May 29, 2013

No Such Thing As An Endless War? Think Again

Featuring Robert O. Work

Source: The Fiscal Times

Journalist David Francis

In his highly touted speech announcing the coming end of the war on terrorism, President Barack Obama said, “This war, like all wars, must end.” The president made this assertion to bolster the argument that the war against terrorism was not perpetual and that the United States needed to alter defense policy accordingly. In this speech and in the past, Obama argued that a state of constant warfare eroded the country’s moral core. But if current events and the administration’s own words are an indication, the United States is in and will remain in a state of war for years to come. It might not be the kind of war recognizable to the general public, but it’s impossible to declare peace when the United States is under attack.

According to a report in the Washington Post, Chinese hackers breached the computers of top defense contractors and stole designs to some of the country’s most important weapons systems. The Defense Science Board, the group that prepared the report on the breach, found that plans for the F-35 fighter, the Navy’s next generation combat boat, and a missile defense system that can shoot down incoming rockets were all stolen.

This attack is the latest in what has become an undeclared cyber war between the United States and China. In February, cyber security firm Mandiant released a report documenting 140 cyber attacks against American interests in the last seven years.

After the report, the Chinese military group responsible for the attacks went silent, but again became active this month. The most recent attack comes at a time when China is attempting to build up its military to compete with the American juggernaut. The White House considers it so serious that Obama plans to discuss it with Chinese President Xi Jinxing when they meet in California next week.

But China is not the only place where threats are emerging. Syria is in a state of heightened escalation. Hezbollah has allied with Syrian government forces, while the European Union has decided to arm rebels. Despite U.S. stabilization efforts, violence in Iraq continues, with more than 500 people killed this month. And few experts expect Afghanistan to be peaceful once the majority of U.S. troops depart next year.

The Pentagon is also in the process of revamping its capabilities beyond the traditional battlefield. In response to the Chinese cyber threat, the White House has asked for $4.7 billion to wage cyber war next year, 21 percent more than this year’s funding.According to Jacob Stokes, a research associate at the Center for New American Security, the administration is just starting to determine what is needed to wage modern war, and that these conflicts will continue to test the White House.

“It’s just the beginning of a big process,” he said. “What’s been challenging for the administration and policy makers is trying to figure out how much of this do we need to keep up and how much do we get rid of. There’s a realization that some of these tools aren’t needed, but others have been very effective.” According to Joshua Foust, a fellow with the American Security Project, Obama’s speech served two purposes. The first was to appease the Democratic base over civil liberty concerns about his terrorism policies. The second was to stake a claim in the upcoming battle with Congress over presidential authority and the future of the Pentagon, including Republicans who believe in a perpetual state of war.

“Obama said the war is going to be over soon. He didn’t reject the war,” Foust said. “He rejected that the war was timeless. But he didn’t lay out the roadmap for how the war would end.”

Recent comments from members of the Obama administration illustrate how little Obama’s comments last week will have on actual policy. When asked by the Senate Armed Services Committee how much longer the United States would be fighting al Qaeda, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said “at least 10 to 20 years.”

“In my judgment, this is going to go on for quite a while, yes, beyond the second term of the president,” Sheehan said earlier this month. This contradiction – Obama loudly declaring a coming end to the terrorism war while an administration official quietly tells lawmakers it could last two more decades – is drawing heat from Capitol Hill. It’s especially disconcerting as families in Boston continue to mourn the loss of loved ones and limbs because of a jihad against Americans allegedly perpetrated by two brothers.  

At the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, military officials told Congress the post-9/11 military authorization needs to last until al Qaeda is defeated. They also said it allows the administration to put troops on the ground around the world. To some in Congress, military officials are rewriting the constitution. To others who share the urgency in the voices of those officials, the war on terror is not over and probably never will be.


  • Robert O. Work

    Senior Counselor for Defense and Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security

    Secretary Robert O. Work is the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security at the Center for a New American Security and the owner of TeamWork, LLC, which s...