In a Washington politically riven in ways not seen since the pre-Civil War era, take hope. Despite everything you’ve read, bipartisanship is not dead. On one issue, congressional Democrats and Republicans, as well as Donald Trump, all speak with a single resounding voice, with, in fact, unmatched unanimity and fervor as they stretch hands across the aisle in a spirit of cooperation. Perhaps you’ve already guessed, but I’m referring to the Pentagon budget. By staggering majorities, both houses of Congress just passed an almost $700 billion defense bill, more money than even President Trump had requested and he’s already happily signed it.
And Americans generally seem to partake of the same spirit. After all, while esteem for other American institutions like, uh, Congress has fallen radically in these years, the U.S. military hasn’t lost a step. Last June, for instance, Gallup’s pollsters found that public confidence in U.S. institutions generally had dropped to a dismal 32%, but a soaring 73% of Americans had the highest possible confidence in the military, which means that Donald Trump’s decision to surround himself with three generals as secretary of defense, White House chief of staff, and national security adviser was undoubtedly a popular one. In a similar vein, it’s striking that America’s war on terror, now entering its 17th dismal year and still expanding, and the military that wages it remain essentially beyond criticism or protest. It hardly seems to matter that, in this century of constant warfare across significant parts of the planet, that military has yet to bring home a real victory of any sort.
Who cares? That military is, by now, a distinctly Teflon outfit to which no criticism sticks, even through it and the rest of the national security state swallow stunning amounts of taxpayer dollars as if there were no tomorrow, while the Pentagon experiences cost overruns of every kind for its weapons systems, has proven incapable of auditing itself (ever!), and recently couldn’t even account for 44,000 (yes, 44,000!) of its troops deployed somewhere in the imperium, though who knows where. No wonder Donald Trump, a man of no fixed beliefs (except about himself), but with a finely tuned sense of what might be popular with his base, has loosed that military from many of the already modest bounds within which it’s fought its largely losing wars of these last years, and seems to be leaving its generals (and the CIA) to do their escalatory damnedest from Afghanistan to Niger, Syria to Somalia.
With all of this in mind, as another year in which permanent war is the barely noticed background hum of American life, I asked TomDispatch regular U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen, author of Ghost Riders of Baghdad, to assess American war in 2017 and consider just where we’re headed.