Seven Deadly Reasons Why America’s Wars Persist
By William Astore
Feb 1, 2015 - It was launched immediately after the 9/11 attacks, when I was still in the military, and almost immediately became known as the Global War on Terror, or GWOT. Pentagon insiders called it “the long war ,” an open-ended, perhaps unending, conflict against nations and terror networks mainly of a radical Islamist bent. It saw the revival of counterinsurgency doctrine, buried in the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam, and a reinterpretation  of that disaster as well. Over the years, its chief characteristic became ever clearer: a “Groundhog Day ” kind of repetition. Just when you thought it was over (Iraq , Afghanistan ), just after victory (of a sort) was declared, it began again .
Now, as we find ourselves enmeshed in Iraq War 3.0, what better way to memorialize the post-9/11 American way of war than through repetition. Back in July 2010, I wrote an article for TomDispatch on the seven reasons  why America can’t stop making war. More than four years later, with the war on terror still ongoing, with the mission eternally unaccomplished, here’s a fresh take on the top seven reasons why never-ending war is the new normal in America. In this sequel, I make only one promise: no declarations of victory (and mark it on your calendars, I’m planning to be back with seven new reasons in 2019).
1. The privatization of war: The U.S. military’s recourse to private contractors  has strengthened the profit motive for war-making and prolonged wars as well. Unlike the citizen-soldiers of past eras, the mobilized warrior corporations  of America’s new mercenary moment -- the Halliburton /KBRs (nearly $40 billion  in contracts for the Iraq War alone), the DynCorps  ($4.1 billion to train 150,000 Iraqi police), and the Blackwater/Xe/Academis  ($1.3 billion in Iraq, along with boatloads of controversy ) -- have no incentive to demobilize. Like most corporations, their business model is based on profit through growth, and growth is most rapid when wars and preparations for more of them are the favored options in Washington.
"Freedom isn’t free," as a popular conservative bumper sticker puts it, and neither is war. My father liked the saying, “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” and today’s mercenary corporations have been calling for a lot of military marches piping in $138 billion in contracts for Iraq alone, according to  the Financial Times. And if you think that the privatization of war must at least reduce government waste, think again: the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated in 2011 that fraud, waste, and abuse accounted for up to $60 billion  of the money spent in Iraq alone.
To corral American-style war, the mercenaries must be defanged or deflated. European rulers learned this the hard way during the Thirty Years’ War of the seventeenth century. At that time, powerful mercenary captains like Albrecht von Wallenstein  ran amok. Only Wallenstein’s assassination and the assertion of near absolutist powers by monarchs bent on curbing war before they went bankrupt finally brought the mercenaries to heel, a victory as hard won as it was essential to Europe’s survival and eventual expansion. (Europeans then exported their wars to foreign shores, but that’s another story.)
2. The embrace of the national security state by both major parties: Jimmy Carter was the last president to attempt to exercise any kind of control over the national security state. A former Navy nuclear engineer who had served under the demanding Admiral Hyman Rickover , Carter cancelled the B-1 bomber and fought for a U.S. foreign policy based on human rights. Widely pilloried for talking about  nuclear war with his young daughter Amy, Carter was further attacked for being “weak” on defense. His defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980 inaugurated 12 years of dominance by Republican presidents that opened the financial floodgates for the Department of Defense. That taught Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council  a lesson when it came to the wisdom of wrapping the national security state in a welcoming embrace, which they did, however uncomfortably. This expedient turn to the right by the Democrats in the Clinton years served as a temporary booster shot when it came to charges of being “soft” on defense -- until Republicans upped the ante by going “all-in” on military crusades in the aftermath of 9/11.
Since his election in 2008, Barack Obama has done little to alter the course set by his predecessors. He, too, has chosen not to challenge Washington’s prevailing catechism of war . Republicans have responded, however, not by muting their criticism, but by upping the ante yet again. How else to explain House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March ? That address promises to be a pep talk for the Republicans, as well as a smack down of the Obama administration and its “appeasenik ” policies toward Iran and Islamic radicalism.
Serious oversight, let alone opposition to the national security state by Congress or a mainstream political party, has been missing in action  for years and must now, in the wake of the Senate Torture Report fiasco (from which the CIAemerged  stronger, not weaker), be presumed dead. The recent midterm election triumph of Republican war hawks and the prospective lineup of candidates for president in 2016 does not bode well when it comes to reining in the national security state in any foreseeable future. (more…)