Ray McGovern: What Have Our Generals Been Up To?

In a half-hour interview on Afghanistan Tuesday I mused about how Washington’s generals and Pentagon-subservient policymakers thought the U.S. might be able to be the first outside nation to prevail in Afghanistan. And, prevail or not, what the MICIMATT saw to gain in waging this "endless war."

Generally, it was hard to put it better than Ron Paul already has:

The military industrial complex spent 20 years on the gravy train with the Afghanistan war. They built missiles, they built tanks, they built aircraft and helicopters. They hired armies of lobbyists and think tank writers to continue the lie that was making them rich. They wrapped their graft up in the American flag, but they are the opposite of patriots.

Defeat No Surprise

The defeat in Afghanistan was not only predictable, but predicted. ( See "Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President," March 28, 2009, and the more recent "Hold the Generals Accountable This Time."

But how to explain the ignominious events of recent days? I offered two speculative possibilities:

(1) When top US generals were ordered to withdraw completely from Afghanistan they decided deliberately to make the withdrawal as messy as could be. How better to demonstrate that "civilian authority" does not know what it is doing and might even have to send some of the withdrawn military units, or new ones, back into Afghanistan.

Nine weeks ago, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command announced that the US would not conduct airstrikes to support Afghan security forces after it withdraws its remaining troops from Afghanistan, the head of US Central Command. McKenzie said the US will conduct airstrikes in Afghanistan only when plans to conduct terrorist attacks against the American homeland, or those of its allies, have been uncovered.

“That would be the reason for any strikes that we do in Afghanistan after we leave,” he told Voice of America while aboard a military plane headed for the Middle East. “[It] would have to be that we’ve uncovered someone who wants to attack the homeland of the United States, one of our allies and partners.”

Tipping Off the Taliban?

The Taliban knew only too well what that would mean for the ease with which they could cut deals with the celebrated "300,000"-man, well trained and equipped Afghan Army. (It is impossible to believe that McKenzie knew less.) So the Taliban and marched on one provincial capital after another, arriving at Kabul Sunday. Things got messy right quick.

(2) Or, the US generals could not see beyond their benighted confidence that there would be ample time for a more orderly withdrawal. Support for this view comes from the feckless way the generals got us into Afghanistan in the first place. In yesterday’s interview, I alluded to some very basic things, drilled into me at Infantry Officer School at Fort Benning and Intelligence Officer School (then at Fort Holabird). Could the generals have forgotten the basics: as in the requirement to perform an "Estimate of the Situation" before launching an operation into places like Afghanistan?

"The Estimate of the Situation"

Here are the key elements of this necessary step, as I remember them:

A – Enemy: number, disposition, weaponry, motivation, morale, etc.
B – Terrain
C – Weather
D – LOCS: Lines of Communication and Supply

Not taking these key factors into account is largely why Afghanistan is deservedly known as the "graveyard of Empires." The armies of Persia, Mongolia, India, England, the Soviet Union already learned this the hard way. Only Alexander the Great was smart enough to turn around and go back to Asia Minor where he knew what he was doing.

Is it possible that the image of another shining star on the shoulder (not to mention lucrative post-retirement sinecures on the Boards of Lockheed, Raytheon, and/or with MSNBC and CNN) blinded our generals into skipping the mandatory "Estimate of the Situation" – both as the US got into Afghanistan and now out?

The interview ended with a brief discussion of the implications of the recent events in Afghanistan for attitudes abroad – in key places like Taiwan and in Europe, for example.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

6 thoughts on “Ray McGovern: What Have Our Generals Been Up To?”

  1. From article:

    “Is it possible that the image of another shining star on the shoulder
    (not to mention lucrative post-retirement sinecures on the Boards of
    Lockheed, Raytheon, and/or with MSNBC and CNN) blinded our generals ….’

    I would say more than possible, it is an absolute probability!

    Careerism, greed, corruption, has had a deadly effect on the competence and honesty of the pentagon and its military “leaders.”

    The pentagon needs very badly a complete restructuring and revision of its programs for rewarding failure and incompetence. Yeh, that too will happen!

    Imagine if you will a patraeus or mc Christal standing up to congress and pentagon hierarchy and stating, we have serious problems, we need to revise plans and start contingencies to get the hell out.

    Yeh, right, that would have never happened.

    Instead, the happy talk, “we are turning the corner,” and the money spigot continues uninterrupted. And the generals can look for more medals and very profitable 2nd careers in the MIC or elsewhere. The lies were pervasive, continuing, and never challenged.

    It is sickening!

    BTW, Scott Ritter has a couple of good articles on RT about the bloat of flag officers and the careerist motivations.

  2. I just heard that the German people are considering the option of out-sourcing to the Taliban, the job of getting the US to end the 75-year occupation of their country….

  3. Many years ago, I read a story about an interaction between Robert McNamara and one of North Vietnam’s top defense ministers during the Vietnam War. This interaction took place after the United States and Vietnam finally normalized diplomatic relations. Both McNamara and his Vietnamese counterpart had been long-since retired from government service, and had been invited to a state dinner in Vietnam.

    As one might expect, the two eventually got into a heated argument about the events of Vietnam War. It became apparent that McNamara was looking at the conflict through the lens of America’s self-conception during the Cold War. He told his Vietnamese counterpart about the horrors of communism and the superiority of American and Western liberal-democratic government. His Vietnamese counterpart replied “you must never have read a history book in your life Mr. McNamara! We in Vietnam have fought invaders and empires our whole history — China, France, and finally the Americans!” There was a fundamental disconnect between the perspectives through which McNamara and his counterparty viewed the conflict: for the former American Secretary of Defense, it was a conflict about America and what his nation stood for in its ideological conflict with the USSR. For his Vietnamese counterpart, it was about Vietnamese national independence and indeed, Vietnam’s national honor and sovereignty.

    I submit to Mr. McGovern and our readers that this follows perfectly item (A) in your “Estimate of the Situation” rubric. One component of item (A) is to understand the enemy’s morale and motivation. I submit that this is likely more relevant that an opponent’s training or armaments. And this was a key problem in Afghanistan: American Generals, think tanks, and the media viewed Afghanistan through the lens of what our own intentions were rather than the motivations of the Taliban and the reasons why it had support from many people in rural Afghanistan.

    American generals didn’t bother to learn the history of the country. No need to go all the way back to Alexander the Great and Queen Roxanne for this one, in my view. It would have been a good enough for those responsible for conducting the war to know the post-World War II political history of Afghanistan or at the very least, to know that Afghanistan has essentially been undergoing a warlord period (not unlike what happened in China following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th Century) for the past 40 years, or that Mullah Omar sought to unify the country politically with the one thing almost all Afghans had in common: religion. No, the generals nor the think tanks nor the media thought it was important to understand this context. To them, Afghanistan was just a blank slate for American elites to project their own aspirations and anxieties upon.

    Frankly, this was a farce. If you’re going to invade France, you should probably know who Charles De Gaulle was. Instead of trying to determine how Mullah Bardar saw the history of modern Afghanistan, our elites stuck stubbornly to thinking of Afghanistan as a blank slate.

  4. Absolutely on the nose article. Unfortunately the gravy train will move somewhere else. Africa, perhaps? Our 4th Fleet was taken out of the mothballs, to cruise the Caribbean, and, we are “renting” seven military bases in Colombia, complete with airfields. It expands our reach throughout South America, and we are able to launch aircraft to – Africa.

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