By Ray McGovern
August 15, 2021"Information
Clearing House" - "Anti
If, after the horrors of this week in Afghanistan,
the 4-Starry-eyed generals responsible for this
20-year March of Folly are not held accountable,
there will be still worse to come. None were held
accountable for the disasters of Vietnam or Iraq,
and now the allegedly smart 4-Star Generals and
Admirals are – get this – preparing for war with
China and Russia.
"Civilian control" of the military is a fiction
when the Departments of Defense and State are headed
by windsock politicians like Robert Gates and
Hillary Clinton, not to mention President Barack
Obama who lacked the spine to stand up to political
generals like David Petraeus. This was clear as a
bell 12 years ago, when on March 24, 2009, Obama
announced his first surge of troops into
He claimed his decision was the result of a
"careful policy review" by military commanders and
diplomats, the Afghan and Pakistan governments,
NATO, and other international organizations. That he
did not mention any intelligence input into this key
decision for a slow surge in troops and trainers was
not an oversight. There was no intelligence input –
just as there was none before the benighted "surge"
of U.S. troops into Iraq in 2007, during which an
extra thousand GIs were killed.
Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert
Gates were in charge, and they knew best. They would
run their own policy review, thank you very much.
And if the outcome meant an automatic fourth star
for the generals, who’s to complain.
The pressure on Obama was so clear that when he
announced his decision to surge troops into
Afghanistan I wrote "Welcome
to Vietnam, Mr. President."
"The road ahead will be long," Obama warned. That
part he got right; that was guaranteed by the
It seemed only right and fitting that Barbara
Tuchman’s daughter, Jessica Tuchman Mathews,
then-president of the Carnegie Foundation, showed
herself to be inoculated against the kind of
"cognitive dissonance" about which her historian
mother Barbara Tuchman warned in her classic book,
The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. In
a January 2009 Carnegie report on Afghanistan
concluded, "The only meaningful way to halt the
insurgency’s momentum is to start withdrawing
troops. The presence of foreign troops is the most
important element driving the resurgence of the
Many old hands in intelligence and the military
were also highly skeptical, but Congress and the
mainstream media remained bedazzled by the medals
and merit badges of Petraeus and other generals,
some of whom looked forward to another star and kept
their mouths shut. Only one summoned the courage to
speak out. He happened to be the top US commander in
Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, who a few months
before had publicly contradicted his boss, Defense
Secretary Gates, when Gates started talking up the
prospect of a "surge" of troops in Afghanistan.
McKiernan insisted publicly that no Iraqi-style
"surge" of forces would end the conflict in
Afghanistan. "The word I don’t use for Afghanistan
is ‘surge,’" McKiernan said, adding that what is
required is a "sustained commitment" that could last
many years and would ultimately require a political,
not military, solution.
One argument Gates adduced to support his
professed optimism made us veteran intelligence
officers gag – at least those who remember the US in
Vietnam in the 1960s, the Soviets in Afghanistan in
the 1980s and other failed counterinsurgencies.
"The Taliban holds no land in Afghanistan, and
loses every time it comes into contact with
coalition forces," Gates explained. Was he unaware
that his remark echoed one made by US Army Col.
Harry Summers as the Vietnam war was approaching its
In 1974, Summers was sent to Hanoi to try to
resolve the status of Americans still listed as
missing. To his North Vietnamese counterpart, Col.
Tu, Summers made the mistake of bragging, "You know,
you never beat us on the battlefield."
Colonel Tu responded, "That may be so, but it is
Obama’s generals resemble all too closely the
gutless general officers who never looked down at
what was really happening in Vietnam. The ones
standing behind Obama at the press conference on
March 24, 2009 had smarts – but not courage – enough
to have told him: NO; IT’S A BAD IDEA, Mr.
That should not have been too much to expect.
Sadly, after that press conference
it was easy to predict: "Gallons of blood are
likely to be poured unnecessarily in the mountains
and valleys of Afghanistan – probably over the next
decade or longer. But not their [4-star] blood."
It Will Happen Again, Unless…
This time there must be accountability for
Afghanistan. The more so since generals and
admirals, active duty and retired, are going off
half-cocked. Some of them, like Admiral Charles
Richards, head of US Strategic Command, are saying
nuclear war is possible. Earlier this year Richard
wrote that the US must shift from a principal
assumption that nuclear weapons’ use is nearly
impossible to "nuclear employment is a very real
And retired Adm. James Stavridis, former
commander of NATO, is already talking about war with
China "perhaps ten years from now."
Accountability and effective civilian control of
such general officers can prevent the next March of
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a
publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the
Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career
as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the
Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of
the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
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