After the end of our last declared war, diplomat extraordinaire and historian George Kennan wrote in 1946 what has come to be known as the ‘Long Telegram’ (q.v.) outlining a policy to contain the post-war global aspirations of the USSR. That was quickly followed by his now famous ‘X article’ – ‘The Sources of Soviet Conduct’ in Foreign Affairs – which expanded on the recognition that Stalin’s real objective was to dedicate the USSR to foment revolution to “defeat the capitalist forces in the outside world” which required the overthrow of western governments. In this piece his oft-quoted seminal observation was that -
“… the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies ... Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and manoeuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence.” (emphasis as in its subsequent references)
This policy with variants was adopted and implemented in its essence by all subsequent US presidents until the USSR collapsed in 1991. Fundamentally, history has judged the containment policy through “adroit and vigilant applications of counterforce” wherever needed to have been successful. During the entire period from 1945 to 1991 and to the present, neither the US nor any developed country has bothered to apply force or counterforce under an umbrella of a formal declaration of war. World order, such as it is, has been maintained by the ad hoc application of military force by individual nation-states acting alone or within some loose alliances cobbled together for political reasons.
But the pragmatism that has underpinned such undeclared hostilities for more than half a century is easy to see. Three principal reasons to proceed without formal declaration come to mind –
- A declared war needs to have an objective of victory over an identified enemy that controls territory, people, and resources. The declaring party needs also then to put its nation on a wartime footing with all the concomitant sacrifices in force.
- Foreign policy objectives can be achieved by the use of many kinds of force without the declaration of war which requires the commitment of foreign powers to declare themselves an ally or some other form of a committed partner of the declaring nation.
- A formally declared war must continue until some formal instrument of peace or cessation of hostilities is negotiated and signed, else it continues indefinitely. Such terminating negotiations are more often than not difficult, expensive, and take a long time.
Now regarding Islamists and dawa, I tend to hold with Popper and Kennan as far as a responsive policy is concerned. To understand what I mean, take Kennan’s paragraph above and substitute Islamist et al for the USSR et al. It would then read –
The main element of any United States policy toward Islamism must be a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of dawa and Islamist expansive tendencies ... Islamist pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and manoeuvers of Islamist policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence.
None of this involves a declaration of war against Islamism, since that in its essence is a state-less distributed assault, especially in its promotion of dawa inside the borders of western countries already suffering from unassimilating Islamic colonization. Were we to seek the stasist solution, promoted by many libertarians and progressives, of waiting for Islamism to condense into an attackable nation-state, it would be too late for the simple reason that this will never happen. That kind of a world has passed a good many years ago.
And if people still believe that our current Constitution does not already provide for America to fight for its survival, without the declaration of war, through the timely, adroit, and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, then we should appropriately amend the Constitution to make that possible.