Support for the Long War requires support for a war of “no exits and no deadlines,” as Prof. Bacevich has described it. Support for a specific military mission in Afghanistan does not necessarily require one to endorse the concept of the Long War or the fundamentally flawed strategy behind it. The debate has been framed in such a way that most people seem to assume that endorsing the concept and strategy of the Long War is an essential part of what it means to support U.S. national security interests and even our current war effort in Afghanistan, which is just about as misguided as it gets.
One can, of course, support the campaign against Al Qaeda without the dangerous and unsustainable Long War framework, but it might require rethinking how to wage that campaign. As Bacevich said in his review of Accidental Guerrilla:
If counterinsurgency is useful chiefly for digging ourselves out of holes we shouldn’t be in, then why not simply avoid the holes? Why play al-Qaeda’s game? Why persist in waging the Long War when that war makes no sense?
When it comes to dealing with Islamism, containment rather than transformation should provide the cornerstone of U.S. (and Western) strategy. Ours is the far stronger hand. The jihadist project is entirely negative. Apart from offering an outlet for anger and resentment, Osama bin Laden and others of his ilk have nothing on offer. Time is our ally. With time, our adversary will wither and die—unless through our own folly we choose to destroy ourselves first.
There is a split in the country that is very much like the difference between supporters of rollback and containment during the Cold War, but unlike in the Cold War the advocates of containment seem to be a small minority. Even though containment was the wiser, superior policy during the Cold War, it has somehow lost its appeal. During the first two decades of the Cold War advocates of rollback considered it insufficiently “robust” (to use a word that ideological fantasists like to throw around a lot) and not nearly aggressive enough, and current partisans of the Long War concept seem intent on not making the “mistake” of opting for containment, which is to say that they are intent on embarking on fool’s errands.
The Long War is, as Bacevich says in The Limits of Power, “both self-defeating and irrational.” If we wish to secure our country and to get our economic and fiscal houses in order, one thing we have to do is start by scrapping the Long War concept and focusing on national security strategy that has limited, achievable objectives.