One of the consequences of the US superpower strategy seems to be a tendency to get involved in many wars around the world.
The author was born in 1954. Since then, the US has fought wars or had direct military engagements is Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Mexico, Panama, Granada, the Philippines, Lebanon, the Congo, Serbia and Kuwait. Since the “War on Terror” began in 2001, which is the topic of this article, this list of countries has about doubled.
The US Congress has not issued a declaration of war since World War II. Wars are very risky and can go badly wrong politically. Instead of stepping up to the plate, Congress has instead passed a number of resolutions that authorize the President to use military force, leaving the real decision and most of the blame on the President’s shoulders. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the Iraq Resolution are both good examples of this.
This article will focus on the current war in the Middle East and Africa, which began in 2001 and is still going strong 17 years later. This is now the country’s longest war and there is still no end in sight.
Legal Basis for the War in the Middle East and Africa
On September 18, 2001, seven days following the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Congress passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. This act authorized the President to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons”.
With this Authorization in place, the war on Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001.
Expansion of the War
As it turned out, Afghanistan was just the beginning. According to the Congressional Research Service, the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force has now been used by Presidents 37 times in 14 different countries. The War on Terror has become a war in the Middle East and Africa. The US has had or is currently having active military engagements in Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Mali, Libya, the Sudan, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Uganda.
Why this expansion is taking place, where it is all going and how it will end are all highly uncertain. What is not uncertain is the cost.
Overseas Contingency Operations
They don’t label it a war in their budgets and financial reports. Instead, funding for the war in the Middle East and Africa is labeled “Overseas Contingency Operations” in the annual Agency Financial Reports of the US Department of Defense.
In the five fiscal years ended September 30, 2017, expenditures classified as “Overseas Contingency Operations” totaled $370.7 billion. According to the Government Accountability Office, total Overseas Contingency Operations expenditures since 2001 have exceeded $1 trillion. Keep in mind that this excludes the cost of CIA operations and the Veterans Administration, which lie outside the Department of Defense.
Given the nature of the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, it is not at all clear when all this will come to an end for the USA and Overseas Contingency Operations can stop being funded.
Never Ending Conflict
The US has placed itself in the middle of a conflict that has no end in sight and no clear path to achieve a military victory.
For the last sixteen years, despite our military effort, the situation has simply eroded. In fact, the Middle East and North Africa are in the midst of a giant and complex civil war that is likely to last for decades.
First, there is a Sunni vs. Shite conflict, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates bankrolling the Sunni’s and Iran the Shite’s. This conflict has been around since the Moslem religion was created. Within this conflict are embedded many other conflicts among ethnic groups, including Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Persians, Bedouins, Alawites, Yazidis, Armenians, Druze and Palestinians. Within the ethnic groups are thousands of tribes, clans, houses, extended families, militias and warlords all fighting for some level of autonomy or supremacy.
All these conflicts are fueled by the demographic profile of the region: over 50% of the population is under the age of 24. There is basically a never-ending supply of young, unemployed male Jihadists.