Ending the Endless Wars
November 23, 2013
Friends Committee on National Legislation Washington Newsletter
Is this a moment when our country might end the "war on terror"? We believe the answer is yes. In 2001, then-President George W. Bush suggested this "war" could go on for generations. So far, it has been used to justify the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the killing of more than 100,000 soldiers and civilians, it has provided the umbrella for sweeping new surveillance laws, has become a core component foreign policy and has doubled Pentagon spending over the past 10 years.
(November 23, 2013) -- Is this a moment when our country might end the "war on terror"? We believe the answer is yes.
In 2001, then-President George W. Bush suggested this "war" could go on for generations. So far, it has been used to justify the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and, even by the most conservative estimates, has resulted in the killing of more than 100,000 soldiers and civilians.
It has provided the umbrella under which sweeping new surveillance laws have been put in place, curtailing our civil liberties and elevating our military's role in broad areas of domestic and foreign policy. This endless war has now become a core component of US engagement with the world and has helped drive increases in the Pentagon budget, which doubled between 2001 and 2011.
The Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which Congress passed just three days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, was publicly used by President Bush to launch two land invasions and more than a dozen smaller deadly military actions. President Obama has continued to argue that the authorization justifies US military action around the world, including in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Mali.
Can We Move Away from Perpetual War?
As 2013 draws to a close, more and more people are joining FCNL in questioning whether military force can provide security and promote peace. The rejection of the president's proposal for US military action in Syria is the most recent evidence of growing public and congressional skepticism for this approach. The Syrian crisis has also raised the profile of alternate ways to address disputes. Diplomacy and international treaties have established a process to identify, secure and ultimately destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.
At the same time, budget pressures in the United States are leading more people to question whether pouring money into the Pentagon is the most effective way to solve national and global problems. As communities across the country suffer from budget cuts, the public and many members of Congress are asking new questions about how much the country should spend on the military.
The US war in Afghanistan provides another window into shifting attitudes in the US about military power. When FCNL first questioned the military response to the attacks on September 11, 2001, few others joined us. Now, ideas about the need to wind down existing wars and to peacefully prevent future violent conflicts are taking root on Capitol Hill. As part of FCNL, you have helped convince majorities in both chambers of Congress to affirm that all US military forces should pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 and that our country has a moral obligation to support civilian-led rebuilding.
President Obama, US military leaders and our international partners are also reconsidering the role of military force. In a speech at the National Defense University in May, President Obama said that engaging in a perpetual war would be self-defeating. He called for refining and ultimately repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, curtailing the use of drones and closing the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.
US Engagement under President Obama
President Obama's remarks illustrate the way that US engagement with the world is changing. Large-scale armed invasions, once a mainstay of modern warfare, are increasingly seen as unviable. As then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in 2011, "Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it."
So far, however, the Obama administration is shifting, not decreasing, the US military's role in our foreign engagement. In the same National Defense University speech, the president stated, "We must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror,' but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America."
These targeted efforts raise their own concerns. In his first term in office, President Obama launched more than five times as many non-battlefield drone strikes as President Bush did in the whole of his presidency. The Obama administration has deployed Special Forces to engage in extrajudicial kidnapping and executions and has used sweeping surveillance programs that -- we now know -- gather up the personal data of hundreds of millions of people who have not been accused of any crime.
Drones and surveillance are just the surface of President Obama's expanded use of the military as a tool of US foreign policy. The New York Times reported in May that US Special Operations forces are testing how to expand their operations "in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially Asia, Africa and Latin America." In the continent of Africa alone, an investigation by TomDispatch.com found US military involvement with 49 of the 54 countries on the African continent. And as the map on page 2 shows, the US military is quietly exerting its influence in nearly every country in the world by deploying personnel widely.
These military activities are a substantial drain on our country's resources. Congress has begun to rein in runaway Pentagon spending. Yet even the $1 trillion cut in Pentagon spending over the next 10 years that FCNL has been working to convince Congress to maintain would still leave the US military budget at about the same level in inflation-adjusted terms as during the height of the Cold War. Our country's overinvestment in the Pentagon makes it more difficult to invest in other parts of the economy that create more jobs and build sustainable communities.
Congress Can Scale Back the Endless War
To justify many of these activities, the Obama administration relies on many of the same laws that President Bush used to underpin the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather than accept this new form of endless war, Congress should listen to and act on the public skepticism about military force as a tool of foreign policy.
As a significant first step, Congress should take the opportunity of the end of US military activity in Afghanistan to declare an end to the "war on terror" and to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
Congress also needs to exercise more oversight of the expanding US military activity around the world. Members need to demand greater accountability from the administration about the justification for and practical use of everything from drones to government surveillance and detention without trial.
Perhaps most importantly, shifting away from an "endless war" mentality will require Congress -- and other leaders -- to be open to new ideas about how problems can best be solved and what is needed for people in our country and the world to be secure.
From Endless War to Shared Security
An important part of FCNL's advocacy work is putting forward this new vision of how the US can interact with the world from a more peaceful, cooperative perspective. Through our Shared Security project, a joint venture with the American Friends Service Committee, we make a case for why our government needs to employ peaceful means for peaceful ends, seek solutions that protect the most vulnerable among us, strengthen and advance the rule of law and replace fear-driven militarism with restorative approaches that heal. (You can find out more about this project at sharedsecurity.org.)
It is not enough simply to oppose the policies that keep our country mired in endless war. We also need to offer a foreign policy that is grounded in a deeper understanding of the challenges now facing our interdependent world, looking for strategies that reflect a cooperative search for solutions and that recognize that our security in the United States depends on advancing global security for all.
At a moment when many people are rejecting military solutions, Friends have an important role to play in providing practical, effective, nonviolent solutions to the problems facing our country and world today. Thank you for joining us in these efforts.
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