David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest, his 1972 account of the policy-makers in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the nature of the Vietnam disaster, is a classic on the delusions of American power. Everything Halberstam described then is present today. Only conditions and decision-making at the highest level are more deteriorated.
This voluminous book, which no single review can do justice to, maps the roots of the war in post WWII decision making and American dealings in China as the communist insurgency battled with an American client named Chiang Kai Shek, a man who'd been an ally against the Japanese.
Th Americans on the ground in China, diplomats and old soldiers like Joe Stilwell, knew the Chinese detested Chiang, a descendant of mandarins, and that there was no popular support for him. China was going to crumble, the communists were going to win and take power. Despite having people who knew the score the US government backed the wrong horse.
Truman became known as the President who lost China to communism.
The McCarthy era was ushered in and everyone who had a rational idea about what to do in southeast Asia was either tarred or banished in the hysteria over alleged communist infiltration of US government.
As a result, America's leaders, including those in the Eisenhoiwer and Kennedy administrations, refused to view the Vietnam insurgency, first with the Vietminh against France and later the Vietcong in the south, as an anti-colonial struggle deeply rooted in the people of that country.
Only the views that Communism was monolithic, that every Communist country was exactly the same as Joe Stalin's Soviet Union, were allowed to prevail.
Thus was born the Domino Theory, as countries -- one after another, tipping into each other -- would be said to fall if the Communists were not stopped in one poor small nation which had waged an endless war to free itself from western colonialism.
Anyone with dissenting views was purged or learned to be silent. The role of the State Department became virtually non-existent, except as an adjunct to the Pentagon and naitonal security hawks.
The decision-makers held the beliefs, now best regards as encapsulated American delusions invulnerable to counter-argument, that US technological supremacy and military might were the only answers. The government became obsessed with quantifying the unquantifiable, believing that if enough bodies were amassed (today, it's the tabulation of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in drone strikes, always advertised as a new kind of war), enough tonnage in bombs dropped, the Vietcong would be beaten.
Reports from the field that programs like the making of "strategic hamlets" in the Mekong Delta were a complete failure, that the Vietcong were much better than the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, that the enemy controlled most of the places continuously claimed to be pacified by the US military, that for every move the US military made Hanoi had a better move, that the natives -- as with the Chiang government in China, despised the Diem government in Saigon, were either sanitized or completely suppressed. Critics were silenced. If you were right, you were fired. If you were wrong you were promoted.
Today there is no David Halberstam, or Neil Sheehan or Malcolm Browne to make news reports and books that would expose such similar matters.
Still, news can be gleaned of the same fossilized strategy at the top, the poisoning of critical thinking so that nothing is allowed to get in the way of the prosecution of war.
The US isn't fighting communism and it is not in a country struggling to rid itself of foreign interference. Vietnam deeply damaged faith in the US military as an institution. It had cost 60,000 lives. But today, American faith in the military remains high, one assumes at least part due mostly to the fact that almost all of us have not had take part in waging the wars in our name.
In the Sixties many Americans could name General William Westmoreland and Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara. Today nobody knows the names of American fighting generals. And only perhaps slightly over half of the educated could probably name the fellow who is the definition of the civilian functionary, the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta.
But al Qaeda has been substituted for communism and the endless battleground has become the failed states of the Middle East, Asia and Africa
In these places, the war can never end because all insurgencies and very little wars between bad people are viewed through a dark lens created on 9/11, one that colors the world much as the old Cold Warriors saw communism, a monolithic threat that can only be smashed by the immediate application of military power before it poses a threat to the homeland.
With such thinking ascendant every failed country becomes a place where the line must be held.
From the Washington Post, news of US military action in Mali, only because random special ops soldiers, unremarkable young men from the frontiers of the stealth wars, were killed in an early morning car crash after what appeared to be a night filled with booze and prostitutes:
"[The] crash in Mali has revealed some details of the commandos' clandestine activities that apparently had little to do with counterterrorism. The women killed in the wreck were identified as Moroccan prostitutes who had been riding with the soldiers, according to a senior Army official and a U.S. counterterrorism consultant briefed on the incident, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
"About six years ago, the Pentagon began bolstering its overt aid and training programs in Mali, as well as its clandestine operations ...
"In what would have represented a significant escalation of U.S. military involvement in Mali, the Pentagon also considered a secret plan in 2009 to embed American commandos with Malian ground troops, diplomatic cables show.
"Under that program, code-named Oasis Enabler, U.S. military advisers would conduct anti-terrorism operations alongside elite, American-trained Malian units. But the idea was rejected by Gillian A. Milovanovic, the ambassador to Mali at the time.
"In an October 2009 meeting in Bamako with Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, deputy chief of the Africa Command, the ambassador called the plan "extremely problematic," adding that it could create a popular backlash and "risk infuriating" neighbors such as Algeria."
It might as well be taken from the pages of The Best and the Brightest in its disregard of the State Department in favor of whatever the US military wishes to do.
Mali, utterly laughably been deemed a fulminating threat to the American people by people at the top and so we must take care of business there.
Also this week, a new book by a Post reporter, one extolled as "buzzy" on how the President "squandered" the Afghan surge, shows only Rajiv Chandrasekaran is no David Halberstam. (Watch the news clip. The book , which you can blind search yourself, is presented as something which will provoke a lively chat in the corridors of power for the rest of the summer.)
Once again, the military, which runs our wars, as decades ago, brooks no interference. The security bureaucracy wants someone from the State Department ousted. After more than a decade of war, the US military and national security leadership are now as rotted as they were during Vietnam.
Paradoxically, it's Richard Holbrooke who the military core of Obama's advisory group wanted deposed. Holbrooke was actually a young man at the Paris peace talks which were the beginning of the end of the US involvement in Vietnam. Only intervention by the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, momentarily saved his job, according to the Post's reporter. Eventually the military's problem was solved: Holbrooke died two years ago.
As in Vietnam, where the people loathed the government propped up by American forces, the Afghan people -- logically -- despise the American toady in Kabul, Hamid Karzai. If there was any goodwill after the Taliban were overthrown, it was lost many years ago:
"In Afghanistan, the military surge, argues Chandrasekaran, was a mistake.
" 'What we fail to understand was that the Afghan people largely wanted to be left alone and they hate their government, in many cases, as much as they hate the insurgents. And when we went to them and said, Ah, we're coming here to help bring your government to you. They said, Whoa we don't want our government!'"
It's all presented as diverting froth from the war on terror, something to be clucked over on the evening news for a few minutes. And so it will be taken.
War profiteers do the dance
From the Financial Times, this week:
"The looming $500bn US defence budget cut is already paralysing company investment and hiring decisions and would have a devastating effect if it came into force at the start of next year, defence industry executives warned on Sunday.
"Dennis Muilenburg, president and chief executive of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, the US's second largest defence contractor by sales, said on the eve of the Farnborough Air Show: "Sequester will have a devastating impact ..."
"So far the industry has been cautious about offending its biggest customer, with many of its warnings coming from Bob Stevens, chief executive of Lockheed Martin, who will retire before any sequester would come into effect ...
"The message from industry is that defence cuts mean lost jobs."
Here's the story over the last few years: Any government "stimulus" is bad and doesn't create jobs, which is a lie, but bear with me. But all government "stimulus" that goes to arms manufacturers is necessary and good, so we don't shed jobs.
And now for a bit of frothy music video entertainment describing the national predicament.