Understanding the Long War | The Nation


Understanding the Long War

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5. The Quagmire of Crises

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Tom Hayden
Senator Tom Hayden, the Nation Institute's Carey McWilliams Fellow, has played an active role in American politics and...

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To summarize, the "arc of crisis" is turning into a "quagmire of crises." The current US military strategy in Pakistan is contradictory mix of an air war by Predators combined with US special forces trying to organize a tribal war in search of Al Qaeda. US policies already have driven Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, partly with covert support from Pakistan's army. As a result, both Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have taken up havens in the remote wilderness of Pakistan's tribal areas. So far the US has budgeted $450 million for the tribal-based "Frontier Corps" in the frontier region. This strategy has not only failed to prevent the Taliban from taking virtual control of the tribal region, but the effort has killed hundreds of civilians, provoked deeper public opposition, and driven the Taliban insurgency further east into Pakistan.

The US faces a military crisis which Secretary Hillary Clinton recently called "a mortal threat" to America's security, the possibility of Taliban or Al Qaeda's access to Pakistan's nuclear stockpile in the eventuality that the situation deteriorates further. This will trigger an intense political campaign to "do something" about the very threat that US policies have created.

The US and NATO can barely invade Afghanistan, which has 32 million people spread over 250,000 square miles, larger than Iraq. Pakistan, with 172 million people living over 310, 000 square miles, simply cannot be invaded. But in a crisis, it is conceivable that American advisers, even ground troops, might be sent to occupy the 10,000 square miles on Pakistan's side of the border. That might result in an anti-American revolution in the streets across Pakistan.

So what has counterinsurgency achieved thus far? At most, a stalemate of sorts in Iraq after six years of combat on top of a brutal decade of sanctions. Nothing much in Afghanistan, where conventional warfare pushed Al Qaeda over the border into Pakistan. Nothing much in Pakistan, where the Pakistan army is resistant to shift its primary focus away from India.

Kilcullen's war plan for Afghanistan covers ten to twelve years, starting in 2009. The war on the Pakistan front is only beginning, meaning that the Obama administration is managing three wars within the Long War, not including secret battlegrounds like the Philippines or what may happen in Iran or Israel-Palestine, nor the controversial expansion of NATO to the borders of Russia, Iran, China and other hotspots along the Arc of Instability. Some in the intelligence community would even like to expand the "terrorist" threat to include the immigrant and drug routes through Central and Latin America as well.

Even if President Obama wishes to carry out a strategic retreat from "the sorrows of empire," he will be faced with significant pressure from elements of the military-industrial complex, and the lack of an informed public. The path of least resistance, it may appear to Obama in the short run, is incremental escalation (sending 20,000 additional Americans) while stepping up the search for a patchwork diplomatic fix. But incremental escalation can be like another drink for an alcoholic, and even that strategy would require a stepping back from the doctrine of the Long War. Hawks at the American Enterprise Institute and their allies like John McCain and Joe Lieberman are pushing for victory instead of face-saving diplomacy.

The deeper sources of this crisis certainly involve the American and Western quest for oil, the historic inequalities between the global North and South, the West and the Muslim world. But it is important to emphasis the strategic military dimension, particularly the guiding strategic vision of a fifty-year war. The Long War now has a momentum of its own. The impact of the Long War on other American priorities, like healthcare and civil liberties, is likely to be devastating. Since most Americans, especially those supportive of peace and justice campaigns, are well aware of domestic issues and general issues of war and peace, it is important to begin concentrating on the great deficit in popular understanding, that the Long War is already here, building from the previous the cold war dynamic and the Bush era's nomenclature about the "global war on terrorism."

To be continued... thoughts on The Long Peace Movement.



The older classics. For those with serious time, I would recommend Sun-Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz for an introduction to opposing doctrines, still studied widely.

For the classic Western take on the Arab world, T.E. Lawrence's The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

The recent classics include Che Guevara and Mao Tse-Tung. On the Western side, I suggest the writings of Sir Robert Thompson on Defeating Communist Insurgency; Frank Kitson, Low Insurgency Operations; David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare; Robert Taber, The War of the Flea; and the lengthy but brilliant study of Algeria by Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace (the cover of Horne's reissued book announces that it's "on the reading list of President Bush and the US military," and a blurb by the Washington Post's Thomas Ricks that it should be read "immediately").

For immediate works of importance: John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (the phrase is from Lawrence); and David Petraeus, Nagl et al., The US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (in collaboration with Harvard's Carr Center). A brilliant counterpoint to these works is William R. Polk's Violent Politics (see also his Sorrows of Empire).

Important books on Al Qaeda and Islam include Robert Dreyfuss's The Devil's Game; Jason Burke's Al Qaeda, Michael Scheuer's Marching to Hell; Bruce Lawrence, ed., Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden; and Ahmed Rashid, The Taliban.

Other critical books include Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire and Sowing Crisis; Juan Cole, Engaging the Muslim World; Ahmed Hashim, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq; Mamood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim; Tariq Ali, The Duel; and Rashid's Descent into Chaos.

To follow the counterinsurgency discussions among US security strategists, go to the smallwarsjournal.com blog or the Center for American Progress.

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