Monday, March 7, 2011

Foreign Entanglements - Why Still?

I will preface this post with the obligatory disclaimer, whenever one is speaking about our troops:  I greatly appreciate the service that our troops do for our country.  For a human being to voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way, regardless of the outcome, is noble and heroic.

Unfortunately, that is as far as I go.  If the most recent war were the Revolutionary War or either of the World Wars, I may be more apt to give our military commanders and those at higher levels of the area of government that oversees our military some benefit of the doubt.  But, I cannot.  I say this, even though some of my good friends are and were in the United States Armed Forces.  In fact, my brother-in-law has made the Army his professional career, about to be shipped out to Afghanistan this month for his first tour of duty.

Many times, in the past decade, I have heard individuals praise our military men and women for their service to our country.  Again, I do not disagree, by definition.  But, it seems that the consensus is such that our fighting folk are out in the world attempting to maintain our freedoms and our American way of life.  I cannot, for the life of me, reconcile this last point.  I do not understand how our foreign adventurism into Iraq, Afghanistan’s current war definition, Bosnia, Vietnam, Korea, and more recently, the beating of the war drums to go into Libya, protects our freedoms and American way of life.

After September 11, 2001, our government determined that the attack had been devised, planned, and orchestrated by an evil, murderous organization by the name of Al Qaeda.  I hadn’t heard of them before, except for little tidbits after the U.S.S. Cole was attacked in 2003.  But, now, this tiny, havoc wreaking group of people had broken onto the front pages of every newspaper in the world.  Al Qaeda was no longer a theoretical, movie plot birthing, possibility.  They were here - and here to stay – at least until the sleeping giant obliterated them from the face of the earth.

America woke up to the fact that, though we weren’t in the Middle East, or even a stone’s throw away, in Europe, or across a desert and a mountain range or two, in Russia, we were still as vulnerable to a terrorist attack on our home soil.  America’s way of life and enviable freedoms were at stake.  And we responded.  Not by lobbing a few missiles into a few camel behinds, but by putting together a very successful campaign to root Al Qaeda out of their home turf – Afghanistan.

I remember very well, the Northern Alliance and the elation they showed when the Taliban fell.  I read book after book, news stories and blogs, about the terrors of the Taliban’s iron-fisted pseudo-theocratic rule.  I read about Russia’s land war in the rugged mountains of this seemingly backward country.  I thoroughly enjoyed stories like “The Kite Runner,” that depicted life before the Russian invasion and the subsequent Taliban victories.   I became enraged at how these rulers pretended to have utmost respect for their God, but instead, had only a thirst for more power, mutilating, maiming, and murdering those who dared get in their way.  My heart skipped a beat when this evil “government” fell so easily.  Our casualties were light and the alliance we had formed with the native people was what I thought at the time, a glowing example for future battle plans.

Ten years later, I sit here, wondering what became of our victory.  We uprooted Al Qaeda, losing Osama bin Laden in the process.  We think he is somewhere in Pakistan – an off and on ally in our purported quest for world peace.  The Taliban are gaining footholds all across the country.  Their power in the northern part of Afghanistan is growing quickly.  The government of Hamid Karzai is more reminiscent of our history with the west’s propped up Shah of Afghanistan’s neighbor, Iran, in the middle 20th century.  It is becoming more apparent that the people in Afghanistan want us gone at any cost.  We have lost our way.

No longer is this fight about terrorism.  All of our current foreign entanglements have gone the way of the much maligned nation building.  Our former President, George W. Bush, spoke about democracy in the Middle East.  Now, our current President, Barrack Obama is maintaining the status quo.  My first question is very simple – why still?

What if the people of the Middle East don’t want democracy?  What if they are just fine with nomadic, tribal, loosely knit family government systems?  Why do we not look back at the myriad examples of history and see that empire building begets only one result – destruction of said empire?  Why can’t we look at Egypt and even if the Muslim Brotherhood (or whomever is or will be in charge for that matter) are radical murderous people like they say they aren’t, and yet let them do as they please, maintaining a powerful domestic national defense to deter any attack from them or their emissaries?  In short, why can’t we let people of other countries rule themselves?

We love our way of life in this country.  We believe in the truth and strength of our Constitution and our laws.  We have freedom like no other country has ever had before.  Since our inception, we have enjoyed wealth beyond the dreams of any nation in the history of the world.  But, I am convinced it has gone to our heads.  Democracy may work for us and be completely wrong for others.  Elected, representative government is a great idea for the United States, but may be entirely backwards for those not inclined to peaceful negotiations, as we are.

Let me put forth a novel solution.

Bring the boys and girls home.  All of them.  Let us no longer foray out into the world to make others more like us, but rather create the beacon on a hill where the world, with all of its sorrows, can see the shining light, and find their way to the new Ellis Island, ready to begin a new life.  Let us show the world what true freedom and happiness is, rather than force it upon them.  Let them see and hear the theoretical American democracy and desire to feel and live it for themselves.  Let us be – heaven on earth for all the oppressed.


  1. First off, to completely withdraw and "mind our own business" and be a "beacon on a hill" is untenable. It would leave a huge power vacuum which would be filled by the strongest entity. That entity used to be Russian and Chinese communism. It could be again. It could be the most ruthless tribe in the Middle East and North Africa. It could be rogue nuclear states like North Korea or even Pakistan.

    It is not possible for everyone that feels oppressed to make their way to Ellis Island. It is not possible for the land-mass of the United States to contain everyone who yearns for life, libery, and the pursuit of happiness. The technology in the hands of dictators and oppressors makes it impossible to flee en mass. You get defectors here and there that then lobby for ending a regime and bringing freedom i.e. Burma (Myanmar), Iran, China, Cuba, Georgia, etc. But, we can't bring freedom everywhere.

    The United States being deployed across the world is a deterrent force that keeps lesser strongmen at bay, commerce lanes unfettered, and oppressed people at least hopeful that someone will intervene if it gets worse.

    That said, I know it is more complex than that and we don't intervene where we have strong commerce relationships e.g. China or no commerce relationship e.g. Myanmar. So, it is not all moral high ground. We use rhetoric and diplomacy where force isn't warranted or possible.

    Yet, we believe in American Exceptionalism which is saying that the United States is that shining example and all other forms of government that are oppressive are inferior and other belief systems are inferior. To simply display the exceptionalism is to allow the rest of the world to go to hell. But, to export this exceptionalism lets the world have light and hope at least one more day. The freedom yearning masses willl rue the day when America no longer believes they are right and their beliefs are true and ceases to be involved in world affairs.

    As a side note, the men and women of the Armed Forces aren't "boys and girls." That phrase lends the impression, no matter how subtle, that these men and women are somehow not autonomous and need protection as a mother hen.

  2. I had a big long thing typed out, but lost it. I agree with some of what you say, but we are fighting for our way of life here, by being "there." By bringing the battle to them, you decrease their desire to come to America to wage war when it is much easier to go to unregulated 3rd world countries and kill Americans. You don't want these people we are fighting coming over here. Believe me, the day you have to worry about getting blown up on your way to work is the day America is no more. I think we should pull out of several countries, like Germany for instance and start by fighting the war on our border. By completely becoming isolationists we are leaving a power vacuum, that the Chinese or Russians will be more than happy to fill.

  3. I will be doing a follow-up post soon. I am not arguing for an isolationist mentality, but rather, working toward peace by directed, necessary strikes against sworn enemies (oxymoronic?), extremely strong, non-political based deterrence, and preaching our way of life to the masses.

  4. Ted. I disagree with your "side note". While it may seem to you that the men and women (or boys and girls) of our military are autonomous, the opposite is, in fact, mostly the case. When you are in the military, unlike most other areas of American life, everything you do is controlled by your superiors. Sure, the higher you move up, that becomes less so, but, our fighting men and women (or boys and girls) are not going to have the unquestioned autonomy that you speak of. Additionally, you don't find many 50 year old fighting men and women, so essentially, an old guy like me is perfectly safe in calling them "boys and girls".

  5. The decision to join in the first place was theirs - knowing they were going to have to follow orders. But, the fighting "boy or girl" is over there along with the commanding "boy or girl." Do we leave the commanders and bring home the grunts? The autonomy spoken of is not to do their own thing but rather to choose to join or not to join. That is an adult decision - a decision of a man or woman.

  6. This is like good ole' politics. I make a point, and a small-time "word slippage" hits the front page so I am forced to prove my objectivism and love for all things that move. I will not back down though: The fact that most sign up voluntarily when they are younger than me makes them "boys and girls" in my view. To say otherwise would be to pretend that I am as chipper as they. So, maybe a compromise? How about "chaps and lady warriors" or, for all the uni-gender focused peeps out there - "mature, volunteer, whippersnappers".

  7. As long as "boys and girls" means lesser aged, that's fine. But, in other areas of life it means children as if they still need to be protected by mom and dad and can't fend for themselves. Anyway, that was a minor point.

  8. The average age of our primary fighting force, the army, is 28.

  9. That's what I think now when I walk onto college campuses. Kids, yes kids. Heck... frankly when I am around my siblings too. Kids. yes... kids. I love name calling when my argument is failing.

    BTW... the 28 stat is for total active duty, not just army. And, BTW, average officer age is 42. Complements of google.

  10. Stellar conversationalist that IC guy.

  11. Ted... seems kind of a trivial thing to argue about. The U.S. Navy's theme song is Anchors Aweigh. The second verse starts "Anchors aweigh my boys, anchors aweigh." I don't think the song was implying that they needed a mothers protection just as this entry wasn't either. You did as most politicians do when they try and discredit someones report based on a wording choice.

  12. If in fact IC was implying the men and women of the military need to be protected like children, the point would not have been so trivial. But, it turned out that wasn't the implication. There were no attempts to discredit. At worst, it was seeking clarification; at best it would have arrested erroneous thought. Notice that I knew it was more trivial than the other matters and hence, I relegated it to a side note.

  13. Ted. The power vacuum argument assumes that the United States has the correct and right answer to every International situation. It assumes that we as a nation expect everyone to listen to what we deem is the best way for them to live and run their country. The mere fact that other powerful countries like China and Russia can step in and be "helpful" is not convincing enough for me to decide that America needs to continue to spill blood and treasure whenever other countries have a food fight. If a powerful group within a country desires to kill a weaker group, that is their prerogative. As a powerful country ourselves, we have every ability to answer the call for mercy and assistance to those in need. But, even doing that, we may pick the wrong side and have to pay for it for decades on end. The juggling act is very delicate. Think Iran. And yes, we CAN leave whenever we want to. We did when we finally decided Vietnam was a waste of time, money, and energy. One can argue that we left a power vacuum there, as well, which I would agree with. But, had we not ever gone into that country, the same amount of people may have been killed and yet 58,000 of our servicemen would still be alive today.

    I also agree with your statement that it is not possible for everyone to make their way to my figurative Ellis Island. As you well know, Ellis Island was open for many years and all the people in the world are not currently living in the United States. That point is obvious. What is less obvious is that there are billions of people who are quite used to tribal feuds and perpetual conflict. That is their way of life. If they ever look to the horizon and desire a “better” one, we can be ready to welcome them with open arms. We have the space.

    Look at Ronald Reagan’s stand in West Germany. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall…” And what did Mr. Gorbachev do? He tore it down. We bankrupted the Soviet Union by continually beating them in the domestic deterrence spending area. They finally gave up, and while they are not the model of a free society, the rest of their satellite world is enjoying life many times more than they could have ever dreamed of pre-Reagan. People in Poland organized Solidarity and they, yes…THEY brought the Communist government to its knees. Sure the United States may have had spies and other diplomatic entities, helping to weave their minds into a free state. But, I agree with that. I have absolutely no problem with the United States proselytizing its virtues to the world. We just don’t need to force it upon people, just because they may shave a rabbit the wrong way.

    Empires fall because they stretch themselves too thin. The United States has, as you say, sprinkled itself throughout the world to act as a deterrent and yet, in many cases, it is having the opposite effect. In North Korea, the United States on the South Korean border allows their leader to rattle his saber for no other reason than the world listens when you mess with the biggest superpower. Remove our influence and we create a power vacuum that the Chinese will have to deal with – which they don’t want to have to do. In Japan, they want us out. In the Middle East, our presence protects our oil interests and yet spawns murderous terrorists. Somalia. Libya. Lebanon. Syria. They hate us. Deterrence abroad has not helped. Deterrence at home and dedicated quick strikes if they mess with us will do the job.

    Finally, I don’t believe in American Exceptionalism in the sense that you put it. It is not for everyone. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out today and said that we are looking forward to the day when Libya becomes a stable democracy. Why? What if democracy is not for them? Sure, we believe our way is right and yet, they may believe theirs is as well. Let them have it. Leave them alone unless they ask for our help because we have been excellent at showing them the virtues of our way of life.

  14. Also, a minor point. To capitalize American Exceptionlism is to turn it into a cliché. Cliché’s have gotten us where we are. We need to explain and show, by the way we act and live, rather than throw out pat diplomatic sound-bites which do nothing but enrage half the world.

    In conclusion, I was not recommending being uninvolved in world affairs. I was merely suggesting a new approach. One that does not force our rightness upon others - killing our military boys and girls - , but answers the call when we are desperately called for. We can revamp the military to focus on domestic protection, take advantage of our resources here at home, maintain diplomacy with the international community, and act harshly and severely when bitten. Get in, get done, get out.

  15. Yes. New approach! Great post!