Why Do We Fight? Don't Ask

The forever war is allowed to continue in as many places as it does for as long as it has because virtually no one in a position of authority wants to demand an end to it.

Derek Davison commented on the three U.S. strikes in Somalia that have taken place in the last few weeks, and noted that there is hardly anyone asking why the U.S. is engaged in hostilities in Somalia in 2021:

There’s no questioning why al-Shabab, whose current ambitions don’t extend beyond Somalia and whose reach extends no further afield than neighboring Kenya, should be regarded as a threat to the United States. There’s no questioning why the 2001 AUMF is still on the books at all some 20 years later, when everyone involved in planning and carrying out the September 11 attacks is either dead or in hiding. There’s no questioning the absurdity of claiming the right “self-defense” in reference to another country’s military in a battle in which no American personnel were at risk. All of that is just How It Is, apparently, and there’s no sense wasting our beautiful minds on the subject.

The other wars that the U.S. is currently involved in are like this. Once the U.S. gets involved in a conflict, it never fully extricates itself. It doesn’t matter if the original reason for this involvement made any sense, and it doesn’t matter if there is no real legal authorization for it. It doesn’t matter that it has nothing to do with defending the United States, because once the military is involved somewhere it can claim to be defending itself without having to account for why they are there.

The U.S. joins wars all the time, but it hardly ever leaves them, and there is usually far more opposition to leaving than there is to going in. One reason for that is that very few Americans are even aware that the U.S. is at war in many of these places. The public does not clamor for withdrawal because most of them don’t know that there is anything to be withdrawn. Another is that the costs of these wars are kept out of sight, and the victims are rarely acknowledged and their deaths are never counted. It is quite difficult for people to mobilize against an invisible war that they don’t know anything about, and as Davison points out the reporting about these wars helps to keep it that way:

But we really don’t know the “why,” do we? Why, in the year 2021, is the US military still bombing Somalia? On a more normative level, why is it allowed to bomb Somalia? Based on the coverage of these three most recent strikes, it’s not even clear whether anybody cares enough to ask anymore.

The answer to the second question is that no one, least of all anyone in Congress, is prepared to act to stop it from happening. The forever war is allowed to continue in as many places as it does for as long as it has because virtually no one in a position of authority wants to demand an end to it. There is no political pressure on members of Congress to do this because the public is largely kept in the dark, and most members of Congress are hardly profiles in courage when it comes to matters of war in the first place. We fail to stop our government from doing these things, and no one else has the power to put a stop to it.

Somalia provides a good example for why the 2001 AUMF should be repealed and not replaced. Al Shabaab obviously had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. They didn’t even exist as an organization when those attacks occurred, and the men that belong to the group today would have mostly been children when they happened. They can’t do anything to the U.S., and until the U.S. started waging war on them they had no particular reason to want to do anything. They have been added to the list of official enemies because they are deemed an “associated force” of Al Qaeda, but this language about targeting associated forces isn’t present in the original authorization. It is something that the government made up later to serve as a catch-all to justify military action against various militant groups. Bombing Somalia to get at members of Al Shabaab in 2021 because they are “associated” with Al Qaeda is a bit like bombing Argentina in the 1960s to strike at the acquaintances of dead Nazis. It’s an absurd waste and completely unnecessary to the security of the United States.