All you really need to know is that, at Robert Gates’s Pentagon, they’re still high on the term “the Long War.” It’s a phrase that first crept into our official vocabulary back in 2002, but was popularized by CENTCOM commander John Abizaid, in 2004 — already a fairly long(-war-)time ago. Now, Secretary of Defense Gates himself is plugging the term, as he did in April at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, quoting no less an authority than Leon Trotsky:
The Long War has also made it front and center in the new “national defense strategy,” which is essentially a call to prepare for a future of two, three, many Afghanistans. (“For the foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent extremist movements will be the central objective of the U.S.”) If you thought for a moment that in the next presidency some portion of those many billions of dollars now being sucked into the black holes of Iraq and Afghanistan was about to go into rebuilding American infrastructure or some other frivolous task, think again. Just read between the lines of that new national defense strategy document where funding for future conventional wars against “rising powers” is to be maintained, while funding for “irregular warfare” is to rise. The Pentagonization of the U.S., in other words, shows no sign of slowing down. Here, by the way, is the emphasis in the new Gates Doctrine — from a recent Pentagon briefing by the secretary of defense — that should make us all worry. “The principal challenge, therefore, is how to ensure that the capabilities gained and counterinsurgency lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the lessons re-learned from other places where we have engaged in irregular warfare over the last two decades, are institutionalized within the defense establishment.” Back to the future?
And here’s a riddle for our moment: How long is a Long War, when you’ve been there before (as were, in the case of Afghanistan, Alexander the Great, the imperial Brits, and the Soviets)? On the illusions of victory and the many miscalculations of the Bush administration when it came to the nature of American military power, no one in recent years has been more incisive than Andrew Bacevich, who experienced an earlier version of the Long War firsthand in Vietnam. His new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, has just been published. Short, sharp, to the point, it should be the book of the election season, if only anyone in power, or who might come to power, were listening. (The following piece, the first of two parts this week at Tomdispatch, is adapted from section three of that book, “The Military Crisis.”) But if you want the measure of our strange, dystopian moment, Barack Obama reportedly has a team of 300 foreign policy advisers — just about everyone ever found, however brain-dead, in a Democratic presidential rolodex — and yet Bacevich’s name isn’t among them. What else do we need to know? Tom
Illusions of Victory
“War is the great auditor of institutions,” the historian Corelli Barnett once observed. Since 9/11, the United States has undergone such an audit and been found wanting. That adverse judgment applies in full to America’s armed forces.
Valor does not offer the measure of an army’s greatness, nor does fortitude, nor durability, nor technological sophistication. A great army is one that accomplishes its assigned mission. Since George W. Bush inaugurated his global war on terror, the armed forces of the United States have failed to meet that standard.