But at least we paid lip service to (even while often violating) the notion that wars should be waged only when absolutely imperative to defending the nation against imminent threats. We largely don't even bother to do that any more. Consider today's defense of the war in Afghanistan from the war-loving Washington Post Editorial Page. Here's their argument for why we should continue to wage war there:
Yet if Mr. Obama provides adequate military and civilian resources, there's a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate, as it did in Iraq.
Does that sound like a stirring appeal to urgent national security interests? Why should we continue to kill both Afghan civilians and our own troops and pour billions of dollars into that country indefinitely? Because "there's a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate." One can almost hear the yawning as the Post Editors call for more war.
Ouch. Of course, he's right. This exactly the sort of open-ended language of commitment that plagues our discourse regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate" is a notch above "we can't afford to lose" rhetorically, but it's at the same level logically. What chance is "reasonable"? Eighty percent? Thirty? Any? What "something" is "better than a stalemate"? The Taliban controlling half of Afghanistan? A quarter? Pakistan only? And if you think officials in the Obama administration are talking in more concrete terms than this, then you my friend are naive. This is how we've been fighting wars since Korea; the "pure" 1991 Gulf War was the exception, not the rule.
And as has become depressingly common, an airstrike in Afghanistan has killed at least eighty civilians, all to achieve the dubious military goal of blowing up a couple of stolen fuel trucks. Spencer Ackerman is wondering if we even know how to achieve specific goals in Afghanistan such as not turning Afghans against us:
McChrystal has already restricted airstrikes in Afghanistan. This one still happened. And it caused a civilian death count that, if history is any guide, will be revised upward. After each of these airstrikes, there are lots of promises to fix what went wrong, and still this one happened. Any military commander will say that he or she can’t completely rule out the tool of airstrikes. But if avoiding civilian casualties and protecting the population from violence really is the preeminent goal of the Afghanistan war, and if McChrystal believes that Afghan sentiment really is strategically decisive, then as absurd as it may seem, the logic of counterinsurgency really does point to ruling them out. There is no reset button to be hit on an eight-year war. The legacy of years of U.S. and NATO airstrikes and the civilian casualties they have caused hovers like a shadow over today’s Kunduz attack.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not out on the war...yet. But I am out on the sort of counterinsurgency "strategy" that relies on airstrikes to achieve minor military victories, and I'm definitely out on editors and pundits encouraging us to remain committed to Afghanistan because there's some chance that something might still go right in the end. Soldiers should be made to die for less fuzzy goals.