FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

We’re Here Because We’re Here Because We’re Here …

by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY

Beaulieu Sur Mer, France

The old German army had a term of art for describing the US strategy in Afghanistan: nicht schwerpunckt, meaning there is no center of effort or unifying idea around which to shape and coordinate the ever-changing kaleidoscope of supporting efforts as well as the tactical and grand tactical maneuvers, and counter maneuvers, all of which are, or should be, the reflections of a coherent strategy. The lack of coherence can be seen in the fact that over time our strategic aims have become increasingly unfocused and mutable: How can we be engaged in nation building when we are propping up a corrupt government that will never be able to survive on its own? Are we trying to destroy the Taliban or are we trying to negotiate with the Taliban? Are we trying to find an exit strategy or are we trying to establish conditions for a permanent presence to keep out Al Qaeda or the Chinese, the Iranians, the Pakistanis, or someone else? Is the absence of focus a reflection of a general impulse to empire as many libertarians believe or the unpredictable interplay of money with domestic politics or both? Etc.

Thinking about the absence of a strategic focus brings us to one timeless feature of war. Once begun, war gains a life of their own, and if this life gains the upper hand, an aimlessness takes over to dominate the course of events. World War I is perhaps the classic case in point where a kind of mindlessness took over that was perhaps best evoked in a mournful ditty the Tommys used to sing as they went over the top and marched like sheep into slaughterhouses like the Somme or Passchendaele:

“We’re here because we’re here because we’re here … because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here … because we’re here because …”

Afghanistan may not have a strategic schwerpunckt, but the same can not be said of the Pentagon and its partners in industry and Congress who are feeding off its unending aimlessness — and that gets us to the roots of the real problem. Money. The renowned American strategist Colonel John R. Boyd (USAF Ret. — see bio) put it succintly,

“People say the Pentagon does not have a strategy. They are wrong. It does have a strategy. It is: Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”

Which brings me to an email I just received from a active duty Captain, a true patriot, and a friend. He is a dedicated officer and a thoughtful student of Boyd’s strategic and tactical theories and his profession. He now commands an infantry company. He recently rotated into his first tour in Afghanistan, but he has had multiple tours in Iraq. Note: I have introduced a few clarifying notes in [ ]’s into his email. Note also, his observations are generally compatible with those in the sitrep from a Colonel I posted earlier.)

I am finally up and running here in beautiful XXX, Afghanistan. The boys are doing well ? at this point, most of what we are doing is finding and eliminating the IED threat – both legacy and recent. Most of the enemy presence has left the area, either by choice or necessity. [IEDs are the cleverly designed land mines and booby traps which the Pentagon named Improvised Explosive Devices in a effort to portray this time honored guerrilla tactic as something new and unforeseen and therefore requiring the expenditure of billions of dollars on new technologies to counter.]

The movie you were in, “Why We Fight,” couldn’t be more on the mark ? this place is crawling with contractors. The camps/dining facilities/etc that I transitioned through on my way here made me sick ? this is not about hunting/finding/killing the enemy ? this [war] is big business ? and we are all pawns in the game.

I read Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars” on the way over here and I was excited to learn that we finally had a mission and focus in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the reality is that we are trying to build a nation with a crew of people who are trained to break things.

It is like trying to convince the coal mining towns in West Virginia that coal is not good for their future and that they should pay attention to Washington, D.C. and organize and participate in the government [which the bureaucrats in Washington have designed for them]. The Afghans feel the same way that the West Virginian’s would.

If we would have taken 25% of the money that we have spent on technology and contracting and invested it in military education and training, we would have been out of Iraq and Afghanistan years ago. We need to focus on People – Ideas – Equipment — in that order, just like Colonel Boyd said, but we are doing the reverse.”

One problem is that we have fought fourteen 7-month wars each with a slightly different focus depending on who was in charge [of each rotation] and what the latest and greatest gear allowed us to do — not a ten-year war…and the Afghans are winning the [long] war. For example, I didn’t get the final members of my company until a few weeks before deployment. That is ridiculous! [And puts troops needlessly at risk.]

In order to be effective out here, the boys need to work together for months, developing implicit communication and be taught by someone who knows what he is doing, and more importantly, knows how to TEACH! [The captain’s reference to ‘implicit communication’ is a extremely important — he is alluding to the need for developing bonds of trust and empathy that are crucially important to the quick, clear communications needed among troops in the heat of battle. These bonds can only be built up over time by training together as a group in a variety of unscripted stressful situations.]

Our current training and education system is broken, and my guys are being forced to learn OJT or go home without their limbs. I think all this technology and contracting/etc is like trying to put a band-aid on an arterial bleed…and the dinosaurs in charge don’t understand why it isn’t working. They keep buying more band-aids instead of applying a tourniquet and doing surgery. Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?”

The Captain rightly understands he is on the receiving end of the Pentagon’s backward priorities, with technology and equipment and contracts always taking precedence over ideas and most importantly people and training. But he may be wrong in thinking the dinosaurs don’t understand what they are doing. I think the dinosaurs know exactly what they are doing: They are shoveling money to their friends in industry, because if they don’t, the revolving door into post retirement jobs might get a little squeaky.

The Afghan War is a very big business, with gobs of incentives and waste keeping the backward priorities in place and the revolving door well greased. For example, the Commission of Wartime Contracting is about to release a report saying the US has wasted at least $34 billion of $200 billion worth of service contracts and grants doled out in Iraq and Afghanistan, with up to 200,000 civilians on the payrolls at times (see the 23 July report in Reuters).

One reason for this unprecedented dependence on contractors is the massive program of privatization of many traditional combat support tasks inaugurated by Richard Cheney when he was Secretary of Defense. Contractors, like Halliburton, are now necessary for even the most mundane tasks, because we have a military that no feeds itself or does its own laundry or many of the other housekeeping chores armies have done from time immemorial.

Cheney, who had spent his entire career in government and had no experience in the “private” sector, became a virtual totem for the revolving door by becoming CEO and then Chairman of Halliburton after leaving the Defense Department. During Cheney’s tenure, Halliburton moved up its ranking from 73rd to 18th on the list of the Pentagon’s largest contractors. Then he rotated through it again, back into government, where as Vice President of the United States, Mr. Cheney became a leading advocate of expanding the war on terror, which had the serendipitous effect of opening the floodgates of money flowing to all the defense contractors, including Halliburton.

 

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail