Has the regime of continuous warfare finally run its course?
Scanning recent commentary on US military engagements, I noted an emerging sense of America as a wandering empire, meandering from one engagement to the next and back again, as if it lacked an agenda for militarism other than war for war’s sake. Perhaps US imperialism is a spent project and the time has arrived to consider a different way of engaging the world?
The editors of The Nation raised a version of this question when they asked, “What’s wrong with Obama’s decision to keep troops in Afghanistan”? Their answer—that those troops are propping up an unpopular government’s tenuous grip on power—prompted them to conclude that Congress’ post-9/11 “blank check for endless war” has left the US and its military forces lacking a strategy other than “eternal conflict, which has only fueled regional chaos, provoked more terrorism, and led to a catastrophic refugee crisis. It is time for an end to endless war.”
Perhaps, but William Astore, an acute observer of US imperialism, points out that American-style imperial warfare has its own rhetorical momentum. Astore writes as a veteran (retired Lieutenant Colonel of the US Air Force) and a professor of history. In “Tourists of Empire,” he characterizes the US as a “peculiar sort of empire,” one that suffers from “imperial denial,” an empire cloaked in “missionary-speak.” This American brand of imperialism, with military bases dotting the globe, is a project in “imperial tourism.” The US is afflicted with “Imperial Tourist Syndrome,” a bizarre condition that “creates its own self-sustaining dynamic.” American soldiers are “combat tourists” that “keep cycling in and out of foreign hotspots.” This “short-time mentality” promotes “wars that persist without end.”
Maybe there is no war-sustaining strategy, as the editors of The Nation suggest, but maybe imperial tourism is self-sustaining, as Professor Astore indicates. Or perhaps this peculiar Imperial Tourist Syndrome needs only to sustain the project of endless warfare long enough for a new imperial agenda to emerge.
The third possibility, of a new imperial strategy emerging to sustain US supremacy in the 21st century, is suggested by Alfred McCoy, who is also a professor of history. Professor McCoy argues that Barack Obama is a “grandmaster” of geopolitical strategy. The president has developed a strategy for containing China that may extend US “global hegemony deep into the twenty-first century.” Obama’s grand “pivot to Asia” may produce a violent imperial transition of protracted rivalry, “an epochal geopolitical contest likely to shape the world’s destiny in the coming decades.”
To answer the question of the day: the matter of continuous warfare remains impervious to blowback so long as the rule of empire remains beyond the reach of critical reflection.