U.S. Wars, Endless Wars: Will They Ever End?

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The war in Afghanistan is finally over.  After 20 long years of a false war against alleged “terrorism,” the U.S.’s bloated and inept military-intelligence fortress failed yet again.  Sadly, this defeat is but the latest in a nearly three-quarters-of-a-century quagmire of military defeats, stalemates and false victories.  How long will this go on?

Pres. Dwight Eisenhower’s great warning made in his farewell address of January 17, 1961, has never sounded so prescient:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.

To repeat: “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

And it has persisted.  Since Eisenhower’s speech and under both Republican and Democratic regimes, the complex has squandered trillions of dollars and the lives of thousands of U.S. military personnel — to say nothing of the lives of the untold number of innocent civilians in war zones — in a series of questionable campaigns in the Middle East, Central Asian and Africa, including the Afghan and Iraq wars over the last two decade.

The FY 2020 defense budget is $703.7 billion and the appropriated 2020 “U.S. Intelligence Community” budget is $85.8 budget. One estimate place U.S. “total military” at 5,137,860 personnel – i.e., active military (1,374,699), reserve military (845,000) and paramilitary (2,928,261).  Another estimate reports that they are 750 overseas military base sites in 80 foreign countries and colonies (territories) around the world.  In addition, there are 440 military bases in the continental U.S.

So, when is enough, enough?

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Since the end of the World War II, the U.S. has engaged in innumerable wars (both “hot” and “cold”), skirmishes, stalemates and secret or clandestine military engagements throughout the world.  These efforts have transformed the U.S. military-intelligence apparatus from a global hero defending “democracy” and “freedom” to a superpower enforcing the imperialist demands of a corporatist state.  A brief review of this long and bloody history will pose one question: Why?

Korean War Stalemate

In 1948, two states were formally established; the American-backed Republic of Korea (South), a right-wing dictatorship, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North), a Moscow-puppet dictatorship.  Regional tensions escalated until October 1, 1949, when Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded the South, leading to a growing conflict between the U.S. and China.  In July 1953 an armistice was signed that ended formal hostilities but not the war.  In this UN-sanctioned conflict, 54,000 Americans were killed.  The U.S. currently maintains an occupying force of 28,500 troops in Korea and South Korea has a “total military” of 4,599,000 personnel divided into “active military” (599,000), “reserve military” (3,100,000) and “paramilitary” (900,000).

Vietnam War Defeat

U.S. involvement in Vietnam was part of an effort to take over France’s colonial interest following its failed campaign against Viet Minh, a mix of communist and nationalists.  France’s efforts dragged on from 1946 to 1954 and ended with defeat at Dien Bien Phu.

Vietnam was initially perceived as yet another skirmish like the Philippines, but ended up being not only the up-‘til-then longest war in U.S. history and its greatest military defeat.  It dragged on for two decades, from 1955 to 1975, although the U.S. dropped out in ’73 following Henry Kissinger’s “secret” Paris peace deal.

The U.S. military misadventure in Vietnam involved the deployment of 540,000 soldiers leading to the death of 58,200 personnel and the wounding of 300,000 American men and women.  An estimated 114,000 Vietnam vets have committed suicide. The number of killed and wounded Vietnamese – along with Cambodians, Laotians and others – is incalculable.

Cuba Invasion Fails

Fidel Castro marched into Havana on January 7, 1959, a week after U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled to the Dominican Republic.  In April ’61, the CIA orchestrated an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs; 1,000 CIA foot soldiers, Cuban exiles, were taken prisoner.  A year later, in October ’62, the world held its breath over the Cuban Missile Crisis, a showdown between the U.S. and Soviet Union (SU).

The U.S. officially broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961.  A half-century later, relations were partially reestablished under Pres. Obama but returned to cold war status under Pres. Trump and remain that way under Pres. Biden.

Latin American Follies

Numerous U.S. military interventions in Latin America occurred against a background of the CIA failed efforts to topple the Cuban Revolution.  They included: CIA’s overthrowing of Guatemala’s elected government (1954); the U.S.-backed dictatorships of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti (1957-1986); U.S. orchestrated military coup in Brazil (1964); U.S. military occupation of Dominican Republic (1965-1966); U.S. orchestrated military coup of socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile (1973); U.S. backed Contra army in Nicaragua to suppress the Sandinistas (1974-1979); U.S. backed military, including death squads, in El Salvador civil war (1979–1992); U.S. military invasion of Grenada (1983); and U.S. occupation of Panama (1989-1990). 

Operational Stalemates

For two years, from November 1979 to January 1981, the U.S. was traumatized by the Iranian hostage crisis.  Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in ’70, a quarter century after the CIA and the British agents orchestrated, on June 1, 1953, the overthrow of Iran’s first elected government headed by Mohammad Mosaddeq; he was replaced by a puppet regime headed by the Shah. Pres. Carter approved Operation Eagle Claw (aka Operation Evening Light and Operation Rice Bowl), the military’s disastrous effort to free the Embassy hostages.

In the following four decades, the U.S. military and CIA have engaged in dozens and dozens of military “operations” across the globe.  They range from Operation Desert Storm (under Pres. G. H. W. Bush, 1990) to Operation Iraqi Freedom (Pres. G. W. Bush, 2003-2011) to the Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State (Pres. Obama).  This era also saw innumerable covert CIA operations to destabilize and/or overthrow countries deemed threats to U.S. hegemony.

Parallel to these military efforts, the U.S. engaged in numerous quasi-military “humanitarian” operations to contain local crises.  Among such actions were Operation Deliberate Force (Bosnia, 1994-1995) and Operation Allied Force (Kosovo War, 1998-1999).  Nick Turse documented U.S. operations in 49 of 54 nations in Africa.  Sadly, Pres. Clinton failed to intervene in the Rwanda genocide in which up to 1 million Tutsi people were murdered.

These operations have, for the most part, ended in stalemates that have only come back to wreck still greater military and social destabilization.  The last “great” victory of the U.S. – along with 35 coalition partners – was Operation Desert Shield – aka Gulf War – under Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

In 2011, Pres. Obama backed a military intervention in Libya, aiding anti-Gaddafi rebels with air strikes against the Libyan Army. This failed effort helped ISIS come back to wreck still greater military and social destabilization.

Cold War Victory

The SU collapsed in 1991, leaving the U.S. the sole global superpower.  The Cold War was over; the enemy defeated; the military-industrial complex’s rationale for existence over.  Many Americans demanded a peace dividend and sought to shrink the bloated military budget.

Total Cold War (1948-1991) military spending (in 1996 dollars) is estimated to have been $13.1 trillion. This is an enormous drain on U.S. resources, monies that could be better spent on other aspects of social life such as education, infrastructure and health care.

War on Terror

The “war on terror” was ostensibly initiated in retaliation for acts of war conducted by al Qaeda operatives on September 11, 2001.  Pres. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, and, in March 2003, declared war on Iraq based on claims that it harbored weapons of mass destruction and provided training to al Qaeda. Two months later, in

May 2003, Bush delivered a victory speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, standing defiantly before a banner proclaiming, “Mission Accomplished,” in Afghanistan.  Pres. Obama formally ended hostilities in Afghanistan as of yearend 2014; 10,000 or so U.S. troops remained in an ostensible support capacity.  Over this decade-plus of hostilities, the U.S. lost 2,228 servicemen and women at a price estimated at over $2 trillion.  Now, finally, the U.S. is fleeing Afghanistan.  All for what?


The U.S.’s failed war on terror may further destabilize the greater Middle East.  Pakistan and Egypt suggest one tendency, military dictatorships; Saudi Arabia and Iran suggest another, religious autocracies.  Starting with the Gulf War (1990-1991), destabilization has come with the bloody skirmishes at the periphery of the empire, including (Somali, 1992-1993), Yemen (2002), Libya (2011) and Nigeria (Boko Haram, 2009-present).

One of the consequences of these military initiatives is the untold number of casualties – and their families and communities/tribes – left behind.  Memory lives on for a very long time while vengeance can endure forever.  It’s hard to know how long the misnamed “war on terror” will drag on.  However, the unasked question remains what will replace the Cold War/U.S.-despot?

An unanticipated consequence of this destabilization is the future of the nation state.  A century ago, the British and French carved up the Middle East into the countries — with recognizable boarders – that are under siege today.  In the eras that preceded the age of colonialism, boarders – dating back to the days of Jesus and the Romans — were as fluid as the sand.  They are again in play.

And to end war, endless war by the U.S. military-intelligence-industrial complex?  Cut, cut, cut the nearly $800 billion war machine and close all overseas military bases and many of the domestic bases.  Otherwise, endless war will continue.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.