William J. Astore on Trump and the Afghan War

A concept that you learn quickly in the military is that you can delegate authority but not responsibility. The buck stops with the guy or gal in charge, and when it’s policy at the national level, that guy is the commander-in-chief, currently Donald Trump. Yet when it comes to the Afghan war, it appears Trump may be seeking to evade responsibility even as he delegates the specifics of strategy and troop levels to his “civilian” Secretary of Defense, retired General James Mattis.

That’s the news out of Washington: that Trump has delegated to Mattis the decision as to how many additional U.S. troops should be sent to Afghanistan, and what strategy they should employ in a war that Mattis admits the US military is “not winning.”

Think about that. After nearly 16 years and a trillion dollars spent, the US is “not winning” in Afghanistan, which is, to put it honestly, an admission of defeat. “Not winning” means we’re losing, yet how likely is it that the US military, effectively under the command of retired General Mattis, is going to shift gears completely and withdraw?

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William J. Astore asks: Will America’s Wars Ever End?

In late 2009, I wrote the following article for Huff Post under the title, “One Grizzled Veteran’s Dream.” This Memorial Day Weekend, I’d like to remember the dream a veteran shared with me and lots of other high school juniors back in 1980. Sadly, that dream is even more distant today than it was in 1980.

Thirty years ago, I attended Boys State. Run by the American Legion, Boys State introduces high school students to civics and government in a climate that bears a passing resemblance to military basic training. Arranged in “companies,” we students did our share of hurrying up, lining up, and waiting (sound preparation, in fact, for my career in the military). I recall that one morning a “company” of students got to eat first because they launched into a lusty rendition of the Marine Corps hymn. I wasn’t angry at them: I was angry at myself for not thinking of the ruse first.

Today, most of my Boys State experience is a blur, but one event looms large: the remarks made by a grizzled veteran to us assembled boys. Standing humbly before us, he confessed that he hoped organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars would soon wither away. And he said that he hoped none of us would ever become a member of his post.

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William Astore on America’s ‘Beautiful’ Weapons

President Trump is hawking weapons in the Middle East. After concluding a deal with the Saudis for $110 billion in weaponry, he sought out the Emir of Qatar and said their discussions would focus on “the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment.”

Trump’s reference to American weapons as “beautiful” echoed the recent words of Brian Williams at MSNBC, who characterized images from the Tomahawk missile attack on Syria as “beautiful,” not once but three times.

We can vilify Trump and Williams for seeing beauty in weapons that kill, but we must also recognize Americans love their technology of death. It’s one big reason why we have more than 300 million guns in America, enough to arm virtually every American, from cradle to grave.

Why do we place so much faith in weapons? Why do we love them so?

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Base World: The Pentagon’s Profligate and Prodigious Presence

As President Trump heads off on an overseas trip, trailing Washington scandals in his wake, it’s worth reminding ourselves of America’s prodigious global presence and the profligate expense at which it comes. As David Vine notes in his latest article for TomDispatch.com, the USA has something like 800 military bases overseas, which must be garrisoned and maintained at a cost of roughly $150 billion each and every year. What exactly are we getting for this colossal global footprint?

Come to think of it, why do we need 800 overseas bases? Our aircraft carriers are basically mobile American bases, and much of our weaponry (Tomahawk cruise missiles, long-range bombers, and Reaper drones, for example) obviates the need for physical bases in foreign lands.

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Trump Shares Classified Material With Russia – Duck and Cover!

U.S. media outlets have been consumed by the story today that President Trump improperly or unwisely shared classified material on ISIS with the Russians, material that apparently came from Israel. For its part, the Trump administration denies the charge that information was improperly or unwisely shared.

A couple of comments. First, the president has broad powers of declassification and the discretion to share sensitive secrets with others. Sharing classified information with the Russians, an ally of a sort in the struggle against ISIS, is not necessarily a bad idea. Trump seems to have decided it was a way to strengthen relations and build trust at high levels with the Russian government, a defensible position, in my view.

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William J. Astore on Icons of American Militarism

At this moment, it’s hard to think of a better symbol of American militarism than a giant bomb with a U.S. flag on it. President Donald Trump touted the use of the “mother of all bombs” (MOAB) in Afghanistan as a “very, very successful mission” even though evidence of that success is scant. He further cited MOAB as evidence of the “tremendous difference, tremendous difference” between his administration’s willingness to use force and Obama’s. In short, Trump loved MOAB precisely because Obama didn’t use it. To Trump, MOAB was a sort of penis extender and a big middle finger all-in-one. Virility and vulgarity.

MOAB is an icon of US militarism, as are other weapons in the American arsenal. Weapons like our warplanes, aircraft carriers, Predator and Reaper drones, and Tomahawk and Hellfire missiles. US foreign policy often hinges on or pivots about the deployment of these icons of power, whether it’s aircraft carriers and antimissile systems being sent to Korea or more bombs and missiles being used in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, among other countries.

Weapons sales further define US foreign policy. Witness the recent announcement of $100 billion in arms for the Saudis, soon to be confirmed by Trump in his forthcoming trip to Saudi Arabia. This sale sets up even more military aid for Israel, in that Washington insists Israel must always maintain a qualitative edge in weaponry over its Arab rivals.

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