Here's a word that essentially dropped out of Washington's dictionary in this century: peace. It used to be part of the rhetoric, at least, of politicians there, but in the era of the war on terror it's barely made an appearance. In election year 2020, however, it's back, not as a global phenomenon or as a general term, but very specifically connected to the more than 18-year-old American war in Afghanistan. News reports now regularly refer to a "peace deal" or "peace agreement" that's been secretly (and yet half-publicly) negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban and that will reportedly be signed at the end of this month; if, that is, it doesn't collapse the way the last version of it did when Donald Trump cancelled a meeting with Taliban officials at Camp David.
However, before you assume that "peace" actually means the end of the American war in Afghanistan, you should take a very deep breath. After so many years of U.S. military "progress" there, it looks as if this deal -- should something like a ceasefire descend on that beleaguered land -- might only result in the withdrawal of perhaps a few thousand of the 12,000 American troops still stationed in that country "over time," as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper put it recently. (And don't even think about CIA personnel or private contractors.)
What will actually happen "over time" is, of course, unknown, but significant as anything labeled "peace" might prove to be, don't rule out that its real aim (at least on the American side) is to give an election gift to Donald Trump. If such a "peace deal" goes into effect, the president will be able to campaign in 2020 on fulfilling his 2016 campaign promise to end this country's "endless wars," creating -- to coin a phrase -- peace in our time and bringing home those few thousand American military personnel (or at least sending them elsewhere in the Middle East).
Meanwhile, of course, the war on terror will, in some fashion, grind on. Count on that. The real question, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore suggests today, is: In this election season, will Americans finally focus on their country's distant, deeply destructive, and staggeringly expensive wars, and so give "peace" a new, distinctly unpresidential meaning? Tom
The Paradox of America's Endless Wars
They Persist Because They Don't Exist (For Americans)
By William J. Astore
There is no significant anti-war movement in America because there's no war to protest. Let me explain. In February 2003, millions of people took to the streets around the world to protest America's march to war against Iraq. That mass movement failed. The administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had a radical plan for reshaping the Middle East and no protesters, no matter how principled or sensible or determined, were going to stop them in their march of folly. The Iraq War soon joined the Afghan invasion of 2001 as a quagmire and disaster, yet the antiwar movement died down as U.S. leaders worked to isolate Americans from news about the casualties, costs, calamities, and crimes of what was by then called "the war on terror."
And in that they succeeded. Even though the U.S. now lives in a state of perpetual war, for most Americans it's a peculiar form of non-war. Most of the time, those overseas conflicts are literally out of sight (and largely out of mind). Meanwhile, whatever administration is in power assures us that our attention isn't required, nor is our approval asked for, so we carry on with our lives as if no one is being murdered in our name.
War without dire consequences poses a conundrum. In a representative democracy, waging war should require the people's informed consent as well as their concerted mobilization. But consent is something that America's leaders no longer want or need and, with an all-volunteer military, there's no need to mobilize the rest of us.
Back in 2009, I argued that our military was, in fact, becoming a quasi-foreign legion, detached from the people and ready to be dispatched globally on imperial escapades that meant little to ordinary Americans. That remains true today in a country most of whose citizens have been at pains to divorce themselves and their families from military service -- and who can blame them, given the atrocious results of those wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East and Africa?
Yet that divorce has come at a considerable cost. It's left our society in a state of low-grade war fever, while accelerating an everyday version of militarism that Americans now accept as normal. A striking illustration of this: President Trump's recent State of the Union address, which was filled with bellicose boasts about spending trillions of dollars on wars and weaponry, assassinating foreign leaders, and embracing dubious political figures to mount illegal coups (in this case in Venezuela) in the name of oil and other resources. The response: not opposition or even skepticism from the people's representatives, but rare rapturous applause by members of both political parties, even as yet more troops were being deployed to the Middle East.
What a Youthful Hobby Has Taught Me About America's Wars
When I was a kid, I loved to collect American stamps. I had a Minuteman stamp album, and since a stamp and coin dealer was within walking distance of my house, I'd regularly head off on missions to fill the pages of that album with affordable commemorative stamps. I especially liked ones linked to military history. Given the number of wars this country has fought, there were plenty of those to add to my album.
Consider, for instance, the stamps issued after the December 7, 1941, U.S. entry into World War II. Unsurprisingly, for a war that entailed mass mobilization and involved common sacrifice, many of them were meant to highlight the war in progress and what it was all about. So, for example, stamps were issued to remind Americans about subjects like: the countries overrun by Nazi Germany; Chinese resistance to the Japanese occupation of their country; President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms (FDR, too, was an avid stamp collector); and, as the tide turned, this country's momentous victory against the Japanese on the island of Iwo Jima. Other stamps enjoined Americans to "win the war" and work "toward [a] United Nations." These and similar stamps formed a tiny part of a vast war effort accepted by nearly all Americans as necessary and just. And when the war finally ended in August 1945, Americans rightfully celebrated.
Now, try to bring to mind stamps from America's wars since then. If you're old enough, try to recall ones you stuck on envelopes during the Korean War of the 1950s, the Vietnam War of the 1960s, or especially the war on terror of this century. How many of them celebrated momentous U.S. victories? How many hailed allies working in common cause with us? How many commemorated an end to such wars?
I pay close attention to stamps. I still enjoy walking to my local post office and seeing the new commemoratives as they come out. And I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that, in stamp terms, there's simply nothing to commemorate in America's recent wars. Shouldn't that tell us something?