Ike only needed his stars
Last September President Obama visited MacDill Air Force Base here in Tampa to announce whether or not he was going to order ground troops into Iraq ….again.
ISIS was sweeping into Iraq from Syria and the American trained and equipped Iraqi Army was abandoning it’s equipment and fleeing the front in droves.
Obama gave his speech. He did not order a new U.S. led ground offensive.
The rest of the speech was the usual pap served up when discussing the military today.
Shout outs to the various services: (Got some Marines in the house today!! “Hooyah!!”)
Thank you for you service. The nation was grateful for your nonstop deployments and for the unique losses and burdens placed on you through the past dozen years of open-ended war.
He said that the “9/11 generation of heroes” represented the very best in the country, and that its members constituted a military that was not only superior to all current adversaries but no less than “the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”
This is the way we have become accustomed to discussing the military; over blown, limitless praise absent any hint of criticism or skepticism we apply to other American institutions funded by taxpayer monies.
That same afternoon, September 17, the House of Representatives voted to fund arms for rebel forces in Syria, hoping they would fight ISIS, and then Congress adjourned for 6 weeks of campaigning. The issue of war and peace was not discussed during the mid-term elections by either side – only Obamacare, immigration, voting rights, taxes etc.
The reverent but disengaged attitude toward the military has become the American norm. It was not always so. Ike may have commanded the finest fighting force in the world on D-Day but he did not describe it that way. He warned his troops, “Your task will not be an easy one,” because “your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened.”
So many Americans served during World War II and the Cold War that, while we respected the military, we were well aware of it’s shortcomings.
While we have been at war for the past thirteen years the vast majority of the nation has not. Some 2.5 million have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, many more than once. That’s about 0.75% of the population. During WWII some ten percent of the population was under arms.
The way the disengaged gaze with admiration on the military shows up in the popular culture. Once we had Ernie Pyle, the G. I. Joe wisecracking characters Willie and Joe. We had Phil Silvers, the Sergeant Bilko schemer. We had M.A.S.H.
Today everyone “supports” the troops but few know anything about them. We no longer have a comfortable closeness with our military. In many ways they are not us. We don’t poke fun at their foibles anymore.
While confidence in almost every American institution has sharply declined, not so with the military. Confidence in our armed forces rose dramatically after 9/11 and remains high. This lack of connection with war and the military among the vast majority of people allows us to blithely enter conflicts with nary a thought as to what might go wrong. After all, we are the most powerful military nation the world has ever seen. We can’t lose.
We haven’t won since World War II, save for the brief First Gulf War, pushing Saddam out of Kuwait. Korea was a draw. We did not achieve our objectives in Vietnam. The Middle East is in turmoil. It remains to be seen whether or not the Taliban returns to power in Afghanistan. ISIS is trying to remake the borders in the Sunni heartland.
There is little accountability for modern wars; from George Bush to Dick Cheney to Colin Powell we have put the Iraq war behind us. We have spent trillions on equipping our forces only to see our military fail in it’s mission. We have not succeeded in achieving any of our overall strategic goals in Iraq.
“Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.”
The perception that we cannot be defeated leads us deeper and deeper into unwinnable conflicts and the separation of the military and war from the people keeps us from learning anything from our defeats.
William S. Lind is a military historian who in the 1990s helped develop the concept of “Fourth Generation War,” or struggles against the insurgents, terrorists, or other “nonstate” groups that refuse to form ranks and fight like conventional armies. He wrote recently:
“The most curious thing about our four defeats in Fourth Generation War—Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan—is the utter silence in the American officer corps. Defeat in Vietnam bred a generation of military reformers Today, the landscape is barren. Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change. Just more money, please.”
Once upon a time we relieved incompetent combat Generals – during the last decade hundreds of Generals were deployed. Not one was removed for combat ineffectiveness.
The public, at a distance, does not demand accountability while the career military has skillfully distanced itself from it’s failures.
“And yet however much Americans “support” and “respect” their troops, they are not involved with them, and that disengagement inevitably leads to dangerous decisions the public barely notices. “My concern is this growing disconnect between the American people and our military,” said retired Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama (and whose mid-career academic stint was at Harvard Business School). The military is “professional and capable,” he said, “but I would sacrifice some of that excellence and readiness to make sure that we stay close to the American people. Fewer and fewer people know anyone in the military. It’s become just too easy to go to war.”
Want to connect Americans to the true price of war?
Bring back the draft.
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