William J. Astore: War Is a Racket

I was watching the Bill Maher Show this past weekend on HBO. Generally considered a liberal and a free-thinker, Maher argued that U.S. military forces had to stay in Afghanistan to prevent a resurgence of terrorism. He and his guests seem to have forgotten US military testimony that roughly 20 terrorist groups are currently present in Afghanistan; indeed, that the presence of American troops has attracted more terrorist activity, even as the Taliban has increased its control and the drug trade has vastly expanded. How is long-term failure over 17 years an argument for an even longer “enduring presence” by US troops? How long should those troops stay – forever?

General Smedley Butler knew the score. Five years ago, I wrote this post citing his confession about how war is a racket, driven by the profit motive, exploited by the powerful, even as the grunts and the native people of foreign lands pay the price.

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The USA and Israel as Big and Little Prussia

As a kid, I was a big admirer of Israel.* I kept a scrapbook on the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Back then, Israel was America’s plucky ally, David against Goliath, helping to keep the Soviet bear at bay, or so it seemed to me.

Through a kid’s eyes, Israel in 1973 was an island seemingly surrounded by a sea of well-armed enemies: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. Outnumbered and outgunned. And now look at today’s reality: Egypt and Iraq have been neutralized. Syria is devastated. Jordan is wisely (sort of) neutral. The Saudis are a quasi-ally. Outside of the more-or-less manageable threat of terrorism (Hamas and Hezbollah), Israel’s chief enemy today appears to be itself.

What I mean by that is this: Israel, which over the last 70 years has fought several wars for its survival, is now a regional superpower. Yet the mindset of David versus Goliath persists, even though Goliath is hobbled and defeated. Meanwhile, as Israel combats terrorism and the legacies of West Bank occupation and isolation of the Gaza Strip, the government prosecutes policies that are considered illiberal and dangerous by many Jewish critics within Israel itself.

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William J. Astore on ‘Civilian Casualty Incidents’

Tuesday night, as I was watching the PBS News Hour, I snapped to attention as I heard a new euphemism for murdered innocents from bombing: “civilian casualty incidents.”

A PBS reporter used it, unthinkingly I believe, repeating bureaucratic jargon about all the innocents in Yemen smashed to bits or shredded by “dumb” bombs, cluster munitions, and even “smart” bombs that are really only as smart as the pilots launching them (and the often imperfect “actionable intelligence” gathered to sanction them).

The overall tone of the PBS report was reassuring. General Mattis appeared to comfort Americans that the Saudis are doing better with bombing accuracy, and that America’s role in helping the Saudis is limited to aerial refueling and intelligence gathering about what not to hit. Of course, the Saudis can’t bomb without fuel, so the U.S. could easily stop aerial massacres if we wanted to, but the Saudis are our allies and they buy weapons in massive quantities from us, so forget about any real criticism here.

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William J. Astore on Grade Inflation in the US Military

I was looking at some old military history notes today and came across this photo of Lieutenant General Hubert Reilly Harmon, known today as the father of the Air Force Academy and its first superintendent:

I love the simplicity of this photo. General Harmon is wearing four ribbons on his uniform and his pilot’s wings. He commanded an air force in the Pacific during World War II and helped to win that war.

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William J. Astore’s Thoughts on a Saturday Afternoon

Weekends are a good time to sit back, reflect, and think. Here are a few ideas I’ve been thinking about:

1. Remember 9/11/2001? Of course you do. Almost everyone back then seemed to compare it to Pearl Harbor, another date that would live in infamy – and that was a big mistake. In 1941, the USA was attacked by another sovereign nation. In 2001, we were attacked by a small group of terrorists. But international terrorism was nothing new, and indeed the U.S. was already actively combating Al Qaeda. The only new thing was the shock and awe of the 9/11 attacks – especially the images of the Twin Towers collapsing.

By adopting the Pearl Harbor image, our response was predetermined, i.e. the deployment of the US military to wage war. Even that wasn’t necessarily a fatal mistake, if we’d stopped with Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban. But, as Henry Kissinger said, Afghanistan wasn’t enough. Someone else had to pay, in this case the unlucky Iraqis. And then the US military was stuck with two occupations that it was fated to lose. And millions of Afghan and Iraqi people suffered for our leaders’ mistakes.

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William J. Astore on Paving Roads to Nowhere

I have a simple proposition: Let’s rebuild America instead of paving roads to nowhere in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has spent nearly a trillion dollars on fighting and (mostly) losing the Afghan War over the last seventeen years. That price tag includes paving roads that have already fallen into disrepair. Yet as money continues to flow freely to the Pentagon and to America’s fruitless wars overseas, money for America’s infrastructure barely flows at a trickle from the federal government. How stupid is that?

I was talking to a guy yesterday who owns a local landscaping company. Like me, he couldn’t stomach Trump or Hillary for president in 2016, so he voted for a third-party candidate. He got to asking about my latest writing efforts and I mentioned my recent article on the Air Force’s $100 billion stealth bomber. He asked if I was for it or against it, and I said against. Good, he said. And he started talking about the 1930s and how America invested in itself by building bridges, roads, canals, dams, and other infrastructure. Why aren’t we doing more of that today? Sensible question. Our infrastructure is decaying all around us, but our government would rather invest in military weaponry.

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