Afghanistan Debacle

America Is Headed For Military Defeat in Afghanistan

It is time to acknowledge this is more than political. We can lose on the battlefield, and it’s happening right now.

Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, sprint across a field to load onto a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter during a mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 4, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan / released)

There’s a prevailing maxim, both inside the armed forces and around the Beltway, that goes something like this: “The U.S. can never be militarily defeated in any war,” certainly not by some third world country. Heck, I used to believe that myself. That’s why, in regard to Afghanistan, we’ve been told that while America could lose the war due to political factors (such as the lack of grit among “soft” liberals or defeatists), the military could never and will never lose on the battlefield.

That entire maxim is about to be turned on its head. Get ready, because we’re about to lose this war militarily.

Consider this: the U.S. military has advised, assisted, battled, and bombed in Afghanistan for 17-plus years. Ground troop levels have fluctuated from lows of some 10,000 to upwards of 100,000 servicemen and women. None of that has achieved more than a tie, a bloody stalemate. Now, in the 18th year of this conflict, the Kabul-Washington coalition’s military is outright losing.

Let’s begin with the broader measures. The Taliban controls or contests more districts—some 44 percent—than at any time since the 2001 invasion. Total combatant and civilian casualties are forecasted to top 20,000 this year—another dreadful broken record. What’s more, Afghan military casualties are frankly unsustainable: the Taliban are killing more than the government can recruit. The death rates are staggering, numbering 5,500 fatalities in 2015, 6,700 in 2016, and an estimate (the number is newly classified) of “about 10,000” in 2017. Well, some might ask, what about American airpower—can’t that help stem the Taliban tide? Hardly. In 2018, as security deteriorated and the Taliban made substantial gains, the U.S. actually dropped more bombs than in any other year of the war. It appears that nothing stands in the way of impending military defeat.

Then there are the very recent events on the ground—and these are telling. Insider attacks in which Afghan “allies” turn their guns on American advisors are back on the rise, most recently in an attack that wounded a U.S. Army general and threatened the top U.S. commander in the country. And while troop numbers are way down from the high in 2011, American troops deaths are rising. Over the Thanksgiving season alone, a U.S. Army Ranger was killed in a friendly fire incident and three other troopers died in a roadside bomb attack. And in what was perhaps only a (still disturbing) case of misunderstood optics, the top U.S. commander, General Miller, was filmed carrying his own M4 rifle around Afghanistan. That’s a long way from the days when then-General Petraeus (well protected by soldiers, of course) walked around the markets of Baghdad in a soft cap and without body armor.

More importantly, the Afghan army and police are getting hammered in larger and larger attacks and taking unsustainable casualties. Some 26 Afghan security forces were killed on Thanksgiving, 22 policemen died in an attack on Sunday, and on Tuesday 30 civilians were killed in Helmand province. And these were only the high-profile attacks, dwarfed by the countless other countrywide incidents. All this proves that no matter how hard the U.S. military worked, or how many years it committed to building an Afghan army in its own image, and no matter how much air and logistical support that army received, the Afghan Security Forces cannot win. The sooner Washington accepts this truth over the more comforting lie, the fewer of our adulated American soldiers will have to die. Who is honestly ready to be the last to die for a mistake, or at least a hopeless cause?

Now, admittedly, this author is asking for trouble—and fierce rebuttals—from both peers and superiors still serving on active duty. And that’s understandable. The old maxim of military invincibility soothes these men, mollifies their sense of personal loss, whether of personal friends or years away from home, in wars to which they’ve now dedicated their entire adult lives. Questioning whether there even is a military solution in Afghanistan, or, more specifically, predicting a military defeat, serves only to upend their mental framework surrounding the war.

Still, sober strategy and basic honesty demands a true assessment of the military situation in America’s longest war. The Pentagon loves metrics, data, and stats. Well, as demonstrated daily on the ground in Afghanistan, all the security (read: military) metrics point towards impending defeat. At best, the Afghan army, with ample U.S. advisory detachments and air support, can hold on to the northernmost and westernmost provinces of the country, while a Taliban coalition overruns the south and east. This will be messy, ugly, and discomfiting for military and civilian leaders alike. But unless Washington is prepared to redeploy 100,000 soldiers to Afghanistan (again)—and still only manage a tie, by the way—it is also all but inevitable

The United States military did all it was asked during more than 17 years of warfare in Afghanistan. It raided, it bombed, it built, it surged, it advised, it…everything. Still, none of that was sufficient. Enough Afghans either support the Taliban or hate the occupation, and managed, through assorted conventional and unconventional operations, to fight on the ground. And “on the ground” is all that really matters. This war may well have been ill-advised and unwinnable from the start.

There’s no shame in defeat. But there is shame, and perfidy, in avoiding or covering up the truth. It’s what the whole military-political establishment did after Vietnam, and, I fear, it’s what they’re doing again.

Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer and a regular contributor to The American Conservative. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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When Will They Ever Learn? When Will They Ever Learn?

Three Thanksgivings – Snapshots From a Career of Failure

Millions of American troops have spent countless holidays away from home, in Iraq, Afghanistan and various smaller wars across the region – it’s worth asking what it’s all for.

 Posted on

Millions of American troops have spent countless holidays away from home, in Iraq, Afghanistan and various smaller wars across the region – it’s worth asking what it’s all for.

The memories can be fond, some of them anyway. Patrolling in the morning with a platoon full of mates – brothers, really – and then returning to base to share decent turkey dinners flown in for our enjoyment. We wore dirty uniforms, gorged ourselves on turkey and sides, and washed it all down with plentiful doses of nonalcoholic beer and energy drinks. Another year, sticking around the chow hall after the holiday meal to watch cricket matches with the vaguely Pakistani contractors who prepared and served our food, desperately trying to learn the rules of the odd sport.

For all the hardships of three holidays spent in Iraq and Afghanistan (2006, 2007, and 2011), the army never failed to get us a Thanksgiving Dinner of sorts. There was a certain sadness, of course, about being away from family and friends – but it was surprisingly easy to face the day and manage a smile in front of the troops. Our humor was dark – dark as hell – but, in times since, I’ve rarely laughed so hard. In a way, Thanksgivings at war weren’t all that bad.

Other memories are rather more morbid. Like when a few military policemen on my Forward Operating Base – cheekily nicknamed “Mortaritaville” on T-shirts sold in the post shop – were wounded by mortar fire while walking to Thanksgiving Dinner. Truth is, American casualties were so common in the Baghdad of 2006-07 that they really only registered as numbers – monthly statistics we used to measure violence in the city. Just another day engulfed in the fire of civil war.

I can’t remember all of the details. Memories can be hazy, and, strangely – manufactured in a way. Still, this Thanksgiving weekend, I found myself thinking back on those three holidays abroad; taking stock of what it was my units had (or had not) accomplished and of my own mental evolution.

On November 23, 2006, a U.S. Army National Guard sergeant was killed by small arms fire in Baghdad and another National Guard corporal was killed by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) in Afghanistan. I was a 23-year old scout platoon leader then. My unit had only been in country about a month. No one had been killed or seriously injured. The little combat we had seen was but a cat-and-mouse game of short firefights. I’m embarrassed to admit it all seemed rather exciting; in fact, I secretly longed for more action and more war stories. And for my sins I’d get them.

We ate as a platoon in the decent-sized chow hall on Camp Rustamiyah in southeast Baghdad. As for the war, well, it was at one of many low points. Iraq, and Baghdad in particular, was engulfed in a sectarian civil war that’s never truly ended. It may never. Oh, and on that Thanksgiving Day, at least 32 Iraqis were killed. Barely anyone cared about them.

On November 22, 2007, a US Army staff sergeant was killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in Iraq. My unit was still in Baghdad that year for our second straight Thanksgiving – we’d had our tour extended by three months to help execute President George W. Bush’s troop “surge.” I was now the executive officer (XO) of my cavalry troop, acting as the logistics and supply point-man and serving as troop second-in-command. By then, there was nothing glamorous left in that shit-hole of a war. Three of my platoon’s soldiers were dead; one was paralyzed; a few more wounded. There were so many new faces – replacement soldiers – that it was hard to keep up.

I ate with friends, other young officers, in that same camp chow hall. It was a darker day. Anger and frustration – rather than the excitement of the year before – pervaded our conversations on that Thanksgiving. Sure, violence was down – so said General David Petraeus and his statistical charts – but even then we could sense that this was but a temporary pause. Several hundred American troops had died in the intervening year and it was hard to see the point of it all. Oh, and on that Thanksgiving Day, at least 22 Iraqis were killed. No one noticed – violence was “down” after all.

On November 24, 2011, miraculously, no American troops died in either major theater of war. Still, during that month, seven soldiers died in Iraq and 31 lost their lives in Afghanistan. By then the wars had swapped places. The US military now surged in Afghanistan and that was the main theater. I was now the commander of a cavalry troop and ate turkey with my officers and men on a small combat outpost (COP) in the Pashmul district of Kandahar province. Our troop had already lost three dead, several limbs, and suffered more than two dozen wounded. For all that, we barely held more ground than we personally stood on. The Taliban all but had us locked up in our our tiny forts and they attacked us that Thanksgiving – just as they did on nearly every day of our almost complete 2011-12 tour of duty.

I ate with my lieutenants and troopers in a large, dirty green tent – but at least the turkey was there, and hot. By then I’d all but given up on the wars of American interventionism. If I was excited in ’06, and angry in ’07, I was, to be honest, absurdly apathetic by ’11. All that matter to this 28-year-old captain was minimizing casualties and getting the boys home safely to Kansas. We, the American people, were told by then that the war in Iraq was over, a victory – still 11 Iraqis were killed in internecine fighting. It was nearly impossible to find any statistical data on Afghan deaths, but they invariably outweighed those in Iraq.

This past Thanksgiving, the US military remained at war – now actively engaged in at least seven Muslim-majority countries. There’s no end in sight. Every time we, the people, were told that victory was “just around the corner,” our hopes were foiled. Afghanistan is in worse shape than ever before, Iraq’s fragile political structure remains highly unstable and low-level guerrilla warfare continues unabated. The entire Middle East, rather than blooming as a new garden of liberal democracy (the dream of George W. Bush) remains awash in violence, famine, and record refugee flows. It is now beyond farcical to imagine any sort of American “victory” in the region.

And this author, well, he spent this Thanksgiving, without his family and on a shoe-strong of mental health – a marriage on the rocks, worsening PTSD, and in the grips of depression. There were times, this holiday, that I earnestly wished I was back in Baghdad or Kandahar – laughing along with comrades as we lost a war that shouldn’t have been fought. The mind plays tricks, you know? Still, other veterans had it worse. Data indicates about 22 vets kill themselves per day – and the stats don’t break for the holidays. Others struggled to keep warm under bridges or in various shelters. Meanwhile, jets flew over packed NFL stadiums adorned with field-sized American flags, and mainstream media outlets treated viewers to cheerful video notes home from deployed troops. Hardly anyone asked what we’re still doing there.

By the way, another US Army Ranger was killed over this holiday weekend. Oh, and on this Thanksgiving, so did at least 26 Afghans – in case anyone is still counting…

Danny Sjursen is a US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]

Copyright 2018 Danny Sjursen

America’s Endless Wars … and Profits

The Pentagon Has Won the War That Matters

Originally posted at TomDispatch.

In June, Austin “Scott” Miller, the special-ops general chosen to be the 17th U.S. commander in Afghanistan, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Like so many of the generals who had preceded him, he suggested that he saw evidence of “progress” in the Afghan war, even if he refused to “guarantee you a timeline or an end date.” Smart move, general!

As it happens, just over a week ago, he got a dose, up close and personal, of what the Afghan version of “progress” really means. He was visiting key American allies in the southern province of Kandahar when the “insider” attack of all insider attacks occurred. In the sort of event that’s been going onsince at least 2010, an ostensible ally, in this case a local member of the Afghan security forces who had evidently joined the Taliban, turned his gun on Kandahar’s chief of police (a crucial powerbroker in the region), the local intelligence chief, and the provincial governor, killing the first two and wounding the third. In the process, he ensured that, with local leadership literally down the tubes, elections in Kandahar would be postponed for at least a week. Three Americans, including a brigadier general, were also wounded in the attack. (In 2014, an American major general was killed in just such an insider strike.) In one of the rarest acts for an American commander in memory, General Miller reportedly drew his sidearm as the bullets began to fly, but was himself untouched. Still, it was a striking reminder that, 17 years after the U.S. invaded that country, the Taliban are again riding high and represent the only forces making “progress” or “turning corners” in that country.

In a conflict with no end in sight that is now not only the longest in American history but more than four times as long as World War II, the “finest fighting force that the world has ever known” hasn’t been able to discover a hint of victory anywhere. And that’s something that could be said as well of the rest of its war on terror across the Greater Middle East and ever-expanding regions of Africa. Today, TomDispatch regular retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore suggests that no great military stays at war for 17 years unless it is, in some sense, victorious. As a result, in his latest post, he explores just where, in our increasingly upside-down American world, evidence of such triumph might be found. ~ Tom

Why American Leaders Persist in Waging Losing Wars

By William J. Astore

As America enters the 18th year of its war in Afghanistan and its 16th in Iraq, the war on terror continues in Yemen, Syria, and parts of Africa, including Libya, Niger, and Somalia. Meanwhile, the Trump administration threatens yet more war, this time with Iran. (And given these last years, just how do you imagine that’s likely to turn out?) Honestly, isn’t it time Americans gave a little more thought to why their leaders persist in waging losing wars across significant parts of the planet? So consider the rest of this piece my attempt to do just that.

Let’s face it: profits and power should be classified as perennial reasons why U.S. leaders persist in waging such conflicts. War may be a racket, as General Smedley Butler claimed long ago, but who cares these days since business is booming? And let’s add to such profits a few other all-American motivations. Start with the fact that, in some curious sense, war is in the American bloodstream. As former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges once put it, “War is a force that gives us meaning.” Historically, we Americans are a violent people who have invested much in a self-image of toughness now being displayed across the “global battlespace.” (Hence all the talk in this country not about our soldiers but about our “warriors.”) As the bumper stickers I see regularly where I live say: “God, guns, & guts made America free.” To make the world freer, why not export all three?

Add in, as well, the issue of political credibility. No president wants to appear weak and in the United States of the last many decades, pulling back from a war has been the definition of weakness. No one – certainly not Donald Trump – wants to be known as the president who “lost” Afghanistan or Iraq. As was true of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in the Vietnam years, so in this century fear of electoral defeat has helped prolong the country’s hopeless wars. Generals, too, have their own fears of defeat, fears that drive them to escalate conflicts (call it the urge to surge) and even to advocate for the use of nuclear weapons, as General William Westmoreland did in 1968during the Vietnam War.

Washington’s own deeply embedded illusions and deceptions also serve to generate and perpetuate its wars. Lauding our troops as “freedom fighters” for peace and prosperity, presidents like George W. Bush have waged a set of brutal wars in the name of spreading democracy and a better way of life. The trouble is: incessant war doesn’t spread democracy – though in the twenty-first century we’ve learned that it does spread terror groups – it kills it. At the same time, our leaders, military and civilian, have given us a false picture of the nature of the wars they’re fighting. They continue to present the U.S. military and its vaunted “smart” weaponry as a precision surgical instrument capable of targeting and destroying the cancer of terrorism, especially of the radical Islamic variety. Despite the hoopla about them, however, those precision instruments of war turn out to be blunt indeed, leading to the widespread killing of innocents, the massive displacement of people across America’s war zones, and floods of refugees who have, in turn, helped spark the rise of the populist right in lands otherwise still at peace.

Lurking behind the incessant warfare of this century is another belief, particularly ascendant in the Trump White House: that big militaries and expensive weaponry represent “investments” in a better future – as if the Pentagon were the Bank of America or Wall Street. Steroidal military spending continues to be sold as a key to creating jobs and maintaining America’s competitive edge, as if war were America’s primary business. (And perhaps it is!)

Those who facilitate enormous military budgets and frequent conflicts abroad still earn special praise here. Consider, for example, Senator John McCain’srapturous final sendoff, including the way arms maker Lockheed Martin lauded him as an American hero supposedly tough and demanding when it came to military contractors. (And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.)

Put all of this together and what you’re likely to come up with is the American version of George Orwell’s famed formulation in his novel 1984: “war is peace.”

The War the Pentagon Knew How to Win

Twenty years ago, when I was a major on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, a major concern was the possible corroding of civil-military relations – in particular, a growing gap between the military and the civilians who were supposed to control them. I’m a clipper of newspaper articles and I saved some from that long-gone era. “Sharp divergence found in views of military and civilians,” reported the New York Times in September 1999. “Civilians, military seen growing apart,” noted the Washington Post a month later. Such pieces were picking up on trends already noted by distinguished military commentators like Thomas Ricks and Richard Kohn. In July 1997, for instance, Ricks had written an influential Atlantic article, “The Widening Gap between the Military and Society.” In 1999, Kohn gave a lecture at the Air Force Academy titled “The Erosion of Civilian Control of the Military in the United States Today.”

A generation ago, such commentators worried that the all-volunteer military was becoming an increasingly conservative and partisan institution filled with generals and admirals contemptuous of civilians, notably then-President Bill Clinton. At the time, according to one study, 64% of military officers identified as Republicans, only 8% as Democrats and, when it came to the highest levels of command, that figure for Republicans was in the stratosphere, approaching 90%. Kohn quoted a West Point graduate as saying, “We’re in danger of developing our own in-house Soviet-style military, one in which if you’re not in ‘the party,’ you don’t get ahead.” In a similar fashion, 67% of military officers self-identified as politically conservative, only 4% as liberal.

In a 1998 article for the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, Ricks noted that “the ratio of conservatives to liberals in the military” had gone from “about 4 to 1 in 1976, which is about where I would expect a culturally conservative, hierarchical institution like the U.S. military to be, to 23 to 1 in 1996.” This “creeping politicization of the officer corps,” Ricks concluded, was creating a less professional military, one in the process of becoming “its own interest group.” That could lead, he cautioned, to an erosion of military effectiveness if officers were promoted based on their political leanings rather than their combat skills.

How has the civil-military relationship changed in the last two decades? Despite bending on social issues (gays in the military, women in more combat roles), today’s military is arguably neither more liberal nor less partisan than it was in the Clinton years. It certainly hasn’t returned to its citizen-soldier roots via a draft. Change, if it’s come, has been on the civilian side of the divide as Americans have grown both more militarized and more partisan (without any greater urge to sign up and serve). In this century, the civil-military divide of a generation ago has been bridged by endless celebrations of that military as “the best of us” (as Vice President Mike Pence recently put it).

Such expressions, now commonplace, of boundless faith in and thankfulnessfor the military are undoubtedly driven in part by guilt over neither serving, nor undoubtedly even truly caring. Typically, Pence didn’t serve and neither did Donald Trump (those pesky “heel spurs”). As retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich put it in 2007: “To assuage uneasy consciences, the many who do not serve [in the all-volunteer military] proclaim their high regard for the few who do. This has vaulted America’s fighting men and women to the top of the nation’s moral hierarchy. The character and charisma long ago associated with the pioneer or the small farmer – or carried in the 1960s by Dr. King and the civil-rights movement – has now come to rest upon the soldier.” This elevation of “our” troops as America’s moral heroes feeds a Pentagon imperative that seeks to isolate the military from criticism and its commanders from accountability for wars gone horribly wrong.

Paradoxically, Americans have become both too detached from their military and too deferential to it. We now love to applaud that military, which, the pollsters tell us, enjoys a significantly higher degree of trust and approval from the public than the presidency, Congress, the media, the Catholic church, or the Supreme Court. What that military needs, however, in this era of endless war is not loud cheers, but tough love.

As a retired military man, I do think our troops deserve a measure of esteem. There’s a selfless ethic to the military that should seem admirable in this age of selfies and selfishness. That said, the military does not deserve the deference of the present moment, nor the constant adulation it gets in endless ceremonies at any ballpark or sporting arena. Indeed, deference and adulation, the balm of military dictatorships, should be poison to the military of a democracy.

With U.S. forces endlessly fighting ill-begotten wars, whether in Vietnam in the 1960s or in Iraq and Afghanistan four decades later, it’s easy to lose sight of where the Pentagon continues to maintain a truly winning record: right here in the U.S.A. Today, whatever’s happening on the country’s distant battlefields, the idea that ever more inflated military spending is an investment in making America great again reigns supreme – as it has, with little interruption, since the 1980s and the era of President Ronald Reagan.

The military’s purpose should be, as Richard Kohn put it long ago, “to defend society, not to define it. The latter is militarism.” With that in mind, think of the way various retired military men lined up behind Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, including a classically unhinged performance by retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (he of the “lock her up” chants) for Trump at the Republican convention and a shout-out of a speech by retired General John Allen for Clinton at the Democratic one. America’s presidential candidates, it seemed, needed to be anointed by retired generals, setting a dangerous precedent for future civil-military relations.

A Letter From My Senator

A few months back, I wrote a note to one of my senators to complain about America’s endless wars and received a signed reply via email. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that it was a canned response, but no less telling for that. My senator began by praising American troops as “tough, smart, and courageous, and they make huge sacrifices to keep our families safe. We owe them all a true debt of gratitude for their service.” OK, I got an instant warm and fuzzy feeling, but seeking applause wasn’t exactly the purpose of my note.

My senator then expressed support for counterterror operations, for, that is, “conducting limited, targeted operations designed to deter violent extremists that pose a credible threat to America’s national security, including al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), localized extremist groups, and homegrown terrorists.” My senator then added a caveat, suggesting that the military should obey “the law of armed conflict” and that the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that Congress hastily approved in the aftermath of 9/11 should not be interpreted as an “open-ended mandate” for perpetual war.

Finally, my senator voiced support for diplomacy as well as military action, writing, “I believe that our foreign policy should be smart, tough, and pragmatic, using every tool in the toolbox – including defense, diplomacy, and development – to advance U.S. security and economic interests around the world.” The conclusion: “robust” diplomacy must be combined with a “strong” military.

Now, can you guess the name and party affiliation of that senator? Could it have been Lindsey Graham or Jeff Flake, Republicans who favor a beyond-strong military and endlessly aggressive counterterror operations? Of course, from that little critical comment on the AUMF, you’ve probably already figured out that my senator is a Democrat. But did you guess that my military-praising, counterterror-waging representative was Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts?

Full disclosure: I like Warren and have made small contributions to her campaign. And her letter did stipulate that she believed “military action should always be a last resort.” Still, nowhere in it was there any critique of, or even passingly critical commentary about, the U.S. military, or the still-spreading war on terror, or the never-ending Afghan War, or the wastefulness of Pentagon spending, or the devastation wrought in these years by the last superpower on this planet. Everything was anodyne and safe – and this from a senator who’s been pilloried by the right as a flaming liberal and caricatured as yet another socialist out to destroy America.

I know what you’re thinking: What choice does Warren have but to play it safe? She can’t go on record criticizing the military. (She’s already gotten in enough trouble in my home state for daring to criticize the police.) If she doesn’t support a “strong” U.S. military presence globally, how could she remain a viable presidential candidate in 2020?

And I would agree with you, but with this little addendum: Isn’t that proof that the Pentagon has won its most important war, the one that captured – to steal a phrase from another losing war – the “hearts and minds” of America? In this country in 2018, as in 2017, 2016, and so on, the U.S. military and its leaders dictate what is acceptable for us to say and do when it comes to our prodigal pursuit of weapons and wars.

So, while it’s true that the military establishment failed to win those “hearts and minds” in Vietnam or more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, they sure as hell didn’t fail to win them here. In Homeland, U.S.A., in fact, victory has been achieved and, judging by the latest Pentagon budgets, it couldn’t be more overwhelming.

If you ask – and few Americans do these days – why this country’s losing wars persist, the answer should be, at least in part: because there’s no accountability. The losers in those wars have seized control of our national narrative. They now define how the military is seen (as an investment, a boon, a good and great thing); they now shape how we view our wars abroad (as regrettable perhaps, but necessary and also a sign of national toughness); they now assign all serious criticism of the Pentagon to what they might term the defeatist fringe.

In their hearts, America’s self-professed warriors know they’re right. But the wrongs they’ve committed, and continue to commit, in our name will not be truly righted until Americans begin to reject the madness of rampant militarism, bloated militaries, and endless wars.

A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and professor of history, Astore is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 William J. Astore