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The Permanence of Permanent War, Part 1: Setting the Stage

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President Barack Obama's recent speech (1) on ending, or winding down, or cutting back on, or doing something to/with the "War on Terror" that the U.S. has supposedly been engaged in since the events of 9/11 has received a great deal of attention (2). Indeed the United States has been engaged in what can be described as "Permanent War" since the Bush/Cheney invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. To begin to answer the above question one can begin with an analysis of Iraq in particular (3).

First of all, one should note (and I must say that I have on a number of occasions) that, according to one retired Army General, to call a military action a "War on Terror" is akin to calling another action a "War on Flanking Manoeuvres." "Terror," however you want to define it, is a tactic used by an enemy. It is not itself the/an enemy. Second of all, in my cited column I noted that sometime after the Iraq invasion it started to become clear that the primary objective was not at the beginning what many of us on the Left thought it was: "oil and bases." It was rather to create an on-going war itself. In summary, at the time I observed that the CheneyBush War Policy was becoming curiouser and curiouser. "Things are getting better in Iraq," they said, when they were clearly getting worse. "We must fight on to 'victory' " they said, without ever defining what they mean by "victory." And "we must fight on to 'victory' " when virtually every other military and political authority on the matter said that no matter how you would define it, "victory" was impossible.

And then, one could connect the dots: 1. As is very well known, Bush/Cheney lied the U.S. into war. 2. There was no post-war planning, as is also well known. The U.S. State Department had a plan, and all 2,200 pages of it were just ignored. 3. The museums looting that could easily have been prevented could have part of a plan (well a different kind of plan) to develop permanent chaos. That would also explain the staffing of Paul Bremer's pro-consulate by totally unqualified, very young, Republican political operatives: not accidental or careless, but purposeful. Let's do whatever we can to gum up the infrastructure even further than it is already gummed up by Saddam and our invasion. 4. In late 2006, the report of The Iraq Study Group, headed by no less than the man who coordinated the effort to steal the 2000 election for Bush, James Baker, had provided a perfect cover for withdrawal to begin then. CheneyBush disposed of it before the ink was dry, and the famous/infamous "Surge" was begun (4). 5. At various times, the major Muslim countries offered to provide cover for an American departure, especially if it were attached to a real settlement of the Palestine/Israel problem. They were not taken up on those offers.

In the 2008 Presidential campaign, John McCain at one time rattled on about "staying in Iraq for 50 years." Indeed, the US eventually left Iraq, not with any kind of "victory" but because it was pushed out, by the very puppet government that Bush/Cheney set up. That left Afghanistan. At first Pres. Obama ramped up that war with his own "surge." Eventually he announced a plan for "leaving," (not too-well designed, but we do have to hope that when the major announced draw-downs of US forces begin in 2014 he will not use the phrase "major combat operations are over"). But then he does intervene, both literally and figuratively "off-shore," in the Libyan revolt against Kaddafi. The U.S. does have some major interests to pursue on that country. That, yet to be explained at all, apparently led to the American Ambassador being in a very unstable part of that country (but the part that sits over a large sweet oil basin), lightly guarded, which then tragically led to his death.

Of course the Fox"News"Channel and the GOP were absolutely thrilled with this outcome (not the deaths, of course) but with how they seemed to have come about and the Administration's clumsy handling of the story (most likely in an attempt to disguise the CIA's role in the whole fiasco). This has given them the political gift that keeps on giving: "Benghazi," of course. And then there is the whole drone monstrosity, advertised as part of the "War on Terror." On the other hand, the President is so far refusing, openly at least, to get involved in the Syrian Civil War. Presumably this is because in his view, while Assad is "bad," what might well come out of a "rebel" victory could be even worse (and in that regard he is of course right).

Nevertheless, all of a sudden Pres. Obama announces that he wants to start to wind down this "War on Terror," and cut back on, if not totally eliminate, for example the "Drone War" (even though, on another level, he will keep US imperialism going on unabated [5]). There is strong "see-through-it" criticism of Obama coming from the Left (6). But, clearly seeing the possibility that if Obama can somehow get what he says he wants in this matter of ending the Permanent War, the Republicans proceed to go off the deep end. John McCain, in a not only unauthorized but totally unannounced move, goes to visit one faction of the Syrian rebels and, contrary to current Administration policy, announces that the US should get involved in actively supporting them. Then dear-old Lindsey Graham, the same Lindsey Graham who led the impeachment battle against Pres. Clinton when he was in the House of Representatives, announces that he wants to go way beyond just that. He not only doesn't want to cut back on the "war on Terror." He wants to expand it (7).

And so this is where we stand at the moment. In Part 2 of this series, I shall consider the question "Why?" Why are the Republicans and some Democrats too so interested in maintaining the Permanent War?

References :

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1.        New York Times, May 23, 2012, "Obama's Speech on Drone Policy," text, .

2.        See for a sampling of responses/commentary.

3.        Jonas, S., " Dr. J's Commentary: The CheneyBush War Policy: Connecting the Dots for Permanent War," BuzzFlash , 02/27/2007.      

    4.        Jonas, S., " The Surge is Working -- for Bush and Cheney," BuzzFlash, 07/24/2008.       

5.        Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich: The Eternal War? (     

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6.        Greenwald, Glen, "Obama's terrorism speech: Seeing what you want to see,"  

7.        GOP's War On Terror 2.0: More Drones, More Missiles, More Boots On Ground

By David Axe on May 30, 2013 at 9:32 AM, h ttp://


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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS, is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books on health policy, health and wellness, and sports and regular exercise. In (more...)

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