It’s coming folks! This time it isn’t WMD but DAD (Dumb Ass Decisions). Having failed for close to 15 years to bring a stable government to Iraq we’re going to try again.
This DAD announcement was released on Friday by the Pentagon probably in hopes it would be buried over the weekend. Why now? How about the death of Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin last week who was killed when his Marine unit of 200 men was hit by ISIS rocket fire at a forward fire base recently abandoned by an Iraqi Army unit.
The American public had been told that our forces were back in Iraq in safe, “non combat” support, training and advising the Iraqi army. But Staff Sgt. Cardin apparently was in an artillery unit actively engaged in action outside the village of Makhmour in Northern Iraq. Makhmour is a staging area for the long advertised assault on ISIS occupation of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. The death of Louis Cardin by ISIS fire seems to have been the perfect excuse for the Pentagon to let the cat out of the bag and start the “mission leap” after the lies of the “creep” phase of their aim to reengage.
It has been a little over a year since we reengaged in the “creep” phase with 300 ‘trainers and advisors’ which was shortly followed by swelling the number to 3000. But, hey, they were clearly not going to get involved in ground combat operations according to our Nobel Peace Prize winning President.
Then Staff Sgt. Cardin got himself killed by ISIS in a clearly combat role and the cat is out of the bag. We made the leap into combat and now we need revenge. So why were the Marines sent to this forward fire base to engage in a combat mission that lay outside what the American public was told was their mission? Well it seems that the American-trained Iraqi army unit, officers and all, decided to abandon the fire base and hide in the nearby mountains.
So the big question: is the Iraqi army really up to the task of retaking Mosul even with American ‘boots on the ground” support? But a bigger question is, after 15 years, what is the end game? Perpetual war?
21 thoughts on “Obama’s Next Jump: Iraq Mission Creep Morphing into a Leap”
Perpetual war? Absolutely!! It’s on the public record that the incumbent POTUS and his predecessor declared that “The Global War On Terror” is literally “open-ended” in duration. I’m not aware of any proclamation from Obama that the situation has changed. Hmmm. “Obama.” “Change.” Once upon a time, I seem to vaguely recall through the mists of time, that name and that concept were used in the same sentence. Obama long ago sold his soul to the Devil of Militarism, who resides in a very large five-sided building just outside of Washington, D.C. (An attempt to levitate that massive building and exorcise said Devil in the late 1960s or perhaps 1970, remarkably, failed!) No one should expect anything but additional Dumb Ass Decisions on US foreign (i.e. military) policy going forward into the indefinite future. This is, after all, THE AMERICAN WAY.
Indigenous Irish struck against British occupiers on occasion over a few centuries. In 1913 a sizable number organized and named themselves Irish Volunteers. Following six years of losses to Brit imperial forces, they did not give up but reorganized as the indominantable IRA, only officially agreeing to cessation of violent tactics in 1997 (agreement signed ’98) upon securing home governance concessions at long last from the U.K.
Eighty-five years. The USA is in occupation year thirteen.
Come on, battery storage capacity technology. We needed you badly three decades ago, but we need you urgently right now.
Now that the Pentagon has become the Pentagon Inc. since he 9/11 attacks this mission creep just seems more business as usual. And the emphasis is on “business.” In Vietnam, the 1st Air Cavalry supposedly had business cards printed up which read: “Death is our business / And business is very good.” Nothing much has really changed since my tour of duty in Vietnam. But I’m a cynic about the human condition ever since then. I would add, though, that Obama has violated his campaign pledge of being opposed to stupid wars and doing stupid shit over and over again as with the intervention in the Libyan civil war. That NATO air campaign turned Liyba into Somalia on the Mediterranean. So this latest death just proves what I learned in Vietnam, that is, never trust the brass and even more so the suits that sent us there.
Amen to that, fellow veteran!! “We are the unwilling, led by the incompetent to do the unnecessary!” “Drink your beer and never volunteer!”, SNAFU, FUBAR, etc. Of course, doing the unnecessary is a gross understatement. US foreign policy has operated for decades now outside the pale of international law. I’m talking about criminal activity. But any treaty, the Geneva Convention “Rules of War,” the Nuremberg Principles, etc. that the US colossus dislikes it simply thumbs its nose at. You know, that “exceptionalism” thing. Hubris to put a Roman Emperor to shame.
I suspect this recent incident was more a case of the local Marines deciding what they “should” do, and not a move that was directed or even approved by the higher ups. Even the Colonel spokesman who tried to explain the death of Staff Sergeant Cardin seemed to have a hard time dressing up the “facts” surrounding why the Marines were out there in the first place and how this was within the authorized non-combat mission.
Lifer ..The hesitancy maybe more the result of his trying to “cover” for higher ups. That’s the way to promotions. No major decisions in any part of the military are executed with out orders from ‘above’, and I don’t mean god. No Colonel, Major, or General would move 200 Marines into active combat without an order from the Pentagon when “national policy” has been enunciated by the President. .
The U.S. has been trying to create an effective Iraqi army for 12 years. Even the saintly General Petraeus worked on it. Yet the Iraqi army consistently disappoints. Does the U.S. learn anything? Of course not. We vow to train harder, send more weapons, send more advisers. And when that doesn’t work, send in the “mission creep.” U.S. troops start getting involved, followed by inevitable casualties, followed by more U.S. troops, followed by …
We saw it in Vietnam. The real “Vietnam Syndrome” is that our leaders refuse to learn anything from that war.
I still remember as a medical corpsman the nickname the wounded grunts on the ward had for the soldiers of the Republic of South Vietnam (AVRN): “Marvin the Arvin.” So I think you hit the nail on the head, most definitely. The Vietnam Syndrome is well and alive, and the Iraqi troops that cut and ran from ISIS jihadis during the Battle of Fallujah (December, 2013-January, 2014) are the Iraqi equivalent of “Marvin the Arvin.” Our leaders have learned absolutely nothing from the Vietnam War, is correct. It would be funny if it wasn’t so terribly sad and tragic.
With all due respect, I must disagree with Bill Astore’s assertion that “the U.S. has been trying to create an effective Iraqi army for 12 years.” It most certainly has not tried to do any such thing. As a matter of fact, the U.S. military has made it a practice — as a defining characteristic of its many military failures over decades — to create docile, compliant, and abjectly dependent military vassals in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Europe, etc. Any “effectiveness” that these military dependencies may have somehow developed has occurred not because of U.S. military training and assistance, but rather, in spite of it. Consider, for example, what Chris Hedges has written about the Afghan National Army in Death of the Liberal Class, Chapter Two, Permanent War:
“The real purpose of American advisers assigned to ANA units, however, is not ultimately to train Afghans but rather to function as liaisons between Afghan units and American firepower and logistics. The ANA is unable to integrate ground units with artillery and air support. It has no functioning supply system. It depends on the U.S. military to do basic tasks. The United States even pays the bulk of ANA salaries.” (page 50)
No doubt the same situation obtains for the most part in Iraq today. I could elaborate and describe the similar situation that I experienced in Southeast Asia four decades ago, but that would lead to a lengthy essay which I must postpone for a later time. I just get too depressed going over the same old shit yet one more time with no hope that the self-inflicted U.S. military disasters will get any better — for anyone but corporate war profiteers — within what remains of my lifetime. Still, as to what the U.S. military actually has accomplished since the end of WWII, Chris Hedges writes:
“What was once done by the military, concerned with tactical and strategic advancement, is now done by war profiteers, concerned solely with profit. The aims of the military and the contractors are in conflict. Any scaling down of the war or withdrawal means a loss of business for corporations. But expansion of the war, as many veterans will attest, is making the situation only more precarious” [emphasis added]. (page 52)
So permanent war must proceed and develop, much as George Orwell wrote about in 1984: “The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the [profitable] structure of society intact.” A sprawling U.S. — if not global — corporate oligarchy thus runs the U.S. government and its handmaiden military as a wholly owned subsidiary with operations in America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, etc. The U.S. military now functions as little more than a vast money-laundering machine sucking the lifeblood out of the U.S. taxpayer and pumping it into the offshore bank accounts of an amorphous stockholder elite, one impervious to any form of democratic control by American citizens. For all intents and purposes, a corporate/military coup occurred at the end of WWII — in 1948 not 1984 — and has pretty much managed to eviscerate what my parents and their generation innocently thought of as “America.”
R.I.P., America. You have met the enemy without ever recognizing it: your own standing military establishment. It cannot defeat Southeast Asian peasants in black pajamas or barely armed, goat-herding poppy farmers in the foothills of the Hindu Kush, but it can easily and certainly defeat you.
No sooner had I written the above comments than Dmitry Orlov, the Russian expatriate engineer sailing our of Boston harbor on his houseboat, posted one of his inimitable explanations for the ruinous militarism afflicting the United States and its many vassal dependencies today. I recommend reading the whole article, Always Attack the Wrong Country, but for those too busy to attend to the obvious and awful truth in greater detail, I’ll just excerpt the first two introductory paragraphs:
“There are numerous tactics available to those who aim to make problems worse while pretending to solve them, but misdirection is always a favorite. The reason to want to make problems worse is that problems are profitable—for someone. And the reason to pretend to be solving them is that causing problems, then making them worse, makes those who profit from them look bad.
“In the international arena, this type of misdirection tends to take on a farcical aspect. The ones profiting from the world’s problems are the members of the US foreign policy and military establishments, the defense contractors and the politicians around the world, and especially in the EU, who have been bought off by them. Their tactic of misdirection is conditioned by a certain quirk of the American public, which is that it doesn’t concern itself too much with the rest of the world. The average member of the American public has no idea where various countries are, can’t tell Sweden from Switzerland, thinks that Iran is full of Arabs and can’t distinguish any of the countries that end in -stan. And so a handy trick has evolved, which amounts to the following dictum: ‘Always attack the wrong country.’”
I would only add here the principle corollary to the above dictum: namely, “Always train the wrong vassal army to demoralized dependency upon the inept and corrupt U.S. military, its attendant dogs-of-war mercenaries, and greedy corporate camp followers.” The English language used to have a rather straightforward phrase for this sort of thing: “profitable plunder of the powerless.” I wonder how many medals or other trinkets U.S. generals and admirals get for that sort of “service” these days?
Those are fair points, Mike. I should have qualified “effective.” At first, the U.S. wanted a weak military for Iraq: a constabulary and self-defense force of limited capability with no real air force. Once the insurgency grew, and the U.S. eventually decided to get out, plans changed and the Iraqi military was bulked up. But all along the Iraqi military, like its Afghan counterpart, has refused to become an American vassal.
What I mean is this: My sense is that Afghans and Iraqis serve in these militaries for their own purposes, e.g. for money, profit, to eat and survive, for a respectable position in society, and so on. What they didn’t sign up to do is to fight hard — to risk their lives for governments that, when they exist, are corrupt or otherwise compromised. So when the going gets tough, the smart get going — in the other direction from the noise of combat. I can’t say that I really blame them.
Sad to say, the US citizenry seems to have almost totally accepted this notion of the “necessity” of Perpetual War. Absent conscription, an ever-smaller percentage of the populace provides the cannon fodder for the military, while civilian contractors positively clamor for jobs driving trucks ($100,000 a year and up, as I understand) to move supplies on the periphery of war zones. Fatalities are relatively rare, with annual deaths a tiny percentage of GIs killed in one week at the height of the Vietnam War. And if you do lose a son or daughter, you know that kid will be lauded as a Hero forever after by the fawning media. So, where do this year’s presidential candidates stand on the issue of war and peace? The Republicans are still duking it out over who would launch more air strikes against the perceived “enemy” of the moment. Madam Clinton has absolutely nothing fresh to bring to the discussion. That leaves Bernie. Does Bernie have a plan to wind down the madness the US has unleashed in the Middle East, now metastasizing severely? If so, I haven’t heard about it. This “democratic socialist” can’t even rise to the level of Dennis Kucinich, who I’m pretty sure never declared himself any brand of socialist, but actually proposed the US establish a Department of Peace!
Andrew Basevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University and also a retired army colonel who served in Vietnam, wrote a very interesting, astute and historical critique of what has happened to our armed forces. It is entitled “Breach of Trust,” which addresses many of the comments and replies on this topic and warns about the growing chasm between civilians and the military. He is one of the few conservative public intellectuals who is trustworthy, a realist on foreign policy and military affairs and – most importantly – has a genuine moral compass. He’s the Noam Chomsky of the right. (Can’t believe I wrote that sentence, but that’s how I really feel.)
He basically states that since the foreign policy debacle in the Vietnam War, the ideal from the Second World War of “the citizen/soldier” has become just another casualty of the Vietnam War. And he states that civilians have “no skin in the game.” They are sitting up in the bleachers. But the real drama – of pain and shared sacrifice – is down on the playing field. Whether civilians supported or opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is more of a scene from a Japanese Kabuki play. They are merely going through an empty narrative of patriotism and service to our country. I really enjoyed the book, because je just tells it like it is.
News reporters asked Sam Brown, an old anti-war protester, a baby boomer sixties, why civilians were so willing to rush off to war after the 9/11 attacks. He replied, quite casually, there was no draft. I liked his answer. That’s America in a nutshell. Succinct and cynical.
But sooner or later, this country will have to address the issue of bringing back the draft. I think much sooner, because if Hillary Clinton gets elected, she will have us in yet another big land war being such a knee-jerk hawk. Then our fearless leaders inside the beltway bubble will have to face the reality that a volunteer armed forces is ill-equipped to fight such a big war even with the rise of private contractors filling in the gap as demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq. That will be when the “merde” hits the fan.
As the Chinese like to say politely when they want to curse someone. “May you live in interesting times.” That’s what I see down the road and just around the bend in the next couple of years. But I’m a cynic by nature and nurture.
I wish to thank Bill Astore for the following comment:
“But all along, the Iraqi military, like its Afghan counterpart, has refused to become an American vassal.”
This assertion — something of a triumph of hope over experience — reminds me of nothing so much as the following excerpt from Frances FitzGerald’s classic work Fire in the Lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam:
“In an interview with Pham Van Dong, one American asked the North Vietnamese foreign minister how he could call the Saigonese government an ‘American puppet’ when it acted with such consistency against American interests. ‘Ah,’ replied the minister, ‘it’s a puppet, all right. It’s just a bad puppet.'”
Now, substitute “vassal” for “puppet” and you have the laughable Afghan and Iraqi “armies”: virtual copies of the demoralized and now defunct South Vietnamese military forces that I deployed to train in the summer of 1970. I never claimed that the Iraqi and Afghan “governments” had become good and loyal vassals of the United States, just bad ones. Again, as Ms FitzGerald wrote:
“[South Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Cao] Ky expressed his hostility to American domination — a sentiment that he, like most Vietnamese, sincerely felt — but it was clear that he could do little to create a counter-force, and this his only power lay in his ability to manipulate the Americans. … The situation was was therefore a most curious one: the Americans dominated the GVN but could not make it work for them” [emphasis added].
In summary, then: the American military dominates — Full Spectrum Dominance, as our generals call it — but it cannot make dominance work for the American people. Our many bad puppet/vassals have simply learned to manipulate the U.S. military for their own ends. Military dominance does work for corporate war-profiteers, however, so “Full Spectrum Dominance” will continue both at home and abroad until America implodes from the rapacious looting.
In a recent talk in Berkeley, California, Ken O’Keefe gave a too-rare, truth-drenched and powerful talk going to the heart of problem of endless wars. Spread it around wide and far, and feel good about helping build a necessary, evolutionary movement around the Earth to end war.
I agree that the military and politicians learned one huge lesson from Vietnam: abolish the draft in favor of a full volunteer military to prevent large scale antiwar protests. I suspect that current foreign policy would be radically different if there was a law that required automatic reinstatement of the draft when we invade or engage in military hostilities with another country. I had a revealing conversation with a mid 30s mother of a pre teen son during the winter of 2003 when the Bush team was beating the Iraq war drums. She supported going to war because even if Saddam did not have WMDs “those people deserve their freedom.” Her response to my question of whether she would be in favor of her son going over there and fighting and possibly getting killed or maimed to give those people their freedom was ” No. That would be different.” Sadly, she missed the point of the question.
A few fine points: 1.) conscription was not abolished, merely suspended; 2.) the Army (I can’t speak to other military branches) was already transitioning to VOLAR (all-volunteer Army), turning KP over to civilians, increasing pay for servicepersons, etc. when I left it in 1971. I doubt that even in their “hearts of hearts” (quite a concept to apply to these individuals!), Nixon, Kissinger, et al. had at that time given up their hope for military victory in Southeast Asia; 3.) thus, the volunteer military was something they felt was forced on them, after US military suffered colossal rates of AWOL and even open internal rebellion during that fiasco.
I don’t think the US handling of the situation in the Middle East would have been different with Selective Service still operating. This is precisely because of the stupendous success of the propaganda campaign after the events of 9/11. Let us not forget that years after the debunking of the “WMD” scare, a large percentage of Americans still believed (believe today, even) that George Walker Bush wouldn’t lie to us. Likewise, untold millions will tell you with great conviction today that Barack Obama is a Muslim, openly or secretly, who was never a proper US citizen. Further, they’ll sign a petition calling for attendees of this year’s Republican National Convention to bring their firearms along! HAS THERE EVER BEEN SUCH A NATION OF MORONS AS OURS?
“Further, they’ll sign a petition calling for attendees of this year’s Republican National Convention to bring their firearms along!” If you’re referring to the same petition I’ve seen I wonder how many of those who signed did so as a joke. I would. Many of those who have signed it seem to be serious though. Actually, I would sign it in earnest now that I think about it: after all the GOP candidates have repeatedly said that “gun-free zones” are un-American and dangerous and that one should be able to pack heat wherever one goes so they really should allow everyone in their presence to be armed. The convention is being held in a state with strong right to carry firearms laws after all… I’m sure nothing bad could possibly happen!
I too am not sure that conscription would have improved things in recent years. The U.S. military has tended to keep the number of actual combat troops fairly low and I’m sure that the elites would make sure their own children wouldn’t get caught in the net. After all, I don’t see any evidence that the country has gotten any better at treating rich and poor people equally since 1970. I could be wrong though. There’s a good chance that the military leadership would be dumb enough to go crazy if they were given the ability to conscript large numbers of people and greatly expand the number of people they send into ground combat.
“No skin in the game” – which conscription alone can correct. What a novel explanation for perpetual war, and a no-brainer fix for it. Fellow citizens, know the new normal.
Who would invest their skin in a game that they had not even bothered to analyze as to the advisability of playing it in the first place? I suggest that we focus on the game first instead of assuming it as a given. If one does that, then most often the question of skin never comes up. No game, no skin. Simple. As many of us used to say back in Southeast Asia: “You can’t do a wrong thing the right way,” and “We lost the day we started and we win the day we stop.” The career lifers, though, loved to joke: “Don’t knock the war. It’s the only one we’ve got.” For awhile, the conscripts won out over the lifers. For once, the United States stopped a war and won. But then the war-lifers figured out a way to make America forget. Just “privatize” war and make it a profitable game for the career military, dogs-of-war mercenaries, and corporate camp followers. And so America began to lose more wars by starting and refusing to end them. The lack of poor draftees had nothing to do with this development. Nobody ever cared about them anyway.
As an example of what I think of war as a “game,” consider the conclusion of a recent article on “The Obama Doctrine” by former State Department official Peter Van Buren. he writes:
“One foreign commentator said the United States has ‘turned into a nation of idiots, incapable of doing anything except conducting military operations against primitive countries.'”
So, here, yet again, we have the operative definition of war as an American game, namely: “a nation of idiots incapable of doing anything except conducting military operations against primitive countries.” And we should add: “… and then losing, time and again, to barely armed nobodies, at ruinous cost to everyone concerned, including the American taxpayer.”
Now, equipped with this awful naked truth about war as a “game” for rich Americans to play using poor Americans to fight, who in their right mind would wish to invest any of their skin in such a tragicomic travesty? Answer: no one.
As David Halberstam wrote about U.S. generals lusting after ever more war somewhere against some peasant nation (it scarcely matters which): Secretary of Defense McNamara “had controlled the military only as long as we were not in a real war and that the best way for civilians to harness generals was to stay out of wars.”
I would go further and say that not promoting any military person to the rank of general would work wonders for keeping America out of this “game” that our so-called “military leaders” have made of war. As the wise old adage proclaims: “War is too serious a business to be left to generals.” So I say: no generals, none of their “games,” no war, no lost “skin,” and certainly no draft. Don’t play stupid games in the first place, and the issue of “skin” — one’s own or that of others — doesn’t come up for consideration. When talking about America, to Americans, it pays to keep things simple.
A brief historical footnote, since the island nation of Cuba has been in the news recently: Fidel Castro declined to be promoted above the rank of Major for decades after the triumph of the Revolution. Such a notion would drive U.S. military careerists positively bonkers!!