unfiltered free-flowing public information and kept making more and more resources available to the effort in the interest of peaceful transition throughout all of eastern Europe and Soviet Russia. Accurate information flowing freely can be a very powerful force. (It then becomes a problem of filtering out all the self-interested political nonsense, and the mountains of pure junk.)
It’s amazing how much people’s political beliefs closes their minds to obvious realities in front of their faces. The hatred and fear of President Reagan during the 1980s in the US and throughout Old Europe when he was trying to end the stupid “Cold” War was matched only by the hatred and fear of President Bush II during the 2000s as he was trying to take the best approach to the “War On Terrorism”. It’s also amazing how that political hatred and fear results even in rewriting history to conform with inflexible preexisting political convictions. The challenge in the West is becoming how to deal with too much information, including too much bullshit.
(In addition to the basic internet, among the hundreds of other significant benefits of the US military enjoyed today by all of mankind since 1989 is the Global Positioning System (GPS); originally developed by the US Navy and still under management of the US Department of Defense, it also was released for world-wide civilian use by President Reagan.)
Footnote #3. It’s easy to break things. Children are great at it. It’s a lot harder to put things back together, or, even harder, to make something better out of the pieces. A man who actually knows what he’s talking about, who, like I, actually had considerable experience with the subject and spent a long time studying it, General Colin Powell, said before we went into Iraq, “You break it, you own it.” The great question is how do you hold together a country you have invaded and to a great extent destroyed with enormous speed and power, until it can overcome the shock and heal itself, put its own pieces back where their people want them – so that it doesn’t descend into irreversible chaos and warring factions in the interim. This is a very difficult and protracted static process known as “nation-building”; it can only take place effectively in an environment of stability. The invading force must maintain that stability while the building process takes place.
This gets incredibly harder once internal armed resistance (“insurgency”) gains a foothold and creates instability. A society with insufficient police forces to maintain order, where essential utilities like electricity, water, telephone and TV don’t work, where children are hungry and adults have no paid employment, etc., is ripe for armed resistance that significantly aggravates the instability. The instability appears much broader than it actually is through fear created by the unpredictability of indiscriminate and deadly guerrilla hit and run tactics, a very fluid shadow war tactic solely concerned with creating and maintaining instability. It is this instability that can defeat a foreign invading force and lead it to withdraw or get bogged down with endless casualties and zero progress.
When instability through armed insurgency gets established, you have a situation requiring “nation-building” with one hand, and “counter-insurgency” with the other – one hand building and the other hand destroying – two completely different kinds of “unconventional” warfare. These are missions for two different kinds of people with two different kinds of missions, both operating in full coordination in a very dangerous environment. And each mission is incredibly complex and difficult.
In Iraq, the US military was required to do both jobs with one type of soldier, with enormously insufficient numbers of those soldiers, and within one-fourth the time normally required. And those soldiers were expert in conventional, not unconventional, warfare. The strategy was to isolate as much as possible those areas with the most violent insurgency, while continuing with the nation-building stability operations in other areas. As the insurgency was relentless attacked, wherever possible with the help of locals simply fed up with the carnage, the insurgency areas steadily decreased in size and were shifted to the stability areas. As messed up as it appeared, and as unfinished as it is, eventually it actually went far better than I (and General Powell) would have predicted. This is a great testimony to the competence, determination and bravery of junior and mid-level officers of the US Regular Army. They are without doubt America’s greatest resource, its most effective “secret weapon”.
The critical key to the professional US Regular Army is the degree to which it pushes down in the ranks as much responsibility as can be handled by its more junior officers; the US Army may be a pyramid-structured organization, but it is a bottom-driven engine, and it is just about the last true meritocracy in America. The top ranks send down broad tasks and leave it to mid-level and junior officers to figure out how to accomplish those tasks with the tools they have previously been provided, including their training and equipment, both by the Army and by their broader society. These are very smart people, and they thrive on the responsibility. Those who succeed are those who advance. Those who fail to understand and embrace their responsibility, including their responsibility for subordinates as well as the mission, are ejected. I now try to imagine how things would have turned out in Iraq if these great Americans had gone into that country with the full complement of professional expertise the mission actually required from the very beginning. (And if some idiotic civilian “proconsul” hadn’t immediately screwed up everything.)