Thursday, April 07, 2016

The High Price of PermaWar - And You're Picking Up the Tab

"Let’s face it: in times of war, 

the Constitution tends to take a beating."

Andrew Bacevich makes a pretty good point. In times of war rules get bent, sometimes broken. Our elected executive are quick to proclaim themselves a "wartime president" or a "wartime prime minister" without adding that they take that as bestowing on them certain ultra-constitutional powers, sometimes privileges that often come at the direct expense of the people. 

Civilians put up with all sorts of intrusions and inconveniences in the name of patriotic sacrifice during wartime. Rationing is one example. Added surveillance another. In today's world of advanced, instant communication your access into the workings of the state is curtailed, even monitored, while the state's access into the minutiae of your life can be greatly expanded, behind closed doors of course.

And when this government goes into stealth mode it can, and often does, take liberties. It's simply not in the nature of government to restrain itself when it doesn't have to or when there's nothing to gain by it.

Civilians put up with a lot of these intrusions and sacrifices "for the duration." In other words you tolerate the loss of freedoms and rights as part of the war effort with the understanding that everything will go back to the way it was, all those rights and freedoms will be restored, once the war is over.

That was all perfectly understandable in the days when a war might last two years or four or six. But we don't have those wars any more. Today we're in an era of PermaWar, war without end, incoherent warfare that blends state actors with quasi-state actors, rebels, insurgents, terrorists and criminal gangs ensuring that one war bleeds into the next. 

War used to be a period of state violence bookended by peace. We don't chase that objective, peace, any longer. We're not looking for the next bookend. We wouldn't know where to find it and, even if we did, we're probably not willing to pay the price of the prize.

We are in the era of PermaWar, war without end. That's bad. Worse still is our lack of resolve to win it; our complete lack of any idea of what victory would even look like; the grim reality that we do not control the initiative, that has passed to the other side; and the fact that we don't know where the exit door is or if there even is one. Q-U-A-G-M-I-R-E.

Remember the bad old days when this all started, after 9/11, in Afghanistan? Then came Saddam's Iraq. For a while we rained "death from above" on Gaddafi's forces in Libya. Today our side is preaching the gospel of aerial mayhem in lots of places including Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Algeria, Afghanistan (of course), Iraq and Sudan. Oh yeah, Syria. With our vast riches and equally vast firepower we must have racked up one victory atop another. There must be a stack of them by now. What, no? 

What about the other side? Have they scored any victories? Hell, yes. ISIS, al Qaeda and their affiliates have set up shop across the Muslim world from the westernmost reaches of North Africa to Malaysia, the breadth of the Middle East and South Asia, on to Southeast Asia and into the southern territories of China and Russia and, as we've seen of late, into Europe too. They're on a roll.

And, while America hasn't seen a repeat of the scale of 9/11 it has experienced some terrorist incidents, some Islamist in nature, others just homegrown redneck extremism. And so it goes.

Meanwhile we keep picking fights that we can't finish, don't have a plan to finish, much less win, and where the only option is to cut and run after a decent interval of laying waste to some hellhole or another.

What do we say to our kids? How do we explain sticking them with PermaWar. Look at it this way. If your child is still too young to get a driver's licence, she or he has never known a Canada not in the embrace of PermaWar, a Canada at peace. Their country has been at war all their lives and it's a good bet that their kids will be born into PermaWar too.

PermaWar is a bit like PonziWar. You keep dragging new people in and fleecing them of their future to cover your current obligations and, in the process, some very big companies are pocketing enormous riches while diminishing the nation and its people.

So, kids, good luck - and, oh yeah, sorry.


Anonymous said...

Lots of folks still believe that Iraq invasion was an unanticipated blunder...

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, in a way. But, you know, history doesn’t repeat itself exactly twice. What I did warn about when I testified in front of Congress in 2002, I said if you want to worry about a state, it shouldn’t be Iraq, it should be Iran. But this government, our administration, wanted to worry about Iraq, not Iran.

I knew why, because I had been through the Pentagon right after 9/11. About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”

The Mound of Sound said...

I've never had much time for Wesley Clark or his opinions which were often motivated by narrow self-interest.

When he discovered that his political masters had drawn up a list of countries to invade, plainly illegally, he chose to say nothing. He didn't engage his superior officers, he didn't convey the information to members of Congress, he didn't resign and go public. He just tucked it into his pocket, fodder to use another day.

He was avidly in support of an American attack and conquest of Iran, arguing that Iran, not Saddam's Iraq, ought to have been Washington's target.

But what left me in no doubt that Clark can't be trusted is when he ordered British troops to attack and overpower Russian troops at Pristina airport in 1999. The British commander, General Mike Jackson, refused the order saying, "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you."