The Long War

The Long War
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, November 14, 2009

The war in Afghanistan is a small part of a much larger strategy. We are starting to hear about the “Long War” against international Islamic terrorists. Pentagon strategists are envisioning a 50-100 year war against Al Qaeda, marked by periods of intense fighting and followed by efforts at pacification and rebuilding. It assumes a mobile opposition jumping from one country to the next.

The immediate scenario for this long war depends on two more years of “significant combat” and “hard fighting” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, plus another decade of nation- building there. The dollar costs projected by strategists would be roughly $80 billion a year. The human costs of such a war are simply incalculable.

The outlines of this strategy appear in a book The Accidental Guerrilla by Dr. David Kilcullen, an anthropologist and former soldier. It projects a continued battle spanning thirteen presidential terms and twenty-five congressional sessions. It assumes a future of perpetual war for generations of Americans and for much of the world. Kilcullen is no science fiction writer. A former top aide to General David Petraeus, he is currently advising General Stanley McChrystal.

The term “long war” is supported by most of the current military leadership and forms the basis of all their recommendations to President Obama.

It is a scenario we all need to think about. Its fundamental shortcoming begins with framing war as a legitimate, continuing response to political controversies. The theory pictures a world of constant low level counter-insurgency activities including assassinations, torture and disruptions of daily life, punctuated by not so small fights against Islamic insurgents, often fighting to protect their various homelands from U.S. “invaders.” It predicts a large professional military, increasingly dependent on paid mercenaries.

Those of us outside the Pentagon need to ask whether this is the kind of future we want for ourselves and for our children. To what end? It should be obvious to anyone outside the Pentagon that increased militarization does not lead to greater security for anyone.

We cannot build a lasting peace while ignoring fundamental injustice. In the efforts to look forward into the future and back beyond Vietnam, the military strategists proposing this long war ignore the political realities that pulled us into this current situation. They see war as a question of tactics and strategies, not as the failure to address basic political issues.

The attacks on the U.S. in 2001 were the direct result of years of injustice against the Arab world, primarily inflicted on Palestinians by Israel, with the full support of the United States. Year after year, time after time, the U.S. refused to acknowledge the justice behind Palestinian demands and refused to bring pressure to bear on Israel to come to a just settlement.

Until we resolve this question, the war that has gone on for more than 60 years will continue. And the reality of daily life in the U.S. will become more and more like that on the streets of Israel.

If we have learned nothing else in the last 60 years, it should be that military might cannot stop a suicide bomber.

Instead of looking forward to continued war, we need to start building a new peace. Andrew Bacevich, whose book The Long War criticizes this thinking, noted recently: “The chief effect of military operations in Afghanistan so far has been to push radical Islamists across the Pakistani border. As a result, efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are contributing to the destabilization of Pakistan.”

Such a policy serves no one except generals and war profiteers. The rest of the world needs to begin to build the political framework for peace.



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