Will America Always Be at War?
In a speech that would make Dick Cheney proud, the president told us (and the Pentagon repeated) this week that we are at war with Islamic State (Isis) “in same way we are at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates” – a war that will go on indefinitely, is based on a strategy that’s been failing for over a decade and will never legally be called a war.
What Obama really did, however, was confirm for everyone what the late Hunter S Thompson recognized, shortly after 9/11, when he wrote, “We are At War now – with somebody – and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.”
While the existence of the Forever War has been evident for years to anyone who has been paying attention, it is only in the last few days that it became overt US policy. Now, even generals are openly agreeing with Thompson’s sentiments. “We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime,” retired Air Force general Charles F Wald told the Washington Post. “There isn’t going to be any time where we all of a sudden can declare victory. This is what the world is going to be like for us for a long time.”
The president also announced that he wouldn’t be needing congressional approval for prolonged airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, ignoring both their constitutional obligations and his … and that we’d be funneling more weapons to a group of “moderate” fighters that hardly anyone believes is moderate nor particularly good at fighting, including Obama.
Legal scholars on the left and the right denounced the president’s unconstitutional decision to bypass Congress and authorize military action unilaterally by pinning it to the 13 year-old Authorization for Use of Military Force against al-Qaida – which expelled Isis months ago.
The justice department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which already has an egregious habit of declaring their legal interpretations of public laws classified, may not have even bothered to put this particular tortured legal interpretation in writing. As the Washington Post reported, when questioned by reporters “Administration officials have declined to provide the administration’s legal rationale in detail.”
Make no mistake: if George W Bush had used a 13 year-old law to wage war on a group that didn’t even exist when the law was passed – and done so for the express purpose of bypassing Congress – Democrats would be rioting in the streets. Instead, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid gave their blessingObama’s plan, and only a small band of progressive representatives are even pushing to put the military action to a vote.
More conservative members of Congress – many of whom that have been calling Obama a coward for weeks – have now suddenly decided to take their sweet time before acting on their own constitutional obligations and delayed any vote on it until November (if then). They are, apparently, more worried about their re-election prospects than “the most vicious, well-funded and militant terrorist organization we have ever seen” as Senator Dianne Feinstein put it last Sunday.
Thankfully after the president’s speech, the media seems to have finally noticed that the coming war on Isis is both unnecessary and impossible to win. Despite Feinstein’s statement that “The threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated”, both the New York Times and Washington Post published prominent stories documenting how virtually all “American intelligence agencies have concluded that [ISIS] poses no immediate threat to the United States.” This is in stark contrast to Congress, which (as The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin has documented), seems to be in a contest over who can make the most ridiculously hyperbolic statement about Isis.
The Times and Post also ran detailed stories looking at the inescapable morass into which this war will quickly turn, along with how “success” will likely be impossible given the myriad complexities at play – including the precarious Iraqi government coalition, our supposed enemy Bashir al-Assad in Syria and the double dealing and disinterest of many of the US’s so-called allies in the region.
Somehow, despite all this, the Obama administration thinks it can “destroy” Isis, though, as the Post noted, the US government has not been able to destroy al-Qaida or any terrorist group in the last decade “through two wars, thousands of drone strikes and hundreds of covert operations around the world.”
The only question now is how far this Forever War against Isis goes. How long until there is a clamoring for a ground invasion in Iraq or Syria – or both – when the current strategy of airstrikes and a massive influx of arms inevitably fails?
As The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman reported, there are already 1,200 special operations forces and “advisers” on the ground in Iraq. The Army’s own newspaper, Stars and Stripes, reported that the US Army Contracting Command has put out a call for contractors – ie retired soldiers now operating as mercenaries – to help bolster the Iraqi government. How many troops have to be on the ground before we admit that we have “ground troops” in Iraq?
Because in the Forever War, it’s only a matter of time.