Andrew Lichterman

“Our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy - a war that will be fought by Presidents of both parties, who will need steady bipartisan support from the Congress.” George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 31, 2006.

Every four years, the U.S. Department of Defense issues its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a broad outline of U.S. military policy and the types of programs that the Department wants to implement it. The next (2005) version is due out in February, but has published 42 pages of the draft QDR (subscription required). Resources and commentary on current and past QDR’s can be found at the Project for Defense Alternatives.

“Orwellian” is a term that is overused, but both the language and the content of the 2005 QDR, echoed by George Bush in his State of the Union speech, evoke resonances of “1984,” Orwell’s tale of dictatorship sustained by eternal war. Several locutions that recur throughout the QDR manifest a vision of war without end, fought increasingly by forces that are both less visible and less accountable. Over and over the QDR authors tell us that we are fighting what they now call “the long war” — an even more open-ended term than the “war on terror,” since it can be fought against anyone, anywhere, anytime. Bush used the same phrase in his State of the Union Address to underscore his favorite theme: he is a War President, and must be allowed to do whatever he alone deems necessary. The draft QDR puts a bit more meat on the State of the Union’s rhetorical bones, giving us some idea of how those in power plan to use this “long war” as a justification for more war and less democracy.
To fight this “long war,” the Department of Defense will require expanded “authorities” that would allow it to function abroad and at home with less Congressional oversight. The QDR complains that the lack of sufficient “authorities” have limited the ability of U.S. military forces to achieve the full “freedom of action” they desire:

“U.S. forces have demonstrated time and again their agility in responding rapidly to crises. However, operational agility has not yet been matched by the availability of sufficiently broad authorities, the required speed of decision-making, or the processes and procedures needed to support the warfighter. In a number of recent operations, the lack of needed authorities hindered the ability of U.S. forces to act swiftly, and the process to establish get appropriate authorities has often taken months to complete achieve….

Recent operations also reinforce the need to increase the freedom of action and the range of options available to the United States, its allies and partners, to address the security challenges of the 21st century.” Draft Quadrennial Defense Review excerpts, from (QDR)

The QDR claims the need for “authorities” that will make it easier to wage “irregular and unconventional warfare” to those making it easier to “assist police forces or interior ministries” of other countries. According to the QDR,

“During the Cold War the legal authorities for military action, intelligence, foreign military assistance and cooperation with foreign police and security services were separately defined and segregated from each other. Today, there is a need for U.S. forces to transition rapidly between these types of authorities in an agile and flexible manner, to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

To accomplish these goals, the Defense Department wants expanded “authorities” to train, equip, and work together on the ground with foreign militaries and with “foreign security forces best suited to internal counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations,” which “may be non-military law enforcement or other security forces of the government in some nations.” Similar “expanded “authorities,” claimed unilaterally by the Bush regime on the basis of memos written by in-house lawyers with extremist views on Executive power, already have brought us a military and “intelligence” culture that emphasizes secret operations, authorizes “renditions” and torture, engages in targeted assassinations, and imprisons indefinitely without trial those it declares to be “enemy combatants.” The infamous torture memos are only the best known of the “authorities” the Bush regime has fashioned for itself. Perhaps even more important as the QDR asserts the need for endless, global covert war is John Yoo’s September 25 2001 memo, which asserts virtually unlimited Presidential power to “not only to retaliate against any person, organization, or State suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks on the United States, but also against foreign States suspected of harboring or supporting such organizations.”

One of the main instruments of the “long war” will be expanded special operations forces. The QDR planners envision such forces operating in “dozens of countries simultaneously,” with the ability to “employ surrogates, operate clandestinely, and sustain a larger posture with lower visibility.” These secret forces, which clearly are intended to operate largely without public knowledge and hence largely beyond any meaningful democratic control, will be equipped, in the QDR vision, with more unmanned aircraft and other modern technology. This would mean more operations like the recent bombing of a village in Pakistan by unmanned U.S. aircraft aimed at killing Al Qaeda operatives. Pakistan is a country that nominally is our ally, and with which we are at peace. Imagine if England suddenly bombed a house in some American suburb, killing women and children, claiming they believed fugitives who had planned the 2005 London bombings might be there. There is little difference, except that the American government sees villagers in Pakistan’s tribal areas as people of a kind that they can kill with impunity — and believes that most Americans will agree.

But to avoid the bad publicity that killing even poor foreign innocents might bring, the QDR authors aim to increase U.S. ability to conduct “clandestine operations in politically sensitive environments and denied areas.” “Denied areas” is another favorite bit of QDR jargon, closely related to the common description of other countries’ defenses in U.S. military planning parlance as “anti access” or “area denial.” These are all rhetorical devices for blurring public perceptions of an increasingly aggressive global military stance as somehow defensive, even when the United States is the only country with forces deployed all over the world, ready and, as a matter of policy, willing to strike first at anything an all-powerful executive branch declares to be a “threat.” And the clandestine forces on the ground will be backed by expanded strategic forces, ranging from upgraded strategic bombers to conventional long-range ballistic missiles, and always by “a robust nuclear deterrent.”

The military also wants expanded “authorities” domestically, despite the President already having claimed authority to conduct a virtually unlimited right to conduct the war at home as well, including the power to spy on Americans that even Congress can’t limit. Here, the draft QDR calls for the “seamless integration of Federal, state and local capabilities at home and among allies, partners, and non-governmental organizations abroad.”

Spending almost as much as the rest of the world combined on armaments and war making, the United States is in a position to make a “long war” a self-fulfilling prophecy, or to instead take visible, concrete steps on a different path. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the State of the Union spectacle was the compulsory standing ovations, with little visible dissent, for anything and everything related to the military and “our men and women in uniform.” The United States is in the grips of a deep and abiding militarism. We can support those “in uniform” as human beings, and as our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters. But supporting them as “troops” means supporting the “long war,” a vision and a path that already has destroyed much of what still was good about this country, and that may take much of the world down with us.