Rise And Slow Fall Of Another American Army – And Friends

Years ago, when writing a book actually meant something, Shelby Stanton’s Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces Vietnam 1965-1973 offered incisive insight into how the U.S. Army conducted operations battle by battle, battlefield by battlefield and how the institution itself devolved in parallel with U.S. political and strategic incompetence.

It’s fashionable across the Interwebs to proclaim as Les Gelb does, in his now SNL-parody worthy fin de siecle world weary sort of way, there’s nothing terribly new in the Wikileaks material. With a smug eyeroll they type, ‘*everyone* knows’ the war is going badly and the ISI is untrustworthy. Which is not really the point.

Here, at a basic mid-level (some secret, some confidential, classified but not compartmentalized) is an incredibly rich data trove revealing how the relevant U.S. institutions acted and perceived themselves as acting in the moment. Which is a macro version of what Stanton did for the U.S. Army in Vietnam. The weight of minute detail and quantity about the institutions and their interactions is itself the story. Regardless whether the data changes the ‘picture’ whether we’re ‘winning’ exchanged as common wisdom in a Dupont Circle, er, circle jerk time loop with [take your pick, Kagan, Pillar et al.].

What emerges is not some magic revelation that the U.S. is unsuccessful per Obama’s speech macro in ‘halting the momentum of the Talleeeeban’. The granular detail makes clear military, diplomatic and other institutions are utterly incapable of accurately assessing their environment and calibrating accordingly. On it’s own, the cumulative impact is serious enough, being — predictably — a slow but accelerating disintegration of internal coherence and ethos. Anyone who knows the military as a concrete living entity (as opposed to just an abstraction ala the Neocons or NotSoBright) also knows collapse of ethos and internal coherence leads to nihilistic operations and follows a trajectory potentially ending in institutional death spiral. Apart from overall strategic failure.

This admittedly limited data dump – while massive — remains just a straw’s view. Much remains out of public view. Still, one gains clear snap shots of consistently unanchored institutional failure across the years calling into question their very ability to offer trustworthy, meaningful input towards a rational American strategy going forward.

Yes, we all ‘know’ it ‘all’ already. But consider the difference between listening to a piece of music and investing the time and neurological training to play an instrument – to understand the music from that internal perspective – let alone being able actually to play it. The difference seems small. That gap is enormous. The historical and practical impact from this data’s release has real meaning. More than some equally dysfunctional ‘thought leaders’ as they speak *at* each other while cradling stale tuna sandwiches at a Think Tank event manufactured for CSPAN.