Dream with me.
Imagine an America where even marginal accountability reigned. A land of appropriate
consequences for war-criminal cheerleaders. A country where going 0 for 4 on
“freedom” wars – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria – got pundits and
policymakers sent down to the minors. Heck, one might make some strategic moves
in a town like that.
Alas, we live in the world as it is: whence one of the nation’s leading newspapers – the Bezos’-billionaire-owned Washington Post – would dare deign to
hire such a fedora-topped
as Max Boot as columnist. Then, surely symptomatic of the upside-down society
wrought by Trump-derangement syndrome, the Post recently had the gall
to proudly publish
that warmonger’s latest screed: “Trump relies on grifters and misfits.
Biden is bringing the A Team.”
In his latest broadside, Boot offers his best Mr.
T impression to celebrate Uncle Joe’s “A-Team” – and overall propensity
to “surround himself with good people,” all of them supposedly “effective
operatives.” He saves special praise for the “veterans of high-level
government service” on Biden’s foreign policy team.
Here again, we should look to the language. I, for one, find the prospect of
Washington “operatives” running war and peace less than reassuring.
But before digging into the shortcomings inherent in each of the four figures
he highlighted, here’s a brief reminder of why Max and his opinions should’ve
“got the boot” long ago:
- Let’s start with my own introduction to this king of the chickenhawks: his
then celebrated 2002 book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the
Rise of American Power – in which Max played
unapologetic neo-imperial visionary and recruiting sergeant for an American
reboot of a European colonial constabulary. He even, un-ironically I might
add, lifted the title from the English chronicler of empire, Rudyard Kipling’s
poem, “White Man’s Burden.”
- He once worked with an infamous Bush-doctrine, Iraq War, architect-outfit:
the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) think tank.
- Ever the faux-historian, Max drew all the wrong conclusions and lessons
from the Vietnam War, in his more recent 2018 book,
The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.
Old David Petraeus – surprise, surprise – found
this work “wonderful,” although, according to a real subject scholar,
its endnotes “contain few, if any, materials from Vietnamese sources.”
The Road Not Taken belongs squarely in the – popular with mil-civ-counterinsurgents
crowd – school of we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve “won” in Vietnam
(and, by extension, Iraq, Afghanistan, et. al.) “if only” [insert
implausible alternative tactic excuse here].
- Oh, and he’s supported every war for the past half century – including some
he thinks should’ve but weren’t fought – and has hardly met a regime
he wouldn’t like to change.
Now, for the core members of Biden’s ostensible A-team of always-an-Obama-bridesmaid
deputies, and just a few reasons to doubt each’s competence, character, and
- The presumed A-Team leader, Obama’s Deputy Secretary of State and Deputy
National Security Adviser, Tony
- Though, admittedly – like Biden – more right
than most in that administration on the Afghan surge folly, he played nice
and helped craft a compromise policy, which, he later bragged
“helped competing Afghan political blocs avoid civil war, and achieve
the first ever peaceful democratic transition in that country’s history.”
How’s that turned out?
- Blinken was a key architect and muddled
messenger for Obama’s ever-shifting, never-plausible, and utterly ill-advised
Syria regime-change-lite policy.
- After leaving office, he teamed up with Michèle
Flournoy (another unnamed Biden-top-prospect)
at the consulting-firm (and Obama-alumni agency) WestExec Advisors – which
helped Silicon Valley pitch
defense contracts to the Pentagon. Blinken was also a partner
at the private equity firm Pine Island Capital Partners. Tony’s a human
revolving-door of interest-conflicts!
- A resident Russiagater,
enthusiast, and Israeli hard-right apologist on Biden’s campaign advisory
team, he categorically declared
that his boss “would not tie military assistance to Israel to things
like annexation or other decisions by the Israeli government with which
we might disagree.” Good to know that international legal constraints
and common decency are already off the Biden-table in Palestine – no doubt,
Bibi Netanyahu took notice.
- Then there’s Obama’s ex-director of policy planning at the State Department,
- He was a senior
policy adviser for hyper-hawk Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign.
There was even chatter back then that he’d been a frontrunner for national
security adviser upon her anointment.
- Before becoming Vice President Biden’s national security guru in 2013,
he was considered uber-close
(pun-intended) to Secretary Clinton – at her aside on trips to 112 countries,
and even reviewing chapters for her book Hard Choices in his spare
time. A Vox profile dubbed
Sullivan “the man behind hawkish Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy.”
Think Libya; think Syria.
- Out of office, and after Clinton’s defeat, he joined
Macro Advisory Partners and represented Uber in its negotiations with labor
unions. Incidentally, he’s wedded to Maggie
Goodlander, a former senior policy advisor to that militarist-marriage
of Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Perhaps that’s why Anne-Marie
Slaughter, who ran the State Department’s policy planning office in Obama’s
first term, called
Jake “the consummate insider.”
- Next on Boot’s list is career diplomat and – sure to excite old Max – George
W. Bush’s former undersecretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas
- During the Bush II years he – like its greatest Democratic Party cheerleader,
Joe Biden – supported the 2003 Iraq invasion.
- What’s more, NATO added seven new members and provocatively expanded towards
Russia’s very borders in his tenure
as alliance ambassador.
- He left the foreign service in 2008, but graciously stayed
on as special envoy to finalize the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal – that
pact being proof-positive that nonproliferation has always been selectively
applied by Washington..
- Nick happens to be on the board, or affiliated with, an impressive range
of hawkish Washington hot-spots, such as: The
Atlantic Council, Aspen
Institute, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Cohen
Group – this last one a lobbying organization for arms manufacturers.
He also gave paid
speeches at Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, State Street, Citibank,
- Lest it seem Boot only touted a Biden boy’s club, there’s also the former
female deputy CIA director – though Trump ironically one-upped her
boss Barack by placing
Gina Haspel at the Agency’s helm – Ms. Avril
- Well, about the only thing you have to know about this A-Teamer is that
not to discipline any of the CIA agents implicated in the senate’s
tell-all torture report, then was part of the team redacting their landmark
- As for her supposed Trump-corrective chops: Haines supported Gina Haspel’s
nomination as CIA director, even though she’d been directly
implicated in CIA torture.
- Plus, as a reminder of the duality of (wo)man, she is a fellow at Columbia
University’s Human Rights Institute and consulted for the “Trump-favorite”
data firm Palantir, which emerged
from the CIA itself.
So really, here’s a crew of Hillary-hawks and Obama-bureaucrats without many
truly fresh ideas among them. They don’t want to crash the system that birthed
Trump and an age of endless wars – they are that system. The only really
redeeming quality of the bunch: some helped craft the eminently reasonable Iran-nuclear
deal. Count me less than enthused.
Unlike Might Max and his chickenhawk crew, time was that I fought and lived
beside a real life special forces A-team (Operational
Detachment-Alpha) in the villages of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mr. Boot
fetishizes folks he hardly knows; I know and respect them enough to reject the
disrespect of romantic-caricature. The fellas my cavalry troop shared an outpost,
local militia, and seized towns with, were some brave bastards – they were also
flawed and fallible. We failed
together in style: tactical casualties of an impossible mission dreamed up by
the likes of Max Boot, and – at the time – futilely prolonged by many members
of Biden’s A-Team then on the Obama squad.
Boot was the big (bad) ideas guy, Biden’s posse – Tony Blinken, Avril Haines,
Jake Sullivan, Nicholas Burns, and even Michèle Flournoy – these are
“company men,” polite imperialists just smart enough to run the machine,
and just dumb enough not to question its putrid products. Max reminds us – not
incorrectly – that if “more people in [Trump’s] White House knew what they
were doing, at
least 172,000 Americans might not be dead.”
Yet, in a classic crime of omission, he lets Biden’s shadow squad off the hook
for their own morbid-complicity: had they not supported and shepherded an Obama
Afghan surge that even their boss sensed
was hopeless, 1,729
U.S. troops – during Barack’s tenure – might not be dead. They included three
of my own scouts, who – like our unit – were only unexpectedly routed to Afghanistan
because Biden’s boss chose to surge in the “good war” there:
A. Rios-Ordonez, 25, of Ohio – a Colombian national attempting to gain
his US citizenship via military service, and father to two young daughters.
C. D. Hensley, 28, of Alabama – a father of three on his third combat
C. Clark, 24, of Michigan – who left behind a wife and stepson.
Those young men – and two dozen others wounded in action that year – were proud
members of my ill-fated team. They deserved better than the Biden-bunch that
Boot bragged are “seasoned professionals, ready to govern on Day One.”
So too do some 8,600
of their brothers and sisters still stuck in Afghanistan, and many more sure
to serve in whichever harebrained scheme Uncle Joe’s side of the duopoly dreams
It hardly needs saying, but most of The Donald’s defense deputies haven’t been
stellar. Actually, most were establishment Republican or neocon retreads – or
born-again war criminals like Eliot Abrams – themselves. Trump’s a monster and
so are his misfit managers, blah blah blah. But let’s not pretend Biden’s band
waiting in the wings shall be our salvation. Nor delude ourselves that Boot’s
promise they’ll be “cleaning up after a Republican president,” will
amount to any real cleanse of Washington’s militarist system.
Mr. Boot pings Trump from the right, but he also ought heed warning from the
that classic lefty Cornel West – who advised we “tell
the truth” about “Brother Biden.” An Uncle Joe administration
with an “A-Team?” Give me a break.
I wouldn’t fill a kickball squad with this crew…
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer, contributing editor at antiwar.com,
senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), and director of
the soon-to-launch Eisenhower Media Network (EMN). His work has appeared in
the NY Times, LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, The American
Conservative, Mother Jones, ScheerPost and Tom Dispatch, among other publications.
He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at West
Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders
of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. His forthcoming
Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War (Heyday Books) is available
for pre-order. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet
and see his website
for speaking/media requests and past publications.
Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen