A Typical Democratic Official on the Pentagon & War–as DOD Confirms Iraq, Afghanistan Withdrawal

William J. Astore takes on Jeh Johnson’s opposition to any haste in bringing troops home from the nearly two-decade-long war in Afghanistan, before Pentagon confirmed Wednesday Iraq and Afghan withdrawals.  

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Nov. 15, 2020. (YouTube screenshot)

By William J. Astore
Bracing Views

Jeh Johnson, formerly homeland security secretary under President Barack Obama, showed how a typical Democratic official approaches the Pentagon and war as he spoke on ABC’s This Week on Sunday (11/15). 

For Johnson, the Pentagon “is typically an island of stability” in the U.S. government, but President Donald Trump was destabilizing that island because of recent changes to Pentagon personnel.  Trump’s changes could be driven by his desire to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, speculated Johnson, which was not a good thing:

“If he [Trump] wants troops out of Afghanistan, as I know most Americans do, we have to do it in a way that makes sense, in an orderly manner, and that comports with battlefield reality … in trying to strike a deal, you don’t unilaterally surrender your greatest point of leverage by unilaterally withdrawing troops before the Afghan government and the Taliban have stuck a deal. So this is very concerning and if I were in the Biden transition team right now, I’d be very focused … on restoring stability in our national security.”

[On Wednesday the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. is pulling 2,500 troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan, causing alarm among U.S. allies and senior Republicans.]

We can’t surrender our “leverage,” those thousands of U.S. troops that remain in harm’s way in an unnecessary war that was won and then lost almost two decades ago, because it’s that “leverage” that will compel the Taliban, who have already won the war, to strike a deal with an Afghan government that exists mainly because the U.S. government props it up.  Makes sense to me.

By the way, only “most Americans” want our troops to come home?  Where are all the other Americans who want them to stay there indefinitely?  Within the Washington Beltway, I’d wager.

The Afghan war has always struck me as nonsensical.  Yes, some kind of response to the 9/11 attacks was needed, and initial U.S. military strikes in 2001-02 succeeded in toppling the Taliban, in the sense they saw no reason to stand and fight against withering fire.  At that moment, the U.S. military should have declared victory and left.  Instead, the Bush/Cheney administration decided on its own disastrous occupation, extended another eight years by Obama/Biden, even though we knew full well the extent of the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan in the 1980s. 

‘Leverage’ & ‘Stability’

Aug. 19, 2020: Military honors for U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Voss who died during a crash of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. (Arlington National Cemetery, Flickr, Elizabeth Fraser)

The Afghan war has lasted so long that I’ve been writing articles against it for more than a decade.  You’d think any sensible and sane Democrat would love to see U.S. troops withdrawn and the war finally come to an end.  Not so.  The war must continue in the name of “leverage” and “stability.”

I like Johnson’s truly absurdist reference to “battlefield reality,” which, if we’re being real for a moment, reflects a Taliban victory.  Unless the U.S. wants to occupy Afghanistan forever, with hundreds of thousands of troops, that victory is not about to be reversed.  And what kind of “victory” would that be? 

“Stability” is not preserved by fighting unwinnable wars on the imperial periphery, unless you’re talking about the stability of Pentagon finances and corporate profits.  Johnson’s wiki bio does mention he’s on the boards of Lockheed Martin Corporation and U.S. Steel, which certainly hints at a conflict of interest when it comes to offering advice on ending wars.

In the meantime, we probably shouldn’t tell our troops, whom we’re supposed to love and support, that we’re keeping them in Afghanistan for “leverage” until the “battlefield reality” is more in our favor.  That’s truly a recipe for endless war in a place that well deserves its reputation as the graveyard of empires.

Finally, a reminder to Democrats: your Pentagon is an island of stability, and your troops are creating the leverage that allows democracy to flourish everywhere.  If this makes sense to you, and if this is the guiding philosophy of Joe Biden’s national security team, we’re truly in deep trouble.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of critical veteran military and national security professionals.

This article is from Bracing Views.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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13 comments for “A Typical Democratic Official on the Pentagon & War–as DOD Confirms Iraq, Afghanistan Withdrawal

  1. November 19, 2020 at 03:16

    “Yes, some kind of response to the 9/11 attacks was needed, and initial U.S. military strikes in 2001-02 succeeded in toppling the Taliban, in the sense they saw no reason to stand and fight against withering fire.”
    It wasn’t the Taliban, 11 out of the 13 highjackers were from Saudi Arabia. The sensible response would have been to close all military bases and end imperialism and end unconditional support of Israel. But I guess a former Lieutnant cannot follow this simple logic.

  2. CNfan
    November 19, 2020 at 01:18

    Vietnam anyone?

  3. November 19, 2020 at 00:18

    And then there is Lithium and other Minerals Worth 1-3 trillion, AS was Reporter by the NYT and Others.

  4. Douglas A. Scott
    November 18, 2020 at 23:26

    Part of the untold history of the mess that is Afghanistan is the rise of the warlords. This is otherwise know in the USA as Charlie Wilson’s war. In the late 1970’s Afghanistan had a total GDP of around $2.7b. After the Soviet invasion, it ebbed a bit. The Soviets wanted a buffer state, they were not going to get it whether it took 10 or 25 years the Afghans were going to wear down the Russians. Period.

    Enter Charlie Wilson, a moron from Texas with a friendly ear at the CIA. Suddenly, we are dumping $500m to $800m into that backwater. We can’t go to the government, so we go to the tribes and create the warlords. These cats were bad, the Taliban were the response and whether we like it or not the Afghans saw the Taliban as preferable to the abuses of the Warlords.

    Now, we are aligned with some the warlords and really have nowhere to go.

  5. Moi
    November 18, 2020 at 22:37

    The desire to surround China with permanent US military bases had nothing to do with the 20 years of occupation either.

  6. Me Myself
    November 18, 2020 at 21:48

    I am sure they will leave enough troops behind to protect the oil fields from the Iraqi people.. I mean for?

  7. Susan Leslie
    November 18, 2020 at 17:05

    The MIC mission is not to create “stability” anywhere – it is to create chaos and division everywhere including here at home – wake up and smell the napalm America!

  8. Rob
    November 18, 2020 at 14:39

    Jeh Johnson is a cog in the War Machine. It is sad, but not unexpected, that Biden would fill his administration with such people. After all, Biden himself has been an important cog in that machine for his entire political career, as has every U.S. President since World War II, with the possible exception of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned about the growing power of the military-industrial complex. Our nation is governed by a single War Party with two heads.

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      November 19, 2020 at 03:20

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Absolutely true it is people like Eisenhower who wins true respect for the U.S. military throughout the world. Most of the bloated hawks directing the Pentagon in recent decades have been nothing more than the pre-positioned lapdogs of the bloody lucrative MICs !

  9. Alex Cox
    November 18, 2020 at 13:25

    “The Afghan war has always struck me as nonsensical.”

    Why? When the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban had reduced opium production to zero. Since then, opium production (and heroin manufacture) have increased exponentially every year. As CIA and the US military have a long history of drug dealing (see Webb’s Dark Victory, McCoy’s Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, or Cockburn’s Whiteout for some details), and drug dealing generates large sums of money for personal enrichment and black ops, the Afghan war is entirely sensible… for its American beneficiaries.

    In computer programming they have a term to explain this simply: POSIWID — the purpose of a system is what it does.

    • Moi
      November 19, 2020 at 09:04

      I seem to recall Russia accusing the US of deliberately dumping heroin within its borders. Russia had an explosion of addicts measured in millions at the time.

      A CIA plot is plausible, especially when it results in mega-misery.

  10. Jeff Harrison
    November 18, 2020 at 13:05

    Very well said, Mr. Astore. Unfortunately, the US has a messianic streak a mile wide that has been reinforced by the embrace by various Republican administrations of the evangelicals. At this point, you should be thinking about The Return of the Jedi where Darth Vader says: It is too late for me, Luke, I must obey my master.

  11. David Otness
    November 18, 2020 at 13:01

    Among the harsher and stark underpinnings of this venture remain the geostrategic abutment of Afghanistan to China. And Iran, the same for the long-plotted oil pipeline to Pakistan; the road leading north to the ‘Stans’ and thence to Russia. Strategic minerals too, and…. the world’s largest source of opium poppies.

    Jes bringin’ that old time freedum to the world’s oppressed, that’s us’ns.

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