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Unfolding the Future of the Long War: Motivations, Prospects, and Implications for the U.S. Army

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The United States is currently engaged in what has been characterized as the long war. The long war has been described by some as an epic struggle against adversaries bent on forming a unified Islamic world to supplant Western dominance, while others characterize it more narrowly as an extension of the war on terrorism. But while policy makers, military leaders, and scholars have offered numerous definitions of the long war, no consensus has been reached about this term or its implications for the United States. This study explores the concept of the long war and identifies potential ways in which it might unfold as well as the implications for the Army and the U.S. military more generally. One way to think about the potential threats the United States faces in the long war is to consider the consequence of three problems raised by the war those related to the ideologies espoused by key adversaries in the conflict, those related to the use of terrorism, and those related to governance. To ensure that this war follows a favorable course, the United States will need to make a concerted effort across all three domains. Also important for understanding the long war is a definition of the adversary. Because several of the adversaries that have attacked the United States have espoused an ideology laced with Islamic motifs and juridical justifications, this study examined groups operating within predominantly Muslim countries and organized them into categories based on an understanding of their motivating ideas and goals. The study identifies eight alternative trajectories, or paths, that the long war might take. The trajectories emphasize not what the future looks like, but the ways in which it might unfold. This analysis, combined with the authors understanding of the components of the long war, provided the basis for a set of seven strategy options for the United States in the long war.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Unconventional Warfare

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