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Eternal war

Death by drone is so clean, it’s antiseptic. No doubt the best gamers gathered by the military splash some anti-bacteria lotion, sitting in airconditioned comfort, Coca Cola at the elbow before they diddle their joysticks to kill people half the planet away.

Drones might not seem strange if they  won wars. It is a safe bet that with all the collateral damage, American drones won’t win hearts and minds in the Land of the Beheaders. Since 1945, this nation hasn’t greeted a war it couldn’t wait to lose. The thing is, we do it time after time with such complete hubris.

We such a nation of war lovers: The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page last week carried a piece in support of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, presumably to dispatch beheaders to their eternal reward of 70-some virgins.

We are far removed from the argument once made on the floor of the U.S. Senate that all of Southeast Asia was not worth one American soldier’s life. Alaskan Ernest Gruening was one of two senators — Wayne Morse was the other — to oppose the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. That little proclamation passed by the Senate on August 5, 1964, based on lies, gave Lyndon Johnson the authority to unleash the might of American power on the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam. It was called “escalation,” a murderous word that delivered defeat at a cost of more than 50,000 American lives.

The U.S. military learned one thing from Vietnam. Never, never, never depend on conscription to form a fighting force. Dump that draft. Buy the fodder. Lure them. Pay them well. Give them education money, guns and the understanding they may die or maimed.

There is a slow dance being played these days around the idea that there ought to be “American boots on the ground” in Syria. You have to admire that phrase. “Boots on the ground” is the distinction made between invading a sovereign nation via remote control 6,000 miles away or with flesh and blood bodies primed to kill or be killed.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if the United States left the rest of the world to its devices. It would be a humble policy one that recognized the limits of power. It’s worth considering given one of the premises in a new book written by Army General Daniel Bolger. It is titled: “Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.” Gen. Bolger wrote a piece in the September issue of Harper’s, a short summary of the book:

“Once it becomes clear that the external forces won’t stay past a certain date, the guerrillas simply back off and wait it out. Had America treated Afghanistan and Iraq from the beginning as the future fifty-first and fifty-second states, counter-in surgency theory offered a way to pacify them. Saddled with incomplete authority over Afghan and Iraqi internal affairs, inept host governments, and ticking clocks, we could not do it.”

Hence we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan because we did not prosecute a policy of war forever. Anything short of a forever war for an occupying army means defeat. One cannot imagine Americans being amenable to the idea that ought to be states of the union or colonies for that matter.

The Obama administration contends that the bad guys in Yemen have been mostly defeated by American drones. It may very well be. But one suspects time is on their side. That is, barring some groundswell of popular support in this country for Yemen’s statehood.