Trump and the Generals - The Libyan Report

Trump and the Generals

There’s a new article at The Atlantic by Mark Bowden that cites America’s generals to condemn Donald Trump’s leadership of the military. Here’s how the article begins:

For most of the past two decades, American troops have been deployed all over the world—to about 150 countries. During that time, hundreds of thousands of young men and women have experienced combat, and a generation of officers have come of age dealing with the practical realities of war. They possess a deep well of knowledge and experience. For the past three years, these highly trained professionals have been commanded by Donald Trump.

Hundreds of thousands of troops have “experienced combat” — and this is a good thing? What wars have they won? What about the dead and wounded? What about the enormous monetary cost of these wars?

That’s quite the opening. A few comments:

It’s not a good thing that American troops have been deployed to nearly 150 countries over the last 20 years. Indeed, it points to the scattershot nature of U.S. strategy, such as it is, in the “global war on terror.”

Hundreds of thousands of troops have “experienced combat” — and this is a good thing? What wars have they won? What about the dead and wounded? What about the enormous monetary cost of these wars?

Dealing with “the practical realities of war” — Please tell me, again, how Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc., have played out?

“Highly trained professionals” with “a deep well of knowledge and experience.” Again, tell me which wars America has clearly won.

The gist of Bowden’s article is that Trump is capricious, vain, contrary, and ignorant. But his biggest sin is that he doesn’t listen to the experts in the military and the intelligence community, whereas George W. Bush and Barack Obama did.

Aha! Tell me again how things worked out for Bush and Obama. Bush led the USA disastrously into Afghanistan and Iraq; Obama “surged” in Afghanistan (a failure), created a disaster in Libya, and oversaw an expansion of Bush’s wars against terror. And these men did all this while listening to the experts, those “highly trained professionals” with those allegedly “deep” wells of knowledge and experience.

Given this record, can one blame Trump for claiming he’s smarter than the generals? Can one fault him for trying to end needless wars? He was elected, after all, on a platform of ending costly and foolish wars. Is he not trying, however inconsistently or confusingly, to fulfill that platform?

The point here is not to praise Donald Trump, who as commander-in-chief is indeed capricious and ignorant and too convinced of his own brilliance. The point is to question Bowden’s implied faith in the generals and their supposed “deep well” of expertise. For if you judge them by their works, and not by their words, this expertise has failed to produce anything approaching victory at a sustainable cost.

Bowden’s article concludes with this warning:

In the most crucial areas, the generals said, the military’s experienced leaders have steered Trump away from disaster. So far.

“The hard part,” one general said, “is that he may be president for another five years.”

The generals “have steered Trump away from disaster.” Really. Tell me who’s going to steer the generals away from their disasters — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, the list goes on.

Bowden, it must be said, makes valid points about Trump’s weaknesses and blind spots. But in embracing and even celebrating the generals, Bowden reveals a major blind spot of his own.

WJ Astore

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