The Long War

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Every four years, the Pentagon releases its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), more accurately the Quadrennial Defense Rubberstamp. Usually, it offers the same, more of the same or less of the same. That is true of this QDR as well, with one interesting exception. Perhaps uniquely in the annals of strategic planning, this QDR promises strategic failure a priori. It puts that promise right up front, in its first sentence, which reads, "The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war."

Long wars are usually strategic disasters for winners as well as losers, because they leave all parties exhausted. If they work to anyone’s advantage, it tends to be the weaker party’s, because its alternative is rapid defeat. The Rumsfeld Pentagon certainly does not see the United States as the weaker party in its "Global War on Terrorism." So why has it adopted a long-war strategy, or more accurately lack of strategy, unless one sees national exhaustion as a plus?

The answer is a common strategic blunder, but again one that is seldom seen up front; it normally arises as a war continues longer and proves more difficult than expected. The blunder is maximalist objectives. In a speech announcing the QDR, Secretary Rumsfeld said, speaking of our Fourth Generation opponents,

Compelled by a militant ideology that celebrates murder and suicide, with no territory to defend, with little to lose, they will either succeed in changing our way of life or we will succeed in changing theirs.

It would be difficult for war objectives to be stated in more maximalist terms. Either they will succeed in turning us into Taliban-style Muslims or we will turn them into happy consumers in globalism’s Brave New World. Since most Americans would rather be dead than Talibs and most pious Moslems would rather perish than lose their souls to Brave New World, Mr. Rumsfeld has proclaimed a war of mutual annihilation. That will indeed be another Thirty Years’ War, with little chance of a renewed Westphalian order as the outcome.

It is easy enough to define alternate, less ambitious objectives that might avoid the strategic disaster of a long war. We might say that our objective is to be left alone in our part of the globe, to enjoy peace, prosperity and an ordered liberty at home, while we left Islamics alone in their traditional territories. Sadly, from the Pentagon’s perspective, such a strategy would fail the pork test: it would not guarantee to keep the money flowing, which is what QDRs are ultimately about.

Here, the new QDR reverts to type. After a few ritual bows to non-state opponents, it calls for more of the same: more Second Generation weapons systems, of ever-increasing complexity and cost. According to a story in the February 4 Washington Times, we are even to be blessed with a new penetrating bomber, which is about as useful for Fourth Generation war as squadron of pre-dreadnoughts.

But it seems that in its blatant disconnect between programs and reality, the Rumsfeld Pentagon may this time have overplayed its hand. The same Washington Times story reports that the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Duncan Hunter, called it like it is. "It appears that the QDR has become a budget-driven exercise, which limits its utility to Congress," he said. The HASC has been holding hearings on genuine alternatives (I testified at one last fall, on Fourth Generation war), in a process that "will provide us with a more complete picture of America’s national security needs." In other words, the Congress, or at least the House, may refuse to rubber stamp the QDR.

To anyone familiar with the Hill, this is nothing short of a revolution. The Pentagon stopped taking the authorizing committees seriously years ago, and with reason. They had become backwaters, seldom asking serious questions. The real action shifted to the appropriations committees, where the money gets doled out.

But the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have serious powers, if they once again choose to exercise them. Chairman Hunter’s response to the QDR suggests that the HASC may do just that. If it happens, not only might the relevance of many weapons programs come into question, so might Mr. Rumsfeld’s demand for maximalist objectives in a permanent war for permanent peace.

William Lind [send him mail] is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Lind, writing in his personal capacity.

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