In an ever-changing battlefield, America’s perpetual war

File Photo: U.S. Army soldiers carry the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of U.S. Army Sergeant Vernon W. Martin of Savannah, Georgia, out of...
File Photo: U.S. Army soldiers carry the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of U.S. Army Sergeant Vernon W. Martin of Savannah, Georgia, out of...
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File

Next month marks the ten-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. In only a decade, the military maneuvers and the battlefield on which America fights has shifted considerably.

This week’s exclusive report by NBC News’s Michael Isikoff detailing a confidential Justice Department memo on drone strikes shows that while our technology and tactics have moved forward, much of the policy has endured. The documents outline the Obama administration’s justification for using drones to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism. The papers maintain that the U.S. government has the authority to kill citizens they believe are terrorist leaders, without pressing charges, and even if those individuals aren’t known to be actively involved in a plot to attack the country.

“For the most part, boots on the ground have been shipped home in favor of lean, special forces teams backed up by drone strikes,” said msnbc host Melissa Harris-Perry. “The perpetual war state ignited in response to the Sept. 11 attacks has become an institutionalized apparatus that needs no particular provocation.”

Most soldiers on the ground have returned home, a new president was elected (twice), and the nation has a host of other domestic issues to take our attention away. In his second inaugural address, President Obama called for enduring security and lasting peace. But these papers maintain that some of the last administration’s policies are still in effect.

“Counter-terrorism policies put into place by George W. Bush have by and large been continued, and in fact, robustly expanded under President Obama,” said Harris-Perry.

“I think it’s particularly troubling that this white paper laid out a definition of ‘imminent threat’ that completely changes the conventional definition of what ‘imminent threat’ is,” Jim Frederick, Time magazine’s international editor, said during Melissa Harris-Perry’s Saturday panel. “It’s so vague drones can be deployed anywhere in the world and used against citizens without due process of law.”

Time recently devoted their cover story to the drone issue.

“This is really a ‘Rumsfeldian’ view of war that Obama has not just continued, but has expanded dramatically,” said Frederick.  ”I mean, it’s really his lasting legacy in foreign policy.”

In 2010, there were 2,266,883 active-duty troops in the U.S. military. That’s less than 1% of the population.

Over time, as the military’s troops levels decreased and even fewer soldiers are in combat on the ground, the number of drone strikes escalated. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks 11 years ago, the Pentagon had about 50 drones. Now it has about 7,500.

“Part of why perpetual war seems possible is because it seems like there’s little cost to the majority of us,” said Harris-Perry.

“In 1954, two-thirds of the graduating class of Princeton was drafted,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Cay Johnston. “If we had a universal draft,” he said, “that’s a huge check on politicians.”

“The implication of the use of drones is not very well known in America,” Newsweek foreign policy specialist Rula Jebreal said during Melissa Harris-Perry’s panel, “but it’s very well-known in Pakistan.”

In an ever-changing battlefield, America's perpetual war