Men Who Live With the Illusion of Danger: Pete Buttigieg and the US Military


“America deserves a Commander-in-Chief who knows what that sacrifice means
and who will honor the sacred promise we make to our veterans.” ~ 
Pete Buttigieg January 6, 2020

#CIAPete has been trending on social media this past month as stories and commentaries
have emerged telling and retelling Pete Buttigieg’s role as a naval intelligence
officer in Afghanistan, his duties in his assignment in Kabul as a member of
the Afghan Threat Finance Cell, and his relationship to CIA colleagues. This
would be all rather amusing and just another dust speck of nonsense in the vast
universe of inanity that is the US presidential race, if it were not for Buttigieg’s
of his time in uniform and in Afghanistan as a cudgel to silence
from both an informed and moral perspective on
issues of foreign policy and war.

Buttigieg worked alongside CIA officers in a multi-agency organization in Kabul,
hence the hashtag #CIAPete. According to his own autobiography he didn’t spend
much time working on intelligence and fighting the Taliban, but
rather worked as a driver
, chauffeuring other officers during an admitted
eight hour work day in Kabul. As someone who did three deployments to Iraq and
Afghanistan, I know very few military officers who experienced 8 hour work days
in either country, nearly all officers I knew, including myself, worked 12-18
hour days – and there were plenty of times, especially during my second deployment,
that 20 hour days were common. That Buttigieg was a driver in Afghanistan is
more telling than anything else about Buttigieg’s time in Afghanistan, more
so since he speaks so assuredly and confidently of his time in Afghanistan as
he runs for president and uses that experience to pronounce himself as personally
informed about matters of war and peace. We’ve seen this all very often over
the last twenty years in the US: men and women, because they wore matching shirts
and pants and took part in murderous and strategically incompetent invasions,
occupations and wars, are given a deference that is religious in its severity
and authority. As Buttigieg uses this para-clerical status to his advantage,
his words and pronouncements are taken as a battle-scarred wisdom that others
who have not worn a uniform are not just foolish for questioning, but are heretical.
Take, for example, these words from CNN
about Buttigieg and his military service:

“His six years as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves, along with
a six-month deployment to Afghanistan, makes a gold-plated resume not only shine
brighter, but with an air of validation….

It’s a chapter of his life that he invokes at nearly every campaign
stop, a piece of his biography that has become nearly as central to his presidential
candidacy as his Midwestern roots or his time as mayor. He mentions his credentials
to distinguish himself from not only most Democratic rivals, but also President
Tweety McTreason…

“Look, it’s not like I killed (Osama) Bin Laden, right?”
Buttigieg said. “I don’t want to overstate what my role was, but
it certainly is something that was dangerous.”

A man who has lived the illusion of danger is a dangerous man. Someone who
posits that illusion as a fact and as a real occurrence, as Buttigieg does,
is one certainly to be wary of. These wars were begun by men and women who have
never known danger, but who postulated of going to the
dark side
and quipped bring
em on
, and these wars have been sustained by an insipid and
specious assuredness of the necessity of war and violence by a generation of
politicians, cable news hosts and editorial boards. We are a nation that has
killed and ruined millions abroad and we celebrate those killings in a religious
ritualization of the military that has infested our schools, stadiums, boardrooms,
churches and both political parties. In Buttigieg we now have this personified.
See his war photos, a boy playing dress up in camouflage and rifle, and you
have America in that image, and perhaps it is right and fitting that that image,
that illusion, should become president.

Buttigieg received a direct
commission into the Navy
. Those who are directly commissioned into the military
do not attend the service academies, do not complete ROTC training while at
college, or do not attend Officer Candidate School. Rather they attend a ten
day direct commission officer indoctrination course where they learn how to
wear the uniform, are taught the rank structure, practice saluting, etc. The
purpose of such a direct commissioning program is for the US military to bring
in specialists needed in times of crisis or emergency, such as doctors, chaplains
and lawyers. I knew a couple of direct commission naval officers that were public
and media relations people. The direct commissioning program is also a way for
the politically well connected to become military officers without enduring
the selection and hardship involved in officer training. The most famous of
such a political cast is Hunter Biden, who lasted a month as a Navy officer
before his drug test results were returned positive for illegal narcotics usage.
I knew several direct commission officers who were such dilettantes, men who
certainly understood the political prestige and potency of the US military uniform,
especially a pretty one, like the Navy’s, but who saw no value in earning their

According to the released documents of Buttigieg’s naval service, he fits the
mold of political actor in military costume. His only time on active duty, as
determined by a review of his military records, besides his time in Afghanistan,
which I will discuss, was in that two week long direct commissioning course.
There is no record, and here I will offer the possibility that his record in
incomplete, of his attendance at any form of military schools or his participation
whether as a mobilized active duty officer or a drilling reservist. His record
contains only one DD-214, which is the record of active duty service for military
members. In addition to his time in Afghanistan, his DD-214 lists 1 month and
23 days of active service, but only 12 days of that are accounted for in a fitness
report (a performance evaluation), and that was for his time at the direct commission
course. Otherwise, there is no record of any other time when Buttigieg actually
would have been working or performing as a naval officer. Again, the records
may be incomplete, and they also may be incorrect. Looking at his records I
noticed he had fitness reports that overlapped in time, an administrative error
that should not have occurred. Anyone who is competent, and who wants to make
sure they are promoted, would have any and all periods of active duty or reserve
duty recorded and filed with the Navy’s Bureau of Personnel. Now Buttigieg had
a political benefactor, possibly someone he met working on the Obama campaign
in 2008, so I am quite sure Buttigieg wouldn’t have cared for such things or
thought such administrative requirements applied to him.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of a DD-214 as it is the record
of service for which military members and veterans depend upon to detail all
manner of events and qualifications such as time in service, record of promotion,
combat experience, schools attended, awards received, etc. Buttigieg’s one DD-214
has two glaring and empty fields: PMOS and schools. These fields are empty,
not redacted. Personal information is redacted elsewhere in his record, the
fields being empty in this case means there is no information to enter.

PMOS stands for Primary Military Occupational Speciality. It is the job for
which the military has trained you. In the Marine Corps, I had a MOS of 1302,
combat engineer officer. There are as many occupational specialities as you
can think of in the military, everything from infantryman to cook to veterinarian.
God knows what specialities Trump’s new space force will have. PMOS contains
the word primary, because as men and women spend time in the military, through
training, education and assignment they can also receive a secondary MOS. For
example, a fighter pilot can become a test pilot or an astronaut, or a soldier
who learns a language can become a foreign area analyst. Buttigieg has no record
of a PMOS or of having attended any military schools. He describes himself as
an intelligence officer, but according to his documentation, he had no assigned
MOS. Buttigieg was assigned to a reserve intelligence unit, for which there
is no record of him actually ever participating with them, all his fitness reports
denote he was on inactive duty during those time periods (there are anecdotal
interviews with members of the reserve unit that attest to Buttigieg attending
weekend drill, although how often and for how long is not known).

Buttigieg’s assignment to an intelligence unit seemingly had more to do with
geographically proximity than anything else. If he had received a direct commission
in the Marines, a practice I don’t think the Marines actually take part in,
and lived in Phoenix, he would have been assigned to a bulk fuel reserve unit,
because that is the reserve unit in the Phoenix area. In Indiana, for Buttigieg,
the nearest naval reserve unit may have been the naval reserve intelligence
unit located at Fort Sheridan, IL and so that was to where he was assigned and
as to why he was an “intelligence officer”. Fortunately, for Buttigieg and his
campaign, he was assigned to an intelligence unit and not to a bulk fuel unit,
as that plays so much better for the national audience, although I admire bulk
fuel personnel over intelligence personnel any time – bulk fuel never let me
down, intel often did.

As mentioned, there is no record of Buttigieg attending any military schools
or receiving any specialized training. This is why he has no MOs, because in
order to receive a MOS you have to attend the appropriate school (in some situations
one may acquire a secondary MOs through on the job training). In the more than
four years between the time he was appointed into the Navy and when he went
to Afghanistan, Buttigieg obviously didn’t find it necessary or worthwhile to
gain a MOS or attend a school that would give him the training and education
needed to actually perform as a naval officer during that four year period.
Again, there are no official records of his time with the reserve unit. It’s
likely he did spend some weekends there as a reservist, but there is no record
of him taking part in longer periods of mobilization, or even a two week long
annual training: in short nothing that would qualify him to speak with such
certainty and command from behind the presidential campaign podium about issues
of war or peace, terrorism or drones, or sacrifice or loss.

Buttigieg did go to Afghanistan in 2014 for a roughly six month deployment.
The job description on his official orders to Afghanistan describes him as a
officer to the joint interagency task force
. Anyone who has been
a part of these wars or the military will tell you such a title is essentially
meaningless, that such a title often carries no real duties or tasks, and that
the description of the job found in Buttigieg’s
released and redacted military records
is simply boilerplate and administrative
verbiage. Similarly, that Buttigieg was assigned to the Afghan Threat Finance
Cell (ATFC) is simply just an administrative assignment, one of hundreds or
thousands each year the Naval Reserve Command makes throughout Africa and the
Greater Middle East. As noted above, in his autobiography and in many interviews,
Buttigieg admits working in Afghanistan as a driver for other officers. That
an egoist and self promoter like Buttigieg would admit being a driver rather
than hyping a James Bond spy or Audie Murphy war experience reveals a fundamental
reality about Buttigieg’s time at war along with a confusing and concerning
question: why was an officer performing driver duties daily? With an 8 hour
day as Buttigieg describes, and the amount of time such trips always take in
Afghanistan and Iraq – even if you are just going one mile down the road
such an event might take three hours of preparation and waiting – Buttigieg
would have had little time in his day for any other duties, particularly the
time intensive work that often accompanies those doing intelligence analysis.
I’ve also never known officers to drive in an official capacity. This may have
been because the unit was short of personnel, in
one interview I reviewed
, Buttigieg explains his driving was because he
was one of the few who had been trained with a rifle. However, without a MOS,
and without having had any training, Buttigieg may have had very little to do
in Kabul beside drive and guard vehicles while other men and women did the intelligence
work. It’s entirely possible too Buttigieg had only a secret clearance, rather
than the top secret clearance that would have been required to do the sort of
work done in an intelligence unit or by the ATFC.

Certainly here I am judging Buttigieg without much to go on, making assumptions
on a man’s character and performance when I have nothing but redacted forms
and his own political opportunism to go by, along with the words in his book
and interviews. I offer my hesitation of my criticisms and conjectures of Buttigieg
with a good degree of sincerity, because over the last ten years I found myself
unfairly and inaccurately criticized and mischaracterized over my own experiences
at war and in my career. His role as a driver could have just been the result
of bad timing, lots of men and women in the military end up filling less than
desired positions, because they had the unfortunate luck of showing up at the
wrong time – so, it’s possible that Buttigieg showed up in Kabul when they were
short a driver and he was told to do it. Still, for the 22 years I was in and
have been around the military, this is the first I have ever heard of an officer
being assigned as a driver and, again, his lack of military training and education
would severely limit his usefulness to his assigned unit in Kabul. It should
also be noted, because although Buttigieg speaks often to the danger that he
partook in in Afghanistan, there is no record of his having seen any combat
while he was there.

Swift-boating hangs over my head while I type this, but the swift-boating of
John Kerry was perpetuated by a political group in spite of a trove of records
attesting to Kerry’s time in the Navy. Rather, here I am a politically unconnected
veteran, tired and angry of the wars and the lies, writing against a man running
for president who speaks often of his time in the Navy, but has astonishingly
little record to show of it; his campaign frequently denies
for more information or explanation of his time in the Navy. Buttigieg
doesn’t speak
against the wars
or even in terms of reining them in, however he does praise
Israeli military forces as they shoot dead and maim thousands of unarmed people
across a heavily fortified border and he suggests sending the US military into
Mexico. He may have lived an illusion of danger, but there is no doubt he would
be a dangerous president.

When Alex
Rubinstein of The Grayzone
published his piece discussing Buttigieg’s
assignment to the ATFC and his potential relationship to the CIA, I was asked
by more than one friend about it. First, for all the social media commentary
about the ATFC being super-spooky, unknown and shadowy, it is an organization
that has a wikipedia
page and one who’s origins began not with David Petraeus in 2008, although it’s
not a surprise that such a vainglorious mouthpiece like Petraeus would take
credit for it, but rather in similar terrorist threat finance operations and
investigations by interagency task forces, led by the Treasury Department,
during the first term
of George W. Bush’s administration. These cells and
tracking operations were themselves built upon and modeled after previous pre-9/11
US government efforts. Secondly, any success ATFC has been credited with, along
with any anti-corruption successes of the American government in Afghanistan,
is nothing compared to the lack of success in defeating corruption in Afghanistan,
a corruption that is almost entirely a consequence and result of the US occupation
of the last 18 plus years. Without the billions in cash flown into Afghanistan
from the US, without this money and the accompanying foreign soldiers, mercenaries
and weapons to keep the Kabul government in place, and without the complete
willingness and complicity of the US government and military to go along with
a predatory kleptocracy in Kabul, composed of drug lords and war criminals,
such anti-corruption work would not be necessary.

The intersection of
the US government and the Afghan drug lords
, men who compose large and influential
elements within the Afghan government and military, is nothing new to anyone
who understands how the US has aligned with criminal and drug interests for
close to two centuries now. Beginning with the infamous China
in the first half of the 19th century, which spawned some
of the wealthiest and politically active dynastic families in the US, through
the use of European
mafia and drug gangs
post WWII, through the
wars in SE Asia
, US government, intelligence and military involvement with
organized crime and drugs has been the overwhelming rule, rather than the exception.

The ATFC is run in conjunction with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The
DEA has had a large presence in Afghanistan that began in the years after the
US invasion in 2001. Afghanistan, which produced narcotics only in amounts suitable
for internal use prior to the 1980s, became a global source of opium after the
CIA introduced it from Pakistan and India in the 1980s. The purpose in this
introduction was to help finance the proxy US war against the Soviet Union and
Afghan communist government. It is appropriate to note the British introduced
opium crops to India and Pakistan as a way to support their Empire’s wars and
military, and the French
utilized opium crops
in the 1940s and 50s in Vietnam to finance their war
against Vietnamese independence. When the US entered Afghanistan in 2001, the
Taliban had cut the opium crop cultivation to near zero levels. Ever since then,
despite more than $8 billion in dedicated funding for anti-narcotics efforts
and an unquantifiable amount of bombast and pledges, including denunciations
of an axis of evil between Muslim terrorists and narcotics kingpins, recited
as an article of faith by DEA, ATFC and JTIAF men and women I have met in DC,
Kabul and Kandahar, drug production in Afghanistan has risen each year, breaking
records, near-annually, for cultivation and production of illicit opium crops
and products. Where prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 Afghanistan
provide statistically none of the world’s heroin and other opiates, now Afghanistan
provides 80-90% of it. That the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the
mass rise in Afghanistan’s opium production, and the opiate crisis in the US,
which killed
200 people each day
in 2017, has coincided seems to be lost on US members
of Congress and the media. I imagine this would be a good question for one of
these presidential debates…

It’s not to say that the ATFC and their assigned commando and drone strike
forces have done nothing in Afghanistan. As will be discussed below, a lot of
dead civilians can be connected to its work. Additionally, there are a number
of dead drug lords in Afghanistan who ran afoul of the drug lords in the Afghan
government that were on the US payroll or were US proxies and were then obligingly
killed by the US. Much of the activity of the ATFC, as it was realized, was
to rub
out the competition
for the drug lords that were part of the Afghan government
and Afghan military. Like my criticisms of Buttigieg’s duties in Afghanistan,
I say all this with a heaviness of mind and heart, because I had a friend, Mike
Weston, dead ten years now, who was a Marine officer with me and then later
died in Afghanistan as a DEA agent doing this kind of fatal, illusory work:
the helicopter he was in crashed as he and his teammates were being sent to
knock off the competition of one of our Afghan government or military partners.

The work of the ATFC is not limited to protecting the Afghan drug lords that
are our friends, it also protects US friends in the Persian Gulf who provide
much of the financing for the insurgency that has killed almost 3,600 US, Canadian,
Australian and European soldiers, killed roughly an equal amount of contractors
(who due to the privatization of war were performing roles that soldiers would
have done in previous wars), wounded tens of thousands, and crippled and maimed
hundreds of thousands with war’s invisible wounds: post-traumatic stress disorder,
traumatic brain injury and moral
. This says nothing of course about the millions of dead, mutilated,
harmed, traumatized and displaced Afghans, who due to US policy have known nothing
but war in their country since
the 1970s

When I worked on the wars, both in Washington, DC, and then in Afghanistan,
it was known the Taliban had four major sources of funding. They did get some
money from taxing the drug trade, but, as discussed, those who profited the
most from the ever growing drug trade, and controlled it, were Afghan government
and military men, and associates. The second source of funds for the Taliban
was from the massive US development program through which they siphoned off
funds, extorted winners of contracts, or taxed those who earned money from working
with US forces. For example, when I was in Afghanistan, in the province I was
in, it was known the man who was in charge of the schools for the provincial
government had a brother who was a Taliban commander a couple of provinces over.
When the teachers didn’t get paid, everything there was done in cash, it was
not a surprise to learn where that money had gone. Pakistan, particularly through
its intelligence service, was a third source of funding for the Taliban, as
it had been since the Taliban’s creation and rise in the 1990s.

The fourth, and, if I recall correctly from the classified information I had
access to, the largest source of funding for the Taliban was from supporters
in the Gulf States, those friends of the US in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait,
Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Although the understanding of this by the
US government was partially revealed in Chelsea Manning’s heroic WikiLeaks release,
the idea US allies were funding to a large degree the men that were killing
American boys and girls in Afghanistan has been something both the US government
and the non-adversarial corporate media has been loath to discuss. The same
is true for Iraq, where the bulk of the funding for the majority of the insurgents
that killed the great majority of US soldiers in the Iraq occupation came not
from Iran
, but from US allies in the Gulf. Those supporters of Sunni insurgents
in Afghanistan and Iraq have funded similar insurgents and militias in Libya,
Somalia, Syria and Yemen, including units of al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Rather than bring about and expose such information, acting on the evidence
of the Gulf State monarchies support for the Taliban and other Sunni militant
groups, the ATFC, like the rest of the USG, hides and covers such information
to keep US weapons sales to those states viable and to avoid any embarrassment
to US politicians and generals, even as the war, and its dead and suffering,
is continually funded. The ATFC, lacking in any intellectual or moral honesty,
is the organization Buttigieg worked with in Kabul.

There is something very macabre to see in the Wikipedia profile of ATFC; a
Wikipedia page undoubtedly managed and edited by a US public relations officer
or contractor in Kabul. Per Wikipedia, 28 targets (human beings to you and me)
were successfully placed on the Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL). The JPEL
is a centralized kill list that assigns bombs, drones and commando raids to
a list of people to be assassinated. When I was familiar with the JPEL in Afghanistan
in 2009 there were thousands of people on that list, and a very large portion
of them were innocent – so many that several of my colleagues and I went
to ISAF headquarters in Kabul to speak about the process of getting people removed
from the list. For anyone who understands that the truest things about war can
be found in Catch-22 and MASH, books I wonder if Buttigieg has ever read, it
will not be a surprise that while it was relatively easy to add someone to the
JPEL, effectively granting them, and family and neighbors around them, a death
sentence by a bomb, missile or gunshot to the head, it was bureaucratically
near-impossible to remove names from the list. Leaked DOD assessments show 90%
of those killed
in our drone strikes have been innocents and I would suggest
similar numbers are true for our commando raids. Various estimates have suggested,
including from conversations I had while still being associated with such bloody
work, that half of our commando missions targeted the wrong people, buildings
and villages, and even when US forces struck the correct person (correct here
meaning someone who had legitimate ties to an insurgent group and not just someone
randomly or intentionally mislabeled as Taliban by a paid informant) wives,
children, parents, siblings and neighbors were often executed alongside them.

So while 28 people were placed onto the JPEL by ATFC, a small amount compared
to the thousands that have been on that list, it is still 28 people. A sizable
number of that 28 would have been innocent, again, based on everything we know
about US military and intelligence operations throughout the Greater Middle
East and Africa. Among those who were actual Taliban, men who are fighting us
primarily because
we are occupying them
, how many people were executed alongside and around
them simply because they were relatives or neighbors?

To the man or woman declaring such a thing as killing 28 targets as
an accomplishment in Wikipedia, such understanding of those 28 as people is
nonexistent. For these types of men and women, like Buttigieg, who live through
and promote a war, while not fully participating it, are the men and women that
allow these wars to continue. They are the ones that write and publish the narratives,
who offer the continual and never-ending hagiographies, and who speak of having
lived danger when they have never heard a shot fired. It is these men and women
whose understanding of the killing and dying doesn’t exist in their own personal
experiences, but lives simply in what they have read about or been told.

One of the most insightful quotes about war and the US presidency is attributed
to Dwight Eisenhower by his daughter, Susan. Later in his time in office, Eisenhower,
while looking at his chair in the Oval Office, stated: God help this country
when someone sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.

Eisenhower said this not because of a need for a commander in chief to understand
strategy and tactics or to have the experience in operations or logistics that
he did, but rather to understand the generals and admirals lie, that they always
lie. Going through his interviews and his book I came across photo after photo
of Buttigieg smiling, hands clasped or arms around the back of one general after
another, with a sense of admiration and wonder like the kid in that old
Coca Cola commercial with Mean Joe Greene
. Nothing Buttigieg has said about
his Navy experience, and certainly nothing in his military records, would lead
me to believe he would ever stand up to the generals and admirals, let alone
know when they are lying. The military has always been a political tool for
Buttigieg and I don’t know why it would ever not be. The generals and admirals
are men and women useful to him for the visages and popularity
they provide, they are not something to be truly understood or controlled, and
certainly not anything to contradict or oppose.

Buttigieg may be perfectly correct for this country, a Hollywood nation where
gun owners live lives of violent fantasy, a wealthy nation underwritten by racism,
poverty and jail, and a Christian nation that kills much much more than it saves,
both at home and abroad. A man with no substance or experience, but with a uniform
and photographs to sell a narrative, perhaps that is what we deserve. May heaven
protect us, although that is something we may not deserve – ask any of those
who are living through the hell of this third world war the US has started and
sustained from Western Africa to Central Asia.

Matthew Hoh is a member of the advisory boards of Expose Facts, Veterans
For Peace and World Beyond War. In 2009 he resigned his position with the State
Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of the Afghan War by
the Obama Administration. He previously had been in Iraq with a State Department
team and with the US Marines. He is a Senior Fellow with the Center for International

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