The US military will continue to thrive after Afghanistan

Make no mistake, the US military will continue to thrive after Afghanistan
6 min read
16 Aug, 2021
Opinion: There are too many careers and too much money tied to American power projection. So expect it to shift, not recede from the stage, writes Douglas Macgregor.
Afghanistan has plunged into chaos in the wake of the US military withdrawal. [Getty]

The object in war," argued Liddell Hart "is a better state of peace - even if only from your point of view. Hence, it is essential to conduct war with constant regard to the peace you desire." 

Sound advice, but as Americans are learning, the true purpose of the mission in Afghanistan had little to do with a better state of peace and much more to do with finding ways to extend the commitment of American funds, resources, and military power for as long as possible.

In January 1973, when the Paris Peace Agreement ending American involvement in South Vietnam was signed, Saigon and its armed forces still relied heavily on guaranteed US air, artillery, and logistical support. The removal of US military power always guaranteed Saigon's defeat against a determined attack from North Vietnam. The removal of economic and military support from Afghanistan today is having a similar impact, but the outcome in Afghanistan is arguably much worse. Why? 

"I don't necessarily see this [Afghanistan] as the end of an era, but, instead, as part of a new one that is full of opportunities for all of us"

It's very likely that the loss of over $2tn and tens of thousands of US, Allied, and Afghan lives is no deterrent to repeating the established recipe for strategic failure in some future country. In the words of LTG Richard Clarke, the new commander of Special Operations Command, "I don't necessarily see this [Afghanistan] as the end of an era, but, instead, as part of a new one that is full of opportunities for all of us."

In other words, the Departments of State and Defense (DoD) will enable SOCOM's future use of sensors, satellites, drones, proxy foreign forces, and armies of foreign clients equipped with US-supplied training and military gear to invade ungoverned spaces or failed states Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Caribbean Basin. 

The words, "all of us" suggest the intelligence agencies, the defence industries, and numerous supporting contracting entities including mercenaries to create "other than US forces" for foreign internal defence and development.

To the aforementioned cast of potential beneficiaries should also be added members of US Congress from both parties who regularly receive vast sums of money from privately owned defence contractors. 

The political campaign cycle in 2019 - 2020 saw more than $30m in donations from defence contractors to GOP and DNC candidates. In 2020, lobbying by top defence industries involved outlays of nearly $100m. However, these amounts only scratch the surface of the $2tn squandered over 20 years in Afghanistan.

Defence outlays for bases in Diego Garcia, Guam, Okinawa, Germany, Japan, Italy, Africa, and a host of other locations around the world can also be connected to the projection of American military power to Afghanistan and the greater Middle East. Even these defence outlays pale before the mammoth engine of corruption inside Afghanistan that a series of Inspectors General routinely insisted was as great a threat to stability and progress as the Taliban. 

Unfortunately, since the SOCOM intervention and assistance model is never blamed for the strategic failures that it helps to create, it remains funded and able to ramp up for the next lucrative military intervention. Only the country-specific policy is viewed as a strategic failure because in Clarke's words, "there's no precise end, there's not necessarily a winner." 

Clarke, however, failed to note another substantial class of beneficiaries: the armed forces' active duty Flag Officers, particularly the four stars. 

At the height of World War II, 12.2 million Americans served in the US Armed Forces. The 12.2 million Americans in uniform were commanded by just seven four stars: In the Army and Army Air Forces, MacArthur, Marshall, Arnold, and Eisenhower; in the US Navy and Marines, Leahy, King, and Nimitz. In the last phase of the war, several senior officers were promoted to four and five stars, but these promotions were honorific, not operational military ranks.

Today, for an active-duty force of 1.12 million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, there are 44 active duty four stars

"Military interventions are cash cows for generals. From 2008 - 2018 at least 380 high-ranking DoD officials and military officers enriched themselves as lobbyists, board members, executives, or consultants for defence contractors"

When George Marshall was approached by members of the Senate who urged him to promote their flag officer friends in uniform to four stars, Marshall said, "Senator, I don't have time to argue. I've got to win the war." As General Clarke explains, Americans are not likely to hear Marshall's words these days.

Face it, military interventions are cash cows for generals. From 2008 - 2018 at least 380 high-ranking DoD officials and military officers enriched themselves as lobbyists, board members, executives, or consultants for defence contractors within two years of taking off their uniforms.

In 2001, when the modest application of American military power rapidly overwhelmed the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, to paraphrase Arthur Schlesinger's words, euphoria reigned; Bush and his inner circle thought for a moment that the world was plastic and the future unlimited.

"Americans can only hope that this time the odour of multi-trillion dollar corruption, deceit, and military failure in Afghanistan will likely linger far longer in American nostrils"

Today, this euphoria seems misplaced especially when one considers that the initial mission in Afghanistan was to kill or capture fewer than 500 individuals associated with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. I leave it to others to ask why US Forces remained in Iraq after capturing Saddam Hussein and his inner circle.

On 3 August, 1972, Henry Kissinger told President Nixon, "After a year, Mr President, Vietnam will be a backwater," and "no one will give a damn." 

Kissinger was essentially correct. Sadly, it's a safe bet that a similar attitude prevails inside the Biden White House. Americans can only hope that this time the odour of multi-trillion dollar corruption, deceit, and military failure in Afghanistan will likely linger far longer in American nostrils and have consequences.

Col (Ret.) Douglas Macgregor, US Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a former senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense under the Trump Administration, the author of five books, a PhD, and a senior fellow with the American Conservative.

This article was originally published by our friends at Responsible Statecraft.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.