Thursday, March 8, 2012

War Like Sunrise, Daily and Inevitable

Walking down Wilshire Boulevard tonight, I passed a bank of television screens inside a stockbroker's office. Erin Burnett's face was on one of the screens, over a caption describing American discussions about a war with the Syrian regime. (The CNN website still just carries a teaser for the show: "OutFront tonight: could the U.S. get involved in Syria? Erin breaks it down.") The very last time I looked up and saw Erin Burnett's face on a television screen, it was making its serious journalist expression -- kind of furrowed and squinty, like she has sand in her eyes -- over a caption about the possibility of an American war with Iran. CNN should just rotate through the whole globe with the same script: Tonight on CNN: Tuvalu stands defiant! Will America strike? Erin Burnett breaks it down.

The United States has now been at war for more than a decade, and is looking for new ones to start, but the public discussion about our smooth transition to apparently eternal war is as quiet and uncluttered as -- well, as our smooth transition to apparently eternal war. Even granting that Erin Burnett is a special case, we still discuss each new target in isolation, as a discrete set of questions about, for example, whether or not Iran will be a naughty boy and cross a red line that will force us to strike.

Not discussed: The human costs and political consequences of endless war. The implications of strategic failure inherent in the absence of resolution for existing wars and effective deterrence to avoid future ones. The domestic implications of endless war, given that the attorney general thinks it's just fine to kill U.S. citizens without due process if he does lots of paperwork and furrows his brow first. And the likelihood of ultimate military weakness, by the way, as the nation bankrupts itself and exhausts its armed forces.

Journalists don't seem to notice that these are questions they might want to ask. Large portions of the political right don't think they're questions that anyone should ask, although there's an exceptionally important exception. And American liberals think it's very very very bad for George Bush to wage war, zomfg Obama RULES!!!!!

Note that there are credible, serious critics of the American way of war. Some of them -- some of the best of them -- are military officers. At West Point, Col. Gian Gentile is a critic who shares a home with some other thoughtful critics. Elsewhere, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis recently wrote a long report accusing military leaders of lying about American military progress in Afghanistan. There's certainly an active debate over the quality and importance of their criticism, but they exist! They speak! How central are their questions and criticisms in anything you read in the news?

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