My article in this week’s Washington Examiner magazine argues that because U.S. wars seem so cheap, they tempt us into making war too casually. I explain that while this tendency isn’t new, recent technology breakthroughs, which allowed the development of drones, have made it worse. We now make war almost like people buy movies or songs online, where low prices and convenience encourage purchase without much debate or consideration of value. I label the phenomenon one-click wars.
If we take occasional drone strikes as a minimum standard, the United States is at war in six countries: Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, with Libya likely to rejoin the list. In the first three, U.S. military action is exclusively the work of drones. Regular U.S. ground forces are present only in Iraq, where they avoid direct combat, and Afghanistan, where they mostly do.
There’s something remarkable in that combination of militarism and restraint. How can we be so willing to make war but so reluctant to take risks in making it?
My explanation starts with power. Wealth, technological prowess, and military might give the United States unique ability to make war around the world. But labor scarcity, liberal values, and our isolated geography that makes the stakes remote limit our tolerance for sacrificing lives, even foreign ones, in war. This reluctance to bear the human costs of war leads to reliance on long-range technology, especially airpower.
Airpower, despite its historical tendency to fail without help from ground forces, always offers hope that we are only a few bombs away from enemy capitulation. The promise of cheap, clean wars is always alluring. They would let you escape the choice between the bloody sacrifices war entails and the liberal values it offends.