September 18, 2020

Esper's Convenient Lie

By Paul Scharre

In a Wednesday speech about readying the U.S. military for war with China or Russia, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, “For nearly two decades the United States concentrated on violent extremist organizations in low intensity conflicts that left us less focused and prepared for a high-end fight against near peer adversaries.”

This is a convenient lie the Pentagon has told itself to excuse two decades of investing in legacy, wasting assets. It's embarrassing to see the secretary of defense repeat it.

Esper’s claim that the two decades of countering violent extremism left the U.S. under-prepared for a near-peer fight doesn’t hold water.

The United States sent a lot of servicemembers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and spent a whole heck of a lot of money in those wars. But the rising tide of defense spending after 9/11 lifted all boats, including more money for things that had nothing to do with the wars. The causes of the Defense Department’s current lack of preparedness for China and Russia are many, but blaming the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan lets the department off the hook for its own dysfunctions. While U.S. troops were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon was steadily investing billions to deter and fight big wars against the nation-state adversaries to which Esper refers — just not in the right way.

Read the full article in Defense One.

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