The most damning criticism of the American conduct of the war in Iraq was that it lacked a strategy. ‘All too often’, Colin Gray wrote in 2005, ‘there is a black hole where American strategy ought to reside.’ Of course there were other failings, but this was the most significant because from it many of the others flowed. Strategy implies that the government has a policy and that the strategy flows from the policy: it is an attempt to make concrete a set of objectives through the application of military force to a particular case. But the ‘war on terror’, embraced in September 2001, was profoundly astrategic. Directed not towards a political goal, but against a means of fighting, it set an agenda that lacked geographical precision. Its successor and reconfiguration, ‘the long war’, enunciated in February 2006, recognised the problem but did not solve it. ‘The long war’ is about shaping military means to political objectives, but conceptually it remains devoid of strategic insight and of political context. Strategy needs to recognise war’s nature; this one uses a policy statement as a substitute for defining the war. The concept of length only acquires meaning when contrasted with brevity, as both long war and short war are relative terms. Moreover, the ‘long war’ deliberately minimised the wars that were then being waged, in Iraq and Afghanistan, by placing them in the context of something bigger but altogether more amorphous. Wars require enemies and it is not clear exactly who in this case they were.
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