"We had the presidential debate of the century this week… Marxist hacks in the mainstream media declared Clinton the winner. The alt-right media called it for Trump. I scored it a tie, with the country as the ultimate loser. . .
Yeah, I know.
I already was thinking of HST every *!!!***!! day.
. . . there are plenty of good people on the Left – Adolph Reed, Noam Chomsky, Arun Gupta, and many others – arguing that Clinton is a necessary evil to block Trump from bringing to fruition a full-fledged fascist movement that would have dire ramifications for social justice movements. And there is undeniably an element of truth in that.
However, the wisdom of the logic relies on a false premise: Trump represents an existential threat while Hillary does not. This basic assumption is undeniably flawed as global war with countries like Russia and China is indeed one of the great threats to humanity; this is precisely what Clinton’s belligerent foreign policy leads toward. And there was a time when anti-war still was synonymous with Left activism. What happened that we are now told that the pro-war position is necessary in order to stop, er, um, fascism? How far we’ve fallen.
In the unending search for the most imbecilic political logic, one comes across that rare breed of obtuse ignoramus who suggests that Trump is the anti-imperialist’s choice. If that word has any meaning left today – something that is very much open for debate given recent developments – its application to Donald Trump is about as appropriate as referring to Clinton as the anti-fascist’s choice.
Trump doesn’t mean no more imperial wars; he simply means no more pretending our wars aren’t imperial. He’s not for ending the wars, but rather fighting them with the nakedly neo-colonial intentions made overt that Clinton would only secretly share over candlelit dinners with Huma Abedin, Madeleine Albright, and Mephistopheles. With people like Walid Phares, Michael Flynn, and Keith Kellogg as advisers, Trump will retain a pro-Israel imperial policy in the Middle East while advocating for NATO’s expanded mission of counter-terrorism. Oh, excuse me, Trump wants Denmark to pay “it’s fair share” of NATO costs – pardon me while I release to the heavens a flight of doves in his honor.
What anti-imperialist isn’t enamored with a candidate who calls for a full military invasion of Syria and Iraq? And, of course, there’s no connection whatever between imperialism, colonialism and white supremacy, right? Trump can spout the most virulently racist filth heard in US politics since George Wallace and Barry Goldwater went on a Tinder date to the Old Ebbitt Grill, and yet these anti-imperial mannequins swear up and down that Trump is an enemy of the Empire. Even his complimentary reach-around to Bibi Netanyahu isn’t enough to shake the cobwebs from the faux anti-imperial noodleheads of the commentariat. Sigh.
And so, where does this leave us on the Left? Everyone wants to bludgeon leftists into supporting Clinton to stop Trump using the familiar cudgel of “necessary evil”, while offering little to no additional direction other than “once the election is over we will…” Yeaaaaaah, that’s worked out well for us thus far.
Others secretly root for Trump to upset the apple cart and open a space for the Left, conveniently forgetting that the Left remains a fractured and disunited bloc while the fascist right grows in strength and organization every day. And commentators of the Left rush to tell their readers and fellow travelers that THIS or THAT is what they should do.
I’ve got an idea. How about we take a breath, drink/smoke/snort something nice and strong, close our eyes and listen close to hear the echoes of Dr. Gonzo reverberating off the walls of the Left echo chamber:
“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”
If you've just about had enough of the differences between Clinton and Trump Election Goofs, perhaps we should just check from whence they both originated. Remember our old friends Dick Morris and Mark Penn? They don't have that much to do with Trump's rise but they do factor into it.
The trick of "Microtrends" is to offer an America shaped to match the sort of “non-divisive” political rhetoric favored by the Democratic Leadership Council, an outfit paid for by corporations and designed to purge the Democratic Party of any partiality to the cause of labor or the interests of the poor. The Clintons have always been the DLC’s marquee attraction, and its outlook is Penn’s.
. . . Penn was . . . the CEO of Burson-Marsteller, (part of the British-based WPP Group), a PR firm that in the course of its career has been retained to winch some sensationally grimy clients out of the mud, such Union Carbide after Bhopal, the Argentine military junta and Royal Dutch Shell after some very poor publicity in Nigeria.
. . . “Part of the reason I love this work,” burbles Penn about his polling, “is that every day I find out some new aspiration, hope or concern people have, and I get to help my clients shape their products and messages based on these findings.” What Penn never finds are the collective aspirations of groups of people who find the American corporate system intolerably unjust. Union people don’t figure in his focus groups – at least as real workers as opposed to pasteboard constructs as such Soccer Moms or Nascar Dads. The people who find it easiest to contact Penn to communicate their aspirations, hopes and concerns are the people who can afford to meet his hefty bills, meaning the rich and the powerful, starting with Bill Gates and heading on through Silvio Berlusconi, the nuclear industry, Monsanto and other clients in need of image refreshment.
. . . In the tapestry of "Microtrends" the spotlight is not on an awful health system with over 40 million uninsured, but on DIYDs, Do-It-Yourself Doctors. Penn tells us “it’s the biggest trend in American health care,” spearheaded by women and the young and promoted by Penn and Burson-Marsteller, working diligently for the pharmaceutical companies whose products, freed from the trifling restraints of a doctor’s prescription, will be at the disposal of the DIYDs in the chain stores. Thus do "microtrends" find their due place in the great scheme of things.
So, what type of real (decent) political choice do the citizens of the U.S. have?
The first US presidential debate did not reveal anything new when it came to either candidate. Instead it merely confirmed that Donald Trump is a slobbering megalomaniac who should be kept away from political office in the same way a three-year-old child is kept away from a box of matches. A poster boy for unfettered capitalism, he is a man so divorced from reality — and, with it, his own humanity — that every word that leaves his mouth comes over as a cry for help.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is a natural born killer, a passionate disciple of US exceptionalism who believes there is no country that can’t be improved with a shower of cruise and tomahawk missiles. (She) and her husband come as a package of liberal opportunism who have made their way through speaking left and acting right. The fruits of this opportunism are mass incarceration, the entrenchment of Wall Street as the golden temple of the US economy, and perpetual war and regime change overseas. When Farrakhan described Hillary as a “wicked woman” he couldn’t have been more right. Christopher Hitchens said it even better when he observed, “She and her husband haven’t met a foreign political donor they don’t like and haven’t taken from.”
Such is the parlous quality of both candidates for an office which, even in its better years, is synonymous with war crimes and crimes against humanity, it is tempting to conclude that we’re fucked. I say this as a non-American given that the occupant of the White House is a matter of grave importance for a world by now grown weary of Washington’s vast and ongoing experiment in democracy, along with the moral sickness which fuels its untrammeled power and the doctrine of ‘destroying the village in order to save it’ that has long underpinned its foreign policy.
It begs the question of who will save us from America?
Writing these words while visiting Hollywood, a part of the world I know well having previously lived here, I am struck by the ocean of broken humanity that fills its mythical gilded streets. Anyone who believes that America is a classless society need only take his or herself over here to realize how utterly wrong they are. Indeed, after just one day not only will they be assured that there is no more a society defined by class than US society, but that every minute of a every day a fierce class war is raging in its towns and cities, with up to now only one side in this war, the 99 percent, taking all the punches and doing all the bleeding.
Across America the abandonment of the poor, the downtrodden and the sick to their fate in service to the rich has been so brutal and cruel that its human consequences given new meaning to Fanon’s "The Wretched of the Earth." America’s poor are a colonized people, be assured, which is why Malcolm’s assertion that, “You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo,” remains one of his most cogent.
Yet as much as I loathe America for the scale of injustice, brutality, and mendacity that informs its treatment of the poor at home and abroad, hope arrives in the tremendous litany of rebels, dissidents, and counter-hegemonic movements which the country has produced in response. Oppression breeds resistance and throughout US history there has been fierce resistance against overwhelming odds — Sitting Bull, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, the San Patricios, Frederick Douglas, John Brown, Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood and the Wobblies, Eugene Debs, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, MLK, Malcolm X, SNCC, the Panthers, anti-Vietnam War movement, Cesar Chavez, and on and on.
Each of them, along with the movements they led or were a part of, were sustained by the same fierce moral outrage at the injustice they experienced and witnessed being inflicted in the name of progress and might is right. Many people experience at some level and point this burning sense of moral outrage at the injustice that defines the world they live in. The difference arises between those who learn to make their peace with it and those who refuse to make their peace with it – who instead choose to grapple with this monster in what they know before they start will be a losing fight.
This is the human condition at its most inspiring, the willingness to fight even while knowing you can’t win. But, then, such a reductive and one dimensional interpretation of victory has no place when we understand history as a river that flows without end and not a monument separating it into neat and tidy chapters, as in a book. Fighting is winning and winning is fighting in a struggle that will continue so long as injustice continues.
The race for the White House is a race for power engaged in by those Chaplin famously described as “machine men (and women) with machine minds and machine hearts.” It is a contest between two representatives of a psychopathic ruling class for the keys to a kingdom of despair. But lest they allow themselves to become smug and complacent as they wallow in lives of privilege and decadence, they should hark the words of Crazy Horse, spoken days before he died while resisting imprisonment. “The Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world; a world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations; a world longing for light again.”
And just how much did you hear about the built-in (normally outright disqualifying) conflicts of interests of both candidates at that fairly run first debate?
Conflicts of Interest Galore
When Hank Paulson, former CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs, was appointed treasury secretary by George W. Bush in 2006, he had to sell his 4.58 million shares of stock in that company. Executive branch conflict-of-interest laws require appointed senior government officials to divest themselves of investments that could be affected by or benefit from decisions they might make in public office. (Let us note, however, that even without the stock Paulson would prove to be a walking conflict of interest. From his public post, he would help Goldman Sachs survive the financial crisis with federal funds, and look where that got us.)
However, the president and vice president don’t even have to abide by those formal laws of divestment. Trump has indeed promised to focus on the country and not his business and branding empire by, among other things, placing the Trump Organization in a blind trust. But don’t count on it. Why would he? That would be like asking him to actually release his tax returns. In addition, Trump’s businesses are the antithesis of the sort that easily lend themselves to inclusion in such a trust. As David Cay Johnston, author of The Making of Donald Trump, told me in an email, “The ethics rules don't apply to the president. But a blind trust is absurd as this is not simply an issue of stocks and bonds.”
According to his tax lawyers at Morgan Lewis, the blue-chip global law firm, his 2002-2008 returns were under audit by the Internal Revenue Service precisely because he runs “large and complex businesses.” During the primary, he said, “I have three children now who are grown and could run [the business].” This July, when asked by the New York Times whether he would actually step away from his business dealings while president, he equivocated, “I’ll let you know how I feel about it after it happens.”
As with most things Trumpian, we are left with nothing but his word and a belief that someone as impossibly rich as him might not mind losing some ground in his business empire because of decisions, foreign and domestic, that he might make in moments of crisis or otherwise. We are also supposed to believe that he always makes the best deals. What if the two aren’t compatible? And what if possible illegal activities follow Trump directly into the Oval Office? Examining the possible conflicts of interest of a Trump administration and his track record when it comes to siphoning the money of others to his personal uses makes him look like a prospective - to use a term of his - disaster.
The first and most obvious potential area where conflict of interest is likely play a crucial role: the many decisions a President Trump would have to make on foreign affairs. Kurt Eichenwald vividly explored this issue at Newsweek recently and concluded that it would be a singular reality of any future Trump presidency. After all, many of his businesses exist in countries with which the U.S. has, shall we say, squirrelly relationships.
As Vin Weber, partner at Mercury Consulting in Washington, told me: “Even though he says he won’t be influenced and has only basically addressed the issue of whether his businesses would distract him time-wise, other countries may feel they have leverage on him and therefore on the U.S.” That’s obviously a problem. As a way to achieve ends of their own, foreign leaders could easily fashion their future policies in terms of threats of damage to the Trump empire. It would make no difference whether Ivanka or anyone else was in charge of daily operations. Trump would be dealing with countries that could impact his brand in significant ways.
Trump’s foreign business holdings (the ones publicly disclosed anyway) span areas that already involve scandal, as in the case of India, or dicey national security issues, as would be true of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Foreign parties have helped Trump out of business jams in the past. Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, for instance, came to Trump’s aid during his corporate bankruptcies in the 1990s. He even bought Trump’s yacht and some bad hotel debt.
Another kind of major conflict of interest hits far closer to home. As president, Trump gets to appoint federal district court judges nationwide. The media has focused exclusively on the crucial Supreme Court seats he might get to fill. But if any of those federal judges turn out to have jurisdiction in areas touching on Trump’s widespread business activities, imagine the opportunity for conflict of interest both in who might be appointed to the bench and how they might act. Keep in mind that, in addition to properties he owns or that bear his name, Trump is the sole proprietor of 268 of the 500 or more limited liability companies (LLCs) that he disclosed in his Federal Election Commission filings. These LLCs can be found all over the country, including in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and San Diego where, for instance, Trump University is already in the dock.
Last month, San Diego federal court judge Gonzalo Curiel, appointed by Obama, green-lighted that case to proceed to trial after Trump had lambasted him and claimed that he had an “absolute conflict” in presiding over it because of his “Mexican heritage.” What would a Trump appointee have done in the same situation? Of Obama’s 320 federal district court appointees, 262 were district court judges. Imagine the conflicts of interest to come in a Trump presidency where each lawsuit (and so many possible appointments) might represent one. And we’re not talking about the unlikely here. Trump or his businesses have been involved in a reported 3,500 lawsuits over the last three decades. In 1,900 of them, he or his companies were the plaintiff; in about 1,300, the defendant. He’s essentially guaranteed the title of most litigious leader in the modern world, possibly in history.
Trump’s sole proprietorships - companies where he alone is listed as the owner - also pop up in tax havens like Panama, Cozumel, and Dubai, bringing up a third area of potential major conflict of interest for the country, but of enormous potential benefit to Trump. Those elusive tax returns of his undoubtedly would reveal hints about this. They might also show that he’s not as rich as he says he is, and perhaps that he hasn’t given as much to charity as he claims, but those are unlikely to be the real problems that have stopped him from releasing his taxes because neither of them is illegal.
What Trump may worry about is whether a thorough public analysis of those returns would illuminate dodgy behavior, ways in which he’s been operating possible financial shell games. Shady deals can be easily hidden in shell companies and tax havens or in LLCs that no one can examine.
If he’s president, none of this is likely to matter much. Remember, he would get to appoint the new IRS commissioner, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and of course the Attorney General. We don’t know how all of his little sole proprietorships interrelate and what they could be hiding. (It should be noted that a sole proprietorship is a business owned and run by one individual with no distinction between the business and its owner.) All we know is what his lawyers wrote him regarding his 2002-2008 returns: “Because you operate these businesses almost exclusively through sole proprietorships and/or closely held partnerships, your personal federal income tax returns are inordinately large and complex for an individual.”
He has not released proof from those lawyers that he even filed personal tax returns after 2008, or that such filings are actually under audit, though he says his taxes since 2009 are. But even if he did file them and they are being audited, there’s nothing in federal law or IRS regulations to prohibit him from sharing what he’s done - except perhaps the fear of getting caught.
Reportedly, he’s already played fast and loose with donated money from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to cover some of his personal business shortcomings. As the New York Times recently revealed, he used charity money on multiple occasions to settle personal legal issues. These were relatively small-scale matters, but - as Madoff found out with his smaller clients - small-scale can add up fast. In Florida, for instance, Trump paid a $2,500 IRS penalty for a tax regulation violation after his nonprofit foundation contributed an improper donation of $25,000 to a political action committee of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who may have been contemplating whether or not to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University.
In fact, using money to wash away problems seems to have been a characteristic of the Trump way of life. For instance, he gave at least $35,000 to Democrat Alan Hevesi for his campaign to become New York state comptroller. According to the Huffington Post, “Trump’s donations coincided with a $500 million lawsuit he filed against the city of New York in the hopes of reducing his property taxes.” Hevesi won his 2002 race. In the fall of 2003, the city settled Trump’s lawsuit. Imagine, then, how - once he’s in the Oval Office - this country could become his personal piggy bank.
The final potential conflict of interest: his entire administration to come. According to figures from the U.S. Government Policy and Supporting Positions, a congressional publication also known as the "Plum Book," a president (or his administration) could appoint people to nearly 9,000 positions in the federal government. Of those, only about 800 must be confirmed by the Senate. This would mean, for instance, that in areas of gaming, environmental building codes, or housing and urban development, he would control the game. Business and politics would become one and the same in a unique fashion.
How all of this would play out, of course, remains unknown. Trump’s family has touted The Donald’s super-ability to focus exclusively on the affairs of the country. "My father is going to be a government official, and he's going to separate himself" from the Trump Organization's business interests, Donald Trump Jr., 38, typically promised a bunch of editors and reporters. But who would dare to count on this being anything but fantasy?
A Pandora’s Box for Americans
Trump and Madoff knew each other in the old pre-cellblock days. Madoff frequented the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. In an April 2009 Vanity Fair spread, Trump noted that Bernie and his brother Peter (later sentenced to 10 years in jail for his role in their mutual swindle) played golf at the Trump International Golf Club, where Bernie’s game was as steady as his returns. “Out of hundreds and hundreds of rounds, he never shot lower than 80 or more than 89,” said Trump.
It wasn’t until after Madoff pled guilty on March 12, 2009, that Trump sounded warning bells. As he said about Madoff in his 2009 book, Think Like A Champion, “I think we would all do well to pay heed to all of our transactions no matter how much we might respect or like someone. But the main lesson is never to invest 100 percent of your money with one person or one entity.”
Whatever Trump may be, perhaps we should heed his warning in the present situation. Because as he also wrote, “Just because someone is well established doesn’t mean they’re not above being a total crook.”
The immense power Donald Trump would wield over his own interests as president already looms as the biggest conflict of interest in the nation’s history. Think of the Oval Office under Trump as a kind of Pandora’s Box for the American people. Giving him the White House threatens to be no better than giving Madoff your bank account information. You know how the story is likely to end.
Nomi Prins, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of six books. Her most recent is All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power (Nation Books). She is a former Wall Street executive. Special thanks go to researcher Craig Wilson for his superb work on this piece._ _ _ _ _ _ _
Posted by Nick Turse, September 27, 2016.
It’s the timing that should amaze us (were anyone to think about it for 30 seconds). Let’s start with the conflict in Afghanistan, now regularly described as the longest war in American history. It began on October 7, 2001, and will soon reach its 15th “anniversary.” Think of it as the stepchild of America’s first Afghan War (against the Soviets), a largely CIA affair which lasted from 1979 to 1989. Considered a major victory, leading as it did to the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, it also devastated Afghanistan and created close to the full cast of characters for America’s second Afghan War. In reality, you could say that Washington has conducted a quarter-century-plus of warfare there (with a decade off). And in the Pentagon, they’re already talking about that war's possible extension well into the 2020s.
And then, of course, there’s Iraq. Where even to begin to count? You could start perhaps with the military aid and assistance that Washington gave Saddam Hussein in the eight-year war that followed his invasion of Iran in 1980, including crucial information that the Iraqis could use to target Iranian troops with their chemical weapons. Or you could start with that victory of all victories, the first Gulf War of 1991, in which the U.S. military crushed Saddam’s troops in Kuwait, showed off the snazzy techno-abilities of the mightiest force on the planet... and er, um... somehow didn’t unseat the Iraqi ruler, leading to years of no-fly-zone air war until that second, ultimate victory, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which led to... er, um... a disastrous occupation, various insurgencies, and finally the withdrawal of American forces in 2011 before... er, um... the Islamic State emerged triumphantly to smash the American-trained Iraqi army, taking over major cities, and establishing its “caliphate.” That, of course, led to America’s third Iraq War (or is it the fourth?), still ongoing. In other words, at least a quarter-century of conflict and possibly more with no end in sight.
And don’t get me started on Somalia. Who, after all, doesn’t recall the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu (known here as the “Black Hawk down” incident)? Twenty-three years later, the U.S. is still bombing, missiling, and raiding that country which is, by now, a terror disaster zone. Or Yemen, where the U.S. began its drone strikes back in 2002 and has never stopped as that country went over a cliff into civil war followed by a disastrous Saudi-led invasion that the U.S. has backed in a major way, including supplying cluster bombs and white phosphorous to its forces. And Libya? From the moment in 1986 when the Reagan administration sent in the U.S. air power to take out “terrorist training” sites in Tripoli and Benghazi, as well as the residence of the country’s autocratic ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, on and off hostilities continued until the NATO/U.S. air intervention of 2011. That, in turn, brought on not just the end of Gaddafi’s rule, but a failed state filled with actual terrorists.
Syria is, of course, a Johnny-come-lately to American war, since Washington has been bombing there for a mere two years, and Special Forces operatives only entered the country relatively recently. And Pakistan barely counts: just 424 drone strikes over 12 years. A mere nothing when it comes to American warfare in this era. And as if to make the point about all this, just a few weekends ago, the U.S. launched bombing or missile strikes in six of those seven countries (skipping only Pakistan), all six now being either failed states or close to that. It’s quite a record of unending warfare, largely against - with the exception of Saddam Hussein’s military - lightly armed insurgents and terror groups of various sorts in countries that are generally now verging on collapse or nonexistent.
If you’ve ever wondered how those inside the planet’s self-proclaimed mightiest military force assess their handiwork over these last 15 (or for that matter 50) years, it’s fortunately no longer necessary to guess. Thanks to TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, we now have a document from within that military which will answer your every question on war, American-style, even if those answers beg questions all their own. Tom
Win, Lose, or Draw
U.S. Special Operations Command Details Dismal U.S. Military Record
By Nick Turse
Winning: it’s written into the DNA of the U.S.A. After all, what’s more American than football legend Vince Lombardi’s famous (if purloined) maxim: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”?
Americans expect to be number one. First Lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the “greatest country on Earth.” (Take that, world public opinion, and your choice of Germany!) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, touting America as “the greatest country that has ever been created.” Her rival, Donald Trump, who for political gain badmouths the country that made him rich and famous, does so in the hope of returning America to supposedly halcyon days of unparalleled greatness. He’s predicted that his presidency might lead to an actual winning overload. “We're going to win so much,” he told supporters. “You're going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President... don't win so much’… And I'm going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again... We're gonna keep winning.’”
As Trump well knows, Americans take winning very seriously. Look no further than the U.S. gold medal count at the recent Rio Olympics: 46. The next highest total? Great Britain’s 27, almost 20 fewer than those of the country whose upstart rebels bested them in the eighteenth century, the nation’s ur-victory. The young United States then beat back the Brits in the early 1800s, and twice bailed them out in victorious world wars during the twentieth century.
In the intervening years, the U.S. built up a gaudy military record - slaughtering native tribes, punishing Mexico, pummeling Spain - but the best was yet to come. “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” boasted President Barack Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. In this he echoed his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, in May 2001, declared that “America today has the finest [military] the world has ever seen.”
In the years between those two moments of high-flown rhetoric, the United States military fought in nine conflicts, according to a 2015 briefing produced by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the umbrella organization for America’s most elite forces including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets. The record of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, according to SOCOM: zero wins, two losses, and seven ties.
This dismal record is catalogued in a briefing slide produced by SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate last September and obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act. “A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges” - a timeline of conflicts ranked as wins, losses, and ties - examines the last 100 years of America’s wars and interventions.
“Gray zone” is an increasingly popular term of the trade for operations conducted somewhere on the continuum between war and peace. “Traditional war is the paradigm,” the briefing slide asserts. “Gray zone conflict is the norm.”
While he finds a great deal to fault in SOCOM’s analysis, retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, believes its assessment of post-9/11 conflicts “is quite accurate.” Although American politicians like Hillary Clinton regularly insist that the U.S. possesses “the greatest military” on the planet, they avoid addressing the question of what the country’s armed interventions have actually accomplished when it comes to policy goals - the true measure of success in war. “We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost,” Bacevich says. “That’s simply a fact.”
“A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges” - A September 2015 briefing slide produced by the Intelligence Directorate of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
The Greatest Journeyman Military in History?
Twelve wins and nine losses. In baseball, it’s the annual record of a journeyman pitcher like Bill Caudill of the Seattle Mariners in 1982, Dave LaPoint of the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1983, or Norm Charlton of the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, to mention just three examples. It’s certainly not the record of an ace.
Likewise, 12 victories and nine losses is a far-from-dazzling stat when it comes to warfare, especially for a nation that prides itself on its martial prowess. But that was the SOCOM Intelligence Directorate’s assessment of the last century of American war: 12 and 9 with a mind-boggling 43 “ties.”
Among those 64 conflicts, the command counts just five full-fledged wars in which the U.S. has come up with three wins (World War I, World War II, and Desert Storm), one loss (Vietnam), and one tie (Korea). In the gray zone - what SOCOM calls “the norm” when it comes to conflict - the record is far bleaker, the barest of winning percentages at 9 victories, 8 losses, and 42 draws.
“If you accept the terms of analysis, that things can be reduced to win, loss, and tie, then this record is not very good,” Bacevich says. “While there aren’t many losses - according to how they code - there’s a hell of a lot of ties, which would beg the question of why, based on these criteria, U.S. policy has seemingly been so ineffective.”
The assessments of, and in some instances the very inclusion of, numerous operations, missions, and interventions by SOCOM are dubious. Bacevich, for example, questions its decision to include pre-World War II U.S. military missions in China (a draw according to the command). “I don’t know on what basis one would say ‘China, 1912 to 1941’ qualifies as a tie,” he adds, noting on the other hand that a good case could be made for classifying two of SOCOM’S gray zone “ties” - in Haiti and Nicaragua - during the same era as wins instead of draws based on the achievement of policy aims alone.
It’s even harder to imagine why, for example, limited assistance to Chad in its conflict with Libya and indigenous rebels in 1983 or military assistance in evacuating U.S. personnel from Albania in 1997 should make the list. Meanwhile, America’s so-called longest war, in Afghanistan, inexplicably ends in 2014 on SOCOM’S timeline. (That was, of course, the year that the Obama administration formally ended the “combat mission” in that country, but it would assuredly be news to the 8,400 troops, including special operators, still conducting missions there today.) Beyond that, for reasons unexplained, SOCOM doesn’t even classify Afghanistan as a “war.” Instead, it’s considered one of 59 gray-zone challenges, on a par with the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift or small-scale deployments to the restive Congo in the 1960s. No less bizarre, the command categorizes America’s 2003-2011 occupation of Iraq in a similar fashion. “It deserves to be in the same category as Korea and Vietnam,” says Bacevich, the author of America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.
Killing People and Breaking Things
Can the post-9/11 U.S. military simultaneously be the finest fighting force in history and unable to win wars or quasi-wars? It may depend on our understanding of what exactly the Department of Defense and its military services are meant to do.
While the 1789 act that established its precursor, the Department of War, is sparse on details about its raison d'être, the very name suggests its purpose - presumably preparing for, fighting, and winning wars. The 1947 legislation creating its successor, the “National Military Establishment” was similarly light on specifics concerning the ultimate aims of the organization, as were the amendments of 1949 that recast it as the Department of Defense (DoD).
During a Republican primary debate earlier this year, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee offered his own definition. He asserted that the “purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” Some in the armed forces took umbrage at that, though the military has, in fact, done both to great effect in a great many places for a very long time. For its part, the DoD sees its purpose quite differently: “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.”
If, in SOCOM’s accounting, the U.S. has engaged in relatively few actual wars, don’t credit “deterrence.” Instead, the command has done its best to simply redefine war out of existence, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favor of those “gray zone challenges.” If one accepts that quasi-wars are actually war, then the Defense Department has done little to deter conflict. The United States has, in fact, been involved in some kind of military action - by SOCOM’s definition - in every year since 1980.
Beyond its single sentence mission statement, a DoD directive delineating the “functions of the Department of Defense and its major components” provides slightly more details. The DoD, it states, “shall maintain and use armed forces to:
a. Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
b. Ensure, by timely and effective military action, the security of the United States, its possessions, and areas vital to its interest.
c. Uphold and advance the national policies and interests of the United States.”
Since the Department of Defense came into existence, the U.S. has - as the SOCOM briefing slide notes - carried out deployments, interventions, and other undertakings in Lebanon (1958), Congo (1964 and 1967), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1975), Iran (1980), El Salvador (1980-1992), Grenada (1983), Chad (1983), Libya (1986), the Persian Gulf (1987-1988), Honduras (1988), Panama (1989), Somalia (1992-1995), Haiti (1994-1995), and Albania (1997), among other countries.
You may have no memory of some (perhaps many) of these interventions, no less a sense of why they occurred or their results - and that might be the most salient take-away from SOCOM’s list. So many of these conflicts have, by now, disappeared into the gray zone of American memory.
Were these operations targeting enemies which actually posed a threat to the U.S. Constitution? Did ceaseless operations across the globe actually ensure the safety and security of the United States? Did they truly advance U.S. policy interests and if so, how?
From the above list, according to SOCOM, only El Salvador, Grenada, Libya, and Panama were “wins,” but what, exactly, did America win? Did any of these quasi-wars fully meet the Defense Department’s own criteria? What about the Korean War (tie), the Bay of Pigs (loss), the Vietnam War (loss), or the not-so-secret “secret war” in Laos (loss)? And have any of SOCOM’s eight losses or ties in the post-9/11 era accomplished the Defense Department’s stated mission?
“I have killed people and broken things in war, but, as a military officer, that was never the end. There was a purpose, a reason, a goal,” wrote Major Matt Cavanaugh, a U.S. Army strategist, in response to Huckabee’s comment. He then drew attention to the fact that “Joint Publication 1: Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States” asserts that “military power is integrated with other instruments of national power to advance and defend U.S. values, interests, and objectives.”
Did the wars in Vietnam or Laos defend those same values? What about the war waged in Iraq by the “finest fighting force” in world history?
In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out U.S aims for that conflict. “Our goal is to defend the American people, and to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and to liberate the Iraqi people,” he said, before offering even more specific objectives, such as having U.S. troops “search for, capture, [and] drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq.” Of course, the invasion and occupation of Iraq would turn that country into a terrorist magnet, leading to the ultimate safe harbor; a terror caliphate extending over swaths of that country and neighboring Syria. The elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would prove impossible for obvious reasons. The “liberation” of its people would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands; the forced displacement of millions; and a country divided along sectarian lines, where up to 50% of its 33 million inhabitants may suffer from the effects of trauma brought on by the last few decades of war. And what about the defense of the American people? They certainly don’t feel defended. According to recent polling, more Americans fear terrorism today than just after 9/11. And the particular threat Americans fear most? The terror group born and bred in America’s Iraqi prison camps: ISIS.
This record seems to matter little to the presidential candidate who, as a senator, voted for the invasion of Iraq. Regarding that war and other military missions, Hillary Clinton, as Bacevich notes, continues to avoid asking the most obvious question: “Is the use of the American military conclusively, and at reasonable costs, achieving our political objectives?”
Trump’s perspective seems to better fit SOCOM’s assessment when it comes to America’s warfighting prowess in these years. “We don't win. We can't beat ISIS. Can you imagine General Douglas MacArthur or General Patton? Can [you] imagine they are spinning in their grave right now when they see the way we fight,” he recently told FOX News’s Bill O’Reilly, invoking the names of those military luminaries who both served in a “draw” in Mexico in the 1910s and U.S. victories in World Wars I and II, and in the case of MacArthur a stalemate in Korea as well.
Neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns responded to "TomDispatch"’s requests for comment. SOCOM similarly failed to respond before publication to questions about the conclusions to be drawn from its timeline, but its figures alone - especially regarding post-9/11 conflicts - speak volumes.
“In order to evaluate our recent military history and the gap between the rhetoric and the results,” says Andrew Bacevich, “the angle of analysis must be one that acknowledges our capacity to break things and kill people, indeed that acknowledges that U.S. forces have performed brilliantly at breaking things and killing people, whether it be breaking a building - by putting a precision missile through the window - or breaking countries by invading them and producing chaos as a consequence.”
SOCOM’s briefing slide seems to recognize this fact. The U.S. has carried out a century of conflict, killing people from Nicaragua and Haiti to Germany and Japan; battering countries from the Koreas and Vietnams to Iraq and Afghanistan; fighting on a constant basis since 1980. All that death and devastation, however, led to few victories. Worse yet for the armed forces, the win-loss record of this highly professionalized, technologically sophisticated, and exceptionally well-funded military has, since assuming the mantle of the finest fighting force in the history of the world, plummeted precipitously, as SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate points out.
An American century of carnage and combat has yielded many lessons learned, but not, it seems, the most important one when it comes to military conflict. “We can kill people, we can break things,” Bacevich observes, “but we don’t accomplish our political goals.”
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa recently received an American Book Award. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com.
Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World._ _ _ _ _ _ _
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
We don't just deserve an affordable, sustainable healthcare system - we're doomed to bankruptcy without one.