Tag Archives: war

Citizen-Soldiers Vs. Soldier-Citizens

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Image Courtesy “Spike.com”

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”

The divide between America’s soldier-citizens and the society they serve has a significant impact on policy decisions and military budgets.

Exploring the differences between the citizen-soldier and the soldier-citizen in “Killing for the Republic” with  Dr. Steele Brand.”

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“The veneration of service members in the United States today manifests benignly in the refrain, “Thank you for your service,” and the much appreciated discounts at the local home improvement center, but this reverence can also have less benign effects. The number of retired flag officers serving in high government positions, sitting on the boards of defense contractors, and appearing as talking heads on television shapes policy, which in turn drives Pentagon budgets.

Dr. Steele Brand, a professor of history at The King’s College in New York City, explored the differences between the citizen-soldier and the soldier-citizen in his recent book, “Killing for the Republic.Republican Rome produced highly adaptive armies with farmers who would moonlight as effective soldiers during the campaigning season and then return to their families and plows—a practice that helped to remove the barriers between the military and the society it served, according to Brand. He says Rome’s part-time soldiers faced an uphill battle against enemy professionals, but that their ability to adapt meant they usually prevailed in the end. In this interview, Dr. Brand explains the differences between the Roman and American models of training soldiers and how those differences contribute to the civilian-military divide.”

https://www.pogo.org/podcast/citizen-soldiers-versus-soldier-citizens-with-dr-steele-brand/

Reclaiming Congress’s War Powers

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An American flag lines the inside of a U.S. Soldier’s helmet at Forward Operating Base Azim Jan Karez in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2012. (Photo: DOD / D. Myles Cullen)

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO) “

[James] “Madison wrote, “In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.”

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“Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war, raise and fund an army and navy, and “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.” But the United States has been at war continuously since September 18, 2001, and Congress last voted to authorize force in 2002. Children born that year will soon be eligible to serve in the military.

There are signs that Congress is trying to reassert its constitutional authority in the wake of the United States’ killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani this January in Iraq. On February 13, the Senate passed a resolution intended to block war with Iran, by a bipartisan vote of 55-45. The House of Representatives passed a similar measure soon after the strike against Soleimani. More recently, the House voted to repeal the 2002 Iraq war authorization (which President Donald Trump invoked as a justification for the Soleimani strike), and to forbid the use of federal funds for an attack on Iran.

Congress’s overdue efforts to reclaim its authority over the use of military force are very welcome. But they’re unlikely to be effective in restraining the executive in the short run. Trump has threatened to veto these measures, and none has passed with the two-thirds majority required for an override.

It is rare for Congress to unite across party lines by a large enough majority to override a presidential veto. The framers of the Constitution did not intend to give the president unilateral authority to start and expand wars unless two-thirds of Congress stopped him. James Madison warned in 1793 that presidents would inevitably be tempted to start, expand, and prolong wars: “War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war a physical force is to be created, and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them.” Because of this, Madison wrote, “In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.”

Nearly 50 years ago, in 1973, Congress did enact a law designed to prevent “prolonged engagement in undeclared, Presidential war.” The War Powers Resolution states that the president can only deploy the military into actual or imminent hostilities under “(1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The resolution requires troops deployed without statutory authorization to be removed within 60 days, or immediately upon a vote by a majority of both the House and the Senate.

The vote requiring the removal of troops from a conflict was originally supposed to take the form of a “concurrent resolution,” which is not subject to a veto by the president. But a 1983 Supreme Court decision, INS v. Chadha, held that “legislative vetoes” of executive action are unconstitutional.

The executive branch has weakened the limits imposed by the War Powers Resolution over time.

Perhaps most significant in recent years has been the executive branch’s contorted interpretation of existing authorizations to use force to cover new conflicts—in some cases, to cover conflicts with groups not even in existence at the time the authorizations of force were adopted.

Just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed an authorization for use of military force, known as an “AUMF,” permitting the use of force “against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” The 2001 authorization, however, has been interpreted so broadly since it was adopted that presidents have invoked it to conduct military operations in at least 19 countries, including at least seven where operations are ongoing, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Congress last passed an AUMF in October 2002, when it authorized President George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq. The U.S. government overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government shortly after the war began, and held a ceremony marking the official end of the conflict in 2011. But the Trump administration has threatened to veto the repeal of the 2002 war authorization, and has made the absurd claim that the 2002 war authorization has “long been understood to authorize the use of force” to address “threats directed by Iran.”

In other cases, presidents have claimed that their military actions fell short of war, or of “hostilities” under the War Powers Resolution. The Trump administration used this justification for its military strike against the Syrian government in 2018 and the Obama administration made the same claim when it intervened in Libya in 2011.

It will not be easy for Congress to stop these unauthorized uses of force and reassert its constitutional authority. But a growing number of members of Congress from across the political spectrum recognize the necessity for action. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) recommends that, beyond votes addressing specific uses of force, Congress reform the War Powers Resolution itself to close the loopholes that have prevented it from fulfilling its original purpose.

Reforms should include:

Requiring that war authorizations include proper nouns and end dates

The executive branch’s expansion of the post-September 11 war authorization to include “associated forces” of al-Qaida that did not exist at the time of the attacks demonstrates the need for greater specificity. Any resolution authorizing the use of military force should include a sunset date, and specify the name of the enemy (whether it is a foreign state or a terrorist group) and geographical locations where the military may use force. Existing authorizations, including the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, should also be repealed or given an expiration date.

While it is not possible to prevent a future Congress from passing a vague authorization, Congress could provide for expedited consideration of resolutions to authorize force only if they include these specifics.

Defining “hostilities”

The 1973 War Powers Resolution did not define “hostilities,” one of its key terms. For decades, presidents have used that omission to argue that military action did not qualify. In 2011, the Obama administration argued that the United States’ involvement in a military campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya—which lasted over six months, included a U.S. bombing campaign and the deployment of 11 naval ships, and ended in Gaddafi’s violent overthrow and death—did not amount to “hostilities.” In order to close this loophole, Congress should define “hostilities” to include, at a minimum, “armed conflict” or “clear and present danger of armed conflict,” and should make clear that armed conflict includes drone warfare and other situations where U.S. personnel take deadly action even where they face limited risk of casualties.

Requiring increased transparency from the executive branch about all uses of force

The executive branch has not only used the September 2001 AUMF to justify military force against an increasing number of terrorist organizations in an increasing number of countries, but it has also refused to publicly acknowledge many of these actions. In 2013, the Pentagon told members of Congress that the full list of al-Qaida “associated forces” with whom the U.S. was at war was classified. The secrecy has been even greater with respect to CIA paramilitary airstrikes in Pakistan and Yemen. For years, the executive branch has withheld crucial information about the drone campaign from most members of Congress. A new war powers resolution should include requirements for meaningful, prompt consultation with Congress whenever U.S. government employees are involved in armed conflict, and public notice with only very narrow exceptions.

Creating a mechanism for judicial review

Efforts to enforce the 1973 War Powers Resolution in court have not been successful, but Congress needs to keep trying. Unless the courts step in to enforce legal limits on the president’s commander-in-chief power, the Office of Legal Counsel and other executive branch lawyers will have the last word. The Office of Legal Counsel, the entity within the Department of Justice that offers legal advice to the executive branch, has repeatedly concluded that the president may use military force without congressional authorization if doing so serves the United States’ national interest—a test that “provides no meaningful constraint on presidential power,” in the words of former office head Jack Goldsmith and law professor Curtis Bradley. Congress should explicitly authorize the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, or the foreign affairs committee of either body to bring suit on its behalf, and instruct the courts that the executive’s compliance with a new war powers resolution is not a political question and thus is subject to judicial review.”

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/02/recommendations-for-reclaiming-congress-war-powers/

The Danger of Fibbing Our Way Into War

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“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)

Presidents seem to have an especially troublesome time with the truth when it comes to showing toughness……U.S. military response to an imaginary attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam in 1964.

……. Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq. …the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani shortly after the general landed at the Baghdad airport in neighboring Iraq on January 3.

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“Many recall Winston Churchill’s statement on the need to sometimes fudge facts. “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,” he told Josef Stalin on the British prime minister’s 69th birthday in 1943.

What folks may not know is where he uttered those words: Iran.

Presidential rhetoric matters. And love him or loathe him, President Donald Trump isn’t bosom buddies with the truth. In today’s political environment, a lot of what used to be viewed as disqualifying for a president to say has been upended by our 45th. But one bright shining line should remain: The words he speaks as commander-in-chief should be true.

Trump’s boasting has highlighted a novice’s emphasis on weapons—shiny hardware—rather than on “software”—the troops and the training that are arguably more important.

The lives of Americans in uniform are too precious, and the nation’s credibility too important, to be frittered away by a president playing loose with the truth in a pursuit of political advantage or simply out of ignorance. Yet that is what is happening, and nowhere is that more clear than in the recent fracas with Iran.

Presidents seem to have an especially troublesome time with the truth when it comes to showing toughness. President Lyndon B. Johnson played loose with it when he pushed for a U.S. military response to an imaginary attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam in 1964. President George W. Bush exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Trump fired a fusillade of fibs in the wake of his decision to order the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani shortly after the general landed at the Baghdad airport in neighboring Iraq on January 3. He seemed to exaggerate the imminence of the threat Soleimani posed (the U.S. had put him on a kill list last June), and declared the Iranian general had been ready to attack four unidentified U.S. embassies. There’s no doubt that Soleimani was a bad actor, with his Quds force responsible for sowing terror across the Middle East and for killing Americans. There’s no doubt that the region, and the world, is better off without him. But Trump’s faux facts surrounding the killing are dangerous because they could let Washington and Tehran stumble into a war. There’s a reason President Teddy Roosevelt said that it’s best to speak softly and carry a big stick.”

After nearly 20 years of winless wars following 9/11, and a Pentagon budget that is well above the Cold War average, U.S. national security spending has never been a more target-rich environment. That is why the Project On Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information has launched The Bunker, a precision-guided e-newsletter targeting your inbox most every week.Sign Up

Churchillian lies only work when they are salted among truths. But Trump’s fabrications are more routine than rare. According to the Washington Post, Trump has made more than 16,000 false or misleading statements since taking office. That’s an average of about 15 a day, seven days a week.

Make no mistake about it, Soleimani’s death was a good thing. I well remember the pain felt by U.S. troops following their invasion of Iraq when insurgents’ crude roadside bombs were replaced with so-called “explosively formed penetrators” developed by Iran that pierced armor and killed the soldiers inside. But baiting a terrorist, or his sponsor, carries its own risk. Most critically, it means that if the terrorist—and Soleimani was a terrorist in Iranian government garb—calls Trump’s bluff, Trump will be forced to back up his bluster with young American blood.

In an apparent effort to discourage Iran from taking action after Soleimani’s death, Trump warned that the U.S. was primed to retaliate bigly if Iran retaliated. “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World!” Trump tweeted January 5, two days after a pair of Hellfire missiles took Soleimani out. “If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way … and without hesitation!” But his spending estimate was a five-fold whopper. The Trump administration has spent “only” about $400 billion on new military hardware (the rest has paid for more boring items like troops, training, beans, and boots).

Even when he’s plainly wrong, the president dodges. After Iran responded to Soleimani’s death with a January 8 missile barrage aimed at U.S. bases in Iraq, the president declared that “no Americans were harmed.” It turns out, there were delayed diagnoses in at least 64 U.S. military personnel of traumatic brain injuries resulting from the missiles’ warheads that had detonated nearby. Instead of acknowledging those injuries, the president minimized TBIs—the signature, and invisible, wound suffered by U.S. troops in the post-9/11 wars—as “headaches.” His comments triggered ire from veterans and veterans’ organizations trying to help the nearly half-million U.S. troops diagnosed with brain injuries since 2000.

(Source: @realDonaldTrump on Twitter)

As U.S. skepticism surrounding the wisdom of the Soleimani hit mounted, Trump hyped the imminent threat the Iranian general posed to U.S. facilities and personnel. “I can reveal I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” he told Fox News January 10, in a double-weasel-worded bank shot. Unfortunately, reporting has shown no one else—not the U.S. diplomats in any embassies nor Secretary of Defense Mark Esper—was aware of the plot.

It contributed to a sense of chaos inside the U.S. government as everyone from cabinet officers to junior military officers struggled to retroactively jury-rig explanations for the verbal hand grenades the commander-in-chief was tossing their way. His enablers in government pivoted to praising the U.S. intelligence about Soleimani in general, and not the harder-edged claims about timing and targets.

(Source: @realDonaldTrump on Twitter)

The president’s claim quickly foundered on the facts. On January 13, three days after making it, Trump dismissed it all as a kerfuffle ginned up by “the Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners.” After all, “it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!” he tweeted in reference to Soleimani.

It was as if Emily Litella of 1970s-era Saturday Night Live fame were sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, looking straight into the camera. “Never mind,” Litella, played by Gilda Radner, would chirpily say after screwing up something markedly less important than war and peace.

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, this kind of thing matters. U.S. relations with nations in the Middle East have suffered following its 2003 invasion of Iraq. And with scant credibility at home or abroad, Trump has no reservoir of truth to draw on to reassure the American public and nervous allies that he has anything more than a wing-it strategy.

Trump’s boasting has highlighted a novice’s emphasis on weapons—shiny hardware—rather than on “software”—the troops and the training that are arguably more important. “The quality of military personnel is what matters most in any military force,” the Army said in a 1991 report in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, the last time the U.S. military could claim a clear-cut victory. “Weapons are useless unless deployed in the hands of capable and well-trained people.”

On Christmas Eve, during the traditional presidential telephone calls to troops far from home, Trump told an Air Force officer that “you didn’t have brand new airplanes” until Trump occupied the White House. “You were not doing well,” he said, “And now you have all brand new.”

(Source: Congressional Budget Office, “The Cost of Replacing the Department of Defense’s Current Aviation Fleet,” page 2.)

Well, not quite. “The Army’s and the Department of the Navy’s aviation fleets are relatively new, but the Air Force operates many older aircraft,” the Congressional Budget Office noted in a January 15 report. “On average, the Army’s aircraft are 14 years old, and the Department of the Navy’s are 16 years old; the Air Force’s aircraft, on average, are 28 years old.”

The Air Force Times, an independent newspaper, reported last summer that the readiness of Air Force aircraft slipped to its lowest level in at least six years in 2018. In 2012—midway through Barack Obama’s tenure as president—77.9%of aircraft were ready to fly. By 2017—Trump’s first year in office—that figure had fallen to 71.3%. And in 2018 it had dipped to 69.97%. And fraying readiness has led to a spate of deadly military accidents.

What’s really depressing about Trump’s arms-length relationship with the truth is that he turbocharges the military-industrial complex’s self-licking ice-cream cone reflex. In the wake of Soleimani’s death, calls arose for boosting defense spending, which already tops the Cold War average. Hawkish cheerleaders for military action were echoing that line to their cable TV audiences, without revealing their lucrative alliances with defense contractors.

The illusion in all this chest-thumping and wallet-pumping is that money can buy victory. But the hubris wrought by fat military budgets has too often let the U.S. sleepwalk into war. The nation believes what the politicians and generals say, and what defense-contractor brochures declare (for example, per Trump: “We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World!”).

That’s especially the case when Congress fails to meet its obligation to debate, and vote on, the wisdom of declaring war. Restoring that constitutional duty would do two things: we’d go to war far less and we’d prevail far more. Too often, war has become a White House reflex, with Congress and the public serving as not-so-innocent bystanders. Yet the nation tends to become numb to such conflicts after a month or two, in part because its advice was never sought. That lets the Pentagon wage war so long as U.S. casualties are minimal.

What’s amazing about Trump’s Iran over-reaching is that it wasn’t necessary, given Soleimani’s key role in killing hundreds of U.S. troops. But instead of sticking to facts, the president chose fiction.

It was just such slippery language that greased the skids to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on the false claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

We need to take care that Trump’s all-too-real weapons of mass delusion don’t trigger another one.

Center for Defense Information

The Center for Defense Information at POGO aims to secure far more effective and ethical military forces at significantly lower cost.”

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/01/the-danger-of-fibbing-our-way-into-war/

Congress Learns Pentagon Wasted $1 Trillion, Promptly Gives It Bigger Budget

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Image: “Veterans for Peace” https://www.veteransforpeace.org/take-action/people-over-pentagon
Intelligencer

The Washington Postpublished “The Afghanistan Papers,” thousands of pages of war documents that our government did not want us to see, and which the paper only secured after a protracted legal battle.

Those documents include nearly 2,000 pages of notes from interviews with generals, diplomats, and other officials who played a central role in waging America’s longest war.

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“Here’s a fun little thought experiment: Imagine a “big government” bureaucracy embarked on a wildly ambitious project of social engineering — only to discover, almost immediately, that it had little hope of meeting its stated objectives. Reluctant to admit defeat, or jeopardize funding for its endeavors, this federal agency proceeded to deliberately mislead the public about how badly its project was going, and the likelihood of its ultimate success. Over an 18-year-period, these pointy-headed bureaucrats and their allied elected officials conspired to shovel roughly $1 trillion of taxpayer money into an initiative that exacerbated the very problems it purported to solve — and got 2,300 Americans killed in the process!

Now imagine that a major newspaper published a bombshell report meticulously documenting this bureaucracy’s conscious efforts to mislead the American people whom it claimed to serve, so as to ensure that it could carry on squandering our blood and treasure with impunity.

Would Congress reward that bureaucracy with a $22 billion budget increase hours later, with self-identified “small government” conservatives leading the call?

This week, we learned that the answer is “of course.”

Here is some of what the Post uncovered:

Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.

Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced thateverything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to The Post that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to.”

This campaign of deceit facilitated mindless misuses of public funds. The Defense Department was not directly responsible for all of this waste. And America’s civilian leadership bears primary responsibility for the war itself. But in routinely misrepresenting the state of the conflict, and lobbying for higher levels of funding for both military and aid operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is complicit in boondoggles like these:

During the peak of the fighting, from 2009 to 2012, U.S. lawmakers and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other civil-works projects, the faster security would improve. Aid workers told government interviewers it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.

One unnamed executive with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) guessed that 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.”

… One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’ ”

But no detail from our misadventure in Afghanistan may do more to validate the conservative critique of “big government” excess than this one: Before the U.S. invasion, the Taliban had almost completely eradicated the opium trade in Afghanistan. After 18 years of war — and $9 billion in U.S. funding for anti-opium programs in the country — the Taliban remains in power, only now, it presides over a country that supplies 80 percent of the world’s illicit opium.

The Washington Post and New York Times aired all this dirty laundry on Monday morning. Hours later, Congress’s Armed Services Committee released a bipartisan draft of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would give the Pentagon an additional $22 billion to play with next year, bringing its annual budget to $738 billion. Before Donald Trump took office, the U.S. was already spending more on our military than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan spend on theirs, combined. The Defense Department’s budget is now $130 billion larger than it was the day Trump was sworn in. Meanwhile, nearly 2 million Americans are still living in places that do not have running water.

Shortly after the Trump administration released its first budget in 2017, OMB director Mick Mulvaney defended the White House’s proposed cuts to Meals on Wheels by saying, “I think it’s fairly compassionate to … say, ‘Look, we’re not gonna ask you for your hard-earned money, anymore, single mother of two in Detroit … unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function.’” In a subsequent statement, the administration said that it had an obligation to cut spending on programs and agencies that had “failed to meet their objectives.”

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/opinion/congress-learns-pentagon-wasted-1-trillion-promptly-gives-it-bigger-budget/ar-AAK3w7Q?ocid=msn360

The Vietnam War Echos In Warfare And Politics Today

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Image: “Fine Art America

By Ken Larson

My comrades and I who served in the Vietnam War are reminded of that period when reading the words of our leaders in the recent Washington Post Freedom of Information Act victory in the courts.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/

We remember clearly the friends, innocence, physical and mental health lost in battle. We see the continuing implications of similar conflicts in which our country has since been involved.

Our conclusion is that war has become a racket and the capitalistic gain threat within the Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned us about as he left office has materialized.

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The U.S. today is about to approve another National Defense Authorization Bill, well in excess of $700 Billion .

As the STRAFOR article below conveys, similar geopolitical conditions to today existed 50 years ago.

Yet we have continued to approve this catastrophic money burner and debt creator https://www.usdebtclock.org/ in the interest of National Security making defense companies rich. It cannot continue.

STRATFOR WORLDVIEWWeighing the Geopolitics of the Vietnam” War

SUMMARY

“South Vietnam’s capital city, Saigon, fell to invading North Vietnamese troops on April 30, 1975. The image of an overloaded Huey helicopter on top of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, frantically loading refugees, was forever seared into the American mind. It was the ignominious end of more than a decade of involvement by the United States in Vietnam.

Ultimately, Washington’s failure to win the war in Vietnam resulted from factors beyond the conflict zone. The United States was heavily constrained by its global commitments — principally its need to secure Western Europe against Warsaw Pact invasion. Washington could not align military capabilities with realistic political goals to justify bringing the full might of U.S. armed forces to bear to defend its peripheral interests in Vietnam. Unable to comprehend North Vietnamese resolve and incapable of bringing about a swift victory, the United States’ will to continue the war crumbled as the human cost mounted. Today, the dominant narrative among the American public is that Vietnam was a crushing American defeat. Forty years after the fall of Saigon, however, it is apparent that Vietnam had only a limited impact on the overall U.S. position within the broader context of the Cold War.

The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War resulted from the evolution of U.S. grand strategy in the wake of World War II. As part of the overall containment structure that Washington hoped to set in place around the Soviet Union — and eventually China as well — a network of allied countries became necessary to block the spread of communism. Many allies found themselves in direct proximity to the communist states America wanted to contain. This meant that any future war between the West and the Soviet Bloc would not be fought in the NATO heartland, but on the far-flung fringes of the two camps’ spheres of influence.

At the root of Washington’s alliance structure was the promise of U.S. support, hardened by what was supposed to be seen as a clear guarantee of assistance should the worst happen. In a divided Europe, for example, an attack on West Germany would be treated as an attack on the United States. Washington had given its word to assist, but by doing so, it put its credibility on the line. Despite written obligations, it was a constant struggle to fully convince the NATO allies that the United States, an ocean away, would truly risk nuclear war to defend West German soil in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion.

A wave of helicopters from the 1st Air Cavalry Division fly over an isolated landing zone during Operation Pershing, in the region of the Bong Son Plain and An Lao Valley of South Vietnam, Jan. 3, 1967.
A wave of helicopters from the 1st Air Cavalry Division fly over an isolated landing zone during Operation Pershing, in the region of the Bong Son Plain and An Lao Valley of South Vietnam, Jan. 3, 1967.

This ambiguity was not lost on Moscow, and Russia continued to probe and pick at the perceived fault-lines in the American grand plan. By manufacturing crises, the Soviets hoped to generate a crippling uncertainty in America’s allies while emboldening their own clients. The Soviet insinuation was that, at a critical moment, the United States would not make good on its promises. So, when the United States found itself more and more involved in Vietnam, Washington was less interested in what Saigon was thinking or doing, or its virtues as a government, and more concerned with how its other allies, especially those in Europe, perceived the seriousness of the U.S. commitment to check the spread of communism within an allied country. When it came due for the United States to live up to its word, it was the international community and not Saigon that Washington looked toward. 

A Small Part of a Big Standoff

Vietnam was one small piece of a much bigger security challenge for Washington, with little intrinsic geopolitical value of its own. The real battles of the period — political and otherwise — were in Central Europe. Europe had to be prioritized, for if its resources and industrial capacity fell to the Warsaw Pact, the United States and its remaining allies would be unable to compete on either an economic or a military basis. For North Vietnam, however, the commitment to national unification was absolute. It pursued its own fundamental geopolitical interests and would give everything to achieve a victory — a single-minded devotion reflected in the horrendous casualties it suffered and the decades of conflict it endured. In the spectrum of conflict, the North Vietnamese were willing to embrace totality. This resolve was backed up with the support of powerful benefactors, namely the Soviets and the Chinese. From the United States’ perspective, committing the resources of the entire country against the North Vietnamese flew in the face of rational wisdom. Washington just had too many other interests. The conflict was ultimately decided by this imbalance of resolve.

A U.S. Air Force F-100 bombs a military target near Saigon on Feb. 8, 1965. The argument remains that the United States could have beaten North Vietnam by committing more forces.
A U.S. Air Force F-100 bombs a military target near Saigon on Feb. 8, 1965.

The argument remains that the United States could have beaten North Vietnam by committing more forces. While this may be accurate, the United States, burdened by its greater contest with the Soviet Union, could not afford to trade the security of its global commitments for a localized victory in Vietnam. The fact of the matter remains that the defense of Indochina was only worth a certain amount of blood and treasure. The U.S. military was saddled with self-imposed constraints and only allocated limited resources to the campaign that, ultimately, proved insufficient for an extended nation-building effort. The United States had to think about strategic balance elsewhere and was limited in what it could realistically commit. Securing the resources required to defeat a massive foreign-sponsored insurgency in the dense Vietnamese jungle had little chance of finding political backing. The fact that the American public deeply opposed the war — a direct result of Vietnam’s murky strategic significance — further eroded the tenuous support for U.S. operations in Vietnam.

Provisional Revolutionary Government fighters seize control of the presidential palace in Saigon after the fall of the city. May 3, 1975. The fact that the American public deeply opposed the war -- a direct result of Vietnam's murky strategic significance -- further eroded the tenuous support for U.S. operations in Vietnam.
Provisional Revolutionary Government fighters seize control of the presidential palace in Saigon after the fall of the city. May 3, 1975.

Once troops were committed, the rationale of Washington’s grand strategy maneuvered the United States into a damning position. U.S. leaders believed that by circumventing the conflict, and showing that the United States was willing to welch on its promises, irreparable fissures could have weakened the alliance structure Washington had fought so hard to construct. Conversely, being unable and unwilling to fully commit to a conflict over a peripheral interest, a clear victory could not be assured, especially against a dedicated and well-supported enemy. 

Limited Geopolitical Impact

The United States did not retreat from the world in the wake of Vietnam. Still determined to contest Soviet influence but eager to avoid overcommitting itself again in the developing world, Washington became more judicious in its use of military force. Instead of relying on direct interventions, Washington shifted the burden of fighting to its clients across the world, providing less direct assistance when necessary. These shadowy operations were well suited for areas of peripheral importance. When they failed, their costs were relatively small; when they succeeded, they often had an outsize impact. This was demonstrated during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the Soviet Union found that it was not prepared to pay the costs of a long counterinsurgency against U.S.-backed mujahideen.

A line of captured South Vietnamese soldiers walk through the streets of Saigon on April 30, 1975, escorted by communist troops. The Vietnam War is popularly remembered as a U.S. defeat at the hands of an enemy a fraction of its size but, from a broader geopolitical perspective, it is hard to say what the United States really lost.
A line of captured South Vietnamese soldiers walk through the streets of Saigon on April 30, 1975, escorted by communist troops.

The Vietnam War is popularly remembered as a U.S. defeat at the hands of an enemy a fraction of its size but, from a broader geopolitical perspective, it is hard to say what the United States really lost. The human cost of the war was certainly tremendous. Some 58,000 U.S. soldiers gave their lives in the conflict, and the war exacerbated huge social rifts in American society. Millions of Vietnamese perished on both sides — along with hundreds of thousands of people in Laos and Cambodia. Both victor and vanquished inherited a country broken by decades of war.

For the United States, the war was over in 1975. For the people of former Indochina, war would continue until 1979, consuming untold millions of lives. Yet, Washington’s worst fears did not materialize with the fall of Saigon. The United States retained its overall combat power and U.S. allies did not break from NATO en masse. The Soviets did not cross the Fulda Gap into West Germany, emboldened by a supposedly conspicuous collapse of U.S. resolve. Perhaps the U.S. refusal to empty its garrisons in Western Europe was far more meaningful a sign for America’s allies and adversaries than an iron commitment to Vietnam. Ultimately, for the United States, the geopolitical cost of the war was greatly overestimated.”

https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/weighing-geopolitics-vietnam-war

The Deeper Lasting Costs Of War

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Brown University “Costs of War”
Brown University “Costs of War”
Chris Ott, right, helps maneuver her son, former Marine John Thomas Doody, around their family house in September 2013. J.T., left, as everyone calls him, was shot while serving in Fallujah, Iraq., and subsequently suffered an infection and a series of strokes that left him in a coma and relying on a ventilator to survive. (Chris O’Meara/AP)

MILITARY TIMES

A new collection of studies reveals at the often unseen effects of those wars both at home and abroad ranging from fractured families, strained caregivers, increased cancer rates to mistrust of health workers, demolished infrastructure and military suicides.

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“Impact from the past two decades of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be seen in dollars spent, lives shattered by injury or trauma and dead service members carried home.

“War and Health” is a collection of ethnographies covering a range of people affected from the wars beginnings, current day and likely long-term future ripples.

In it researchers have found correlations between areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan with higher number of drone strikes are also less likely to accept polio vaccinations and other medical assistance due to mistrust of government aid.

They’ve seen increased rates of behavior incidents and low school performance among children of frequently-deployed military parents.

The reports show waves of Iraqis seeking medical care in Beirut, Lebanon with late-stage cancers because they couldn’t get early screening in Iraq, which previously boasted the leading medical care in the region.

Researchers found military suicides, increased family violence and higher numbers of substance abuse and DUIs even among non-combat service members correlated with faster-paced deployment schedules and training.

While half of all caregivers for veterans are spouses, parents or immediate family, a full one-third of caregivers are friends or neighbors who don’t qualify to receive financial compensation created in recent years to ease the burden that caregivers for vets can face.

Catherine Lutz and Andrea Mazzarino edited the collection as part of their work with the “Costs of War Project,” out of Brown University.

The project collects information on war dead, military and civilian casualties, budget figures and other measures of the costs of the conflicts in the Global War on Terror. The project began in 2011 and recently kicked off a new effort to update past reports and develop new measures by 2021, the 20th anniversary of the start of the wars.

The same project recently released and updated notice on the fiscal costs of the Global War on Terror. The release noted that an estimated $6.4 trillion had been spent between late 2001 and today, a large portion of which has been financed through deficit spending.

But, those numbers can be difficult to nail down, as noted in the report, which quotes Christopher Mann of the Congressional Research Service.

“No government-wide reporting consistently accounts for both DOD and non-DOD war costs,” he said.

Part of the Costs of War Project’s work is to pull together disparate sources to find the tally of the wars.

Their research has found that that a growing cost will be medical care.

One example included 10-year costs estimates for post-9/11 veterans with traumatic brain injuries is expected to cost $2.4 billion from 2020 to 2029.

Mazzarino spoke with Military Times about the nature of the project and what she and its contributors hope it will accomplish.

She and others have participated in media interviews and, through the Costs of War Project, have been in touch with Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT and hope to testify before Congress on their findings.

“The whole point of the project is to move beyond the academy to influencing advocacy and public policy,” Mazzarino said.

That’s not an easy task. Data-driven studies such as past reports on increasing servicemember suicides and strains on military families garnered political and public attention, but that took years and resulted in some changes in programs.

What Mazzarino and her colleagues are working with is less black-and-white and more focused on the second- and third-order effects of having a military at war on a daily basis for decades.

But, it may be that what they’re finding will have as much a long-term impact as other major war-related concerns.

“People who were serving when the war started, they’re entering old age soon,” Mazzarino said. “That’s going to come with all kinds of financial burdens to the U.S. government, especially with care for those veterans.”

And overseas, the imprint of decades of combat leave their own kind of toll.

“There are subtle and unexpected ways that the destruction of infrastructure has affected public health,” she said.

The Costs of War Project website has compiled estimates that a many as 480,000 people have died in direct war violence. They estimate far more have died due to “indirect” war violence such as when access to food, water and medical care was restricted or unavailable due to combat.

Their research estimates that more than 244,000 civilians have been killed in connection to the wars and as many as 21 million have been displaced and many are now war refugees, with substandard living conditions away from their native lands.

One harder to measure item is how the estimated $5.9 trillion spent on the wars could have been spent, the report notes. What healthcare, infrastructure or education projects were curtailed, limited or ended as a result in budget priorities to fight the wars instead?

Mazzarino has seen firsthand some of the effects of the wartime military. Her husband serves as a submariner in the Navy. That’s meant more frequent and unexpected deployments that his predecessors faced.

And she’s seen that strain on fellow military families, members and commanders.

Some similar experiences were reflected in a section titled, “It’s Not Okay: War’s Toll on Health Brought Home to Communities and Environments.”

One vignette profiled Dolores, the young wife of an infantry sergeant whose unit had seen a number of murders committed by soldiers back home and increases in domestic violence.

Those experiences had weighed heavily on her husband who returned and completed another Iraq deployment, this time being injured and later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Six years after he had returned from theater, she had become his main caregiver and had to quit her job to do that work and to advocate for his care.

The section’s authors, Jean Scandlyn and Sarah Hautzinger, wrote that many of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan they interviewed still saw themselves as deeply entangled in what had happened during their deployments.

“Assessing war’s toll on health requires that we consider the ways we all become entangled in wars seemingly distant, and how war particularly erodes wellness in domestic military communities,” they wrote.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2019/11/14/why-the-deeper-lasting-costs-of-war-is-not-reflected-just-in-dollars-and-body-counts/

There Are No Winners In War

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NAVY TIMES” By  Mary Pelham White 

Countless civilians in war-torn areas worldwide have endured starvation, witnessed traumatic devastation and violence, and lost everything they had.

The U.S. has been complicit in exacerbating the turmoil in many of these areas. We have withdrawn foreign aid, weakened trade, left NATO and abandoned nuclear treaties and environmental efforts. We no longer recognize allies but create enemies.

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“The United States has been at war for the last 18 years.

While the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war, the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF) have allowed three U.S. presidents to expand our military presence across the globe.

I am certain that we will continue down this path unless Congress takes back their responsibility to decide if our troops should be sent to war.

It’s clear that there is a financial cost to war.

Endless war has caused our federal budget deficit to soar to a startling one trillion dollars per year. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone have cost us more than $6 trillion with no end to the violence in sight. Yet and still, the Trump Administration and lack of congressional action to repeal the AUMF are inching us closer and closer to another dangerous conflict — one with potentially more devastating stakes — with Iran.

Though the Middle East may seem like it is worlds away for many of us, war and its resounding impacts feel closer to home. Whether you were alive during the Korean or Vietnam Wars, or born after 9/11 and have never lived in a conflict-free world, war has become eerily familiar, if not normal.

I’ve personally witnessed the human cost of war, of veterans physically and emotionally scarred for life. My brother was killed in 1967, six months after his arrival in Vietnam. He was loved, West Point-trained, and he had a bright future.

Then in 1984, twelve years after he served in Vietnam, my nephew snapped and shot both his parents and himself.

But this only part of the story. As a person of faith, I can’t in good conscience only look at how war has affected us in the United States.

Lately, the “art of the deal” supersedes civil diplomacy.

But with sanction after sanction intended to force Iran’s hand, we are instead promoting corruption and engaging in a dangerous game that has us teetering towards nuclear war.

Frighteningly, the administration said the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs could be used to justify potentially going to war with Iran.

Thankfully, lawmakers are paying attention and working to prevent this from happening. Our own U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia, has shown leadership on this issue.

She supported the bipartisan Khanna-Gaetz amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prohibit an unauthorized war with Iran and help us avoid unnecessary, violent confrontation in the future.

That amendment passed the House by a vote of 251-170.

House leaders Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer will be looking to her as they negotiate the final version of the NDAA with the U.S. Senate.

We a looking to Rep. Luria to work with her colleagues in Congress to ensure that the final NDAA contains provisions that prohibit unauthorized war with Iran and repeals the 2002 AUMF to help reassert Congress’s authority over war and peace.

War is never the answer. The human toll at home and abroad, as well as the ballooning financial burden of these endless wars are too much to bear.

Congress and the administration must shift the focus from military intervention to diplomacy if we are to achieve lasting and sustainable peace.”

https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2019/10/02/op-ed-there-are-no-winners-in-war/

The Real Versus Perceived Power Of The U.S. Presidency

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Image: “Vox

STRATFOR ” By George Friedman

The American presidency is designed to disappoint.  What the winner actually can deliver depends upon what other institutions, nations and reality will allow him or her.

To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government.”

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[A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR]:

Below are selected excerpts from a classic article by George Friedman, prior to the 2012 National Election. Considering what has occurred since, it is our hope that the content will continue bringing reality to American citizen expectations.]:

STRATFOR GEOPOLITICAL WEEKLY 

Each candidate must promise things that are beyond their power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by emphasizing how little power the office actually has and how voters should therefore expect little from him. 

So candidates promise great, transformative programs.  Though the gap between promises and realities destroys immodest candidates, from the founding fathers’ point of view, it protects the republic. They distrusted government in general and the office of the president in particular.

Congress, the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve Board all circumscribe the president’s power over domestic life. This and the authority of the states greatly limit the president’s power, just as the country’s founders intended. To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government. Yet at the same time — and this is the main paradox of American political culture — the presidency is seen as a decisive institution and the person holding that office is seen as being of overriding importance.

The president has somewhat more authority in foreign policy, but only marginally so. He is trapped by public opinion, congressional intrusion, and above all, by the realities of geopolitics. Thus, while during his 2000 presidential campaign George W. Bush argued vehemently against nation-building, once in office, he did just that (with precisely the consequences he had warned of on the campaign trail). And regardless of how he modeled his foreign policy during his first campaign, the 9/11 attacks defined his presidency. 

Similarly, Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to redefine America’s relationship with both Europe and the Islamic world. Neither happened. It has been widely and properly noted how little Obama’s foreign policy in action has differed from George W. Bush’s. It was not that Obama didn’t intend to have a different foreign policy, but simply that what the president wants and what actually happens are very different things.

The power often ascribed to the U.S. presidency is overblown. But even so, people — including leaders — all over the world still take that power very seriously. They want to believe that someone is in control of what is happening. The thought that no one can control something as vast and complex as a country or the world is a frightening thought. Conspiracy theories offer this comfort, too, since they assume that while evil may govern the world, at least the world is governed. There is, of course, an alternative viewpoint, namely that while no one actually is in charge, the world is still predictable as long as you understand the impersonal forces guiding it. This is an uncomfortable and unacceptable notion to those who would make a difference in the world. For such people, the presidential race — like political disputes the world over — is of great significance.

Ultimately, the president does not have the power to transform U.S. foreign policy. Instead, American interests, the structure of the world and the limits of power determine foreign policy.

In the broadest sense, current U.S. foreign policy has been in place for about a century. During that period, the United States has sought to balance and rebalance the international system to contain potential threats in the Eastern Hemisphere, which has been torn by wars. The Western Hemisphere in general, and North America in particular, has not. No president could afford to risk allowing conflict to come to North America.

At one level, presidents do count: The strategy they pursue keeping the Western Hemisphere conflict-free matters. During World War I, the United States intervened after the Germans began to threaten Atlantic sea-lanes and just weeks after the fall of the czar. At this point in the war, the European system seemed about to become unbalanced, with the Germans coming to dominate it. In World War II, the United States followed a similar strategy, allowing the system in both Europe and Asia to become unbalanced before intervening. This was called isolationism, but that is a simplistic description of the strategy of relying on the balance of power to correct itself and only intervening as a last resort.

During the Cold War, the United States adopted the reverse strategy of actively maintaining the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere via a process of continual intervention. It should be remembered that American deaths in the Cold War were just under 100,000 (including Vietnam, Korea and lesser conflicts) versus about 116,000 U.S. deaths in World War I, showing that far from being cold, the Cold War was a violent struggle. 

The decision to maintain active balancing was a response to a perceived policy failure in World War II. The argument was that prior intervention would have prevented the collapse of the European balance, perhaps blocked Japanese adventurism, and ultimately resulted in fewer deaths than the 400,000 the United States suffered in that conflict. A consensus emerged from World War II that an “internationalist” stance of active balancing was superior to allowing nature to take its course in the hope that the system would balance itself. The Cold War was fought on this strategy.

Between 1948 and the Vietnam War, the consensus held. During the Vietnam era, however, a viewpoint emerged in the Democratic Party that the strategy of active balancing actually destabilized the Eastern Hemisphere, causing unnecessary conflict and thereby alienating other countries. This viewpoint maintained that active balancing increased the likelihood of conflict, caused anti-American coalitions to form, and most important, overstated the risk of an unbalanced system and the consequences of imbalance. Vietnam was held up as an example of excessive balancing.

The counterargument was that while active balancing might generate some conflicts, World War I and World War II showed the consequences of allowing the balance of power to take its course. This viewpoint maintained that failing to engage in active and even violent balancing with the Soviet Union would increase the possibility of conflict on the worst terms possible for the United States. Thus, even in the case of Vietnam, active balancing prevented worse outcomes. The argument between those who want the international system to balance itself and the argument of those who want the United States to actively manage the balance has raged ever since George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon in 1972.

If we carefully examine Obama’s statements during the 2008 campaign and his efforts once in office, we see that he has tried to move U.S. foreign policy away from active balancing in favor of allowing regional balances of power to maintain themselves. He did not move suddenly into this policy, as many of his supporters expected he would. Instead, he eased into it, simultaneously increasing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan while disengaging in other areas to the extent that the U.S. political system and global processes would allow.

Obama’s efforts to transition away from active balancing of the system have been seen in Europe, where he has made little attempt to stabilize the economic situation, and in the Far East, where apart from limited military repositioning there have been few changes. Syria also highlights his movement toward the strategy of relying on regional balances. The survival of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime would unbalance the region, creating a significant Iranian sphere of influence. Obama’s strategy has been not to intervene beyond providing limited covert support to the opposition, but rather to allow the regional balance to deal with the problem. Obama has expected the Saudis and Turks to block the Iranians by undermining al Assad, not because the United States asks them to do so but because it is in their interest to do so.

Obama’s perspective draws on that of the critics of the Cold War strategy of active balancing, who maintained that without a major Eurasian power threatening hemispheric hegemony, U.S. intervention is more likely to generate anti-American coalitions and precisely the kind of threat the United States feared when it decided to actively balance. In other words, Obama does not believe that the lessons learned from World War I and World War II apply to the current global system, and that as in Syria, the global power should leave managing the regional balance to local powers.

As I have argued from the outset, the American presidency is institutionally weak despite its enormous prestige. It is limited constitutionally, politically and ultimately by the actions of others. Had Japan not attacked the United States, it is unclear that Franklin Roosevelt would have had the freedom to do what he did. Had al Qaeda not attacked on 9/11, I suspect that George W. Bush’s presidency would have been dramatically different.

The world shapes U.S. foreign policy. The more active the world, the fewer choices presidents have and the smaller those choices are. Obama has sought to create a space where the United States can disengage from active balancing. Doing so falls within his constitutional powers, and thus far has been politically possible, too. But whether the international system would allow him to continue along this path should he be re-elected is open to question. Jimmy Carter had a similar vision, but the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan wrecked it. George W. Bush saw his opposition to nation-building wrecked by 9/11 and had his presidency crushed under the weight of the main thing he wanted to avoid.

Presidents make history, but not on their own terms. They are constrained and harried on all sides by reality. In selecting a president, it is important to remember that candidates will say what they need to say to be elected, but even when they say what they mean, they will not necessarily be able to pursue their goals. The choice to do so simply isn’t up to them. The degree to which the winner matters, however, is unclear, though knowing the inclinations of presidential candidates regardless of their ability to pursue them has some value.

In the end, though, the U.S. presidency was designed to limit the president’s ability to rule. He can at most guide, and frequently he cannot even do that. Putting the presidency in perspective allows us to keep our debates in perspective as well.”

STRATFOR Geopolitical Weekly – July 31, 2012

stratfor-ceo-george-friedman

George Friedman is a geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs. He is the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, an online publication that analyzes and forecasts the course of global events. Prior to founding Geopolitical Futures, Friedman was chairman of Stratfor, the private intelligence publishing and consulting firm he founded in 1996.

 

Military Victory is Dead

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war-is-dead

“MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT”

“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish.

We’ve reached the end of victory’s road, and at this juncture it’s time to embrace other terms, a less-loaded lexicon, like “strategic advantage,” “relative gain,” and “sustainable marginalization.”

A few weeks back, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Harvard Professor Steven Pinker triumphantly announced the peace deal between the government of Columbia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). While positive, this declaration rings hollow as the exception that proves the rule – a tentative treaty, however, at the end, roughly 7,000 guerrillas held a country of 50 million hostage over 50 years at a cost of some 220,000 lives. Churchill would be aghast: Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

One reason this occasion merited a more somber statement: military victory is dead. And it was killed by a bunch of cheap stuff.

The term “victory” is loaded, so let’s stipulate it means unambiguous, unchallenged, and unquestioned strategic success – something more than a “win,” because, while one might “eke out a win,” no one “ekes out a victory.” Wins are represented by a mere letter (“w”); victory is a tickertape with tanks.

Which is something I’ll never see in my military career; I should explain. When a government has a political goal that cannot be obtained other than by force, the military gets involved and selects some objective designed to obtain said goal. Those military objectives can be classified broadly, as Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz did, into either a limited aim (i.e. “occupy some…frontier-districts” to use “for bargaining”), or a larger aim to completely disarm the enemy, “render[ing] him politically helpless or military impotent.” Lo, we’ve arrived at the problem: War has become so inexpensive that anyone can afford the traditional military means of strategic significance – so we can never fully disarm the enemy. And a perpetually armed enemy means no more parades (particularly in Nice).

Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

It’s a buyer’s market in war, and the baseline capabilities (shoot, move, and communicate) are at snake-belly prices. Tactical weaponry, like AK-47s are plentiful, rented, and shipped from battlefield to battlefield, and the most lethal weapon U.S. forces encountered at the height of the Iraq War, the improvised explosive device, could be had for as little as $265. Moving is cost-effective too in the “pickup truck era of warfare,” and reports on foreign fighters in Syria remind us that cheap, global travel makes it possible for nearly anyone on the planet to rapidly arrive in an active war zone with money to spare. Also, while the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba shut down the megacity Mumbai in 2008 for less than what many traveling youth soccer teams spend in a season, using unprotected social media networks, communication has gotten even easier for the emerging warrior with today’s widely available unhackable phones and apps. These low and no-cost commo systems are the glue that binds single wolves into coordinated wolf-packs with guns, exponentially greater than the sum of their parts. The good news: Ukraine can crowdfund aerial surveillance against Russian incursions. The less-good news: strikes, like 9/11, cost less than three seconds of a single Super Bowl ad. With prices so low, why would anyone ever give up their fire, maneuver, and control platforms?

All of which explains why military victory has gone away. Consider the Middle East, and the recent comment by a Hezbollah leader, “This can go on for a hundred years,” and his comrade’s complementary analysis, that “as long as we are there, nobody will win.” With such a modestly priced war stock on offer, it’s no wonder Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees with the insurgents, recently concluding, of the four wars currently burning across the region, the U.S. has “no prospect” of strategic victory in any. Or that Modern War Institute scholar Andrew Bacevich assesses bluntly, “If winning implies achieving stated political objectives, U.S. forces don’t win.” This is what happens when David’s slingshot is always full.

The guerrillas know what many don’t: It’s the era, stupid. This is the nature of the age, as Joshua Cooper Ramos describes, “a nightmare reality in which we must fight adaptive microthreats and ideas, both of which appear to be impossible to destroy even with the most expensive weapons.” Largely correct, one point merits minor amendment – it’s meaningless to destroy when it’s so cheap to get back in the game, a hallmark of a time in which Wolverine-like regeneration is regular.

This theme even extends to more civilized conflicts. Take the Gawker case: begrudged hedge fund giant Peter Thiel funded former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the journalistic insurrectionists at Gawker Media, which forced the website’s writers to lay down their keyboards. However, as author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out – Gawker’s leader, Nick Denton, can literally walk across the street, with a few dollars, and start right over. Another journalist opined, “Mr. Thiel’s victory was a hollow one – you might even say he lost. While he may have killed Gawker, its sensibility and influence on the rest of the news business survive.” Perhaps Thiel should have waited 50 more years, as Columbia had to, to write his “victory” op-ed? He may come to regret the essay as his own “Mission Accomplished” moment.

True with websites, so it goes with warfare. We live in the cheap war era, where the attacker has the advantage and the violent veto is always possible. Political leaders can speak and say tough stuff, promise ruthless revenge – it doesn’t matter, ultimately, because if you can’t disarm the enemy, you can’t parade the tanks.”

Military Victory is Dead