War is the province of chance. in no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. it increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.- Karl von Clausewitz
We are coming up on the beginning of the 13th year of our current wars. Wars that when they began were believed to be easy and uncomplicated and since they were being waged against enemies that were “backward” and not hi-tech. Thus we were promised that they would be short in duration, low in cost and casualties. We elected the war option as the quick and easy way to win, neglecting the words of the venerable Chinese strategist Sun Tzu who said “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
In 2001 and early 2002 the Bush Administration pursued the Al Qaeda terrorists to Afghanistan, toppling the unpopular Taliban regime but failing to kill or capture Bin Laden. But by 2002 those in that Administration sought to widen the scope of the war. An “Axis of Evil” comprised of Iraq, Iran and North Korea was identified, even though none of those nations had links to Al Qaeda, and two of which, Iran and Iraq were hostile to Al Qaeda, each for their own reasons, Saddam Hussein because he only embraced Islam when it suited his strategic purposes and Iran because the Shia there were and are mortal enemies with the ultra-Fundamentalist Sunni Wahhabi Islam of Al Qaeda.
The undeclared war against Al Qaeda became the Global War on Terrorism. It was an amorphous term that allowed the government to play fast and loose with facts even as it by fully “legal” means restricted the rights and invaded the privacy of American citizens through the Patriot Act and expansion of the FISA laws and a massive expansion of electronic surveillance against our enemies, against our allies, even long tern NATO allies and our own citizens.
All of these ideas seemed like good ideas at the time. The United States had been hit by the most well planned, executed and devastating terrorist attack ever conducted and it had been done by those who many believed incapable of doing it. We forgot however the words of Clausewitz that war is the provence of chance.
But then our leaders, regardless of political party over the past 50 years since our entry into Vietnam have been pretty inept at understanding history and understanding the consequences of their actions. The Greek historian Thucydides understood this, he saw what happened to Athens when it allowed itself to become enmeshed in the Peloponnesian War, a war that it entered as the premier economic and military power of its time and ended in disaster. He wrote:
“Think, too, of the great part that is played by the unpredictable in war: think of it now, before you are actually committed to war. The longer a war lasts, the more things tend to depend on accidents. Neither you nor we can see into them: we have to abide their outcome in the dark. And when people are entering upon a war they do things the wrong way round. Action comes first, and it is only when they have already suffered that they begin to think.”
It seems strange now after so long of war that our openness, freedoms and liberties were not destroyed by the actions of Al Qaeda but by our own government in the Patriot Act a title so Orwellian that it defies logic. The sad fact is that the Patriot Act was only the beginning and the actions and legislative accomplishments those that seek to broaden the war and broaden the powers of the government to restrict freedom, speech and privacy of otherwise law abiding citizens has only increased.
As I listen to the words of some legislators, or both parties I might add I am frightened because for many it seems that the only answer they have to national security issues is the hammer of military force, force that over the years of this war has been eroded and which due to their legislative negligence in the Sequester will only further erode. They seem to forget, or maybe they never learned what is taught to military officers at Command and Staff College that national power is based on the DIME, the diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic power of a nation and not on military power alone.
Our legislators, the talking heads of the media and their political allies of various “think tanks” act as though their decisions have no consequences. Thucydides noted the same in his time:
“Some legislators only wish to vengeance against a particular enemy. Others only look out for themselves. They devote very little time on the consideration of any public issue. They think that no harm will come from their neglect. They act as if it is always the business of somebody else to look after this or that. When this selfish notion is entertained by all, the commonwealth slowly begins to decay.”
Those who think this way frequently praise those that they send to fight their wars. They pound their chests in praise of “the brave soldiers” but as far as the soldier is concerned they care not, thus when through their own political negligence hard budgetary choices need to be made neither the troops or the actual security of the nation matters, only the profits of their financial contributors, those who profit from war and suffering matter.
Two time Medal of Honor winner and Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler wrote in 1932: “What is the cost of war? what is the bill? This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”
Unfortunately despite the hopes of some in the Obama administration and in the country this undeclared “war on terrorism” will not end. It has taken on a life of its own and neither political party will end it. It like Athen’s misadventure in the Peloponnesian War, and so many other nations that ventured into “unending” wars that span generations will be our undoing if we are not take action now to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from it while still keeping our people safe. Somehow I think that our former freedoms, our liberties, transparency and openness are not weaknesses but strengths which at one time were embraced by us and many around the world who loved them and hoped to bring them to fruition in their own countries.
I think bout it now. Many of the 18 year old men and women enlisting in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy today knowing that they could end up at war were only 5-7 years old on September 11th 2001. That a war should last this long is not only unwise and destructive to liberty but criminal in the fact that we should have known better. Thomas Jefferson wrote to President James Monroe advising him to stay clear of European conflicts saying: “They are nations of eternal war. All their energies are expended in the destruction of the labor, property, and lives of their people.” James Madison wrote to Jefferson in 1798 “The loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or imagined, from abroad.”
These are dangerous times, the fact is that more war is beckoning and there are those anxious for their own reasons, power, profit or even religion seek to continue and expand the. They care not a whit about those that fight them, those that die in them nor the ultimate costs in blood, treasure and freedom and home. The ends justify their means. Hannah Arendt said: “Although tyranny…may successfully rule over foreign peoples, it can stay in power only if it destroys first of all the national institutions of its own people.”