In early June, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper gave a report in the United States about his first year of work in the defense agency, placing his main emphasis on “successfully containing” US adversaries. According to him, the agency he is in charge of has “repressed aggressive actions” taken by both “pariah” states (North Korea and Iran) and “close competitors”, such as Russia and China.
Talking about “successes” over the past year, Esper also boasted about counterterrorism operations that led to the elimination of “scores of key terrorists”. It is true that A. Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, cast a pall over those “successes” in the beginning of July by announcing that the killing of Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – who is counted by Washington as a “key terrorist” – was in violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, urging that those involved in “targeted killings using drones” be held accountable.
Mark Esper preferred not to speak about many highly important facts about the activities performed by the US Army so that “its image” would not be ruined. And Mark Esper’s image, just like the image of the entire US Army, is by no means a positive one!
As the United States’ closest allies in London note in an article in The Guardian, the current situation is characterized by sharp tension between the army and civilian leaders, and by the fact that there is no love lost between the US Army and its commander-in-chief, Donald Trump. The publication states that Esper, a former officer in the US Armed Forces, and a lobbyist for the arms industry, was almost stripped of his position by speaking out against enforcing the Insurrection Act of 1807 and calling in the Army to help disperse the peaceful protestors recently on the streets of the American capital.
After assuming the office of the President, Trump surrounded himself with generals. Since that time, they have all left their positions, and now they either level criticism at the President or prefer to remain silent. As The Guardian states, respect for the Armed Forces is a potent drug in American politics. For now, the army has managed to preserve confidence in it on the part of the overwhelming majority of voters, who often scorn other American institutions. Politicians often try to enlist the support of experienced combat officers during a pre-election period, although whether these tactics are effective remains doubtful. Therefore, it is not surprising that Trump has an ostentatious desire over this past period in his presidency to show his unity with the army, and that it supports him.
However, since hostility towards the commander-in-chief has already begun to prevail in the army, what will its position be in October if Trump were to lag behind his competitor in the elections? And will Mark Esper support Donald Trump, or will he join the camp of those actively criticizing the current president along with former United States National Security Advisor John Bolton, who used to be a vocal supporter of Esper, and who worked with him together closely in the George W. Bush administration? Or maybe “containing Trump” is the main tool Mark Esper uses to combat “US enemies”?
But what real successes does the agency headed by Mark Esper have? Could it be Afghanistan, where in 19 years of military aggression the Pentagon has not yet approached the goal that it announced? But still, how beautiful everything sounded during an interview on October 18, 2001 between the Qatari TV channel Al-Jazeera and Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense at that time: “US efforts are not directed against the people of Afghanistan, nor any race or religion … These actions are being taken against terrorism, terrorists, and leaders that harbor terrorists. The United States will take all measures to avoid inflicting any casualties among the Afghan civilian population.” And, in the meantime, about 3,000 civilians are killed each year in the country. In 2018, this number even exceeded 3,800 people, according to the website of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The number of casualties among the Afghan civilian population has also increased after the peace treaty was signed between the US and the Taliban (an organization that is banned in the Russian Federation), stated the Afghan TV channel TOLO News on July 15, citing data from the country’s national security agency. From January 21 to February 19, 2020 alone (before the agreement was signed) 351 dead and injured were recorded, and over the next month, from February 20 to March 19, there were 533 dead and wounded recorded in the country.
So how have the Pentagon’s military service personnel been involved in “protecting Afghan civilians” in the country over the past 19 years? In Afghanistan, the complicity of members of the American intelligence community, and the military, in drug trafficking, paying cash to militants to allow safe passage for transport caravans, and kickbacks from contracts to help implement various projects paid for by US taxpayers has been no secret for a long time now. Military aircraft that support the drug business from Kandahar, and from Bagram, fly out anywhere – to Germany, to Romania – without being subject to inspection. This list of these criminal acts can be extended, if need be.
And maybe it is the fact that Russia, China, and other countries around the world have started to dig into the drug frenzy, which the US military in Afghanistan take an active part in, that is the “deterrence weapon” referred to by M. Esper?
To conceal all this from the public, Washington engages in all sorts of shenanigans, and unleashes numerous information wars. One example of this is fake accusations, made through media controlled by America, of the Taliban and Russia allegedly conspiring together, although it was the United States that created a terrorist stronghold in the country in the past, and used it to kill Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan.
It is hardly possible to point to even minor successes scored by Mark Esper in increasing the combat capabilities of the American army, and putting its house in order. Otherwise, how can the scandal be explained that erupted with the recent sexually motivated homicide of private Vanessa Guillen in Texas, according to those same US allies at The Guardian, at the same time that complaints of sexual violence in the US Army are lodged by about every third soldier, indicating that reform is ineffective in combating that.
Along with this, mention must be added of the significant increase in the number of suicides in the American Army over recent times, and the terrible conditions of sanitary quarantine in the US Army in which, as the American service personnel acknowledge, prisoners are taken better care of, and provided with better conditions.
Generally speaking, quite a lot has already been written about the low level of psychological preparation on the part of the US Army for the military operations that Washington thrusts it into. It turns out that while NATO ships were, according to Pentagon leaders, virtually hopscotching across “Russian-controlled expanses,” its soldiers were crying, huddled together in bunkers! This was broadcast by the Danish TV2 channel after soldiers were evacuated from the American military base of Ayn al Assad, which was subjected to Iranian missile fire. According to media reports, on April 10 the crew of the American destroyer Donald Cook was completely demoralized in the waters of the Black Sea after a simple fly-by made by a Russian bomber overhead.
A huge number of complaints about how US military personnel behave are published by the media in Japan, Europe, etc. – countries where US military bases are stationed. Specifically, Modern Diplomacy writes that residents there are not at all happy that American soldiers provide security for their countries under the NATO program: the protests are mainly caused by the “inappropriate behavior” and “aggressiveness” of allied soldiers, who often take part in drunken fights.
Therefore, the assessment of the US military power index done by The Heritage Foundation as “limited” in the presence of acute existing problems at the US defense agency, related to the recruitment and training of personnel with both advance and auxiliary troop units for all military branches – and across all levels – is unlikely to come as a surprise. Consequently, it was concluded that the Pentagon lacks a comprehensive strategy to address them. Given the predominantly negative attitude young people have toward military service, the situation, according to The Heritage Foundation, is likely to continue to deteriorate.
So despite this rah-rah report, the image of Mark Esper, as well as the US Army as a whole, remains very unflattering.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.