Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On Forever Wars

Recently my wife Sherri, noting the mass escape of hundreds of Al Qaeda prisoners from Abu Ghraib, wondered out loud why there is not more of an uproar about this in the American media. The royal baby and Weiner’s weiner attracted more attention. Sherri asked, why?
I replied that my favorite right-winger, Jerry Pournelle, had a similar perplexity. He wrote, on his blog: “We had good strategic reason to go into Afghanistan and throw out those who had harbored our enemies; and to make it plain that if they went back to harboring our enemies we would be back. Then we should have left. Instead we stayed. I do not know why.”
My answer to him, and also to her, is that the American military is not in the business of winning wars. It is in the business of forever waging wars. To win a war, in the usual sense, is to enforce a peace on the victor’s terms; but to the American military-industrial complex, war is peace, and peace on its terms means a bigger and better war. Therefore the pointless bases in Afghanistan, and the indifference to the release of hostile warriors onto the field. Ending the war is not a pressing concern.
          This is, of course, corruption. Pournelle and his friends wrote to blame the civilian leadership;  I grant their critique, but I add that the line between civilian leadership and the high command is blurred, due to the famous ‘revolving door’ between military, industry and politics. None are immune to careerism.
The problem is systemic; it goes beyond individual agendas. You see, a forever-war has an agenda of its own. It wants to go on forever.
          Forever-wars arise by accident and live on mushy plans and sliding objectives. Mission creep is the mission. It’s always six months until success. This endless snafu is not on purpose; it’s an evolved accident. Were the mission to be accomplished, then the organization will be disbanded; therefore the only long-surviving organizations are those whose missions are somehow never accomplished. It is a process of Darwinian natural selection; do not seek intelligent design in it. No-one plans the mess, nor seeks it, but somehow nobody has any incentive to get out.
          It’s a delicate balance. If a war is too obviously lost, then it ends; if it’s too obviously won, then again it ends. Therefore to survive, a forever war cannot ever be lost nor won. Endless lethality is its immortality; war is peace.  
Forever-warfare would be a successful business model, except for one small flaw: forever-warriors cannot ever win, but other warriors can.

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