Disturbing news from the theater of war in Yemen where American-made weapons are being used to slaughter civilians indiscriminately: some of those weapons have also ended up in possession of the wrong people. CNN reported:
Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States, a CNN investigation has found.
The weapons have also made their way into the hands of Iranian-backed rebels battling the coalition for control of the country, exposing some of America’s sensitive military technology to Tehran and potentially endangering the lives of US troops in other conflict zones.
Besides continuing our long tradition of scattering high-powered missiles around like they’re “lollipops“—CNN cited a report that “Saudis had airdropped American-made TOW anti-tank missiles” where fighters for al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula could get them—our allies have been passing along, or losing track of, various models of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. MRAPs are the rolling bomb shelters our military developed because roadside bombs were taking too great a toll on armored Humvees; CNN reported that hostile forces have been eager to get a look at them:
Because a majority of American troop deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are caused by IEDs, it is critical that knowledge of MRAP vulnerabilities does not fall into enemy hands.
This is a good moment to work backward through the genealogy: the MRAP came after the armored Humvee, which came after the regular Humvee, which replaced the jeep. The United States military is now supposed to be operating on the principle that jeeps are sensitive technology that must never end up in enemy hands—while simultaneously handing out those jeeps to random foreign goon squads.
Those may seem like two contradictory kinds of nonsense, but they’re really just interlocking aspects of a military designed around nonsense. The United States has the largest, most expensive war-fighting apparatus in the world, and the war it was built for fighting doesn’t exist.
When I was growing up—in an Army weapons-testing town, after Vietnam and before the first stage of the Gulf War—military procurement had a deliberate unreality around it. The enemy was the Soviets, so it was considered necessary to build and maintain an all-out tanks-and-guns army to match and exceed the Red Army, even though any all-out tanks-and-guns war between the countries would have been superseded by someone nuking someone else first. The real conflict was a matter of pumping weapons into existing war zones or helping overthrow governments and murder dissidents in third-party countries, while at home contractors pumped out ever more hypertrophic, expensive, and dysfunctional arms systems. It wasn’t like we had to use them.
And then history turned over and we did start using them. We just didn’t use them against anyone who could hit back with the same kinds of weapons, let alone anyone who could possibly make us fall back to the nukes. We ended up at war against opponents no one could aim a nuclear missile at: irregulars, stateless forces, people who wouldn’t even show up to be shot by the tanks.
So our war policy envisions fighting a global, open-ended conflict without suffering the casualty levels of old-fashioned army-on-army total war. The two ways to try to do this are by using abundant and overwhelming weapons and armor, and by letting other people do the fighting. In Yemen, we’ve done both, selling arms to the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates—for the money, originally, to be “expensive paperweights,” but now letting them use them as they see fit, for some sort of regional proxy advantage against Iranian influence. Now it turns out this is bad for the weapons, among other things it’s bad for.