Endless War Degrades the Military

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

TAC contributor Gil Barndollar calls attention to the damage that endless war is doing to the military:

The president has been rightly excoriated for these pardons, which dishonor the U.S. military and may degrade good order and discipline. But amid this uproar, Americans should note the bigger lesson: Endless wars, especially endless counterinsurgency or counterterrorism wars, slowly chip away at both a military’s ethics and its critical war-fighting skills.

These wars are particularly corrosive because they cannot be conclusively won, and for every enemy that is destroyed it seems as if two or three more appear to replace it. Futile, open-ended wars contribute to breakdowns in discipline. Barndollar continues:

However, keeping their honor clean becomes harder and harder the longer these wars drag on. Wars among the people, as all our endless wars now are, are inherently dirty. When even senior members of the foreign policy establishment concede that we are not seeking victory in Afghanistan, it becomes harder for soldiers to make hollow mission accomplishment a higher priority than self-preservation. Treating US soldiers like victims, as Trump implicitly does, also becomes more common.

When a war cannot be won, the rational thing to do would be to stop fighting it, but instead of doing that our political and military leaders treat endless war as a new normal that must not be questioned. It is bad enough when a government sends its soldiers to fight and die for a cause that it pretends can still be won when that isn’t possible, but to keep sending them over and over again into war zones to fight a war they admit is futile has to be discouraging and frustrating. This also has to widen the division between the military and the civilian population. While military personnel are called on to go on multiple tours in pointless conflicts, most people back home mouth empty platitudes about supporting the troops and do nothing to bring the wars to an end. The public’s failure to hold our political and military leaders accountable for these failed and unnecessary wars is bound to have corrosive effects as well.

At the same time, these wars degrade the military’s ability to fight other adversaries:

Even more serious for American national security is the fact that endless small wars degrade a military’s ability to fight and win big wars – wars that have real consequences for our security and way of life.

Our endless wars have been enormously costly. It is estimated that all of the wars of the last twenty years will end up costing at least $6.4 trillion, and beyond that they have consumed our government’s attention and resources to the detriment of everything else. Our political and military leaders perpetuate these wars, and the public has allowed them to do this, because they are still laboring under the faulty assumption that the US is being made more secure in the process. The reality is that endless wars are undermining our security, weakening the military, and creating more enemies. They should be ended responsibly, but they must end.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.