Small World: War without end or authorization

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

You would have to be pretty well along in years to remember a time when our country was not at war. There were, of course, months when our forces were only conducting something like a “police action” — Grenada, Somalia, the ex-Yugoslavia. By war, however, I mean a fully engaged period of conflict. Only prior to Pearl Harbor or before we entered World War I did America stand aside and let others go at each other without sending in our troops — the unappointed gendarme for the world.

Since 9/11 (that was in 2001, remember?) we have been continually engaged, our troops either actively in combat or training our “allies” and taking casualties while doing so. Only during the exhausted days of the Viet Nam conflict or Reagan’s secret Central American adventure did the American people or Congress intervene to rein in the executive branch.

I well remember those days immediately after the assaults by aircraft organized by bin Laden and his terror organization, al Qaeda, which was based in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. We demanded that the Taliban expel the terrorists. They refused (something about the obligation of a host to a guest in Afghan culture). We attacked, drove out bin Laden and his bunch, and set about remaking that poor country with a government and society of our imagination and fabrication.

I, hardly an expert on Afghanistan, thought we were making a big mistake. Others more sensitive to the U.S. domestic politics of the moment thought we had no alternative. We had to achieve revenge, they argued.

Sure, I agreed. But give up any hope of creating a shining city on a hill in such a primitive place. Viet Nam showed how a modern, sophisticated war machine can be defeated by a determined, low-tech foe prepared to suffer endless casualties. Go in, punish al Qaeda, leave, and let the Afghans work out their own future was my advice. It was ignored. We are now engaged in the longest war in our history with no end in sight.

Only months after that folly the Bush administration, in an even greater act of national self-destruction, invaded Iraq. For years the neo-cons (proponents of America as the dominant power [with Israel] in the Middle East) had urged this course, settling reluctantly during the Clinton years for heavy economic and military pressures on Saddam’s regime. We still suffer the consequences of the decision to invade, which was presented to the public with a rationale of lies. We would not now be fighting the Islamic State were the ground not first plowed by our invasion of Iraq.

But it doesn’t end with a mere quagmire. We now insist on the dual objective of defeating the Islamic State (ISIL) terrorists while also bringing down the Assad regime in Damascus. We lived with Assad’s tyranny for decades. It offered a calm border with Israel and a relatively stable, if oppressive, internal polity. Now we fight it and ISIL with not a glimmer of an idea of what kind of government might succeed either one. We attack Syria and other Russian-allied forces (which, unlike us, have been invited into Syria). We oppose Iranian forces and their friends who are trying to defeat ISIL and stabilize Assad. A wider, long war is a definite possibility.

Meanwhile we continue to fight ISIL in Iraq and to provide logistic and intelligence assistance to the Saudis’ merciless war against helpless Yemen.

All of these disasters derive from the Iraq invasion under Bush. They were continued, if in diminished form, by Obama and now — who knows with how much force — by Trump. Never during the continued killing of Americans and waste of our treasure has Congress been consulted. In fact, most members would rather avoid the subject. Only a few brave souls from our gutless legislature have spoken out against this war-making abuse of Washington’s power.

The only way, in my view, to end this cycle of ruination and perversion of our values is to restore the draft. When all high school and college graduates — of both genders — are confronted with putting their plans and lives on the line, domestic politics will have a chance for influence. Until then American and Middle Eastern lives will continue to be wasted in a futile and deadly confrontation that nobody seems capable of ending. And some appear not to want to.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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