Essay Maj. Danny

The Leaders From My Afghan Tour Are on to Bigger, More Bankable Things

Unable to stomach 24/7 coverage of an election that barely broached America’s longest-war, I got to reminiscing about the colonels and generals from my 2011-12 Afghan adventure; wondering--like Garth Brooks--"What they’re doing now?"
U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus (center), commanding General, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills, commander, Regional Command (Southwest), meet local Afghan leaders during their visit to Musa Qa’Leh, Afghanistan, July 26, 2010. [ ResoluteSupportMedia / CC BY 2.0]

By Maj. Danny Sjursen / AntiWar

It’s one hell of an inversion. The colonels and generals who commanded at high levels during my 2011-12 Afghan surge tour may have lost the war, but they sure won the personal prosperity battle. The military campaign – strategically, at least – wasn’t even close this time around. Whereas the first surge I had the distinct displeasure to join, in Iraq, produced – or at least coincided – with enough short-term security “progress” to feed a success mythology, the Afghan reprise never really caught on. For the most part, that bloody jaunt passed with barely a whimper – as if we were all supposed to forget the grandiose overpromises on what surge snake oil could produce in this “graveyard of empires.”

Thus, once the “quantum shift” President Obama’s first hired (then fired) theater commander, General Stanley McChrystal had pledged didn’t pan out, the American people were treated to some collective gaslighting by the top brass and their think-tanking cheerleaders. Just over two years later, in March 2012, the third surge commander, General John Allen, had changed the martial tune – telling House Armed Services Committee members “There have been setbacks, to be sure, we’re experiencing them now, and there will be more setbacks ahead.”

In other words, the people’s representatives should temper their expectations, because, “I wish I could tell you that this war was simple, and that progress could be easily measured. But that’s not the way of counterinsurgencies.” Still, cutting the nation’s losses shouldn’t so much as cross their minds, since, Allen assured them, “progress is real, and, importantly, it’s sustainable.”

We all know how that turned out. Still, in the end it was no skin off Allen’s or any of the other senior generals’ backs that America’s mighty military machine failed so mightily. It seems that the one “here” where “buck never stops” are flag officer’s desks. Not to say the fault was all theirs – not even Alexander the Great could’ve cut the “Gordian knot” of an impossible Afghan mission. Nevertheless, the utter lack of responsibility-taking or consequences-accrual by U.S. generals has been off-putting in the extreme.

Then again, maybe failing upward makes perfect sense for a tribe that selects its own members – “ducks pick ducks” according to a recent Rand report. Furthermore, the fail-up principle applies even after the generals age-out. It seems the real rewards accrue after retirement, when – contra General Douglas MacArthur’s famed farewell address – these old soldiers neither die nor fade away.

The Generals Cash In

Perhaps feeling a mix of melancholy and nostalgia this past week, as an election campaign that barely broached America’s longest-ever war (hopefully) climaxed – I got to reminiscing about the colonels and generals who commanded at the battalion-level and above during my 2011-12 Afghan adventure. I found myself wondering – like a jilted lover with a locked&loaded Facebook account – what they’re doing now?

The answers were predictable, if a bit more drastic than expected. To summarize and generalize, the generals (no pun intended) are mostly working in the corporate defense industry, strategic and security consulting, and/or at a trans-partisan array of hawkish think tanks that provide “scholarly” justification for their own windfalls. These organizations hardly hire the retired generals as a thanks for their service – nor for any specific technical knowledge per se – but rather for their relationships Rolodex, insider knowledge, and influence with former subordinates now headed to the helm.

That’s where most of the colonels from my – and let’s be honest, everyone’s – Afghan tour come in. They’ve either risen to key command and decisional positions or themselves retired, and followed their former masters into parallel subordinate roles at the very same defense contractors, consultancies, or think tanks.

These are money-making enterprises, after all, and spinning senior military leaders through the “revolving door” has proved a sure-thing payoff time and again. The proof is in the pudding – a warfare tapioca now aged 20 years.

Consider some general officer highlights from what now seems the Afghan ancient history of the surge’s mid-point:

  • General David Petraeus, Commander International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF): After his paleo protégé Stanley McChrystal got himself fired for speaking out-of-turn to a Rolling Stone reporter, my first senior surge-boss General David Petraeus was asked to play an encore of the “miracle” on the Tigris. He didn’t, naturally, and one got the distinct sense he knew he couldn’t and would’ve rather not been asked to try – which was technically a demotion from his previous region-wide perch at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). He soon had an epic fall from grace, resigning from his follow-on position as CIA director in November 2012 and later sentenced to two years probation and a $100,000 fine after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count passing classified information to his biographer and extramarital lover, Paula Broadwell.

David’s done just fine and has been accepted right back into the business and policy elite fold. On the former count, he’s a partner and chairman of the KKR Global Institute, which he established in 2013 to assist the parent global investment firm by “integrating expertise and analysis about emerging developments and long-term trends in geopolitics, macroeconomics, demographics, energy and natural resource markets.” Since 2017, he’s also been on the board of Optiv Security, “a market-leading provider of end-to-end cyber security solutions.” On the policy-influencing side, Petraeus is on the board of the Atlantic Council, NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence, Institute for the Study of War, as well as a member of the US Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council.

  • General John Allen, Petraeus’s mid-tour successor as COMISAF: He started the transition-game early in his military career, as thefirst marine officer inducted as a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations – “an independent, nonpartisan organization, think tank, and publisher” dedicated to diplomacy, that happens to accept cash from 12 different war-profiteer corporations. After retiring, Allen was appointed Obama’s special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, before joining America’s oldest think tank, the Brookings Institution – he’s now its president. That crew received just a measly $2,485,000 from the US Government and defense contractors these last five years – with Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Airbus leading a pack of 17 separate corporate arms-dealers, US military, and intelligence outfits.
  • Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, head of ISAF Joint Command, the number two US military man in Afghanistan: after the tour, he pinned a fourth star and finished his career leading US Africa Command (AFRICOM). Since then, he’s operated DMR Consulting LLC, another strategic advisory outfit. Yet per his own bio [conflict of interest trigger-warning] he “continues to support the US Army with Strategic Leadership Training at the Army War College” for two- and three-star generals.

Rodriguez is also a senior adviser at the [Stanley] McChrystal Group: you guessed it, a consulting, and leadership development firm. Now here’s a professionally incestuous lot: 12 of the group’s 17 partners are military or CIA veterans, including five retired generals – proof that hitching themselves to stars (in this case McChrystal’s) persists long after camo fatigues are traded for tailored suits. Group partner meetings must also have something of an Afghan surge reunion party feel – at least six were along on my 2011-12 tour. Suffice it to say, though both are ironically West Chester, Pennsylvania natives – a Smedley Butler, Rodriguez is not. In fact, he’s almost an inversion of the old marine general turned antiwar stalwart.

  • Major General James Huggins, my old Regional Command-South commander during the second half of the tour: wouldn’t you know that after pinning a third star and running operations on the Army Headquarters staff – he also joined the McChrystal Group, as managing partner of its Texas operations. No doubt he was well prepared, having graduated from the National Association of Corporate Directors’s (NACD) “From Battlefield to Boardroom” Class of 2015. That aptly titled group describes itself as an “exclusive board-development program designed to prepare retired and soon-to-retire military flag and general officers to serve as leaders in the boardroom.”
  • Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, ISAF Joint Command / I Corps commander: he was actually West Point’s Commandant of Cadets during my senior year, before a meteoric rise to ISAF’s #2. Scaparrotti next commanded US Forces-Korea, then became NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander. He’s been busy since his recent 2019 retirement. First, as a senior counselor at the Cohen Group: “a business advisory firm providing corporate leadership with strategic advice and assistance in business development, regulatory affairs, deal sourcing, and capital raising activities.” It was founded in 2001 by former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen to “help multinational clients expand overseas.” Other staff standouts, among at least seven other retired generals and admirals, include Trump’s former defense secretary, Jim Mattis. Counting less name recognition – but perhaps even more utility given their final uniformed, military-industrial-complex (MIC) dream assignments – are General Paul Kern (Head of Army Materiel Command) and Lieutenant General Joseph Yakovac (Director, Army Acquisition Corps).

Scaparrotti also serves (with Petraeus) on the Atlantic Council Board of Directors. From 2014-19, this group received the third-most ($8,697,000) US Government and defense contractor cash of any major American think tank. Top donations included $1.25 million from Airbus, $800,000 from Raytheon, and $750,000 from Lockheed Martin – less of a surprise when one learns there are two Airbus CEOs, a Raytheon CEO, a senior Raytheon lobbyist, and Lockheed Martin CEO sitting with Scaparrotti on the Atlantic’s board. Joining these MIC-masters are at least 11 three- and four-star generals, three CIA directors or deputies, and two secretaries of homeland security.

  • Major General John Campbell, head of Regional Command-East / 101st Airborne Division: after this tour, he picked up a couple more stars, served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, and then returned to Afghanistan as the last ISAF commander. After speculation that he was passed over as “heir apparent” for CENTCOM – after a prolonged US air attack on a Doctors Without Borders killed 42 civilians during his last Afghan tenure – Campbell retired in 2016. Just 47 days later, he joined the board of directors at BAE Systems – an American subsidiary of a British company that’s Europe’s largest defense contractor. BAE produces almost all of the ground combat vehicles in US Army armored brigade combat teams, minus the Abrams tank itself. “[Campbell’s] knowledge and perspective on the US military’s needs around the world will be highly valuable,” the company’s board chairman unapologetically explained.

Campbell also somehow finds the time to serve on board of IAP Worldwide Services, Inc. – “a leading provider of global-scale logistics, management and technical services…providing solutions to US and multi-national government agencies and organizations.” Plus, in July 2018 he was named Systematic Inc.’s Chairman of the Board: where he “will deliver strategic guidance” to help make Systematic “the leading provider of [command&control, intelligence&surveillance] “solutions in the defense industry.” The company’s president, Rafael Torres, was blunt: “General Campbell’s… ability to predict and address the needs of our warfighter, makes him the ideal person to take on this pivotal role.”

He’s also on the board of directors of Rolls Royce North America, and the advisory boards of AM General, SAP NS2, Castellum, Inc., and MITRE – which manages federally funded research and development centers supporting several US government agencies.

  • Major General Daniel Allyn, head of Regional Command-East / 1st Cavalry Division: he not only took over for General Campbell at RC-East midway through my tour, but succeeded him in his next assignment as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. He retired afterwards, in 2017, as a full four-star general. A year later, Allyn joined Ernst & Young LLP (EY) as an executive director in the government & public sector advisory practice, which self-describes its services as “helping defense forces to streamline operations, cut costs, procure smarter and transform their workforce so they can keep their people safe in a complex and uncertain world.”  Mike Herrinton, an EY partner and Allyn’s new boss in the government & public practice was fairly frank about his new hire’s role: “Dan’s experience will be instrumental in helping EY help position government agencies for improved readiness to meet future challenges and opportunities.”

Allyn couldn’t stay away, however, and in May 2019 he delivered “his thoughts on leadership” during an Army Leader Exchange presentation at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. ALx, per its new age acronym-moniker, is apparently “a community of practice” – whatever that means – “enabling professional conversation on all things leadership and leader development.” In practice, this community of practice regularly “hosts guest speakers from industry, government, education and the military to offer unique insights on leadership.” It’s probably a safe bet that maintaining such professional ties with former subordinates running Fort Leavenworth – the “army’s schoolhouse” – and molding the minds of “more than 1,000 Command and General Staff College students [read: majors] and faculty [read colonels],” delivers no ancillary benefits to Allyn or EY…right?

  • Major General James Terry, head of Regional Command-South / 10th Mountain Division: he preceded General Huggins as my division commander in Kandahar Province, then briefly took over the army’s V Corps in Europe, before redeploying to Afghanistan in June 2012 and replacing Scaparrotti as ISAF Joint Commander. In 2013 he led the Combined Land Force Component (CFLC) of Operation Inherent Resolve – the anti-ISIS turned anti-Iran/Assad/Russia mission in Iraq and Syria – before retiring in November 2015. Asked about his post-military plans, Terry said, “I plan to do nothing, real fast,” adding, “I always said that when I retired I was going to shave my head, grow a beard, and walk the Appalachian Trail, but I’m not so sure now!”

Instead, he stuck to business suits and business as usual. Ten months after retiring, Terry became senior vice president, in the “contractor’s global defense business segment” at Cubic Global Defense. As if co-leading contracting for a defense contractor doesn’t sound a blatant enough interest-conflict, his new boss – himself a retired navy vice admiral – explained that Terry would “oversee efforts to pursue business opportunities in ground training systems and services for the Army, Marine Corps, Special Operations Forces and the Middle East region,” and would “be a great asset to Cubic’s NextTraining growth strategy.” Oh, and just before jumping on the contractor gravy train, Terry graduated a class behind his RC-South successor, General Huggins, in the very same NACD “From Battlefield to Boardroom” program.

  • Major General John Toolan, head of Regional Command-Southwest / II Marine Expeditionary Force: after leaving the Marine Corp’s bloody – and seemingly perennial – battleground out in Helmand Province (some 450 have died there, more than twice marine casualties at Vietnam’s Battle of Hue) he commanded the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) then Marine Forces, Pacific. “Jocko” Toolan retired with a third-star in 2016, then became an advisor to Palantir Technologies – an outfit New York Magazine called “Big Data’s scariest, most secretive unicorn.” Documents released by Edward Snowden have also demonstrated how Palantir “helped the NSA spy on the whole world.”

Well, the CIA provided early seed money for this 2004 startup after all – “through In-Q-Tel, the agency’s venture capital branch.” Wait, the CIA has a venture capital branch? Active in more than 150 countries, Palantir’s clients include defense corporations like AirBus, plus plenty of government agencies, like (for starters) the CIA, FBI, NSA, Homeland Security, West Point, the Army, Air force, and – you guessed it – the US Marine Corps.

Why Palantir would be so interested in this particular marine three-star, though? Well, could be related to a certain Major General Toolan’s 2012 letter sent from Helmand Province and praising the company: “Palantir reduced the time required for countless analytical functions and streamlined other, once cumbersome, processes . . . . The innovative and collaborate capabilities of Palantir have proven their mettle and effectiveness for conventional and special operations forces in combat.” This gushing note to the Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office – which had already provided Toolan with funds to buy three Palantir servers – offered crystal clear recommendations: “I hope the Marine Corps will further its relationship with [the combating terrorism office] providing this capability to USMC forces engaged in the current fight and that the Marine Corps will eventually integrate Palantir into its program of record.”

Toolan also self-describes as a self-employed “consultant and advisor” focused on “wargaming on Indo-Pacific security” – “issues” he boasts he’s “current on.” Given the New Cold War brewing in both America’s red- and blue-team political pots these days, I’m sure that will end just dandy – at least for Big Data and other war-profiteers in the MIC.

So, how’s an Afghan War now in its 20th year going, exactly? Well, according to many generals – contra all critical metrics and the opinions of most combat vets (73 percent support withdrawal) – not so bad. David Petraeus , himself, wrote as recently as April 2020 that America’s strategy had been “reasonably successful” – at least until Trump signed onto the February U.S.-Taliban agreement, which “now proposes to jettison this approach.”

Well sure, whether it’s “King David” or any other senior military entrant through the revolving door, the old maxim must apply: “It Is Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It.”

The Colonels: Groomed for the MIC

Most of the battalion and brigade commanders from my Afghan tour have yet to take Darth Vader’s Star Wars boast to fruition – “I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan…The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner, now I am the master.” But have already reached senior roles where they can be of use to their old bosses-cum-consultants, contractors, and hawkish think tankers. Soon enough, they’ll take spins through the revolving door themselves. Others already have – off-ramping early from uniformed military to military-industrial-complex. Some, it seems, are indeed always bridesmaids…

First, to the climbers.

  • Colonel Robin Fontes, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTA), Regional Security Command-North: On this tour she was responsible for train Afghan security forces in the country’s north. Years later, she was nominated by Trump’s first looney bird of a national security adviser, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, to be senior director for India, Pakistan and Central Asian Affairs at the NSC – but the gig fell through when her patron hastily resigned amidst a brewing scandal. Nevertheless, Fontes still landed the job of senior defense attaché in New Delhi – reassuring local hawks with her utterly pro-India (read: anti-China/Pakistan) proclivities. These days she’s the deputy commander of the Army Cyber Command – a heck of a perch to pitch herself to Palantir Technologies (and vice versa) before packing it in with the military.
  • Colonel Mark Schwartz, Joint Special Operations Commander (JSOC) Task Force: after leading all the “night-raiders” who caused “battle-space” commanders like me so much blowback from local Afghan villagers, he jumped up to deputy commander of the 1st Cavalry Division. Since then, he’s commanded all US special operators in Europe, served as the number two at JSOC itself, and as assistant to the director of the Army Staff. Now a three-star general, Schwartz is Trump’s US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, at the new embassy in Jerusalem. Hardly a balanced broker, this May he addressed more than 200 Israeli investors as part of Israel Bonds’ global event speaker series. A senior board member praised Schwartz for “his dedication and commitment to defending lives and protecting Israel’s borders.”
  • Lieutenant Colonel Dave Womack, 1-506 Infantry Battalion commander: after leading his “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne Division through a tough fight in Eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika Province, he became military assistant to the secretary of the army. Womack then commanded the 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division before returning to Afghanistan as the combined joint deputy operations officer in Kabul, Afghanistan. Heading back to the Pentagon in 2017, he served as the assistant deputy director for regional operations on the Joint Staff.

A year later, as the 25th Infantry Division’s chief of staff, he was accused of toxic leadership by a subordinate major who blew the whistle on fraud-waste-and-abuse. Specifically, the targeted human resources officer wrote: “Despite requesting support against reprisal…Colonel David Womack started a pattern of reprisal and retaliation against me,” reassigning the whistleblower even though “Army Human Resources Command and Criminal Investigation Division confirmed many of [his] data points; [that] there is and/or was fraud, waste, and abuse within [the brigade].”

No matter, soon Womack ascended to division deputy commander, pinned a general’s star, and is now off to be deputy chief of staff of operations, at NATO’s Multinational Corps Northeast, in Poland – that way he can apply some international-level toxicity and help provoke unnecessary conflict with the globe’s other nuclear superpower, Russia.

  • Colonel Patrick Matlock, Commander of Task Force Bayonet / 170th Brigade Combat Team: after working under the German Army at Mazar-e-Sharif in Northern Afghanistan, he’s had a steady rise towards the top. His follow-on assignments have included 1st Armored Division chief of staff, deputy director for operations on the Joint Staff’s National Joint Operations Intelligence Center, and deputy commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division. He recently commanded the 1st Armored Division, and redeployed as deputy commanding general of US Forces-Afghanistan. He’s now director of operations at General Scaparrotti’s old outfit – US Forces Korea.
  • Colonel John Kolasheski, Commander of TF Warhorse / 2nd Brigade 4th Infantry Division: I once ran into this guy before a meeting with some venal, double-dealing tribal leaders in Kandahar City. After he finished that tour, Kolasheski’s been a senior army fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, returned to Afghanistan as ISAF’s director of strategic communications, then commanded my old 1st Infantry Division. He’s since pinned a third-star and presently commands V Corps – following in footsteps of General Terry, his division commander on the 2011-12 tour. Maybe his former boss can ply him with some contracts and afterwards land Kolasheski a job at Cubic Global Defense. [Flippancy aside, there’s still hope – I actually found Kolasheski a decent guy with a solid professional reputation]
  • Colonel Patrick Frank, Commander Task Force Spartan / 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division: this nightmare of a human being was my brigade commander in Kandahar Province, and never missed an opportunity to waste soldiers’ lives to pad a combat resume. It seems to have worked. In the intervening years, Frank’s been executive officer for Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, deputy commander of the 1st Infantry Division, and head of the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Fort Polk, Louisiana. He’s now chief of staff for CENTCOM – which oversees an entire region he seemed to know or care little about…except in so far as it could grease his career wheels.

Next, to those in the MIC-express-lane.

  • Colonel James Creighton, Commander of Combined Team Uruzgan: his tour was in a remote province previously occupied by the NATO’s Dutch component. He retired soon after and jumped full force into the think tank world, spending the last seven years as chief of staff, COO, and distinguished fellow at the EastWest Institute. Creighton is also a senior adviser at PASS LLC: “a flexible strategic consultancy partnering with a variety of stakeholders around the world.” Its clients include: global humanitarian and development organizations, private philanthropies, governments, and intergovernmental organizations.

PS: per their own disclaimer PASS LLC is registered as an agent of the Kurdistan Regional Government – Ministry of Interior under 22 U.S.C. § 611. One wonders if Creighton will remain affiliated with the consultancy firm, since he was just elected as a Republican member of New Hampshire’s State Legislature.

  • Colonel James Blackburn, Commander of Combined Team Zabul / 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment: after post-Afghanistan bids as assistant deputy director for operations on the Joint Staff, and deputy ISAF commander back in Afghanistan, he became deputy commander of both the 3rd Infantry Division and US Army North. After retiring, Blackburn was until recently the executive vice president of Mistral, Inc. – which “serves as a ‘bridge’ between the requirements of our armed forces and innovative, relevant, and ready solutions for the challenges faced in full spectrum military operations worldwide.” In other words, cashing in on insider knowledge to tell their buddies still in uniform what to do – for a price – and maybe what to buy (Like, say, Mistral’s tactical electric scooter). Blackburn is currently CEO of Keshik Mobile Power Systems Inc.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Denny, 3/2 Stryker Cavalry Squadron commander: after being attached to my brigade and having the displeasure to work for Pat Frank, he became a senior brigade observer/controller at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, then chief of the Army Training Command’s (TRADOC) Maneuver, Aviation and Soldier Division, before retiring in 2016. Since then, he’s been a member and consultant at The SPECTRUM Group – whose services include “government relations, government solutions, capital advisors, defense aerospace systems, defense group systems, homeland security, special operations, and information technology.” He then became a senior consultant and partner at Mass XV Maneuver Combat Systems Consulting: providing “unique perspective on maneuver combat systems development and modernization for the Army, Marine Corps, and other services and agencies.”

The Biden Question Mark

All in all, President Barack Obama’s surge was a diversionary fiasco – fraud, waste, and abuse taking on strategic form. The should’ve been scandalous “inside-baseball” revelations in the Washington Post’s “Afghanistan Papers” bore this out. The top generals knew we were failing, and that – per onetime “Afghan War czar” Lieutenant General Doug Lute – “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.” And, it was a bloody fog indeed for America’s adulated warriors.

From Obama’s first infusion of 17,000 extra troops in the spring of 2009 until his official surge technically “ended” in September 2012, 2,036 coalition soldiers – mostly American – died and some 14,000 were wounded in Afghanistan. And for what? Year after year, and by every major metric, the US strategic and security situation has deteriorated. By the time The Donald became the third bewildered president to helm a hopeless war, matters were worse than they’d ever been.

Now, as President-elect Biden prepares steer this sinking ship, let me save you the suspense – the fourth time ain’t the charm. Whether status quo-Joe proves more susceptible to the tired forever war justifications of another veteran of my Afghan tour, General turned Trumpian National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, remains an open question. The arguments of this fellow West Point History faculty alum – dealing with the Taliban amounts “Munich”-level “appeasement” – are more absurd than most, but madman McMaster is hardly alone. Stay a bit longer, until things are a bit better – “beyond May 2021,” but “not forever” naturally – this per the polite imperialists over at the Brookings Institution.

Uncle Joe, frankly, remains a wildcard. Always more a student of his gut than of history, Biden’s positions on Afghanistan – like much else – aren’t as consistent as both his vehement detractors and defenders imply. As a senator and presidential candidate, in 2008, he supported increased funding and troop levels for what his future boss called “the good war.” Not so, reportedly, as vice president – when he loudly opposed the surge inside the White House.

One hopes against hope (and perhaps reason) Biden’s potential instinct to undo all things Trump is upstaged by sentiments from a far finer, and contentious, exchange with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (recorded in the latter’s diary). “I am not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights!” the vice president shouted at Holbrooke: “It just won’t work, that’s not what they’re there for.”

It’s hard to say, though, given the consistent pressure on – and temptation of – even centrist liberals to tack “right” on foreign policy once in the oval office. It’s is an old story, indeed – that classic Democrat’s dilemma of perceived necessity to parry towards hawkishness and burnish toughness credentials. A lot of young men and women have lost lives and limbs behind such partisan nonsense.

Yes, there’s something exceedingly grotesque about the consequences gap between the Afghan surge’s grunts and their senior commanders. The generals who often graced my humble, besieged Kandahar outpost with their intrusive and distracting visits, have more than landed on their feet. Most rake in six- and seven-figure largesse atop “specially boosted” pensions ranging from $169,000-$237,144 annually. By the way, not a single flag officer was killed on my 12-month tour, and whereas the baseline salaries of the generals ranged from $155,820-$189,600, the specialist (E-4) in my troops who bled to death waiting for a medevac helicopter earned around $27,684 to lose both legs, half an arm, and his ultimately…his life.

Husband, stepfather, son, and Michigan native Chazray Clark never had an opportunity to glide through the revolving door to defense industry riches. But make no mistake, those doors are closed to his kind anyway – America’s limb-losers haven’t much capital as lobbyists.

Their fate does confirm the old credo, though: it’s rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.

9 comments

  1. As I was reading Maj. Surgen’s latest article, after a while I began to get bleary-eyed, until finally I got sick to my stomach. Will there ever be a good enough president to stop MIC funding and channel those funds into badly needed infrastructure building and repair. The big war machinery factories could restructure themselves to support that and their employees would retrain and retain their jobs.
    Why is it that illegal wars and murdering millions of innocent people is the crux of what gives America its raison ‘etre?

    1. “d’etre.” “Sjursen”
      By the way, I should add that Maj. Sjurgen’s essays are always worth reading for the insider knowledge he imparts. The inner working of the military are not often related as clearly as he conveys. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for your passion, especially your specificity, and your emotionally devastating final two sentences. While reading it, I began to feel nauseous. Literally. Such shallow faux “warriors”. “Users”, really. They appear to be made of the stuff and motivations that would be susceptible to following and supporting the tune of an autocrat intent on a governmental coup were the pecuniary and power enticements grand enough.

  3. Wow. Such detail in the horror story of the USA. It really amazes me when on e of these guys writes a book or gives a talk about leadership and integrity. Do they believe that about themselves, or are they seduced by their own narratives?

  4. I saw this behavior first hand during my career as an Army civilian employee, albeit at the lower level of military ranks.

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