Thursday, June 12, 2014

Add Iraq to the List

And Afghanistan is next

If we’re lucky, when the dust settles only half of Iraq will be in the hands of al-Qaeda inspired forces.   I’m not convinced we’ll be lucky.  And for the privilege of watching this unfold, we sacrificed 4,500 American war dead and paid not quite a trillion dollars.

You can add this to my list of grievances with the Obama administration (which are, to recap:  the Bergdahl trade, our open borders, the ACA deceptions, the VA scandal, the out of control deficit, and the administration’s war on fossil fuels).  Oh, I agree, it’s probably not fair to blame the president for this one.  After all, he didn’t get us into this mess.  That would be his predecessor, W., who led us into the war and also established the initial timetable for withdrawal.  But the current situation is unfolding on Mr. Obama’s watch. 

It’s also true that in getting us out of Iraq, President Obama did what he promised he’d do and what he was elected to do.  This is the same American electorate that had insisted on the war in the first place.   Of course, now we don’t remember it that way; we like to refer to the Iraq invasion as “Bush’s war.”  But in the aftermath of 9/11, we were out for blood, and Saddam Hussein, who truly was an evil rat bastard and who’d flipped off both Bush and his daddy, seemed like a great target. 

We didn’t just insist on that war; we branded as traitors anyone who dared to disagree.  As a TV news director in Florida at the time, I remember the savage viewer feedback my newsroom received any time we dared to cover an anti-war protest.  I remember getting advice from a TV consultant warning that anti-war coverage was unpopular and bad for ratings.   Not long after, I watched a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate go down to defeat after her GOP opponent twisted a debate response in such a way as to give the false impression that she would have voted against the war if she’d been a senator at the time.   That’s how much we wanted that war.  But by the time 2008 came along, we had grown tired of the endless drain on servicemen and women, and on our nation’s treasury.   We were only too happy to get out.  

In both instances, We the Peepul, God love us, got what we demanded.  Just not what we expected.  A great leader looks past the imperative of the moment and does what’s right for the country, and that’s not always—or even usually—synonymous with what’s popular or politically expedient at the time.   In recent years great leadership has been hard to come by.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell famously warned W. about Iraq, “If you break it, you own it.”   Bush broke it.  For a while we owned it.   But we weren’t willing to keep up the payments, so we abandoned it.   Before our intervention, Iraq was controlled by a bloodthirsty gang of criminals who ruled through murder and torture, but who nevertheless kept al-Qaeda and Iran in check.   Once we blew that up and then walked away, the consequences were predictable, if not inevitable.  And now they are at hand.

When al-Qaeda inspired militants attacked this week, the U.S.-trained security forces dropped their U.S.-provided weapons, abandoned their U.S.-provided equipment, and ran for their lives—most of them apparently without having fired a shot.   Now the Iraqi government, which helped create this mess through inept rule, appears to be “open” to U.S. air strikes.  These are the same people who refused to sign a security agreement that would have allowed at least a token U.S. force to remain.  

Although 33 years in TV news taught me never to say never, at this point any kind of military re-intervention the part of the U.S. seems politically impossible.   Perhaps we’ll offer to replace the guns the Iraqi “defenders” dropped in their panic, or to trade the shorts they soiled for crisp, clean ones.   But what we can’t provide is the heart and courage the Iraqis need to fight the terrorists.   If we’re very lucky, perhaps the Shiites will defend their territorial strongholds, which include Baghdad, against the rampaging Sunnis.  But with the terrorists now vowing to take the fight to the country’s capital, the worst case scenario seems possible.  Remember the shameful pictures we all watched (those of us who were older than 3) in 1975 of a U.S. helicopter evacuating our embassy in Saigon?  Be prepared to see something like that again.

Either way, it seems likely that huge swaths of Iraq, if not all of it, along with a large part of Syria, will fall into the permanent control of terrorists sworn to the destruction of America and Israel.  And they’ll be in the perfect physical location from which to wage war against the latter, once they’ve consolidated their gains.

Afghanistan is next.  The president has announced his intention to pull out the last remaining U.S. forces by the end of 2016—a completely arbitrary date that is divorced from any battlefield consideration, but is completely wed to political reality.   Really, we as a people just don’t care anymore.  Note that unlike Iraq, in Afghanistan we did face a terrorist foe that had helped Osama bin Laden bring down the twin towers.   Care to take any bets on how long it will take the Taliban to regain power once we’re gone?   The Taliban are much better organized and have better support than our foes in Iraq; an estimate of only one year to get back what they lost seems wildly optimistic.  What, you think the Afghan people will successfully defend themselves against the Taliban?  Like they did last time?   I’ll be glad to let you take that bet.   And let’s run a side pool on how many of the Taliban Five we just traded for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be helping to lead the charge.

What led us to invade these countries in the first place was the idea that if we’re going to fight terrorism, it’s better to do it on the enemy’s doorstep than on ours.   But now it’s coming back to ours.  Count on it. 

In the late 4th and early 5th centuries, the Roman Empire began to fall apart.  One of the last signs of the impending collapse was the defeat or withdrawal of forces from remote outposts such as Britain.   There were other signs—a faltering economy, the debasement of the currency (replacing precious metals in coins with worthless ones) and an empty state treasury.   In a conquer-or-be-conquered world, the empire had been established in the first place to provide peace, security and prosperity for Roman citizens.  When the empire ended, so did the peace, prosperity and security.  Rome was sacked, repeatedly.  There followed a Dark Ages that lasted a thousand years.

The Muslim extremists are now bent on the return of those Dark Ages.  They would establish a 7th century caliphate in which the only freedom men would have would be to worship as directed and perhaps carry out the occasional “honor killing” of women who dare to step out of line.  Women would have the freedom to worship as directed and wear burqas or something like it.  Right now those extremists are on the march all over the world.  They’ve never been stronger or had more momentum than they do right now.

If you don’t think they can win, you didn’t pay attention in class.  Victory goes to those who believe in it the most.   Does that describe western civilization at the moment?  If you think it does, please explain how you reached that conclusion.

What’s that saying about the fate of people who “cannot remember the past?”   If you don’t know the rest of the quote, maybe you should look it up.  While you still have access to the Internet.


©2014 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.

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