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U.S. Government Plans for 'The Long War'

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U.S. Government Plans for 'The Long War'


U.S. Government Plans for 'The Long War'

U.S. Government Plans for 'The Long War'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Over the past several weeks, senior administration and Pentagon officials have adopted the phrase "the long war" to characterize the global war on terrorism. Some analysts say the adoption of the phrase is an attempt to prepare Americans for a costly, long-term campaign.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. The latest name for the war on terror may suggest a changing country. In recent weeks, Bush Administration officials have called it "the long war." That's not the first effort to re-brand the conflict, though it does touch on a way this war is different. In this part of the program, we'll hear how this extended conflict has extended the power of the president.

First, NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports on what the long war means to the Pentagon.

VICKY O'HARA, reporting:

After the president sent his budget to Congress, the Pentagon senior leaders went to Capitol Hill to defend the request for $439 billion for defense in fiscal 2007. General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld all said that kind of money is necessary to prevail in the long war.

Rumsfeld likened in the threat of terrorism to the Communist challenge during the Cold War.

Defense Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD: Just as we did during the Cold War, what President Kennedy called a long twilight struggle, we're going to persevere in this long war we face today. And with the help of the Congress, we will provide our country with the security it needs, and that it deserves, in this new century.

O'HARA: The long war phraseology is peppered throughout the Pentagon's new Quadrennial Defense Review, a blueprint for meeting national security threats 20 years into the future. Asson Arari(ph), a defense strategist, formerly attached to the U.S. National War College, notes that the document calls for putting new resources into fighting irregular wars; evidence, he says, of a shift in U.S. strategic thinking.

Mr. ASSON ARARI (Defense Strategist): The fact that we're not able to suppress the insurgency of Iraq, and the fact that the insurgency is flaring up in Afghanistan, I think these two developments has something to do with it.

O'HARA: But military theorist William Lend, of the Conservative Free Congress Foundation, notes that the proposed budget allocations for fighting irregular wars are a fraction of the amount proposed for conventional, high-cost weapon systems.

Mr. WILLIAM LEND (Military theorist, Free Congress Foundation): The money continues to go to programs like the Army's future combat system, more accurately, the future contract system. Or in to a new bomber for the Air Force, which is about as useful against fourth generation opponents as zeppelins.

O'HARA: And Lend disagrees with those who say the new budget reflects a strategic shift.

Mr. LEND: What accounts for this fixation with the long war is primarily that it's a wonderful budget driver. If we're in a long war, obviously, we don't need to think about cutting the defense budget, we should be thinking about increasing it evermore.

O'HARA: Military historian Dick Kohn, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, suggests the administration changed its language to shore up eroding public confidence in U.S. foreign policy and homeland security.

Professor DICK KOHN (Military Historian, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill): Language and ideas are representations of reality, and if the administration cannot convincingly represent the national security threat that we face, then they are going to lose support in the Congress. They are going to lose support across the country, and they are in danger then of having their entire administration unravel.

O'HARA: Kohn says the long war is an improvement over the administration's previous characterization.

Professor KOHN: It has better traction than the war on terror, because from the beginning, it didn't make sense. You don't make war on a tactic or a strategy. You make war on individuals or groups or societies.

O'HARA: Asson Arari says he thinks the American public will buy into the concept that the United States is engaged in a long, long struggle. But William Lend says that pushing the long war is a major mistake by the administration. Historically, he notes, long wars leave both sides weakened.

Mr. LEND: Even if we look at wars that are certainly shorter than what the Pentagon is now projecting, like World War I, World War II, everybody comes out of it exhausted, except the United States. All the European powers that were in it were ruined, including those that technically won.

O'HARA: Iraq, he says, offers another example. The United States wanted to over throw a regime, Lend says, but instead, it brought about the collapse of a state and the proliferation of dangerous non-state actors.

Vicky O'Hara, NPR News Washington.

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