This is not to say that vast quantities of guts and brain power haven't been devoted to whatever this was -- and is -- that our country is doing. Now that Herr Trump is stuffing his entourage with generals whose experience has been in this frustrating, amorphous, and largely fruitless enterprise, it is all the more important for the rest of us bring into focus what we've been doing.
Every once in a while, the muddled project spits out someone who fought the good fight for whatever it is, and, patriotically, wants to try to get the country back on the rails. It's a tough job.
One of the first of these was Ali Soufan. He was just about the only Arabic speaker in the FBI back in 2000, and thus one of the earliest insiders to encounter the absurdity of the post 9/11 enterprise. He left, or perhaps was pushed. He's the principal in the Soufan Group, a "security" consultancy that puts out interesting briefs (ads?) about what they call "challenging international issues."
the Soufan Intelbrief offered an interesting reflection:
That last sentence is the crux. The 9/11 attacks were crimes. The 9/11 attacks did not presage a "war". They could and should have been treated as offenses against international and national laws; civil, diplomatic, and military force should have been used to apply law to the miscreants, not to spread carnage far and wide. Because they were treated as equivalent to Pearl Harbor, as if they launched a war, we and the peoples in our path remain trapped in a "war" which is not a "war" but rather a cycle of destruction which has no rational mission or end.
Our post-9/11 military adventures have never been about averting some existential threat to the people of the U.S. Terrorism is despicable and horrible, but it isn't going to maim or kill any significant fraction of us. Yet enough of us demanded of our leaders that they achieve the impossible -- guarantee our perfect safety in a world where many have good reason to hate us -- that they've been empowered to spew death and destruction around the globe without plan, purpose, rhyme, or reason.
Trump's cabinet of the military leaders of that enterprise probably contains more awareness of the futility of all this than just about any group in government. After all, unlike the country at large, they have been at war. They've been made responsible to execute policy madness. And they've been losing, or failing, or something that can't really be evaluated because there are no metrics to measure success when you don't know what you are doing.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all this seems to drive some military leaders mad. General Flynn, he of the fake news tweets and hatred of all Muslims, seems in that category. General Mattis may well be a wiser character. Thomas Ricks, who is no military sycophant, thinks so. It is certainly dangerous to civilian control of the military to have so many generals at the top of the government. But if we are going to be in permanent war, perhaps it should be no surprise.
As an unruly teenager, Donald Trump was shipped off to a Hudson River military school to be "straightened out." (I remember marveling at ads for this sort of educational service in the classified section of my parents' Saturday Review in those years. What sort of kid got that treatment?) His classmates remember his getting over on the strict school discipline. We're all going to be forced to see whether he gets over on his next set of officers. There's no sign he's learned any discipline or matured much.
Resist much, we must.