War is an extreme condition. Twenty years of seemingly endless war in response to the 9/11 attacks is an extreme situation, especially for a self-avowed democracy. After the American Revolution, James Madison warned Americans that long wars favored autocracy, eroded individual rights, and fed corruption, which would weaken democracy. A weaker democracy means that ordinary Americans have less say. They perceive a government that is beyond entreaty and suasion. Citizens may then look for answers elsewhere: to cult-like demagogues promising to make America great; to fringe organizations dedicated to “taking back” America from someone, some enemy, often an enemy within (perfidious Democrats, undocumented immigrants), sometimes an enemy without (China, Russia)–and at times, both.
In the latest report on military extremism, which I helped author, we uncover a harsh truth: America’s 20-year global war only spreads terror further. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were based on lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was no way to bring freedom and democracy, or a “government in a box,” to Afghanistan. Military leaders knew the “surges” in these wars had no staying power (“fragile” and “reversible,” General David Petraeus then said). So it proved. More than $6 trillion was wasted. Thousands were killed; tens of thousands were wounded in body and spirit—and that’s only counting American casualties. A constant state of war—shrouded in mendacity, rife with profit for a few—created the conditions for extremism in America.
Troops alienated by official lies and unwinnable wars predictably became bitter and cynical. With the mainstream media selling corporate-driven happy-talk and featuring senior ex-CIA and military generals presented as unbiased experts, veterans sought answers elsewhere, in some cases joining or following QAnon, the Oath Keepers, and similar organizations espousing false or fringe ideologies, including white supremacy. Lies begat more lies, but the original sin was war. If the first casualty of war is truth, the persistent casualty of endless war is the very integrity of democracy.
Read the full piece here.