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William Astore: Turning Victory Into Defeat
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Think of it as a reverse miracle. Seventeen years of American war in this century waged by a military considered beyond compare on a planet that, back in 2001, was almost without enemies. How, then, was it possible, month after month, year after year, to turn the promise of eternal victory so repetitiously into the reality of defeat (and spreading terror movements)? As I read retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian William Astore’s latest piece on the subject, I must admit that I felt a certain sense of awe. In fact, I wondered whether, historically speaking, this might not be a one-of-a-kind situation.

Had there ever been an imperial power at the ostensible height of its glory that proved quite so incapable of effectively applying its military and political force globally to achieve its aims? At their height, the Roman Empire, China’s various imperial dynasties, and Europe’s colonial powers, however brutally, generally proved quite capable of impressing their wills and desires on those beyond their borders, even on relatively distant parts of the planet (at least for a time). In fact, in the Cold War years — think of Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, or Chile on the first 9/11 (September 11, 1973) — the U.S. proved no less capable, often in similarly brutal ways. And yet, from Afghanistan to Libya, Iraq to Somalia, Syria to Yemen, despite the endless application of U.S. power, the killing of tens of thousands of people (including key figures in various terror movements), the displacement of millions, the rubblization of whole cities, and the creation of a series of partially or fully failed states, nowhere, as TomDispatch regular Astore points out today, has U.S. power succeeded in successfully imposing its will, even as its wars only multiplied.

And here’s another thing I’ve come to wonder about: How did the hearts-and-minds moxie of the leftist national liberation movements of the previous century that decolonized much of the planet get transferred to the extreme Islamist groups of this one? Like the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (the “Vietcong”) and similar groups in the twentieth century, al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, and other terror outfits regularly suffer extreme casualties and yet somehow maintain their grip on the hearts and minds of significant numbers of people in riven, increasingly ruined lands. They can, it seems, even attract random Americans and Europeans into the fold. It’s a strange and unexpected phenomenon, a grim success story that hasn’t been faced in a serious way here.

I suspect that these two puzzles — how the self-acknowledged greatest power of all time failed to deliver and the extremist resistance to it, against all odds, did — may have to be left to future historians to fully unravel. In the meantime, check out Astore’s striking account of how the U.S. military has repeatedly turned promised victory into dismal defeat in these years. No question about it, it’s a tale for the history books.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military 
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  1. It is not a “mystery.” How do they win the “hearts and minds” of terrorists?

    They don’t. The US, its owners, and its proxies, pay them lots of money. That’s all. No hearts and minds required.

    This is not rocket science.

  2. anonymous[340] • Disclaimer says:

    I repeat: why does Mr. Engelhardt enjoy the privilege of having these introductions published separately from the article of the, as he vainly reminds us, “TomDispatch regular”? Mr. Astore’s article is here separately, where I just left a (favorable) comment. So we now have commenters literally talking past each other, diminishing one of the best aspects of TUR.

    Assuming (very) hypothetically that TomDispatch or its parent The Nation wanted to amplify a TUR article written by, say, Linh Dinh or C. J. Hopkins, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Unz requesting, much less receiving, such an annoying little soapbox.

  3. Priss Factor [AKA "Asagirian"] says:

    How, then, was it possible, month after month, year after year, to turn the promise of eternal victory so repetitiously into the reality of defeat (and spreading terror movements)?

    The notion of US losing wars or being defeated must end. It’s been said US lost in Vietnam, but US was untouched and lost 50,000 men. In contrast, Vietnam was turned into a total clusterfuc* and 2 million were killed in the war. US abandoned the war, but most of the tragic losses were felt by Vietnam, not by the US.

    Same in the Middle East. Despite all this talk of ‘defeat’, US was untouched by the war. In contrast, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen are smoldering ruins, mainly because Zionists control US foreign policy and spread terror and mayhem all over to prevent the rise of modern Arab nations and Iranian influence.

    When people say that the US ‘lost’ or was ‘defeated’, it’s rather perverse. US lost nothing. It can choose to remain in the Middle East or bring the troops home. Either way, US remains untouched. In contrast, the Arab and Muslim world have been utterly wrecked. So, who suffered all these losses?

    Now, some may argue that ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ are relative to a nation’s aims. One can argue that the US ‘lost’ in the sense that it failed to achieve its objectives. But were its goals really about spreading democracy and human rights in the Middle East? If US cares so much about human rights, why does it continue to support Zionist occupation of West Bank? Why is it so close to Saudi Arabia? The real goal of US intervention was Wars for Israel, and to the extent much of the Middle East has been scorched to the ground, Zionist-controlled US succeeded beyond its wildest dreams.

    Consider. If a big strong guy beats up a small weak guy, breaks his bones, permanently damages his organs, bites off his ears, and knocks out all his teeth BUT fails to make the little guy call him ‘uncle'(the stated goal), who ‘lost’ and was ‘defeated’? The big strong guy for having failed to make the little guy call him ‘uncle’ or the little guy who has been totally ruined in body and health?

    Let’s stop talking of US defeats. It’s too perverse. After 17 yrs, compare the US with the Middle East. NY and Chicago and San Fran are looking so bright and shiny. Look at the cities in Syria and Libya.
    Americans are fat and well-fed. People are facing starvation and harsh elements in the Middle East. Who really lost?

    • Replies: @anonymous
  4. anonymous[340] • Disclaimer says:
    @Priss Factor

    Thank you for reminding us of this.

    If you repost under the Astore article, perhaps he’ll respond. Mr. Engelhardt ignores comments.

  5. polistra says:

    The hearts and minds question is easy. A radical group that represents OUR tribe and OUR religion and OUR culture is representing OUR hearts and minds by definition. When the other side is clearly working for a FOREIGN nation or culture, OUR hearts and minds naturally oppose it.

    In many cases both competing armies have foreign money and weapons, but the rule still holds. The army that stays closest to OUR religion and culture will win.

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