War: Too Big to Fail

William Rivers Pitt is a Truthout editor and columnist.  He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: “War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know” and “The Greatest Sedition Is Silence” and “House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation.” He lives and works in Boston.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear -
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

- Percy Bysshe Shelley

A pair of vitally important news reports were lost recently amid a blizzard of stories about the gyrating stock market and a rogue East Coast earthquake. The first came from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who announced that a deal had been struck to keep US forces in Iraq beyond the oft-publicized December 31st withdrawal deadline and into 2012, contrary to Mr. Obama’s promises. Not long after, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki came forward to say hold on, wait a minute, nothing along these lines has been agreed upon as yet, and negotiations are still ongoing.

Got that? Negotiations are still ongoing, which in all likelihood means that, sometime before December 31st, a deal will be struck between Al-Maliki and the US to keep American forces right where they’ve been for the last three thousand days. In fact, Panetta let it be known that the Pentagon is already laying plans to do exactly that. Panetta made sure to draw a line between “combat forces,” which he claims will be withdrawn, and “training forces,” which appear poised to remain into the foreseeable future. This will come as a great comfort to the troops who will not be coming home, as insurgent leaders have made it clear that any American on Iraqi soil after the withdrawal deadline will live life with a bullseye taped to their back…but who won’t live long, if the insurgents have anything to say about it.

A few days after this announcement came a report from the UK Telegraph that is nothing short of staggering:

America and Afghanistan are close to signing a strategic pact which would allow thousands of United States troops to remain in the country until at least 2024, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

The agreement would allow not only military trainers to stay to build up the Afghan army and police, but also American special forces soldiers and air power to remain.

Both Afghan and American officials said that they hoped to sign the pact before the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December. Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai agreed last week to escalate the negotiations and their national security advisers will meet in Washington in September.

2024.

More than twelve years from now.

Seven congressional elections and three presidential elections from now.

U.S. Soldiers from A Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment pass through a village while on a dismounted patrol as children beg for candy near Forward Operating Base Blessing, Afghanistan, Oct. 19. 2/12 is part of 4th Infantry Division based out of Fort Carson, Colo. Joint Combat Camera Afghanistan Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Cohen/

I will be 52 years old before any consideration is given to withdrawing American military forces from Afghanistan, according to the elements of this “strategic pact.”

America’s war in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, more than ten years ago. America’s war in Iraq began on March 20, 2003, almost nine years ago. Toss in the six months we have been engaged in the Libyan conflict, and what you have is the United States at war for a combined total of nineteen years…and now, according to reports, the Iraq withdrawal deadline has become thoroughly elastic, and the Afghanistan withdrawal timeline is about to be punted so far over the horizon as to become thoroughly meaningless.

Back when George W. Bush was in office, plenty of people were aware of how rich his family, friends and allies were getting off these conflicts. Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, KBR, the Bush-affiliated Carlyle Group, Blackwater/Xe and many others were raking in the cash thanks to a harshly simple economic algorithm: every day of these wars, every ration eaten, every uniform donned, every bullet fired, every bomb dropped, every missile launched, every helicopter shot down, and every body bag filled translates directly into extreme profits for someone.

Mr. Bush is gone now, but that algorithm remains ruthlessly in place. War-oriented companies like DynCorp, Washington Group International, Aegis Defense Services, URS Corporation, BAE Systems, Renco, CACI, Bechtel, General Dynamics, General Electric, and Titan, along with oil giants like ExxonMobil and Chevron, have profited to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars off these conflicts, and are poised to continue doing so well into the future.

Think about that.

Nineteen combined total years of war, amounting to approximately seven thousand consecutive days of profiteering off the blood, bone and flesh of soldiers and civilians.

We have heard much about the idea that certain financial institutions are “too big to fail,” and thus have been bailed out of the economic disaster zone they themselves helped to create, with little or no punishment for the perpetrators in the aftermath. While there can be no doubt that the actions of these essentially criminal enterprises have done great and lasting damage to the American economy, scant notice has been paid to the unimaginable expenditures we have thrown into a decade of largely fruitless warfare, and the brutal cost levied against the American people – most especially the soldiers and civilians who have borne the brunt of combat – all of which means obscene profit for a select few who you nor I will ever meet.

An Iraqi woman looks on as U.S. Army Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team search the courtyard of her house during a cordon and search in Ameriyah, Iraq/ U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tierney Nowland

War profiteering is nothing new. The Roman who invented the gladius forged the weapon that carved out a lasting empire, and probably died a very wealthy man. Here in 21st century America, however, the empire is crumbling not for lack of our war-making abilities, but because war-making appears to be the only healthy industry left in our economy. We are collapsing not despite war, but because of it. We are eating ourselves, and if the powerful ones behind Mr. Obama and Mr. Panetta get their way, we will be continuing to do so for years to come.

War in America is too big to fail, it seems.

In this, we forge our common doom.

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