Obama and the Pursuit of Endless War

When historians sit down decades from now to address the events of the early 21st century, they will have no trouble explaining why Americans elected Barack Obama president. They elected him out of a firm conviction that the United States was not involved in enough wars.

Problem solved. Today, American forces are fighting in four different countries.

No. 4 is Yemen, where we learn the administration is carrying out an intense covert campaign against anti-government militants, using fighter aircraft and drone missiles. It is being handled by the Pentagon in conjunction with the CIA, and according to The New York Times, “teams of American military and intelligence operatives have a command post in Sana, the Yemeni capital.”

Feel safer? Probably not. Most of what presidents do with the U.S. military is not aimed at enhancing the security or welfare of the American people. It serves mainly to advance our domination of the world, even — or maybe especially — in places irrelevant to any tangible interests. Like Yemen.

Or Libya — also known as War No. 3. Since March, the administration has been immersed in a grand humanitarian mission requiring us to deliver bombs on a regular basis. Obama’s stated goal was to prevent a mass slaughter he accused Moammar Gadhafi of plotting. But that pretext has given way to the real purpose: killing the dictator, pounding his regime into submission, or both.

No end is yet in sight, but an optimistic Defense Department official told the Times, “We are steadily but surely eroding his capacity.” If that statement is false, we have burned through $700 million on a futile offensive in a country that posed no threat.

But in this case, a pessimist is someone who thinks the optimists are right. If NATO is truly on the way to defeating Gadhafi, we will soon face the question: What next? Having demolished its government, we will suddenly inherit full responsibility for the fate of Libya and its people.

Piece of cake. I mean, look at how well things went in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, when victory gave way to violent chaos that killed thousands of American soldiers.

Or consider our record in trying to transform Afghanistan. The U.S. has 100,000 troops there, triple the number when Obama took office. Civilian officials and generals invariably assure us that our efforts are succeeding, but never quite well enough to allow our departure.

Despite our vaunted military prowess, generals say the gains are so “fragile and reversible” that we will have to stay for years to come. The Afghan regime is notoriously corrupt, incompetent and often hostile. But Ryan Crocker, nominated to be ambassador to Afghanistan, holds out the shimmering prospect that we can someday achieve a “good-enough government.”

Don’t we wish. An assessment released last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — which is controlled by members of Obama’s own party — found few encouraging results from our attempts to create a functioning polity and economy. “Insecurity, abject poverty, weak indigenous capacity and widespread corruption create challenges for spending money,” the report said.

Foreign assistance, it noted, accounts in one way or another for an astonishing 97 percent of the country’s economic activity. Our departure could mean “a severe economic depression.”

What’s the solution? Don’t leave. “Building governance is not something that’s going to happen in 18 months,” Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told the Voice of America. “And President Obama has said it’s a generational effort.”

That word “generational”? It’s what government officials use when they mean “eternal.”

The president doesn’t plan for us to be out of Afghanistan until 2014 — 13 years after we went in. He promised to start withdrawing this summer, but the Pentagon is resisting anything more than a minimal drawdown.

Likewise, despite our alleged success in Iraq, the administration is prepared to keep troops there as well, if the Baghdad government will agree. No worries: Leon Panetta, Obama’s incoming defense secretary, says he has “every confidence” that it will.

Given our torrential budget deficits, entering an era of fiscal austerity, how can we afford to fight all these wars? We can’t. But we’ll do it anyway.

You can stop wondering when the U.S. government will stop sending our battle-weary troops on endless deployments to police the globe. Country singer Blake Shelton laments, “The more I drink, the more I drink.” The more we fight, the more we fight.



Steve Chapman


Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune, where he has been a member of the editorial board since 1981. He came to the Tribune from The New Republic magazine, where he was an associate editor. He has contributed articles to Slate, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard and Reason, and has appeared on numerous TV and radio news programs, including The CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and National Public Radio's Fresh Air and Talk of the Nation. Born in Brady, Texas, in 1954, Chapman grew up in Midland and Austin. He attended Harvard University, where he was on the staff of the Harvard Crimson, and graduated with honors in 1976. He has been a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and has served on the Visiting Committee of the University of Chicago Law School.

  • Pammie

    And yet there is no outrage from either the left or the right. Democrats are pushing for more and more government encroachment into private lives and Republicans are concerned solely with cutting the domestic budget. Both are cheering wildly and ecstatically for Netanyahu ‘s excesses and vowing even more financial support to secure Israel’s boarders while our own go untended and our infrastructure crumbles. As the Wicked Witch once said, “What a world, what a world.”

  • Bender

    Maybe you’ll feel more at home over at Commonweal, Pammie. They trash Israel over there on a daily basis.

    Meanwhile, Israel is fighting for its life because of the endless war that has been engaged against it. But there does not appear to be any outrage from you about that, only outrage that Israel having the audacity to defend itself.

  • Dave K

    I think it is clear that if we continue to elect the stooges the 2 rotten political parties offer us we will forever be fighting useless and immoral wars for the sake of the Military Industrial Complex or the geo-political pipe dreams of the Neocons and other modern day Jacobins. As the only serious candidate (Ron Paul) has said, this will all come to a halt when we bankrupt ourselves and the entire system collapses. This cannot happen soon enough for me.

    • Anonymous Seminarian

      OR…we could just elect Ron Paul and avoid that whole ‘collapse’ issue.

  • Pammie

    Mr. Bender, thank you for your suggestion. Very telling that with this serious business of our expanding military commitments in the world , your first thoughts are of Israel. What’s most worrisome though is that our President and both major political parties share your sentiments. I’ve never seen such perfect agreement on any other topic. You and the likeminded should be delighted with the way things are now, instead of pained about the random israel criticism.

    I ‘m looking for candidates that will put American interests first. Ones who are willing to spend as much money on OUR border as we have expended on Israel’s, Afghanistans’s et al. Ones who will think about OUR country’s survival first and foremost, and enact policies to build up OUR nation. I want our waning monies spent on OUR children’s future. How can you possibly call yourself a Conservative when these are not your priorities, but other countries’ similar concerns are ? Inexplicable.

  • Confederate Papist

    Pammie – I agree with your comment regarding pulling our troops and $$ back to within our own borders. However, I do think that Israel is our only friend in the ME and that we should lend some support.

    I also think we’d save a lot of money if we got rid of the EPA, DOE, the Fed, excessive taxes (death tax? really?), etc..

  • Famijoly

    It’s encouraging to see a solid publication like Crisis publish a serious indictment of our country’s foreign policy of endless wars that are unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral.

  • Bender

    Actually, Pammie, my first thoughts were not of Israel. I only thought of it after YOU dragged that country into this discussion. Why do you have that obsession?

  • Pammie

    “However, I do think that Israel is our only friend in the ME and that we should lend some support.”

    History will show that Israel is our friend when it suits and persues its own best interests regardless of the ill effects on us. Nothing wrong with that as it is the sensible thing for a country to do. How long do we have to support that country (or any other), borrowing the money from our own children’s future to do so? How much debt should we accrue to make our payments to our “friends”? I think it’s madness to sink ourselves for them or anyone else. National suicide in fact.

    Mr. Bender to answer your question: This piece is about endless war. Who besides us and the Israelis are engaging in perpetual war at the moment? Their Leader was cheered in unison by BOTH parties recently. Name another politician that got the same reception in the past few months . That’s why it was mentioned in passing.

    When my congressmen are more eager to please me and my fellow citizens than they are to curry favour and funds; when they worry most about how we will survive ; when they stop asking themselves first, “What Would Bibi Do,” then we need never have this conversation again. As a citizen, is that too much to ask of my government ? Put us first.

  • America is about to go bankrupt because of the superfluous military spending.

    Democrats voted for a president based on the pretense of getting us out of the military quagmire which is the Middle East, and yet, instead of living up to his promises, has done the exact opposite, extending military action and occupation into more countries that have nothing to do with American interests or “security.”

    Republicans continue to follow the mantra of “support the troops” at all costs, as they are “protecting and defending” us from “the enemy,” and yet, it is precisely by “supporting” them that the president is given a virtual “do as you will” ticket with the troops.

    There is a level of hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance surrounding the military and foreign involvement that is utterly amazing.

  • Bender

    Israel is only in “perpetual war” because those people who actually are in a state of perpetual war — and have been for the last 1400 years — want to push all the Jews in Israel into the sea.

  • Pammie

    “Israel is only in “perpetual war” because those people who actually are in a state of perpetual war — and have been for the last 1400 years — want to push all the Jews in Israel into the sea.”

    Even if you really believe that, 70 years of financial support to the tune of a trillion plus dollars spanning almost 5 generations of American taxpayers hasnt changed anything. What makes you think a trillion more and 5 more generations will?

    But frankly Mr. Bender, I dont think the US taxpayer and their dependents concerns you too much. Like many others you seem to be quite willing for the goose to expire as long as the last golden egg goes to the recipient of choice.

    How the only nuclear power in the ME can still whinge with a straight face about being “thrown into the sea” is a thing to contemplate. The Muslims didnt manage to rid the Holy Land of Christians in their 1500 yrs. It has taken the Israelis less than a 100 yrs to do since taking charge. And they used mostly Christians’ tax dollars to do it. Interesting times we live in.

  • Carl

    OK, let’s pull back everything and ignore the problem and see what happens!

    Yea right, we all know what will happen; they’ll start bombing us here on our shores again instead of us bombing them.

    This argument is like saying the Marianite Catholics are being persecuted solely because Bush invaded Iraq. OK, we didn’t invade Egypt and the Coptic Catholics are being similarly persecuted there. How about Syria, Lebanon and other Christian denominations?!

    Mr. Chapman, we haven’t left one region where we have previously fought. Where can Islam prove that it’s a religion of peace? When will for foreign nations stop supporting despots and dictators? I don’t claim to have the answers but itemizing bad scenarios, whining about, and becoming isolationists isn’t the answer either.

  • pammie

    “This argument is like saying the Marianite Catholics are being persecuted solely because Bush invaded Iraq. OK, we didn’t invade Egypt and the Coptic Catholics are being similarly persecuted there. How about Syria, Lebanon and other Christian denominations?!”

    I expect this was directed at me. Firstly, Marionites are primarily located in Lebanon and not Iraq. Secondly, Muslims , Christians and Jews (surprise) had managed to live together in relative harmony and semi equality for many a long year in the ME before the US stuck its clumsy, foreign, oar in those perilous waters.

    Theirs were not a perfect co existence (nothing on earth is) but better than now. It didnt cost the American taxpayers one son, or one dime. Not nearly as many natives died every day and there was a stable, if small, Christian presence in the ME. Before we decided to finance the colonisation of the Holy Land with European Jewry, the last Muslim attack solely on Americans was in the 1815s during the second Barbary War as far as I can remember.

    Since the Israeli experience has worked out so well for the American middleclass taxpayer in the opinion of many, why cant a campaign to send a colony of militant, land hungry sunnis into Iran be started and let’s see how that goes. Get Hollywood , the MSM and AIPAC behind it and we will have yet another money pit (aka battleground) in which to sink our loan monies from China for another hundred years. The more war the more security , right? Many will profit from it, surely. Not the people paying the bill though.

  • Deacon Don

    I am thinking that Ike was right about the “military-industrial complex”. What other explanation could there be for this endless pursuit of war?
    Mr. Chapman rightly points to the “generational” perspective of the military leaders in this country. For all the conservatives who want to rail against ending the “entitlement mentality”, let’s begin with the little boys and their toys in the Pentagon. How do we acknowledge that this country spends more than the next 16 countries COMBINED on our military and yet somehow think that the poor and the elderly are to blame for our mess.
    The Church’s social teaching is indeed spot on: money spent on munitions when people are in need is a sin.

  • KCFQ58

    War what is it good for absolutely nothing!!
    –Bruce Springstein–

    Hmmm, we still have not learned the lesson.
    The USA became great by keeping its territory safe and minding its business. Today it is run by rich for richer.
    And the eugenic ideal of cutting the world population down.
    Abortion, euthenesia,wars, promotion of gay mariage. All these are part and parcel of the culture of death prevalent today.
    The USA claims to be the greatest nation on earth. Not anymore when it young adults cannot spell, do not know their history, and geography. Granted not all are deficient in these subjects but too many are. We as a nation cannot afford to have an uneducated and mislead generation.
    The USA has lost its morality. Is throwinjg out its religion in the name of secularism. Well when a country rejects its faith it is that countrys downfall.

    By creating false threats to our security Washington has succeeded in removing more of our freedoms. For people will give up freedoim for secutity any day. It is a right and duty of every patriotic person in this country to question government actions or inactions.

    Government needs to be for the people when it is no longer for the people it is only a matter of time before it fails. We need to act before it is too late. TGhe system works only if we all participate.

    Apathy is the greatest sin.
    Jesus was definitely not apathetic.

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