Posted by: Schuyler R. Thorpe | June 27, 2011

The Reality America Must Face: Never-Ending Wars


WASHINGTON — It hardly comes up these days, how Woodrow Wilson spoke of World War I as the “war to end all wars.” It little bears repeating that Harry Truman and George Marshall thought of the Marshall Plan, designed to rebuild a Europe ravaged in World War II, as a means to end wars.

And even when the communists struck south into the Korean peninsula in 1950, with the terrifying Chinese hordes following them en masse, and when the U.S. sent troops to South Korea under the United Nations emblem only five years after the end of the “Big War,” the world could still fool itself that these “U.N. wars” would usher in a new era of restrained warfare.

The formation of the European Union after the Second World War was genuinely due to that old First World War idea. Three years ago, when I was having one of many talks in Brussels with Javier Solana, the secretary-general of NATO, he clearly averred that the organization of the new Europe could not have been formed except for the idea that “there will be no more wars in Europe.”

This impressive Spanish diplomat then explained that the EU, through its multiple organizational wings, would link the European nations on so many levels that they could not afford to go to war again.

But now, without our quite knowing it, America has been catapulted into a new period of warfare. In place of those hopeful types of pacifism, there is an acceptance of warfare that keeps going on, and on, and on. Indeed, this was the base of the neocons’ advice to President George W. Bush after Iraq and Afghanistan — it was to be “permanent warfare.”

Barack Obama, certainly no man of the left when it comes to war, also seems ready to accept warfare across the globe — certainly he has little maintained his campaign rhetoric of being against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he is constantly full of surprises: No sooner had the White House had discussions showing profound differences over Afghanistan, which is costing $100 billion a year and more lives nearly every day, than the president announced we would continue and upgrade the number of drone strikes in Yemen.

As The New York Times wrote on June 9, after the Yemeni president fled his country: “The Obama administration has intensified the American covert war in Yemen, exploiting a growing power vacuum in the country to strike at militant suspects with armed drones and fighter jets, according to American officials.”

At the same time, Afghanistan and Iraq are almost experiences of the past, even though we are still fighting and dying in both places.

Every day now, you have to count up the centers of warfare where we are either leading the pack or siccing the pack on — Somalia, or Tunisia, or Egypt, or Libya, or Bahrain, or Yemen, or Saudi Arabia, or Palestine, or Syria. And which will come next?

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has warned strongly against any future American leaders going into land wars in the Middle East — duplicating Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s warning against the stupidity of land wars in Asia — nevertheless spoke strongly to NATO last week for slashing their military budgets. The U.S. share of total defense spending in NATO, which was 50 percent in 2001, has now gone up to 75 percent; and while Europe still spends $300 billion a year on its collective defense, about half the Pentagon budget, he pointed out that its effectiveness is destroyed by too little coordination between defense ministries.

However, Gates’ warnings to the alliance somehow do not ring true, not given the history of the last 60 years since World War II. The Europeans have plenty of reason for second thoughts, having seen America’s embarrassingly destructive role in Vietnam and South Asia, not to mention Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine, Serbia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a number of small countries in between.

And, as Javier Solana has told me in several interviews, the Europeans — or, at least the elite thinkers among the Europeans — do not want to fight any more wars, having gone through the destruction of two world wars that wiped out the younger generation of men in almost every country. Yet, even while they are struggling to construct systems and structures that will obviate more warfare among themselves, there is this strange new attitude in the United States which simply assumes that warfare is natural, unavoidable and even creative — and that it’s not even worth struggling against.

The wars that the Pentagon is thinking about are not big wars, however. At least at the moment, they are the continuation of the counterterrorist warfare that we now know so well. The fight is counterinsurgency, or cyber warfare, or drone warfare. Yet, as we see in Libya, there is still plenty of space for regular bombing raids in special places.

The Middle East may work out well, although over a long, long time. Change is desperately needed there, and doubtless violence will have to be part of the recipe for change. But what seems so sad is that a great country like the United States, at the height of its power, is entertaining no discussion whatsoever about how to bring peace on Earth.

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