An Empire Of Bad Assumptions

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.

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  1. Your use of “men and women” in the last paragraph made me think about the recent push and acceptance of women in combat roles. While under the guise of the progressive tenant of equality, I would not be surprised if many current military higher-ups see this as another sort of progressive anthropology project along the type that you mentioned in the article. It doesn’t take a genius to know that women do not possess anything close to the necessary capability men have in combat scenarios; yet we still have people compelling our generals to become glorified social studies researchers.

    1. Small Wars Journal actually ran an article speaking to that progressivism petri-dish mentality; “Changing the “Macho” Male Culture of the US Military”

      “…In essence, the idea of many of these advocates is that the American male is a, mostly unconscious, misogynist, and that it comes from our culture: movies that hype physicality, combat, aggressiveness, and the treatment of women as objects. It also comes from our military: males dominate the services, are the only ones allowed in combat arms, and thus make up most of the higher ranks. The cure for all of this is simple: change the culture…

      “The “change the culture” movement has manifested itself in many ways and has taken on different efforts as well as groups that are loosely aligned towards fundamental change. On college campuses it has largely taken on the shape of the movement to end sexual harassment and sexual assault. As one professor from a prominent campus told me recently, “It isn’t really about ending sexual assault; it’s about controlling people and changing behavior. Men have the advantage in almost every way, so we have to find ways to cut into that advantage. Making traditional male behavior something that is socially unacceptable will cut their advantage. We have to make it unacceptable for men to talk the way they talk now, act the way they act now, and interact the way they do with women now, and have traditionally.” Hyping sexual assault statistics, making women fearful of men, and building a system that finds men guilty until proven innocent are simply means to the greater end of “cutting male advantage.”

  2. American foreign policy lurches from poorly thought-out to downright bizarre. Clearly there is intent to set up de facto puppet regimes (see Ukraine), but then why signal in the most stark terms that you won’t support such regimes when the chips are down (see Egypt). It doesn’t make any sense. If I was the current cabal running Ukraine, I would be very worried, because the US state department will throw them under the bus quicker than you can say “Hosni Mubarak”.

    The sissification of warfare with combat regulations that would have turned the drawn out loss in Vietnam into a 48 hour rout had they been implemented under Johnson, is just symptomatic of the decline of warfare itself. The masculine virility of the soldier, the warrior, took a huge hit when war became mechanized and so it isn’t any wonder that now political correctness has leeched its way in. Men cannot have Bannockburn anymore, only the Somme, and with that in mind the impetus arises to turn war into a hugbox. Unfortunately, the Taliban aren’t reading from the same university-penned program sheet.

    1. Mark, you say the masculine virility of the warrior declined with the mechanization of warfare. This is true, but we should be careful: the reason wasn’t simply the addition of technologies to the battlefield, but the philosophies governing place of battle in the hearts and minds of men. “War is Hell” came first, then they made WW1 look like Hell as proof.

      Compare Ernst Juenger in Storm of Steel. Reading that book, he’s not fighting the same war the Brits are. He’s fighting for glory and honor and the upholding of martial virtues, and he finds all that there, despite the fact that his side lost.

      Technology doesn’t drive social change. Social change drives technology.

      All we would need to do to recapture the manliness of war would be to repudiate the underlying philosophies of the age. (Easier said than done.)

      1. Oh absolutely, ‘the art of war’ died as well, with technology exacerbating an already existent decline. These things have a habit of tracking with each other, rather than sharing a necessarily explicit causal relationship, which I figure is further evidence of a cyclical decline at play.

  3. The institutions that start and fight our wars are a highly intertwined complex of the Presidency, Defense, State and Congress. They can’t be separated, and the military, especially, can’t use the “stabbed in the back” myth. The general and admirals are every bit as politicized as any back bench Congress critter.

    The fact that this complex has not won a war since 1945 is a real problem, probably without solution other than abject defeat and occupation, and one can expect failures and mini-disasters for a long time to come.

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