Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Man Who Sold the War

In it's continuing quest to stop being the paper of record, the New York Times went ahead and printed this here piece ghost-authored by one General Mark A. Milley. It's the sort of thing that's become the norm among "serious" journalists since the Bush era - falsehoods wrapped in falsehoods and presenting the nagging question of if these people are liars, fools, or some adaptive combination.

Let's start with the falsehood that serves as the premise for the entire article: The US Army is actually good at counter-insurgency warfare. This is the position of General Milley, therefore it is the position of the Times and their stenographer Helene Cooper. No polite American careerist is allowed to dispute anything said by the US military and it's not like the Times actually wants to ask the tough questions anyway, that might hurt their access. Instead, they regurgitate Milley's claim that the Army has been fighting guerillas and terrorists so long, they've forgotten how to wage a conventional war in the classic NATO versus Warsaw Pact scenario.

As anyone who's been following the War on Terror could have told the Times - and Milley - that is the exact opposite of the problem. It took four years of occupying Iraq before brassholes like Milley would even admit to an insurgency and the solution - the much vaunted "Surge" of 2007 - was an exercise in Americans striving to feel good about themselves. Bombings and beheadings went down but not even David "Lost a quarter-million Kalashnikovs" Patraeus would acknowledge that common guerilla doctrine is to go to ground when the enemy is out in force. American patrols spent more time zipping up and down the Baghdad streets in their humvees while the various militias had a nice sit down with some pistachios and shisha as they waited for the big dumb Yankees to finally get bored and go home.

If you still think it was such a strategic success, just look at the abbatoir that is the Sunni Triangle today. The existence of ISIS is due entirely to the US military's failure at counter-insurgency operations. Zoom out to include Libya and Afghanistan, and it becomes all the more certain as one is a failed state and the other is a divided territory with more than half the real estate owned by the Taliban everyone thought was over and done with in 2002.

So that's the heart of Milley's thesis right out the window - but we're not stopping there! No, this general just can't stop being wrong. About everything.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the War on Terror hasn't been a total failure, there's still Milley's argument that the US Army doesn't know how to fight a conventional war. This might at first seem like a legitimate concern, after a decade and a half of counter-insurgency and all the resources flowing into the much vaunted Special Operations. However, this claim is quite simply false as demonstrated by, well, anyone who's been through the Fort Benning School of Infantry in all this time. Or the stated doctrine of the United States Marine Corps. Light infantry craft may not get as much attention in Michael Bay movies but it's still taught, drilled, and drilled again by the two services who would take the brunt of a conventional land war. Even the Rangers, everyone's favorite JSOC skinheads, are first and foremost shock infantry.

Don't take my word for it, take it from former Ranger medic Stan Goff:

The mystique of Special Operations (including the Rangers, who are the Special Operations’ shock infantry component) is useful as a deterrent, but it is not reflective of a reality. The Pentagon and others want you and the rest of the world to believe this mystique, because your fear and the fear of the rest of the world is what maintains the efficacy of a huge bluff. This government wants us to spin out as many scary fantasies as possible, because it serves the dual purpose of either portraying opponents of the military as “conspiracy nuts” or promoting precisely the myth of spooky invincibility that keeps us in line.

Goff was writing on the Pat Tillman fratricide, an event that didn't do much for said mystique of the Rangers or for then Secretary of Defense Rumsfled's claims of "good news" from Afghanistan.

Related to that debacle, the assassination of Osama bin Laden by DEVGRU - a stage-managed affair where some forty to sixty SEALs met no resistance as an ISI officer lead them through the compound to their target. Neither of these cases do much for the mystique of Special Operations but they would hardly lend credence to any claims that US troops have somehow forgotten how to fight a "regular" war.

But let's grant that too, for the sake of argument. The DOD has been so good at fighting terrorism that it's forgotten how to fight a real war and then oh no! The Russians are rolling on Berlin!

Seriously, the Times article presents Russia as the next big threat...

Again assuming for the sake of argument that Putin actually wants to conquer the world rather than just the good beachfront property of Crimea, this does not present a convincing argument for some grand Back To Basics military doctrine because of the one word the Times article refuses to use: Nukes.

America's got 'em, Russia's got 'em, and if you really think a full-on land war in Europe won't see 'em fly, just listen to what a retired Russian general has to say:

The journalist asks again, like just to make sure: "We [the Soviets] would have struck first?" and the General says again, "Of course!"  
And he makes it real clear that he's not just talking about conventional first strikes. The interviewer says, "But [Soviet] Foreign Minister Gromyko said that the USSR would not use nuclear weapons first!"  
I love Burlakov's answer: "He said one thing and we [the Soviet staff] thought another. We are the ones responsible for wars." 

Nothing they teach at Camp Lejeune or Fort Benning can overcome a mushroom cloud, rendering Milley's thesis moot. Even if it wasn't already wrong.

"But what about China!" says anyone trying to look smart. "They're a much more likely opponent in this hypothetical World War III and won't use their own nukes because reasons!"

So let's assume a US versus China war - sans nukes. In that case it would be a naval engagement in the South China Sea, leaving Milley to twiddle his thumbs at CENTCOM.

And it would be a clusterfuck.

Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.

Those are the exact words of the US Naval Institute, admitting that this final scenario is over before it starts. You don't even need a nuke in a ballistic missile - hell, a bunch of rocks would disable the runway of an aircraft carrier, and that would mean no more air power projection. Factor in speedboats firing swarms of cheap missiles and it's Battle of Salamis meets the Keystone Kops.

At every level, the argument that the US Army needs to revitalize it's most bread and butter branch is ridiculously wrong. So why did Milley take his story all the way to a credulous New York Times? Well, there's the usual duplicity of anyone with stars on their shoulders auditioning for a lobbyist job. But look at where Milley is:

In West Africa, Army and Special Operations forces are working with militaries from Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and other countries to try to stem a recent wave of attacks by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has taken to hitting hotels and other tourist sites. 
And in East Africa, American military advisers and trainers are working with regional counterparts to fight the Qaeda-affiliated Shabab... The United States is also working in Africa with former Russian satellite states like Angola...

The US is again following in the footsteps of past empires and delving into Africa. Sure, there's Bokos and Shababs and all but there's also billions of dollars worth of the minerals needed to make the mobile device your reading this on right now. Securing precious resources, whether from reactionary dickweeds or democratically elected governments, has always been the purpose of American military power for the past century.

General Milley is singing an old familiar song, and nobody at the New York Times cares that he sings so badly.

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