Forever war

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A forever war is a political science term of an endless war carried out that appears to have no end in sight.[1][2][3] Also known as a perpetual war or an endless war, forever wars are caused by constantly expanding goals in a war, such as fighting against more countries and/or groups than originally planned.[4] It is usually used in reference to a war that the United States is involved in. Some examples of "forever wars" include the Vietnam War,[5] the Iraq War,[6] and the War on Terror.[7] The Iraq War is especially notable for being a "forever war". American politicians such as John McCain noted that the United States could stay in the war in Iraq for "one hundred years... or thousand or ten thousand years".[8]


Forever wars can happen for a variety of reasons, such as military or political reasons.


Poor military planning is one of the major reasons that a forever war can occur. If the territory gained in a war is not occupied/controlled properly, this allows a deadly insurgency to occur, thus potentially stretching out a war that never ends, which is termed as a forever war.[6] Similarly, warfare that is fought irregularly, such as rebellions in Africa, do not have a set of military objectives in mind, usually because these rebel groups intend to commit war crimes against the civilian population. Thus, the lack of actual military goals can in itself be a reason that a forever war can occur. As well, a very large defense budget may also be a factor in the transpiration of a forever war.[9] This allows a country to fight several forever wars. As of 2018, the United States has a high military budget that is larger than their budget for World War II, allowing for inflation, which enables them to fight wars forever in Iraq and other countries.[9] The idea of a forever war can also extend to civil wars. Simply, civil wars can last for a prolonged period of time whenever a military stalemate occurs between both sides.[10]


One major political reason as to why a forever war can occur is due to the lack of democracy in a country, as this makes a country more likely to become engulfed in a civil war.[10] Politically, forever wars can occur in order to keep money flowing into institutions, such as the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (MICC).[9] Thus, forever wars can serve as domestic political engines. The continuous changes in capitalism in globalized markets influences policy makers.[11] This, in turn, causes the policy makers to promote policies of continuing and expanding wars.[11] As well, forever wars can be used by small armed groups in an attempt to wear down a larger group or country. For example, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the beginning of the War on Terror, Al-Qaeda attempted to get the United States involved in a prolonged guerrilla war in Afghanistan, or in other words a forever war.[12] The reason for this was to destroy American will to fight such a long war, and ultimately force the United States to not only withdraw from Afghanistan, but from the Middle East as well.[12] Thus, forever wars can be started in an attempt to achieve political goals for armed groups.

Other Reasons[edit]

Wars that are between ethnic and/or ideological groups can also be a cause of a forever war.[10] This is because these wars are harder to end with a negotiated peace deal due to the different interests of the two sides as it is difficult to meet the demands of both parties.[10]

As well, financial support for a rebellion or country, such as rebel groups selling illegal products or taxing civilians on one side of the conflict can cause a forever war, as the financial assistance allows rebellion groups to be able to fight longer with more supplies.[10]

The War On Terror[edit]

Traditionally, the term War referred to the physical and conventional act of engaging in armed conflict. However, the implications of what war entails has evolved over time. The War on Terror has often been cited as a forever war, being a war with “no specific battlefield and the enemy isn’t an army”.[13] The War on Terror has been directed at countless 'enemies' as it has no clear target. Georgetown University Historian Bruce Hoffman describes traditional war as a war that "ends with the vanquishing of an opponent, with some form or armistice or truce- some kind of surrender instrument or document".[13] In contrast, The War on Terror continues to rage on, with no end in sight.

The War on Terror arose after the September 11th Terrorist Attacks in the United States. As a response, the United States government were looking to declare war, unfortunately they did not know who to declare it on. In the hours following the attack, The Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) began to take form. American lawyer Timothy Flanigan was tasked with constructing the legislation that would become the framework as a basis for the War on Terror.[14] This document has been the legal justification for the United States War on Terror. With extremely vague wording and broad language, the AUMF allowed for the President to justify attacks, strikes, detainments and countless other military actions under the premise of protecting American citizens and avenging the September 11th attacks.

"That the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11 or harbor such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."[15]

These words lead to arguably the longest war in American history.[14]

The War on Drugs[edit]

The 1960s gave birth to a rebellious movement that popularized drug use. "Hippies" sought to expand their minds with the use of hallucinogens like LSD, whilst many soldiers returned from the Vietnam War with heroin habits. Demand for drugs skyrocketed in the 1960s.[16]

In June 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants.

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics also used propaganda as a preventative measure. Myths and horror stories were spread about drugs. Marijuana was blamed for bizarre cases of insanity, murder, and sex crimes.[16]

A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, later admitted: “You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”Nixon temporarily placed marijuana in Schedule One, the most restrictive category of drugs, pending review by a commission he appointed led by Republican Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer.[17]

In 1971, after a failed experimental and controversial methadone maintenance program, Nixon addressed Congress and declared "as long as there is a demand, there will be those willing to take the risks of meeting the demand.[16] " In this statement, he publicly proclaimed that all efforts of interdiction and eradication are destined to fail.

Not learning from past presidents, President Reagan gave a speech in 1981 that mirrored that of Nixon's 10 years prior. He believed it was more effective to take the customers away from the drug, rather than take the drugs from the customers.[16] The average annual funding for eradication and interdiction programs increased from $437 million during Carter's presidency to $1.4 billion during Reagan's first term.[16]

Reagan's initiatives focused on "getting tough" on drugs. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act gave the drug user full accountability. Users were to be prosecuted for possession and accordingly penalized.[16] This demand side of drug policy reflects a colonial, moralist view of addiction.

Since the initial declaration of a "War on Drugs" in 1971, the United States has: 1) Put half a million people in prison: $10 Billion per year 2) Spent billions on expanded law enforcement 3) Fomented violence and death (in gang turf wars, overdoses, shared needles/AIDS) 4) Eroded civil rights (property can be confiscated BEFORE you are found guilty) 5) Enriched criminal organizations [16]

A war that seemingly has no end. A war fought for all sorts of reasons, none of them clear. This "war" was approached differently by each consecutive president, none of whom were successful to any degree in the eradication or control of drugs in the U.S..


  1. ^ Carol Rosenberg (2017-01-12). "Where is war on terror? Last Guantánamo captives were caught all over the world". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 2017-01-27. “Any new category that you try to bring there would really carry tremendous litigation risk,” he said, an invitation to the federal courts to question military detention authority in what some have dubbed The Forever War.
  2. ^ Elizabeth D. Samet (2016-08-14). "Literature of the Forever War". New York Times. p. BR29. Archived from the original on 2016-12-12. Retrieved 2017-02-23.
  3. ^ Daskal, Jennifer (April 27, 2016). "Obama's Last Chance to End the 'Forever War'". Washington DC. p. A23. Archived from the original on 2016-05-05.
  4. ^ Ignatieff, Michael (2016-09-29). "The Forever War?". The New York Review of Books. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  5. ^ "The Real 'Forever War' | Westmoreland's War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam, Gregory Daddis, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK (2014), p. 280". Orbis. 58 (2): 297–301. 2014-01-01. doi:10.1016/j.orbis.2014.02.006. ISSN 0030-4387.
  6. ^ a b Manchanda, Amav (Winter 2008). "THE FOREVER WAR/TELL ME HOW THIS ENDS: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq". International Journal. 1: 296–298.
  7. ^ "Where is war on terror? Last Guantánamo captives were caught all over the world". miamiherald. Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  8. ^ Dubreuil, Laurent (2009-11-20). "Dexter Filkins,The Forever War(New York, Vintage, 2008), 384 pp". Oxford Literary Review. 31 (2): 262–266. doi:10.3366/e030514980900056x.
  9. ^ a b c Spinney, Franklin (Fall 2011). "The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War". Challenge. 54: 54–69.
  10. ^ a b c d e Fearon, James D. "Why Do Some Civil Wars Last So Much Longer than Others?". Journal of Peace Research. 41 (3): 275–301. doi:10.1177/0022343304043770.
  11. ^ a b Aravamudan, Srinivas (2009). "Introduction: Perpetual War". PMLA. 124 (5): 1505–1514. JSTOR 25614381.
  12. ^ a b Danner, Mark (11 September 2005). "Taking Stock of the Forever War" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  13. ^ a b Hoffman, Bruce (2006). Inside terrorism (Revised and expanded ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231126991.
  14. ^ a b Kielty, Matthew; Padgett, Kelsey. "60 Words". RadioLab. RadioLab.
  15. ^ United States of America, 107th Congress (September 18, 2001). Public Law 107-40 (Vol. 147 ed.). Congressional Record.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g "The United States War on Drugs".
  17. ^ "A Brief History of the Drug War". Drug Policy Alliance.