In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Americans came together in a spirit of grief, resolve and shared national pride. It didn’t last long, but this potent energy animated the US military’s mission and a new generation of recruits who signed up to ‘do their part’ in the wake of the tragedy.
Twenty years later, it is not the same military. As an institution, its impunity, hubris and access to unprecedented financial spoils have led to corruption and mediocrity at the top. The exploitation of all-volunteer forces to fight protracted wars of choice without proper care and attention to their consequences has left veterans jaded and skeptical of the value of their service in a system that continues to fail them. And without candor now about what went wrong, another 9/11 event could again trigger the same egregious policies, and the same mistakes.
At the height of the wars, high-profile brass such as Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who both led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, showed themselves to be overtly political, out of touch and self-serving. They pushed troop surges while obscuring facts about true conditions on the ground. Critics say such men represent the modern senior officer corps, bred not for innovative and bold thinking but subservience to power, and that those who did push back during the wars were marginalized and squeezed out. As a result, the entire system became a steel bubble, with the rank and file left badly served by a simultaneously inflated and atrophying leadership.
The corruption of the post-9/11 wars spread in a variety of ways. The military took advantage of young, poor kids to fill recruitment quotas, with seemingly amazing opportunities like the ‘quick ship’ $20,000 enlistment bonuses they gave out during the height of the Iraq insurgency in 2007. Standards were lowered, waivers granted to felons. The US shipped out men and women with psychological profiles that should have set alarm bells clanging, and repeatedly redeployed already traumatized veterans.
Read the full article in the Spectator.