The New York Times finally broke a front-page story on a widening “secret war on terror” on August 15. But the article failed to report the trillion-dollar costs of the secret “shadow war,” and made it appear to be an ad hoc response to a widening Al Qaeda threat. In reality, it is the little-noted Long War doctrine in operation, a 50-80 year military campaign across numerous Islamic countries in resource-rich regions.
“Virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged,” the Times reported. Authorization by a select Congressional few, which broke down during the Iraq war, is not even required for the CIA’s Special Access Programs (SAPs).
One effect of the shadow war is to keep America public opinion in the dark. But the American public is not safer with wars taking place in 13 countries. The White House and Pentagon may want to limit their damaging exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to salvage the Long War against armed Muslim groups from Europe to South Asia.
During the 1960s, the peace movement pondered whether to focus on Vietnam or “seven wars from now.” A similar dilemma is taking shape as the US is sinking in visible quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan while expanding invisible wars on multiple fronts. Transparency is likely to be the first demand, with the threat of more WikiLeaks disclosures in the future. Equally or more important will be the disclosure of budgetary costs for the Long War, which will be in the trillions.
Finally, the national security debate should be whether the expanding shadow wars make Americans safer. In Iraq and Afghanistan the Al Qaeda threat has been fabricated or exaggerated. The Taliban does not directly threaten the West, according to Zbigniew Brzezinski in Foreign Affairs (January 2010). But sooner or later, the secret Long War will provoke another 9/11 catastrophe against the United States. What then?