A Generation of War

The United States has now been at war for over fourteen and a half years. This is the longest sustained period of conflict in this nation’s history, and instead of slowing down, as promised by President Obama so many years ago, things are ratcheting up.

Once upon a time, in the far distant days of 2011, I wrote an article titled The Iraq War is Over. The last of our ground troops had crossed from Iraq into Kuwait, and it looked like a dark chapter in our history was coming to a close. Yet here we are, five years later, and there are 5,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan continues, and US Spec Ops troops are fighting in just about every country that was part of the Arab Spring. The situation has gotten so bloated that an Army officer, Captain Nathan Michael Smith, sued President Obama a few weeks ago, claiming that the Obama administration’s war against ISIS was never given the imprimatur of Congress, making it an illegal war.

Captain Smith has a point. Congress has made it its business to abrogate Constitutional responsibilities when it comes to war, and the Oval Office has not hesitated to fill the void. The continuous warfare we are engaged in is a direct result. Hundreds of billions of dollars of American treasure and who knows how many lives are being wasted every year in a war that knows no end, and seems to have no goal other than ‘defeating ISIS.’ This idea of victory is so ill-defined that I doubt even President Obama would know it if it happened. But that doesn’t matter, because the president won’t be around to see any kind of victory, or defeat. The responsibility for the war will be handed off to the next president, and maybe even the president after that.

This is an age of managed warfare. The type of fighting we are engaged in is distant, largely unknown here at home, and light on American casualties. As long as no one looks all that closely, it can go on indefinitely. On the ground in places like Iraq and Syria, it is much different. Whole cities have been reduced to rubble, and millions of people have been displaced from their homes. Where ISIS maintains control over territory, they have instituted a brand of Islamic law that has no place in the 21st century, displaying primitive, savage behavior. No one deserves to have such oppression inflicted upon them, giving our efforts to defeat ISIS some moral authority. But if you were to ask anyone in charge of this fuzzy war why we are fighting it, freeing the peoples of the Fertile Crescent from religious oppression is probably far down the list.

The truth is, if our mission in the Middle East is well-defined, then no one at the White House or the Pentagon has felt the need to share that with us.

This cannot go on. We are approaching the point when fathers and sons will have shared the same battlefields. We have entered into a situation where dropping bombs and lobbing Hellfire missiles is our default position, rather than a last resort. War has become such a part of the country now that no one in government, other than Captain Smith, it seems, is bothering to ask whether or not we should be doing it. War has barely even registered on the campaign front, none of the three remaining major party candidates having to answer questions about how they would conduct either the war against ISIS or the war in Afghanistan. That is amazing. We have been at war for so long that it’s barely a policy position. For all our sakes, I hope Captain Smith’s lawsuit forces a true debate about our unending state of war.