Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Real War of G.W. Bush -- Against the U.S. Military

One of the key points I keep trying to raise is that our core problem is not the War in Iraq, per se.

The real issue people should be talking about is what is being done to America. A nation that has been -- and remains -- historically vastly more important to the future of our descendants, and humanity in general. A country and civilization that is steadily being diminished, crippled, robbed and distracted. Not by a party or a movement, but by a bona fide criminal gang.

We need to remember that the Iraq war is a horror, but its core effect has been to divide, corrupt, cheat, demoralize and steal from the people of the United States.

This time, specifically, I want to aim at one aspect of the betrayal of America. One that I was among the very first (anywhere!) to point out, as long ago as 2004...

HowDemocratsRepublicansWageWar... that the number one accomplishment of the Bush Administration has been the partial-destruction of the United States military. Accompanied by (in some ways even worse) a near-complete demolition of its hardwon reputation for overwhelming invincibility.

This problem lies not only at the feet of the mad, neocon right, but also on some bad habits that Bush opponents have to break. It will be impossible for liberals to deal with the devastation of the Bush Era, if they nurse even a scintilla of simplistic hostility toward our men and women in uniform. That silly reflex is not only inaccurate and unjust -- picking on the wrong target -- but also self-defeating. We need these people. They are the Bushites’ worst victims.

Moreover, they are a large part of our hope, for the restoration of a lawful, constitutional and confident American Republic.

* But first, some preliminary data dumps.

One of you wrote in about an article in this month’s Rolling Stone "The great Iraq Swindle," covering a topic I have long spoken-of - that the Iraq incursion features truly vast amounts of contractor graft and corruption. So much that theft from the US taxpayer may plausibly have been one of the principal drivers of the entire misguided campaign.

Consider that our ongoing “Mess o’ Potamia” never followed the standard leftist scenario preached by Michael Moore and others, of being "about grabbing oil."

What oil? Do you see any Iraqi oil on the market? Standard left-wing excuses -- that the Bushites simply botched the oil grab -- look tired, after so many years. Especially since the FOBs (friends of Bush) have proved stunningly competent at getting rich off this war, by other means. (Indeed, keeping Iraqi oil OFF the market serves the desire of the world’s very top FOBs.)

No, the swindle is simple. In a "war" or "emergency," normal competitive contracting rules can be thrown away, enabling a Decider Presidency (look up "autarchy") to privatize anything it wants, any way it wants, and hand deals to its favorite, family friends.

Note that defenders of privatization do not even try any longer to justify it as "more efficient," since it takes four times as much (on average) to pay contractors in Iraq to accomplish nothing, as it took soldiers and civil servants.

ostrichpapersThis is one of a dozen issues that would let Democrats attack the Bushites from a conservative perspective, awakening “ostrich Republicans” and tearing apart Karl Rove's Big Tent coalition. That is, if any of the dems had enough savvy to look at the big picture.

Here is sad and worrisome news. Two US soldiers who helped write an article from the front saying America had "failed on every promise" in the Iraq war have been killed in Baghdad. Staff Sergeant Yance Gray, 26, and Sergeant Omar Mora, 28, were among a group of seven soldiers serving in Iraq who wrote a piece excoriating America's conduct of the war, published in The New York Times last month. ... Their public criticism caused a flurry of debate in the US because of the candor with which the men, all serving in the elite 82nd Airborne, described the war. "Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise," the seven wrote. "When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages."

View Keith Olbermann’s latest “J’accuse” polemic toward the Gang of Crooks and Liars.

* And now, on to the main part of this missive.

To reiterate, our main focus here concerns the number one accomplishment of the Bush Administration -- the ongoing demolition of the United States military.

...accompanied by (in some ways even worse) a near-complete evaporation of its hardwon reputation for overwhelming invincibility.

* The illusion is as important as the substance

Let there be no mistake. When it comes to practical politics in a dangerous world, these two things -- both actual and real power -- are equally important. For perception often guides what others do. Indeed, as recently as 2002, it seemed that the US military services could do nothing wrong. That their skills and equipment and elan were so far ahead of any possible combination of foes, that any future adversaries would have to act against us in secret, or not at all.

This impression was doubly reinforced after stunning military (though not political) success in the first Gulf War (1991), followed by almost perfect execution of skilled diplomacy and policy in the Balkans Intervention. (All stated goals were achieved within weeks, at zero cost in US lives, clear exit strategies were followed to the letter, all “nation building” chores were delegated to others, readiness and budgets were unaffected and our popularity in the Muslim world went up.)

Moreover, if anyone was still unconvinced of US prowess, there came 9/11, followed by our swift intervention in Afghanistan when President GW Bush said “Go!” to an existing Clinton-Clark plan - one that hewed closely to the Powell Doctrine of professionalism, intense diplomacy and selective application of overwhelming (if surgical) force.

If Osama’s ultimate 9/11 plan was (according to many experts) to draw us into the Kush Mountains’ killing zone, where he had already helped to humble one superpower, he was shocked and bitterly disappointed when the US led a coordinated campaign, combining local forces with air power and extensive local expertise, swiftly eliminated the Taliban regime that had succored bin Laden. An entire enemy regime toppled - fair enough retaliation for 9/11... and Osama was running for his life.

And all of these successes (since 1992) were accomplished without any truly substantial stains upon our nation’s or the military’s honor. (Indeed, at that point -- with the Taliban toppled -- shouldn’t we all have been allowed to get back to our lives? Would not that have been the ultimate punishment of terrorists?)

At this point, there also seemed to be a peak in international acceptance of unipolarity... the notion that having just one superpower is a good thing. Despite some gnashing of teeth in Moscow, Paris and Beijing, very few other nations sent delegates to meetings on the topic “what shall be done about America?” We were that popular. That strong. And apparently that unbeatable.

Only now... where is that reputation?

Reiterating: even if you put aside all the unnecessary death and theft and incompetence and immorality of recent years, you would still be left with a Bush Administration that has squandered and spoiled something both pragmatic and precious -- an appearance of invincibility that helped to keep the peace, better than whole divisions.

Now that inestimable aura is gone. Ask anyone, around the world, what their perception is, of a US Army that flounders, mired up to its neck in a quagmire of confusion, sloppy waste, plummeting morale and blurry goals. Is our current reputation an effective deterrent? Or does it encourage others to restore a multipolar, militarily competitive world?

Even (especially) American conservatives should find this a case of utter - and possibly criminal - betrayal of leadership.

A multi-part series on the GOP vs. the U.S. Military:
Next time... Part 2: But it Gets Even Worse: Neocons vs. the U.S. Military
Part 3: Destroying Readiness
Part 4: Botching Both Kinds of War
Part 5: Let the Excuses Roll!
Part 6: Purging the Officer Corps
and More on the War Against Professionalism in Government

==Also see: How Republicans and Democrats wage war


mtburke59 said...

I wonder what would have happened if he US had sent 100,000 combat troops into Afghanistan and driven Taliban/Al Qaeda into the center of the country and either captured or killed OBL and henchmen? And then got out with every effort made to help restore a government? My bet is that the lesson learned would be "mess with the US, become very sorry." We would have retained our respect, lost a lot less soldiers and spent a hell of a lot less money.

But this batch of criminals, from all the information available, planned to attack Iraq no matter what, even before 9/11.

By the way, I (a life-long Democrat) don't expect the Democrats to do doodly-squat about anything. They piss and moan and then give Bush whatever he wants. The "not enough votes" excuse is just that: an excuse to try to scam us into putting more of them into office as well as elect one of their number to the White House a year from now. If I were them I would not bet much on that. We gave then a chance and they have yet to deliver. Why do it again?

David Brin said...

I agree about the might-have-been scenario re Afgh. To see a parallel world where President Gore deals with Osama, go to

Stefan likes this guy, too.

Sorry, but your anger at the dems is misplaced. The situation is one in which they really must tread carefully. Right now there is little Congress can do about Iraq.

Where I am pissed at the dems is in two areas.

1) inability to focus public attention on matters that could tear Bush's coalition apart.

2) Their lax pace at passing OTHER reforms.

They HAVE just sent to Bush a campaign reform law that he may be forced to sign, correcting about 20% of the worst lobbying and campaign problems.

But no, you are being impractical. I would vote for a democrat if it were a slime mold. Simply because the first thing ANY dem would do is fire 3,000 monsters and let the Civil Service get back to work, simply doing their jobs, according to law. Unleashed, the CIA & FBI would nail scores of thieves and traitors, simply by allowing truth and due process to take their course.

Yes, I'd want much more than that! But just that might be enough to save America.

Xactiphyn said...

It's funny, but it has only been recently that I've begun to buy into the idea that the war is largely about oil. I was on your side of the argument for a really long time, but no more.

I've been trying for years to empathize with Cheney and Bush; here is how I see it, in simple terms. It would take a much, much longer post to connect all these dots, but hopefully this will explain my understanding of their thinking.

Oil is power.

Saddam is evil.

Iraq is in the geographical center of the region that attacked us on 9/11.

All real power comes through states. (Some state must of been responsible for 9/11.)

States should pass financial power to corporations. (Capitalism.)

Oil must be under control of good states that pass the wealth and power to corporations and don't finance things like 9/11.

And so on.

But how much oil is pumping now is irrelevant. The point is the bad guys aren't controlling it and the good guys are.

Alex Tolley said...

"the partial-destruction of the United States military. Accompanied by (in some ways even worse) a near-complete demolition of its hardwon reputation for overwhelming invincibility."

The US military has worked very well only during conventional warfare against similarly disposed enemies. They could defeat the NVA armies, but not the guerrillas. Gulf I - standard open desert, tank battle. Bosnia - mostly conventional land warfare (US had undisputed air control). Somalia - urban street fighting - failed. Gulf II - won the conventional land battles, but are clearly not doing well in urban guerrilla warfare against insurgents etc.

The lesson should be that US military, just a Rome's before it can smash conventional war machines that use air, sea and land troops, but are not suited for wars or actions where economic and military power are arrayed against forces denying set-piece battles. The British learned this to their cost in the C19th, the the US has still not come to grips with this reality. The Iraq war is showing all the signs of classic "Imperial overstretch".

If you mean that the US is losing it's aura of invincibility by picking bad fights - no argument there - although this is 20:20 hindsight.

"Moreover, they[the military] are a large part of our hope, for the restoration of a lawful, constitutional and confident American Republic."

I understand what you mean. But recall that Rome also looked to the military to restore the republic and ended up with military caesars instead. The military must remain a servant of the people, not become our proxy for making the correct political changes. Plenty of modern countries have made the same mistake.

"...ever followed the standard leftist scenario preached by Michael Moore and others, of being 'about grabbing oil.'"

Greenspan has just made the obvious point, in his memoirs, that the middle east is about 'oil' - it is a strategic place to ensure the flow of this natural resource as we approach the 'peak oil' That is why the Russians are trying to lock up control of their region's oil, and hoping for a grab at arctic oil. The Bush admin did have a plan to carve up Iraq's oilfields, but the reason why no oil is flowing is constant sabotage of the oil pipelines and wellheads. See this article by noted economist Paul Krugman that indicates as an aside that oil deals are being made, in friendlier Kurdish areas of Iraq. [

Despite GW and burning fossil fuels, oil will remain an important natural resource for the next few decades. Peak oil effects are going to make what is left in the ground very valuable, especially as there are no substitutes for our high performance transportation [civil and military] that relies on gasoline and jet fuel.

David Brin said...

Yes, it is about oil. But keeping Iraqi oil OFF the market suits the Bush pupeteers just as well as anything else. That end has been accomplished supremely well.

The reward for the Americans in the cabal has been not oil, but opportunities to haul in billions through crooked "emergency" contracts.

I never claimed that an aura of conventional invincibility would not cause others to seek asymmetrical and surreptitious ways to do us harm. Duh. Still, that aura was of immeasurable value. What happened to the Taliban was a warning of enormous effect. Nations that might shelter or finance future 9/11 attacks had to be worried.

Tell me that they are, today. Right.

(Indeed... the "surprise" that may hit us hard, rallying Americans around their leader, could only have its deep origins in an actual nation state.)

As for asking the military to rescue us, you completely misconstrue.

What we need is an entire professional caste that feels brave enough to simply do their jobs. Vastly more important is the intelligence and law enforcement community. If they start to push rats to desert the bushite ship, then whistleblowing henchmen may do the trick.

The job of the military is more complex. They must not commit any unconstitutional or overtly political acts. Nevertheless, there are strong signs that they are already pushing back. Perhaps enough to prevent further harrowing of the officer corps and to stave off an insane attack upon Iran.

Alex Tolley said...

"Perhaps enough to prevent further harrowing of the officer corps and to stave off an insane attack upon Iran."

Don't bet on it. The current administration was able to get rid of enough naysayers and get the generals who were in agreement to go along. That will always happen, simply because the military is big enough to have many potential top generals of all sort of political stripes, persuasions and ambitions.
The best we may hope for is that the military leadership will strongly suggest that a war with Iran is not sustainable or winnable and advise against it. But if the CinC orders them in, someone will be found to get that going. If the military refused to obey the president, that would also show weakness.

And yes you are right that the US gained an aura of invincibility. But this was arguably post the USSR collapse and the result of Gulf I. - sort of a hyperpower muscle flexing. Now that the lion is weakening, the jackals are nipping him to death. But even our enemies know that we can no longer fight on 2 main fronts and that our ground troops are exhausted. The only thing Iran needs to fear is air and naval strikes. A land invasion is completely out of the question.

As for oil, well my point is that is was about that resource, but the expected result didn't happen. And yes a bunch of connected people were able to exploit the situation to profiteer in a chaotic situation. But this has been the hallmark of this administration, not just in Iraq but domestically too. I think one could argue that the K-Street project was nothing more than a republican quid pro quo to sell the government to the highest bidders. The rot goes well beyond the Bushies.

Anonymous said...

The Bush administrations use of torture was also a giant body blow to US military power. Before the Iraq war, soldiers facing the US military could safely assume that if they surrendered to the US they would be well treated (fed OK to good food, given medical care, and be treated as human beings). This incredible power to get opponents to surrender rather than fight to the death was wasted so that Bush and Chaney swagger around like tough guys. The use of torture handed our opponents a great victory, it showed everyone that we are no better than they are, that we fight without honor.

David Brin said...

Occam that is an excellent point I had not thought-of.

It will go into the version that I Kos. May I crib?

Anonymous said...

Crib away,
any time I make an interesting/ useful comment everyone should feel free to use it if they want to, no attribution necessary.

Anonymous said...

Re the last couple of comments by Brin and occam, I'd like to point out a New Yorker article:

Here are a few interesting paragraphs from approximately the middle of the article:

This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind "24." Finnegan, who was accompanied by three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country, arrived on the set as the crew was filming. At first, Finnegan—wearing an immaculate Army uniform, his chest covered in ribbons and medals—aroused confusion: he was taken for an actor and was asked by someone what time his "call" was.

In fact, Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show's central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country's security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. "I'd like them to stop," Finnegan said of the show's producers. "They should do a show where torture backfires."

Finnegan told the producers that "24," by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country's image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by "24," which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, "The kids see it, and say, 'If torture is wrong, what about "24"?' " He continued, "The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do."

Gary Solis, a retired law professor who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum at West Point, told me that he had similar arguments with his students. He said that, under both U.S. and international law, "Jack Bauer is a criminal. In real life, he would be prosecuted." Yet the motto of many of his students was identical to Jack Bauer's: "Whatever it takes." His students were particularly impressed by a scene in which Bauer barges into a room where a stubborn suspect is being held, shoots him in one leg, and threatens to shoot the other if he doesn't talk. In less than ten seconds, the suspect reveals that his associates plan to assassinate the Secretary of Defense. Solis told me, "I tried to impress on them that this technique would open the wrong doors, but it was like trying to stomp out an anthill."

Anonymous said...

Hear, Hear!

-- B. Dewhirst

David Brin said...

Superb post, Todd.

David Brin said...

Folks, see a new GOP logo that I might have helped to inspire:

Enterik said...

Dr. Brin, As an admitted progressive, I will advocate for the liberal assertions and agenda you describe.

Brin's rhetorical Leftist Claim: The war upon Iraq was an oil grab that has failed.

ENTERIK's response: You have oversimplified the leftist/liberal/progressive position on the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. The Iraq debacle has been a multifacted swindle and will be for years to come. No sensible liberal/progressive/leftist will argue against that general thesis. However, progressives will rightfully maintain, that the disposition of Iraqi oil resources is and was an important facet that adds luster in the eye of the straussian beholder.

Indeed, defense of Middle Eastern oil resources from the Iraqi Baathist threat is one of the American interests asserted in the 1998 PNAC open letter to President Clinton, wherein they propose regime change for this purpose. Their more extensive policy papers detail the need for long standing forward bases in Iraq as contributing to the "stabilization" of the oil resources concerned.

Prewar Iraq was going to be certified weapons of mass destruction free and the UN sanctions were going to be lifted. The Baathists had negotiated oil pumping contracts with Chinese, Russian and French companies, thereby excluding US corporations from the profits to be made from easily pumped Iraqi crude.

Also starting in 2000, prewar Iraq had already made a pretty penny in the market by insisting that all oil be paid for in the newly minted EURO. After rapid appreciation relative to the floundering $US, Iraq became the good example of how the EURO was the best choice for an OPEC transaction standard currency. This threatened the petrodollar recycling house of cards upon which the value of the bloated US fiat currency supply depends. As a note of interest, as of 2002 Iran shifted the majority of its Forex currency reserves to EUROs as well, clearly they were/are stockpiling weapons of monetary destruction.

The circumstances of the invasion reinforce this sense. The first military objective is to secure the Oil Fields in Southern Iraq and restart production. The Ministry of Oil was conspicuously guarded by US forces as looters ran rampant across the country. Early US efforts were to get the oil fields back online and have sanctions lifted.

When the predictable reduction in oil pumping during the invasion of Iraq coincided with civil unrest in Nigeria, prices went up and subsequent repeated pipeline and refinery attacks in Iraq have spurred prices higher. Who has benefited? Well, since oil is fungible, just about every oil pumping company based in the US has been posting record profits as have oil infrastructure companies. Iraqi oil contracts are once again denominated in US dollars. OPEC is cowed, deterred from embracing the EURO as much as macroeconomics would otherwise warrant.

So when the liberal on the street says it's about the oil, they may be imprecise, unsophisticated and incomplete but the are accurate as far as their position extends. Of course, you are right to highlight additional facets, but I think it is counterproductive to your meme to set it in opposition to the much more obvious oil meme unless you are trying to court antiliberal sentiment.

Jumper said...

Writer Garret Keizer, in October's Harpers, calls for a General Strike on November 6 2007. No one works until the President and Vice-president resign.

One foresees exceptions for fire, police, power companies, etc. I cannot conclude that his idea is a bad one. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

The following is not a rational argument, just a feeling-driven impression that won't quit -

Sorry, Frodo. The Eagles picked up the One Ring after the Fall of Mordor and are now using it in like wise.

Anonymous said...

This is a couple of paragraphs from a Stratfor Geopolitical report that I got in my mail box today. It reminds us that while we are all talking about Iraq the rest of the some people in the rest of the world are looking at a bigger picture.

"The Russians are chess players and geopoliticians. In chess and geopolitics, the game is routine and then, suddenly, there is an opening. You seize the opening because you might never get another one. The United States is inherently more powerful than Russia, save at this particular moment. Because of a series of choices the United States has made, it is weaker in the places that matter to Russia."

The piece concludes

"Petraeus' area of operations is Iraq. He may well have crafted a viable plan for stabilizing Iraq over the next few years. But the price to be paid for that is not in Iraq or even in Iran. It is in leaving the door wide open in other areas of the world. We believe the Russians are about to walk through one of those doors. The question in the White House, therefore, must be: How much is Iraq worth? Is it worth recreating the geopolitical foundations of the Soviet Union?"

Enterik said...

Dr. Brin, having finally taken the time to read the posts that registered before I posted my offline composition, I offer my apologies for reiterating much of what was already said by others and yourself.

On the subject of US military reputation, it may be salvagable if the wildly successful and rapid ground war invasion of Iraq can be rhetorically and mentally separated from the clusterfudge occupation of Iraq that has very little to do with military planning.

It is a notion that some are trying to sprea as we speak. That Bush did not lie when he stood in front of that "Mission Accomplished" banner. The military did what it does well and are now being held hostage by the Bush Administration as it waits out the clock. The military has not failed, the administration has failed, there is a distinction to be made. It allows one to criticize the political appointee designed occupation, it's cost and toll, it's indefinite duration and dismal prospects of success. Wars go on until they are won, that's already happened. The question now is how shall the occupation end?

David Brin said...

The "war" was "won" twice.

First, and most importantly, by the heroes of UA Flight 93, who - the same day as the 9/11 attack - proved we would not be easily cowed.

ANd second when we reached out, implemented Clinton's backup war plan, and toppled an entire national regime, because they had helped to hurt US citizens. THAT was impressive!

And it was impressive enough. War over. Now let's make so many Muslim friends that they will tell on Osama, rather than hide him.

But no. "state of emergency" has been re-declared. An excuse to steal. An ecuse for whatever comes next.

Be afraid. Be angry

Anonymous said...

Robert Jordan died.

Alex Tolley said...

To add to Occam's point. Not following the rules can be more dangerous to your own side.

There was a famous episode during the Falkland's war when the Argentine's "surrendered" then started shooting as the British troops exposed themselves to accept the surrender. As a result, all the Argentines we killed and field surrenders were not accepted again.

Breaking the 'rules of war' creates more fear in the enemy, forcing them to fight harder since they they have less to gain by giving up. Everyone loses in that situation.

US soldiers will be increasingly viewed with mistrust, especially in conflicts during policing duties. As with the city police in the US, if you are distrusted by the population, it makes policing harder, more costly and deadlier.

The image the world had of the American GI as a 'good' soldier, fostered during the liberation of Europe and propagandized in movies is being swept away by the events of Abu Ghraib, mirroring the foreigner unfriendly policies of DHS domestically.

A reputation made over 50 years and lost will be difficult to rebuild.

Anonymous said...

From Zorgon the Malevolent
(login doesn't work as usual)

First, Dr. Brin's central thesis stands as flatly false, so we ought to note that at the outset. To wit: Dr. Brin appears to be saying that the aura of American military invincibility is a good thing (after the collapse of the Soviet Union), and that the drunk-driving C student in the White House's destruction of that aura of invincibility is a bad thing.

Wrong on both counts. Even a cursory study of American history assures us that whenever America wins a big conflict (hot war or cold) and comes out of it bestriding the world like a colossus, that spells big trouble for both America and the rest of the world.

Let's take a stroll through the historical archives to see how true this is. After the American victory at Yorktown in 1781, America was standing tall. Alas, this led directly to an explosion of hubris and arrogance which culminated in the hideous Alien & Sedition acts of 1798. That's as close as America has ever come to a tyranny. By contrast, the decisive American defeat at the hands of the British in the war of 1812 forced Americans to stick to their knitting and stop thinking of themselves as so all-fired special we didn't ahve to do anything to prove how great we were. This led to Jacksonian democracy -- the single greatest enfranchisement of Americans in our history.
Incidentally, did you know why the White House is painted white? Because the British captured it and burned it in the War of 1812. In fact the Brits invaded Washington D.C., forced the Congress to flee in wild panic, and torched the entire capitol. We Americans were too cheap to rebuild the House House, so instead we slathered a thick coat of white paint over it -- giving it the name it has today, the White House.
America decisively won the Mexican War in 1846-1848, leading to the usual swagger and machismo delusions of invulnerability. This in turn led to the disastrous Civil War (which the North assured everyone they'd win handily in 6 months, given their experience trouncing Mexico), in which the Union was outgeneraled at every level. The South had essentially nothing in the way of resources -- not a single modern Bessemer steel factory, and yet they managed to whip the North's ass for four long years. By any standard everyone in America lost big-time in the Civil War.
The resulting loss of self-confidence throughout America forced Americans to fix their own society instead of strutting and boasting and trying to remake the rest of the world, and consequently this led to the emancipation of the slaves and a huge increase in civil rights.
Alas, America had the bad fortune to stumble into a quick win against the Spanish in the Spanish-American war of 1898, leading to more swagger and more aura of invicibility, which in turn produced the near-collapse of the American economy int he Great Panic of 1906. This was the financial near-meltdown that forced the U.S. government to create the Federal Reserve bank in 1913. Of course that led to the disastrous Phillipines campaign against the Moros in the early 1900s and the even more dismal waste of American troops cut down by Maxim guns and gas in WW I. As a result of all this swagger and macho posturing Americans felt full of themselves and ran around letting loose with rampant insanity like the Palmer raids, forced deportations of American citizens on mere suspicion (without trial or charges), the collapse of the rule of law, and ultimately a lawless Attorney General riding roughshod over the constitution and destroying large parts of the Bill of Rights.
Throughout the 20s and 30s the loss of American self-confidence forced us to slowly but surely putour own house in order by repairing the damage done to the constitution by the Palmer Raids...and by the late 1930s, courtesy of the Great Depression and its tremendous blow to our national self-confidence, we had reached a point where laws were passed that made it legal for working people to form unions -- a huge step forward. By the way, the 1920s-30s count as the single most productive 2 decade era in American history, with bigger changes in America's life and a much larger increase in the standard of living for the individual American before or since -- even including the internet. Yes, the 20s and 30s saw: transition from steam power to electricity; introduction of radio; widespread introductoon of affordable personal autombiles; move from fragile cloth biplanes to the all-aluminum monoplane and eventually the supercharged turboprop passanger airliner; introduction of electric appliances into the home; rural electrification; construction of some of the world's greatest public works including Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam; transition from gas to electric arc and finally incandescent and fluorescent lighting; and the first antibiotics (sulfa drugs). Compared to that tectonic social upheaval of the 1920s-30s, the internet & personal computer "revolution" of the 80s and 90s hardly even registers on the Richter scale.
Notice that this 2-decade period of greatest increase in standard of living ever coincided with the worst loss of American self-confidence in history, the Great Depression.
America had the terrible bad fortune to win WW II decisively, which drove us mad with hubris. Naturally our delusions of perfection led to the usual fanatical quest for purity, in this case ideological purity, a quest which naturally produced the disastrous McCartrthy witch hunts, Truman's horribly misguided loyalty oaths, and the general lynch mob fever of the McCarthy years, so reminiscent of the Grand Inquisition. Fortunately, America got stuck in the tarpit of the Korean War and military prestige took a huge blow when General Macarthur went around the bend and started calling for the use of nuclear weapons (that's invincibility with a capital I).
The associated American self-doubt and lack of American confidence led blacks to start marching for voting rights and civil rights the 1950s, and America started cranking up the space program. If America couldn't consquer North Korea, at least we could conquer space.
Sadly, the brave New Frontier gave us such self-confidence that we essayed the trivial little task of defeating the pissant nation of North Viet Nam. This (as usual) led the associated destruction of civil liberties and criminality by Nixon and his gang of criminals. Those of you who recall those days may remember Plan Gemstone and Plan Sedan Chair, authored by G. Gordon Liddy, which called for the kidnapping of American citizens and their indefinite detention in military facilities. Fortunately those plans were never put into operation, though Egil Krogh's dirty tricks against political opponents were.
Throughout the 70s, the low state of American morale led us to look around our own country and try to fix things, instead of trying to run around the world fixing everyone else's country. So during hte 70s we repaired the damage done to America's constitutional system by passing the War Powers act, by making illegal CIA operations inside America, and by passing the Freedom Of Information Act.
But, tragically, during the 1980s, America regained the fatal swagger and foolish aura of invincibility that had led it into trouble so many times before -- this time, courtesy of a senile actor whose best-known role involved co-starring with a chimpanzee named "Bonzo." And with this newfound return of swaggering self-confidence in the 1980s, we got the first use of (unconstitutional) signing statements by the senile criminal Ronald Reagan (the cruel man with the kindly smile) and such rampant lawlessness on the part of the government that the EPA had to be sued by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club to force it follow the law and clean up the environment. By the end of the 1980s we had an attorney general in prison for a felony conviction and 114 members of the Reagan administration either indicted or resigned to avoid indictment -- the single largest criminal infestation in the White House in American history, putting the Teapot Dome scandal to shame. This period culminated with the Iran-Contra blowout of the constitution and Oliver North's secret standby plan to impose martial law.
Throughout the 1990s the damage to the constitutional system of government was slowly repaired, greatly aided by the loss of eslf-confidence we suffered from the disastrous American defeat in Somalia. If we couldn't prevent our soldiers from getting dragged naked through the streets of a foreign country, at least we could prove we followed the rule of law at home in America.
However, the huge victory in Desert Storm led once again to delusional fantasies of invincibility, which in turn led to the current near-total destruction of civil liberties, with the abandonment of habeas corpus, the abandonment of jury trials, the derogation of essentially of every precept of civilized governance for the last 900 years. We've sunk so far that we've even brought back torture. Frankly, I'm surprised we haven't disbanded the courts and used witch-dunking instead. Why bother with courts when you've eliminated habeas corpus and done away with jury trials and thrown out the 4th and 5th amendments and started using torture? Just decide who you want to find guilty, torture him until he confesses, and then kill him. Why do you even need courts? All America needs nowadays is a torture chamber and a mass grave.

History shows clearly that whenever America wins big, it gets cocksure and reckless and goes out and does something meddling in the Phillipines in the early 1900s. (Read Mark Twain's commentary on that misadventure, you'll get an eyeful.) Or cranking up the Palmer Raids in the 1920s. Or going nuts with the McCarthy witch hunts in the 1950s. Or going crazy with the current total destruction of the constitution with torture and the abolition of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th amendments and the revocation of habeas corpus.

A cockcy self-assured America is a crazy America. A defeated humble America is a sensible moderate America. Look at history. Every time America wins a big conflict, we tumble into mass insanity. We go berserk with the Alien & Sedition acts, or the we launch crazy Palmer Raids against imaginary commies, or we descend into the gibbering lunacy of the Army-McCarthy hearings, or we sleepwalk into a Nixonian bugging and burgling orgy of lawlessness, or the current festival of medieval torture and depravity and unconstitutional lunacy that passes for the Treason Act (misnamed the Patriot Act).

Dr. Brin is dead wrong because whenever America starts to feel big in its britches, history shows it acts like a drunken 18-year-old frat boy who just came into a big inheritance. We go out and do something crazy. We drive the Rolls Royce into a telephone pole and kill two cheerleaders in the crash. Or burn the family house down while screwing a billy goat. Or buy a train and run it into a wall. (Not just once, but fifty times in a row, each time proclaiming, "This time will be different!") Whenever America wins big, we go nuts with hubris and throw caution to the winds and embark on some enterprise of mind-boggling insanity, and the hangover is a bitch.

By contrast, whenever America gets its ass kicked, we pull back and rethink things and act with caution and moderation. The results are usually salutary.

So clearly history shows that America is at its best when we've been defeated and consequently feel unsure of ourselves and full of doubts...whereas America is at its absolute worst when we're preening with megalomanical exultation in having won some big conflict. That's when America goes stark raving nuts and starts thinking the rules don't apply to us, and we're not part of the human race, and we can do anything we want, and as a result we start acting like demented fools and soon come a-cropper...whether in the Civil War or the Phillipines or Korea or Viet Nam or Somalia or Iraq.

So I would take issue with Dr. Brin's entire thesis. Arguably the one good thing the drunk-driving C student who infests the White House has done for America is to destroy America's aura of military invicibility. This has filled the American people with doubts and led to widespread anguish. That's great! It forces us to think before we act. Even better, the current pervasive crisis of self-confidence among our foreign policy pundits and our elite policy-making chattering class. This is a very good thing. The more our elite policy-making chattering class worries and frowns and agonizes about whether America is a "pitiful helpless giant" (to use the Viet Nam era phrase), the better our foreign policy is likely to be. On the contrary -- it's only when our self-styled elites go mad with hubris and think American military power is boundless and invincible that we get crazy geysers of horseshit like the Project for the New American Century and Francis Fukuyama's batshit-insane festival of megalomania The End of History and the Last Man.

The more the current maladministration does to destroy America's confidence in its military might, the better American foreign policy and fiscal policy is likely to be. In fact, that destruction of America's military confidence is likely to be the only legacy of lasting value from the current maladminsitration.

Second: atolley remarked: The US military has worked very well only during conventional warfare against similarly disposed enemies.

This reiterates a common American myth -- namely, "America is the greatest military power the world has ever known."

That's delusional nonsense. America is a fifth rate military power in historical terms. Tot up the American victories and defeats and you'll find that America has decisively lost as many wars as it has won, and we've been stalemated in at least half of 'em. That's not the record of a great military power.

Moreover, in the truly crucial area of holding what we conquer, Americans fail completely. The Mongols remain the all-time champs for holding what they conquered, followed closely by the Ottoman Empire, the Roman Empire and the British Empire. Americans, by contrast, can't even manage to hold onto a 7th-rate plot of desert like Iraq after we've conquered it. America is bad enough as a military power, but in terms of consolidating our conquests we're a complete bust. America ranks somewhere below Swaziland in terms of our ability to consolidate our military victories.

But to return to the question of America's pure military prowess, let's add up the total:

Yorktown, 1781 - Decisive win for America.
War of 1812 - Decisive loss for America.
Mexican War of 1946-1848 - decisive win for America.
Civil War 1961-65 - decisive loss for America, a real meatgrinder. This was a mini-preview of the Great War that engulfed Europe 50 eyars later.
Spanish-American War of 1898 - decisive win for America.
Phillipines campaign of 1910s - a draw.
Great War (America briefly entered in 1915 and sent troops to Europe in 1917) - a draw.
WW II - decisive win for America.
Korean War - a draw.
Viet Nam War - decisive defeat for America.
Grenada (can you even call it a war?) - decisive win for America.
Beirut 1983 - decisive defeat for America.
Gulf War I - decisive win for America.
Somalia 1993 - decisive defeat for America.
Kosovo 1998 - decisive win for America.
Gulf War 2 2003 - decisive defeat for America.

Add up the total wins and losses.
7 decisive victories for America,
6 decisive defeats for America,
3 draws.

This is not the record of a great military power.

If you want a genuinely great military record, take a look at Rome. Aside from a handful of defeats from Hannibal, the Roman legions went essentially undefeated for 500 years. That's a real military record.

Want an even better military record? The British Empire. These guys were so good that from the time they trounced the Spanish Armada until WW I, they bestrode the world like a true colossus. If you want legendary one-sided victories, the British battle at Omdurman is right up there at the top. Not even the Romans ever managed anything like that.
We might also mention the fact that the Brits held the entire continent of India with only a few tens of thousands of British troops and some viceroys for 150 years. America has never come close to an accomplishment like that.
But if you want even bigger champions of military history you have to take a look at the French, who have the most glorious military record in Europe of the last 1000 years, starting with the Battle of Tours (arguably the most crucial battle in the history of Western civilzation -- and they won it) and running right up through the Napoleonic wars. (Yeah, okay, Agincourt, but that's an isolated exception.) The French winning streak only ran out in the Franco-Prussian war of 1878.

But the all time greats of world military history remain the Mongols. America doesn't even come close to the Mongols for sheer military brilliance. The Mongols were so good that they often won without a fight. Their enemies simply surrended because they knew it was pointless to resist. How often has that happened to America? Once? Even once? I don't think so.

So let's put paid to this delusional myth of America as some kind of "great military power," okay, folks? America is a bunch of farmers and mechanics who occasionally find themselves obliged to pick up arms, and we've got a mediocre track record at it. As you'd expect. After all, we're citizen-soldiers, not hardened pros like Alexander's hoplites or the British Raj or the Roman Legion who could form the Turtle with their shields and march in lockstep formation against a hail of arrows so thick you couldn't even see the sun, or Mongol warriors who could steer their horses by using only their stirrups while simultaneously shooting arrows into enemy ground troops with deadly accuracy. Americans are pikers by comparison to those guys. By historical standards, compared with the Roman legions or the Mongol cavalry, Americans are rotten warriors and crappy soldiers. That's a good thing. Since we're lousy at it, we don't have much incentive to do it, and that's for the best -- because it keeps us doing what Americans do best, inventing things and building things, not fumbling and bumbling and stumbling and bungling around trying to conquer other people.

Incidentally, this also shows why Fareed Zakaria is such an ignorant incompetent fool. Zakaria makes the same fatally foolish argument in his recent essay, lamenting that America "needs to regain its confidence." No, no, no, a thousand times no! That's the last thing America needs to regain. A cocksure America full of hubris is an America that invariably goes crazy and does insanely stupid things -- while an America full of self-doubt is an America that sticks to its knitting and invents things like the airplane and the television and puts men on the moon. An America lacking in confidence and full of doubt about its military prowess is an America that finds itself compelled to asssert its primacy in the world by being first and best in a peaceful productive era in history. We would expect Zakaria to show himself an ignorant fool, since essentially everything that comes out of that guy's mouth is such unebelivable folly that you have to slap yourself to believe any educated person could spout such incredible tripe. Example: Zakaria's sage advice that "we should remove all but 50,000 troops for Iraq." For what? You moron! It's too few to do any good, and just enough to serve as a giant traget for every insurgent. These kind of seemingly brain-damaged pronouncements are a Zakaria specialty, and given his obvious ignorance of history and his self-evident stupidity, I guess we just have to expect that sort of twaddle dribbling from the mouth of an abysmal fool like Fareed Zakaria. But from David Brin?

Surely we expect better from him.

Anonymous said...

Can you give us a few more details to back up that claim, Zorgon? It's good to be concise, but brevity has its limits.

David Brin said...

Agh, now I see why some people think Zorgon is me, in disguise. Not because he is bright & unconvention and contrarian (tho he is!) Or because he has similar opinions (iffy. similar values? maybe) But because he writes too long!

Seriously, folks, examine his missive with an eye for a lesson in tendentiousness. e.g. calling the Civil War a "decisive defeat) because of its casualties, while ignoring a dozen other ways in which it could be seen as a victory. For the slaves? For emerging as an industrial power? Formaturation into a modern state? For defeating a romantic/feudalist memic system that threatened to un-do the Lockean experiment?

Yes, casualties are bad. But most of those went willing to sacrifice in ORDER to achieve an end that they considered more important. A majority of those casualties paid a steep price on the winning side and achieved the goals for which they were willing to pay that price.

Alas, we the living have betrayed them during Civil War Phase III. Especially folks in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin, who have forgetten what their blue-coated grandpas died for.

Likewise, the list includes 1812 as a decisive loss. Huh? Yes, perhaps a narrow loss, if you were scoring it like a boxing match, on "points." But the US lost nothing tangible in the Treaty of Ghent and the brits began phasing out seaman impressment, our chief war aim. And America came out stronger. Duh, a draw. ALL historians say so.

World War One? We went in aiming to stop the Germans and American troops broke the stalemate, ending a catastrophe for Europe. Had we also "won" Wilson's preferred peace, WWII would not have happened.

The list is rife with stuff like that. So MacArthur tried to do what Schwarzkopf should have been allowed to do, by continuing north? That went badly. Still, the US-led UN forces achieved ALL official war aims by restoring South Korea to full territorial integrity. The resulting nation is a war "won".

And so on.

None of which addresses Zorgon's main point!

That success leads to arrogance and defeat leads to re-appraisal and progress.

Well, yes, I agree... that history shows countless examples of losers learning while victors smugly rely on assumptions of superiority.

In fact MANY OF OUR GENERALS AND ADMIRALS WORRIED ABOUT THAT. They intensely studied after Gulf War II and concluded that armored corps were obsolete, precisely BECAUSE they had worked so well against saddam. They have tried very hard to not let victory rob them of hunger and curiosity.

This doesn't mean they lack a blind side. I found one. None of the flag officers I know can even imagine what to do if America ever has to fall back on its old pattern, (all the way to WWII) of rapidly bolstering the small professional force with millions of volunteers. They are so obsessed with porfessionalism that they haven't a clue what they would do with even 10,000 sudden volunteers, let alone a million.

BAD blind spot!

Anonymous said...

Zorgon, your 'history' is a mishmash, and inconsistant.

For example... you claim WW1 as a decisive defeat, which (by your theory) should have lead to improvements... then claim that it resulted in the Palmer raids (a horrendous violation of civil liberties). And Andrew Jackson lead one of the worst violations of civil rights (The Trail of Tears), violating the rulings of the Supreme Court... talk about Imperial Presidencies!

AND... Wars can be things other than 'decisive wins', 'draws' and decisive defeats'.

My own take...
Revolutionary war: Total victory.
Naval War with France: Tactical victory, diplomatic draw.
1812: Tactical loss, diplomatic win.
Mexican American War: Total victory.
Civil War: Tactical victory, diplomatic draw. (Emancipation leading to Jim Crow)
Spainish-American War: Total victory.
WW1: Tactical victory, strategic victory, diplomatic loss. (Treaty of Versaille... dumb idea)
WW2: Total victory
Korea: Marginal 'victory', technically not over.
Vietnam: Defeat.
Bosnia: Total victory.
Gulf War 1: Tactical victory, many questions yet answered.
Afghanistan/Gulf War 2: not looking good, is it?

I'm not going to count Somalia, unless you want to also count the dozens of Indian Wars, the 'interventions' in South America and the Caribean, the Boxer Rebellion, the Russian Revolution intervention, and who knows how many other incidents involving small numbers of troops and material.

I'm going to be blatantly partisan for a moment...
Has anyone else noticed that no Republican President has won a war since 1898?

David Brin said...

Well, in fact, unless you include Ike (one of my favorite presidents) getting lured into Vietnam, most GOP prexies have only started small wars, not big ones.

Hm, come to think of it, that's ANOTHER Bush betrayal of conservative principles!

I hate Afghanistan and Iraq being lumped together, since one was awesome and the other a lethal and deliberate pax destroyer. But I guess they have to be, now.

Anonymous said...


The Mongols were so good that they often won without a fight. Their enemies simply surrendered because they knew it was pointless to resist. How often has that happened to America? Once? Even once? I don't think so.

Well, when Reagan bombed Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi supposedly ordered his air force to shoot down the US planes, and they refused on the grounds that it couldn't work and they'd just be committing suicide.

Also, the intervention in Haiti in 1994 (with full UN backing) didn't lead to any organized resistance; the military government was "persuaded" to transfer power peacefully.

The claim that "America is the greatest military power the world has ever known" is primarily based on technology, not on our ability to conquer; we're stronger than the Mongols were because we have tanks and they had mounted archers. If we had to fight the Mongols with Mongol-era technology and infrastructure, though, we'd be screwed.


Anonymous said...

I think the reason that Afghanistan and Iraq are being bunched together is because the initial war was a success the resources being squandered in Iraq mean that more and more Afghanistan is beginning to look like Iraq. The NATO and allied forces only control a very small area around the capital, with the Taliban and Northern Warlords claiming huge chunks of the country. After being there so long many nations are considering pulling out which will lead to a snowballing of withdrawals.

The Australian contingent that is under regular attack may have to withdraw, their mission uncomplete, since the counrty(Netherlands I think) is about to withdraw their air support. And this is in the relatively peaceful southern region.

What could have been a Tactical, strategic and diplomatic victory looks like now being another case of a country being left to rot because we didn't care enough to make sure the job got done to completion.

Enterik said...

Hawker, using your system of calssification I define Vietnam as a tactical vitory, a strategic victory and a diplomatic loss.

Tactical victory. Something like 3 million or so people were killed in indochina, American losses were far less. The Tet offensive was substantially repulsed.

Strategic victory, as a test of the domino theory and containment, the destruction of Vietnam's civil society and infrastructure as well as degradation of it's environment and population ensured that Vietnam would not serve as a good example to spread pro-communist sentiment to other nation states. Vietnam has yet to recover.

Diplomatic failure. The US obstensible goal was to help enforce French colonial claims in indochina and has rightly been seen as doing so.

At a tactical diplomatic level, the Tet Offensive had unintended diplomatic consequences that rippled through Vietnamese and American society.

The US achieved it's strategic goals but lost the domestic diplomatic war because it's goal of destruction is not explicitly statable as valid in US politics and the rest of the world was rightly apalled by our military excesses. While we had effectively beat the Viet, we had left with our puppet state in charge, as in Japan, Germany and Korea.

Anonymous said...

How can you claim the war over oil was lost? Saddam used to control it, now he does not anymore. Nobody but US companies control it (already Hunt Oil - Kurds). If it takes a few more years to start pumping it, well, the price will be higher (already is). From the standpoint of those who started the war, its is won and better yet, won at someone else's expense.