In golf and other sports, a “mulligan” is a second chance to get something right, sometimes referred to as a “do over.” In most sports, one do over is all you get, and sports are just games. In war, humanity’s deadliest undertaking, the folks running the Pentagon and the State Department keep asking for another mulligan and the president, Congress and the news media keeping saying sure, tee it up again.
Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen appeared on the August 23 edition of Meet the Press to sell the war in Afghanistan. He couldn’t have asked for a better straight man than David Gregory. Gregory pulsed Mullen “on the question of U.S. resolve.” Gregory noted the recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that indicated 51 percent of Americans don’t think Afghanistan is “worth the fight,” and asked Mullen “have the American people lost that will to fight this war?”
“Well, I'm, I'm a Vietnam veteran myself,” Mullen replied, and assured the American people that he was certainly aware of “the criticality” of their support. He mumbled and grumbled and said “the president's given me and the American military a mission” and he went yakety-yak about the “new strategy” and wheezed that it “focuses on al Qaeda” and blabbed yada, yada, yada about the “original 9/11 attacks” and sniffled that “they still plot against us” and blurted “in that regard, we're very focused on executing that mission.”
It was a perfect non-answer to a perfect non-question. Gregory delivered the straight line better than Bud Abbott could have.
Any time you hear talk about the American people losing their will to fight, you’re listening to war propaganda. The “will” stratagem often uses terms like spine, stomach, guts and other anatomical references commonly associated with courage and bravery. Like almost all war propaganda, the will stratagem is based on a false main assumption: that the war in question is good and/or necessary. Our brave troops will prevail (another common false assumption) as long as the folks back home have sufficient qualities of the proper body parts to stay the course.
Mullen evoked his Vietnam experience right on cue. One of the cruelest lies in the U.S. military ethos says that we lost in Vietnam because the media and Congress lacked the stiffness required to see things though when public support waned. Our involvement there spanned 25 years. At one point over a half million American troops were deployed there, and the country spared no expense in supporting their efforts. Yet, incredibly, one still hears old timers in the irascible right claim “If we’d only had eighteen more months.” If folks like them had their way, victory in Vietnam would still be “at hand.”
Mullen learned propaganda techniques like subliminal messaging from a master; his father was a press agent for MGM studios. Mullen’s personal public affairs officer, Capt. John Kirby, has been with him for many years. Mullen and his military did not choose the mission in Afghanistan, the message goes. The president gave it to them. Mullen started playing fast and loose with young Mr. Obama when, during the campaign, he warned in a Joint Force Quarterly article that a Democrat in the White House would have a negative effect on the mission in Iraq (the article has since been removed from the JFQ web site).
Al Qaeda…9/11…they still plot against us: Mullen has the full arsenal of fear mantras on the tip of his tongue. Our intelligence in that part of the world is pathetic. We don’t have a clue what al Qaeda is plotting, or thinking, or where any of its members actually are or even how many of them exist. Even if we could find a way to run them out of Afghanistan or Pakistan, they’d just go somewhere else. All it takes to plan and execute a terror attack is an iPhone, and they can get one of those anywhere. Why hang out in the nosebleed seats in the Himalayas when they can bask on the Riviera?
The very notion that the 9/11 attacks sprang from Afghanistan is specious. “Mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was operating in the Philippines when he first presented the attack plan to bin Laden in 1996. The six hijackers who controlled the airplanes received their flight training in the U.S., and the “muscle hijackers” came from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
New strategy…focused on executing the mission. The new strategy Mullen referred to is the one National Security Adviser James Jones and his White House war wonks cobbled together from the last eight year’s worth of think tank talking points. It is a compendium of vague tasks and incoherent platitudes. A “mission,” in military parlance, consists of a task and a purpose, and without coherent strategic goals, the Afghanistan mission is nothing more than a laundry list of purposeless tasks.
Straight man Gregory introduced the topic of the real purpose of Mullen’s appearance when he asked if Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will “request of this president more troops to fight in Afghanistan?”
Mullen hemmed and hawed, said McChrystal’s assessment wouldn’t “specifically deal with requirements for additional resources” that Mullen and the grown ups in Washington would “deal with” requirements in the “normal process,” whatever in God’s name the “normal process” might be at the Pentagon these days.
Gregory, not once but twice, invoked Senator John McCain, who had been the Pentagon’s tacitly endorsed presidential candidate. McCain says it’s not a question of whether we need more troops in Afghanistan, Gregory explained, it’s a question of how many more: 15,000 or 25,000 or 45,000? “Can you carry out this mission with the troops you've got?” Gregory demanded of Mullen.
“That's really something that we will evaluate over the next few weeks,” Mullen answered, satisfied that he’d accomplished the mission of getting Gregory to carry his water for him. Gregory made a show of pushing back later in the interview, but it didn’t matter. Mullen had already delivered the message:
Obama didn’t listen when we said we didn’t want any timelines for Iraq. He said Iraq was a distraction from “finishing the job” in Afghanistan. So we’re going to have our “long war” in Afghanistan, and if we say we need more troops there he darn well better give them to us or it will be his fault we lost there just like it will be his fault we lost in Iraq.
Long war Mafiosos like Mullen can’t tell us what they hope to accomplish, or even give a compelling argument that what they’re doing overseas is connected to national security. They claim that our military adventurism is keeping us safe from terror attacks even though historical analysis inarguably demonstrates that armed force is by magnitudes the least effective means of combating terrorism. They lied to us throughout the run up to the invasion of Iraq and have continued to lie to us ever since, and yet they still own the narrative on U.S. foreign policy and our poisoned news media continue to abet them overtly (Rush and Rupert and the rest of the Big Brother Broadcast) or tacitly (just about everybody else).
So no matter how badly they deceive us or how egregiously they fail to deliver results, the warmongery continues to get mulligan after mulligan after mulligan.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.