How many wars can the United States handle at any one time? The question became pertinent last week as the Trump administration, along with the president’s most militant supporters in Congress, rushed to define the civil unrest triggered by the police killing of George Floyd as a military problem requiring a military solution. President Trump put Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley—in Trump’s words “a fighter, a warrior, and a lot of victories and no losses”—“in charge” of administration efforts to restore order in American cities. As is so often the case with Trump, no one quite knew what “in charge” signified, if anything.
Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas and Trump loyalist, stood ready to translate presidential bluster into concrete action. Cotton is on the record calling for the deployment of up to five regular U.S. Army divisions—there are only six stationed in the continental U.S.—to do “whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.”
In a military context, “no quarter” is a phrase redolent with meaning. It implies using maximum force and taking no prisoners. It suggests that the laws of war do not apply. It comes precariously close to calling for extermination—all pretty extreme stuff. Yet Cotton was by no means alone in his eagerness to use war as an instrument to dispose of any and all problems, large or small, in the nation’s path.
Indeed, members of the American political class to which Senator Cotton belongs (and to which Trump remains an outsider) have long been enamored with war, both real and metaphorical. Over the past half-century or so, U.S. forces have fought major wars in Vietnam, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan. Interspersed among these large conflicts have been a dozen or so lesser skirmishes, typically classified under the anodyne heading of “armed interventions.” Over roughly that same period, U.S. presidents have initiated policies styled as wars that targeted poverty, cancer, drugs, crime, and terrorism. Throughout this long stretch of official belligerence, waxing and waning, but never disappearing altogether, has been the culture war, taking in conflicts over the agendas allegedly lurking behind major institutions like the courts, the universities, the media, and the centers of power in Washington, D.C. And now, of course, we are said to be engaged in a war against Covid-19. To listen to hawkish politicians and pundits, the U.S. is always “at war” against something somewhere.
Read the full article in The New Republic.