QDR Blogging: The Long War is Over

>> Saturday, January 30, 2010

  • References to the "Long War" in 2006 QDR: 31, not counting the 10 pages in the chapter titled "Fighting the Long War"
  • References to the "Long War" in 2010 QDR: 0
The 2006 QDR was explicitly structured around the concept of the "Long War," which is essentially another name for the War on Terror. The Long War is more or less defined as follows:
Since 2001 the U.S. military has been continuously at war, but fighting a conflict that is markedly different from wars of the past. The enemies we face are not nation-states but rather dispersed non-state networks. In many cases, actions must occur on many continents in countries with which the United States is not at war. Unlike the image many have of war, this struggle cannot be won by military force alone, or even principally. And it is a struggle that may last for some years to come.

The chapter "Fighting the Long War" then includes references to the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, operations in the Horn of Africa and the Trans-Sahara, tsunami relief, earthquake relief in Pakistan, "stabilization" operations in Haiti, assistance to the government of Colombia, and domestic initiatives such as bio-terror preparedness and civil support. The Long War concept provided a unifying framework for thinking through a multi-continental strategy for fighting "terror," epitomized not simply in terrorist networks but also in terror-supporting states and in the conditions that allow terror to grow. Re-reading this chapter, I find it striking the degree to which the Cold War could easily be substituted for the Long War, with communists playing the role of terrorists. This is to say that the threats to the United States and its interests were represented in a fashion that's not quite monolithic, but is nevertheless singular. Rather than responding to multiple, quite different crises around the world, the 2006 QDR wanted us to understand US military operations as part of a coherent strategic response to the threat posed by terror, much in the same way that the various forms of Containment were responses to the threat posed by the USSR and international revolutionary communism.

In the 2010 QDR, not so much. The United States is fighting "wars" rather than a "Long War" which is a crucial distinction to my mind. "Complexity" is the watchword, and each of the major conflicts involving the United States is treated distinctly, rather than as part of a tapestry. It must be said that this change makes the argument much less fluid; a Long War makes much more thematic sense than a series of not-terribly-related conflicts that involve some interest or other of the United States in some or another part of the globe. What it lacks in narrative, however, it makes up for in general good sense.

More tomorrow.


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