Choose to follow those who were right about our wars, or those who were wrong

Summary: Each major decision point for a great nation is an intelligence test of its people. As is the decision to re-involve ourselves in Iraq. The architects of the failed war urge action, based on the usual threat inflation. Those who correctly forecast its futility urge caution. Have we learned anything from our long failed War on Terror?

This is a follow-up to Will lies shape our actions in the last chapter of our war in Iraq?, 13 June 2014

Bloody Shirt

“Waving the bloody shirt” refers to the practice of politicians invoking the blood of heroes to criticize opponents. It’s a manipulative form of propaganda, used on emotionally driven mobs.  As in “Julius Caesar” Act III, Scene 2

You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it …

Two thousand years later it is used against us: “Iraq veteran: This is not what my friends fought and died for“, John Nagl, op-ed in the Washington Post, 11 June 2014 — Excerpt:

For a veteran of the fighting there—and proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy that provided a chance for the country to stabilize — watching the recent unraveling of Iraq has been disheartening but not surprising.

… We are reaping the instability and increased threat to U.S. interests that we have sown through the failure of our endgame in Iraq and our indecisiveness in Syria. There is a clear lesson here for those contemplating a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Having given al-Qaeda a new lease on life in the Middle East, will we provide another base where it began, in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

This is not the end state my friends fought for and died for.

The Post describes Nagl: “a veteran of both Iraq wars, is the headmaster of The Haverford School and author of the forthcoming Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War.” That is coy, even misleading. He was no simple soldier fighting our wars. Nagl was one of the architects of our wars (see his bio in Wikipedia).

Victory poster

  1. Nagl wrote one of the key texts for COIN, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (2002).
  2. He served as military assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense until 2006.
  3. During that time Nagl co-authored the Counterinsurgency field manual (FM 3-24), the military’s textbook for Iraq and Afghanistan.
  4. After retired from the US Army as a Lt Colonel in 2008, he joined the Center for a New American Security, a high-profile and well-funded advocacy shop opened in 2007 to shill for our wars. He was its President from 2009-2012.

The futility of our 9-11 Wars resulted not from their “endgame”, or our sensible refusal to jump into the Syrian maelstrom, but from their mad design (see the links in the last section below).

Nagl is a true-blue America, and not just for his service in the Army. Like so many Americans today, his motto is “it’s not my fault.” The deaths of Americans, our allies, the Iraqi people — our complete failure to attain the goals for the war. He assumes no responsibility, admits no flaws in his theories. Nagl and his neocon friends have learned nothing from our failed wars, and they work to see that we learn nothing.

We need not listen to those who seek to manipulate us. Even across the Atlantic the situation is clear, as in this from The Telegraph:

Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to the US from 1997 to 2003, said the handling of the campaign against Saddam was “perhaps the most significant reason” for the sectarian violence now ripping through Iraq. “We are reaping what we sowed in 2003. This is not hindsight. We knew in the run-up to war that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would seriously destabilise Iraq after 24 years of his iron rule”. …

For more detailed analysis we should turn to another vet, but one whose advice about our wars has been proven correct by time. Such as Andrew J. Bacevich. Bacevich retired as a Colonel, US Army; today he’s a Prof History, Boston U (see Wikipedia). Here is explains “The Duplicity of the Ideologues: U.S. Policy & Robert Kagan’s Fictive Narrative“, Commonweal Magazine, 4 June 2014. It’s a review of recent neocon propaganda that inexplicably has received much attention:  “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire. What our tired country still owes the world“, Robert Kagan (Bookings, CFR; see Wikipedia), The New Republic, 26 May 2014.

Even before September 11, 2001, Kagan was among those fixing their sights on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as the place to validate this approach. The events of 9/11 reinforced his determination along with his sense of self-assurance. Writing with Kristol in April 2002, he declared flatly that “the road that leads to real security and peace” is “the road that runs through Baghdad.”

George W. Bush took that road. Yet much to his considerable chagrin, Bush discovered that it led to rather considerable unpleasantness. As it dragged on, the Iraq War exposed as hollow any American aspirations to global hegemony. Left behind when U.S. troops finally withdrew was their reputation for military supremacy. Meanwhile as reports of prisoner abuse, torture, and the killing of noncombatants mounted, American moral confidence lost its luster. As for the Iraqis themselves, although few Americans are inclined to take notice, today they enjoy neither security nor peace.

On all of these matters, Kagan chooses to stay mum. That is his privilege, of course. Yet in exercising that privilege he forfeits any claim to be taken seriously. … without accountability there can be no credibility.

William Buckley once remarked that the country would be better off governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. Here’s a corollary: When it comes to foreign policy, the president of the United States would be better served to consult a few reasonably informed citizens from Muncie, Indiana, than to take seriously advice offered by seers such as Robert Kagan.

For More Information

(a) Posts about John Nagl:

  1. Recommended: How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I, 7 June 2008
  2. Nagl gives a profoundly wrong vision for the US military, 22 June 2008
  3. Another sad little bit of agitprop, this time from John Nagl, 28 February 2010
  4. “COIN of the Realm” – reviewing one of the books driving our strategy in the Long War, 18 March 2012 — Review of Nagl’s How to Eat Soup with a Knife
  5. The Essential 4GW reading list: John Nagl
  6. All posts about John Nagl

(b)  Posts about Andrew Bacevich:

  1. A joust between two schools of American military theory, 19 May 2009 — A dialog between Nagl and Bacevich
  2. Writings of Andrew Bacevich; they deserve your attention

(c)  See these Reference Pages for a wealth of information and links:

  1. Posts about our wars in Iraq, Af-Pak & elsewhere
  2. The iraq war — other valuable articles and reports
  3. Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq.

(d)  COIN by foreign armies almost always fails:

  1. More paths to failure in Iraq, 16 December 2006 — Myths about COIN in Iraq
  2. How often do insurgents win?  How much time does successful COIN require?, 29 May 2008
  3. Max Boot: history suggests we will win in Afghanistan, with better than 50-50 odds. Here’s the real story., 21 June 2010 — Boot discusses 7 alleged victories by foreign armies fighting insurgencies.
  4. A major discovery! It could change the course of US geopolitical strategy, if we’d only see it, 28 June 2010 — Doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard.  She examines the present and past of  counter-insurgency.
  5. A look at the history of victories over insurgents, 30 June 2010
  6. COINistas point to Kenya as a COIN success. In fact it was an expensive bloody failure., 7 August 2012



10 thoughts on “Choose to follow those who were right about our wars, or those who were wrong”

  1. Why are these people still on the National Scene?
    The facts of there errors are never presented when they cry the sky is falling.
    Who and for what reasons pushes those who are constantly correct out and expose us to the people who are always wrong?
    Has Andrew Bacevich been on Sunday talk shows?

    Al Gore in “Assault of Reason”. Said “So ePeople speak with natural voice and some with a megaphone”

    We need to silence or as the Klingon’s do turn our back’s on the neocons. Or we need somebody of stature to give us a Joseph Welch minute

    Maybe if Stewart , Colbert and Borowitz called a news conference and mocked the whole thing it would make a dent?

    1. cyaker,

      Speaking of the Sunday talk shows, they are best skipped. Instead on Monday turn to the Esquire website to read journalist Charles Pierce’s review. Such as this week’s.

      we will give the Dancin’ Master the benefit of the doubt and believe that he re-animated the rank and mouldering corpse of Paul Wolfowitz in order to ask Wolfowitz this question.

      GREGORY: “Paul Wolfowitz, as part of the Bush administration, were you and others culpable of underestimating the level of sectarian violence, warfare in the country that creates the potential for this kind of terrorist state to develop today?”

      There are two true answers to that, of course. The first is, “Yes, of course, we were, because people like me, Paul Wolfowitz, didn’t know enough about Iraq or about making a war there to throw to a cat.” The second is, “Yes, of course, we were, but we just didn’t give an unholy fck because oil, and because the tiny action figures in our heads told us not to worry about it.” To nobody’s surprise, Wolfowitz chose neither one.

      WOLFOWITZ: “Look, you used the word sectarian, so did Richard Engel. This is more than just those obscure, Shia/Sunni conflict. This is Al Qaeda. And Al Qaeda is not on the road to defeat, Al Qaeda is on the march. Not just in Iraq, in Syria, and Libya. And we have real enemies of the United States. And what we should be looking for are friends. I think when we stick with our friends, and those friends are not always perfect, believe me. But we stuck with the Kurds through 20 years. Northern Iraq, Kurdistan’s a success story. We stuck with South Korea for 60 years. South Korea is a miracle story. But if we had walked away from South Korea in 1953, that country was a basket …”

      We “stuck with the Kurds for 20 years”? Christopher Hitchens just rose screaming from the dead. In the wake of the First Gulf War, when Wolfowitz was an undersecretary of defense, Poppy Bush sold the Kurds down the river (again). And, not for nothing, but that wasn’t an answer to the question posed by Gregory, who oddly didn’t seem to notice, but went on to conduct a mumbling concerto about airstrikes, and Syria, and how Nouri al Maliki is no longer With The Program and, I suspect, some ensemble mourning about the sad lack of an Iraqi Big Minh who could pull all our chestnuts out of the fire.

      Wolfowitz’s appearance, and the lack of shackles and leg irons which attended it, was of a piece with one of the most remarkably oblivious performance by the teenage bookers who work on all The Sunday Showz. On a week in which all the predictable chickens came home to their predictable roosts, at least all those chickens and roosts predicted by all the people who were roundly ignored in 2002, there wasn’t a single guest on any of the shows who opposed the clusterfck in the first place. This is an astonishing bit of circular history. Before you launch the war, ignore all the people who knew that knocking over the regime would ignite sectarian violence and then, when the sectarian violence erupts, ignore those people again. And have Paul Wolfowitz argue that the sectarian violence is not sectarian at all.

    2. Yaker,

      “Why are these people still on the National Scene? … Has Andrew Bacevich been on Sunday talk shows?”

      America is a free market of ideas. The neocons thrive because we listen to them. If they were greeted with laughter and mockery, they’d quickly disappear from the stage. Plato’s “cave” describes our situation.

    3. FM, let’s not forget or ignore the fact that at least one of the prominent Sunday talk show networks (NBC) used to have *very* strong ties to the American defense industry through a former parent company — General Electric. (According to an article in the Business Insider, GE is number 12 on the list of the 25 US companies with the strongest ties to the defense industry — higher even than well-known contractors such as KBR — but most Americans do not typically identify them as being a part of that industry).

      Prior to 2004, NBC was owned by General Electric. In 2004, General Electric and Vivendi decided to combine two of their subsidiaries (GE’s NBC and Vivendi’s Universal Entertainment) into NBCUniversal. In 2009, GE and Comcast announced a joint agreement to buy out the company which went through in 2011 with GE still owning 49% of the stock. Comcast assumed 100% control of NBCUniversal last year, but you can’t tell me that the management there believes that they owe nothing to GE.

      Of course, since one of their former parent companies is a prominent defense contractor…do you honestly believe that anyone at NBC would ever be allowed to come down hard on someone like Wolfowitz — a high-ranking member of the previous Republican administration who agitated in favor of the war which resulted in the colossal mess emerging there now (and who was incidentally one of the charter members of the neoconservative think tank Project for a New American Century)? If you do, I quite honestly don’t know whether to admire your unwavering faith in the decency of humanity or roll my eyes at your naivete.

  2. I don’t watch TV much and never on Sunday except an occasional football game. But I still don’t understand “we” if you and I are not “we” and we aren’t then who is “we”? Unless I know who my audience is I can’t address them. I’ll have to retread Plato but let’s bring on the laughter.

    1. cyaker,

      I use “we” in the sense of Americans, to remind us that we’re in this together — and only by working together can we fulfill the potential of the Republic, and have a chance at peace and prosperity.

      “We” is inappropriate in one sense, since 40% of the FM website’s audience is from outside the US.

  3. Charles Yaker asks: “Why are these people still on the scene?”

    Because they advocated for endless unwinnable counterproductive wars, that’s why. In 21st century America, people who shill for more endless unwinnable wars get applause and medals and prestigious appointments and lavish jobs at think tanks and in the media with lots of perks and a sky-high salary. Meanwhile, people who warn against involvement in more endless unwinnable wars get smeared and boycotted and slandered and shunned and become the target of boycott campaigns and employment blacklists.

    Take a look at Fareed Zakaria. This incompetent neocon thug was one of the prime movers in planning and advocating the 2003 Iraq invasion. He pounded the table at the 2001 meeting chaired by Dick Cheney and demanded that America invade Iraq pronto.

    Now Zakaria hosts a prime Sunday morning political talk show, all traces of his past blunders whitewashed. Zakaria pays a bevy of internet munchkins to scrub his history in planning and forcefully advocating the 2003 Iraq invasion from the internet.

    Pacifists like Noam Chomsky have been blacklisted. Chomsky can’t appear even on NPR. No major network will run an interview with him. The same is true for Chris Hedges and other antiwar activists.

    America is the nation of Forever War. Peace advocates are now traitors. Warmongers get treated as heroes.

    If people like Nagl don’t want young men and women to get chewed up in pointless endless insane wars, then what Nagl and people like him need to do is start speaking at high schools throughout America and telling the audience of 17- and 18-year-old kids:

    “If you’re planning to volunteer for the U.S. army, you’re a chump. You’re stupid. The U.S. military doesn’t care about you. To America’s armed forces, you’re a piece of toilet paper to be used and thrown away. They will lie to you, change your deployment, use stop loss to keep you serving multiple tours after they promised to end your deployment, they will revoke or change your benefits, they will refuse you medical care by using bogus psychiatric diagnoses, and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it. If you don’t want to wind up brain-damaged, crippled, and homeless, don’t volunteer for the American military. The people who run America have nothing but total and utter contempt for American soldiers, as exemplified by Henry Kissinger’s famous statement `Military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy,’ and the sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be.”

    Of course Nagl and his deluded corrupt buddies will never say this, since they still profit enormously from the American military-industrial-police-prison-surveillance-torture complex.

    This is why the only way to end America’s endless unwinnable wars, which go on forever and ever, with one starting as soon as the previous one ends, is to convince young high school students not to enlist in the U.S. military. Convince young Americans that the military will lie to them and betray them and treat them like shit and that our lying corrupt leaders who sing songs of praise about the alleged “duty” and “honor” of U.S. soldiers, in reality care nothing for American soldiers and regard all volunteers for the American military and inconvenient pieces of excrement to be scraped off their shoes as soon as possible.

    Assholes like Nagl ar a lost cause. Maybe if young Americans stop volunteering, though, our endless unwinnable wars will finally stop.

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