A Hollow War

The message we “should be receiving as a consequence of recent events. . . . is that more than 13 years after 9/11, after spending trillions of dollars on what was billed as an all-out ‘War on Terror,’ we are losing.”[1]

I would not be surprised to see this written in, say, TomDispatch, where, in fact, a number of articles have called the ‘War on Terror’ a failure for years. I would not be surprised to see it written in any of a number of left-wing sources. But the passage above comes instead from the functionalist conservative Foreign Policy. And not just from a random writer at Foreign Policy who might deviate from the party line, but rather, the CEO of Foreign Policy‘s parent organization and the publication’s editor.

Needless to say, the author of that quote, David Rothkopf, is no neoconservative. And he is likely as well-informed on international affairs as it is possible for someone outside government to be. His opinion is not that of one merely wondering why, thirteen years later, we are still fighting in Afghanistan,[2] or why, having departed Iraq,[3] we are back, even reoccupying bases we had abandoned,[4] and in Syria as well, prompting the Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson to write that

it is necessary to ask whether Obama’s strategy offers a plausible path from the present situation to the ultimate goal, which the president says is to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. It is also necessary to ask whether certain unintended — but glaringly obvious — consequences of the president’s war plan are fully being taken into account.[5]

That the conflict between sociopaths fighting under an Islamic banner and sociopaths who make up what C. Wright Mills labeled “the power elite” in the U.S.[6] and in other countries cannot be resolved militarily should be glaringly obvious. Indeed, so much so that one might question whether either side in fact intends the defeat of the other. Rather, just as critics—not all of them on the left—of the “War on Terror” have long maintained, it is war not against a specific enemy, but rather a perpetual war, apparently fought not for the purpose of winning but rather for the purpose of fighting, for the purpose of maintaining a war-footing, and for the purpose of justifying a national security state.

James Fallows argues that in the era of an “all-volunteer” army, soldiers have become the “other,” treated as expendable by mainstream society, and whose exploitation in ill-fated ventures is unquestioned.[7] I certainly do not, as Fallows seems to, advocate restoration of the military draft. But it is readily apparent that our use of the military, the money we spend on the military, and our entire attitude toward the military deserve critical attention.

Particularly when its accomplishments seem so hollow.

  1. [1]David Rothkopf, “‘Charlie Hebdo’ Is Not a Photo-Op,” Foreign Policy, January 14, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/14/charlie-hebdo-is-not-a-photo-op-paris-terrorism/
  2. [2]Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “In a Shift, Obama Extends U.S. Role in Afghan Combat,” New York Times, November 21, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/22/us/politics/in-secret-obama-extends-us-role-in-afghan-combat.html
  3. [3]Tim Arango, “U.S. Marks End to 9-Year War, Leaving an Uncertain Iraq,” New York Times, December 15, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/16/world/middleeast/end-for-us-begins-period-of-uncertainty-for-iraqis.html
  4. [4]Tim Arango, “U.S. Forces, Returning to Iraq, Encounter the Things Their Comrades Carried,” New York Times, January 6, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/07/world/middleeast/us-forces-returning-to-iraq-unearth-the-things-their-brethren-carried.html
  5. [5]Eugene Robinson, “The Islamic State fight is turning into a ‘dumb’ war,” Washington Post, October 23, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eugene-robinson-fighting-the-islamic-state-is-starting-to-look-more-like-a-dumb-war/2014/10/23/13492d64-5aea-11e4-b812-38518ae74c67_story.html
  6. [6]C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (1956; repr., New York: Oxford University, 2000).
  7. [7]James Fallows, “The Tragedy of the American Military,” Atlantic, January/February 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/12/the-tragedy-of-the-american-military/383516/

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