Posting will be erratic for the next 3 weeks, but the FM website team will endeavor to bring you rare and valuable new perspectives. Today we present the following selection, wells of insight.
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(1) The South Park TV show
Showing us the truth. Yes, we’re morons. Admitting that is the first step to reform. The good news is that in the past we were not morons, and need not be in the future.
- “The Nine Surges of Obama’s War – How to Escalate in Afghanistan“, Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, 10 December 2009
- “‘They’re Wasted’ – The Price of Pushing Our Troops Too Far“, William Astore (Lieutenant Colonel, USAF, retired), TomDispatch, 15 December 2009 — A subject of long-standing insight on the FM website; see more information about this at An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports.
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14 thoughts on “Today’s source of blindingly great insights about our world, our time”
So the Petraeus/McChrystal plan involves potentially spending as much on the Afghan army and police as the current, entire GDP of the county. This is more or less guaranteeing an eventual military dictatorship in the country.
Fabius, FYI, believe you have a typo in Colonel Astore’s name, in the link leading to the article, which says “Astore” not “Astoren.”
The central issue IMO, apart from the wars themselves and whether or not they should be fought, is unequal sharing of burdens. We do not have a nation at war, but we do have a military at war, especially our ground forces of the USMC and Army. We’d be well to revisit the lesson our fathers and grandfathers would have taught us: do not get involved in any war which you are unprepared to wage with a 100% commitment at the national level. They knew, having fought WWI, WWII, and then Korea, that war is indeed horrible. Forced into it, a nation should do everything possible to conclude the hostilities successfully and quickly, and then bring the troops home. What we are doing now in Af-Pak and Iraq violates this core precept at every level, and our armed forces are being broken in the process. We entered these conflicts voluntarily, and were not forced to do so. We apparently have lost the ability to leave voluntarily, however, curious given the strains being placed upon our forces. Still, the brass ignore the warning signs – they won’t believe the force is broken until it refuses to deploy, or fails catastrophically. How many deployments does it take to break a soldier? They intend to keep licking the tootsie pop to find out…pathetic. Proof that too many of our senior leaders regard our soldiers as a commodity to be used up, not flesh-and-blood people who have limits. Every soldier breaks in combat sooner or later, no exceptions.
If our elected leaders insist on waging “cabinet” wars, similar to those fought by the British or French empires, perhaps it is time to institute an American Foreign Legion.
That neither of these wars is subject to proper Congressional oversight is another disgrace, but the subject of another comment for another time…
Pete, I’ve been puzzled why the American Foreign Legion has not been established a long time ago. US politicians could certainly find use for a force of “expendables”. It could be staffed with young people eager to get US citizenship, and officered by regular Army or Marine personell. After four years service one could qualify for citizenship, and retire to the US civilian population or stay on with the Legion.
This model is probably not politically viable, but the reasons elude me.
Harald I think you answered your own question. A force of “expendables”, staffed with young people, who I assume would be immigrants. All they have to do is fight in open ended conflicts for the right of a green card. A hard sell i would imagine with most of them preferring to have a quiet life instead of the prospect of being killed.
The other thing to consider is the size of the Legion. at the moment I think it stands at 7,000 strong all ranks? I think you’d need slightly more than that, and more importantly they also can be broken by too many deployments. There is not an infinite pool of men that you can rely on here.
If you as a country are not prepared to pay and fight the wars you find yourselves in (by choice or events) then frankly you’re doomed if you think you can get someone foreign to step up to the plate and do it for you.
“A force of “expendables”, staffed with young people, who I assume would be immigrants. All they have to do is fight in open ended conflicts for the right of a green card. A hard sell i would imagine with most of them preferring to have a quiet life instead of the prospect of being killed.”
Actually I can imagine a lot of third worlders being pretty willing to take a “service in exchange for citizenship” bargain. I think you underestimate how shitty is life in a lot of places and how appealing american citizenship can still be. Recruiting enough suitable volounteers to fill an handful of brigades from a recruiting pool of hundreds of millions of people ought not be impossible; in any case if this was the only issue somebody would have already raised the matter seriously.
No the issue, as Hansen has pointed out, is political viability. Sending a Foreign Legion to fight in Afghanistan would means throwing out of the window a lot mythology about the relationship between the citizens and the military and between the Republic and the rest of the world, it also means recognizing that what is being fought is not an epic “Good vs Evil” after all.
In short it means facing contradictions about the role of the army, of the population and of foreign policy nobody is willing to face.
OK, I’ll bite: I can see the relevance of the South Park episode “Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow” to the topics discussed on this site, but can’t for the life of me see what point you’re trying to make with “Cartoon Wars.” The thrust of those episodes was that Trey Parker and Matt Stone think that Seth Macfarlane is a no-talent hack. Where’s the “geopolitical” significance?
Regarding the Foreign Legion idea, FM has raised the topic in a couple of posts here: America needs a Foreign Legion and Have we built an American Foreign Legion?. Personally I agree with Marcello (5) regarding the political obstacles of doing it on a large scale. The cognitive dissonance between mythology and reality would be too great. On the other hand, perhaps the mythology can be adjusted to accommodate it, as it has so many other things? I wouldn’t completely rule it out . . .
FM reply: As for South Park (of which I’ve seen only a few episodes), it accurately mirrors our cowardness and propensity to panic. The effects of these traits are easily seen in our fear of al Qaeda — and by a visit to any US airport.
I agree that expanding the current “foreign legion” program would be difficult. But considering how easily we surrendered so many civil liberties, how easily we abandoned 4 centuries of work to eliminate mercs, such things can be overcome.
Does Fabius M. truly advocate a “foreign legion” for the U.S., or was he exercising a bit of black humor? I would like to think that it was the latter, as such a proposal would be, at a minimum, a cynical endorsement of the American imperial “forever war”—something I had thought Fabius scorned.
In any case, private “contractors” are already fulfilling the role of unaccountable combatants far better than any official “legion”—foreign or not—ever could. Whatever the legion did, the U.S. government would still have to answer for. What Blackwater (excuse me, Xe) does can always be put down to the excesses of some non-governmental hirelings. It’s as Martin Van Creveld predicted: mercenaries are are once again the style.
FM reply: We already have a “foreign legion”, in the sense of non-citizens serving in the US military as a way to obtain citizenship. This could easily be expanded, and would be superior in many ways to hiring mercs (which is nuts, IMO). For more about this see:
* Lessons Learned from the American Expedition to Iraq — Section 4.
* America needs a Foreign Legion
* Have we built an American Foreign Legion?
Irony? Some would say that a foreign legion is what we have now. We need an American Legion. Willing to take on Xe, DynCorp, and KBR. Maybe we should stop supporting the troops, and ask the troops to support us?
Maybe we should stop supporting the troops, and ask the troops to support us?
What if, upon returning to the American “homeland,” whether in 2012 or 2052, an exhausted, embittered, and demoralized army again judges us and finds us even more wanting? What if, as in the 1970s, some alienated soldiers come to see the public as treacherous backstabbers, with all the potential dangers that entails?
I’m getting tired of this sort of stuff.
From Comment 2: “Forced into it, a nation should do everything possible to conclude the hostilities successfully and quickly, and then bring the troops home. What we are doing now in Af-Pak and Iraq violates this core precept at every level, and our armed forces are being broken in the process.”
But that is not what happened – we are still in Germany, Korea, and Japan in force all these years later. Fortunately we found ways to co-exist and reasons to be there. But we are still there and in my opinion we should not be (well, maybe Korea, because the job was never finished – hostilities are on hold only).
And this was a follow-on to the American actions in the Philippines and Cuba, where we left troops in place, and in the Philippines, it only served to help draw us into war with Japan. And we still have troops in both countries today, now heading into a second century!
So, unfortunately this is not a lesson to be learned from these past conflicts to guide us to do otherwise in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The only places we have sense enough to leave are those that give us a bloody nose or worse.
FM reply: Not so. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, our forces in Germany and Japan (and the American South) do not hold this territory. These bases provide staging areas from which to project power.
Maybe the redesigned strategy should be settlement , integration and intermarriage . Worked for the Vikings in Europe .
Pay lonely , single unemployed to go and live in Afgh and marry the locals. See “US Troops in Iraq Excited To Finally Return To Afghanistan” (The Onion) — Excerpt:
Led Zeppelin — Immigrant Song lyrics
“On the other hand, perhaps the mythology can be adjusted to accommodate it, as it has so many other things? I wouldn’t completely rule it out . . .”
Such mythology can be changed, it has already happened in the past. But remember, we are talking about who is willing to shed blood for whom and what. That’s pretty powerful stuff, to put it mildly, and the current mythology about the matter is the cornerstone of the modern post 1776/1789 nation state.
As much as I don’t like the whole mercenary bussinness I can cynically recognize that they fill a niche as no-one-gives-a-shit-if-they-die troops for various kinds of unglamorous escort duties and similar tasks. Further I suspect Fabius Maximus underestimate the difficulty of setting up such a thing. For a start interservice rivalry is likely going to look like something out of nazi Germany…
FM reply: Do you realize that we’re already recruiting foreigners in exchange for citizenship? That is, this means expanding an existing program — usually far easier than starting something new.
“Do you realize that we’re already recruiting foreigners in exchange for citizenship?”
Yep. But so far it can be swept under the carpet from a a political point of view; expand it and raise a dedicated service, you can’t ignore it anymore. And that is not good from a political point of view.
FM reply: All good points!