Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Wars of Diminishing Returns

by Jeff Huber

“We are engaged in a long war…” – Newt Gingrich

“No nation ever profited from a long war” – Sun Tzu

We continue to hurtle further down the slope that leads to the edge of the same cliff that the Athenians and the Romans and the English and the French and the Germans and the Japanese and the Russians drove themselves over.  I wrote some years ago that empires have a penchant for becoming footnotes in succeeding empires’ history books because they fail to learn that the military power that brought them to preeminence was insufficient to keep them there.  

The United States has arrived at the moment the Romans found themselves in during the reign of Commodus, son of the general and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, the last of Rome’s “Five Good Emperors.”  They say the acorn never falls far from the tree, but someone must have come along and kicked Commodus down the hill and over the dale. 

Dick Cheney circa 1500.
Commodus was the first in a long line of Roman emperors to consolidate his power by bribing Rome’s elite military forces into supporting him.  Eventually, as Renaissance era political science virtuoso Niccolò Machiavelli noted in his seminal work The Art of War, the Praetorian Guard became “insolent and formidable, not only to the Senate but to the emperors themselves” and in time the Guard “put many emperors to death and disposed of the Empire as it pleased.”  That, Machiavelli observed, was decisive point that transformed the Romans into the Italians of his day, a pseudo-confederacy of warring principalities that became a low-hanging-fruit target for foreign interlopers.

Like it or not, the history of humanity is the history of its wars.  Other stuff happened, sure, stuff that enriched human existence rather than debased it, but none of our man-made beauty would have been created without the man-made horror that accompanied armed conflict.  Italy’s Renaissance period that spanned the 14th to the 17th century, a flowering of literature, science, art, education and intellectual growth, could not have occurred without the internecine violent conflict that Machiavelli chronicled (and played a large part in fomenting.  One could justifiably argue that Machiavelli was Renaissance Italy's moral and political equivalent of Dick Cheney, though old Nick leaves dirty Dick in the dust when it comes to cognition).  Conflict is, in fact, the very essence of art, as the core purpose of art is to resolve conflict.  You will never witness a superior work of art, be it visual (painting, sculpture and so on), language (plays, movies, books and the like), musical (including the dreck you see on the annual Grammy awards) or social (politics, war, sports) that is not characterized by an underlying tension created by opposing forces. 

Like other human societies, the America we know today could not have come to be—for better or for worse—without its unrelenting procession of wars.  The birth of our nation was its armed rebellion and revolution against the British.  We then fought a line of internal and external wars of establishment, consolidation and expansion.  The Spanish American War, in which we enlarged and solidified our sphere of influence in the Pacific and the Caribbean, was the war that announced our intention to be reckoned with as an equal of the Old World powers.  

America's intervention in World War I America’s insistence that it would have a say in Europe’s affairs.  It also, in retrospect, proved to be a prime example of how war aims, especially the aims of optional wars, are seldom realized and, moreover, usually give way to unintended and unwanted consequences. 

Neocon Dick after five centuries
of cryogenic preservation.
I subscribe to the school that says we would have ascended to global hegemony if we had stiff-armed “The Great War” and let the Euros slug it out among themselves until they’d lost their taste for war forever.  Then we could have dictated terms by which we fed Europe until it could grow another generation of able-bodied men who could take up the plow again.  That would most probably have preempted the need for a Second World War to mop up the unfinished business of the first one, and would likely have also averted the emergence of the Soviet Union and the Cold War and our dirty little third world proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam and, most relevant to us now, the first superpower substitute war in Afghanistan, in which we created a guerilla force adversary to defeat the Soviets as payback for Vietnam that we ourselves are hopelessly, haplessly grappling with today. 

But we let ourselves get stuck on our zippers in the First World War when peace didn’t produce the results Woodrow Wilson had envisioned, and immersion in the Second World War was pretty much unavoidable, as was the rest of the follow-on fornicating mess. 

Application of military force in World War II established American as a first-magnitude superpower.  Since then, however, our investment in war has produced exponentially diminishing returns.  Our best-trained, best-equipped military has only been effective as a force-in-being that, like a fleet-in-being, can exert influence on world events through the simple fact of its existence.  Our Cold War arsenal clearly deterred another outbreak of general war in Europe and a global nuclear doom Krieg.  But every time we committed ourselves to fuzzy pretext land wars against pathetically inferior forces, we managed to shoot our baby makers off.  

By the time the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, America had been on a wartime footing for a half-century, and the shadow powers that be had no interest in allowing the country to become that kinder, gentler, shining city on the hill that Big Daddy and The Great Communicator talked about.  We’re still on a war economy for the same reasons we’re still in an oil economy and a tobacco economy.  War and oil and tobacco are still making large lucre, and it’s a bad business decision to change products when the old product is still turning a pandemic profit.

The trilateral power elite.
That’s largely why the New American Centurions aka the neoconservative cabal were able to so completely gain the support of the Rockefeller trilateralists and whatever other theoretical conspirators we suspect to be the hidden masters of the known universe.  In September 2000, the Centurions published a neo-imperialist manifesto titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses that proclaimed, in essence, that American had a global leadership responsibility to single-handedly ensure the survival of warfare as a vibrant, ongoing human institution because nobody else had to the oomph to do it anymore. 

Even the neocons must have realized that their stated ambition sounded like so much whack-a-doodle-doo, because they confessed that the American public was unlikely to fall for their shenanigan ideology barring a “new Peal Harbor.”  Then 9/11/2001 came along, almost a year to the day after Rebuilding America’s Defenses polluted the information highway, and the neos got just what they were looking for. 

The grand-sounding doctrines and strategies we were promised would assure victory in the “new kind of war” we were embarking upon—Shock and Awe and Network Centric Warfare and Counterinsurgency aka COIN and the Revolution in Military Affairs aka RMA and Transformation and the Long War and Persistent Conflict and the rest of the unrefined used horse lunch that the Pentagon and its pet newsmongers have been spoon feeding us for roughly the last decade—have been nothing but one big, red, shiny, fat-assed, expensive failure after the next.  Every place we have bombed, boarded, bludgeoned, beheaded and bloodied, from Iraq to the Bananastans to Libya to Somalia to Yemen, looks like a big-city zoo ten minutes after the force-ten earthquake hit it. 

Our generals and the sycophant politicians who grovel at their spit-polished feet would have us believe that we now have to dedicate the next 80 years or so into rounding up all the critters we let loose and putting them back in their cages.  Well guess what, folks.  All them loose critters are making new critters faster than we can give Dick Cheney's pals no-bid contracts to build new cages to put them all in.  You cannot win un-winnable wars.  The longer you pursue them, the longer it takes to lose them.  

We have overreacted to the 9/11 attacks to a degree that must have exceeded Osama bin Laden’s hopes by magnitudes.  In exacting revenge for approximately 3,000 American innocents killed in the New York and Washington D.C. guerilla air raids, we have directly caused the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Asians and have destroyed the lives of millions of others.  We spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined to wage wars with vaguely identifies adversaries that have no defense budget whatsoever while our economy follows the birds to their summer retreats. 

G.I. Shmo
Our military’s officer corps has become a culture of Petraeus worshiping yes-colonels who pine to become yes-generals.  The only warriors who count anymore are the bull feather merchant marines who conjure the pro-war propaganda that their echo chamberlains in the media pawn off on us as “news.”  Our country has become the abject servant of the American Pentarchy, that cabal of sandbox generalsbathtub admiralsbeltway banditsAIPAC ratsWarlord FauntleroysNew American Centurions, post-modern PraetoriansLong War legislatorsDr. StrangelovesG.I. Joe Six-PacksPavlov’s dogs of warpatriotic psychopaths and other oligarchs whose narrow self interests and well-funded efforts have made the long dreamed-of permanent American security state a reality.  The military-industrial complex that launched our reign as a superpower is about to grind it to a bitter end.

But heck, who wants to look a 19-year old wounded war veteran in what’s left of his face and tell him all that?

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance.


  1. The long war against the redskin savages on North American soil yielded some profit for those west of the Mississippi. To say long war is not profitable even now is just ignorant.

    Tzu didn't attend his early morning imperialism classes. What's your excuse?

  2. >, and would likely have also averted the emergence of the Soviet Union and the Cold War and our dirty little third world proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam and, most relevant to us today, the first superpower substitute war in Afghanistan, in which we created a guerilla force adversary to defeat the Soviets as payback for Vietnam that we ourselves are hopelessly, haplessly grappling with today.

    Russia gave us Vietnam, and we gave Russia Afghanistan...

    ...and then Russia and our own Finest Leaders gave us Afghanistan right back again, dammit.

    Who wins the game in the end? Time will tell. Our Finest Leaders are winning. Our leaders and other racketeers make bank while we owe we owe it's off to work we go.

  3. ER, I think you're taking a far shorter view on long war than Sun Tzu did. ;- 0 The guys running this shell game think it can go on forever, but so did the guys running the Roman shell game, and the British shell game, and the German shell game, and c.

  4. And as long as the "too big to jail" banksters and the Wall Street clowns who shill for the war industries keep making obscene profits, the wars will never end. Yes, China could derail it some if they started to cash in the $3 Trillion they hold in Treasuries, but that isn't likely as they would never be able to get the full amount. The government is broke and broken.
    The people need to stand up and demand ENOUGH. OWS may just be the start down that road. It will be a very rough ride for sure, but we need to do it.
    With the recently signed NDAA and now two new bills; HR3166 and S1698, we the people are in more danger than ever before.
    The NDAA authorizes the indefinite detention of US citizens captured on US soil. The other two bills I just mentioned allow for a US citizen to be stripped of citizenship when captured for "engaging in or supportive of hostilities against the US.
    Old Ben Franklin supposedly said that we had a republic IF we could keep it. It looks like the old republic is about to fall.
    America, what a country.
    semper fi

  5. Excuse the side-track, but...

    The new round of sanctions the Senate approved (Obama has yet to sign) would, it is believed, send Iran's economy into a "tailspin". AP reports:

    "(S)anctions would ban transactions with the Iranian Central Bank. Countries and companies around the world use the bank to finance purchases of Iranian oil, meaning they would either have to stop buying it or face action from Washington.

    Halting — or even denting — oil income would be devastating to an economy that is already struggling amid its international isolation. The value of Iran’s riyal is now 15,200 to the dollar, from 10,500 a year ago...

    Prices of food and grocery items like milk have increased up to 20 percent in recent months. In an attempt to cut its budget, the government recently ended subsidies on fuel and some foods, sending gas prices up sevenfold and quadrupling bread prices...

    ...Mustafa Alani, a Geneva-based analyst with the Gulf Research Center (says) if that happens “the economy will collapse.” " -link

    Eerily similar to the pre-Iraq invasion days when sanctions possibly caused 500k Iraqi children to die. Starvation and chaos, and possibly missiles, would ensue-- yet they are no threat to us...

    Also worth noting, those deaths are one of three reasons for bin Laden's declaration of jihad on the US. Will this inspire some Shiite would-be-terrorist?

    Personally, I think the restrictions are so they they can't finance nor run the IPI (Iran Pakistan India) oil pipeline. That would allow Iran to sell oil to various Asian countries in non-USDollar currencies and compete with the US-favored TAPI (Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India) line (link).. which, not coincidentally, runs through Kandahar.


  6. With America now declared part of the global "battlefield," we can see how that "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here" business turned out. Not well. They must have "followed us home." And since they could only get to our "home" through the air or over water, our hideously expensive Air Force and Navy must have once again proven themselves either AWOL or irrelevant, just like they did on 9/11/2001.

  7. PO2: I just saw Pepe Escobar (of Asia Times Online) commenting on that recent U.S. act of war -- i.e., embargo, or "sanctions" -- against Iran. He said that the Russians and the Chinese and the South Koreans and several other countries would just ignore it. The Apartheid Zionist Entity (through its AIPAC lobby in America) may run U.S. foreign policy, but that will only result in the two Pariah Partners further isolating themselves from a world that increasingly disdains them both.

  8. You two bring up an interesting point vis-a-vis our inability to get anyone to go along with our shenanigans, be they direct acts of war or no.


  9. MM, JH- Gareth Porter just reported:

    Obama distances US from Iran attack

    "WASHINGTON - United States President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are engaged in intense maneuvering over Netanyahu's aim of entangling the United States in an Israeli war against Iran.

    Netanyahu is exploiting the extraordinary influence his right-wing Likud Party exercises over the Republican Party and the US Congress on matters related to Israel in order to maximize the likelihood that the US would participate in an attack on Iran.

    Obama, meanwhile, appears to be hoping that he can avoid being caught up in a regional war started by Israel if he distances the United States from any Israeli attack." -link

    He intimates that Obama may agree to new sanctions in order to placate Netanyahu (unlikely to be successful). Meanwhile, Porter says Netanyahu remains determined to attack Iran, that members of his defense apparatus had blocked previous attempts to initiate a strike and that he is now trying to use the upcoming US elections to pressure Obama into participating in an attack.

  10. Thanks for the info and the link, PO2.


  11. "One could justifiably argue that Machiavelli was Renaissance Italy's moral and political equivalent of Dick Chene."

    Would that Cheney was Machiavelli's intellectual equivalent. The dude had it dead right: Mayberry Machiavellis, where everyone is Floyd and Barney and the rest of the nation is reduced to being Ernest T without government teeth.

  12. Dood,

    Thanks for pointing out the Brain Shaft Gap between old Nick and dirty Dick. I've been thinking the same thing, and added a parenthetical statement reflecting your sentiment.



  13. Dood: Thanks for the Machiavelli references. My favorite:

    "There is nothing more difficult to plan, more uncertain of success, or more dangerous to manage than the establishment of a new order of government; for he who introduces it makes enemies of all those who derived advantage from the old order and finds but lukewarm defenders among those who stand to gain from the new one." Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

    Let any who dream of a "change" in the American government's endless Orwellian wars heed this wise admonition, and plan accordingly.

    As well, some of us old enough to remember the old Andy Griffith Show did indeed find endless opportunities to lampoon Dick Cheney's hand-held sock puppet of a President Bush, chiefly through recalling the inimitable performance of Don Knotts. For instance, on the occasion of Deputy Dubya finally making a trip to Vietnam -- decades after the fighting stopped -- I contributed:

    "Hanoi Haiku"

    In Hanoi at last
    Red-carpet in return for
    Our carpet-bombing

    The words no one heard,
    Due so many years after:
    "We apologize"

    Deputy Dubya
    Sheriff Cheney's Barney Fife
    Lost in Mayberry

    Gullible Goofy
    The boy who cried Wolfowitz
    Far too many times

    Emerald City
    Naked ruler's brand new clothes
    Viewed through glasses green

    Mission Accomplished!
    A cakewalk in its last throes
    Now a glacier race

    Four Years an "instant"
    Nothing happens right away
    What did you expect?

    Broken-egg omelets
    George Orwell's Catastrophic

    Shop till the troops drop
    Buy a plane ticket or two
    Your part in the "war"

    Rob the future now
    They will never break our will
    Those grandkids of ours

    Lecture the victors
    About their First and Second
    Indochina Wars

    Where did we get him?
    How come we can't do better?
    We look so stupid

    Michael Murry, "The Misfortune Teller," copyright 2006

    For the image I keep uppermost in mind (with apologies to Andy Griffith for the unflattering comparison to Darth Cheney):


  14. Thanks you this awesome and insightful article. Sorry to say that we the US and our Hollywood, Football-mad, and sheer ignorance of politicians and us intelligent people will not see what is happening as this author illustrates. Even reading it we're so brain dead to not be able to change anythin

  15. This may be the best thing you've ever written (until SG comes out, of course). And great point about art and conflict; one need look no further than the works of one J.R.R. Tolkien for affirmation.

    This is an interesting take on the Iran mess:

    Behind the Deepening Crisis with Iran: the Real Story Versus the Cover Story

    Not familiar with the author, but he does seem to understand that the whole Iran + nuke = aaahhh!!! scenario is nonsense.

    It's funny, though. With all the fuss and feathers over Iran no one in the punditizing and armchair generalizing industries seems to have tumbled to the obvious, that whenever Iran sends out its toy Navy and starts making bow/woof noises, the regime makes money. That's because when they do that the crude oil markets go nuts, and every bump up in the price means more money for Uncle Mahmoud.

    This omission is especially strange on the part of right-wing commentators, who do so love to lecture us about their superior understanding of things economic. I guess "Mullahs just want to get rich" isn't a very good propaganda hook.

    While no one profits from a long war, there does seem to be some boodle in threatening a short one.