As America enters the 18th year of its war in Afghanistan and its 16th in Iraq, the war on terror continues in Yemen, Syria and parts of Africa including Libya, Niger and Somalia. Meanwhile, the Trump administration threatens yet more war, this time with Iran.
Honestly, isn’t it time Americans gave a little more thought to why their leaders persist in waging losing wars across significant parts of the planet? So consider the rest of this piece my attempt to do just that.
Let’s face it. Profits and power should be classified as perennial reasons why U.S. leaders persist in waging such conflicts. War may be a racket, as Gen. Smedley Butler claimed long ago, but who cares these days since business is booming? And let’s add to such profits a few other all-American motivations. Start with the fact that, in some curious sense, war is in the American bloodstream.
“War is a force that gives us meaning,” former The New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges once put it. Historically, we Americans are a violent people who have invested much in a self-image of toughness now being displayed across the “global battlespace.” Hence all the talk in this country not about our soldiers but about our “warriors.”
As the bumper stickers I see regularly where I live say: “God, guns, & guts made America free.” To make the world freer, why not export all three?
Add in, as well, the issue of political credibility. No president wants to appear weak and in the United States of the last many decades, pulling back from a war has been the definition of weakness. No one — certainly not Donald Trump — wants to be known as the president who “lost” Afghanistan or Iraq. As was true of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in the Vietnam years, so in this century fear of electoral defeat has helped prolong the country’s hopeless wars.