The War Addicts: the Pentagon and Military Would Do Almost Anything to Continue Neverending War
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Sometimes it’s the little things in the big stories that catch your eye. On Monday, the Washington Post ran the first of three pieces adapted from Bob Woodward’s new book Obama’s Wars, a vivid account of the way the U.S. high command boxed the Commander-in-Chief into the smallest of Afghan corners. As an illustration, the Post included a graphic the military offered President Obama at a key November 2009 meeting to review war policy. It caught in a nutshell the favored “solution” to the Afghan War of those in charge of fighting it -- Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Petraeus, then-Centcom commander, General Stanley McChrystal, then-Afghan War commander, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others.
Labeled “Alternative Mission in Afghanistan,” it’s a classic of visual wish fulfillment. Atop it is a soaring green line that represents the growing strength of the notoriously underwhelming “Afghan Forces,” military and police, as they move toward a theoretical goal of 400,000 -- an unlikely “end state” given present desertion rates. Underneath that green trajectory of putative success is a modest, herky-jerky blue curving line, representing the 40,000 U.S. troops Gates, Petraeus, Mullen, and company were pressuring the president to surge into Afghanistan.
The eye-catching detail, however, was the dating on the chart. Sometime between 2013 and 2016, according to a hesitant dotted white line (that left plenty of room for error), those U.S. surge forces would be drawn down radically enough to dip somewhere below -- don’t gasp -- the 68,000 level. In other words, three to six years from now, if all went as planned -- a radical unlikelihood, given the Afghan War so far -- the U.S. might be back close to the force levels of early 2009, before the President’s second surge was launched. (When Obama entered office, there were only 31,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.)
And when would those troops dwindle to near zero? 2019? 2025? The chart-makers were far too politic to include the years beyond January 1, 2016, so we have no way of knowing. But look at that chart and ask yourself: Is there any doubt that our high command, civilian and military, were dreaming of, and most forcefully recommending to the president, a forever war -- one which the Office of Budget and Management estimated would cost almost $900 billion?
Of course, as we now know, the military “lost” this battle. Instead of the 40,000 troops they desired, they “only” got 30,000 from a frustrated president (plus a few thousand support troops the Secretary of Defense was allowed to slip in, and some special operations forces that no one was putting much effort into counting, and don’t forget those extra troops wrung out of NATO as well as small allies who, for a price, couldn’t say no -- all of which added up to a figure suspiciously close to the 10,000 the president had officially denied his war commanders).
When, on December 1, 2009, Barack Obama addressed the cadets of West Point and, through them, the rest of us to announce the second surge of his presidency, he was at least able to slip in a date to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. (“But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”) Hardly a nanosecond passed, however, before -- first “on background” and soon enough in public -- administration spokespeople rushed to reassure the rest of Washington that such a transfer would be “conditions based.” Given conditions there since 2001, not exactly a reassuring statement.