Sunday, September 12, 2021

What Have We Learned from Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam… Lesson 1

Let us suspend, for a moment, the actual human consequences of the abrupt pull out of forces in Afghanistan. Not to diminish their suffering, but to try and understand why this keeps happening and what we, as a nation, can do to prevent it going forward.

Soldiers are ill served by Military Brass.

Military Brass is Overconfident / Does not Admit Defeat

The Military Brass, as opposed to the Military men and women, are usually professional bureaucrats not leaders in the field. And they have a similar outlook, most coming from the Military Academies. They have been trained to never admit defeat. And they don’t.

When asked how to respond in the middle of a conflict, the military answer is always to respond with more troops and overwhelming force. This answer comes almost regardless of the facts on the ground, the desires of the people of America and the desire of the President – the “Commander in Chief” of the country. Bush2, Obama and Trump all tried to remove US troops in Afghanistan but were essentially overruled by the military and caved in the face of very public pressure from the Military to the media and Congress.

The Military have learned to get Congress and the people on its side through public relations and the promise of a quick victory. When that quick victory turns into a quagmire, the Military answer is MORE troops and force. 

  • In Vietnam we went from dozens to 500,000. 
  • In Afghanistan we went from dozens to more than 100,000. 
  • In Iraq, the original number was about 5,000 – after “winning” that number grew into more than 170,000. 
  • Even in the Syrian civil War (which we did not technically participate in) our forces grew from dozens of advisors to over 1,720 troops.
This lesson of more troops equals winning was true in 1918 and 1941, and institutional memory is long. It hasn't been true since the World Wars for the United States or most other powers.

The Military is not trained to ever admit defeat, even when it is inevitable or obvious. And they are consistently overly optimistic when discussing possible results - without consequence when they are wrong. When they don’t get their way, they are more than happy to complain to the media, which has a voracious appetite for news, rumors, and quotable talking heads.

News organizations from Fox to MSNBC - and all in between - depend on ex-military as “experts”. These experts repeat the military calls for more war. 

Coming Up
Lesson 2: Fighting a motivated force in their territory
Lesson 3: Gaining public support 
Lesson 4: Congress and its power to declare war
Lesson 5: Nation Building 101
Lesson 6: How easily Americans forget

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