• The spirit of monarchy is war and enlargement of domain: peace and moderation are the spirit of a republic.” – – Thomas Jefferson copied Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws, IX,c.2: into his Commonplace Book
  • “Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.” – –  James Madison—”Political Observations,” 1795
  • “As to myself, I love peace, and I am anxious that we should give the world still another useful lesson, by showing to them other modes of punishing injuries than by war, which is as much a punishment to the punisher as to the sufferer.” Thomas Jefferson: Letter To Tench Coxe, Monticello, May 1, 1794
  • “Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed and bloody contests.” – – George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
  •  “I do not believe war the most certain means of enforcing principles. Those peaceable coercions which are in the power of every nation, if undertaken in concert and in time of peace, are more likely to produce the desired effect.”- –  Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Robert Livingston, 1801
  •  “Determined as we are to avoid, if possible, wasting the energies of our people in war and destruction, we shall avoid implicating ourselves with the powers of Europe, even in support of principles which we mean to pursue. They have so many other interests different from ours that we must avoid being entangled in them. We believe we can enforce these principles as to ourselves by peaceable means.” – – Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Thomas Paine, March 18, 1801

I do not think we are living by these principles when you read this about the US’s  six wars and counting:

Let’s look at this, war by war:

Iraq: Now largely the dregs of a counterinsurgency operation, this war will not end in 2011.  At his confirmation hearings, for instance, Panetta cited the existence of al-Qaeda in Iraq as a reason for U.S. troops to remain beyond an agreed-upon year-end withdrawal date.  Should those troops actually leave, however, the war will still go on, even if in quite a different form.  A gargantuan, increasingly militarized State Department “mission” in that country, complete with its own “army” and “air force” of perhaps 5,100 mercenaries, will evidently keep the faith.

Afghanistan: This remains a full-scale U.S. Army-run counterinsurgency war, backed by a major special operations/CIA counterterror war.

Pakistan: A full-scale CIA-run drone war in the Pakistani borderlands is actually expanding.  In the post-9/11 era, this has been the first of Washington’s “covert” or “shadow” wars (which no longer means “secret” — it’s all over the news almost daily — but something closer to “off the books,” as in beyond the reach of any form of significant popular or congressional oversight or accountability). Panetta is calling for more emphasis on such off-the-books wars in which U.S. military operatives might, as in the bin Laden operation, temporarily find themselves under the command of the CIA.

Libya: Officially a NATO air war, this one is nonetheless partially run by the Pentagon with targeting assistance from various U.S. intelligence agencies.  It involves both direct U.S. air strikes and support for strikes by various NATO and Arab allies fronting the operation.  It is also, for Americans, a “war” in name only since, except in the case of engine malfunction, there is essentially no way the Libyans can harm a U.S. pilot.  It is also an example of another air war that, while destructive, has proven itself incapable of fulfilling its stated aims.  Months later, Gaddafi remains alive and more or less in power, while NATO flags.

Yemen: Another of those “covert” air wars, being run, according to the Times, by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, closely coordinated with the CIA out of a secret office in the Yemeni capital.

The Global War on Terror: While the Obama administration officially discarded the Bush-era name, it expanded the war and the forces meant to fight it in places like Somalia.  U.S. special operations forces now pursue war-on-terror tasks in at least 75 countries and who knows how many CIA and other intelligence agents are involved as well.

Think of all this as a kind of mix-and-match version of war that increasingly integrates civilian branches of the government like the State Department, an ever more warlike CIA (once known as “the president’s private army”), the regular Army, Marines, and Air Force, ever-growing drone air power (split between an officially civilian intelligence agency and the military), and a secret combined military force of perhaps 20,000 special operatives.

With the face of American war changing in striking ways and at least six wars, none going particularly well, on or off the books, no one should be surprised if, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian William Astore makes clear in his latest piece, Washington as a war capital increasingly looks like a new kind of town.  In the meantime, when it comes to how many wars Americans can fight at once, Washington is reaching for the record books.

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