The juxtaposition of two stories in my NY Times military “feed” got me to thinking this morning. The first story involves Ashton Carter, President Obama’s nominee to replace Chuck Hagel as America’s new Secretary of Defense. Carter, the article suggests, is a “centrist who may advocate a stronger use of American power.” The second article updates American casualties in Afghanistan, noting that the Department of Defense (DoD) has identified 2,340 American troops who have died in the Afghan War and related operations. Died for what was left unspecified. A resurgent Taliban? Record-setting opium production in Afghanistan? An Afghan governmental power-sharing agreement that is actually contrary to its official constitution?
In U.S. governmental circles today, you’re “serious” if you favor military aggression and interventionism overseas; you’re hopelessly idealistic if you favor non-intervention and strategic retrenchment.
This is apparently why Chuck Hagel was ash-canned. A Vietnam War veteran, Hagel was skeptical about continued U.S. military interventionism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Hagel knew from experience that Vietnam — a supposedly necessary war to combat communism — was actually a sucking chest wound that rapidly debilitated the U.S. military even as it deeply divided the country. Such hard-won experience is in short supply in Washington today, which is why it’s sad to see Hagel being booted out of the corridors of power.
His replacement, Carter, is a technocrat who lacks military experience. His main experience is as a weapons buyer for the DoD. His confirmation hearings should be friendly, unlike those of Hagel, who’d been impolite to question the Iraq War, the success of the Petraeus Surge, as well as Israeli governmental actions.
Back to those casualty figures. It was only after Vietnam became a sucking chest wound that the U.S. finally cut its losses and pulled out. The problem with the latest wars is that they are not a sucking chest wound; they are more like slow internal bleeding. The pain threshold seems tolerable to bloodless government bureaucrats, but of course it isn’t, especially to those families who’ve lost loved ones in these never-ending wars of choice.
At Ashton Carter’s confirmation hearings, the first questions should be: What is your plan to end America’s wars in the Middle East and Asia? And how many more young American troops have to die before your plan to end these interventionist and unnecessary wars comes to fruition?
Something tells me these questions won’t only go unanswered: they won’t even be asked.
Update (12/7/14): Upon being introduced by President Obama, Ash Carter praised the U.S. military as “the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.” Such hyperbolic praise of the U.S. military is standard today. Consider these words of Obama on 8/7/2013 that the U.S. military is “the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in human history.” Instead of exaggerated praise, what the U.S. military needs today is forceful leadership by civilians who are not content to look in a mirror that reflects a narcissistic opinion that the U.S. has the fairest military of them all.
Some might claim that such praise, even if unmerited, is harmless. Such is not the case. For how can you exercise firm oversight over a powerful and sprawling bureaucracy when you praise it as being the best in human history? Such praise is not only exaggerated — it’s counterproductive. More than that: it’s unhinged.