Our Endless War(s)

First there was “shock and awe.” Then the counterinsurgency, or “surge.” Now it’s “targeted assassinations.” Evocative labels all, making state sanctioned murder easy to accept, if not easy to understand. But does anyone remember why we commit these acts of violence and commit unfathomable amounts of our GDP to their execution?

Right! Because we’re fighting a war on terror. The crazy thing about this war, like our other multi-decade assault on an intangible enemy, the war on drugs, is that almost no one can define our explicit goal. Ask the average American what we accomplished in Iraq. Did we win? Did we lose? Did the trillions of dollars we spent garner a nice return on investment? Ask her what we’re doing in Afghanistan. (Yes, we’re still there, trying to extricate ourselves from another fine imperialist mess.) And don’t laugh when she guesses, “kill the bad guys?” It’s as good an answer as any.

The United States of America has been in a persistent state of armed conflict for well more than a decade. This is good for business at the Pentagon and for those who have made a profession out of killing “the bad guys.” These folks have a vested interest in remaining at war; they must be tickled that the average taxpayer hasn’t any notion how much of his paycheck goes to those who keep them safe from harm. Or “protect our way of life.” Or “make the ultimate sacrifice so that the rest of us may live free.” Given the prodigious number of people on the planet who hate our country and wish to do it harm, we can reasonably expect to remain in this prolonged killfest for the rest of our lives – or until we gather up our collective courage and annihilate our enemies with a few of the nuclear weapons we’ve got stockpiled.

Silly? Untenable? No sillier or less tenable than filling the skies over Pakistan and the Middle East with assassin drones and picking off one “bad guy” at a time, with no regard for the political or moral consequences of summarily executing civilians, including the occassional American citizen we don’t like. Really, if our goal is to kill all of Them before they harm Us, then we ought to get busy – and figure out how to justify the “collateral damage” once we’re perfectly safe inside our American fortress.

President Eisenhower was no pacifist. He was a General,  soldier, a hero. In the 1950s, back when America’s designated Bad Guy was communism, it was he who warned about the looming military-industrial complex, the self-perpetuating mechanism for keeping our economy productive and transferring our nation’s wealth from folks who make goods and services to those who make war.

Now new military fronts are being opened every month, it seems. Libya, Yemen, Somalia…and surely Syria or Iran sometime soon. This is “change we can believe in”?

President Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, summarized the administration’s policy in a recent Op-Ed. “The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, anywhere in the world.” This imagined “right” may be exercised by the president without the advice and consent of Congress or anyone else. And if you think that’s sort of an un-American way to go about managing our international disagreements, then you’re probably an unpatriotic American. Or into radical Islam.

We understand that there are more important things to worry about, like our entertainment and our kid’s soccer team and the download speed of our smartphone. But taking a moment during the impending election season to ask ourselves what’s the explicit purpose of The War we’re fighting – and will continue to fight – might not be such a terrible idea.

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