Friday, November 6, 2015


By Ronald Fox

NOTE:  This essay, originally posted in November of 2013, was inadvertently re-sent out in error. My apologies.

An anonymous Phronesis reader commented on my essay on “After Iraq and Afghanistan,” saying that I didn’t provide evidence for my prediction that the U.S. will continue to unilaterally project military might abroad in its future approach to security. He noted that Phronesis supposedly prides itself on considering the evidence regarding a particular topic and then offering reasoned thoughts and opinions. He didn’t believe this philosophy applied to my essay.

I’d like to thank anonymous for the critical response. This is what Charles and I hoped who occur when we started the blog. Frankly, we’ve been a bit disappointed we haven’t received more comments on our postings. Now let me respond to anonymous. My apologies for repeating some points I made previously.

With all due respect to anonymous, I thought I did offer factual evidence and use reasoning to back my assertions. I contended that despite numerous Obama rhetorical flourishes to the contrary, and the incidence of strong public opposition to military strikes against Syria, the Obama administration shows no signs of being chastened about using force in future conflicts where he, and a small handful of his security advisers, consider it necessary (only a few are “in the loop”). The lesson he took from Iraq and Afghanistan was to not get involved in costly, troops-on-the-ground, land wars. He appears to have no problem, however, authorizing massive bombing, drone attacks, special force operations, bad guy assassinations, and cyber warfare, all of which have been increased under his watch. It is reasonable to expect his successors will follow his precedent; a foolish, future land war is even not out of the question. So what is my evidence for this gloomy prediction?

Let me restate and elaborate on the three reasons I gave in my essay. The first, and I believe most important, reason concerns the role of the American public. Few Americans today make any personal sacrifices for war: no new taxes, reduced consumption, public service obligations, or loss of loved ones. There is little incentive for people to ask the hard questions about going to war and little perceived need to be retrospective after a war ends when someone else is making the sacrifices. I attributed this detachment from war to the ending of the draft in 1973, which replaced our citizens army with an all-voluntary, professional force. Citing Andrew Bacevich’s research as supporting validation, I stated that the permanent presence of a well-trained, professional army made the decision to go to war much easier than if we had a citizen’s army. As long as we retain a rapidly deployable, professional army, I expect it will be used, and probably on a number of occasions for ill-conceived military interventions. There’s no better formula for blundering into a disaster than a small decision-making loop, the presence of a ready-to-go force, and a passive public.

Since the draft ended, the U.S. has deployed military force abroad with a relish. We invaded Iraq (twice), Afghanistan and Granada, used significant military force in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Lebanon, were involved in quasi-covert operations in El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala, bombed Libya, Sudan and Yemen, landed troops on the ground in Iran (1980) and Pakistan (2011), and supported surrogate mercenaries in Angola, Nicaragua, and who knows where else. With the possible exception of El Salvador and Nicaragua, where President Reagan’s violation of international as well as American law (Congress had made it illegal to provide military assistance to the Contras) triggered a fairly robust anti-war campaign, the overwhelming majority of Americans either supported or passively acquiesced to these military actions. Many waved the flag and cheered on the troops. My factual point here is that there is a recurring pattern of public tolerance, if not outright support, for U.S. military actions abroad, even when there is no clear connection to our national interests.

Does the road block Americans put up in Syria signify an attitudinal shift in the American political culture about the unilateral use of force? Of course it's too early to tell, but given that unilateralism and power projection are one of the few bipartisan principles in Washington, there is little reason to believe this virtual American institution will be abandoned any time soon.  Yes there was public opposition to opening up another front in Syria, but this appears more a product of war weariness than any fundamental attitudinal shift. While many polls indicate Americans are tired of large-scale military deployments with heavy casualties, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, a 2012 poll found that 83 percent support Obama’s drone program, including 77 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats. I don’t expect this support base to change much even after the recent revelations about a higher number of civilian deaths than the Obama administration had previously acknowledged. I also suspect Americans will become less war weary with time.

Second, I pointed to the role of the mainstream media in building public support for military interventions and sanitizing war coverage. Many books have documented journalistic failures in covering the Iraq war, especially its cheer leading role in validating the alleged weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam connection to al-Qaeda, claims. Similar failures in investigative journalism have occurred in other recent military operations, namely in Afghanistan, Libya, and Haiti.

One of the major lessons our military learned from the Vietnam War was to make sure it controlled journalists in the field. It’s better to have them embedded with the troops than uncovering stories on their own in “sensitive areas.” The Pentagon has done a good job controlling story lines and thus much of the public discourse, a task made easier by our compliant, corporate-owned media. The failure of investigative journalism on matters of U.S. power projection has kept the American people uninformed, misinformed, and often outright deceived. The paucity of truth-talking about war has left Americans less inclined to ask tough questions about how the projection of military power actually serves the interests of the American people. This helps explain general public reluctance to oppose military actions.

Worse yet, is how the government uses the media to discredit critics who do speak out against a threatened military action, or who criticize how force is being used and what it all means. Invariably such voices are dismissed as “isolationists,” or as Secretary of State John Kerry said in chiding skeptical members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who questioned the use of force against Assad, “this is not the time for armchair isolationism.” Commentators keen on using force against Syria wasted little time in expanding on Kerry’s isolationist theme (for a listing, see recent Andrew Bacevich article at, as they have historically tended to do to virtually all opinion-leading war critics. In the post-Iraq/Afghanistan era, expect to see the isolationist label pasted on anyone opposing entry into a war, opposing American unilateralism, questioning the wisdom of a war, or calling for a re-evaluation of the purposes and benefits of global policing. Don’t be surprised if we start hearing about an Iraq-Afghanistan “syndrome,” like the Vietnam Syndrome that riled Cold War hawks. And, if the past is any guide, Obama may be pushed by hawks to make a show of force to restore belief in America’s resolve; something to dispel worries about creeping isolationism.

Third, I referred in the essay to the fact that a number of politically powerful individuals and organizations have a very high stake in the perpetuation of U.S. military power projection. Common sense tells us that people whose careers, profits, livelihoods, and political clout are dependent on the United States playing an imperial global role are not going to take kindly to any diminution of this role. They have historically played political hardball when faced with dovish challenges. It is a fact that most, though not all, such power brokers are of a conservative persuasion, subscribing to the idea that the U.S. has unique global leadership responsibilities that require the periodic use of force to make the projection of power credible. Individuals of this ilk, like the Koch brothers, Jim Demint, and Sheldon Adelson, and groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, have proven they have the financial girth to move public opinion as well as key decision makers. They must be viewed as a powerful counterweight to any popular movement to deemphasize America’s use of force in international relations.

These are the facts, reasons and logic I used to justify my prediction that the Iraq and Afghanistan disasters will not likely precipitate a public rejection, and consequent dethronement, of the projection of military power as the cornerstone of the U.S. approach to national and international security. Americans may for now strongly resist military adventures of dubious value that carry the risk of escalating to bloody, drawn out affairs, but they don’t appear adverse to less risky forms of throwing our military weight around, such as drone attacks. The aversion to more land wars may even fade with time, as happened after the Vietnam War.

This rather gloomy prediction doesn’t project much faith in the capacity of the American people to bring about change when they are determined. After all, many were similarly skeptical that the civil rights, women’s, and environmental movements, all of which went up against powerful established forces and traditions, would bring about fundamental change in how Americans think and act. So it may be with a peace movement that prioritizes diplomacy over force. This will require, first and foremost, however, a collective attitudinal change. The American people must be willing to pay for wars as they go, make personal sacrifices, and embrace some form of conscription that ensures the restoration of a broadly representative citizen army. Until all Americans become stakeholders in war, we should not expect lasting democratic restraint on the war making prerogative of the national security state.

1 comment:

  1. You need to put this on Facebook ~ you will get subscribers and there will be a conversation!


Thank you for commenting!