War without end: The U.S. may still be fighting in Syria in 2024, 2034, 2044 . . .

September 24, 2014

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This must be what perpetual war looks like.

In a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Army Lieutenant General Bill Mayville called the cruise missiles and bombs flung at targets in Syria “the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign.” How long will the campaign last? “I would think of it in terms of years,” Mayville responded.

Although the bombs exploded on Syrian soil, they didn’t target Bashar al-Assad’s battered, murderous regime. The bombs were addressed to Syria’s enemy, the Islamic State, a nascent nation that has pledged to topple both Iraq and Syria, as well as Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, and parts of southern Turkey, and erect a caliphate on the parcel.

But in attacking Syria’s enemy, the United States wasn’t looking to make friends with Syria. President Barack Obama called for Assad to step down in 2011, and it was only last year that the United States was prepared to bomb Syria for having crossed the chemical-weapons “red line” to kill its own citizens. Not that the United States is remarkably choosey about which nations it counts among its allies. Among the Middle East nations joining with the United States to strike Syria is Qatar, which has allowed one of its sheikhs to raise funds for an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. As you know, the United States is at war with Al Qaeda in all of its flavors, including the Syria-based Khorasan Group, upon which U.S. bombs fell this week. The Khorasan Group is said to be plotting attacks on the United States and Europe.

Our perpetual war is complicated, however, by the fact that the Islamic State is the sworn enemy of Al Qaeda, from which it split earlier this year because it couldn’t play nice with Al Qaeda’s other affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is also fighting the Assad regime. Or, to look at it another way, the enemies of America’s enemies are not automatically America’s friends; and even America’s friends, which can be permissive about the flow of money to Al Qaeda, aren’t necessarily America’s friends either.

America has allies in Syria’s civil war, of course, including Harakat Hazm, part of the Free Syrian Army. Harakat Hazm is fighting Assad, but it has also fought alongside America’s enemy Jabhat al-Nusra, which has not disqualified it from receiving U.S. weapons and training. Harakat Hazm took exception to the American-led bombing of Syria in a statement, calling it an “external intervention” and “an attack on the revolution,” according to a Los Angeles Times report. So Harakat Hazm, America’s friend, which fought with America’s enemy against Syria—which is neither friend nor enemy—objects to the fact that America bombed Syria in pursuit of the Islamic State, which is also Harakat Hazm’s enemy. Meanwhile, the militant Shiite group Hezbollah is drone-bombing Jabat al-Nusrat along the Lebanon-Syria border at the same time Israel is downing Syrian jets.

Confused yet? You’ll have plenty of time to catch up. As Mayville promised, this conflict will likely go on for years.

A formation of U.S. Navy F-18E Super Hornets leaves after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over northern IraqIt’s a wild card war in which allies and enemies seem arbitrary and ever-shifting. Will the American attacks strengthen the Assad regime by weakening the Islamic State, as some speculate? Or will it drive Jabhat al-Nusra closer to the Islamic State, at least in the interim? Or will the American-funded “moderates” shake off their masters and place Assad in their gun sights instead of the Islamic State? National security reporter Thomas E. Ricks, a man not subject to confusion, can’t decide whether to call the latest hostilities a new installment of a new Thirty Years’ War (1991-2021?) or another chapter in the War of the End of the Ottoman Empire (1914-2040?).

A war with a conclusion that its participants can’t see or can’t imagine is a war without end. None of the dig-in parties in Syria and Iraq look like pushovers, but neither do any of them look like sure bets. Without American intervention, the current war will likely rage on. With regard to American intervention, not even the Pentagon dares to predict an end.

For Americans, at least so far, this war is rumbling on like background noise. The usual markers of military victory—body-counts tabulated, territories seized and banked, no-fly zones established, governments-in-waiting imposed, and elections supervised—don’t apply to the Syria war. The borders, combatants, allegiances, and military objectives in the Syrian war are too fluid to conform to our usual expectations. Nor do the usual markers of peace seem to exist. There are no peace talks taking shape, no shuttle diplomacy, no evidence of a dominant power about to exert its might to create a lasting peace by flattening everybody.

In hypothesizing a 30-year-long war, I fear that Tom Ricks was off by a factor of two or three. In bombing Syria, President Obama, who inherited this war, has made this war his war, the next president’s war, and our war. Today, tomorrow, and for as far as the eye can see. Perpetual war for perpetual peace.

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PHOTO: A still image taken from video provided by the U.S. Central Command shows a damaged building at an Islamic State (IS) compound near the northern Syrian town of Ar Raqqah, following an air strike against IS targets September 23, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Central Command/Handout via Reuters TV

36 comments

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Re-read the early pages of Orwell’s “1984.” He may have been off by a few years, but otherwise his description of shifting alliances and enemies and the constant state of external enemies is quite prophetic.

Posted by BenMC | Report as abusive

Since Jihad is a dogma and there are over a billion Muslims, we should be looking on how discredit the dogma and it’s clergy. Bombing replaceable foot solders can keep us there forever. In Europe the religious underpinning for their religious wars got buried when there was too many deaths.

So either arm groups likely to kill a lot infidel Muslims or target clergy and others promoting the dogma or both.

Posted by SamuelReich | Report as abusive

The reason why nobody worries today about German panzers rolling across the Low Countries and France, nor about Imperial Japanese forces creating a new Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, is because the populations of both countries learned the intolerable consequences of internationally unacceptable behavior. “Modern” war deliberately avoids that lesson, hence “modern” war never ends. War is cruelty, you cannot refine it.

Posted by FrankNatoli | Report as abusive

When you elected a Ghetto organizer whose only experience is organizing mobs of takers to blackmail the makers and the only thing he has ever ran is his mouth mostly telling lies or bragging one should not expect much. Elect a clown you get a circus!

Posted by BlackSaint | Report as abusive

Yes indeed . . . WAR WITHOUT END when the world leaders refuse to UNEQUIVICALLY IDENTIFY the dreaded enemy as such, and PROCEED to DESTROY said-enemy, post-haste.

We’ve played footsie & patty-cake with just about every devil on the face of the earth over past 70 years, thinking that if WE just be ‘civil’, and try to reason with the monsters, they’ll behave themselves & turn into nice ‘lil pussycats we can contain & control.

It is FINALLY time we simply say to these barbarians, ‘IT’S OVER, prepare to meet allah”, and send them on their way once ‘n for all.

This Islamic terrorism is a disease of mind, body ‘n soul, and we’ve let it fester for decades, only allowing it to turn more virulent every year.

Take ’em out NOW, because this cancer is spreading like the plaque . . . spread by the rabid rodents that these terrorists are.

KNOW THINE ENEMY, or PERISH.

Posted by JoyFulLaRue | Report as abusive

The U.S. should never have backed the so-called rebels against the Assad regime in the first place. That said, we SHOULD provide support to the Kurds throughout the entire region. Where this conflicts with the Syrian government. Baghdad. or the Turks should, in the final analysis, matter not at all. The Kurds, despite our rather uneven support over the past quarter century, have remained our friends and it is to those friends that we must continue to provide aid in the coming period. This isn’t about “perpetual war for perpetual peace” as some revisionist historians and neo-isolationists would have it: it’s about sustaining a rational moral vision in a very dangerous world. The jihadis are at war with the West whether or not the West wants to fight that war or not. We minimize or ignore that threat at our deadly peril.

Posted by StevenPiper | Report as abusive

@BlackSaint, read some history.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

Excellent analysis and for those who do not know the Middle East, very confusing indeed.
This has been the dilemma of the West and USA in particular for many decades, namely the inability to understand the mentality of the Arab.
Nevertheless if the Western world is to protect its way of life it must fight and defeat these ISLAMISTS.
It must do so now before the whole region falls under their control. Arabs have no stomach for prolonged conflict unlike the
Afghanis and others. They are apt to bow to the extremists eventually. Then they will have become a force the West may not be capable of defeating.

Posted by pharoah | Report as abusive

Great article. The real blame for this endless war is the entire system. The military, the politicians (both parties) the press and every citizen in this country all play a hand in this cancer. Peace, real peace will only happen when the population rises up and demands it. Viet Nam was not ended in congress or the battlefields it was ended in the streets.

Posted by DFD-500 | Report as abusive

Wall St and K St are loving every minute of this.

Run out and buy up as much Electric Boat, Raytheon and General Dynamics stock as you possibly can.

The bottom will still fall out, the nation will still face utter financial collapse and ruin, but we can party like it’s 1999 until it happens.

God Bless what ever is left of the USA.

Posted by Celebrindan | Report as abusive

Yes indeed . . . WAR WITHOUT END when the world leaders refuse to UNEQUIVICALLY IDENTIFY the dreaded enemy as such, and PROCEED to DESTROY said-enemy, post-haste.

We’ve played footsie & patty-cake with just about every devil on the face of the earth over past 70 years, thinking that if WE just be ‘civil’, and try to reason with the monsters, they’ll behave themselves & turn into nice ‘lil pussycats we can contain & control.

It is FINALLY time we simply say to these barbarians, ‘IT’S OVER, prepare to meet allah”, and send them on their way once ‘n for all.

This Islamic terrorism is a disease of mind, body ‘n soul, and we’ve let it fester for decades, only allowing it to turn more virulent every year.

Take ’em out NOW, because this cancer is spreading like the plaque . . . spread by the rabid rodents that these terrorists are.

KNOW THINE ENEMY, or PERISH.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

No war has preset conclusions or boundaries, in either time or territory. Wars are inherently unpredictable and if a state is only going to act when there are clearly defined parameters, such as when the war will end and under what circumstances (something Congress is always trying to do), then obviously the use of force – to protect the national interest – will never occur. The Obama administration tried to stay disengaged from the unfolding Syrian-Iraqi conflict, with disastrous consequences. Remember the argument, now demonstrated as specious, how U.S. involvement would make matters worse? Now late in the battle there is finally engagement, but from a much weaker starting point.
What limited U.S and coalition military force can do is shape the battlefield to some degree and provide the Administration with greater bargaining power and leverage in the pursuit of diplomatic outcomes.

Posted by Cassiopian | Report as abusive

The point is when the USA left that region militarily for just a few years some really bad folks got a safe haven. That was bad news, but we can not stick our Chamberlains in the sand. That is a worse, by a factor of thousands, mistake. Think of ISIS and it’s leadership as a new 3rd Reich and their leader a Muslim wrapped Hitler. Leaving these folks alone would bring it to our door sooner.

Posted by Srosie | Report as abusive

sticking our Chamberlains in the ground would be a bad idea. Leaving the region for just a few years allowed ISIS a safe haven. This is a Muslim wrapped 3rd Reich run by a turbaned Hitler.

Posted by Srosie | Report as abusive

When a Soviet Union does not exist, it is necessary to invent one.

Posted by Screecher | Report as abusive

The plan was and is that the war on terror will never end. That is why it was created. We lost the great evil soviet union who provided a singular central point of mass hatred. When they collapsed we tried the war on drugs, which does still exist but was not as lucrative as would be hoped, so we got the war on terror. The great thing is we can squeeze the little countries and always make them squirm enough to spit out a few terrorists. Business is good, and because the CIA can create terrorist fairly easily we will never run out of people to fear and kill.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

This is a systematic destruction of Syria. USA feeds arms on one side and Russia on the other. The big prize – which is almost here – is the total destruction of Syria and bounties of rebuilding contracts and weapons sales to the new rulers of Syria.

The not so obvious and sad result is a nation destroyed and a new generation of terrorists emerging from the ashes when they realize outside bigger forces purposely created civil war – for profit.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

USA can end it in no time if they admit that Syrian government is the rightful authority. Assad fought these terrorists from the beginning. There’s no third party in this war. Only the government and terrorists. But as long as the USA waits for some “rebels” show up the war will continue.

Posted by Anticleon | Report as abusive

Democrats and Republicans are promoting the same ISIS Propaganda across all major news networks.

These identical parties are using MSNBC, CNN, and FOX to generate support for War and Surveillance.

Posted by FearPropaganda | Report as abusive

I am glad the writer has a crystal ball. Jack my I borrow yours? Please get real!

Posted by Hermist | Report as abusive

I go for the End of the Ottoman’s. This includes Lebannon in the 70’s – 00’s, Cyprus in the 70’s, Israel since the 40’s, all the bungled Brit stuff in Iraq since forever, Lawrence, Churchill, Gertrude Bell. Of course that sort of ignores that the Ottoman’s hadn’t been doing so hot for a couple of centuries before 1914.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

There’s a simple low maintenance solution to avoid perpetual war in Syria… Obama and all future U.S. Administrations: STOP funding and arming the so-called “moderate” head-chopping, suicide bombing terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Libya and anywhere else, that a stupid, short-sighted policy that got us 911 in the first place! Hypocrite Republican & Democratic Senate and Congress.. well, stop being hypocrites and reject any further funding and arming of “moderate terrorists”.

Posted by JBazin | Report as abusive

This is another error in US foreign policy. There was no reason to support any of the rebels against Assad. Arming sworn enemies of the West is and was foolish. Bombing is expensive and has little result. We will have to see if the new coalition has any effect.

Posted by vxx | Report as abusive

One should remember that major islamic clergy has in the past come out for violence (Iran during revolution, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, etc.), there is all shades of interpretation of Jihad dogma apparently and religious and tribal warfare is recurrent in the Middle-East.

Policy should recognize that and as long as the world does mount a crusade top rid itself of Islam, we should limit our military action to massive retaliation directed to families of Clergy and big Money Contributors and Nations whose school systems teach militant Islam (Arabia for example, the home Al Qaeda), for attacks on America.
Killing small time idiots will do nothing killing their Religious Leaders, their Schools and Money sources will keep they small time idiots.

Our policy in regard to Middle East in general should be to keep divided, backward and weak so any threats from it can be destroyed at low cost. Along those lines we should provide (under cover) old short range weapons to losing sides or internal wars.

Posted by SamuelReich | Report as abusive

The Central Asians have always been enemies of Oceana! Hail Big Brother!

Posted by Screecher | Report as abusive

Perpetual war = explosion of US fed debt = ???? To defend ourselves we destroy ourselves?

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

Know this – as long as the Military Industrial Complex is in charge of this country through the “two” major political parties, we will never be at peace. Never. The nation will be mired in one needless war after another, with increasing poverty and loss of civil liberties at home, until the day finally comes when, entirely drained, it collapses in on itself as a lifeless husk. Sucked dry by the giant vampire triplets of greed, fear and hate.

And who will be at fault for the death of the United States? Bush? Obama? Clinton? No, YOU. Yes, YOU – the American people yourselves are to blame, you who keep voting for these selfish liars out of idiotic manufactured fear, who keep buying into the racial/political/religious “divide and conquer” foolishness, who refuse to stand up for yourselves and say “NO, DAMMIT!” to the encroaching police state at home and endless wars of choice abroad. Well cowards, when the country that you pretend to love finally dies before your eyes don’t call it a tragedy – call it the future you chose.

Posted by t4525h13 | Report as abusive

The only way out of this nightmarish trap of the geopoliticians who are doing the bidding of speculative finance is to overthrow their chessboard. The world requires a new monetary system that is based upon development that uplifts the standard of living. The BRICS nations are creating the kernel of such a system now. The US needs to dump the Wall Street vultures and return to sanity.

Posted by Thingumbob | Report as abusive

I’m not worried about perpetual war as I cannot see how the US will continue to fund it for years and years without imploding. Economic forces will provide the needed corrective action.

Posted by joeyman2 | Report as abusive

Democrats and Republicans are promoting ISIS across MSNBC, CNN, and FOX.

We need an alternative to Fear, War, and Surveillance in 2016.

Ignore the Mainstream Media.

Posted by FearPropaganda | Report as abusive

Perpetual petrodollars and money for the war corporations more likely….

Posted by Invictuss | Report as abusive

You’ve made a case against a war with an unclear timetable.

But consider: if you were in a legal dispute, and your lawyer told you “five days- whether your case is won or lost or still ongoing, after five days in court, I’m out of here, off to Tahiti to sit on a sandy beach”, would you nod and approve of his timetable, or insist he stick it out to the end, even if he can’t tell you with certainty when that end will be?

We’ve forgotten something. One side can unilaterally start a war. But BOTH sides must agree to end it. Obama attempted to secure the end of the Iraq War without the agreement of the other side. This is what he got instead.

Posted by swami996 | Report as abusive

That depends on how long the US military will tolerate this mindlessness.

Posted by Screecher | Report as abusive

@ Cassiopian- So you say “The Obama administration tried to stay disengaged from the unfolding Syrian-Iraqi conflict, with disastrous consequences. Remember the argument, now demonstrated as specious, how U.S. involvement would make matters worse?”

How have all the bombs the US dropped made the situation better? The US contributed to the destabilization of the region by destroying a stable Iraqi government for no good reason. The US took sides against a Syrian government without any better reason than Assad is a brutal tyrant.

Hussein and Assad, two brutal leaders of countries in a brutal part of the world. There is a religious war going on there. Why is the West getting involved? Let them dig their own graves, they are only too willing.

It’s like stepping between two fighting pit bulls – you get bit from both sides.

(Aside – it was enlightening to see the Saudis contributing to the military effort by bombing Islamic State oil refineries. Think Target might be hoping for the opportunity to do the same to Walmart?)

Public beheading is ugly and deliberately provocative, but does it mean Islamic State poses a real, immediate and credible threat to the well being, yet alone the existence, of the United States. I doubt it. Anarchists have been around throughout history, they succeed best when they provoke societies into over-reacting (See WWI, although Archduke Ferdinand was next in line to the throne, not a journalist or an aid worker). The US keeps dropping bombs and the situation continues to degenerate. Maybe there is a better solution.

The world is a dangerous place, always was, always will be. The greedy, power hungry people running it maintain their control by scaring us into believing we are threatened by outside forces. What they are really after is more power for themselves. Read your Goering if you need a source. Neurenberg Diary (1947).

Posted by Gerpal | Report as abusive

No there is a gears that would lead the local war to a world war after some years of fighting. It is not possible for the USA to ally with Iran whithout putting an end with their Israeli partnership. It is not possible for the USA hurting the Chiah whithout hurting Russia.

Posted by meleze | Report as abusive

George Orwell…you were right. Is that a drone above me..?

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

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