“Wars not make one great.” – Yoda
The greatest indiscretion of the American Federal Government may be our War Policy. To varying degrees, most Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly support a foreign policy of interventionism and perpetual war. Our government is entrenched in the practice of using force. Ever since President Woodrow Wilson announced his intention to, “make the world safe for democracy,” and launched us into the first World War, our nation has sustained a continuous military presence over the planet, facing but a breeze of opposition from a libertarian leaning minority. We have bases and troops in at least 150 countries and are constantly engaged in voluntary combat. Additional forms of War, though more abstract, are fought domestically as the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, and the War on Christmas. In all cases, the War is simply the use of legalized force against the object selected for destruction by the majority.
When it comes to actual fighting wars, the Constitution requires that Congress declare war, but this power has passed more tightly into the grasp of each successive President. The last Constitutional war was declared in 1942. Since then, American presidents have ordered seemingly endless “conflicts” and “operations” which send troops to distant nations which pose varying degrees of debatable threat. You know them as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and more.
Former Congressman Ron Paul has called these illegal wars “unwinnable” because, when there is no legitimate cause for involvement, there can be no path to victory. This is not just an American problem, it is an essential element of non-defensive wars that lack clear reason.
The disorganized nature of war in the crumbling post-Soviet fighting between Georgia and Abkhazia is described in Eight Pieces of Empire by Lawrence Scott Sheets; “We (the fighters) didn’t even have a specific goal, and we started looting villages along the way… As a result, in the span of a month, we manged to make enemies of out of the entire population… With such sage military planning (more driven by testosterone than strategy), the end result of the War That Nobody Started would be predictable.”
The most recent maturation of the American War Policy is Barack Obama’s use of predator drones to carry out offensive strikes in the Middle East. Though in use prior to his administration, the drones have been more frequently used by the CIA for covert operations, and though targeting “threats,” have been blamed for civilian deaths and stirring up hostility against the United States. Obama is comfortable enough with this policy to joke about it, but generating blowback is no laughing matter. Retired General Stanley McChrystal said drones exacerbate a “perception of American arrogance that says, ‘Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.’”
Even if legitimate threats are targeted, we have gone way beyond anything approximating acceptable behavior. This week, a drone attack killed eight militants in Pakistan. There is no reason for American drones to be present in that country except as the part it plays in the War on Terror, a never ending story which doesn’t have an achievable goal and only amounts to an excuse to kill a handful of suspected terrorists today so that two handfuls can spring up tomorrow. Without precise goals, the success of a vague war which basically relies on the principle of “button mashing” is subjective, politically motivated, and can’t easily be stopped. When the White House announced that they are considering withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan by 2014, they might as well have said 2015, 2016 or 2095, since they don’t even know what they are trying to achieve between now and then. Just waiting for the next war.
I doubt we will remove “all troops” from that country, as we still have about 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, a country that surrendered almost 70 years ago, and whom the United States considers to be one of its closest allies.