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Obama signals era of permanent war

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Smart v. Stupid

Obama signals era of permanent war

  • Pete Souza/White House

President Obama's recent speech was supposed to be about winding down the Afghan war. But actually it was a signal that permanent war is now our status quo. Every other branch of government — including the ruling corporate branch – was full-tilt ready to keep the wars going. Now Obama has signaled that conflict will not end on his watch.

He said this:

For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us.

Sounds good, huh? Makes sense. But think about it. In this simple statement, Obama endorsed the faulty assumption that got us here in the first place. He signaled his support for George Bush's "Doctrine of Preemption." We will attack you if we believe you might attack us. It's no longer necessary to do bad things, or to plan an attack on us. There are people in every country in the world that fit Obama's description, including this one. It's a strategy of limited success and fiscal bankruptcy.

The entire rest of the world deals with this conundrum by targeting actual perpetrators. Call it the Doctrine of Actual Offense – they punish people and nations for what they do (or try to do,) not what they'd "aim" to do. There is an argument against this idea, but on the plus side it has worked since the beginning of civilization.

Maybe that's not what he meant, you hope. Unfortunately, it seems otherwise. In a speech last March, Obama made another Bush-league mistake, conflating the Taliban with al-Qaeda. Then he said, "…if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaeda to go unchallenged." al-Qaeda is the enemy. In Afghanistan, that foe is obliterated. In 2001, the Taliban were simply the obstacle to bringing Bin Laden to justice. We attacked them for not cooperating, not for being a threat. The Taliban has never had any international aspirations. In fact, they are assiduously isolationist. When they were in charge, they didn't even allow tourists.

Afghanistan was simply where Bin Laden was hiding. Spending ten or twenty or fifty years trying to turn it into a western democracy has no upside for us, only a downside. In ten years, we haven't even been able to stop it from being the world's leading producer of heroin, for gosh sakes.

The rest of government is happy to go along

Our march to permanent war began nearly fifty years ago. In 1973, a war-weary nation demanded the end of the military draft. It was the beginning of the "All-Volunteer Service." It could have been called the "Willing Warfighter Service."

In that single act, the nation abandoned a military that was a representative slice of America, including everyone from gung-ho warriors to reluctant ones, and everything in between. It was replaced with a homogeneous group that is more conservative, more evangelical, more willing to fight in faraway places, and more willing to go back over and over. Today's military is better-educated, better-equipped, better paid, and better-trained. But there is no evidence that it is any better at winning. Limitless money combined with ideological purity hasn't changed much, if anything. Maybe countries simply cannot be conquered unless ruthless genocide is also on the table.

In this way, our current wars are exactly like Vietnam: We won't "win." We will keep taking casualties until the day we depart. Then, like Vietnam and Cambodia, like the Balkans after the Soviet occupation, and like the former British Colonies, things will reset to exactly where they were before the occupation.

If the career military is one leg of the stool, our hawkish Congress is another. Urged on by corporate benefactors, Congress increases the war fighting budget year after year, debating only the size of the increase. They force the SecDef to continue weapons programs that don't work and that he doesn't even want. Follow the money.

The Supreme Court is a minor player in this drama, except in their agenda to increase corporate hegemony. Corporations have a vested interest in continued war. Many reap huge profits by manufacturing weapons, even more when weapons are used, and still more when they must be repaired or replaced. Readers of the print version of the Washington Post are well-accustomed to full-page ads advertising this weapon or that. Those ads aren't aimed at regular readers; they're aimed at 635 Senators and Congressmen. They cost $100,000 and up. But at least they're tax deductible, as a business expense.

The military favors permanent war. Congress endorses and funds it. Corporations derive huge profits. And the Supreme Court won't get in the way.

So now comes the president; he the last, best hope for peace. Instead, he promised that America's longest war will continue for years to come. He never said it would end. He never said all the troops would come home. He merely promised a steady withdrawal. Maybe.

At least, to his credit, he didn't pretend there was anything left to win.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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