Perpetual war is here — and Americans are getting used to it

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A new poll shows a substantial majority of Americans have resigned themselves to the reality of our nation’s perpetual foreign wars. They don’t like it, but they see it happening and know there is nothing they can do about it. The poll, conducted by Clarus Research Group, showed that 68 percent of us agree with idea that we won’t either win or lose the war in Afghanistan, now eight years long, but will instead just remain there. The image of flies and flypaper again swirls in my head, just as it did at the time of the invasion of Iraq. We invaded these places and now we’re stuck there, and President Barack Obama is likewise stuck, not on flypaper, but on the horns of a dilemma: Does he send tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, as his area commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has publicly demanded, or does he change strategies a la Joe Biden and rely more on special ops and drones to harass the Taliban and kill whatever members of al-Qaeda we can find?
The news is filled with stories about this showdown and the political consequences of what the president may decide to do. There are some calls for Mr. Obama to fire Mr. McChrystal for acting like Gen. Douglas MacArthur did during the Korean War, when he challenged the strategic decisions of President Harry S. Truman. The counterpoint, as is always the case, comes from people who say the civilian leadership should stay out of the way and let the generals wage war however they decide. That’s more or less the position of the Republicans in Congress. That this subservience to the Pentagon would make the United States a sort of gargantuan Honduras doesn’t seem to bother these people.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress met with Mr. Obama at the White House this week to deliver their exhortations, all of them promising to back whatever decision is reached, and the president saying he’ll need some time to make his decision. That was to be expected, considering that it took him eight months to figure out what kind of dog to get for his daughters. The one thing he has promised – and this certainly feeds the public’s resignation about the war – is that he won’t, under any circumstance, withdraw from Afghanistan.

In a recent television interview, former career diplomat and one-time Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said he sees another Vietnam debacle shaping up in Afghanistan but that there is no way to walk away from it, since to do so would be to suffer a loss of America’s credibility. He bemoans another quagmire, yet says we must go ahead and be mired.

Good heavens. No wonder ordinary Americans are reading the tea leaves the way they are. Another poll, this one by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, shows these same Americans to be hawkish when it comes to Iran and its nuclear ambitions. The poll showed that 61 percent of the 1,500 respondents agreed with the idea that it is “more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it mean taking military action” than to “avoid military conflict.”

Why are we so heavily invested in Central Asia? We’re told it’s to prevent al-Qaeda from reinfesting Afghanistan and using it for training and staging attacks against us, but the real reason, the Great Game if you will, is the competition for the world’s energy resources. The Asia Times’ Pepe Escobar has written widely on what he calls “Pipelineistan,” the immense network of oil and gas pipelines that “crisscross the potential imperial battlefields of the planet.” Afghanistan sits at the center of Pipelineistan, and that’s the real reason we won’t willingly abandon it. If you don’t believe that, take advantage of Internet search technology and learn what’s really going on.

The stakes are immense, and as long as we have our enormous military power – budgeted at $626 billion for the coming fiscal year – it will largely be directed at controlling the sources of the world’s energy. Perpetual war is here, and we’re apparently getting used to it.

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is rsmith@wbal.com.

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