The War About Our Wars

Even before President Obama’s recent primetime speech to America about the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan; everyone had an opinion of how and what should be done concerning our wars in the Middle East. After the speech everyone in the political world was eager to voice their opinion.

Among the Republicans there are two camps. The expected one said that Obama’s plan was too much and too soon of a reduction of troop strength. That camp has, for almost ten years, strongly supported our taking the most aggressive stance in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unexpected other Republican camp is in favor of the drawdown; because it will save the U.S. a lot of money. That is becoming a more popular theme on both sides of the isle; because it is a popular sentiment with many voters.

Many Democrats have long been in favor of bringing our troops home; quickly and in big numbers. They say Obama’s plan is too few and too slow in bringing the troops home. Some of them are also motivated by reducing the spending on the wars; but they also couple that with saying the spending should be done at home. The President said pretty much the same thing in his speech. Others in the Democratic Party are anti-war in any and every form. Most of those are from the boomer generation; whose first experience with war — Vietnam — was traumatic and has cast a long shadow over their thinking about war ever since.

Although some members of both parties saying that the money spent on the wars should be used to address problems here at home; but it doesn’t actually work like that. That’s because there are many politicians and voters, here at home, which see the military-industrial complex as a jobs program. That’s invariably true if there is a lot of military production in the home state or district. So a drawdown of troops from overseas doesn’t necessarily mean a corresponding reduction in defense spending or a change in the where and how of domestic spending.

Despite all the criticism from the Right and Left; Obama’s plan will be helpful to the President. In getting both extremes displeased with his plan, Obama has achieved the goal of many in-office politicians; achieving a place near the center of the body politic. As the rule states; you run from the Left or the Right — but you govern from the middle. Ultimately there will be more people pleased with the significant but not too drastic numbers or timing of Obama’s plan, than will be displeased long term. Oh some Democrats will nudge him a little and most Republicans will harass him some; but that’s what they would do no matter what plan he rolled out, because it appeals to their particular constituency and thus helps serve their careers. Whether it’s one, two or five years down the road; the U.S. eventually will have most all of our combat troops out of where they are now. Then the real question is what does the U.S. really do after we disengage in large numbers from the area?

Iraq, for their part, had a strong central civil government when Saddam was the boss man. The issue was who would step in as the strongman or men head of a new government. Seven years of fighting has helped settle that, and a semi-functional government has been cobbled together; which is about the best that could be expected from the chaos of the early years of the war in Iraq. This government will have to fight to control and/or compromise with its opposition, with or without a lot of U.S. troops present.

The issue of the area’s future is most pressing when it comes to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. The number of Al Qaida fighters in both countries is very small; but the number of Taliban fighters, who are an indigenous political force, is more significant at about 25,000. When fully trained, if adequately paid, Afghanistan’s 300,000 man combined army and police should be enough to keep the Taliban from achieving a place in their government by force. In Pakistan, the military has the power to control the Taliban, but their commitment and motivation is subject to question.

The most significant aspect of the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the never mentioned elephant in the middle of the room. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer (by a long shot) of heroin. Afghanistan is landlocked and without much modern infrastructure. Pakistan is the best and easiest route for the worldwide export of heroin. It is the enormous amount of money generated by the international heroin trade that makes for the complex relationship between the Taliban, local tribal leaders in the border areas between the two countries and the Pakistani military and intelligence services. The politics of both countries is heavily influenced by the multi-billion dollar heroin trade. So is the U.S.’s relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan, now and in the future. But does the U.S. need huge numbers of troops in the area trying (with very limited success) to ride herd on the whole complex economic/political/social situation?

One option the U.S. has to reduce the volume of money and thus power that the heroin trade provides to Afghanistan-Pakistan political interests, could be to make changes in American illegal drug policy. The decriminalization of opiates and legalization of domestic opiate production would cut off the major source of money to some of our biggest enemies in that part of the world.

Pakistan’s nuclear capability is another issue that must be addressed. But the U.S. has over sixty years of experience at dealing with the problems of nuclear capable potential enemies. All during that time when, first the Soviet Union and then China and later Korea, all developed nuclear weapons; the U.S. has kept those weapons from being used against us or any of our allies. The Cold War is one of the few successful wars the U.S. has waged since World War Two. And lessons can be learned from that success.

The probability of Pakistan giving a terrorist organization a nuclear weapon is extremely small. They know the worldwide consequences of a nuclear attack on the U.S. Since each country’s nuclear material has distinctive characteristics, the identification of the source of the material of any attack is simple. Our retribution against the source of such an attack would be entirely devastating for the country deemed responsible. In addition, all the other major nuclear powers are joined in concert to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by renegade countries. Russia is at least as vulnerable as the U.S. to attack by an Islamic terrorist group. The European nuclear countries are also potential targets. China, the prime source of nuclear technology in the developing world, can’t afford to bear any culpability in a renegade country or terrorist group getting its hands on nuclear material or a weapon which might be used against its major customer — the U.S.

Our entrance into Afghanistan in the wake of September 11, with the goal of attacking Al Qaida and dislodging the Taliban is understandable. Our difficulty in successfully pursuing a war against indigenous insurgents is also understandable. Our need for a quick but under control (as opposed to a panicky retreat) exit strategy is understandable too.

The Iraq War was an unnecessary commitment of treasure and blood. Containment of Saddam’s regime, with or without it having weapon of mass destruction capabilities, could have and should have been accomplished by the tried and true techniques of the Cold War. Saddam was a typical military dictator bully, who wanted to stay alive and act the big shot. And as such he was eminently subject to the standard threat of complete annihilation if he indicated an ability and intention to use or provide terrorists with a functional nuclear weapon.

The U.S. has kept the world’s two Communist superpowers and all their vassals basically behaving themselves for decades. We have protected ourselves as far as any real damage done to ourselves or our friends or allies, with the simple threat or promise, (depending on which side you were on); that we would retaliate and then some if there was any use of nuclear weapons. Containment, although much less dramatic (the 1962 missile crisis aside) is safer than armed intervention, as well as being considerably less costly in terms of treasure and blood. And best of all; it works!

The best part of being a superpower is that; just the threat of the kind of major military action you are capable of will usually do the trick in keeping a situation under control. On the rare occasions that threats alone do not work; a concentrated effort of superpower style asymmetrical warfare will work. The actions taken by the U.S. in preventing the Serbian genocide of the Muslims in Bosnia is a recent example. It took about 90 days of substantial aerial attacks targeting the infrastructure of the Serbians; but it ultimately got them to the bargaining table in Dayton. And this was accomplished without the loss of a single American life in combat. The Serbians are still under control and behaving themselves, almost twenty years later.

The U.S. is wasting its military’s lives and money trying to fight against insurgents on their home field. It didn’t work for the U.S. in Vietnam. It didn’t work in Afghanistan for the British Empire over a hundred years ago or for the Soviet Empire a couple of decades ago. And it isn’t working for us now. Insurgents can count on the cooperation of the local population either by virtue of genuine sympathy with their cause and methods or through outright fear and intimidation. Either way, the intervening party is seen as an invader and gets little or no cooperation. Even when large sums are paid to locals for their help or support; the local effort is time limited and in effect only as long as the payoffs keep coming. No amount of money can bribe tribal societies, with thousands of years of territorial traditions, into becoming, or even thinking or acting, like modern western democracies.

American intervention has driven Al Qaida out of Afghanistan, along with a lot of the Taliban. The large, and at American expense, well trained and equipped Armies of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are capable of protecting their civilian populations, if they really want to fight their countries enemies. Staying any longer than is necessary for our withdrawal to be orderly, will do nothing but delay the time when the Afghani and Pakistani people and their governments, which are now strong enough, will either have to stand up for themselves or face the return of the middle ages practices of the Taliban.

As for Al Qaida; we should make it clear that sheltering or aiding and abetting Al Qaida in any form will be taken as an act of war against the U.S. and the consequences will be severe. The severity level indicated will be that the U.S. is prepared to take any action necessary, including direct military action in the form of whatever level of destruction is required within a country harboring terrorists to eliminate any threat to U.S. lives, property or interest. Some lower level Jihadists may be suicidal lunatics but their political and religious overlords are not. Some lone crazy person may pick up a gun or drive a bulldozer into civilians, as they do rarely in on the West Bank; but Hamas and Hezbollah, living under constant threat of Israeli retaliation has managed to keep iron fisted control to prevent any extreme mass destruction action against Israel from being taken. The Pakistani and Afghani military and police when facing American retaliation for letting anything untoward happen; are just as capable of being ruthless in protecting their own well being as any terrorist/governmental group in Gaza or the West Bank.

We effectively have already “won” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Saddam and bin Laden are both dead, the government in both countries has its own large scale Army and police, Iraq has oil and Afghanistan has heroin. If the people of either country don’t feel they are getting a fair share of their countries wealth or are being afforded as much representation as they are due; there are models for overthrowing and replacing the government being worked on just west of the middle part of the Middle east. They can look at these and learn from them. “Democracy” in the Muslim and Arab world will take its own form and have its own struggles. The U.S. has already helped them to have the chance they need to make their countries whatever they want them to be.

The U.S. can bring its forces home from everywhere they have been needed to allow the local people and nations space to develop their own kind government. That goes for Europe, Korea, Japan and the Middle East. We don’t have to totally disengage or revert to blind isolationism. It is in our self interest to have adequate military relationships with and bases in key foreign countries. But there is no need for the kind of massive boots on the ground presence we now have in almost a thousand bases worldwide. A much smaller but well organized, well balanced, at the ready military, strategically and tactically deployed military footprint worldwide, will make sure the rest of the world knows that we are more than capable of taking care of business, should it be necessary. You remember what the Democrats favorite 20th century President said about “carrying a big stick” don’t you? Well the U.S. still has the biggest stick in town and as long as everyone knows we are ready and able to swing it, we can defend ourselves by telling the world; we promise to protect ourselves.