One phrase contained in the draft Quadrennial Defense Review document circulating amongst defense experts is sure to be a part of your life for years to come: The long war. Defense experts want the long war to be the new name for the war on terror, a kind of societal short hand that will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Cold War, promoted to capital letters, an indisputable and universally accepted state of the world.
"This generation of servicemembers will be in what we're calling the Long War," Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this week. "Our estimate is that for at least the next 20 years … our focus will be … the extremist networks that will continue to threaten the United States and its allies." (...) The Quadrennial Defense Review now exhorts the military to reform and retool to fight the long war, in everything from its business practices to its training. (...) "
Future warriors will be as proficient in irregular operations, including counterinsurgency and stabilization operations, as they are today in high-intensity combat," the document also states. Last year, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld already issued new guidance to the military placing "stability operations" on par with major combat operations in terms of funding priorities.
Arkin's critique of the same consists in three elements: i) the threat from terrorism is overblown, ii) the Bush administration blindly favors military instruments, iii) the two in combination means that we create more problems for ourselves by attracting more terrorists. Pressure begets counter-pressure:
And no: you cannot bomb your way to development, and yes, many of the challenges the Core (or the West and the rest of the industrialised world) will meet in dealing with the Gap (LICUS and those in between: the rest) will and do stem from social issues and must be solved that way. But we're back at one of the most fundamental discussions: is it possible to do international politics without recourse to security politics? Off course not -- sometimes somebody needs to tell the bad guys to stop: even if this is mostly done by implicit dissuasion.
Terrorists can not destroy America. Every day we articulate a long war, every time we pretend we are fighting for our survival we not only confer greater power and importance to terrorists than they deserve but we also at the same time act as their main recruiting agent by suggesting that they have the slightest potential for success.The Bush administration has been in panic mode since 9/11, and though it has tripped upon sometimes improved articulations of what it is doing to respond to the scourge of modern terrorism, it has both the wrong vision of the severity of the threat and it has shown itself, in four years of fighting, that no matter how much it articulates that the United States and the world must use all aspects of their power to thwart and defeat terrorism, the Bush administration is only comfortable with the military response, and it is only really happy with secret operations.
But, perphaps more importantly and first, the destruction of wealth that follows in the wake of internal and international conflict, of failed and failing states is so huge that an effort here -- in terms of development, but sometimes at least partly with military means -- will be worth its weight in gold (see the Copenhagen Consensus paper by Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler). Second, it is exactly in the situations where societal structures are in crisis that they are most malleable: creating new institutional setups of course in the first place (which is never enough), but also forging new statelihood through well-cast societal grand bargains -- this radical development programme is probably easier then. Third -- and just as cynically as the second point, but this time just about ourselves: it is when policy is cast as an element of security; when we believe that this about our own long term good, then we are the most willing to spend political, human and monetary capital on anything.
In this way, the transformation of the Global War on Terror into a subset of the larger development puzzle of shrinking the Gap might just be more than icing on the cake -- it might actually be the crucial jigsaw piece. For this to work, we need to learn to do both Stabilization and (Re)construction at the same time, and equally well.