Chaos and instability in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen (and some other countries) are not the planned outcome of the U.S. government. They have occurred because of faulty strategies and operations, which in turn have multiple roots that can be explored and identified. These results are outright failures. Current U.S. activities in Yemen and Ukraine suggest that these faults continue.
General Bolger has written a 500-page book. See this interview for some remarks of his that I quote.
“I am a United States Army General, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism.
“It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem. To wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.
“What I saw almost immediately was trouble figuring out who the enemy was. We knew within a day or two of the 9/11 attacks that it was al-Qaida, a terrorist network that had a headquarters element, if you would call it that, or a chairman of the board in Osama bin Laden. And they were operating out of Afghanistan.
“But that’s not who we ended up fighting most of the time. Sure, we went after al-Qaida at times. But we ended up fighting the Taliban, which were Pashtun people in Afghanistan who were trying to run that country. We evicted them in 2001. And we ended up fighting Sunni Arab insurgents in Iraq, who, again — although they might make common cause with al-Qaida — those weren’t the guys who attacked us on 9/11.
“One of the things that we often say in the military is you have to fight for information, or fight for intelligence. So as we developed this picture and it became obvious that we were fighting an insurgent enemy mixed into a civil population that was suspicious of us anyway as outsiders (and that was true in both Afghanistan and Iraq), it really brought up the second point, which is, what is the U.S. military trained to do? And the U.S. military is trained to carry out short and decisive conventional operations against a uniformed [enemy in formations].
“So if you want us to go in and do something along the lines of 1991 Desert Storm, where we go against armored divisions and air force squadrons of the Iraqi forces and destroy them and capture the remainder, that’s what we’re trained to do. It’s very, very difficult to take even the great troops that we have and send them into a village to try and sort out which of the males there … might be insurgents, [or] who might be just people living in the area, [or] who might potentially be government supporters, when you don’t speak the language and you really don’t understand what’s going on in that village very well.”
All of this was known and predictable to anyone who looked at the past objectively based on earlier interventions in places like Vietnam. Clearly, the U.S. political-military-intelligence system is bad at learning from history and it’s bad at using power rationally to attain the objectives it sets up. This is like saying that the U.S. is bad at eradicating drug use, bad at helping poor farmers, bad at laying down dietary guidelines, bad at handling disasters and bad at regulating drugs, among other of its portfolio of activities. The U.S. is also bad at interventionist foreign policy and foreign policy in general. Fundamentally, the government shouldn’t be doing any of these things. It shouldn’t have the power to do any of them. Americans should not expect that government can do these things, and when it does establish objectives what should be expected is that it will not attain them but will do them badly. We need not expect utter disaster from government’s policies, although that too may come. Even the government knows enough to pull back when the costs get too high, but the point at which this learning takes place and the time it takes for this learning to occur do not arrive until enormous costs, errors and burdens have been imposed on Americans and other peoples. The system attempts rationality and wears the clothing of rationally-considered judgments and analyses, but it’s fundamentally stupid, ignorant and irrational. This is what must be admitted and recognized.
The stupid mistakes that General Bolger outlines flow from an over-reliance on government to accomplish things that it cannot accomplish, even when it’s manned by people of good will who try their best to achieve what are thought to be sound objectives, but which frequently are not sound in the first place. The government takes on quixotic ventures. They have appeal to voters, enough appeal to gain public support; but they are deeply flawed matters to demand of government.
Government is power, and power cannot solve social and economic problems, like drugs and poverty. Power cannot eradicate terrorism overseas. What’s remarkable about government is that although it cannot resolve problems like drug use, alcohol use, poverty, and terrorism, it can make them worse or create new problems in trying to solve these. It can cause criminal elements to thrive by prohibiting drugs. It can cause police corruption. It can break up and undermine minority families and communities. It can cause jihadist recruiting to soar.
These effects and many others like them argue for limiting government severely. Americans have not learned this lesson. In some ways such as the raising of freedom as an ideal, there is lip service to limited government; but this lesson has not penetrated deeply into the American way of government. Government needs to be rethought and then reconfigured.