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Have we built an American Foreign Legion?

26 February 2009

I strongly recommend reading this in full.  In fact, TomDispatch deserves to be in the top rank of the “favorites” list of every American concerned about his or her nation, as it provides unsurpassed coverage of key issues.

This article discusses a long-standing theme of the FM site, the growing stress on the fabric — the people — of our Armed Forces (see links to other posts at the end of the post).  As our imperial wars grow in number and duration, our chain of foreign bases ever-larger, the burden grows accordingly.  When inevitably something in the apparatus snaps we will cry “black swan event” and recite the mantra of 21st century America:   “It’s not our fault.”

Note:  Before going to today’s featured article, note this previous post with a different perspective:  America needs a Foreign Legion, 18 April 2008.

Is the U.S. Military Now an Imperial Police Force?“, William Astore, posted at TomDispatch, 15 February 2009

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt

While the Army struggles, not particularly effectively, to deal with its suicide problem, political and military leaders struggle no less unimpressively to deal with the larger problems of military stress. Their unanimous solution to the global policy version of post-traumatic stress disorder: Cut down on those tours of duty and repair the military by significantly expanding U.S. forces. The obvious response, the one that could bring the military back to a state of health, is of course roundly ignored: Downsize the global mission. Bring American troops home.

Excerpt

A leaner, meaner, higher tech force — that was what George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised to transform the American military into. Instead, they came close to turning it into a foreign legion. Foreign as in being constantly deployed overseas on imperial errands; foreign as in being ever more reliant on private military contractors; foreign as in being increasingly segregated from the elites that profit most from its actions, yet serve the least in its ranks.

Now would be a good time for President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to begin to reclaim that military for its proper purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now would be a good time to ask exactly why, and for whom, our troops are currently fighting and dying in the urban jungles of Iraq and the hostile hills of Afghanistan.

… As the Obama administration begins to deploy U.S. troops back to the Iraq or Afghan war zones for their fourth or fifth tours of duty, I remain amazed at the silent complicity of my country. Why have we been so quiet? Is it because the Bush administration was, in fact, successful in sending our military down the path to foreign legion-hood? Is the fate of our troops no longer of much importance to most Americans?

Even the military’s recruitment and demographics are increasingly alien to much of the country. Troops are now regularly recruited in “foreign” places like South Central Los Angeles and Appalachia that more affluent Americans wouldn’t be caught dead visiting.

… With respect to demographics, it’ll take more than the sons of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to redress inequities in burden-sharing. With startlingly few exceptions, America’s sons and daughters dodging bullets remain the progeny of rural America, of immigrant America, of the working and lower middle classes. As long as our so-called best and brightest continue to be AWOL when it comes to serving among the rank-and-file, count on our foreign adventurism to continue to surge.

Diversity is now our societal byword. But how about more class diversity in our military? How about a combat regiment of rich young volunteers from uptown Manhattan? (After all, some of their great-grandfathers probably fought with New York’s famed “Silk Stocking” regiment in World War I.) How about more Ivy League recruits like George H.W. Bush and John F. Kennedy, who respectively piloted a dive bomber and a PT boat in World War II? Heck, why not a few prominent Hollywood actors like Jimmy Stewart, who piloted heavy bombers in the flak-filled skies of Europe in that same war?

Instead of collective patriotic sacrifice, however, it’s clear that the military will now be running the equivalent of a poverty and recession “draft”to fill the “all-volunteer” military. Those without jobs or down on their luck in terrible times will have the singular honor of fighting our future wars. Who would deny that drawing such recruits from dead-end situations in the hinterlands or central cities is strikingly Foreign Legion-esque?

Caught in the shock and awe of 9/11, we allowed our military to be transformed into a neocon imperial police force. Now, approaching our eighth year in Afghanistan and sixth year in Iraq, what exactly isthat force defending? Before President Obama acts to double the number of American boots-on-the-ground in Afghanistan — before even more of our troops are sucked deeper into yet another quagmire — shouldn’t we ask this question with renewed urgency? Shouldn’t we wonder just why, despite all the reverent words about “our troops,” we really seem to care so little about sending them back into the wilderness again and again?

Where indeed is the outcry?

The French Foreign Legionnaires knew better than to expect such an outcry: The elites for whom they fought didn’t give a damn about what happened to them. Our military may not yet be a foreign legion — but don’t fool yourself, it’s getting there.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), taught for six years at the Air Force Academy. He currently teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism(Potomac Press, 2005), among other works. He may be reached at wastore@pct.edu.

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Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts about our military:

  1. Recommended reading: transforming the Army, the hard way, 15 January 2008
  2. America needs a Foreign Legion, 18 April 2008
  3. Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW, 31 May 2008
  4. Lawrence Korb of CAP and CDI advocates a militia, 4 June 2008
  5. Time: “America’s Medicated Army”, 12 June 2008
  6. “VA testing drugs on war veterans” – The Washington Times and ABC News, 18 June 2008
  7. Is post-traumatic stress disorder more common now than in past wars?, 17 July 2008
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31 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 February 2009 12:43 am

    I think a lot of people who comment here, like myself, could write way more than 250 words on all of this, especially if there is any personal angle… will try the PowerPoint approach and just shove out some bullet points:

    1. I share the respect for TomDispatch as a great resource, way better than the Village C”W” claptrap from the MSM

    2. Yes, it is a worldwide imperial occupation force, and we should pull it way back

    3. The all-volunteer thing is a Nixonian imperialist plot to stifle dissent and it has worked like a charm, and is therefore a disaster

    4. One of the best things happening now is that the Internet is acting as a platform to involve civilians such as myself with people like the late David Hackworth, Fred Kaplan, LTC Bob Bateman over at Altercation, the folks at DNI, and of course our gracious host… wish we had had this back in the late 60s and early 70s…

    5. Because as the Prez said last night, those in favor of and opposed to and everywhere in between on the imperial overstretch, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghani/Pakistan, Israel, Iran and wherever all love this country despite differences of opinion on how to proceed and we should start there and return there after all discussions

    6. I also write as the parent of a Marine who joined against my advice, was not mentally ready to serve in any way, and is now physically and somewhat mentally debilitated due to his service, and I have no idea how it will all turn out.

    At ease. Next!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You have my best wishes for your son, that this all works out well for him.

  2. Pete permalink
    26 February 2009 1:00 am

    The current crisis stems from many causes, from the failure of senior defense leaders (military and civilian) to live the values of their oaths of office, to the growing gulf between the military and those they defend. The current indifference to the militay is emblematic of the ignorance in which many Americans hold history, especially military history.

    In summer 2004, I visited New Orleans expressly for visiting what was then called the D-Day Museum. The night before, while dining in a local eatery on Bourbon Street staffed mostly by college-aged employees, I conducted a brief survey by asking every youth the following questions:

    1. Have you ever heard of D-Day; if so what is it and what is its historical significance?
    2. When and where did it occur?
    3. Name the principle nations involved, and their leaders.

    Not one of some dozen young people knew a single answer – not one! Admittedly this is far from a scientific survey, but it deeply troubled me none-the-less. In the America of the past, every citizen was expected to learn such things, and many others as well. The point is that, for many Americans, the military might as well not exist… it is not something in their field of view or something to which they devote attention. To the extent that many think about it, they are misinformed, or only partly informed about this complex subject. Is it any wonder that our forces are being employed as a de facto foreign legion, albeit one staffed by US citizens?

    The Bush Administration frequently said we were at war, but the truth is that our military is at war; the rest of us are not. We are too busy watching “American Idol” (that 21st century version of Roman Bread-and-Circuses), shopping or who-knows-what-else?

    Because we do not trouble anymore to study the Constitution and other founding documents in our schools and homes, the wisdom of the Founding Fathers on the use and misuse of military force, is disappearing into the mists of time very rapidly.

    The founders, suspicious of large standing armies because of our revolutionary and pre-revolutionary experiences with HRM King George’s redcoats, favored a military composed of a cadre of permanent professional soldiers and sailors, surrounded by citizen soldiers drawn from all walks of life and places in America. Could it be that the pendulum has swung too far the other way, that the AVF is “over-professionalized” and misses the critical check upon careerism provided by draftees and large number of citizen soldiers? Our current force structure uses reservists much more aggressively than in the past, as a tactical and not only a strategic reserve. However, aren’t most senior leadership positions filled by regular members of the permanent (non-reserve) forces? There is enormous pressure to “toe the line” institutionally, and can it be surprising that comparatively few resign their commissions in protest of the conditions or treatment given their forces, or the real state of their readiness?

    Any comments, veterans? Just a concerned citizen here, not a service member myself… so if corrections are in order, please make ‘em!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Consider the tests at the opening of Forecast: Death of the American Constitution. Americans are raised today largely ignorant of their heritage, both the actual history of work and suffering that produced America — and the great myths that are so much of our cultural heritage. We’ve deprived them of one of our greatest gifts to them, their heritage.

  3. Pete permalink
    26 February 2009 1:03 am

    The silver lining in the black cloud of the current financial crisis may well be that our “foreign entanglements” are financially unsustainable once and for all. Of course, if we are too foolish to pull back, we will bankrupt ourselves all the faster…. and we all know where that will lead.

    Given the current fiscal realities, a sizeable percentage of our forces would seem to be headed for the bone yard.

  4. seneca permalink
    26 February 2009 1:05 am

    “reclaim that military for its proper purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

    This is an unfortunate re-statement of the mission. A “domestic enemy” of the Constitution is a slippery concept indeed, prone to abuse, historically without meaning, except, perhaps, in the case of several members of the Bush administration. Should we send the military after Cheney and Rumsfeld?

    I like the way the writer picks out the ugly aspects of our imperial police — the class bias in recruitment, the slide toward the use of mercenaries (private contractor), the indifference to the effects on individual soldiers. We could add further the effects on the whole population, as military life comes to be seen as admirable, unavoidable, a sign of our civilizational greatness.

    Obama talked about something like a two year obligation of national service. I always liked this concept, even though it obviously can easily shade into a military draft. In fact, I don’t mind that idea either. The recent fantasy of fighting wars without casualties (on our side, at least) seemed expecially viscious and subhuman to me.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: To consider Cheney and Rumsfleld “enemies of the Constitution” is a big step to tyranney, where “what I believe” is the highest good — and my enemies are enemies of the State. Are proscriptions next, killing enemies and their children to produce a better future?

  5. electrophoresis permalink
    26 February 2009 2:44 am

    It’s much worse than Tom Englehardt claims. In fact, America is moving away entirely from using its own citizens to fight overseas, instead preferring to bribe non-citizens to fight with the promise of citizenship.

    “The Pentagon will begin recruiting skilled immigrants with temporary status in the United States and offer them an express path to citizenship, The New York Times reported Sunday. Citing military officials, the paper said that under the proposed program, recruits would be able to become US citizens in as little as six months.<

    “Permanent residents, or holders of so-called “green cards,” have been eligible to enlist in the US military for a long time. But for the first time since the Vietnam War, the military, which is stretched thin due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will now open its doors to immigrants with temporary visas if they have lived in the United States for a minimum of two years, the report said.”

    This isn’t the Foreign Legion, it’s the Hessians. Non-citizen mercenaries paid (bribed) to fight. When a society’s own citizens refuse to fight its wars, it’s all over. That military is toast.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: A depression will solve the military’s recruiting problems, for a few years anyway (jobs are the last part of the economy to recovery).

  6. Sean Ecce permalink
    26 February 2009 2:54 am

    A civilian force as large and well funded as the military, just like Mr. Obama promised. The US is a rich country and can afford every wish and promise the new administration has guaranteed through a very long campaign season.

    A civilian force of immaculate proportion, led by Mr. Obama himself as the supreme leader, that is all we ask.

  7. 26 February 2009 5:30 am

    About half the troops killed with Custer spoke fluent Sicilian. We have a long history of granting citizenship for enlistment, nothing new. Different is we have fought four wars in Asia with no convincing evidence of their value or purpose for our defense. Obama is considering extending A. into a fifth. It is absurd. We have more than 700 bases abroad. Close most of them tomorrow. We need a clear national defense strategy, military forces designed to support and sustain that policy, a reformed acquisition system without the corrupt Pentagon/Congress nexus that is looting us. We should require every college in the nation that takes one nickel in federal aid to support an ROTC program. Enough of their bullshit about defending the honor of gay rights etc. We do not have a foreign legion but we will in a few decades if we do not pause, reassess the purposes of our armed forces, their objectives and requirements.

    • rogerthedodger permalink
      26 February 2009 6:16 pm

      Half of Custer’s troopers KIA spoke fluent Sicilian? At the Little Big Horn?

      Not what you would think from this muster list, unless they were taking lessons on the side:

      http://freepages.folklore.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pickensarchive/custer.html

    • 27 February 2009 9:03 pm

      I will look for the sources of my observation about the Sicilian (or Italian) immigrants in Custer’s troops. They may not have been half, acknowledge the hyperbole, and they may have been in other commands. But I would not take as evidence the names on the rosters. There was a significant foreign born component in the U.S. military from the 1970s forward.

  8. Pete permalink
    26 February 2009 7:06 am

    Van Creveld appears prescient indeed. That more and more Americans decline to serve their nation in uniform is a symptom of the larger disease, namely the breakdown of the nation-state. At bottom, the nation is a result of an implied contract between its citizens (or subjects as the case may be) and the state itself. Since the Peace of Westphalia, implicit in the “agreement” is that in return for the willingness of its citizens to fight and if necessary – die – for it, the state and its rulers would in turn provide for the needs of its people. However, as the traditonal nation state has proven ill-adapted to the problems of the modern world, people living in them are transferring their loyalties to other entities, everything from trans-national corporations, to tribes, to gangs, anything that replaces the role once held by the state.

    Despite sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary, young people can be rational actors. Many are examining the cost-benefit ratio of military service and deciding that on the balance, their lives are not worth sacrificing for a state that seems increasingly remote from their lives and needs. Perhaps that pension promised for twenty years of service doesn’t look all that hot, given that the government that promises it is fast on the road to utter insolvency. And why should youth volunteer to serve a nation whose “best and brightest” cannot balance the national checkbook? Moreover, we show a disturbing tendancy during military scandals to sacrifice enlisted people and junior (company and field grade) officers as scapegoats for the incompetence and/or derelection of duty of their superiors. How many senior officers lost their careers, much less did time in military prison, for Abu Ghraib? Young people see and note these trends, which further influence adversely their willingness to serve. The high op-temp and backdoor draft of stop-lossing is also a factor. If young people genuinely knew they could do a tour and then be done for good, they might be more inclined to serve. That comparatively few volunteer for service is in effect an informal referendum on the the wisdom of “cabinet” wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan

    Americans have always responded well to genuine threats upon our country; if and when a major war happens to threaten us directly, we will see if our youth will respond to the call. I have every confidence they will if the need is really there.

    Still, the rise of a true American Foreign Legion is indeed a troubling portend. Reminds me of the decline of the Roman Empire.

  9. 26 February 2009 8:44 am

    Fabius Maximus, I second Greg Panfile’s implicit demand to liberalize, privatize and globalize the comment policy word limit.
    The British Empire, in contrast, extensively employed foreign citizens as fighters inta Imperial forces.
    See Wikipedia.

  10. Mikyo permalink
    26 February 2009 12:07 pm

    Oh boy. Does this mean we can have our own Algiers putsch? Who will take the role of Charles de Gaulle?

  11. Andrew B permalink
    26 February 2009 3:45 pm

    “With respect to demographics, it’ll take more than the sons of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to redress inequities in burden-sharing.”

    Joe Biden and Sarah Palin are two of the most ordinary and non-wealthy people in high elected office today. Its no surprise they have children in the military. When was the last time the child of an elected plutocrat like Kennedy, Rockefeller, Kohl, Dayton, etc. served under arms? Has a Rockefeller ever served their country in the military?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: As I understand it, the answer is WWI.
    * In both the UK and US families in our ruling elites suffered high casualties.
    * Their children served during WWII, but to a large extent in safe staff jobs. Not always: President Kennedy commanded a PT boat; his brother died piloting an experimental bomber.
    * After that their participation has slowly faded, leaving military service to the lower classes.

    • underscore permalink
      26 February 2009 4:25 pm

      yes: James Stillman Rockefeller serves in WWII. A distant cousin served in the Civil War.

      but it’s a worthy point nonetheless, the US aristocracy does not participate in the military, and those members of congress who have served or have family serving are not from the great political dynasties of this country..
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      Fabius Maximus replies: As I said above, they did serve in the past, but no longer do so.

  12. Andrew B permalink
    26 February 2009 3:49 pm

    seneca: “A “domestic enemy” of the Constitution is a slippery concept indeed, prone to abuse, historically without meaning, except, perhaps, in the case of several members of the Bush administration.”

    Never heard of the Civil War, aka War Between the States, aka The War of Yankee Agression?

  13. Andrew B permalink
    26 February 2009 4:00 pm

    Pete: “The founders, suspicious of large standing armies because of our revolutionary and pre-revolutionary experiences with HRM King George’s redcoats, favored a military composed of a cadre of permanent professional soldiers and sailors, surrounded by citizen soldiers drawn from all walks of life and places in America.”

    The Founding Fathers were opposed to any standing Army in time of peace, which is why the Constitution prohibits making appropriations for an Army that are available to be spent for a term longer than two years.

    The Founding Fathers wisely perceived that America was safe because it was (a) composed of the worlds most heavily armed citizenry (2nd Amendment), (b) seperated by two oceans from the Eurasian landmass and its intractable conflicts (natural geography), (c) entirely free of foreign influence once the colonialization of Latin America was overthrown (Monroe Doctrine), (d) the obvious dominant power in the western hemisphere based on size, resources, people, climate, and location (natural geography again), (e) composed of a unitary people sharing a common Christian/European culture and therefore lacking internal ethno-cultural conflicts (Asians and Africans not eligible for citizenship).

    As we have slowly undone these safeguards since WWI, we have become less and less free as a people. The greatest threat to America is our own elected leadership and its unified concept of what America ought to be doing and being. Ever since the elimination of Taft in 1952, there has been no threat of America changing its foreign policy.

  14. 26 February 2009 4:02 pm

    Update about hiring foreigners into the US military

    It’s important to remember that DOD resorted to recruiting non-US citizens during a strong economy. That’s no longer necessary, as explained in these two articles.

    (1) Army dropping additional re-up bonus“, Stars and Stripes, 26 February 2009 — Excerpt:

    The Army has ended an additional re-enlistment bonus that targeted soldiers whose contracts were set to expire this fiscal year after exceeding its retention goal. More than 7,900 soldiers who had been slated to leave the Army before Oct. 1 have re-enlisted this fiscal year, beating the Army’s target by more than 700 soldiers, said Master Sgt. Michael Beaupre, retention operations noncommissioned officer in the directorate of military personnel management.

    … In December, the Army announced that soldiers slated to leave active duty by Oct. 1 could be eligible to receive a re-enlistment bonus of up to $18,500. That bonus was not part of the latest Armywide message outlining the Selective Re-Enlistment Bonus-Enhanced Program. The message was issued Feb. 13 and became effective Feb. 20.

    … The move comes about two months after the Army reduced the number of Military Occupational Specialties that rate a re-enlistment bonus from 88 to 63. Its budget for retention bonuses this fiscal year has been cut by $90 million, and more cuts are possible.

    Meanwhile, the Army is expected to meet its goal of increasing its active-duty end strength to 547,000 this year. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli recently said the Army’s recruiting efforts began seeing increased success in December 2007, which he has heard coincided with the economic crisis.

    (2) Analysis by economist David Rosenberg:

    “We have a major crisis here at home in terms of youth unemployment hitting a 16-year high of nearly 15%. It’s tough enough to find a job today as it is, but for the younger folks without skills or experience, it is especially tough — the ranks of the unemployed have risen roughly 25% over the past year in the 16-24 age cohort.

    “So where are these people going? They are not going back to school because the cutbacks by state governments and endowment funds have promted colleges and universities to curb enrollment (see “Cutbacks threaten college experience” on page D3 of the WSJ).

    “Some of these kids are going to where jobs are available: in the armed forces, where employment is not only on the rise but the +2.5% growth rate in the past year compares to a -2.5% trend in the civilian population.”

  15. 26 February 2009 4:34 pm

    Andrew B’s comments are cogent and to the point. The decision to retain a large standing army to oppose the Soviet Union and the presence of nuclear weapons transformed American politics.

    The military professionals have never liked the draft, do not like educated civilians if they can be avoided. But the deterioration of our education system has somewhat altered their views. A nation of immigrants, what is the problem of giving citizenship in exchange for service? Is it worse than condoning illegality, not paying their taxes, giving them benefits, stealing their social security?

    Get real folks, we have been making a mockery of human rights, all of us. Nationalism remains the only successful ideology invented in modern times. Socialism, Communism, One World represent impulses that eternally rise and evaporate, nationalism motivates and moves people. It still exists deeply in this country despite the best efforts of two generations of Harvard Ed school turkeys, thousands of lawyers, and other movement advocates of various stripes to extirpate. I believe we would do good to have a truth commission as some senator has proposed but it need not be for Iraq.

    The source and continuing running sore in America remains the Vietnam War, conceived and carried out by both parties. A true crime vs. humanity vs. forces who could not care less about human rights, which did not give our leaders the right to commit war crimes vs. three countries. We are overcoming the legacy of slavery by hard work and some stupid and expensive skullduggery but we are doing it. We have made no effort to deal with this 500000 lb. elephant. We should and can so American national pride can flower modestly and stoutly again.

  16. electrophoresis permalink
    26 February 2009 4:48 pm

    I second Pete’s point that young people are behaving like rational actors. Even the worst economic depression isn’t worth leasing the rest of your life to the U.S. military — and make no mistake, that’s the message we’ve sent by suddenly recalling 50-year-old national guard reserve soldiers to active duty without warning. In effect, the U.S. military is telling all of its citizens, loud and clear, that if you volunteer to serve your country militarily, in even the slightest or most marginal capacity even as a reserve or a national guardsman, you can and will be yanked back into front-line combat and forced to served repeated rotations until you’re maimed or brain-damaged (due to better armor & much deadlier IEDs) or killed.

    No sensible person will make that choice. Much better to huddle in a cardboard box under a bridge, but alive, than to grind through your fifth tour of duty in some third world hellhole waiting for the IED that will tear your face and arms and legs off and leave you brain-damaged and unable to do more than drool.

  17. 26 February 2009 5:30 pm

    “Why have we been so quiet?”
    When there have been hundreds of protests against Bush and against the Iraq war, many of them front page or top story news, it’s hard not to laugh at such nonsense. The anti-war folk have been anything BUT quiet. They’ve made their argument, and just lost.

    In 2004, when Pres. Bush was reelected. Had Bush’s surge not been SO successful, McCain 2008 would have had a better chance (the Finance meltdown mostly overrode everything else.)

    Because America-loving voters understand that once Operation Iraqi Freedom started, either America would win, or the terrorists would win. I know most of the reader commenters here, and FM, believe that America can leave the fight and not ‘lose’. The Vietnam evidence is otherwise. America was fighting communism in Indo-China, and after we barely won the war in 1973 (Paris Peace), the gov’t (Dem led with Rep Pres against) decided to not support our S. Viet allies. Who then lost against the N. Viet commies in 1975. Which paved the way for Cambodia’s commies from Pol Pot to take over and create the Killing Fields, a worse genocide (in % of people killed) than WW II.

    The choice in Darfur is war or genocide acceptance. And in the Congo. And maybe in Zimbabwe of a less violent, economic ruin & disease kind of genocide. Right now, acceptance is politically more popular. I’d prefer honest war, for freedom, justice, and the American Way; including small gov’t and a lot of individual responsibility. (Knowing that war is the health of the state.)

    • underscore permalink
      26 February 2009 8:53 pm

      Isn’t there a danger here of us accepting an updated version of the ‘white man’s burden’? Who are we to decide what constitutes a legitimate government and at what point a government does not have the authority to put down insurrection? None of those conflicts are pat and dry.

      Zimbabwe comes the closest, but being a Western power invading an African country to restore ‘democracy’ by force won’t do anything for us internationally. In the Congo, everyone has their hands dirty, so unless we’re prepared to fight Zimbabwe, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Chad, the Congolese government and various permutations and proxies of rebels and interests of each of these countries, it might be better to stick to making sure Hutu militias and LRA don’t have a haven there. And in Sudan, man, what a powder keg, you have rebels from the Sudan, rebels from Chad, the Janjaweed, the government, and now some evidence that Kenya is arming the government of South Sudan in a possible run up to post election violence. I don’t see how our military presence there will help any.

      Even historically, let’s not forget that it was those Commie North Vietnamese in the end who put an end to Pol Pot’s reign of terror.

      I think a better way to look at these conflicts is to step back from the bellicose posturing of “if you don’t stop violating human rights, we will kill you until you respect them” policy. If we learn to respect sovereignty, that might be enough of a guarantee to keep the Chinese and Russians on board with our views of the conflict and encourage them to use their economic leverage to keep Khartoum and whoever else in line. I would postulate that much of what makes them unhelpful on the UN Security council is the fear that we can use interventions in less developed countries as a precedent to interfere with their own affairs.

      As for good old American wars that made it easy to see right from wrong, WW2 was probably the last one because it was a life or death struggle. This makes being right very clear, victory is a broad interest for the entire nation. That’s why it was the last war to have social and political elites fighting in it.

  18. seneca permalink
    26 February 2009 6:38 pm

    “To consider Cheney and Rumsfleld “enemies of the Constitution” is a big step to tyranney, where “what I believe” is the highest good.” (FM reply to comment #4)

    I didn’t say this lightly or contentiously. This administration undeniably and unashamedly undermined Constitutional guarantees of free speech, assembly and privacy, and long-established legal traditions like habeas corpus, the right to a fair trial, and prohibitions against torture. Any administration that puts a vague concept like national security, and a questionable one like executive privilege above accountability, has done a lot to undermine the Constitution.

    Andrew B: the south was not an example of a “domestic enemy”. They declared themselves a separate nation and we’re basically re-conquered, like a foreign country. Domestic enemy theoretically refers to someone who wants to overthrow the government, but in fact it’s most often used (abused) to suppress those who merely criticise specific policy, advocate a different form of government, protest unfair labor practices, question wars, have the same ancestry or appearance as a foreign enemy (Japanese-Americans during WW II, Muslims recently). In a free society, the concept of domestic enemy is almost illogical, unless there is an actual conspiracy.

    • underscore permalink
      26 February 2009 8:30 pm

      Timothy McVeigh & Terry Nichols = domestic enemies of the constitution

      Cheney & Rumsfeld = incompetent, dishonest, and immoral leaders. Dangerous to the nation, but not quite “we’re going to tear down the government” types

    • Andrew B permalink
      26 February 2009 8:50 pm

      The South lost an election and decided they wanted out, so they rebelled against the lawful national government. That’s treason. They are the ones who fired on Fort Sumter, not the Union. If they weren’t a domestic enemy, why did they attack the government and even go so far as to assassinate the president?

    • 26 February 2009 9:19 pm

      Wrong. Secession was not explicitly forbidden in the Constitution, but all powers not explicitly designated were left ‘to the States, or the People.’ Ergo they were not treasonous. Which is NOT to say that Lincoln was wrong to try to reunite the country by conquest; it is simply to say that he acted extraconstitutionally.

    • Andrew B permalink
      26 February 2009 8:54 pm

      “Any administration that puts a vague concept like national security’

      The National Security apparatus formed under Roosevelt and solidified and legalized under Truman has been unquestionably in charge of our government and especially its foreign policy for the past 67 years. If you think this was something new Bush invented, think again.

      Presidents and Administrations come and go, but the Security empire of the NSA, CIA, NRO, DEA, DHS, etc. keeps growing and growing, gathering ever more powers and ever great responsibilities under its mantle.

  19. 26 February 2009 10:42 pm

    I think Lt. Colonel Astore’s point about the demographics of the military is flawed and overplayed. He seems to be resurrecting the “poor and dumb” canard that’s been thoroughly refuted.

    As for how Americans treat the military, Col. Astore’s got some good points. Those Marines in Iraq were right some years ago; the military is at war and America’s at the mall. That problem can be laid squarely on the doorstep of Mr. Bush, who sought to aggressively defended American security but in hindsight set the wrong national tone in the wake of 9/11.

    Finally, if you look at the raw data about who serves, what you find is a small, developing military class within the middle class where generation after generation serves while most Americans sit back and enjoy the benefits. Think of it as a self-selecting Praetorian Guard more than a Foreign Legion.

    • underscore permalink
      26 February 2009 11:26 pm

      That is perhaps an even more disturbing analogy–how many leaders did the French Foreign Legion put on the throne of France?

  20. seneca permalink
    27 February 2009 12:32 am

    “Presidents and Administrations come and go, but the Security empire of the NSA, CIA, NRO, DEA, DHS, etc. keeps growing and growing, gathering ever more powers and ever great responsibilities under its mantle.” (Andrew B)

    I certainly agree with you. Maybe we’re nitpicking. In the comment above security refers to foreign enemies. Even in this realm the concept is abused. Was Al q’aeda a national security threat, rather than a criminal act? Certainly debatable. Is Iran? Very debatable. My point was merely that national security shouldn’t be used to justify suspension of congressional oversight, transparency and accountability in public office.

    • 27 February 2009 2:39 am

      The Curia in the Vatican derived its name from an informal institution established by Augustus called the curiosi, an informal group of household members who were assigned roles to look into how expenditures were made. The Roman Republic and the follow on Empire had no budgets, expenditures were made by the households of the ruling generals. There were boards that ran waterworks etc. which had independent budgets but it was the household on the ruling general which collected funds from wherever and expended them. There is a history or two of the curiosi but suffice it say here it continued and developed an essentially independent life as the Empire morphed several times. I am not a fan of the Roman Empire analogy for America, another time for this, but we have created an intelligence monster as has been amply demonstrated in recent years. It should be beheaded but anyone arriving near high office is not likely to be capable of the heavy lifting.

    • Andrew B permalink
      27 February 2009 2:44 pm

      “In the comment above security refers to foreign enemies.”

      The American National Security apparatus, as it exists today, is aimed at protecting the governing class and financial elite from its enemies, foreign and domestic. Think about that for a moment.

      Why are supposedly free American citizens constantly being asked to produce identification, be subjected to pat-downs, forbidden weapons for self-defense, and simply restricted from accessing government facilities, except that the government considers us its enemy? 50 times the effort is spent surveiling American citizens as is spent chasing illegal border jumpers who are actually breaking the law and many of whom are a threat to American citizens, or tracking down overseas terrorists.

      The only people who avoid all of this domestic security scrutiny are government officials and drones with their ID pass cards, and the wealthy elite who pay to avoid it. Clearly they are being secured against us plebes, not foreign enemies.

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