Last week Peter Van Buren, retired State Department officer, whistleblower, and author, asked six critical foreign policy questions that won’t be raised in the presidential debates. Van Buren writes that the “two candidates are stand-ins for Washington in general, a ‘war’ capital whose denizens work and argue, sometimes fiercely, from within a remarkably limited range of options.” While neither the media will ask nor will the candidates answer, I think it’s important to explore these questions.
The first question Van Buren asked is what is the “end game” for the so-called War on Terror? Van Buren writes, “Are we really consigned to the Global War on Terror, under whatever name or no name at all, as an infinite state of existence? Is it now as American as apple pie?” The short answer is: Yes. The War on Terror is now American as apple pie. Especially if apple pie was a billion dollar industry.
There isn’t an end game. But we should have seen that coming. Any time the United States has declared war on an idea, we have spent billions of dollars without achieving any tangible results. While the War on Drugs was at least declared on something that Americans can see a physical manifestation of the War on Terror is largely a war on an abstract concept for most Americans. While residents of Ottumwa, Iowa have seen firsthand the effects of the meth epidemic on their community, those same residents will likely never be the victims of a terrorist attack.
The public debate about the War on Terror, to the extent that there is, is usually framed in which America’s military and covert operations against terrorist are taking place in a vacuum. Rarely discussed is the role in which America’s foreign policy plays, or the role that social and political issues in the Middle East play. Those that voice a dissenting opinion are still portrayed as “soft on terror.”
Neither candidate will change the course of the prosecution of the War on Terror, nor will either candidate ever give a coherent strategy for what achieving the War on Terror’s objectives might be. President Obama is fond of saying that the United States will “disrupt, dismantled, and defeat” Al Qaeda and other terrorist, but what would defeat look like? Defeat would look like billions of lost profits for the defense industry, which is why this truly is an endless war.
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