Saturday, October 1, 2016

Nick Turse - If Spec Ops are the future of the US Military, it isn’t Winning many Wars

 The U.S. has carried out a century of conflict, killing people from Nicaragua and Haiti to Germany and Japan; battering countries from the Koreas and Vietnams to Iraq and Afghanistan; fighting on a constant basis since 1980.  All that death and devastation, however, led to few victories.  Worse yet for the armed forces, the win-loss record of this highly professionalized, technologically sophisticated, and exceptionally well-funded military has, since assuming the mantle of the finest fighting force in the history of the world, plummeted precipitously. .. An American century of carnage and combat has yielded many lessons learned, but not, it seems, the most important one when it comes to military conflict.  “We can kill people, we can break things, but we don’t accomplish our political goals.” 

Americans expect to be number one.  First Lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the “greatest country on Earth.” (Take that, world public opinion, and your choice of Germany!) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, touting America as “the greatest country that has ever been created.”  Her rival, Donald Trump, who for political gain badmouths the country that made him rich and famous, does so in the hope of returning America to supposedly halcyon days of unparalleled greatness.  He’s predicted that his presidency might lead to an actual winning overload.  “We’re going to win so much,” he told supporters.  “You’re going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President… don’t win so much’… And I’m going to say, 
‘No, we have to make America great again… We’re gonna keep winning.’” 

As Trump well knows, Americans take winning very seriously.  Look no further than the U.S. gold medal count at the recent Rio Olympics: 46. The next highest total?  Great Britain’s 27, almost 20 fewer than those of the country whose upstart rebels bested them in the eighteenth century, the nation’s ur-victory.  The young United States then beat back the Brits in the early 1800s, and twice bailed them out in victorious world wars during the twentieth century. 

In the intervening years, the U.S. built up a gaudy military record - 
slaughtering native tribespunishing Mexico, pummeling Spain — but the best was yet to come.  “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” boasted President Barack Obama in this year’s State of the Union address.  In this he echoed his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, in May 2001, declared that “America today has the finest [military] the world has ever seen.”

In the years between those two moments of high-flown rhetoric, the United States military fought in nine conflicts, according to a 2015 briefing produced by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the umbrella organization for America’s most elite forces including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets.  The record of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, according to SOCOM: zero wins, two losses, and seven ties.

This dismal record is catalogued in a briefing slide produced by SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate last September and obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act.  “A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges” — a timeline of conflicts ranked as wins, losses, and ties — examines the last 100 years of America’s wars and interventions. 

“Gray zone” is an increasingly popular term of the trade for operations conducted somewhere on the continuum between war and peace.  “Traditional war is the paradigm,” the briefing slide asserts.  “Gray zone conflict is the norm.”

While he finds a great deal to fault in SOCOM’s analysis, retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, believes its assessment of post-9/11 conflicts “is quite accurate.”  Although American politicians like Hillary Clinton regularly insist that the U.S. possesses “the greatest military” on the planet, they avoid addressing the question of what the country’s armed interventions have actually accomplished when it comes to policy goals — the true measure of success in war.  “We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost,” Bacevich says.  “That’s simply a fact.”.. Read more: