After the war in Libya ended with the extrajudicial killing of Muammar Qaddafi, Obama bragged that U.S. involvement "only cost us $1 billion as opposed to $1 trillion," and "not a single U.S. troop [was] on the ground...not a single U.S. troop was killed. That, I think, is a recipe for success in the future." Thus, the strategic objective of military intervention is to minimize the quantifiable costs, not to develop a plausible strategy that achieves some desired outcome.
Similarly, White House senior counterterrorism adviser John Brennan defended drone strikes in April 2012 by comparing them to "deploying large armies abroad" and "large, intrusive military deployments." Soon afterward, when Carney was asked if the Obama administration relied on the same "loose definition of the declaration of war that President Bush did" in its use of drone strikes, he noted: "Using some of these tools is preferable when you are concerned about civilian casualties than, say, launching a full-scale invasion by land." (Perhaps unconsciously, senior administration officials always antiseptically refer to drone strikes as "targeted strikes" by "tools of national power" and not targeted killings of people by drones.)
This is all part of a systematic effort to remind Americans about the strategic error of invading Iraq, and to create the impression that counterterrorism strategies must incorporate kinetic force. Given the false dichotomy between 170,000 troops in Iraq and drone strikes, who would oppose the latter? Moreover, this implies that military operations involving less than a full-scale invasion or ground troops (which conveniently omits U.S. special operators or private military contractors required) is not considered a "war."
This characterization also assumes that war can only occur when it reaches some predetermined threshold of immediate human or financial costs. The president's "recipe for success in the future" is for military operations that are low-cost and low-risk (in the short-term, as it turned out in Libya) for Americans. Not factored into the equation are the impact on the people living in the affected countries (and the global hatred for drone strikes) and "secondary and tertiary effects out here that one day you have to live with," as former CIA director Michael Hayden recently said (most notably the growth of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula over the last two years from "several hundred" to a "few thousand" members). The bottom line: if Americans are detached from the repercussions, or shielded by executive branch secrecy and a disinterested Congress, it is not war.
Developments have only further confirmed my November prediction that America will never again have a peacetime president. If America is not engaged in a perpetual war, how else could the White House believe it has the legal authority to authorize an "informed, high-level" government official to order the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen who is not provided the due process protections mandated by the Constitution?
Given how U.S. policymakers describe national security threats, and privilege military responses to them, it should not be surprising that the United States finds itself in a state of perpetual war. Isn't this why we spend $633 billion on defense and $75.4 billion on national and military intelligence, not to mention the 134,508 U.S. servicemembers deployed around the world (not including 68,000 in Afghanistan)? War is not only the D-Day invasion of Normandy or Operation Desert Storm. Don't let anyone -- even a Nobel Peace Prize laureate -- tell you otherwise.