The US Military’s Limited Critique of Itself Ensures Future Disasters

President Trump has selected Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to be his new National Security Adviser. McMaster is a “warrior” and a true believer in military power, applied intelligently, that is. He has been highly critical of political power brokers in Washington, DC, and wrote a book on the mishandling of the military during the Vietnam War. Back in 2013, he wrote an article for the New York Times, an article I critiqued in the following post. McMaster, intelligent and well-read, nevertheless is defined by his military experience, seeing “security” as something to be attained through the savvy use of power by warriors like himself.

From July 26, 2013:

In the New York Times on July 20 [2013], Major General H.R. McMaster penned a revealing essay on “The Pipe Dream of Easy War.” McMaster made three points about America’s recent wars and military interventions:

1. In stressing new technology as being transformative, the American military neglected the political side of war. They forgot their Clausewitz in a celebration of their own prowess, only to be brought back to earth by messy political dynamics in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

2. Related to (1), the US military neglected human/cultural aspects of war and therefore misunderstood Iraqi and Afghan culture. Cultural misunderstandings transformed initial battlefield victories into costly political stalemates.

3. Related to (1) and (2), war is uncertain and unpredictable. Enemies can and will adapt.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these points, or in the general’s broad lesson that “American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.”

The last sentence is a dig at the Air Force and an argument for the continuing relevance of ground forces, which is unsurprising coming from an Army general who commands Fort Benning in Georgia.

But the sum total of McMaster’s argument is remarkably banal. Yes, war is political, human, and chaotic. Did our military professionals and civilian experts really forget this before making their flawed decisions to go to war after 9/11?

McMaster ends his critique with a few words of praise for the US military’s adaptability. The usual refrain: We messed up, but we learned from our mistakes, and are ready to take on new challenges, as long as the department of defense remains fully funded, and as long as America puts its faith in men like McMaster and not in machines/technology.

If those are the primary lessons our country should have learned since 9/11, we’re in big, big trouble.

So, here are three of my own “lessons” in response to McMaster’s. They may not be popular, but that’s because they’re a little more critical of our military – and a lot more critical of America.

1. Big mistakes by our military are inevitable because the American empire is simply too big, and American forces are simply too spread out globally, often in countries where the “ordinary” people don’t want us. To decrease our mistakes, we must radically downsize our empire.

2. The constant use of deadly force to police and control our empire is already sowing the deadly seeds of blowback. Collateral damage and death of innocents via drones and other “kinetic” attacks is making America less safe rather than more.

Like the Romans before us, as Tacitus said, we create a desert with our firepower and call it “peace.” But it’s not peace to those on the receiving end of American firepower. Their vows of vengeance perpetuate the cycle of violence. Add to this our special forces raids, our drone strikes, and other meddling and what you get is a perpetual war machine that only we can stop. But we can’t stop it because like McMaster we keep repeating, “This next war, we’ll get it right.”

3. We can’t defeat the enemy when it is us. Put differently, what’s the sense in defeating the enemies of freedom overseas at the same time as our militarized government is waging a domestic crackdown on dissent (otherwise known as freedom of speech) in the “homeland”?

Articles like McMaster’s suggest that our military can always win future wars, mainly by fighting more intelligently. These articles never question the wisdom of American militarization, nor do they draw any attention to the overweening size and ambition of the department of defense and its domination of American foreign policy.

Indeed, articles like McMaster’s, in reassuring us that the military will do better in the next round of fighting, ensure that we will fight again – probably achieving nothing better than stalemate while wasting plenty of young American (and foreign) lives.

Is it possible that the best way to win future wars is to avoid them altogether? As simple as that question is, you will rarely hear it asked in the halls of power in Washington.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

23 thoughts on “The US Military’s Limited Critique of Itself Ensures Future Disasters”

  1. Rebuttal:
    1. What big mistake? Losing a couple of hundred seems to be as bad as it gets. A pretty low price for world domination. And what difference does it make if the ‘ordinary’ people don’t like the US occupations? And what is this ‘mistake’? Was Iraq a mistake in the eyes of those who planned it? gimme a break.

    2.What blowback? A few Americans killed in bombings on US soil is a pretty low price to pay for control of the entire world’s economy. Even losing 3000 +- on 911 was a hell of a bargain for what was gained! The prohibitive price would be competition from the Brics, which would soon eclipse the US/West. And what importance does a few deaths by drones have in the scheme of things like US global hegemony?

    3. There can’t be any talk about defeating the enemies of freedom overseas until Americans come to terms with the truth. The US is the enemy of freedom. Are we supposed to ignore the US rampage of wars against 37 countries throughout the world since the end of WW2 alone? What is it that any lieutenant colonel can’t understand about that kind of success?

    Maybe somebody should tell the American people that things are working out exceptionally well! I mean really? What’s few hundred dead Americans, if that, opposed to enemy losses in the millions? Literally many millions directly and indirectly contributed to US led wars.

    Fact is, it’s a cakewalk until if goes nuclear!

    1. I had some Neocon argue me today that some sort of military action/police state was necessary after 9/11. I’m scared to reply back to them. The US is a frightening place.

      You and I both know 9/11 was caused by blowback. Pat Buchanan’s answer to bomb Afghanistan in response, then declare things concluded, was correct. And also, 9/11 was arguably caused by visa overstay.

      But there’s no actual justification for these wars, as you say.

      We are not gaining economically from world empire. American citizens are being made to support the empire. It’s not the government’s money, so no one seems to care what’s wasted.

      BRICS aren’t necessarily a political opponent of the US empire. In truth, the US has no natural enemies.

  2. My reply to Ron Paul’s, Trump’s ISIS plan, another US invasion:

    In truth, everything about Trump is inconsistent with improved relations with Russia. Saudi is only a small part of it.

    Excepting the campaign bulls-t Trump made up to appeal to a few antiwar voters. That bullsh-t now stands as the evidence Raimondo is still banking on to support Trump.

    I guess that in a way, Raimondo is doing good in that he keeps the lies alive, while Trump is trying to put the lies to bed. The Russia thing is doing him more damage now than all his other bullsh-t combined. And it’s a wast of good political capitol on Trump’s part because he’s got no intention of following through with any part of it.

    Trump likely is even smart enough to understand that the powers that be would have to ‘off’ him if he even tried such a thing. It’s only the entire US agenda that’s been in place since the fall of the Soviet Union that he would be messing with!

    Well ya never fu–ing know do ya! Maybe Trump is going to ask for permission from Putin to send US troops into Syria?

    And don’t we all know now that all that needs to be said about the success of peace in Syria without US involvement only means that Russia gets Syria? And then Iran and the US gets no more than it’s already got?

    1. Raimondo hasn’t spread any lies. Tweet him if you think he’s in the wrong somewhere. I’ve liked his coverage of Trump.

      Israel is important to Trump, so Iran meddling in Palestine is likely a problem for him.

      Russia is being used against Trump to delegitimize him and lose him support from both Republicans and Democrats. I believe Trump should just openly embrace Russia, but he’s also trying to win US Senate votes on non-foreign policy related issues. So, he can’t anger those people until after they’ve voted.

      So, we don’t know for certain Trump will not acknowledge Crimea, etc.

      1. I don’t tweet. I’m not accusing Raimondo directly of any lies but I don’t have to tweet him or anything of the sort. Raimondo knows exactly how I feel about his position on Trump. He’s even prevented me from posting on his regular articles. He says he’s not responsible for doing that but he doesn’t say who is.

        Yes, everybody is using Russia to delegitimize Trump and Trump is suffering irreparable damage because of it. But if you have followed my comments then you will have read where I’ve repeatedly said that Trump is trapped in a position on Russia in which he was never sincere in the least. He spoke out of turn in his campaign speech to gain a few antiwar votes.

        That’s where our point of disagreement begins and ends!

          1. But Thomas, once again I included the suggestion that somebody else did it. I just can’t see why that shouldn’t be mentioned. I think it’s only fair Thomas and I’m making a real effort to be fair to you now. I have hopes that it’s going to lead to a better relationship and understanding.
            The question can be cleared up at any time, even though it might not be you who can do it. You may be perfectly honest in saying that it’s neither of you. What more do you expect of me than me giving you and Raimondo the benefit of the doubt?
            Fwiw Thomas, I’m not sweating it. I can make my point adequately on the rest of the site which I can access for commenting. And it also gives me an advantage of not having to directly rebut Raimondo’s position.

          2. Don,

            There is no “question.” You decided to break the rules on hate speech and got banned for it. I favored giving you another chance, but I was overruled. If you don’t want to get banned, don’t break the rules.

            Endlessly speculating about who enforced the rules, and just simply lying about it being Raimondo after you’ve been informed multiple times that he has neither any interest in moderating comments nor any power to do so if he wanted to, has nothing whatsoever to do with relationships, understanding, or clearing anything up. It’s just you continuing to look for an explanation other than that you broke the rules here and got busted.

          3. And so I broke the rules. If you say so then it must be true. It’s not important but I do wonder if it was a rule that has been broken many times on this site but has been ignored most of the time. Not to dwell on it though because it’s not important.
            But it still doesn’t answer the question of who is hiding.

            As I’ve said, I don’t really care about commenting on Raimondo’s pieces, but I would like to comment on Lucy’s. That’s because she is interactive on her pieces and that’s something that should be encouraged on this site. It would be great if Ron Paul was too because a dialogue could be started which would benefit both him and this site. Supposing that Ron Paul has a hearty interest in the antiwar agenda.
            Although admittedly, allowing people to interact with the site’s writers can be a risky business.

            Above all, let’s stay with the antiwar agenda and forget about the rest for now.

          4. Thanks for all you do btw. It’s pretty amazing to be able to bring together such a disparate group, all united in opposing war.

        1. It’s tough to know. Both sides (pro-empire vs. anti-empire) seem to be holding their breath, watching to see which side Trump takes. The brightest hope is his desire to cut costs will result in less empire, generally.

          Trump said more than just passing comments on things like Russia and the EU. It was not just an election stunt as you believe. However, if he’s somewhat of a blank slate, he could be turned mostly Neocon.

          I suspect Trump is very pro-Israel if only for his daughter’s sake. And that brings him to take sides in some conflicts. Israel is not everything though; he also appears to believe in the need to fight Islam, compete with China.

          1. I have no interest in US domestic politics. I’m only interested in Trump’s foreign policy, but that includes his policies on Israel if when it relates to foreign policy. Not the Israeli pandering that relates to domestic politics so much.

  3. Mr. Astore,

    I appreciate the article. From my vantage, I can’t justify any of the wars we’ve been in. I don’t want to admit how far back I’d say have been mistakes. None of the wars can be justified. One after another, they’re all mistakes.

  4. It’s important that we try to seriously investigate what percentage of wars – open and covert – and what percentage of other violent activity like terrorism is delilberately and comprehensively mispresented to the US public. IMO, this is true of the majority of incidents shaping US military, security, and foreign policy since WWII. We can go through them all, case by case – and this pattern emerges, over and over again. The total amount that the US expends on war and military is very high – over $1 trillion/PER YEAR at present and steadily rising. It would be higher if we included the cost of aid to rebuild places we destroy and the cost of “aid” to countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia that is actually constructed as a transfer payment from the taxpayer to US arms manufacturers. The public needs to stop being cowed by lies and phony patriotic bluster to point out that these policies are destructive to the planet and to the majority of US civilians.

    1. If you want to be serious then you have to look back to 911 and why the terrorists sought revenge.
      You can also go back to considering the fall of the Soviet Union and the lack of a deterrent to US led wars in the ME.
      That will lead you up to the present and why the situation in Syria shows no promise of ending soon. If ever?

      1. I am serious, & when I look at 9/11 and so many other events, I see huge piles of evidence that they were partly false flags or mischaracterized to the public (e.g. I don’t know who put the bomb on the plane that blew up in Lockerbie and became a pretext to attack Libya, but all the evidence says it was not the Libyan guys they charged). The unifying theme in these events is that they are used as pretexts to justify more war and defense spending, either short term or long term – including their tendency to promote future unrest and conflict.

        1. By all means go your own way Josh. If you’re working in the antiwar interest then I won’t be opposing you on that. But I can’t go with you on the idea of 911 especially, being a false flag. Not even mischaracterized to the public.

          I would possibly entertain your ideas on the Lockerbie incident if you stated it, but with much caution on my part.

          1. 9/11 – Basic Categories of evidence for false flag:
            a) Evidence of demolition explosions in WTC towers and Bldg 7 – including witnesses within the buildings who were hushed up, as well as forensics, b) Evidence that FBI and CIA willfully allowed the hijackers to proceed, unimpeded with their preparations – not following standard procedures, stuffing urgent reports from subordinates, c) willful lack of forensic investigation by the US government at any of the crash sites, d) no consideration of forensics or “Who done it” by any of the Congressional investigation committees – no mention of Bldg 7 in the report, e) effort by the FBI to hide Saudi govt connections to the hijackers that it knew about before and after 9/11, f) Silverstein’s comment on TV that Bldg 7 was pulled and his coincidental absence from the WTC on that day g) DOD timing coincidences – Rumsfeld gives a speech on desire to scale down Pentagon spending a day or two before the event ; simulated air defense drills, only on 9/11/2011 that confused air traffic controllers and made response slow, h) Cheney lying about timeline of his actions on 9/11 morning; i) Cheney instantly putting into place elements of COG plan that he and Rumsfeld had been secretly working on ,at agreat expense, for decades, j) Decision prior to end of Sept. 2011 to invade Iraq and other countries not evidentially connected to the attack, k) odd coincidences about the part of the Pentagon that was hit, the route that the plane took to get there, confiscated film of the plane prior to impact, and the mismatch between the commercial airliner and the impact result.

          2. Rudy Giulani being across town at the time because he was hiding out from wife and #1 Mistress, with #2 Mistress.

            George Bush pretending to read a book to schoolkids at the time.

            The “let’s roll” crash supposedly headed for the White House, while the President was out of town.
            But for Congress… another perfect late summer day…

            No finance ministers or CFOs of any large corporations at World TRADE Center but plenty of blue collar workers.

          3. My position is, and pretty well always has been Josh:

            I believe that Iraq was in the planning well before 911. Inceed the reasons for the Gulf War on Iraq were the same reasons for the second. Directly related to Iraq’s oil.
            And I also believe that Bush2 and his bunch used 911 for the final justification to go to war with Iraq again.

            I can’t connect any of that in my mind with a false flag action.

          4. Lockerbie – a) the only evidence linking the Libyan guy who was initially charged with the crime later turned out to be fraudulent – no explosive residue – how could the FBI take charge and not notice that?? b) the attack was initially blamed on a Palestinian group before it was decided that Libya should be the political target, c) A few different witnesses who were baggage handlers for Pan Am in Frankfurt testified that the CIA routinely smuggled drugs in swapped suitcases through their Pan Am location in Frankfurst; they also testified that they had tried to contact the Lockerbie investigators and were blocked from doing so, d) CIA people showed up immediately to the Lockerbie crash site in helicoptes and removed evidence; e) the UK govt. declined to pursue a re-trial on appeal of the convicted man, fearing they would probably lose.

  5. “Like the Romans before us, as Tacitus said, we create a desert with our firepower and call it “peace.” But it’s not peace to those on the receiving end of American firepower. Their vows of vengeance perpetuate the cycle of violence.”

    Reminds me of something Aldous Huxley once said:
    “If you use violent and destructive means, then you determine violent and destructive ends.”

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