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Ending Wars, Not 'Winning' Them, Should Be America's Goal


May 10, 2018
William J. Astore / AntiWar.com & Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch

Commentary: You can't win wars that should never have been fought. The US should never have fought the Iraq and Afghan wars, nor should we have fought the Vietnam War. The challenge is not about reforming the US military so that it can win wars. Americans must reform our culture and our government so that we can avoid wars, even as we end the ones we're in. For constant warfare is the enemy of democracy and the scourge of freedom.

https://original.antiwar.com/William_Astore/2018/05/08/ending-wars-not-winning-them-should-be-americas-goal/

Ending Wars, Not 'Winning' Them,
Should Be America's Goal

William J. Astore / AntiWar.com

(May 9, 2018) -- You can't win wars that should never have been fought. The US should never have fought the Iraq and Afghan wars, nor should we have fought the Vietnam War.

It's not that we need to know and master the foreign enemy. We need to know and master the enemy within. The domestic enemy. For the US is defeating only itself in fighting these wars. Yet "experts" in the military and government focus on how to prosecute war more effectively; rarely do they think seriously about ending or, even better, avoiding wars.

Part of this is cultural. Americans are obsessed with the idea of winning, defined in terms of dominance, specifically military/physical dominance, taking the fight to the enemy and never backing down. The best defense is a good offense, as they say in the NFL. Winning is the only thing, as Vince Lombardi said. While those maxims may apply to football, they don't apply to wars that should never have been fought.

Turning from football to tunnels, how about that image made popular during the Vietnam War that "We can see the light at the end of the tunnel"? Victory, in other words, is in sight and can be reached if we "stay the course" until the tunnel's end. Few ask why we're in the tunnel to begin with.

Why not just avoid the tunnel (of Vietnam, of Iraq, of Afghanistan) and bask in the light of liberty here in the USA? Indeed, why not brighten liberty's torch so that others can see and enjoy it? But instead US military forces are forever plunging into foreign tunnels, groping in the dark for the elusive light of victory, a light that ultimately is illusory.

Another point is that the Pentagon is often not about winning wars without; it's about winning wars within, specifically budgetary wars. Here the Pentagon has been amazingly successful, especially in the aftermath of the Cold War, which should have generated a major reduction in US military spending (and overseas military deployments).

The other "war" the Pentagon has won is the struggle for cultural authority/hegemony in the USA. Here again, the Pentagon has won this war, as represented by presidents from Bush to Obama to Trump boasting of the 4F military (the Finest Fighting Force since Forever), and as represented by the fact that the military remains the most trusted governmental institution in America.

Indeed, most Americans don't even think of "our" military as being part of the federal government. They think of it as something special, even as they profess to distrust Congress and hate "big government." Yet nothing screams "big" like our steroidal federal military, and few entities are more wasteful.

My point is that many military commentators and critics frame the problem wrongly. It's not about reforming the US military so that it can win wars. Americans must reform our culture and our government so that we can avoid wars, even as we end the ones we're in. For constant warfare is the enemy of democracy and the scourge of freedom.

A final point about winning that's rarely acknowledged: America's wars overseas are not all about us. Winning (whatever that might mean) should be unconscionable when it comes at the price of hundreds of thousands of dead, millions of refugees, and regions blasted and destabilized.

In sum, ending wars is winning them.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views.



The Waste of War:
Aerial View Of The Aircraft Boneyard At Davis Monthan AFB

Defense Flash News


(July 27, 2017) -- Flyover view of 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (aka "The Aircraft Boneyard") at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. The Boneyard contains about 5,000 retired military aircraft parked over 2,600 acres. Crews at the Boneyard preserve these aircraft for possible future use, pull aircraft parts to supply to the field and perform depot-level maintenance and aircraft regeneration in support of Air Force operations. Film Credit: US Air Force Video by Andrew Breese


Taking War Off Its Pedestal
Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch

(February 05, 2018) -- The groundwork is already laid for America's next war(s) in the Middle East and, in the process, one of the last relatively undamaged areas of Syria (at least before the Turkish military began to pound it with air strikes and artillery, then moving in tanks) is about to be added to the rubble of the region. The damage that began with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 could now spread to yet another country, Turkey, already filled with Syrian refugees but relatively unscathed so far.

At the moment, an autocratic Turkish president, angry over American backing for Kurdish forces in northern Syria and jockeying for popularity in his own country, is potentially repeating on a small scale the American blunder of 2003. He's blithely invading Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Syria, assuming that all will go splendidly, while President Trump's military finds itself, as it has so many times in these years, between a rock and a hard place.

The US has approximately 2,000 troops in northern Syria and, as [former] Secretary of State Rex Tillerson only recently announced, they are slated to stay there not just until the last ISIS fighter is wiped off the face of the Earth, but possibly until the end of time (a decision for which the Trump administration naturally has no congressional sanction).

Washington's latest stated goal: to support Kurdish fighters in the region and play a role in undermining both Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and its Iranian backers. (Good luck with that!) Those troops now find themselves caught between NATO ally Turkey (which has let Washington use a key military base against ISIS) and American-trained and -armed leftist Syrian Kurds, who have done most of the hard fighting (and dying) against the Islamic State "caliphate."

The Turks, who consider those Kurds "terrorists" (and backers of longtime Kurdish insurgents in Turkey), are angrily demanding that all US troops immediately and unconditionally leave the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city of Manbij before they move in militarily (a demand already rejected by the head of US Central Command). And oh, yes, the remnants of ISIS, driven back and no longer a "caliphate" or much of anything else, are still fighting.

So much for Donald Trump's "victory" in Syria.

While no one can possibly know what will come of all this, as with so much else in American war-making over these last 17 years, it's reasonable to assume that it won't be good, or peaceable, or end particularly well, or possibly at all.

Count on one thing: you won't soon read about an American military unchallenged and victorious in a Syria brought to order. Quite the opposite: if recent years are any indication, the damage will only spread, more civilians will die, more homes will be destroyed, more populations will be uprooted, and embittered locals, angry at the US among other participants in this mayhem, will be primed to join yet newer terror groups.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power as well as Tom Engelhardt's Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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