Saturday, July 9, 2011

America's Wars

In an article on, Tom Engelhardt writes a preface to an article about the blurring of warmaking by civilian and military organizations within the American government with and without Congressional oversight. Engelhardt notes that there are now six wars being conducted by the US:
With the latest news (revealed last week by the New York Times) that the U.S. has launched a significant “intensification” of its secret air campaign against Yemeni tribesmen believed to be connected with al-Qaeda, the U.S. is now involved in no less than six wars. Count ‘em, if you don’t believe me: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and what used to be called the Global War on Terror.

In anyone’s book, that certainly qualifies as a working definition of “endless” war, but that doesn’t mean endlessly the same kind of war. Let’s look at this, war by war:

Iraq: Now largely the dregs of a counterinsurgency operation, this war will not end in 2011. At his confirmation hearings, for instance, Panetta cited the existence of al-Qaeda in Iraq as a reason for U.S. troops to remain beyond an agreed-upon year-end withdrawal date. Should those troops actually leave, however, the war will still go on, even if in quite a different form. A gargantuan, increasingly militarized State Department “mission” in that country, complete with its own “army” and “air force” of perhaps 5,100 mercenaries, will evidently keep the faith.

Afghanistan: This remains a full-scale U.S. Army-run counterinsurgency war, backed by a major special operations/CIA counterterror war.

Pakistan: A full-scale CIA-run drone war in the Pakistani borderlands is actually expanding. In the post-9/11 era, this has been the first of Washington’s “covert” or "shadow" wars (which no longer means “secret” -- it’s all over the news almost daily -- but something closer to “off the books,” as in beyond the reach of any form of significant popular or congressional oversight or accountability). Panetta is calling for more emphasis on such off-the-books wars in which U.S. military operatives might, as in the bin Laden operation, temporarily find themselves under the command of the CIA.

Libya: Officially a NATO air war, this one is nonetheless partially run by the Pentagon with targeting assistance from various U.S. intelligence agencies. It involves both direct U.S. air strikes and support for strikes by various NATO and Arab allies fronting the operation. It is also, for Americans, a “war” in name only since, except in the case of engine malfunction, there is essentially no way the Libyans can harm a U.S. pilot. It is also an example of another air war that, while destructive, has proven itself incapable of fulfilling its stated aims. Months later, Gaddafi remains alive and more or less in power, while NATO flags.

Yemen: Another of those “covert” air wars, being run, according to the Times, by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, closely coordinated with the CIA out of a secret office in the Yemeni capital.

The Global War on Terror: While the Obama administration officially discarded the Bush-era name, it expanded the war and the forces meant to fight it in places like Somalia. U.S. special operations forces now pursue war-on-terror tasks in at least 75 countries and who knows how many CIA and other intelligence agents are involved as well.

Think of all this as a kind of mix-and-match version of war that increasingly integrates civilian branches of the government like the State Department, an ever more warlike CIA (once known as “the president’s private army”), the regular Army, Marines, and Air Force, ever-growing drone air power (split between an officially civilian intelligence agency and the military), and a secret combined military force of perhaps 20,000 special operatives.
The blurring of legal military with black-ops, off the books, invisible to Congressional oversight war fighting bothers me. Rome fell because it became reliant on barbarian troops loyal to their general and not to Rome. This new scheme of "private armies" in the US strikes me as a step down a slippery slope.

The blog proceeds with an article entitled "Siamese Twins Sharing the Same Brain
How the Military and the Civilian Are Blurring in Washington" written by William J. Astore that explores this "new reality":
I have a fairy tale for you. Once upon a time, a representative democracy was established with a constitution that distilled the wisdom of the ages. Its foundational principles included civilian control of the military and a system of checks and balances that encouraged vigorous public debate as a basis for effective policy-making.

In this fabled land, the role of civilian leaders was, in part, to serve as a check on military ambition and endless wars. They were to prove cautious, too, in committing their citizen-soldiers to battle, and when they did, they would issue Congressional declarations of war so that everyone could grasp the nature of the national emergency at hand and the necessity of military action. In waging war, they would rely on shared sacrifice and even raise taxes. When necessary, it was their job to rein in or even remove military leaders who acted like Caesar (read: General Douglas MacArthur) rather than Cincinnatus (read: General George Washington).

Yes, you’ve guessed it: it’s not a fairy tale, or at least not completely. It’s the United States -- an older America that, despite a decidedly checkered and often imperial past, was nevertheless proud of its reluctance to fight, but steadfast in its commitment to win once it decided that battle was the course of action. Even then, this America remained resolute in its reluctance to embrace a military ethos or bow down before military gods, committed as it was to civilian primacy and the avoidance of a large standing army.

Paradoxically, the last vestiges of this America could still be seen some 50 years ago under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself a retired five-star general, who tried with varying degrees of success to limit defense spending, and who famously warned in his farewell address in 1961 of the dangers of a surging “military-industrial complex.”


How times have changed. In the post-9/11 world, a far more insidious problem confronts us. That gap, if it ever existed, is no more. Instead, at the highest levels, what’s civilian and what’s military are increasingly difficult to tell apart as the two spheres blur and blend.


Military leaders are now regularly put in charge of previously civilian intelligence agencies, as in the case of General David Petraeus, now nominated to leave the Afghan battlefield and become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Civilian agencies now militarize themselves and wage war (as the CIA has done or is doing in various drone wars in the Greater Middle East, often in conjunction with the military). America’s part-time citizen-soldiers have morphed into full-time warriors and warfighters, if not the equivalent of foreign legionnaires. America’s civilian embassies continue to morph into so many militarized fortresses protected by armed mercenaries.


The end result of this militaristic mindset is a garrison state, constantly girding itself for national security crises, real or perceived, as in the last decade’s open-ended and frantic “war on terror.”
It is well worth your time to go read the whole article.

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