Monday, January 5, 2015

The Tragedy of the American Military -- James Fallows


James Fallows has a lot worth reading in this article, from our popular culture's unfortunate inability to poke fun at the military, to the corrosive influence of the military-industrial complex (F-35, anyone?). He also repeats the observation that despite the repeated failures to achieve victory in either Iraq or Afghanistan, not a single American commander has been relieved of a combat command since at least 2001.
"Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. No decent person who is exposed to today’s troops can be anything but respectful of them and grateful for what they do.
Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much.
Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic* success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years."

*I would characterize the assassination of OBL as more of a symbolic victory than a "strategic" one. I would also characterize the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as "strategic," not merely tactical. But it's a damned shame we didn't immediately partition Iraq into three countries, install puppet strongmen, and then get the hell out of there by 2005.


  1. Lots of people got paid quite damn good over these years.



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