Consider it strange. The U.S. has been fighting in Somalia on and off (mostly on) since the early 1990s. (Who, of a certain age, doesn't remember the "Black Hawk Down" fiasco?) Almost 30 years later, at a time when the U.N. secretary-general, supported by dozens of countries, has reasonably enough called for a global ceasefire so that humanity can refocus on "the true fight of our lives," bringing Covid-19 under control, the U.S. is still at war there. At a time when American naval vessels are turning into pandemic hot zones and the man in the White House has repeatedly denounced this country's "ridiculous endless wars," the Pentagon's war in Somalia against an insurgent terror group by the name of al-Shabaab is actually escalating. No kidding.
Of course, if you were only attending to the mainstream media, filled with little but coronaviral news (and even more viral news about our president), you wouldn't know it. You might hardly know that the U.S. military was involved in Somalia at all. You would have to read TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse's recent investigative piece at the Intercept to discover that U.S. air strikes in that country have risen radically in recent times. In the Obama years, from 2009-2017, the U.S. carried out a total of 36 such strikes in Somalia. According to U.S. Africa Command, by early April 2020, only four months into this devastating year, 39 such strikes had already been launched, essentially ensuring that the annual bounty of destruction there will top last year's record 63 strikes. And mind you, at this moment, Covid-19 is beginning to tear a path of death through that country's capital, Mogadishu.
And that, as retired U.S. Army Major and TomDispatch regular Danny Sjursen makes clear today, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to America's never-ending wars of this century. That they are now becoming pandemic wars seems to matter little in Washington. With that in mind, Sjursen, whose new book, Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War, will be published this fall, takes a deep dive into the future of American war in a Covid-19 world. Hang on tight. Tom
The Coming of a Social-Distancing Version of War
The Future of Forever War, American-Style
By Danny Sjursen
Covid-19, an ongoing global human tragedy, may have at least one silver lining. It has led millions of people to question America's most malignant policies at home and abroad.
Regarding Washington's war policies abroad, there's been speculation that the coronavirus might, in the end, put a dent in such conflicts, if not prove an unintended peacemaker -- and with good reason, since a cash-flush Pentagon has proven impotent as a virus challenger. Meanwhile, it's become ever more obvious that, had a fraction of "defense" spending been invested in chronically underfunded disease control agencies, this country's response to the coronavirus crisis might have been so much better.
Curiously enough, though, despite President Trump's periodic complaints about America's "ridiculous endless wars," his administration has proven remarkably unwilling to agree to even a modest rollback in U.S. imperial ambitions. In some theaters of operation -- Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, and Somalia above all -- Washington has even escalated its militarism in a fit of macabre, largely under-the-radar pandemic opportunism.
For all that, this is an obvious moment to reflect on whether America's nearly two-decade-old "war on terror" (perhaps better thought of as a set of wars of terror) might actually end. Predictions are tricky matters. Nonetheless, the spread of Covid-19 has offered a rare opportunity to raise questions, challenge frameworks, and critically consider what "ending" war might even mean for this country.
In some sense, our post-9/11 wars have been gradually subsiding for some time now. Even though the total number of U.S. troops deployed to the Middle East has actually risen in the Trump years, those numbers pale when compared to the U.S. commitment at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The number of American soldiers taking fire overseas has, in recent years, dropped to levels unthinkably low for those of us who entered the military around the time of the 9/11 attacks.
That said, in these years, even unwinnable, unnecessary wars have proven remarkably unendable. For evidence of this, look no further than that perennial war hawk Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Given the lack of success of the various campaigns run by U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, across that continent and the Pentagon's stated desire to once again pivot to great-power competition with China and Russia, just before the pandemic arrived on our shores Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced plans for a modest troop drawdown in parts of Africa. Appalled by even such minor retrenchments, Graham, leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers, reportedly confronted Esper and threatened to make his "life hell," should the secretary downsize U.S. forces there.
Less than two months later, AFRICOM declared a public-health emergency at the largest of this country's African bases in Djibouti amid concerns that even far smaller, more spartan American facilities on that continent lacked the requisite medical equipment to fight the spreading virus. Whether the pandemic facilitates Esper's contemplated reductions remains to be seen. (A mid-April AFRICOM press release offering reassurance that the "command's partnership endures during Covid-19" doesn't bode well for such a transformation.)
Still, the disease will surely have some effect. Just as quarantine and social-distancing measures have transformed people's lives and work in the U.S., Washington's war fighting will undoubtedly have to adapt, too. Minimally, expect the Pentagon to wage wars (largely hidden from public view) that require ever fewer of its troops to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with allies and fewer still to die doing so. Expect Washington to mandate and the Pentagon to practice what might increasingly be thought of as social-distancing-style warfare.
Soldiers will operate in ever smaller teams. Just as senior leaders constantly counseled us junior officers in the bad old days to "put an Iraqi face between you and the problem," so today's and tomorrow's troopers will do their best to place drones or (less precious) proxy lives between themselves and enemies of any sort. Meanwhile, the already immense chasm between the American public and the wars being fought in its name is only likely to widen. What may emerge from these years is a version of war so unrecognizable that, while still unending, it may no longer pass for war in the classic sense.
To grasp how we've made it to a social-distancing version of war, it's necessary to go back to the earlier part of this century, years before a pandemic like Covid-19 was on anyone's radar screen.
American Wars Don't End, They Evolve
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