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.


  1. Dr Leo Strauss says

    And this last reply to Inquire answers the question perhaps why Americans — particularly contemporary ones — can’t make good spy movies.

  2. Dr Leo Strauss says

    No need to apologize at all, Inquire. The questions you raise go the very foundation of what it means to live within a simulacra. We have allowed ourselves to embrace distortion after distortion from the real so as to be adrift, with words as abstractions assuming absurdist import, and then only to splinter yet again into ever more fractal absurdities.

    One needn’t light Gitanes and genuflect to discuss the matter. Nor is it we would argue dismissible as an intellectual (sophist?) exercise, as we are collectively living in it and yet struggling against it. We don’t share the belief that simulacra are empowering in their distortion.

    Consider a photograph captured in standard JPG format. With basic software, it can be cut and pasted, juxtaposed, enlarged, magnified, twisted, etc. Yet after the initial thrill of ‘playing’ with an image passes (the first 2 days or so of the new computer) one realizes the essential truth – the manipulations no matter what destroy the original image. To stick with this example, is there a collective societal ‘undo’ command?

    We don’t see an example in history. Not without some external catastrophic circumstance imposed to hit the ‘reset’ button, such as foreign occupation, lost war, etc. Even a revolution wouldn’t really work because it would be occurring by definition within the simulacra itself. A sign of decadence, as we’ve discussed before – Newt’s ‘Renewing American Civilization’ course was itself an abstraction seeking to impose another abstraction (the alleged rediscovery of an imaginary, unreal ‘American Civilization’).

    Which leads one to ponder if the Book of Revelations were to be written today, what chapter would raise Twitter?

  3. Inquire says

    Comment :
    we recall a number of years ago friends telling us of the bizarre effort to replace the word “soldier” as much as possible with phrases like war-fighter…Lying to ones own soldiers, instead of deceiving the enemy -sign of Imperial insecurity. But it also makes no sense.

    Hearing this inexplicable nomenclature sanitization makes my skin crawl each and every time. Any history or context or reasoning behind the wholesale adoption of ‘warfighter’ as a current term? (Other than to give Boeing a trite new buzzword to put into their glossy marketing.)

    Anyway, comparisons to the Pentagon papers abound. Stratfor tows the meme:

    “Like the Pentagon Papers, the WikiLeaks (as I will call them) elicited a great deal of feigned surprise, not real surprise. Apart from the charge that the Johnson administration contrived the Gulf of Tonkin incident, much of what the Pentagon Papers contained was generally known. Most striking about the Pentagon Papers was not how much surprising material they contained, but how little. Certainly, they contradicted the official line on the war, but there were few, including supporters of the war, who were buying the official line anyway. “

    In the context of the discussion here at the Stiftung, I don’t know how get my head around these thoughts. If everyone knows the emperor is naked, but no one says it, and then having it said doesn’t make a difference and is too boring to have been worth saying… to echo Comment above, it simply makes no sense to try and parse it in this manner.

    Either ‘our’ narrative is correct, and this is a sideshow distraction, or there is profound institutional and strategic disarray and this is major call to reform – to claim it is both and also neither is borderline insanity. To my simple, un-duplicitous mind, this dissonance is painful.

    Having cut my teeth, and never really having let go of, Chomsky and Morgenthau the responsible moralist-realist is required to confront the fact that rhetoric will almost certainly not match the reality. When this contradiction comes to a head, as it appears to be now, it behooves the sane policy maker to at the very least confront the disconnect, take the data seriously, and decide a course based upon the reality of the situation and not perpetuate the shared delusion. My simple-minded realism recoils that this is brushed aside so glibly. The one conclusion must be that Realism as a coherent and viable body of thought is well and truly dead (the rumours of an Obama realist resurrection having been greatly exaggerated). A shame really.

    Pat Lang is talking up the boring-nothing-see-here line, but given that ‘everyone knows’ this already, the plebs are restless and if nothing else, Wikileaks and the global netroots have scored another quick victory. If the momentum belongs to anyone, it is they – not the Taliban or ISAF.

    As the Dr. rightly notes, this is not the Pentagon papers – it is a datadump – and not exemplary of reflective opinion and policy analysis. But if ‘everyone’ is prepared to forgo the data and maintain the same policy guided by the shared delusion, then data doesn’t matter and we’re all through the looking glass. The musings at the Stiftung help to put all this muddle into some perspective or at least served as a balm and a place to vent.

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      Can’t stand the Bloggingheads format and concept. Yes, agree an apparent self image component in part acting out. Gave it only 45 seconds. Always lie to ‘D.C.-type friends’ forwarding links when they are on that we loved the (unwatched) clip – well that’s out of the bag now, isn’t it?

      We perhaps clumsily alluded to this in the earlier narcissism post. Over decades we’ve noticed an apparent commonality in personality templates among a seemingly statistically relevant number of national security careerists (however defined in an a multi-colored badge world) and Movement activists. National security pundits/policy entrepreneurs as a subclass are off the charts the most egregious.

      Open information diminishes the projected self-image of important oracular, authoritative shaman, gatekeeper, reader of entrails, etc. To a casual passerby the potential commonality makes no sense. And in some ways it’s just basic human psychology writ large, perhaps, as the legal profession’s acting out at demystification and increasing commodification (Legal Zoom, etc.) shows. Or when Glenn Greenwald provokes the ‘Do You Know Who I Am?’ Joe Klein, etc. But the segregation between projected self and actual is most acute in those earlier instances, with similar observable consequences when challenged or threatened.

      Having said all that, would watch a Blogginheads link that had any of these types in a mud wrestling competition. Especially if wagering was part of the set-up.
      But that’s just how we roll.

  4. Comment says

    We’ve only read the news summaries – we tried to read some of the actual docs, but the website is so slow and down much of the time. ’tis true that “everyone” knows Paks are ratf***ing US troops – Except it is not – The mandarin class of Serious people just do not want to explain to people the weird logic that informs our incredible relationship with Pakistan. Btw. did Reagan let them get the bomb and interfere with Euro anti-proliferation efforts? We don’t know – it’s all Oriental speculation.

  5. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Fed Hiatt et al. wrote a similar objectively anti-leak editorial, nothing to see, move along. Same old WaPo.

    Equally people peddling claims it’s the Pentagon Papers are off – it’s not a cache of senior national level decision-making.

  6. Comment says

    Richard Cohen is unimpressed with the leaks – Who are these people? He wonders. Recall how Colbert was a bully?

  7. Comment says

    Sometimes even small things can indicate problems ahead – we recall a number of years ago friends telling us of the bizarre effort to replace the word “soldier” as much as possible with phrases like war-fighter or warrior. Also – the pre-Iraq briefings that we heard about – telling recruits that Saddam was involved in 9/11. Lying to ones own soldiers, instead of deceiving the enemy -sign of Imperial insecurity. But it also makes no sense.

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