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Andrew Bacevich

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Trump’s National Defense Strategy Has the Pentagon Popping Champagne

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Here’s what we can say about the Trump administration’s just-released National Defense Strategy: it’s not a strategy and its subject is not defense. 

Bearing the imprimatur of Pentagon chief James Mattis, the NDS—at least the unclassified summary that we citizens are permitted to see—is in essence a brief for increasing the size of the U.S. military budget. Implicit in the document is this proposition: more spending will make the armed forces of the United States “stronger” and the United States “safer.” Simply put, the NDS is all about funneling more bucks to the Pentagon.

Remarkably, the NDS advances this argument while resolutely avoiding any discussion of what Americans have gotten in return for the $11 trillion (give or take) expended pursuant to the past 16-plus years of continuous war—as if past performance should have no bearing on the future allocation of resources.

Try this thought experiment. The hapless Cleveland Browns went winless this year. How might Browns fans react if the team’s management were to propose hiking ticket prices next season? Think they might raise a ruckus?
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The Only Way Trump Could Actually ‘Drain the Swamp’

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President-elect Donald Trump’s message for the nation’s senior military leadership is ambiguously unambiguous. Here is he on 60 Minutes just days after winning the election.

Trump: “We have some great generals. We have great generals.”

Lesley Stahl: “You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.”

Trump: “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. OK, look at the job they’ve done. They haven’t done the job.”

In reality, Trump, the former reality-show host, knows next to nothing about ISIS, one of many gaps in his education that his impending encounter with actual reality is likely to fill. Yet when it comes to America’s generals, our president-to-be is on to something. No doubt our three- and four-star officers qualify as “great” in the sense that they mean well, work hard, and are altogether fine men and women. That they have not “done the job,” however, is indisputable—at least if their job is to bring America’s wars to a timely and successful conclusion.

Trump’s unhappy verdict—that the senior US military leadership doesn’t know how to win—applies in spades to the two principal conflicts of the post-9/11 era: the Afghanistan War, now in its 16th year, and the Iraq War, launched in 2003 and (after a brief hiatus) once more grinding on. Yet the verdict applies equally to lesser theaters of conflict, largely overlooked by the American public, that in recent years have engaged the attention of US forces, a list that would include conflicts in Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
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