The West Point Soldier Who Called It as He Saw It

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Fist raised, Spenser Rapone displays a slogan written inside his cap after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in May 2016. (Courtesy of Spenser Rapone via AP)

Editor’s note: On the outside, Spenser Rapone’s West Point graduation uniform looked like all the other cadets’. Underneath his dress uniform, however, was evidence of his political views: a T-shirt bearing Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara’s image, and a cap that read, inside, “Communism will win.”

The shirt and hat made waves in the U.S. military community after Rapone posted photos of them on social media in September, and now he has been given an “other than honorable” discharge. According to The Associated Press, he was charged with “conduct unbecoming of an officer” after an Army investigation determined that he “went online to promote a socialist revolution and disparage high-ranking officers.”

In the following statement for Truthdig, Rapone explains his political beliefs.

I am a combat veteran with the First Ranger Battalion, a recent graduate of West Point and a former second lieutenant who was stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y. Since identifying myself as a socialist, there has been much controversy generated by a number of my public statements.

It began with my post on social media, in which I expressed my full and enthusiastic support of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in his fight against racial injustice, white supremacy and police brutality. After revealing a picture of myself in uniform with the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick, I was met by solidarity from my fellow soldiers, as well as harsh blowback from my chain of command.

To this day, I stand by my convictions, despite the efforts of ranking officers to pressure me into silence. I believe that standing up for the exploited and the oppressed is the most honorable thing we can do as people. No job should hinder or repress this pursuit, which is why I decided to resign my commission as an officer in the United States Army. My conditional resignation was denied by the secretary of the Army. Instead, the military forced me into either submitting an unconditional resignation or appearing before a board of inquiry—an adversarial trial in which a jury of senior officers would determine my fate. Rather than submit to the antics of what amounts to a show trial at best, I tendered my unconditional resignation. Passing judgment on me one last time, the military determined the character of my service to be “other than honorable.” Despite the brass prolonging my time in service, I have come to the conclusion that leaving the military altogether, whatever the circumstances, is the only moral way forward. During this ordeal, I have learned that I am far from alone in my feelings of disillusionment and betrayal within the rank and file of the U.S. military.

As a teenager, I believed the United States military was a force of good for the world. I thought that I signed up to fight for freedom and democracy, to protect my loved ones and my country from harm. My experiences showed me otherwise.

After bearing witness to the senseless destruction in Afghanistan during my combat deployment to Khost Province in the summer of 2011, I knew that our wars must be stopped. I was assigned to my platoon as an assistant machine-gunner. I took part in missions where human beings were killed, captured and terrorized. However, the horror wrought by the U.S. military’s overseas ventures is not limited to combat engagements alone. Some nights, we barely did anything at all but walk through a village. As such, the longer I was there, the more it became apparent that the mere presence of an occupying force was a form of violence. My actions overseas did not help or protect anybody. I felt like I was little more than a bully, surrounded by the most well-armed and technologically advanced military in history, in one of the poorest countries in the world. I saw many of my fellow soldiers all too eager to carry out violence for the sake of violence. There is no honor in such bloodlust; quite the contrary. I saw firsthand how U.S. foreign policy sought to carry out the subjugation of poor, brown people in order to steal natural resources, expand American hegemony and extinguish the self-determination of any group that dare oppose the empire. Idealistic and without a coherent worldview yet, I thought that perhaps pursuing an officer’s commission would allow me to change things and help put a stop to the madness. I was wrong.

It soon dawned on me how pervasive the military-industrial complex is. I studied, examined my own experiences and began to grasp more completely the horrors and impact of U.S. imperialism. Learning that over a million people have lost their lives since 9/11—the vast majority being innocent civilians—began to haunt me. Seeing that up to a trillion dollars a year were being diverted from education, health care and infrastructure in the U.S. to support our 800 military bases around the world began to feel increasingly maddening. Within the Army itself, one out of three women are sexually assaulted. The death of football player and later soldier Pat Tillman by friendly fire was covered up to sell a war. Generals responsible for war crimes—from the unbridled destruction of Afghan and Iraqi villages to the construction of torture prisons—are rewarded with accolades and political power. These sad and dishonorable truths increasingly grew impossible to ignore. The military was not the noble and selfless institution the commercials and Hollywood movies made it out to be—far from it.

At West Point, I soon found myself at odds with my future role as someone tasked with the responsibility of leading soldiers into battle. However, leaving West Point after my junior year would have meant returning to the enlisted ranks or finding a way to come up with a quarter-million dollars to pay the academy back. So I stuck it out, hoping I would find a way to reconcile this contradiction. Again, I was wrong. Upon returning to Fort Benning, Ga., to begin my training as an infantry officer following graduation, I was filled with dread. It was like I was in a place simultaneously familiar and unknown. There were things I noticed that my 18-year-old self could not have recognized before. Most strikingly, I observed the scope of the brainwashing within the ranks, from bald, buzz-cut, mostly teenage infantrymen fresh out of training, to college graduates eager to lead those naïve soldiers into America’s next war. I felt witness to a collective delusion—one that I was once a part of, but had somehow miraculously escaped. After nearly a year there, as I prepared to move to my new duty station at Fort Drum, one thing became clear: I cannot be a part of this any longer. I cannot kill or die for the U.S. military—no one should.

I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. My feelings and experiences are not an anomaly. I know, because I have had conversations with others who have expressed the same sentiments.

You are out there, and should you take the same steps that I have, I am with you. While the prospect is daunting, united together we have far more power than all of the generals and politicians combined. We possess the ability to grind this entire military machine to a halt. It is high time we live up to the trust and respect bestowed upon us by the people. Let our mutual love of humanity and our desire for liberation and peace be our guiding principles.

Most importantly, let us find common cause with the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Libya and so many others who have suffered at the behest of the United States. To those soldiers who I’ve heard from, and to those I haven’t yet, I hope that you too find the courage to lay your weapons down with me, and refuse your orders to kill and die for the benefit of a handful of ruling-class elites at the great expense of the rest of us. Freedom lies on the other side. Together, let us fight to put a stop to these endless trillion-dollar wars, and let us join our brothers and sisters around the world in putting a stop to all forms of exploitation, oppression and senseless violence.

By Spenser Rapone/truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

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What is Juneteenth? We explain the holiday that commemorates the end of slavery

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Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated on June 19 that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Across the country, the day is marked with events and parades.

“As a Nation, we vow to never forget the millions of African-Americans who suffered the evils of slavery,” President Donald Trump said in a statement Tuesday recognizing the holiday. “Together, we honor the unbreakable spirit and countless contributions of generations of African Americans to the story of American greatness. Today we recommit ourselves to defending the self-evident truth, boldly declared by our Founding Fathers, that all people are created equal.”

Here’s everything you need to know about Juneteenth:

What is Juneteenth? 

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas, to inform a reluctant community that President Abraham Lincoln two years earlier had freed the slaves and to press locals to comply with his directive.

Why did it take so long for the news to get to Texas? 

There is no one reason why there was a 2½-year delay in letting Texas know about the abolition of slavery in the United States, according to Juneteenth.com. The historical site said some accounts place the delay on a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news, while others say the news was deliberately withheld.

Despite the delay, slavery did not end in Texas overnight, according to an article by Henry Louis Gates Jr. originally posted on The Root. Gates said after New Orleans fell, many slavers traveled to Texas with their slaves to escape regulations enforced by the Union Army in other states.

The slave owners were placed with the responsibility of letting their slaves know about the news, and some delayed relaying the information until after the harvest, Gates said.

Where does the name “Juneteenth” come from?

Juneteenth, which is also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” in honor of the day that Granger announced the abolition of slavery in Texas.

How do people celebrate? 

On social media, many shared photos and videos of their local Juneteenth celebrations.

Warming up to go live on #News4 at 6am for #Juneteenth2018 . Let’s get ready for the Strike Force Drum 🥁 Line @pgparkshttps://t.co/mlUf8D4fuPpic.twitter.com/V5PFkTn4Ie

— Molette Green (@MoletteGreen) June 19, 2018

Berkeley, Ca is BEAUTIFUL!
Black, White, Hispanic, Asian!
One Love✊🏾 #Juneteenth2018pic.twitter.com/tl8BQwvboB

— JunBug (@DaTruJBUG) June 17, 2018

#Juneteenth Parade festivities are beginning on South State St. from Dunbar Center! Cheer on the many organizations and smiling faces from all over our City and Region. #Juneteenth2018#SyracuseJuneteenthpic.twitter.com/fQEFEhVACy

— City of Syracuse (@Syracuse1848) June 16, 2018

Others called for Juneteenth — which some see as a second Independence Day — to be named a national holiday.

The end of slavery should be a national holiday with celebrations on par with July 4th. Why isn’t it? #Juneteenth2018pic.twitter.com/tOsP8KUz9E

— LaneBrooks (@lanebrooks) June 19, 2018

Juneteenth Should Be A National Holiday: https://t.co/hEe5dI95fJ#Juneteenth#Juneteenth2018pic.twitter.com/dhwrCn0VbV

— Unapologetically Us (@unapologetic_us) June 19, 2018

Many use the holiday to call attention to modern racial inequality.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation from slavery in the US, but the fight for racial and economic justice continues. Celebrate freedom! Yet, may we all continue the work to liberate all who are oppressed. #Juneteenth2018

— Juliana Stratton (@RepStratton5) June 19, 2018

Happy Juneteenth ✊🏾 The day the last of the slaves were freed . Although slavery ended & turned into mass incarceration. Keep fighting for justice & celebrate your freedom. #Juneteenth2018pic.twitter.com/wwS5kor11U

— Ayesha 🌻👑 (@Prettie_Dope) June 19, 2018 

From USA TODAY Editors
posted by The NON-Conformist

Liars Club: Ollie North and General Kelly

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Oliver North is a liar. He was also part of a conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine. Furthermore, he was part of another conspiracy to build, arm and train mercenaries to fight a public/private enterprise known as the Contra war in Nicaragua. He is a shameless egocentric maniac loved by several million US television viewers who watch his nonsensical FOX series War Stories. When he was forced to testify about his activities in the aforementioned crimes, he did what most dishonorable crooks do. He snitched, spreading the blame around, implicating then Vice President George HW Bush and hinting that President Reagan was also aware of what he was doing. In other words, he wasn’t the kind of Marine who would fall on a grenade to save his brother-in-arms. Despite his non-heroism, North ultimately took the fall and was convicted of a few counts of lying. As it turned out, the conviction was overturned on a technicality after then president GW Bush pardoned several of North’s co-conspirators. Draw your own conclusions.
I was surprised when I read that Oliver North was to become the president of the National Rifle Association (NRA.) Not because that doesn’t make perfect sense, but because I figured he would have a job in the Trump White House by now. After all, he is an arrogant self-centered protofascist who thinks his military career qualifies him as an expert on all policy matters, foreign and domestic. Kind of like that Marine in the Trump White House, John Kelly.
Kelly’s most recent comments regarding the separation of children from their parents when a family is caught illegally crossing the border are a perfect example. According to Kelly, it is “not cruel” to separate children from their parents. After all, the parents are breaking a law and the law, of course, is the law, no matter how discriminatory it is or how arbitrarily it is applied. Kelly followed these remarks by telling an interviewer that immigrants did not have the necessary skills to live in the United States. Either Kelly is ignorant of the demographics of immigration or he is intentionally using xenophobic and racist rhetoric in his campaign against migration. Either way, both remarks reveal a deeper fear and hatred that abounds in current regime in Washington.
Something else Kelly said last week was that he was not rich. As far as I can tell, he is worth around 4.5 million dollars. While that may not be rich to billionaires, let me tell you it is rich to most of the rest of us. The question I have though is how does a career military officer become a multimillionaire? This question leads me to wonder as to what types of graft and inside dealing did he participate in to accumulate that wealth? I have friends and relatives who retired from the military as officers and have nothing close to that amount of assets unless they went into the private sector after their military retirement. Kelly did no such thing. In fact, his career took him from the Marines to Homeland Security. From there, he was appointed to his current position in the Trump White House. Like most of the individuals in Congress, it appears that General Kelly took advantage of his position to fatten up his bank account. While Forbes magazine claimed in a December 22, 2016 article that most of Kelly’s worth came from his military pension, they did not break this number down or state where the rest of it came from. An article on military pensions dated January 9, 2014 reported that a four-star general with forty years in the military would receive $237, 144 a year, with cost of living increases raising that amount each year. If one counts Kelly’s original enlistment from 1970-1972, he was in the Marines for forty-two years. Now I don’t understand high finance like a stockbroker on Wall Street, but I can do addition and multiplication. I just can’t figure out how anyone collecting about a quarter million dollars a year for two years can have made that into 4.5 million . In other words, if Forbes magazine is correct when it writes that Kelly made almost all of his 4.5 million dollars from his military pension and he had only been collecting that pension for less than a year when the Forbes article was written, how did he get to be worth 4.5 million dollars? Even when one adds the income Kelly reported on hispublic disclosure form he submitted before he was appointed by Trump to head DHS, the numbers do not seem to add up. Maybe Kelly had friends who helped him invest some of that money? If so, I would like to meet those kind of people because they got some serious mojo going on. More likely, however, is something a little less magical.
Milo Minderbinder is a character in Joseph Heller’s classic satire of modern war, Catch-22. Minderbinder is a sergeant who buys and sells everything and anything he can get his hands on, from prostitutes to military weaponry. Furthermore, he sells to anyone, no matter what side they might be on. Journalist John Sack had a similar personality in his new journalism work on the Vietnam war, the book titled M. The difference between Minderbinder and Sack’s profiteering cynic was that Sack’s character was a colonel, not an NCO. I bring these characters up primarily in relation to a potential, yet unverified source of General Kelly’s financial fortunes. It is a fairly well known fact, after all, that millions of US dollars went missing during the heyday of the US military occupation of Iraq. Most of that money has not been officially recovered. Other generals, like Kelly’s fellow Marine, Mad Dog Mattis, end up on the payroll of defense contractors (Mattis sits on the board of General Dynamics)–a much safer and legal way to engage in profiteering of war makingand preparing for war. As for Kelly, he was on the board of DynCorp—a security outfit known for its mercenaries in Iraq and its coziness with Homeland Security—for a while before he became head of DHS.
Like Oliver North, General Kelly is an embarrassment to some of his fellow marines. The arrogance and self-importance of Kelly and North leaves a sour taste in the mouths of those who believe they served all those in the US, not just those whose politics they agreed with or whose bank accounts they could benefit from. Those Marines (and their fellows in the other military branches) did what they did without expectations of reward during or after the time in. Many of them have only their consciences to consider when their deeds in uniform are remembered. From where I sit, the longer Kelly and Mattis serve the current regime in DC, the more I can see just the kind of consciences they have.

By Ron Jacobs/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

End of Iran Deal Underscores a Weakness of Obama’s ‘Pen and Phone’ Presidency If your “signature achievements” are done by executive power alone, they might as well be written in pencil.

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Say what you will about Donald Trump pulling the United States out of the Iran deal. Personally, I wish the United States had stayed in. But this sort of zig-zag is exactly what happens when you end up governing with your pen and your phone, as Barack Obama did.

Faced with a recalcitrant, obstructionist Republican Congress that he helped bring to power two years into his presidency, Obama increasingly gave up on getting congressional approval for anything: military actions, immigration policy, trade policy, net neutrality, environmental regulations. Instead, as Damon Root wrote a few years back, Obama did exactly what he once had criticized his predecessor for and went full Andrew Jackson:

In December 2007 presidential candidate Barack Obama told The Boston Globe that if he won the 2008 election, he would enter the White House committed to rolling back the sort of overreaching executive power that had characterized the presidency of George W. Bush. “The President is not above the law,” Obama insisted.

Once elected, however, President Obama began to sing a different sort of tune. “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation,” Obama announced. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone…and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions.”

Well, you live by the pen and you die by the pen, and so DACA, the Paris Accords, and the Iran deal (routinely described as “one of President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements“) are down the tubes.

If Obama had tried to negotiate the Iran deal as a treaty, rather than an agreement, he would have needed the Senate to sign off on it. Same thing with U.S. involvement in the Paris Accords and a bunch of other “signature achievements.” He would almost have certainly gotten nowhere with a Republican opposition whose “top priority” was, according to “Cocaine Mitch” McConnell, making Obama “a one-term president.” It would have taken extraordinary leadership, especially in the teeth of a recession and the wake of the one-party passage of Obamacare, to get much of anything done.

But what was it that Obama used to say? “Elections have consequences,” and you’ve got to play with the cards you’re dealt. It’s not complicated: You can either do the hard work to build a consensus and pass lasting legislation or you can toss off victories that won’t last very long. Now Trump, like Bush and Obama, is mostly opting for the latter. What is it with these baby-boomer presidents anyway? Not a single one could pass the marshmallow test.

Indeed, gridlock didn’t stop the president and Congress from pulling together when they wanted to. As Veronique de Rugy and I wrote in 2012:

the ostensibly gridlocked Congress reauthorized the Export-Import Bank program that gives money to foreign companies to buy U.S. goods; extended sharply reduced rates for government-subsidized student loans; re-upped the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes airline service to rural communities; and voted against ending the 1705 loan-guarantee program that gave rise to green-tech boondoggles such as Solyndra and Abound. None of these were party-line votes—all enjoyed hearty support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Another instance of budding bipartisanship is the pork-laden farm bill that extends sugar subsidies, maintains crop subsidies and creates a “shallow-loss program” that effectively guarantees incomes for farmers at a time when that sector is doing historically well. The bill passed the Senate with 16 GOP votes. Though the House version of the bill is still being worked out, no one doubts it will not only pass, but largely resemble the Senate version.

My point in bringing up the relative ease with which Trump pulled America out of the Iran deal isn’t (simply) to bash Obama. He’s out of office, and Trump and the GOP own the state of the nation. It’s to underscore the low-grade, slow-moving constitutional infection that has plagued the 21st century like Hep C. If Congress refuses to do its job, which is to write laws and give clear limits to the executive branch, all we have to look forward to is a series of four- or eight-year lurches in this direction and that as the presidency slides from Republican to Democrat and back again. This is no way to run a corner market, much less a country. But it won’t stop until the group Mark Twain identified as America’s only native criminal class starts to actually do its job.

Final point to the NeverTrumpers: Realize that everything The Donald does simply by pen and phone will be just as easily countermanded as Obama’s own “signature achievements.” If a president’s signature ain’t on a piece of actual legislation, it might as well be written in pencil.

UPDATED 12:30 P.M. ET: Reader Ankush Narula (follow him on Twitter) points me to “If the Iran deal had been a Senate-confirmed treaty, would Trump have been forced to stay in? Nope,” a Washington Post article by Andrew Rudalevige. The Bowdoin College professor of government cites recent instances where presidents abrogated treaties without consulting the Senate, notes that it’s not fully settled exactly how treaties might be broken, and writes:

It’s surely possible that a treaty, in place of an executive agreement, would have wider support. Republicans would have had to vote to ratify it, and thus its abrogation might carry higher political costs. As I noted in 2015, “the difference between seeking a treaty and negotiating an executive agreement is, at base, a political question. So is the outcome of either.” And as political scientists Glen Krutz and Jeffrey Peake argue in their book “Treaty Politics and the Rise of Executive Agreements,”executive agreements conducted in “truly unilateral fashion” without even tacit congressional cooperation will be “codified but essentially hollow.”

Read the whole thing, which supports the idea that building consensus, which the Iran deal definitely lacked (even some Democrats voiced opposition back in 2015), would help keep agreements in force even if they have not been explicitly voted on as treaties.

By Nick Gillespie/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Why Can’t the World’s Most Powerful Military Win Its Wars? This country needs to rethink war and reevaluate its place in the world.

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“This time, they think they have it right.”

So declared an Associated Press story reporting an upbeat assessment by this country’s top military officer at the end of a five-day visit to Afghanistan earlier this spring. Marine General Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was heading home from the war zone, the AP reporter wrote, “with a palpable sense of optimism” about the U.S.-supported war against Taliban and Islamic State fighters there.

Light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps?

The story didn’t say whether any of the reporters listening to General Dunford asked why it had taken more than 16 years for the world’s leading military power to come up with the “fundamentally different approach” that the general believes has put U.S. and Afghan forces on the path to success. (None of the changes he mentioned really sounded fundamental, either.) Still, it’s a question worth asking: If Americans are right in ceaselessly telling themselves that theirs is the most powerful country the world has ever seen and that their military is the “greatest fighting force ever,” as President Trump calls it, should it have been this hard and taken this long to find a way — if they really have — to defeat enemies whose war-making resources are a tiny fraction of ours?

As has happened often during our current conflicts, that piece of news from Afghanistan got me thinking about an earlier war that I witnessed first-hand as a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun during its final three years.

In Vietnam, as in subsequent American wars, the United States and its local allies had staggering advantages in all the conventional measures of military strength, yet failed to win. It makes me wonder: If U.S. political and military leaders and the American public remembered Vietnam more honestly, if painful truths hadn’t been cloaked in comforting mythologies, might this country have responded more intelligently and effectively to the violent challenges we’ve faced in the current century?

Consider, for example, the persistent story that America lost in Vietnam because U.S. troops fought with one hand tied behind their backs — because, that is, the politicians were “afraid to let them win,” as Ronald Reagan once put it. The implication is clear: we could and should have won that war by doing more of what we were already doing or keeping at it longer (and should do the same in other conflicts, if military force does not seem to be succeeding).

But did the United States really lose in Vietnam for lack of force?

Not Exactly a Limited War

Plenty of facts suggest otherwise. Take the amount of destructive power the U.S. employed. “Devastating conventional firepower unparalleled in military history,” a study by the Army’s logistics command called it, adding that, along with extraordinary tonnages of air and ground ordnance, American commanders fought with virtually no restrictions on mobility, equipment, or supplies: “The logistics scene was characterized by almost unlimited supply, remarkable high operational readiness rates as applied to equipment, a seemingly endless flow of ammunition and petroleum, and immunity for the most part from external fiscal restraints.”

Even to one who heard a bit of the gunfire from time to time, the statistics on U.S. firepower are mind-boggling. Pentagon records show that, for long periods, the American military and Saigon government forces fired ammunition at rates up to an astonishing 600 times higher than the enemy’s — 100,000 tons of ground munitions a month for all of 1969, for example, compared to just 150 tons from the Communist side. In 1974, with U.S. forces no longer directly engaged in combat and allied South Vietnamese commanders moaning nonstop about shortages caused by reductions in American military aid, Saigon’s forces still used 65 tons of ammunition for every ton fired by the enemy.

Those figures don’t include air ordnance, which would make the ratios even more grotesquely one-sided. Over the course of the war, U.S. aircraft dropped approximately twice as many tons of bombs on North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as combined Allied forces dropped on Germany and Japan in World War II.

In light of those numbers, the claim that America’s war in Vietnam was fought under undue restrictions is less than convincing. If U.S. troops couldn’t win — or leave our ally in a position to win — after fighting for seven years with an almost unimaginable edge in firepower, technology, and mobility, the much more logical conclusion is that U.S. military doctrine and Washington’s concept of military strength simply did not apply to that conflict.

And what about the doctrine that a later generation of U.S. soldiers took with them into Afghanistan and Iraq?

“Full spectrum dominance” was the watchword in a 2000 document, “Joint Vision 2020” (updated from a 1996 version), which the authors described as a “conceptual template” for the U.S. military’s evolution over the two decades to come. Its language was even more hubristic than that slogan suggests: “a force that is dominant across the full spectrum of military operations — persuasive in peace, decisive in war, preeminent in any form of conflict… prepared to win across the full range of military operations in any part of the world… [with the ability] to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the full range of military operations.”

Defeat any adversary? Control any situation?

Nine-tenths of the way to the year 2020, U.S. soldiers, with all of their firepower and technology, have not achieved anything close to total dominance on the battlefields where they have been engaged. They have not dominated poorly armed fighters. Or insurgents planting low-tech, low-costexplosive devices. Or local cops and officials whom we would like to stop shaking down citizens and undermining the public support we say is crucial for counterinsurgency warfare.

To put it bluntly, the experience of the last nearly 17 years makes “full spectrum dominance” sound like a delusional fantasy.

When the large-scale U.S. intervention in Vietnam began, the great triumph of World War II was just 20 years in the past. That war was the formative experience for the generation of senior officers who led the American military into Vietnam, so perhaps their arrogance was understandable. The inventors of full spectrum dominance and the commanders they influenced came along almost exactly the same number of years after Vietnam, which makes their illusion of omnipotence harder to understand.

At the other end of their respective wars, members of both groups insisted (and continue to insist) that the fault was not in their strategy or how they conducted it. Instead, they claim, they were denied success because the politicians limited them too much or made them stop too soon. There’s no way to prove or disprove counterfactual statements of that sort, but given the length of time they had to win those wars — twice as long (in Vietnam) or three times (in Iraq) or close to four times as many years (in Afghanistan) as it took to reach victory in World War II — that claim, like the one-hand-behind-the-back argument, has a very hollow ring to it.

Time to Revise Sun Tzu: Know Your Friend

If my computer’s search function is working properly, the words “ally,” “allied,” “host government,” and “local forces” appear nowhere in the “Joint Vision 2020” paper. That’s a telling omission. In Vietnam and our more recent wars, the weaknesses of Washington’s local partners — which U.S. officials have been stunningly reluctant to recognize — should be seen as the fundamental reason those wars have been so unsuccessful despite the overwhelming advantage in material resources that U.S. forces and their allies possessed.

There’s an implication here for the American approach to intelligence (in both the narrow and broad senses of the word). While rethinking what military power means, perhaps we should reconsider what intelligence means, too. In particular, it would be useful to revisit the classic premise — stated more than 2,500 years ago by the Chinese sage Sun Tzu — that the first goal of intelligence is to “know your enemy.” It certainly would have been helpful in the last half-century’s wars if American commanders had known their opponents better. In Vietnam and since, though, by far the most damaging intelligence failure wasn’t not knowing our enemies well enough, but not knowing our friends. Consistently in these wars, Americans have overestimated their local ally’s capabilities while remaining blind, whether purposely or not, to the grave weaknesses of those forces.In Vietnam, American weapons, dollars, and advice created a South Vietnamese army that, on paper, should have easily defended its country, as Americans told themselves it could. But U.S. money and material did not make that ally’s commanders effective or competent, or compensate for the inadequate leadership that was, in the end, the critical reason for South Vietnam’s defeat by a much poorer but more skillful, disciplined, and resourceful opponent.

A strong case can be made that the American-allied Saigon regime’s single most toxic weakness was pervasive corruption. It wasn’t just that corruption angered and alienated the South Vietnamese populace, including the regime’s own soldiers. That was damaging enough, but the greater damage was that corruption fatally undermined the ability of both the government and the army to do their jobs. A 1966 memorandum by a study group in the U.S. mission in Saigon made that point in sharp terms:

“There is a deadly correlation between corruption at high levels in an administrative system and the spread throughout the system of incompetence, as higher-ups encourage and promote corrupt subordinates, and protect them from the consequences of poor performance of duty or direct disobedience of orders. Such a system demoralizes and ‘selects out’ the able and the dedicated who do not play the game.”

An author of that paper and the principal drafter of the section on corruption was Frank Scotton, one of the longest-serving and most knowledgeable U.S. officials in Vietnam. Writing on that theme in his memoir, Uphill Battle, Scotton quoted a Vietnamese general who told him that “he could name many corrupt officers, but not a single one who was both corrupt and an effective commander.” That general was eventually fired for his criticisms of the regime and sent into exile.

The study group put a “marked reduction of corruption” first on its list of recommendations for necessary reforms in South Vietnam. But in my time there, beginning nearly six years after that memorandum was written, the South Vietnamese system I observed still perfectly matched Scotton’s description. Exactly as he had noted years earlier, the most honest and capable officers I met were also the most frustrated and demoralized. By the time I left in the final evacuation from a defeated South Vietnam nearly three years later, I was convinced that corruption was the single biggest reason the Saigon government had lost the war. Nothing I’ve learned since has changed my mind on that.

Return of the Ghost Soldiers

I don’t have the same firsthand knowledge of Iraq or Afghanistan. But even from afar, it’s hard not to hear history rhyming, if not repeating itself.

Occasionally, news from those wars comes with a shock of absolute recognition, as when it was revealed — after the Islamic State offensive in Iraq exploded in the fall of 2014 and city after city fell to relatively small groups of militants — that the American-trained Iraqi army’s real strength was far lower than its strength on paper. That was because as many as 50,000 of the troops on that army’s rosters — the equivalent of four full divisions — were “ghost soldiers,” men who did not actually exist or had deserted but were still being paid, with their commanders pocketing their salaries. The city of Mosul, for example, was ostensibly defended by 25,000 government troops when the Islamic State militants attacked. The actual number was less than half that many — in some units, an even smaller fraction. This, it should be noted, in a force that had received something like $25 billion in U.S. support in the decade after the 2003 invasion.

The same practice — along with the broader pattern of corruption that it exemplifies — has been evident in Afghanistan. In one contested province, officials acknowledged in 2016 that almost half the soldiers and police on government payrolls did not exist or were not present for duty — even though improving the effectiveness of Afghan security forces was supposed to be a top priority for the Americans offering training, advice, and funds.

The story in Vietnam, for all intents and purposes, was identical. In an army where every dollar of soldiers’ pay, as well as every weapon, vehicle, bullet, and pair of boots, was funded by U.S. aid, the Vietnamese had names for two variations of payroll padding: “ghost soldiers,” men who had been killed but whose deaths were not reported so that their commanders could keep collecting and pocketing their salaries; and “flower soldiers” (that is, ornamental ones) who stayed home with their families while kicking back their pay to their superiors. That meant South Vietnam’s real fighting strength was considerably less than official reports indicated. Routinely, battalions that nominally had 300 men had only half or a third of that number on hand — exactly as in the case of those Iraqi units filled with “ghost soldiers” that were defeated in Mosul.

The broader parallels between the army and government we supported in Vietnam and those we have backed in our twenty-first-century wars are also clear. In all of them, corruption and poor governance in general were rife and would prove crippling obstacles to achieving U.S. objectives. And in all of them, Americans were almost completely ineffective in doing anything about either problem.

As journalist Douglas Wissing wrote in his book Funding the Enemy, a massively researched report on far-reaching corruption in Afghanistan, instead of taking any meaningful action against corruption, the U.S. government for the most part “either ignored it or enabled it.” That conclusion is borne out, though phrased more diplomatically, in numerous reports by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. After describing one of many ways the Taliban were able to tap into American funds, Wissing noted that all the money they got their hands on was spent for weapons, motorcycles, and mobile phones; their religious scruples stopped them from keeping any of it for themselves. Mordantly but aptly, Wissing added, “at least the Taliban made honest use of the U.S. taxpayers’ cash.”

New Plays, Same Script

The world of 2018 is vastly different from the world of a half-century ago. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq are very different countries, and the wars in each reflect different origins and circumstances. The U.S. military today bears almost no resemblance to the American force that fought in Vietnam. So comparisons are hardly simple. Still, the boiled-down narratives of those wars look strikingly similar: large-scale U.S. military forces with limitless firepower are sent to defeat a far more poorly armed enemy and spend years trying to do so; meanwhile, American aid officials dole out hefty amounts of money and advice intended to create a good government and a prosperous country, or at least good enough and prosperous enough so that most citizens will choose the side of the war we want them to support.

In the end, however, the goal the Americans fought to reach — a stable local regime that is able to effectively defend itself, legitimate in the eyes of its citizens, and friendly to U.S. interests — is not achieved. Eventually, after we stop trying to accomplish the mission ourselves, we assume we can help a client force reach the same objectives by teaching them how to fight essentially the same way we did, except with even slimmer resources (a lot fewer helicopters to lift out their wounded, for example, which their soldiers got accustomed to while the rich Americans were still there). Not surprisingly, that policy doesn’t work so well either.

It’s hard to fathom why those scenarios weren’t more quickly and widely seen as illusory, especially the second or third time around. In part, no doubt, it was a case of being lowered into water reaching the boiling point too slowly to realize what was happening. And Washington’s and the Pentagon’sthinking surely also reflected the sugar coating Americans tend to spray over painful memories — the Pentagon website commemorating the Vietnam Waris a prime example — to avoid remembering them accurately. Even so, after Vietnam you’d think military professionals and the rest of us wouldn’t have gone on as long as we did in subsequent conflicts without realizing that America’s very idea of war in these last decades needs reexamination and so do the stories U.S. commanders keep telling themselves, their superiors, and the rest of us about our accomplishments and our allies’ capabilities.

As is almost always the case, describing the problem is easier — much easier — than solving it. This one will take a big and wrenching change in deeply rooted structures and beliefs, and in personal and institutional perceptions of self-interest. (Can we really stop telling ourselves that the United States has the best military in the world?) We have already paid a monumental price for our faulty understanding of war and of the real world. Failing to learn those lessons, even at this late date, will only drive that price tragically higher.

By Arnold R. Isaacs / TomDispatch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Wisconsin is the GOP model for ‘welfare reform.’ But as work requirements grow, so does one family’s desperation.

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The Trump administration is using Wisconsin as a model, but hopeful statistics belie the continuing struggles of low-income families trying to meet increasing standards for public assistance.

Image: Washington Post

The shock absorbers in James Howlett’s Ford Fusion were busted, but he and his partner, Nadine, packed their two children inside anyway. They were already homeless, and their time on food stamps was running out. They needed to fix the car and dig up documents to try to get back on welfare.

The suburban homeless shelter where they slept the night before was now in the distance as they made their way through the familiar blight of the city neighborhood that was once home. Howlett dropped Kayden, 5, at kindergarten and Cali, 3, at day care in a community center that stood amid the boarded-up houses and vacant fields surrounded by barbed wire that dot Milwaukee’s north side.

That’s when he found himself gripped by a new worry: His run-down Ford might be another barrier to government assistance.

More from The Washington Post

Posted by Libergirl

Study Shows Trump Voters Were Motivated by Fear of Losing Privileged Status—Not Economic Anxiety This wasn’t about the stagnant wages.

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Much has been made about Trump’s support from the “forgotten men and women” who elected him to throw a “flash-bang grenade” at the elites in Washington. Usually, this framed as an issue concerning “economic anxiety,” and the fact that middle-class white Americans are less prosperous than they were in past generations.

But a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that this narrative is flawed. Trump supporters aren’t angry about off-shoring, they’re resentful about their possible loss of status.

“It’s much more of a symbolic threat that people feel,” study author Diana C. Mutz from the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. “It’s not a threat to their own economic well-being; it’s a threat to their group’s dominance in our country over all.”

Mutz’s research casts doubts on the economic anxiety explanation, which researchers call the “left behind” theory. People who lost jobs or came from cities where off-shoring ravaged the local economy weren’t more likely to support trump than people who didn’t.

“It wasn’t people in those areas that were switching, those folks were already voting Republican,” Mutz said.

The actual correlation she uncovered involved a “social dominance orientation,” which measures whether people see hierarchy as a good and natural way to organize society. White people who had that view gravitated towards Trump.

“It used to be a pretty good deal to be a white, Christian male in America, but things have changed and I think they do feel threatened,” Mutz said.

Read the study here or the Times story here.

By Martin Cizmar / Raw Story

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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