The Long War posture

April 26, 2006|By GREGORY D. FOSTER

The American public is being lulled into a false sense of insecurity. And insecurity, constructed or real, is what gives those in power - our purported protectors - their self-righteous aura of indispensability.

President Bush; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace; the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John P. Abizaid; and the recently released Quadrennial Defense Review, among other authoritative purveyors of received wisdom, all warn us that we're embroiled in - and destined to be further subjected to - what is to be known as a Long War.

It would be one thing if such semantic legerdemain reflected revelatory strategic insight or a more sophisticated appreciation of the intrinsic nature of postmodern conflicts and enemies. But that is not the case. In fact, it's hard to avoid the cynical view that America's senior military leaders are willfully playing public relations handmaiden to their political overlords at the expense of a naive, trusting citizenry.

Even as Long War rhetoric artfully circumvents such politically discomfiting terminology as "insurgency," its underlying message should be clear: We dutiful subjects should be quietly patient and not expect too much (if anything) too soon (if at all) from our rulers as they prosecute their unilaterally proclaimed war without end against ubiquitous evil.

The intent of the message is to dull our senses, to dampen our expectations, to thereby deaden the critical, dissenting forces of democracy that produce political turbulence and impede autocratic license. Being warned here amounts to being disarmed - intellectually and civically.

For the unsuspecting among us, this is what adopting and institutionalizing a Long War posture actually means:

It will give permanency to the manufactured state of collective fear and emergency that provides pretext for the further imperialization of the presidency.

It will thereby extend the self-marginalization of a cowardly Congress that is shamelessly willing to waive its constitutional prerogatives rather than stand up to a self-anointed wartime commander in chief.

It will have a "cry wolf" effect by numbing the public, which is tired of the permanent state of false emergency, to real threats and emergencies when they arise.

It will provide a defensible excuse for those in power to indefinitely postpone any meaningful demonstration of conclusive results, and thus full accountability, in their expanding martial forays abroad (except, of course, when it is politically expedient to declare that a successful end is at hand in a particular situation).

It similarly will provide an excuse for the continued neglect of other critical national (especially "soft" domestic) priorities - Social Security, health care, education, the environment - in favor of war's overriding importance.

It will aggravate the undisciplined, unchecked practice of prolonged deficit spending that threatens to produce severe economic stagnation and budgetary crisis, especially as baby boomers become eligible for retirement.

It will perpetuate the use of "emergency" supplemental military spending to circumvent the checks of the regular budget process and surreptitiously pad a bloated, gluttonous defense budget.

It will lend continuing tacit legitimacy to the regularized use of force as a first (rather than a last) resort, diminishing the legitimacy and desirability of time-consuming, seemingly less decisive diplomacy.

It will further blur the lines of demarcation between war and peace, domestic and international, military and police, criminal justice and intelligence, normalcy and emergency. The blurring of lines among military, police and intelligence activities will make the military less accountable to civilian authority.

It will further threaten civil liberties, marginalize dissent and dissenters as unpatriotic, heighten government secrecy at the expense of transparency and engender continuing media self-censorship, all in the name of necessity, urgency and clear and present danger.

It will perpetuate the self-serving Pentagon mythology of defense transformation by fostering the misleading impression that the rhetorical commitment to the Long War is matched by an underlying reality of overhaul in military missions, structures and capabilities.

It will accentuate the alienation of the military from society in two ways: first, by reinforcing the belief of those in uniform that they are especially at risk and making undue sacrifices on behalf of a soft, lazy, unappreciative public; second, by exacerbating recruiting shortfalls and the attendant prospect of an increasingly unrepresentative force.

America's ruling elite has once again opted for rhetorical contrivance and the politics of fear over the bold, creative strategic leadership expected of the world's self-proclaimed only superpower.

Mesmerized by their own illogic, they have failed to recognize that perpetual war can never lead to the ideal state of perpetual peace that Immanuel Kant spoke of over two centuries ago. It can only drain us of all we are and possess.

Gregory D. Foster is a professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University. The views expressed are his own. His e-mail is

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