Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's the Stupid War, Stupid (Update)

by Jeff Huber
No nation has ever profited from a long war.

--Sun Tzu
$85 billion to bail out American International Group, huh? That's on top of $30 billion to keep Bear Sterns out of the soup line, and $200 billion or more to prevent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from staining their collective mattress. For that kind of money we could have financed maybe three more years of our woebegone war in Iraq. Not to worry, though; we can stay in Iraq for as long as it takes to achieve the kind of victory John McCain promises if it takes fifty years, a hundred years, a thousand years or a million years to achieve.

The Chinese are a patient people, and they take American Express.

Strategic Reach Around

A number of folks in my neck of Virginia who voted for Bush twice and plan to vote for McCain assure me that our current economic woes are a direct result of our banks making mortgage loans to colored people. This is the same crowd that believes without hesitation that if we were to withdraw from Iraq, a haji horde numbering in the hundreds of millions would transit the oceans aboard a fleet of magic carpets, and invade and occupy America, and force all of us to do unspeakable things in unimaginable ways while we form pyramids wearing our unmentionables, or something like that.

What we're actually observing now is an ironic reversal of the strategic equation that led America to the status of global hegemon. Beginning with World War I (and arguably before that), military intervention overseas both enhanced America's place in the balance of global military power and fueled its economic engine. American has essentially maintained a wartime economy since World War II, the conflict that made the United States the military and economic leader of the free world. Throughout most of that period we have maintained a full time professional force and augmented it with reservists, militiamen, conscripts, and mercenaries. We have also maintained permanent deterrence and first response forces in Europe and Asia as a cornerstone of our Soviet containment strategy.

As a force in being, our post World War II military did a remarkable job of preventing a direct armed confrontation between the free world and the Soviet Bloc. But when we actually committed forces to combat, most notably in Korea and Vietnam, the results were, to put it kindly, disappointing. I don't say this to disparage the spirit and effectiveness of American troops in combat. Tactically, the U.S. military has been superb, but the manner in which America's political and military leaders (who at this point are virtually indistinguishable) have used it has seldom yielded favorable strategic outcomes.

General Douglas MacArthur squandered the brilliance of his amphibious landing at Inchon when he pressed too far north and goaded China into the Korean conflict. And it's more or less true that American forces were never defeated on the field in Vietnam, but so what?

Today, though they'll take all the kudos they can get over the "success" of the surge strategy in Iraq, neither General David Petraeus nor General Ray Odierno are eager to openly boast about the "victory" their elected bosses keep promising us is just around the corner. Upon taking charge of Central Command from Petraeus, Odierno cautioned that "we must realize that these gains are fragile and reversible." Odierno's starting to sound like a man watching his life pass before his eyes. As Petraeus's sidekick, he looked on as his boss created a faux peace by handing out guns and bribes like Hershey bars. Now that he's top kick, Odierno quakes at the knowledge that the bribe spigot may dry up but the guns won't go away. Odierno is also sweating bullets (heh, heh) over what he'll do when his neocon masters tell him he has to stay in Iraq and their erstwhile puppet Nuri al Maliki tells him he has to go.

Our puppets in the Bananastans aren't playing by Marquis of Queensbury guidelines either. The worst army in the world (Pakistan's, which has lost every war it ever fought) apparently kicked the best army in the world (ours) out of its country on Monday September 15. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the closest thing Pakistan has to a genuine head of state, said on Wednesday September 10 that “No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan.”

Makes you wonder why we spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined if that's all the more good it does us.

Ancient Chinese Open Secret

The Chinese are keen students of the entirely scrutable history of western civilization and know full well that the Middle East is the traditional graveyard of occidental superpowers. They have been delighted by our folly in Iraq; they're no doubt approaching orgiastic ecstasy over the prospect of America digging itself an even deeper hole in the Bananastans, a future that seems set in stone regardless of which political minstrel ingratiates his way into the Oval Office come November.

China watched with amusement for decades as the Soviet Union, with its inferior economic model, tried to compete with us in an arms race. Now, China spectates from the skybox as we pursue an arms race with ourselves and continue to depend on a form of national power that has become antithetical to our national interest.

You'll listen to the nattering class babble on the infosphere about how our present economic woes came about as a result of deregulation, and to some extent they'll be correct.

But what you'll actually be hearing is what it sounds like when your country is losing the kind of war that takes place in the brave new world order it created.

The Latest Shenanigans

The NYT and other sources reported late Friday that the Bush administration is urging Congress "to grant it far-reaching emergency powers to buy hundreds of billions of dollars in distressed mortgages despite many unknowns about how the plan would work."

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says the upfront cost could be as much as $500 billion. "Outside experts" say it could be closer to $1 trillion.

As best I can tell, these figures are above and beyond the $300 billion plus the government has already committed to bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and AIG and so on…


Even Later Shenanigans

The NYT reported at 10:30 am eastern time that "The Bush administration is asking Congress to let the government buy $700 billion in toxic mortgages in the largest financial bailout since the Great Depression."

'We're going to work with Congress to get a bill done quickly,'' President Bush said at the White House.

Yes, let's do this as quickly as possible. There's no sense in anyone taking a moment to think about what they're doing at a time like this.

Related articles:

Wars and Empires (September 2005)

In an Arms Race with Ourselves (October 2005)

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.


  1. Anonymous11:35 PM

    The figures are staggering. Fortunately, the Bush regime can authorize the retooling of the printing presses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Speed up the presses, perhaps add another shift. This regime's ploy with smoke and mirrors is coming to a climax.

    What irony. The Republicans who prided themselves on less government is paying to keep private enterprise afloat.

    Meanwhile, the future standard bearer of the GOP pronounces "the economy is fundamentally strong" - only to revise his view in the afternoon and in less than 24 hours classifies the situation as a crisis. Off script and off the tracks.

    Left Coast

  2. wkmaier11:29 AM


    We are transforming into a Bananastan in our lifetimes.

  3. "The Chinese are a patient people, and they take American Express."

    I almost fell off my chair laughing when I read that.

  4. Anonymous2:27 PM

    I find your perspective on the wars correct, but not for the right reasons. You seem to criticise these wars based on the fact that they're not winnable, and will engender hatred towards America. Any problems these wars cause are based on the idea that they hurt America.

    Think outside America for a second. These wars are wrong based on the fact that they're killing, terrorising and brutally destroying people. To say they're wrong because they hurt America is like saying the USSR invading Afghanistan was wrong because of the damage it did to the Soviet Union.

    The underlying logic for you is that it's okay to terrorise and destroy non-Americans if in the end it benefits America more than it hurts America. I throw my hands up in frustration with such a self-serving morality.

    Yeah, strangling Iraq with sanctions, bombing them, bombing Afghanis, bombing Pakisanis is wrong because "America" is victimised by it.

    What a sick nation, where even the most severe critics of American violence only base their criterion on the damage it inflicts on itself.

  5. Anonymous,

    You're obviously new to my work. Read more of it and I'm sure you'll get a feel for how revolted I am by the senseless slaughter and suffering our foreign policy causes.

    Please don't put words in my mouth again. I tolerate a lot of things, people misrepresenting my positions isn't one of them.


    If you hurt yourself falling of that chair, remember that the Chinese also take Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

  6. Anonymous3:24 PM

    Hi Jeff -

    You're correct. I stumbled upon your article, and hadn't read your other articles. Sadly, I am used to reading commentary like the kind I described throughout the media. Please accept my apology for misinterpreting your positions. It's clear that you do care about the people who are truly suffering.

    My comment was based on a few phrases you wrote in particular:

    "Tactically, the U.S. military has been superb, but the manner in which America's political and military leaders (who at this point are virtually indistinguishable) have used it has seldom yielded favorable strategic outcomes." (regarding invading Vietnam)

    "Makes you wonder why we spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined if that's all the more good it does us." (regarding invading Pakistan)

    These statements in themselves, far from being trivial, do inform the rest of the article, and suggest that the problem with these military operations have been that it they weren't worth the cost, in terms of American strategy and interests. Hopefully you'll agree with me on this. The problem, they state (even if it's not your general position), is that American invasions cause "America" problems.

  7. And we all wait, as Obama leads us to victory in that graveyard of empires----Afghanistan.

  8. I saw the quick note last night and was looking forward to this post.

    "A number of folks in my neck of Virginia who voted for Bush twice and plan to vote for McCain assure me that our current economic woes are a direct result of our banks making mortgage loans to colored people."

    Ok ok, imagine a S. African accent and the word 'blecks' and 'meeahxicuns'

    Did it again, you did, you did :)

  9. Mandt,

    Maybe we should make him watch King of the Khyber Rifles or something.


    I really have to brace myself for this sort of thing when I go out these days. I simply refuse to be polite around this kind of raw bigotry any more.


    No, I don't agree with you, and I don't care to spend any time discussing why.


  10. Anonymous7:40 PM

    Awake! says-

    Hi Jeff... what you say 'American has essentially maintained a wartime economy since World War II' dovetails with what Jehovah's witnesses say, in some respects... further,though, in a classic drama in the bible book of Daniel two rivals, the king of the north (Russia) and the king of the south (the U.S.) keep fighting and neither one ever wins but the hand of Jehovah steps in and puts astop to it...i enjoy your website, thank you for all your hard work and your courage...

  11. Well, I sometimes think everything sounds like a replay of the showdown between archangels. You'll find nearly identical tales in most pagan lore.

    Glad you enjoy the columns here, thanks for the nice words.


  12. There are many reasons why we no longer prevail on the ground (regularly): 1) generals who are not held immediately accountable for results (barring scandal off the field, when was the last time a general was relieved for performance); 2) brigade commanders who lack tactical and operational imagination (e.g., mounting patrols to "protect" the road when the real objective should be to kill-or-capture those who place the mines; 2A) commanding from air conditioned splendor while their troops slog it in the field because their laptops won't function in the dust; 3) the supply mentality that will provide a new tank without providing any fuel to operate it; 4) the supply mentality that will buy a high-tech fire support vehicle and "substitute" 30-year old radios for the ones necessary for secure digital communications on the DIVARTY fire control net; 5) a COMSEC policy that sees whole brigades unilaterally opt-out of secure procedures because "BLACK 6" is a lot easier to remember; and 6) a maintenance policy that makes replacing the glow plug in the space heater of a tracked vehicle a general support maintenance function (note that these glow plugs routinely burn out within 3 days).

  13. Jeff,

    starting to seriously dig your blog.

    It's pronounced "Amel-eecahn Eggs-Pless." When I first visited China 10 years ago, seeing the tangible expressions of new policies made my jaw drop. And the activity level was like witnessing the frenzy of an upturned anthill; they were very obviously and effectively pursuing warfare by other means. My thoughts at the time were, "We are surely doomed. The way you subjugate a nation is to indebt it."

    While there was definitely a lost moral compass in the continued US applications of hard power (as Mr. Anonymous stressed), there would also seem abundant hints to a general principle for the declining utility thereof. I'm not sure which I'm angrier about, but Neo-cons and cost-benefit don't mix.

    Is there anyone you know who has written on this notion, the declining marginal utility of hard power, more recently than Sun Tzu?

  14. Anonymous6:06 AM

    I voted for Nader and then supported Kerry; I don't deem myself a knuckledragger.

    I believe that the mess is due in no small part to ill-advised and government-mandated lending to those who without the financial resources, education, and perhaps financial acumen to understand what they were getting into, and the sale of the resulting crap securities to and by bankers who didn't - or didn't want to - understand in what sort of crap securities they were dealing.

    That said, I believe there were a disproportionate number of minorities in the former but not latter group. Would you deem this assessment fair?

  15. Anonymous6:15 AM

    I also believe that if Operation Iraqi Democracy hadn't occupied the attention of many law-makers and pundits, this unpleasant semi-surprise would have been nipped a lot sooner.

  16. Hai, Marc (heh, heh). I had much the same impression when I visited Hong Kong in the late 80s. I think that was just before the turn over.

    I went to the trouble of taking a bus out to the part of Kowloon where all the workers lived. Yikes. Talk about making the old Chicago projects look like something Adam Roarke designed.

    Anonymous I,

    I have looked for but cannot find (yet) good data that indicates the dollar volume of bad loans actually tilts toward minorities. Maybe it does, but my pal in Coronado says all the houses in foreclosure in his neck of the woods cost three million or more.

    Whatever the case, the economic conditions that tripped the trouble were not created in the mortgage sector. The country is fighting wars it cannot afford, period.

    Anonymous II,

    You may be right, but what a different world this would be if Congress hadn't been for it before it was against it.


  17. The "Bailout" is just the ongoing program of Privatizing Profits and Socializing Costs. AIG is also the Worlds leading Drug Money washing Machine and a CIA outfit.