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War on terror -- Round 3

Even as our troops march hither and yon, America seems to be losing the thread in an 'era of persistent conflict.'

February 19, 2012|By Andrew J. Bacevich

The role allotted to the American people is to applaud, if and when notified that a successful assassination has occurred. And applaud we do; for example, when members of SEAL Team Six secretly enter Pakistan to dispatch Osama bin Laden with two neatly placed kill shots. Vengeance long deferred renders it unnecessary to consider what second-order political complications might ensue.

How Round 3 will end is difficult to forecast. The best we can say is that it's unlikely to end soon or well. As Israel has discovered, once targeted assassination becomes your game, the list of targets has a way of getting longer and longer.

So what tentative judgments can we offer regarding the ongoing "era of persistent conflict"? Operationally, a war launched by the conventionally minded has progressively fallen under the purview of those who inhabit what Dick Cheney once called "the dark side," with implications that few seem willing to explore.

Strategically, a war informed at the outset by utopian expectations continues today with no concretely stated expectations whatsoever, the forward momentum of events displacing serious consideration of purpose. Politically, a war that once occupied center stage in national politics has slipped to the periphery, the American people moving on to other concerns and entertainments, with legal and moral questions raised by the war left dangling in midair.

Is this progress?

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. He is the author, most recently, of "Washington Rules: The American Path to Permanent War," and is the editor of the new book "The Short American Century: A Postmortem." A longer version of this piece appears at

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