This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. =
Washington's Military Addiction
And The Ruins Still to Come
By Tom Engelhardt
There are the news stories that genuinely surprise you, and then there are the ones that you could write in your sleep before they happen. Let me concoct an example for you:
"Top American and European military leaders are weighing options to step up the fight against the Islamic State in the Mideast, including possibly sending more U.S. forces into Iraq, Syria, and Libya, just as Washington confirmed the second American combat casualty in Iraq in as many months."
Oh wait, that was actually the lead sentence in a May 3rd Washington Times piece by Carlo Muñoz. Honestly, though, it could have been written anytime in the last few months by just about anyone paying any attention whatsoever, and it surely will prove reusable in the months to come (with casualty figures altered, of course). The sad truth is that across the Greater Middle East and expanding parts of Africa, a similar set of lines could be written ahead of time about the use of Special Operations forces, drones, advisers, whatever, as could the sorry results of making such moves in [add the name of your country of choice here].
Put another way, in a Washington that seems incapable of doing anything but worshiping at the temple of the U.S. military, global policymaking has become a remarkably mindless military-first process of repetition. It's as if, as problems built up in your life, you looked in the closet marked "solutions" and the only thing you could ever see was one hulking, over-armed soldier, whom you obsessively let loose, causing yet more damage.
How Much, How Many, How Often, and How Destructively
In Iraq and Syria, it's been mission creep all the way. The B-52s barely made it to the battle zone for the first time and were almost instantaneously in the air, attacking Islamic State militants. U.S. firebases are built ever closer to the front lines. The number of special ops forces continues to edge up. American weapons flow in (ending up in god knows whose hands). American trainers and advisers follow in ever increasing numbers, and those numbers are repeatedly fiddled with to deemphasize how many of them are actually there. The private contractors begin to arrive in numbers never to be counted. The local forces being trained or retrained have their usual problems in battle. American troops and advisers who were never, never going to be "in combat" or "boots on the ground" themselves now have their boots distinctly on the ground in combat situations. The first American casualties are dribbling in. Meanwhile, conditions in tottering Iraq and the former nation of Syria grow ever murkier, more chaotic, and less amenable by the week to any solution American officials might care for.
And the response to all this in present-day Washington?
You know perfectly well what the sole imaginable response can be: sending in yet more weapons, boots, air power, special ops types, trainers, advisers, private contractors, drones, and funds to increasingly chaotic conflict zones across significant swaths of the planet. Above all, there can be no serious thought, discussion, or debate about how such a militarized approach to our world might have contributed to, and continues to contribute to, the very problems it was meant to solve. Not in our nation's capital, anyway.
The only questions to be argued about are how much, how many, how often, and how destructively. In other words, the only "antiwar" position imaginable in Washington, where accusations of weakness or wimpishness are a dime a dozen and considered lethal to a political career, is how much less of more we can afford, militarily speaking, or how much more of somewhat less we can settle for when it comes to militarized death and destruction. Never, of course, is a genuine version of less or a none-at-all option really on that "table" where, it's said, all policy options are kept.
Think of this as Washington's military addiction in action. We've been watching it for almost 15 years without drawing any of the obvious conclusions. And lest you imagine that "addiction" is just a figure of speech, it isn't. Washington's attachment -- financial, tactical, and strategic -- to the U.S. military and its supposed solutions to more or less all problems in what used to be called "foreign policy" should by now be categorized as addictive. Otherwise, how can you explain the last decade and a half in which no military action from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to Libya worked out half-well in the long run (or even, often enough, in the short run), and yet the U.S. military remains the option of first, not last, resort in just about any imaginable situation? All this in a vast region in which failed states are piling up, nations are disintegrating, terror insurgencies are spreading, humongous population upheavals are becoming the norm, and there are refugee flows of a sort not seen since significant parts of the planet were destroyed during World War II.
Either we're talking addictive behavior or failure is the new success.
Keep in mind, for instance, that the president who came into office swearing he would end a disastrous war and occupation in Iraq is now overseeing a new war in an even wider region that includes Iraq, a country that is no longer quite a country, and Syria, a country that is now officially kaput. Meanwhile, in the other war he inherited, Barack Obama almost immediately launched a military-backed "surge" of U.S. forces, the only real argument being over whether 40,000 (or even as many as 80,000) new U.S. troops would be sent into Afghanistan or, as the "antiwar" president finally decided, a mere 30,000 (which made him an absolute wimp to his opponents). That was 2009. Part of that surge involved an announcement that the withdrawal of American combat forces would begin in 2011. Seven years later, that withdrawal has once again been halted in favor of what the military has taken to privately calling a "generational approach" -- that is, U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan into at least the 2020s.
The military term "withdrawal" may, however, still be appropriate even if the troops are staying in place. After all, as with addicts of any sort, the military ones in Washington can't go cold turkey without experiencing painful symptoms of withdrawal. In American political culture, these manifest themselves in charges of "weakness" when it comes to "national security" that could prove devastating in the next election. That's why those running for office compete with one another in over-the-top descriptions of what they will do to enemies and terrorists (from acts of torture to carpet-bombing) and in even more over-the-top promises of "rebuilding" or "strengthening" what's already the largest, most expensive military on the planet, a force better funded at present than those of at least the next seven nations combined.
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