World War II saw us driven out of the Philippines by the Japanese forces . Douglas McArthur, the general in charge, fled along with his staff leaving behind thousands of American soldiers. He said as he was leaving: “I shall return,” but it would not be in time to stop the Bataan Death March.
He did return and we took back the Phillippines and eventually defeated Japan as well as it’s allies Germany and Italy. In 4 years we had entered and ended that war victorious.
American forced occupied those three countries for years afterwards. After doing their day jobs they left their bases and interacted with the German, Japanese and Italians outside the bases and throughout their countries. They may not have been universally loved but they were not set upon. They felt safe mingling among their former enemies.
They had no Green Zones where they confined themselves fearful of what may await them outside it’s walls. They didn’t build the biggest embassy in the world, nearly as big as Vatican City, to hide in. They didn’t face radical groups ready to shoot or seize them or cut their throats. They were free to practice their religious beliefs both inside and outside their compounds.
For me the greatest factor in considering who to war with is to ask what will the end result be. Which presupposes the idea that there will be an end result. And that the end result will occur within a reasonable time, the latter eliminating the idea of getting involved in a civil war.
When I talk about warring with someone I mean troops on the ground. I recognize that the nation that controls the air will win the immediate conflict but unless it intends to maintain its air coverage indefinitely it will eventually lose the war. Air wars without boots are the prototypical Pyrrhic victory: you win the battle but lose the war by incurring overwhelming and continuing hatred against you by the indiscriminate slaughter of the people who you are allegedly there to protect.
Most important in going into war where we have a choice which we have had since WWII we must know that an end result must be the ability to mingle on the streets throughout that country with those people after the combat ends. If you believe you will, then you ask how long it will take for that to happen. Then you add up to costs to determine its worth.
We can’t delude ourselves. We can’t tell the people we will be welcome with open arms as was said by the Administration which took us to war in Iraq, a country ripe with tribal and religious animosities. Nor can we believe we can change a 1,000 years of customs and habits by mountain people by teaching them our ways while hiding behind huge redoubts.
There are places in the world like Afghanistan and Iraq where we will always be the stranger. The average American will never be able to walk the streets safely. To go to war in such a nation is a fool ‘s errand since you are really battling an amorphorous enemy that you can’t conquer. We can never win. We can only lose more American lives and send our money into black holes.
Most accept that our entry into Iraq to defeat Saddam Hussein was a huge error. Although he was a tyrant he presented no threat to America. He was an irritant to Israel with his encouragement of the Intifada and the payments to the families of suicide bombers but reflected no power outside his country. We successfully swatted a fly while creating a Lernaean Hydra.
Ten years after freeing the people from his yoke they are worse off. Our imposed democratic system in a country torn by tribes and divided by two forms of Islam cannot hold. We can not keep people free who will not keep themselves free. We are on the verge of seeing Iraq fall into the hands of forces which unlike Saddam do present a threat to us.
Iraq now beckons us to come back after telling us we were no longer wanted. This time it only wants our air power, or so it says, but it will soon be asking for a little more. Just like you can ‘t be a little pregnant one really can’t be a little at war.
Now facing a much greater threat do we return? That is the question our leaders must answer. For me the answer is simple. I’ve already given it. We can’t mingle with the people after the war is over, if it ever ends, so we best stay away.
We can’t go back to Baghdad as we did with Bataan. If Iraq falls so be it. Over 4,000 American lives would have been lost on a failed mission. Better we limit it to that than to move closer to the brave number of dead listed on the Vietnam Memorial wall who also fought in vain.
The last thing we need is to have the war because it is deemed politically expedient. We saw what happened in Vietnam when we fought not to win the war but to win an election. Even after that tragedy we stumbled into Iraq and Afghanistan.
We need a new way forward. We must put politics aside. We need a Grand Plan that must forbid future ad hoc wars where Americans die for people who despise them.