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Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden

Posted: July 1, 2009 05:29 PM

Long War Needs Long Peace Movement


The simultaneous conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond are all connected to the Pentagon strategy of "the Long War" projected to last fifty years in "the arc of crisis" that just happens to stretch across Muslim lands where there are oil reserves and plans for Western-dominated pipelines. The term "Long War" was introduced by Gen. John Abizaid in the 1990s and is the perspective of counterinsurgency experts around the Pentagon and think tanks led by the Center for New American Security.

The Long War will require a long peace movement, and a different one.

Many veterans of the movement against the Iraq War, impacted by the multiple wars, the financial and budget crises, and confused about the Obama era, are pondering the question of what to think and do. The following are brief notes outlining a possible strategy:


Counterinsurgency goes back to Malaysia and Algeria. It has never "worked", except in Malaysia where conditions were unique.

Counterinsurgency is aimed at the home front, to keep American casualties low and, as Kagan writes, "off camera, so to speak."

In Iraq, it's hardly "victory" when the client government is bragging about the American withdrawal and the future is totally uncertain. The "surge" delivered as CNAS and Gen. Petraeus wished, by keeping the war out of the election [their words, not mine]. Now counterinsurgency can't help them. They are pledged to withdrawal without having won the war, without having secured Western oil contracts, and without having reliable Iraqi client allies.

In Afghanistan, counterinsurgency is at cross-purposes with the drone attacks which kill the civilians who are supposed to be protected [which is why David Kilcullen writes against the continued use of Predators]. 21,000 more American troops mean more visible American casualties. The US is at fundamental odds with Karzhai, who represents the growing mainstream Afgan distrust of the US. American troops can never "protect" Afghanistan civilians from American troops! The contradictions between the US versus Europe, NATO versus the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, will increase and cannot be bridged.

In Pakistan, the US has succeeded in forcing Pakistan troops into fighting the domestic Taliban, partly because of the Taliban's relative unpopularity. But in the process, 2-3 million refugees have been generated in the past few weeks alone, the greatest refugee crisis since Pakistan's bloody origins. There will be more upheaval soon in South Waziristan. How on earth is this "protecting the civilian population"? Again it is the contradiction at the heart of counterinsurgency.

I would keep a focus on the need for an exit strategy, because the Pentagon and CNAS don't believe in an exit strategy short of "victory", which is most likely unachievable. Even the Center for American Progress [CAP] proposes a 10-12 year occupation, speaking only of Afghanistan. Add up and project the casualties and budget costs, and you have a trillion dollar war with several thousand American casualties. You will antagonize more Muslims and drive them into anti-US nationalism and extremism. You will be running a gulag of barbaric detention camps in these countries, multiplying the Guantanamo and Bagram crises. You will add to the collapsing dream of funding for health care, education and stimulus spending here at home. Obama will be burdened with wars and occupations during his entire presidency. We will not be safer.

My advice:

  • Read and study the Long War. It's not paranoia, it's a Pentagon strategy.

  • Understand that the Long War is against Muslim countries and over oil and pipelines. It spreads terrorism.

  • Understand the need to link with human rights, and anti-torture coalitions, especially the clergy.

  • Understand the need to link with groups focused on domestic budget priorities, especially labor and people of color.

  • Understand why Alternative Energy is a priority for the peace movement and a threat to the Long War's premises.

  • Obtain and continually spread information on the real costs in American blood, taxes and civilian casualties.

  • Work around the clock on the media, convincing them to report a rationale critique with special emphasis on resisting the growing secrecy of these special operation strategies.

  • Spend the next six months preparing to expand the 132 House votes for an exit strategy into critical hearings and 230 votes by next spring as Congressional elections approach.

  • Don't attack President personally. He is trapped between the Long War and his promise of an exit strategy, but attack the occupations and include the argument that the Long War might doom Obama's domestic priorities and even his presidency.

  • Build a giant constituency base in Congressional districts. Employ field organizers by regions to run anti-war campaigns on a community-organizing model. Avoid Beltway faction fights by focusing on what the grass-roots needs.


The CNAS is the new "best and brightest" group, and we should remember what happened to them in Vietnam.

The Long War will fail because the US is overextended militarily and economically, and the world is more multi-polar than uni-polar. The world does not share the US Long War agenda. This overextension will cause worsening problems at home, become a threat to the open society, and lead to serious political challenges down the road. The choice is always empire versus democracy.