A permanent war psychology has dug a groove alongside the permanent war economy. And so, we hear appreciably less about Washington's ostensible quest for peace.
Right now, we're told, President Obama is wrestling with the question of how much to reduce US troop levels in Afghanistan. It's a fateful decision. We should pressure members of Congress and the White House, pushing for military withdrawal and an end to the air war.
But, just as the reduction of US troop strength in Iraq allowed for escalation in Afghanistan, a search for enemies is apt to be inexhaustible. When Uncle Sam's proclaimed global mission is to prevent other countries from being used as a base for a terrorist attack on the United States, the Pentagon's combat tasks are bottomless.
Years ago, US military spending climbed above $2 billion per day. Some of the consequences can be understood in the context of words that President Dwight Eisenhower uttered in April 1953, during a speech that began by addressing "the chance for a just peace for all peoples" and ended with the word "peace."
In the speech, Eisenhower declared: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children ... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
Maybe, as a former commanding general, Ike felt some freedom to talk like that. But in the current era, trapped within the "war on terror" matrix, Washington's political framework leaves very little space for serious talk of peace.
When war ("on terror") is touted as the embodiment of eternal vigilance, war must be eternal - and in that case, why bother to talk much about striving for peace?
So, peace might be a good goal to recommend to some others - but if the United States is terrorism's biggest target and most powerful foe, then this country is the last place that should expect, or seek, peace.
In the process, the warfare state pins a multitude of hopes on war with a perverse acculturated faith that it will right wrongs, avenge cruelty, straighten the crooked, cleanse the fetid, prevent violence. Countless times, those delusional hopes have boosted the spirals of suffering. But who's counting?
In one of Kabul's poorest neighborhoods, when I spoke with a group of about 20 very poor women in the late summer of 2009, I asked what they needed most of all. Their unanimous response translated as one word: "peace."
But at the top of Washington's hierarchy, the yearning is very different. The nation's decade-long war effort in Afghanistan, where it costs $1 million to deploy one US soldier for one year, is a grisly symptom of chronic war fever. More enemies are easy to find, and even easier to make.
A country that's committed to being at war will treat the real potential for peace as an abstraction.