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Allison Kilkenny Headshot

Win-Hold-Lose: How the Pentagon is Already Planning the Next Wars

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In 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act, which formed the National Military Establishment, a department with the unfortunate acronym "NME," (pronounced "enemy"). Wise men realized a name change was in order, so they rebranded NME as the "Department of Defense." In its new role, the DoD would oversee the duties formerly handled by the Department of War and the Department of the Navy.

Department of War and "enemy" are more suitable nomenclatures for our modern wartime Chimera, the Department of Defense.

As Thom Shanker details with the cool, detached demeanor of a serial killer, the "protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing the Obama administration to rethink what for more than two decades has been a central premise of American strategy: that the nation need only prepare to fight two major wars at a time."

Of course, "only two wars at a time, boys" isn't written anywhere in our Constitution. That may be because our forefathers were sort of wary about that whole empirical conquest thing. They'd just escaped being ruled over by a tyrannical king and were in no rush to impose their own authoritarian regime upon anyone else, though that didn't stop them from wiping out the Native Americans and pesky Mexicans.

Shanker continues:

A senior Defense Department official involved in a strategy review now under way said the Pentagon was absorbing the lesson that the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns likely to be part of some future wars would require more staying power than in past conflicts, like the first Iraq war in 1991 or the invasions of Grenada and Panama.

I know what you're thinking: Surely, the only lesson to be taken out of the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires is to NOT invade countries that pose no threat to the United States. Well, that's why you're not in charge of leading young men and women to their deaths. The problem isn't ideological. It's strategical.

Among the refinements to the two-wars strategy the Pentagon has incorporated in recent years is one known as "win-hold-win" -- an assumption that if two wars broke out simultaneously, the more threatening conflict would get the bulk of American forces while the military would have to defend along a second front until reinforcements could arrive to finish the job.

Another formulation envisioned the United States defending its territory, deterring hostility in four critical areas of the world and then defeating two adversaries in major combat operations, but not at exactly the same time.

For anyone of you weak, pathetic peace-lovers out there, who thought maybe (just maybe) the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (and sometimes Pakistan) were winding down, stick this Pentagon memo in your pipe and smoke it. This is the long-vision, people. This is perpetual war.

An inconvenient truth is that Americans get worked up at the thought of an extended, massive ground invasion of foreign lands. That's why the future of war is small, scattered, air-oriented, and covert. Whether it's Dick Cheney's implementation of a secret assassination ring, or Pakistan-stationed US drones killing civilians, war no longer has to receive the blessing of Congress, or - pause for laughter - the American people.

War is an inevitability, so a public debate about whether war should be is never an option. It's not a matter of should we be planning for multiple, simultaneous, small invasions, but a debate over technicalities and strategies for when it happens. And the media usually walks hand-in-hand with the Pentagon, somehow managing to keep a straight face on the matter, when generals and bureaucrats start spouting rhetoric about preserving freedom and democracy via cluster bombs.

The war debate (if it can be called a debate) is completely off-kilter. Even in the "liberal" New York Times, the article isn't balanced with a pro-war participant and a serious anti-war participant. Yet again, we get a photocopied Pentagon memo crammed within a major newspaper's margins, without analysis or journalistic insight into the consequences of perpetual war. Including an anti-war voice isn't partisan. It's actually doing real journalistic work, which is representing all sides of a story, and not just the loudest opinions resonating from the state.

The closest the Times comes to representing an anti-war voice is in the confusing interjection from Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior follow from the Brookings Institution, a think tank that the Times tells me is center-left, though I wouldn't have guessed that from O'Hanlon's comment:

"We have Gates and others saying that other parts of the government are underresourced and that the DoD should not be called on to do everything. That's a good starting point for this -- to ask and at least begin answering where it might be better to have other parts of the government get stronger and do a bigger share, rather than the Department of Defense."

This sounds like O'Hanlon wants to outsource killing to other departments. Maybe we can arm teachers and parachute them into Pakistan.

Yet again, the debate over our larger war policies goes unexamined by the mainstream media. The media remains compliant in the imperial conquests of our government, and then acts dumbfounded when popular support for their institution wanes, and they find themselves antiquated and bankrupted.

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