The New Praetorians

"The Art of War for Dummies" discussed how poorly America’s uniformed and civilian leadership understands foreign policy and war’s place in it. "The New Praetorians" explores how we’re about to turn yet another corner on the road to Palookaville.

The MOOSEMUSS principles of war taught in our command and staff colleges might be adequate to steer us away from the misadventures we’ve fallen into lately if anyone could remember what MOOSEMUSS stands for.

One of the Os stands for objective, a principle that we have lost sight of. They say that in war, amateurs talk tactics and professionals talk logistics. But a true student of the art of war asks what a conflict is supposed to accomplish. I doubt if a single war wonk in our seat of power, in or out of uniform, ever gives serious consideration to objectives, unless it’s to make up obtuse ones to stuff into shuck-and-jive strategy documents like the one on Afghanistan that James Jones and his cast of national security comedians put out a few months ago.

The other O stands for offensive. We need to white that one out and pencil in initiative. The notion that it’s always better to be on the attack is a preemptive delusion. What we really want to do is shape the battle to our advantage regardless of whether we’re in an offensive or defensive posture. It’s better to be the guy behind the machine gun than the guy charging across the open field in front of it, just as an effective Homeland Security is a surer way of protecting America from terrorists than putting our troops in harm’s way in Asia.

We won’t analyze the entire MOOSEMUSS litany here. Mass, offensive, objective, security, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, surprise and simplicity will wait for another discussion. Suffice it to say that the language we use to describe our wars today is so convoluted that no sane person can comprehend it. At his confirmation hearings, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our new Bananastan honcho, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that his measure of effectiveness would not be the number of bad guys killed but "the number of Afghans shielded from violence." This is the guy we’ve given "carte blanche" to do whatever he wants to do over there. If he really wants to shield Afghans from violence, he should march all of his troops into a big old jet airliner and fly them home. As the former head of the hush-y Joint Special Operations Command, he was directly responsible for the collateral damage deaths of innumerable innocents. With shields like him, who needs enemies?

It is not possible to deny modern terrorists "sanctuary." Given the state of today’s information technology, evildoers can run their operations from any square inch on the planet, and we can’t occupy that much territory. The best study we have – and it’s from the folks at the RAND Corporation, who are among the world’s most respected security analysts – tells us that the best way to counter terrorism is with "a light U.S. military footprint or none at all." The RAND study of terror groups that operated between 1968 and 2006 reveals than over 80 percent of them were vanquished through political and policing solutions. Military force accounted for a miserable 7 percent of the victories over terrorists throughout that 38-year period.

So what in the wide world of sports, arts, and sciences are we doing sending McChrystal and another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan? Who is he going to protect Afghans from, the Taliban? That’s like occupying Mexico to protect Hispanics from Latinos. McChrystal told the Senate committee he doesn’t think the Taliban can be persuaded to sever their ties with al-Qaeda, because there has been so much intermarriage between the two groups. Can he really believe that this intermarriage business is limited to the Taliban and al-Qaeda? We can’t know how many Talibannisters and al-Qaedians there are, but McChrystal can probably count the number of Bananastanis who aren’t related to somebody in one of those two outfits on the calculating equipment he keeps in his jump boots.

Renaissance-era political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli wrote that Rome’s downfall came about from the rise of the Praetorian Guard, the elite military corps that accumulated so much power it controlled both the emperor and the Senate. It appears that our elite commando forces have become the new Praetorians, and like their predecessors, they’ve managed to bully the executive and legislative branches of their government into foreign policies that ensure them permanent employment.

We’ve been down this avenue so many times. Firearms revolutionized warfare, then rifled artillery re-revolutionized it, then armor made horse cavalry obsolete, then air power made everything else old helmet, then nuclear weapons came along. Now, we have David Petraeus and Stan McChrystal, special warriors whose powers and abilities allow them to do the dirty work we normal men aren’t capable of. King David can do more one-armed pushups than teenage privates. Stan the Man sleeps just a few hours a night and only eats one meal a day. He must not have to go to the bathroom very much, and what he deposits there probably doesn’t stink.

McChrystal also listens to audio books on an iPod as he runs to and from work. He needs to plug into some Clausewitz and Sun Tzu; from the sound of his talk, his worldview comes straight from Steven King and Tom Clancy.

It’s tough to accommodate the notion that history’s mightiest nation derives its foreign policy from two of history’s cheesiest fiction writers. But given the facts, it’s even harder to arrive at any other conclusion.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.