Jon Ronson’s “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is not widely known, but is a greatly entertaining book . Well, three-quarters of the book is entertaining, the last one-quarter is chilling. In this book, there are men who are getting paid to stare at goats from long range in order to change the goat’s behavior. Other men toss themselves at walls because they believe they will be able to pass through them, regardless of the earthly physics involved. And the book gets weirder, with references made to Marshall Applewhite and the Heaven’s Gate tragedy and other peculiar phenomenon caused by these men. George Clooney made the book into a weird, but interesting movie.
Welcome to the United States Department of Defense (DOD) in action. The long-distance staring at goats was part of overall psychological military operations, a/k/a. “Psy-Ops”, to be able to teach soldiers to kill the enemy through mental telepathy. The goal of Psy-Ops were to create “Warrior Monks”, like a group of David Carradines in “Kung Fu”, They were to develop the mental techniques to liberate the world through reaching enlightenment via truth, justice and The American Way.
There is some justifiable rationale for this, even if the ideas behind it are whacked. Studies of Vietnam veterans showed that 98% of combat soldiers who fired their gun and killed an enemy suffered from some degree of post traumatic stress disorder. War is hell. If techniques can be developed to stop warfare and disarm an enemy with minimal human damage, then these techniques are just and humane. Psy-Ops operations, like constant bombardment with repetitive loud rock’n’roll music, have been credited by the DOD (whether accurate, effective or not) in capturing the strong arm dictators, Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein. However, as the book goes on to show, the degree of interest, the monies spent and the relative sanity of those in charge were questionable.
In the article “War-Mart” in the New Republic , the author Clay Risen makes references to a speech given on 9/10/2001 (yes, one day before that 9/11/2001). Here are excerpts from this speech:
“An adversary poses a threat, serious threat, to the security of the United States of America” – one that “attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk.” The speaker: then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Was he referring to Al Qaeda or even Saddam Hussein and Iraq? No.
The enemy he was referring to was his own Department of Defense.
Upon reading Ronson’s book, one would tend to give Rumsfeld’s ideas serious thought. However, while Psy-Ops programs started way before Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense, the scope and funding of Psy-Ops, including the use of Psy-Ops in torture techniques, were expanded greatly under Rumsfeld’s watch. So Rumsfeld wasn’t railing against his department being out-of-control and spending money foolishly, he was advocating for it.
Rumsfeld’s intent was to introduce “modern management” techniques into the DOD, including making the Pentagon act more like a modern boardroom. Given my years of business consulting experience, including with DOD contractors, thing idea of introducing modern management techniques into “military intelligence” was and should have been a non-starter. The two cultures and management practices are totally incompatible.
Upon reviewing Rumsfeld’s track record as CEO at GD Searle and General Instrument, his own modern management skills were highly questionable. His “success” at Searle relied upon pushing the introduction of Nutrasweet/Aspartame, which had questions then about being a carcinogen and is now strongly suspected now to be one, quickly through the Federal Food and Drug Agency (FDA) review process. The FDA review was not as thorough as it should have been nor took as long for other similar products. Political pressure was to put Nutrasweet on the fast track for approval and it was. At General Instrument, he used the standard “slash and burn” management tactics, made popular at the time by “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap. There is still controversy whether GI’s success in the television cable industry was due to Rumsfeld’s direction while CEO, occurred in spite of Rumsfeld’s direction, or occurred after Rumsfeld’s tenure. History suggests the latter.
This “Pentagon full of CEO’”s program was part of Rumsfeld’s overall strategy of military transformation. Rumsfeld’s strategy was based upon two connected ideas: the US military will always have a continued and significant advantage in high technology weaponry, as a result, troop manpower numbers could be greatly reduced. Both of these ideas were highly dubious in concept, as we unfortunately have seen in action. These were ideas that he was going to implement before he was Secretary of Defense. Despite whether real world situations, such as what happened on 9/11/2001, required that he modify or scrap those preconceived ideas, this military “transformation” was not changed.
This was all too typical of what happened throughout the Bush Administration. Ideology consistently trumped reality. The Bush-Leaguers continued to try to spin the reality to be consistent with their ideology. That Rumsfeld also illegally used intelligence resources to investigate, infiltrate and harass domestic peace activist groups was also all too typical what happened during those 6 years.
Rumsfeld’s military transformation had three major flaws in it.
1. It assumed that the US will always have a significant military high technology advantage – Given the amount of outsourcing of high tech jobs and the rise of quality international engineering colleges, that assumption was not a given and may be proven wrong sooner than we think.
2. That this high tech weaponry would work – Billions of dollars dumped into the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which despite being officially “deployed”, still doesn’t work and is 99.99% likely will never work effectively. We are seeing now (in 2014) that much of this unused military equipment was later given the state and local police departments, making them into paramilitary organizations. Ferguson Ohio is a tragic example of what happens when you use military weaponry for policing.
3. The wars of the future will be low tech, and will not be resolved with high tech weaponry – Iraq was a low tech war. It became a quagmire because the U.S. military continued to be undermanned, despite all the high-tech weaponry at its disposal. The wars of the future will be like Darfur and Kosovo, wars and genocides because of generations of religious and sectarian animus. What was needed and done in Darfur was to send in peacekeepers – the boots on the ground – to separate the factions, provide the needed humanitarian aid, and do nation building and rebuilding. The pulling of troops from Afghanistan to Iraq was proven to be a major strategic mistake, as Al Qaeda and the Taliban returned to Afghanistan, the warlords regained in control of the majority of the country, and the opium trade came back with a vengeance.
The Bush Administration’s hatred of the Clintonistas led to its out-of-hand disregard for the real military strategy of the future, using strength in numbers, providing humanitarian aid and performing nation building. This strategy was not followed in Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld did not heed General Eric Shinseki’s strategy and manpower estimations of a minimum of 440,000 troops, which was based upon historical analysis of effective war operations. The U.S. became bogged down in an unwinnable war that rapidly descended into large-scale civil warfare. We have returned to try and rectify past mistakes today.
The end of Ronson’s book discusses the chilling and sad case of Frank Olsen, the CIA agent who died by falling out of a New York apartment building after being secretly being given LSD.This was one of the “Psy-Ops” programs, to study the effects of psychotropic drugs effect on behavior. The intended purpose was that these drugs could be used for enemy interrogation or possibly disable enemy troops on the battlefield. There is no difference morally between slipping LSD into someone’s drink as part of an experiment and waterboarding a suspected, but not verified, Iraqi insurgent. In both cases, the end result was the same, a man died needlessly.
The goat who approved the all of the failed military strategies and policies in Iraq and Afghanistan? Donald Rumsfeld.
There’s a reason old goats are put out to pasture, so that people driving by stare at the billygoat gruffs in their dotage. There’s also the reason why these old goats should not put back in service. The United States is now paying the price for the strategic missteps of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and the rest of the Bush Administration. It has been 18 years since I first wrote this article. After all the lives lost and money spent by the Department of Defense, little has changed.
So when you see Rumsfeld or Cheney blaming the Obama Administration for what is transpiring in the Middle East today, just remember to stare at these old goats who have been necessarily put out to pasture. Maybe our combined Psy-Ops will cause them to go away.