Updated: Dec 11, 2021
"I thought we could turn it around, obviously I was wrong...I think in retrospect, yeah, we should have left..I don't think it was possible for us to leave abruptly after killing bin Laden (in 2011), but clearly we should have left earlier than we did. We need to examine in the military that can-do spirit and can we understand why to often we say yes to a mission when we should say no..."
ADM (Ret) Michael Mullen
Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (2007-2011)
22 August 2021
Wow...let that quote sink in for a minute. This was the senior military officer at the height of the war in Afghanistan. He was among the best and the brightest...and this is what we got from this dope? William Westmoreland called...he wants his debacle back. When a democracy decides to expend blood and treasure in a foreign land, it better:
Have the backing of the American people
Have a clearly defined and measurable objective
Have a clearly defined exit strategy
We had none of these in Afghanistan after 2002. Now while in a democracy, it is elected civilian leadership that decides where and when to expend blood and treasure, it's the military that executes the strategy. Once senior military leadership salutes and takes the mission, they are equal partners in the effort. I'm not talking about the grunts...I'm talking about senior military decision makers. It's not good enough to simply salute and say "yes sir" when given a mission that in your best military judgement will be a failure. You either convince the civilian leadership to follow your advice, or resign and be very public about why. To retire like Mullen, and then have this epiphany about what you should have done, is one of the problems we have in the current military officer corps. There is clearly a problem here that needs to be addressed.
Breaking It Down
Any effort with boots on the ground requires the support of the American people for the duration of effort. Our effort in Afghanistan had American support until roughly 2011...at the latest, when bin Laden was killed. For the last ten years, there was no American support for this effort at worst, or people just didn't really give a shit at the worst. After Al Quaeda was neutralized in Afghanistan, there was no clearly defined objective. If the counter-terrorist (CT) mission was accomplished (according to Mullen)...what was our reason for being there? Nation building? Counter-insurgency (CI)?...Train and equip? Bottom line: no one knew...or cared...as long as US taxpayer dollars were being showered on a corrupt government, corrupt army and a bunch of contractors. The US military leadership in Afghanistan was certainly in a position to clearly see that the effort was not in any way capable of achieving any objective. Yet, these are the same military officers that sent glowing reports to Washington on how well the Afghan Army was doing. As recent events clearly show...they were liars. Lastly, the US obviously had no clearly defined exit strategy that would be on favorable terms for the country. The strategy seemed to end up being: let's sit down with the guys that kicked everyone's ass...smoke a peace pipe...and call it a day.
You want to convince Americans to support putting their sons and daughter in harms way? Institute a draft...and see how that goes. Many Americans were against the war in Vietnam by 1967. There was a draft at the time, but there were to many exemptions, primarily for people enrolled in college. So the poor and uneducated were drafted and fought. When the college exemption was lifted in 1969...guess what happened? What....you are sending our...white...smart...college students to fight where?! No you aren't! The reason why our effort in Vietnam ended as early as it did...compared to Afghanistan...was because of the draft and the impact it had on the public. Fast forward to 2001. We no longer have a draft because we have a highly paid, professional, volunteer military force. Most Americans are now not really committed to any of our military expeditions. As a result, there is no pressure on civilian leadership to define objectives and terminate these foreign entanglements. There is no pressure on military leadership either, as war zones are great for getting your ticket punched and a promotion. Speaking freely is not career enhancing. This country can't have it both ways...never-ending wars require never-ending commitment.
Plenty Of Blame
So for the last 60 years, elected civilian officials have been unable to plan and execute American involvement in foreign wars. Senior military officers have been unwilling to confront these leaders when they know these decisions are wrongheaded. It's time to take these decisions out of their hands and put it back where it belongs: the American people. A draft will cause the entire country to have skin in the game when the flag draped caskets start returning. Oh, the military will squeal how draftees are unmotivated, hard to train, lack will...blah...blah. Guess what?...since draftees are a snapshot of the American public...does that tell you something about what the public thinks about the effort they are being drafted for?