War Without End

As Shakespeare has Henry V say in Henry V, “once more into the breech.”

The United States has been at war in the Middle East for nearly 14 years and it remains difficult, at best, to say what we have accomplished.

As Kevin Drum outlined in a blog post at, the Bush/Obama wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen – which underplays the scope of our Middle East involvements – have done little to improve American standing in the world, while helping create a series of failed states and a growing extremist presence.

And yet, here we are again, at war in another Middle Eastern country with the ostensible goal of disarming and destroying another vicious group of extremists.

The war in Syria began last fall, but it wasn’t until February that President Obama officially sought Congressional approval. Much is being made about the structure of the authorization resolution the Obama team has crafted. As the New York Times reported Feb. 12, the president is seeking a “three-year limit on American action” that has been and is expected to continue being “conducted largely from the air.” The plan would allow use “Special Operations commandos and other limited missions,” but “would rule out sustained, large-scale ground combat.” And while it would “repeal the expansive 2002 congressional measure that authorized President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq,” it also “would leave in place a separate measure passed by Congress in 2001 authorizing the president to conduct a global war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

The debate in the week since the president announced he would seek Congressional authority focused on the specific details – whether geographic or tactical restraints were logical, whether everything should be on the table – but the larger question of whether we should engage in another war has sadly been relegated to the back seat.

The Times, for instance, argues in its editorial that the current debate needs to reflect an understanding of the misdeeds and mistakes of the recent past – which is smart. The proposed war authorization, it says, is “alarmingly broad.”

“It does not limit the battlefield to Syria and Iraq, the strongholds of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which is attempting to form a caliphate. It also seeks permission to attack ‘associated persons or forces’ of the brutal group, a term that appears to be excessively expansive and could undermine Mr. Obama’s stated intent to limit the force authorization.”

These are legitimate concerns, of course, but implied in the Times’ argument is support for military action – an assumption that it is not a matter of whether US forces should be used, but how and under what circumstances.

“The savagery of the group, which has beheaded journalists and aid workers,” the Times wrote, ”warrants a muscular response from the international community.”

Obama, however, is not seeking approval for international action; he is seeking authorization for an American war already taking place – for the use of US troops and the dissemination of American power. That is the larger issue in play, one that goes well beyond the narrow, wonky questions of end dates, exit strategies and boundary lines. The questions we should be asking about Syria and Iraq go to the heart of United States’ role in the world and the faulty logic that causes us to assume the role of indispensible power.

Marjorie Cohn — a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers – wrote on The Huffington Post that the Obama war authorization “amounts to a blank check to use US military force in perpetuity” that will only create more animus in the region.

“We need to stop using military force as a solution to everything,” she writes, and “focus on diplomacy.”

But this is just a first step. More significantly, we need to stop acting as though we are the only nation with the moral standing to adjudicate disputes on the national stage. We need to acknowledge that we are just one of dozens of nations – admittedly one of the larger, more militarily powerful one – one nation among equals and we need to work with others to avoid military action.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email,; blog,; Twitter, @newspoet41; Facebook,

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2015

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