Monday, August 30, 2021

The long march to disaster

The US military spends money but cannot win wars

August 24, 2021 | 2:06 pm

Written by:
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos


In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Americans came together in a spirit of grief, resolve and shared national pride. It didn’t last long, but this potent energy animated the US military’s mission and a new generation of recruits who signed up to ‘do their part’ in the wake of the tragedy.

Twenty years later, it is not the same military. As an institution, its impunity, hubris and access to unprecedented financial spoils have led to corruption and mediocrity at the top. The exploitation of all-volunteer forces to fight protracted wars of choice without proper care and attention to their consequences has left veterans jaded and skeptical of the value of their service in a system that continues to fail them. And without candor now about what went wrong, another 9/11 event could again trigger the same egregious policies, and the same mistakes.

At the height of the wars, high-profile brass such as Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who both led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, showed themselves to be overtly political, out of touch and self-serving. They pushed troop surges while obscuring facts about true conditions on the ground. Critics say such men represent the modern senior officer corps, bred not for innovative and bold thinking but subservience to power, and that those who did push back during the wars were marginalized and squeezed out. As a result, the entire system became a steel bubble, with the rank and file left badly served by a simultaneously inflated and atrophying leadership.

The corruption of the post-9/11 wars spread in a variety of ways. The military took advantage of young, poor kids to fill recruitment quotas, with seemingly amazing opportunities like the ‘quick ship’ $20,000 enlistment bonuses they gave out during the height of the Iraq insurgency in 2007. Standards were lowered, waivers granted to felons. The US shipped out men and women with psychological profiles that should have set alarm bells clanging, and repeatedly redeployed already traumatized veterans.

As the post-9/11 years wore on, the civilian-military gap grew. With less than half of one percent of the population serving, many Americans stopped scrutinizing what the armed services were doing. By the time Eddie Gallagher was court-martialed for allegedly stabbing to death a teenage Islamic State fighter in Afghanistan and posing for a photo with his corpse, Americans had lost the capacity for outrage. Like the Bowe Bergdahl case before it, Gallagher’s story became so hyperpoliticized that no one had the guts to ask the real question — was endless war dehumanizing our celebrated special forces in the field?

‘So September 11, 2001 really did serve as a trigger for every bad idea that had been dismissed since the Cold War and Vietnam to be inserted into the military process — and they failed,’ says Doug Macgregor, a retired Army colonel. Macgregor, a hero of the Persian Gulf tank wars and a respected tactician, may have killed his own military career by questioning plans to send in hundreds of thousands of troops for the Baghdad invasion. In 2002, he famously told Centcom commander Gen. Tommy Franks and a roomful of brass that all they needed was 30,000 armored troops to be reinforced by another 15,000 infantry soldiers to ‘cross the Euphrates and get into Baghdad as quickly as possible’. The plan, he thought, should be to depose Saddam and ‘get out’.

‘Subsequently I wrote a memo saying everyone they had in [Army] command they had to get rid of because none of them had any experience with combat whatsoever,’ Macgregor tells me. ‘From the beginning I got nothing but resistance, no willingness to do anything that made any sense.’

The rest, as they say, is history. ‘The generals all marched in, occupying Saddam’s digs, signaling we were an occupying power. My opposition to all this made me persona non grata.’

Macgregor believes the proliferation of generals in the post-9/11 era has killed the military from the inside; the statistics are compelling. Writing for the National Defense University’s Joint Force Quarterly, Col. Gregory McCarthy records that in 2017 there were approximately 900 active-duty general-rank officers among the 1.3 million active-duty component: one for every 1,400 troops. During World War Two the ratio was one for every 6,000. This ‘rank creep’, according to McCarthy, ‘clutters the chain of command, adds bureaucratic layers to decisions, and costs taxpayers additional money from funding higher paygrades to fill positions’.

Macgregor is more blunt: ‘It’s just a bureaucratic nightmare at this point,’ he says. ‘The higher up the rank structure you go, the less substantive work you get. Headquarters tend to be places for sycophants. That’s been a huge problem for us.’

Efforts to deflate the bloat at the top have been largely unsuccessful, but Macgregor is right. Increasing the number of commands after 9/11hasn’t made our military more successful, but it’s been a boon for those who know how to play the game. Rather than creative thinking and competence, he says, the institution rewards loyalty and political shrewdness, the defining qualities of career yes-men.

As the number of senior officers metastasized, so did unaccountability for losses in the field and corruption at home. Generals repeatedly testified that the war was ‘turning a corner’, and perennially pressed for more troops, without the follow-up that would have assessed results. Meanwhile, the military became riddled with scandal, with generals and admirals demoted, relieved of duty and even court-martialed for crimes ranging from fraud to sexual assault. Petraeus was charged with mishandling classified information when he let his mistress, a lower-ranking officer, read his personal diaries in the field and lied about it to the FBI. Some 19 current and former Navy officials have been convicted so far in the massive ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery scandal, in which officers were found to have directed Navy ships to Asian ports controlled by Leonard Glenn Francis, a portly Malaysian contractor who suborned them with gifts and parties. They include Rear Adm. Robert Gilbeau, who has the distinction of becoming the first flag officer in modern American history to be convicted of a felony while on active duty.

‘The system that’s evolved over the last 100 years does not test moral courage,’ retired Army officer Donald Vandergriff told me in 2014. ‘It does not test strength of character or the ability to tell the truth regardless of harm to one’s career… We don’t do things like that. We are looking at people who follow the process, fall in line, don’t cause waves, aren’t open to innovation, and these personality traits leave them open to scandal.’

Promoting people for the wrong reasons and then throwing a bunch of resources and power at them like blank checks was a recipe for disaster. As if the diffused responsibility at the top weren’t enough, the post-9/11 order also saw an unprecedented outsourcing of security and support capabilities.

Companies such as Halliburton and their subsidiaries won rights over multibillion-dollar Logcap (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) contracts with little or no competition. A handful of top contractors dominated food, construction, security, IT and other services, and even when they knew they were being overcharged or stuck with shoddy work, the Pentagon continued to work with the same vendors. At the wars’ peak in 2010, there were more contractors (207,000) than US military (175,000) in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

‘There is simply no way that the active-duty US military as it is currently sized and structured would have been able to run the occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan without the massive support of private military industry,’ says Peter W. Singer, a military analyst for the New America Foundation. In 2013, Singer wrote a paper for the Brookings Institution in which he warned against the military’s overreliance on contractors:

‘It has created a dependency syndrome on the private marketplace that not merely creates critical vulnerabilities, but shows all the signs of the last downward spirals of an addiction. If we judge by what has happened in Iraq, when it comes to private military contractors and counterinsurgency, the US has locked itself into a vicious cycle. It can’t win with them, but can’t go to war without them.’

The bad behavior of some contractors, as in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad involving private Blackwater guards, and their inevitable for-profit ethos made winning hearts and minds among civilian populations more difficult. It also allowed the military to carry on operations even as the number of active-duty troops was reduced. Last spring, as the US began its withdrawal from Afghanistan, 18,000 contractors, including 6,350 Americans, were still on the US payroll.
Mercenaries may well be the future of western warfare: they are quieter, less expensive and require less training and regulation. They also have their own interests, which is why governments have often preferred to develop and use their own forces. It’s hard to sustain a sense of mission based solely on paychecks, with few ties of patriotism or duty.

Of course, contractors take on many of the same risks as official military personnel. An estimated 8,000 contractors have been killed in the post-9/11 wars along with more than 7,000 US servicemembers. All are vulnerable to IED blasts, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and respiratory illnesses including the cancers connected to the burning of unregulated trash pits on major forward-operating bases; contractors are not offered the healthcare that the US military provides.

And there will be long-term need for that healthcare. Some 92 percent of those wounded in battle survived our recent wars, compared to 75 percent in Vietnam. That’s good news, but it means enormous lifelong healthcare costs. As of 2018, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the 4.1 million post-9/11 veterans make up about 16 percent of those served by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and are as a group less healthy than veterans of earlier wars. ‘The VA estimates,’ says the study, ‘that the 10 year cost of caring for post-9/11 veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) alone will be $2.4 billion from 2020 to 2029’, and future expenses are estimated to run into the trillions.

It’s not as if healthcare for veterans is at all adequate, given the sacrifices we expect the men and women of our armed services to make. The rush to fight a two-front conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq left huge gaps in medical-care access which linger still. Veterans still experience cruelly long wait times, particularly for mental health treatment.

This catalogue of problems has left the US military deflated and depressed. Poll after poll finds that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans not only favor full withdrawal from those wars, but now believe they were not worth fighting in the first place. This is an extraordinary indictment of the conflicts themselves and shows profound loss of faith in the institutions that led the country into them.

‘No one is drinking the Kool-Aid anymore,’ says Gil Barndollar, who served as a Marine infantry officer in Afghanistan for two tours between 2006 and 2016. He reports that his peers are glad the US is leaving Afghanistan and long ago shed their illusions about solving the problems there. He’s most incensed about the ‘lack of moral courage’ within the military.

On a practical level, Barndollar says, the real challenge today is the strain on the National Guard and Reserves. National Guard members made up 45 percent of the overall deployments in the Global War on Terror, and 18 percent of the casualties. The ideal of the part-time citizen soldier is long gone. To this day, National Guard units are engaged in routine deployments, with equipment sent overseas that should be stateside. There are significant new domestic duties the Guard is expected to deal with as well: patrolling borders, dealing with protests and natural disasters, helping in the fight against COVID-19.

‘I’d like to hope the rising generation of military leaders — today’s colonels — who grew up as lieutenants and captains in Iraq and Afghanistan, have the moral courage to tell future politicians and their appointees what the US military can and can’t accomplish,’ Barndollar concludes. ‘Will any of these future generals have the integrity to put their stars on the table when the time comes?’

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s September 2021 World edition. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

American Greatness


Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Tomorrow We Get a Nero?

Will our social disorders combine with economic hardship to produce a furious storm that overwhelms the Biden Administration like the one that overwhelmed Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic?

By Douglas A. Macgregor
August 26, 2021

In April 1925, a German journalist wrote to a friend in England, “Today we vote for Zero. Tomorrow we get Nero.” When Germans voted to make a retired 77-year-old German Field Marshal named Paul von Hindenburg president of the Weimar Republic, many Germans like the aforementioned journalist feared the old war hero was a placebo for the republic’s deeper ills; at best a substitute Kaiser or a political “zero” who would be replaced by a dictator.

Four years into his presidential term, Hindenburg struggled to maintain the republic as it was in the throes of a severe economic depression. War debt and hyperinflation crushed the German economy. Political violence erupted as communists squared off against fascists in Germany’s largest cities. Criminality, prostitution, and drug abuse became widespread. In 1933, Hindenburg made Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany.

Invoking images of the failed Weimar Republic is a harrowing prospect indeed. The parallels between Weimar Germany and Biden’s America may be instructive, however, especially given the poor prospects voters face to lead them out of this mess.

Let’s look at some of the similarities:

Criminality: America’s largest cities saw a 33 percent increase in homicides last year, a massive crime wave that continues into the present. Defunding the police, legitimizing criminal behavior by releasing convicted criminals into the population, and failing to punish new criminals, is producing a crime spree unparalleled in American history.

America’s borders are undefended. Americans of all ages are dying at record levels from fentanyl poisoning as the Mexican drug cartels work closely with Chinese transnational criminals to finance and distribute fentanyl, a drug that is now both cheaper and more widely available than cocaine and heroin.

Texas and large areas of the Southwest are overrun by masses of illegal migrants trafficked into the United States by criminal drug cartels. The flow of migrants through Mexican territory fuels countless criminal activities, including the illicit business of transporting migrants, along with those who rob, extort, and exploit them. Large sections of the American electorate feel less secure under the Biden Administration.

Political violence: The Antifa movement in the United States is a rather obvious analog to the Communist tactics during the Weimar Republic. Eventually, Communist aggression provoked opposing violence from fascist groups like the Brownshirts. Is it possible an opposing force of brownshirt equivalents could emerge to combat Antifa’s terrorism?

The growing potential for political violence is truly worrying.

There is plenty of data to show that Democrats and Republicans alike are inclined to justify violence as a way to achieve political goals. How much of the vandalism and looting in 140 cities across the United States in 2020, producing at least $1 to $2 billion of paid insurance claims, is a precursor to future political violence?

Economy: Inflation is soaring with the result that the prices of food, energy, and a host of consumer products are breaking household budgets across the United States. It would be wrong to suggest that an economic collapse is imminent, but it would be equally foolish to ignore these unsettling indicators, especially in terms of inflation. 

There is an estimated 34 percent more money in the U.S. system than there was 14 months ago. Inflation is real and it’s significant. At the same time, the U.S. debt-to-gross domestic product ratio rose during the first quarter of 2021 to 127 percent—a level that is substantially higher than the 77 percent tipping point recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

National defense: The light-speed collapse of Afghanistan has cast doubt upon the conduct of America’s senior military leaders in the minds of the public. General officers—once widely respected—are turning out to be creatures of the same broken political system in Washington, D.C. that voters increasingly loathe.

The Afghan debacle also raises questions about the supremacy of U.S. military power—the most expensive military establishment in the modern world. The weak performance in Afghanistan is disconcerting and reminiscent of “Operation Eagle Claw,” President Jimmy Carter’s attempt in April 1980 to rescue 52 U.S. embassy staff members held captive in Tehran.

These points notwithstanding, America is still in better shape than Weimar Germany. Crime is rising as is inflation, but economic recovery post-pandemic appears to be gaining momentum.

The FBI recently released a report confirming that there was no attempt to overthrow the government in January as many on the Left contend. The admission bodes well for a potential de-escalation of tensions in the near term.

Further, America’s leaders are unpopular, but there is still great confidence that Washington has the tools in place to improve the economy and fix many of the nation’s structural problems in education, healthcare, and elsewhere. Still, at the center of the nation’s troubles is an entropic and soporific septuagenarian who seems to lack the awareness and, most importantly, the political support to put the country back on a positive trajectory.

Will these social disorders combine with economic hardship to produce a furious storm that overwhelms the Biden Administration like the one that overwhelmed Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic? In 1932, it was not just the destitute Germans who demanded action and a figure like Adolf Hitler to lead it. The popular German concept of law and order called, above all, for a greater commitment to the German nation symbolized by real unity of purpose embraced by all classes. Very few voters wanted the Communist Party to rule Germany.

Is Joe Biden a zero, an empty suit? Will Biden eventually be replaced by some new figure like the Roman Emperor Nero? Americans will know the answer when the gap between what Americans demand and what they get becomes intolerable. Then, as Crane Brinton warned in The Anatomy of Revolution, all things are possible.

Douglas A. Macgregor is a retired U.S. Army Colonel, author, and consultant.

Tucker Carlson Tonight 8/26/2021

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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Ingraham Angle 08/25/2021

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Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Ingraham Angle 8/18/2021


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Tuesday, August 17, 2021


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Monday, August 16, 2021

Responsible Statecraft


An Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) from 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) waits onboard a C-130 from the Royal Air Force to ascend the altitude of 12,500 feet to conduct a high altitude low opening (HALO) parachute jump with members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment and Para-Rescue Airmen from the Air forces Special Operations Command Hurlburt Field, Fl., April. 25, 2013. (SOCOM)

Make no mistake, the US military will continue to thrive after Afghanistan

There are too many careers and too much money tied to American power projection. So expect it to shift, not recede from the stage.

AUGUST 16, 2021
Written by
Douglas Macgregor

The object in war,” argued Liddell Hart “is a better state of peace — even if only from your point of view. Hence, it is essential to conduct war with constant regard to the peace you desire.” Sound advice, but as Americans are learning, the true purpose of the mission in Afghanistan had little to do with a better state of peace and much more to do was with finding ways to extend the commitment of American funds, resources, and military power for as long as possible.

In January 1973, when the Paris Peace Agreement ending American involvement in South Vietnam was signed, Saigon and its armed forces still relied heavily on guaranteed U.S. air, artillery and logistical support. The removal of U.S. military power always guaranteed Saigon’s defeat against a determined attack from North Vietnam. The removal of economic and military support from Afghanistan today is having a similar impact, but the outcome in Afghanistan is arguably much worse. Why? 

It’s very likely that the loss of over $2 trillion and tens of thousands of U.S., Allied and Afghan lives is no deterrent to repeating the established recipe for strategic failure in some future country. In the words of LTG Richard Clarke, the new commander of Special Operations Command, “I don’t necessarily see this [Afghanistan] as the end of an era, but, instead, as part of a new one that is full of opportunities for all of us.” 

In other words, the Departments of State and Defense (DOD) will enable SOCOM’s future use of sensors, satellites, drones, proxy foreign forces and armies of foreign clients equipped with US supplied training and military gear to invade ungoverned spaces or failed states Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean Basin. The words, “all of us” suggest the intelligence agencies, the defense industries, and numerous supporting contracting entities including mercenaries to create “other than U.S. forces” for foreign internal defense and development. 

To the aforementioned cast of potential beneficiaries should also be added members of Congress from both parties who regularly receive vast sums of money from privately owned defense contractors. The political campaign cycle in the 2019-2020 saw more than $30 million in donations from defense contractors to GOP and DNC candidates. In 2020, lobbying by top defense industries involved outlays of nearly $100 million. However, these amounts only scratch the surface of the $2 trillion squandered over 20 years in Afghanistan.

Defense outlays for basing in Diego Garcia, Guam, Okinawa, Germany, Japan, Italy, Africa and a host of other locations around the world can also be connected to the projection of American military power to Afghanistan and the greater Middle East. Even these defense outlays pale before the mammoth engine of corruption inside Afghanistan that a series of Inspectors General routinely insisted was as great a threat to stability and progress as the Taliban. 

Unfortunately, since the SOCOM intervention and assistance model is never blamed for the strategic failures that it helps to create, it remains funded and able to ramp up for the next lucrative military intervention. Only the country-specific policy is viewed as a strategic failure because in Clarke’s words, “there’s no precise end, there’s not necessarily a winner.” 

Clarke, however, failed to note another substantial class of beneficiaries: the armed forces’ active duty Flag Officers, particularly the four stars. At the height of World War II, 12.2 million Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces. The 12.2 million Americans in uniform were commanded by just seven four stars: In the Army and Army Air Forces, MacArthur, Marshall, Arnold and Eisenhower; in the U.S. Navy and Marines, Leahy, King, and Nimitz. In the last phase of the war several senior officers were promoted to four and five stars, but these promotions were honorific, not operational military ranks.

Today, for an active duty force of 1.12 million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, there are 44 active duty four stars. When Marshall was approached by members of the Senate who urged him to promote their flag officer friends in uniform to four stars, Marshall said, “Senator, I don’t have time to argue. I’ve got to win the war.” As General Clarke explains, Americans are not likely to hear Marshall’s words these days.

Face it, military interventions are cash cows for generals. From 2008 to 2018 at least 380 high-ranking DoD officials and military officers enriched themselves as lobbyists, board members, executives, or consultants for defense contractors within two years of taking off their uniforms.

In 2001, when the modest application of American military power rapidly overwhelmed the Taliban and al Qaeda, to paraphrase Arthur Schlesinger’s words, euphoria reigned; Bush and his inner circle thought for a moment that the world was plastic and the future unlimited. Today, this euphoria seems misplaced especially when one considers that the initial mission in Afghanistan was to kill or capture fewer than 500 individuals associated with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. I leave it others to ask why U.S. Forces remained in Iraq after capturing Saddam Hussein and his inner circle.

On 3 August, 1972, Henry Kissinger told President Nixon, “After a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater,” and “no one will give a damn.” Kissinger was essentially correct. Sadly, it’s a safe bet that a similar attitude prevails inside the Biden White House. Americans can only hope that this time the odor of multi-trillion dollar corruption, deceit and military failure in Afghanistan will likely linger far longer in American nostrils and have consequences.

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Joe Piscopo Show 08-09-2021



Col. Douglas Macgregor, retired U.S. Army Colonel, the former senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense, author, and a senior fellow at The American Conservative

Topic: U.S. moving out of Afghanistan as Taliban moves in.