Washington's Endless War

Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Now perhaps Syria, Iran or Mali. These days, America is rarely at peace.

America’s natural condition once was peace. Although war sometimes was believed to be necessary, it nevertheless was seen as exceptional. Other than continuous but irregular combat with Native Americans, the United States was rarely at war as the nation expanded.

Today, Americans are constantly in battle. And not just in one war. Policy makers no longer feel much restraint on sending young Americans into combat.

The Obama administration intervened in Libya’s civil war, which in no way threatened American security. U.S. forces have been fighting for eleven years in Afghanistan. American troops spent seven years occupying Iraq, most of that time targeted by a bitter insurgency. Washington occupied Bosnia and Kosovo after meddling in Balkans conflicts relevant to Europe, and now the United States. U.S. Special Forces are involved all over the globe, from Uganda to the Philippines to Latin America.

All this might be only the beginning. President Barack Obama’s policies are as warlike as those of his predecessor. Yet Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is seeking to portray the president as a Jimmy Carter-style weakling. Romney appears to be simultaneously channeling George W. Bush and John McCain.

Proposals for new wars are not limited to those intended to defend America or stop genocide. A clamor now arises to join most any conflict, anywhere, of any size. In Libya, there were no direct massacres of civilians. Rather, most civilian casualties resulted from the low-tech civil war, which allied intervention actually extended. Syria’s civil war is similarly ugly, but there has been no genocide.

Find an overseas conflict, and someone is advocating U.S. intervention. For instance, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson recently complained that the United States was not currently involved in Syria, committed to permanent war in Afghanistan and prepared for conflict with Iran.

Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman are leading the charge in Syria. The “three amigos,” who campaigned for the war in Iraq, never see the dangers of intervention, but always perceive risks of inaction. They recently worried that in Syria, “this reluctance to lead will, we fear—like our failure to stop the slaughter of the Kurds and Shiites under Saddam Hussein in Iraq or of the Tutsis in Rwanda—haunt our nation for years to come.” The three want to arm the rebels and “reinforce” rebel-held territories through airpower and “other unique U.S. assets.”

McCain recently called the refusal to put young Americans at risk in someone else’s fratricidal conflict “shameful.” He added, “the most responsible course first is for the president to stand up and speak for these people.” As opposed to representing the American people?

The three amigos are not alone. Writing on behalf of the group Freedom House, Charles Dunne, David J. Kramer and William H. Taft contend that “the United States must summon its leadership skills and, as it did in Libya, put an end to a disastrous conflict in Syria that challenges our sense of ourselves as Americans as well as our national interests.” Translation: Washington elites should summon the military to fight yet another unnecessary war as likely to begin a new conflict as end an old one.

Canadian senator Hugh Segal chimed in:

The Syrian military will have little to fear until NATO and the Arab League declare and enforce a no-fly zone to keep Syrian helicopters from attacking their own civilian population. Until NATO ships with sea-to-shore missile capacity and helicopter forces patrol off the Syrian coast, and until Syrian command-and-control systems and centers are neutralized, the Syrian army will have no reason to demur from orders that are war crimes.

Not that his own nation’s small military is up to the job. He would conscript the American armed forces, complaining that “allowing the Syrian violence to continue says to all authoritarian and rogue governments that U.S. presidential election years are good times to mow down your own people.”

The liberal Washington Post demonstrated that there is little difference between Right and Left when it criticized the Obama administration for “refusing to step in.” Liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof made much the same argument, contending that “Syria, like Libya, is a rare case where we can take modest steps that stand a good chance of accelerating the fall of a dictator. And after 17 months, there’s growing agreement that Obama should no longer remain a bystander.” Or, more accurately, U.S. military personnel should not remain safe as bystanders.

Some observers don’t believe it would be enough to oust Syrian president Bashar Assad. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst, contended that “one of the priorities of the international community after Assad falls will be to protect the Alawite community and its allies from vengeance.” In short, Washington should go to war to force out Assad, putting his political allies at risk, and then if necessary go to war to protect them.