The Triumph of Das Boot: Max Boot Gets His ‘Freedom Legion’

A number of people are commenting on the report that the US is considering the establishment of overseas military recruiting stations. Some people may be wondering whence the idea sprang, and whether it’s a good one. The answer to the first question supplies the answer to the second.

The idea was first floated in a February, 2005 Los Angeles Times op-ed column by neoconservative Nostradamus Max Boot. Boot, a dogged proponent of American Empire who regards Rudyard Kipling as the premier foreign policy thinker of the modern age, suggested modeling the new enterprise after the French Foreign Legion — he dubbed it the “Freedom Legion” — in what must surely be the only recorded instance of a neoconservative publicly offering anything remotely resembling praise for that most obstinate of nations.

As you might expect from the source, it’s an unequivocally bad idea on any number of levels, as is the practice of basing one’s Grand Strategy on Kipling.

Recruiting from among our own citizens and legal residents is tres expensive. The Congressional Budget office estimated a few years ago that adding 20,000 troops to the Army would cost $100 billion in the first five years and $10 billion annually after that, which numbers you can mulitply to account for many more troops and the difficulty of training and commanding a corps of soldiers for whom English might be a second, third or unknown language.

While we probably can find any number of willing recruits overseas, we might possibly encounter some resistance from local populations who hold both our government and its various military adventures in less than high regard, and from governments that may balk at the idea of US military training for those among their own citizenry who might eventually return to use that training against those governments. So, to the expense of recruiting, training, maintaining and commanding the Freedom Legion you can add that of protecting the recruiters and recruits in the far-flung lands we attempt to mine, exhaustively screening recruits to forestall the inevitable attempts to obtain the best military training in the world by people who wish us ill, and bribing the host governments into allowing us to do this.

Beyond the practical difficulties, which would be enough to scuttle the plan in any sane country, recruiting abroad would indelibly stamp the United States as an empire in official thought and deed. Boot thinks that’s a fine idea; one of his favorite Kipling quotes is “Ye dare not stoop to less,” from, appropriately, The White Man’s Burden. He once said of the US imperative to take up that burden that “Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.”

And that, really, is all you need know about Max Boot and his ideas of what’s good for this country.

24 thoughts on “The Triumph of Das Boot: Max Boot Gets His ‘Freedom Legion’”

  1. When I first heard of Bush’s desire to conquer Iraq (The Washington Post ran excited pieces about all that glorious oil to be had.) I remembered that the last empires died out in the 1950s. Y’know folks, there’s a reason the empires died out. In the 1500s, the West figured out many technological secrets that boosted them above the rest of the world in capability. European empires reached their apogee in the 1850s with Rudyard Kipling, but by a century later, people being people, Third-World people got the hang of modern weaponry and lost their fear of Western weapons wizardry.
    I recently saw a few YouTube videos made by Iraqi insurgents. They’re very sophisticated. They’ve got good dramatic pacing and hip-hop tunes. The US is not “chasing the natives around.” The bad guys are just as technologically savvy as any American.
    The age of empire is long since over.

  2. The hubris required to call another nation to task for doing what you’ve been doing for over
    fifty years is huge. The golden rule of those with the gold make the rules is in effect. Do as we say no longer works at any level. When China cashes the check you’d better have a euro account.

  3. LA, I don’t know if he’s crazy but he’s surely mainlined Kipling once too often.

    Darrel, there’s a pickle joke in there somewhere.

    g – I was thinking along the same lines, but I figured since their primary arena will be the Middle East and South Asia, we should go with Janissaries.

    Rich, I saw some insurgent videos on Google a while back, including one that strung together videos of IEDs going off under HumVees and other US vehicles. It was grotesque and appalling, but the worst part of it is that they’re able to situate people with video cameras in the locations where the bombs are planted, tape the explosion and then safely escape with the tapes. There was another one showing a suicide bomber going into a hotel. You’re right, these are not people who are awed by US might.

  4. One thing you forgot to mention above is the security related issues. “Sure, you just sign here and we will train you in all the things that make today’s military run, our tactics and electronic systems like the computer networks that make the tactics work. No problem.” Can anyone imagine the costs of the background checks for this new force if they are to be included in our forces.

    Or will they be a truly separate branch of the military. That means that these “freedom forces” can only be used in theaters where we have little or no other forces. It also means that they will have to be equipped somewhat differently than the army or marines they are intended to supplement, so parts and supplies will be different, separate infrastructure and bureaucracy, and all the attendant costs.

    How the hell can neocons have a great rep for their “understanding of military affairs” and still be so totally clueless of the basics of the military. Is it really 2 more years until amateur hour is over?

  5. Hi, Clyde. I did mention the cost of screening recruits, but you’re right, the issues go way beyond the ordinary problems associated with recruitment and retention. It’s just bizarre.

  6. The irony being that Kipling renounced all of that when he saw his son — a boy of eighteen who his father doted on and pulled strings to get him into the military even though he could barely see his hand in front of his face — senselessly killed along with millions of other young men in WWI. He wrote one of his best later works, Epitaphs of the War, after his son’s death.

    Here’s a few excerpts therefrom:


    If any question why we died,
    Tell them, because our fathers lied.


    I could not dig: I dared not rob:
    Therefore I lied to please the mob.
    Now all my lies are proved untrue
    And I must face the men I slew.
    What tale shall serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young?

  7. i see nothing wrong with this, as long as the force is a mirror of the french foreign legions.

    now, keep in mind, the legion is no bigger than an american special forces branch — this will never provide the 30,000 troops everyone is calling for.

    furthermore, these are crack troops that are used usually as the tip of the spear-point — in part because they are so well trained, and in part because the french see non-nationals as expendable.

    but what i think is actually being called for here (and this displays the lack of creativity and plain stupidity of whomever thought this up) is that the foreign legion model cannot work to build a standing army. members of a standing army are beurocrats as much as they are soldiers. the operate in a much different environment than a special forces unit. they have to be american above all else — well trained not only in american tactics, but in american cultural norms, procedures, language, and relations.

    you simply cannot insert a brigade of indonesians into the american army and expect it to work seamlessly.

    but if we were to create a true foreign legion to augment our special forces, i’m fine with that. the french have been incredibly successful with that. no reason we can’t copy that model.

    but as we all know, iraq doesn’t need more spear-tips. it needs well trained police, essentially. people who can keep the peace, act as arbiters, and inject american cultural values of fairness and the rule of law into the population. hired guns could never do this.

  8. PW, I think anyone who can quote sincerely from White Man’s Burden must regard the elderly Kipling as a shell of a man who lost his nerve at the end. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for all the linkage over what seems like the years.

    Tockey, I think what Boot has in mind is pretty much the opposite of what you have in mind.

  9. Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like I was jumping on you, just trying to add the force security issues this insanity raises. It would not take a large number of hostiles slipping in and doing us serious damage. One man passing on intelligence, to a small handful working together to disrupt all kinds of logistical and communications systems and leave entire companies if not brigades exposed to deadly consequences.

  10. Hey, Clyde, no need to apologize, it was just a point of order. On a different note, someone at Smirking Chimp pointed out that another aspect to the general fubarishness of the idea is the pay scale of our military as compared to the typical incomes in some of the countries Boot suggested as likely hunting grounds in his column last year. Imagine setting up a recruiting station for a job that pays monthly something like five or ten times the annual per capita income in the host country.

  11. British military recruiting in ex colonies is successful (if rather small scale) to this day. Tonga and Nepal are two nations whos recruits spring to mind, the nepalese particularly. The gurkha regiments have a reputation for being extremely effective. Amongst these remarks about the expense of foreign recruits and questions about their loyalty I should say that Gurkha troops;

    (1) are renowned for their loyalty and heroic bravery.

    (2) economically speaking, have recieved an EXTREMELY raw deal from the british state.

    I know the whole thing has a nasty smell of empire but, if it’s an empire you’re trying to run, history suggests that recruits from the colonies are a necessity.

  12. One cannot but recall the German Irmin, known as Arminius when he served in the Roman army. Using his knowledge of Roman arms and tactics, he was able to engineer the destruction of the XVII, XVII, and XIX Legions in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.

  13. “inject american cultural values of fairness and the rule of law”

    Dude, Hamurabi was United-Statesian? Let’s not also take that away from the Iraqi’s.

  14. the gurkhas and other foreign nationals who have been incorporated into western armies have almost always been used as “special forces” type units. they are trained to be self-sufficient, act outside the bureaucracy, clandestinely, without much equipment, and at the furthest point of enemy engagement. usually, these types of units are seen as expendable because they are not nationals of the country they are fighting for and are, therefore, put into the most dangerous situations.

    what mr. boot is calling for is not a new “gurkha” unit or a french foreign legion copy. he is calling for essentially the outsourcing of our military policing mission in iraq.

    no where in history has this been attempted or accomplished. the duty of an occupier is to project the occupying nation’s cultural values and norms. a gurkha could not do this. smart military people understand this. mr. boot is not a smart military person.

  15. je suis jeune camerounais agee de 24ans je pese 88kg et je possede une ceinture rouge en taekwondo. et je possede enorme qualite.

  16. i’m a cameroonian,23years old,black belt in martial arts and i’m ready to join the us foreign legion;it’s a dream for me to serve the best army of the world.

  17. I’m belgian. I’m 21. For me a freedom legion would be great opportunity. I want to migrate to the USA and I want to join the military.
    Aparantly you don’t seem to be aware that most of the units in the US armed forces require the american citizenship.
    I don’t want to join the military to sit behind a desk filling in papers all day.

    I’m sure the freedom legion would cost far less than a regular unit. You don’t have to pay a legionaire as much an amrican soldier because he is not working/fighting for money.
    We might need some english classes. But most of people who like America already know a little bit of english. They will have to speak english all day long and we will be very motivated. I think that (in thEse conditions) anybody can get a good level english in less than 4 month.
    Moreover they will have a special op level.

    You don’t beleive me? fine. Just look at the facts : the french foreign legion. If it was costing so much to the french government , it wouldn’t exist anymore.


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