The ‘Long War’ fallacy

For the United States, the prospect of permanent war now beckons.

Well into the first decade of this generational struggle, Americans remained oddly confused about its purpose. Is the aim to ensure access to cheap and abundant oil? Spread democracy? Avert nuclear proliferation? Perpetuate the American empire? Preserve the American way of life? From the outset, the enterprise that Gates now calls the “Long War” has been about all of these things and more.

Back in September 2001, Rumsfeld put it this way: “We have a choice — either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live; and we chose the latter.” In this context, “they” represent the billion or so Muslims inhabiting the greater Middle East.

When Rumsfeld offered this statement of purpose and President Bush committed the United States to open-ended war, both assumed that U.S. military supremacy was beyond dispute. At the time, most Americans shared that assumption. A conviction that “the troops” were unstoppable invested the idea of transforming the greater Middle East with a superficial plausibility.

Editor’s Comment — Bacevich closes by saying:

We can either persist in our efforts to change the way they live — in which case the war of no exits will surely lead to bankruptcy and exhaustion. Or we can recognize the folly of generational war and choose instead to put our own house in order: curbing our appetites, paying our bills and ending our self-destructive dependency on foreign oil and foreign credit.

“Dependency on foreign oil” is a cheap line that’s long overdue being ditched. It’s become synonymous with America’s ties to the Middle East. The fact about which nearly every American seems to be ignorant about is that America’s number one oil supplier is Canada. America has less need to reduce its dependence on foreign oil than it and the rest of the world has to reduce our dependence on oil – period. It’s massive consumption – not the location of the sources – that’s the issue.

Iraq: Will we ever get out?

The two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost about $700 billion, and the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimate that costs such as continuing medical care will add another $2 trillion even if the Iraq war ends now. But the true cost of the Iraq war ought to include something else as well—some fraction of the rise in the price of oil which we might call the Iraq war oil surcharge. If we blame the war for only $10 of the $80–$90 rise in the price of a barrel of oil since 2003, that would still come to $200 million a day.

At some point the government will have to begin paying for these wars—if it can. What looks increasingly like a serious recession, complicated by an expensive federal bailout of financial institutions, may combine to convince even John McCain that the time has come to declare a victory and head for home. It’s possible. But the United States did not acquire a $9 trillion national debt by caution with money. A decision to back out of the war is going to require something else—resolve backed by a combination of arguments that withdrawal won’t be a victory for al-Qaeda or Iran, that it isn’t prompted by fear, that it doesn’t represent defeat, that it’s going to make us stronger, that it’s going to win the applause of the world, that the people left behind have been helped, and that whatever mess remains is somebody else’s fault and responsibility.

Missing from this list is victory—the one thing that could make withdrawal automatic and easy. Its absence makes the decision an easy one for McCain—no victory, no withdrawal. But everybody else needs to think this matter through the hard way, trying to understand the real consequences of easing away from a bloody, inconclusive war. After six and a half years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Democratic candidates for president and the public weighing a choice between them have a moment of relative quiet, right now, with the primaries nearly over and the nominating conventions still ahead, to consider where we are before deciding, to the extent that presidents or publics ever do decide, what to do.

The U.S. quietly slashes the reward posted for the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq

The U.S. government has quietly withdrawn a $5 million reward it was offering for the killing or capture of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, named by Pentagon officials as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Masri had been one of America’s most wanted figures in Iraq ever since his identity was revealed in 2006. But U.S. News has learned that the bounty for him was reduced and that he was unceremoniously dropped in late February from the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program, which offers cash payments for information that leads to the capture or killing of wanted terrorists.

Currently, the bounty for the Egyptian militant stands at $100,000, a more modest payout that is now covered by the separate—and decidedly lower profile—Department of Defense Rewards Program.

Al-Sadr ceasefire allows troops to enter Shia slum

The anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is the great survivor of Iraqi politics. In a tactical retreat he yesterday authorised a ceasefire under which the Iraqi army, but not US troops, will enter the great Shia slum of Sadr City in Baghdad while Mr Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia will stop firing rockets and mortars into the fortified Green Zone.

The ceasefire agreement is intended to end seven weeks of fighting in which more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed during US-backed Iraqi government offensives against Mehdi Army strongholds in Basra and Baghdad. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has emerged strengthened by his confrontation with the Mehdi Army, but the Sadrists survive to fight another day. “We have agreed on a ceasefire and to end displaying arms in public,” said Salah al-Obeidi, spokesman for Mr Sadr. “But we did not agree to disbanding the Mehdi Army or handing over its weapons.”

Racist incidents give some Obama campaigners pause

Danielle Ross was alone in an empty room at the Obama campaign headquarters in Kokomo, Ind., a cellphone in one hand, a voter call list in the other. She was stretched out on the carpeted floor wearing laceless sky-blue Converses, stories from the trail on her mind. It was the day before Indiana’s primary, and she had just been chased by dogs while canvassing in a Kokomo suburb. But that was not the worst thing to occur since she postponed her sophomore year at Middle Tennessee State University, in part to hopscotch America stumping for Barack Obama.

Here’s the worst: In Muncie, a factory town in the east-central part of Indiana, Ross and her cohorts were soliciting support for Obama at malls, on street corners and in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and they ran into “a horrible response,” as Ross put it, a level of anti-black sentiment that none of them had anticipated.

McCain in the mud

In 2000, I boarded John McCain’s campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express, and, in a metaphorical sense, never got off. Here, truly, was something new under the political sun — a politician who bristled with integrity and seemed to have nothing to hide. I continue to admire McCain for those and other reasons, but the bus I once rode has gone wobbly. Recently, it veered into the mud.

I have in mind McCain’s charge that Barack Obama is the favored presidential candidate of Hamas. The citation for this remark is the statement of Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas political adviser, who said, “We like Mr. Obama, and we hope that he will win the election.” Yousef likened Obama to John F. Kennedy and said that Obama “has a vision to change America” and with it the world. Yousef apparently got so carried away that he forgot that Obama has repeatedly called Hamas a “terrorist organization.”

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One thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: May 13

  1. Phil Sheehan

    Bacevich and Powers come to depressingly similar conclusions. Bacevich: “The prospect of permanent war now beckons.” Powers: “Getting out of Iraq will require just as much resolution as it took to get in—and the same kind of resolution: a willingness to ignore the consequences.”

    About the racist incidents — It is hard for us to be, as a people, a great deal better than the worst of us. And among the worst of us remains a cohort ready to take out their frustrations on any available target. Those targets, of course, will be people outside the cohort, or outside its ostensible boundaries. Blacks, then, and women and foreigners and gays.

    Another Bacevich quote: “We must change America, not the world.”

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