We don’t win anymore. This is a broad statement one hears at Trump rallies. It is a catch-all phrase that applies to a general feeling of decline. This is not the anxiety of being number one anymore, but simple win-lose labeling. Americans feel it and respond to this message. A major reference point is in American military adventures.
America definitely destroys opponents. The media never quite admits America has won. It would be a chip for the Red Empire. America ends wars. President Barack Obama was very clear to say the Iraq War ended or the Afghanistan War ended–well, ended per his declaration. Per the odd goals or body count measures, America won, but does it feel that way? Part of the problem is that these are wars of empire with goals unrelated to direct American interests. Part of the problem is the faulty foundation of assumptions in warfare and approach to foreign cultures.
The American way of war rests on assumptions that all cultures will respond to the same incentives American-educated good thinkers will respond to, and that with enough reason, the foreigners will get it and comply. This is not random commentary on the State Department and the molding of American military missions, but actual descriptions of the approach of American programs. During the peak of the American engagement in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, the State and Defense departments sent academics to foxholes.
These academic were going to help American soldiers better understand the communities they engaged with and better execute on the mission. This was an absolute failure. Academics couldn’t be put into place effectively since war is war and not an anthro project. The petty status games of the university even followed these professors there. Academics let their egos hurt each other and their feelings towards the military affect them. The chaplain on MASH had a better feel for interpreting the situation in the war zone than these academics who became holed up in secure bases far from the natives.
No one simply set things aside to work on mission. Mission was secondary to these academics doing their work in their normal manner. It was a nuisance to observe, analyze, and create ways for soldiers to apply the knowledge. These researchers still expected normal, long papers on the communities they did get to observe. These academics also all came to the terrain with a faulty progressive assumption about different cultures. Just reach out to the goat herders, and all will click between the population and the interloper soldiers from far away.
If the documentary Restrepo runs through one’s mind when considering this academics in foxholes idea, it should. In Restrepo, Captain Strong American kept holding Shuras to talk to area elders. This was a way to reach out to the local leaders for assistance with the American mission of protecting a road that was being built. His offers were for roads, jobs, and goods. He spoke of the material incentives that one might use pitching a political program in Iowa. These were conversations with men who wanted a cow replaced or a goat. This young American wanted them to “wipe the slate clean” when these locals are marrying their cousins at rates of 50% and remember grudges from hundreds of years ago.
It is embarrassing and cringe-inducing to watch at times. It is the hearts and minds all over again from Vietnam and from the purely academic hearts perspective. The soldiers stationed at Restrepo even mock the hearts and minds idea. They can see it is junk when the locals are aligning and covering for random Taliban fighters or terrorists who might be part of their tribe that will be there long after the American troops have withdrawn. The grunts get it because they are enlisted soldiers on the front line, not some officer angling for his future promotions, spitting out what the current ideological line is.
What is the objective of being there? Figure that out and then execute. Scrap the progressive anthropology. If they block the road and shoot at your men, kill them. If it is to build a road, destroy the problem population to build the road. Brutal enforcement of will on the population. No job offer or a little bit of cash was going to break the tribal bonds and consanguineous marriage chieftains from their local agitators. Make the locals pay for letting the jihadis swim amongst them as fish in the sea. Hold a Shura and let no elder return home alive. Send their heads back.
The American empire fights wars of choice, but never makes the choice to rule directly. That is at the heart of the Trump “take the oil” statement, namely that if we will engage in wars that seem to be about oil, why not just take the damn oil? Trump and the like are operating on an older understanding of imperial wars. USG operates the empire that denies it is an empire. These battles become contracts for the military industrial complex. Raytheon needs to hit EPS, and Boeing needs to make a good return on their purchase of McDonnell Douglas. Regime change becomes a means for State to try the latest ideas that spew from academia. Hey hey hey, look, we sent millions of little girls to school this year in Afghanistan.
Our men and women are given expensive physical tools to fight wars that are not vigorously prosecuted because no one really wants to expend the blood to grab a dozen men from a cave. Our men and women are given expensive physical tools because the directors of foreign policy have a poor understanding of the world and will send them out to shake hands and hand out candy to others who respond to kindness with aggression.