How to End a War Without Really Ending It

May 1, 2003: President George W. Bush lands on an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego to declare “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. May 1, 2004: American troops continue to fight in Iraq, as they continue to do on every May Day for the next seven years.

May 1, 2011: President Barack Obama announces that the United States has killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. May 1, 2012: Obama announces the end of combat in Afghanistan and a transition to a support role. So, happy May Day, war is over, to reconfigure a line from John Lennon. But is it?

It depends upon how you look at things. If you define the end of the war as the simple transfer of responsibility to the Afghans, then yes, we are done. The troops will be coming home, but – and I think this is key – there will be “a lasting American military presence here after most troops withdraw at the end of 2014” (Huffington Post).

The outlines of this presence remain to be determined. As the Huffington Post reports, “Many crucial details remain to be worked out, including exactly how many American troops would remain, and in what capacity, and how much the US would continue to contribute to Afghanistan’s own security establishment.” However, previous public statements have estimated a $4 billion a year cost to the US and a troop presence that could hit 20,000.

Rachel Maddow, in an otherwise laudatory report on the May Day speech from Afghanistan, pointed out what should have been obvious: We’re really not going anywhere. The key phrase, she said, was “continuing American involvement in Afghanistan for another 10 years.”

“That means training. That means some unspecified support. It means money. It is not supposed to mean American war fighting but, still, Afghanistan has pretty much been in a continuous state of warfare for more than 30 years now and if we are promising to stay involved through 2024 ... frankly, that means there is a 6-year-old that is alive somewhere in America today for whom this speech and this agreement today means that they will be spending the summer of 2024 in Kandahar.”

The Afghanistan announcement just underscores what we’ve always know: America’s imperial project is alive and well and is a bipartisan affair.

Obama has expanded the use of unmanned drones into Pakistan – an ostensible ally – and lent air support in Libya without Congressional approval. He has sent troops into other areas of Africa and has made it clear that war is a prominent part of his foreign policy toolbox.

Glenn Greenwald, writing on, offered a short list of the war machine’s accomplishments since Osama’s death a year ago. They included renewal of the Patriot Act, Congressional endorsement of indefinite detention, assassination of US citizens on orders from the president, drone attacks in Yemen and Somalia, construction of a sprawling national surveillance facility in Utah and the continued FBI entrapment of young Muslims.

“Does it sound like the War on Terror and its accompanying civil liberties erosions are ending, or going in the opposite direction?” Greenwald asks. “The morning after the bin Laden killing, I wrote that the killing of bin Laden would likely re-ignite American excitement over militarism and would thus likely further fuel, rather than retard, the War and its various implications. As always: combatting Terrorism is not the end of the War on Terror; the War on Terror is the end in itself, and Terrorism is merely its pretext.”

Even Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, darling of the progressive wing of the party, has taken a hard line on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. American foreign policy may be fodder for campaigns, but in reality it exists outside of the political process. In the end, it is the permanent class of warmongers that makes all the decisions.

Hank Kalet is the regional editor for in central New Jersey. Email; blog

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2012

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