March 29, 2016

Word: What's war good for

Tom Engelhardt,Tom Dispatch -  Looking back on almost 15 years in which the United States has been engaged in something like permanent war in the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, one thing couldn't be clearer: the planet's sole superpower with a military funded and armed like none other and a "defense" budget larger than the next seven countries combined (three times as large as number two spender, China) has managed to accomplish - again, quite literally - absolutely nothing, or perhaps (if a slight rewrite of that classic song were allowed) less than nothing.

Unless, of course, you consider an expanding series of failed states, spreading terror movements, wrecked cities, countries hemorrhaging refugees, and the like as accomplishments. In these years, no goal of Washington - not a single one - has been accomplished by war. This has proven true even when, in the first flush of death and destruction, victory or at least success was hailed, as in Afghanistan in 2001 ("You helped Afghanistan liberate itself - for a second time," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to US special operations forces), Iraq in 2003 ("Mission accomplished"), or Libya in 2011 ("We came, we saw, he died," Hillary Clinton on the death of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi).

Of all forms of American military might in this period, none may have been more destructive or less effective than air power. US drones, for instance, have killed incessantly in these years, racking up thousands of dead Pakistanis, Afghans, Iraqis, Yemenis, Syrians, and others, including top terror leaders and their lieutenants as well as significant numbers of civilians and even children, and yet the movements they were sent to destroy from the top down have only proliferated. In a region in which those on the ground are quite literally helpless against air power, the US Air Force has been repeatedly loosed, from Afghanistan in 2001 to Syria and Iraq today, without challenge and with utter freedom of the skies. Yet, other than dead civilians and militants and a great deal of rubble, the long-term results have been remarkably pitiful.

Put another way, for the country that has, like no other on the planet in these years, unleashed its military again and again thousands of miles from its "homeland" in actions ranging from large-scale invasions and occupations to small-scale raids and drone assassination strikes, absolutely nothing has come up roses. From China's Central Asian border to north Africa, the region that Washington officials began referring to as an "arc of instability" soon after 9/11 and that they hoped to garrison and dominate forever has only become more unstable, less amenable to American power, and ever more chaotic.


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