The underlying U.S. military doctrine is that of the Long War (see Kilcullen, Bacevich, Long War Journal). The war itself is about containing terrorism and projecting American power across numerous countries in the Arab world. It also is a “resource war” as described by Alexander Haig in 1980. And it contains a cultural dimension as captured in the phrase “clash of civilizations” (Samuel Huntington).
For top counterinsurgency strategist Kilcullen, the Long War is about “fighting small wars in the midst of a big one.” In this context, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc are only chapters in a single war, which he says will last 50-80 years, cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. In the process, discretionary domestic spending in the United States and other Western countries will be diminished and blamed on constant budget crises. As executive power is consolidated and secrecy expands over decision-making, civil liberties will be continually eroded and groups like WikiLeaks and investigative reporters will be targeted.
It is important that you know how much secrecy has expanded in America with the Long War. The massive classification of documents continued to grow after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the first year after 9/11, the U.S. government classified 11.3 million documents, 14.2 million the following year, and another 15.6 million the third year. Hundreds of thousands of officials were granted security classifications. Only a small percentage of the secret documents were about delicate matters, which might affect innocent lives or spread any formulas for dangerous weapons. Some were acted on, as in the case of bin Laden’s killing. Some were ignored, as in the secret warning on September 6, 2001 that there would be an immanent attack by bin Laden on the U.S. through hijacked airplanes. Most of the millions of documents, however, simply protected embarrassing information from being transmitted to the public domain.
Since 2001, American wars have become more secretive, not less, in large part to keep secrets from journalists and the general public. Our commanders in Iraq came straight out of special forces and secret operations. The entire career of Gen. McChrystal in Iraq, for example, was classified information. Secret CIA mini-armies have been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and beyond. The entire U.S. role in Pakistan is itself classified information.
Preserving this secrecy system from the skeptical eyes of American and global publics is the basic reason why the WikiLeaks disclosures are such a threat to the United States, because our spy agencies have cultivated a culture of massive over-classification and falsely equated it with a broad and undefined concept of “national security.” For example, the cables reveal that these important policies have been wrapped in secrecy:
- Rather than ending the torture revealed at Iraq’ Abu Graeb prison, the same policies were outsourced to the Iraqi police and army;
- Secret commando units with code names like Task Force 373 carried out targeted assassinations in Afghanistan;
- The CIA recruited its own secret army of 3,000 in Afghanistan;
- The CIA funded and directed paramilitary operations and drone strikes using Afghanistan’s spy agency as a “virtual subsidiary.”
WikiLeaks has not been a national security threat but a threat to this whole system of over-classification. That is why so many American officials have called for the repression of the WikiLeaks network and targeted its leaders for elimination. Pfc. Bradley Manning has been the victim of extreme abuse, 23-hour per day isolation and endless interrogations about his role. And as you know, Julian Assange is in London where on July 20 he will be appealing his extradition to Sweden. I would hope that the public and the judiciaries in Britain and Sweden will act to protect any individuals who have dared to transfer shocking, embarrassing and vital information to the public domain where it belongs.
The WikiLeaks case may become as important in ending the Long War as the Pentagon Papers controversy in the 1970s was in ending the Vietnam War and forcing the resignation of Richard Nixon.
What I am saying is that the Long War requires a Long Peace Movement, along two lines: first the waging of protest campaigns against each of the particular wars as they arise, and secondly, an education campaign to warn against the economic costs, political costs and dangers of wider wars that are guaranteed by pursuing the Long War not only for our lifetimes but our childrens’ lifetimes.
And since the Long War involves global coalitions such as NATO and ISAF, the long peace movement requires a global consciousness, information-sharing and mutual support, if not coordination.
The Pentagon and the White House are deeply concerned that public opinion in Europe and Canada will impose limits on the Long War. Specifically, Obama has set 2014 as his deadline for withdrawing combat forces from Afghanistan, a plan that is influenced partly by his reading of the European allies.
Sweden has announced it will begin withdrawing 600 troops next year and transitioning to a more civilian role.
The Netherlands is pulling out its 1,950 troops this year. Canada is in the process of withdrawing 2,800 troops by this December. Germany is planning to pull 4,800 troops by next year. Poland will withdraw 2,600 troops by 2012. Italy will withdraw 3,400 by 2014. France is beginning to withdraw 3,500 troops this year. The UK is talking about taking out its combat troops by 2015. A minimum cost estimate, through 2009, is $17 billion U.S. for total ISAF expenditures on Afghanistan, and a death toll of 903 through the present, sure to reach 1,000 before this ends.
The allies are heading for the exits, or in some cases shifting to Libya. The U.S. will not continue these wars alone, so continuing pressure from public opinion here in Europe is crucial to terminating at least the combat role of Western troops.
As for the U.S., these are the most crucial weeks for Afghanistan policy as Obama prepares to announce the “beginning” of troop withdrawals by the end of this month. There is a fierce debate inside the walls of the administration between those in the military who want only a token withdrawal of 5,000 and the more dovish figures like Vice President Biden who want to begin “significant” withdrawals now.
A parallel debate is occurring about Iraq, where the U.S. is scheduled to withdraw all forces by the end of this December. Pushed by the U.S., the Iraqi leadership may “request” that Obama retain a residual force in the tens of thousands.
Here is what at stake, given these military quagmires in the midst of economic recession.
If Obama withdraws just half the current troops in Afghanistan going into 2012 - or 50,000 troops – he will save $100 billion in two years which can be reinvested in America’s domestic economy.
Further, if Obama withdraws all the remaining U.S. troops from Iraq – 47,000 total – he will save another $100 billion through 2012, or a cumulative total from Iraq and Afghanistan of $200 billion.
He will be able to campaign on a pledge of trying to end two quagmires and save $200 billion by 2012.
Unfortunately, Obama will escalate the drone attacks in Pakistan even after the death of Bin Laden, and will continue drone attacks and special operations in Yemen as well. It will take further debate and organizing in the U.S. to force an end to these military interventions which are destabilizing and inflaming these countries.
But the demand to end or sharply de-escalate two wars – Iraq and Afghanistan – has become a powerful consensus within American public opinion, the entire Democratic Party, independent voters and even many Republicans.
No one knows what Obama will decide, but certainly the Pentagon and advocates of permanent Long War are worried. 205 members of the House of Representatives [a majority is 218] last week voted for a bill demanding an “accelerated” withdrawal timetable. Fifteen senators suddenly woke up to call for a significant withdrawal too. The process was launched by Rep. Barbara Lee in February when she passed a resolution at the Democratic National Committee calling for a significant and substantial withdrawal, language that even the president himself has used recently.
The American withdrawal, assuming it happens, will look like a long trickle of blood in the sand. And more struggles for peace and justice lie immediately ahead, starting with Pakistan and including Libya. All of us face massive economic and environmental problems which cannot be addressed without a huge rethinking and demilitarization of Western foreign policy.
Olaf Palme long ago opposed the Vietnam War and linked it to a larger effort to rethink and reject the Cold War which at the time dominated so much of our planetary budgets and energy. He was murdered in the course of breaking with the Cold War, just as our Abraham Lincoln was murdered as the U.S. Civil War was ending and Reconstruction was beginning, and just as our John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated after President Kennedy began rethinking the Cold War nuclear arms race and turned towards civil rights and domestic priorities.
We may be at the early stages of another transition today, given the democratic electoral revolution in Latin America, the brave struggles by young people across the Arab world, the strong protests in Europe against austerity budgets, and recently in Wisconsin in response to the agenda of the Tea Party. Groups like WikiLeaks represent a new force with new tools to ensure that information is free. This is a mosaic of resistance, not a monolithic one, a global outpouring with many leaders, parties and social movements, away from the empire of secrecy and massive military alliances, towards a world whose many webs are multicultural, multi-polar and based on greater participatory democracy and above all, sustainability. We who have fought for peace from Vietnam to Afghanistan may be a bridge to the next generation, which is rapidly attempting to shape and preserve the world.