Those who advocate a reduced global American military presence are often accused by defenders of the status quo of somehow being naïve or unable to see the big picture. But the exact opposite is true — it is those who insist America must be everywhere at all times who are also all over the place in their logic, as their advocating for perpetual war continues to lead to permanent disaster.
Take Iraq. Now that Obama has announced his own “Mission Accomplished” and is reducing troop levels, Democrats are praising the president’s leadership and Republicans are touting the Bush surge that made it all possible. But however stable or unstable Iraq becomes in the years ahead, what, exactly, did the United States get out of this war?
Did any of the reasons Americans were given for invading Iraq — that Saddam Hussein was a “threat,” that he possessed weapons of mass destruction, that he aided terrorists and was somehow connected to 9/11 — turn out to be true? When asked whether it would have been wise to oust Hussein during Operation Desert Storm, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said in 1994 that invading Baghdad would have created a “quagmire,” destabilized the region, caused civil war, empowered Iran, and led to U.S. casualties that would have been too high. “How many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?” Cheney asked in ’94.
Did not everything Cheney once feared about invading Iraq come to fruition after 2003, and are these not the reasons Bush even had to surge or Obama still has to stay? Cheney was right the first time — how many dead Americans was Saddam worth? With nearly 5,000 soldiers lost, tens of thousands of civilian casualties, a more brazen Iran, and a $3 trillion price tag, what have we accomplished in Iraq that, in retrospect, was even remotely worth the cost? Those who still believe that it was necessary to invade Iraq would likely consider this critique the ramblings of a naïve fool who does not understand the big picture when it comes to fighting the War on Terror — but what has the Iraq War ever had to do in any conceivable way with actually fighting al-Qaeda, a group that did not even exist in that country until the U.S. invaded? It is not the Iraq War’s critics who have failed to see the big picture.
American foreign interventionism is like an abusive marriage — no matter how illogical or tragic it becomes, we always rationalize why we must stay. We went to Iraq to take care of the “threat” that Saddam had allegedly become — something, even if true, we created through years of aid and ammo to the Iraqi dictator in the 1980s. If Saddam ever had WMDs, we gave them to him. Why would we aid Hussein? As a bulwark against Iran, whom we perceived as a threat, and why? Because Iran took American hostages following their 1979 revolution in which they overthrew the Shah — a leader we installed and Iranians despised, engendering anti-American sentiment and sowing the seeds for revolution for decades. Today, the same people who thought the Iraq War was a good idea are clamoring for war with Iran. Why? Because with the overthrow of Saddam, Iran’s power and influence in the region has risen, making that country now also a “threat,” just as Dick Cheney once warned it might become.
And then there’s Afghanistan, where we fought the Taliban after 9/11, whose training and weapons came from the United States in the ’80s during the Cold War. The 1988 action movie “Rambo III,” in which Sylvester Stallone made new friends in Osama bin Laden’s social circle, ended with the following dedication: “This film is dedicated to the gallant people of Afghanistan.” Those gallant Afghans now make up the insurgency that persists in that country, where our current president is escalating troops for some vague reason, while simultaneously carrying out drone strikes in neighboring Pakistan, our supposed ally. Former Reagan official and foreign-policy critic Bruce Fein estimates that for every U.S. drone strike, 10 new insurgents are created — making the so-called War on Terror more a war for it.
That our interventionism only begets more interventionism, that our wars on terror only create more terrorists, and that virtually every military action we take in the Middle East results in further military action is the big picture that defenders of the foreign-policy status quo either cannot see or do not want us to. What do we ever “win” in the Middle East? What have we ever “won?” Seeing the big picture in Iraq necessarily means applying a cost/benefit analysis, and those who would consider this Monday-morning quarterbacking are the same government liars who somehow keep their game face every time they change strategy or rationale, constantly reinventing the reasons for war as they go along.
Rationalizing the irrational, whether out of incompetence or complacency, is not sound foreign policy, and just as most Americans don’t want another Vietnam, we must also now recognize that we don’t want another Iraq, Afghanistan or possibly Iran, either. It’s time we injected some sanity into our foreign-policy debate — and to do so, we must see the big picture.