What Has This Endless War Achieved?
This November, American voters will cast ballots for the fourth consecutive election while at war in the Middle East. Not a war in the conventional sense, where our military fights against easily identifiable opponents with a defined set of objectives and preferred outcome marking the end of hostilities, but definitely a shooting war with killed and wounded combatants and innocent civilians alike. Over a trillion dollars have been spent by US taxpayers so far, with thousands of dead Americans and allied soldiers, many thousands more injured and hundreds of thousands of casualties in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Like every war the US has participated in since the end of the Second World War, these wars were never officially declared by Congress as prescribed by the Constitution, but were enabled by resolutions and funding approved by that branch of our government. An Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was passed in the wake of the tragic terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 which has basically been used ever since as authorization for the resulting madness which has been perpetrated on that part of the world ever since.
The war(s) have ebbed and flowed with the passage of time, and American casualties have slowed since Obama has taken office, but the overall political situation in all of the above named countries is far from stabilized. The advent of ISIS has muddled the situation further, resulting in more political chaos and drastic changes in the American response and further conduct in the war effort, as well as expanding the participants to include Russia, Iran and now Turkey. Meanwhile, the situation has also deteriorated in Yemen, with the Saudi military taking on adversaries in that country.
To his credit, President Obama did seem to resist capitulating to the voices of hawks in his Administration and Congress who sought to expand operations and bring a lasting victory amid even greater death and destruction. He even sought a new AUMF from Congress to address the changed situation regarding ISIS. Congress, true to form, came up with nothing once again. They simply keep approving requested funding to maintain an ambiguous status quo hoping for the situation to improve without their having to stick their necks out politically.
Oddly, all this war and its attending political chaos, along with the Arab Spring and the upheaval that has taken place in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and much of the rest of the Arab world, has seemingly had little effect on American political campaigns, even during Presidential election years. Some anti-war candidates have come forth in previous years (Dennis Kucinich is one who readily comes to mind), but never was there really an attempt to convey the notion that we needed to make a major change in our policy pertaining to these conflicts which was taken seriously. Bush was able to win re-election in ‘04, pretty much everyone was agreed that things weren’t going well in ‘08, but that we were winding things down, and in ‘12 Obama was re-elected handily with only mild modifications of the script handed him by Bush.
Since the shift to using Special Operations forces, arming and training forces in Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS, tactical and strategic gains seem to be made slowly in some areas, but the main political fight here has shifted once again to fighting terror, not creating any sort of stability in the part of the world where our drones and missiles and bombs are detonating, whether it be our forces pulling the triggers or those of people we’ve trained and supplied them with. While our military is still over there trying to gain control over the situation on the ground, we have major political figures here spending most of their time verbally blasting Radical Islamic Extremists and seeking to solve the world’s problems by rolling up in a ball and keeping all Moslems out of the country. No debate of any kind is coming out of Congress or Presidential campaigns calling for a comprehensive peace process to stabilize the situation over there.
Third party candidates and some progressive Democrats in Congress aside, the main thrust in this Presidential campaign cycle has consistently ignored the Middle East situation, except, perhaps, for Trump’s bellicose ranting about bombing the hell out of the Islamic Extremist Terrorists and building a wall to keep out Mexicans. Clinton seems content to further the policy given her by Obama, which is a continuation of that of Bush, which has, in the view of many, achieved little more than spending lots of money killing tons of people and creating millions of refugees that nobody knows what to do with or how to help.
The time is long past due for the American people to call this BS for what it is. Instead of adding fuel to the fire, we should move to get it under control and stop the bloodshed. Maybe I’m a bit naive, but it seems that our foreign policy is acting just a tad too callously when we seemingly ignore the plight of the millions of innocent men, women and children who have become victims of not only violence perpetrated on them by their own leaders, but by our own incompetence and the failure of our weapons to adequately discern whether their victims are deserving of their destructive power.
This War on Terror is being used as an excuse to conduct all manner of immoral behavior against our “enemies”, foreign and domestic. Bush and company used it to justify creating the terrorist prison at Guantanamo, where people are detained indefinitely without charge or trial. Torture was used and excused as a means to avoid future 9/11 – style attacks or worse. Obama has seemingly stopped that, but nobody has faced prosecution for conducting or ordering it in the first place. Trump wants us to use more of it. Media coverage of war in this country has deteriorated dramatically since Vietnam. When people aren’t being shipped home in body bags, it’s as if no war is going on at all to most Americans. Self-censoring media coverage doesn’t help matters.
Hopefully, the Presidential Debates will delve more deeply into foreign policy and war than rallies and stump speeches have so far. Clinton’s foreign policy role as Secretary of State and before that as a Senator in the run-up to the start of the invasion of Iraq do not indicate that she will change our approach to future conduct in the region or world as a whole. She may even turn out to be more of a hawk than Obama or even Bush. Bill certainly did plenty of bombing in Yugoslavia and Iraq when he was President.
Forget Trump. After he builds his wall and extorts payment from Mexico for it, he only wants to know why we have nukes if we can’t use them (Actually, I have the same question, but I doubt seeking the same answer). His temperament is such that I wouldn’t want him negotiating in situations where millions of lives lie in the balance.
Congress is unlikely to change its non-participant status when it comes to this endless war. There have been numerous opportunities for Congressional action to affect the situation. The House and Senate as a whole have steadfastly deferred to the President (whichever one it was). Some dissention has been voiced, but by too few Senators or Representatives to make a difference. In the absence of a viable and vibrant antiwar movement in this country, the situation could continue indefinitely, interminably even. If we truly want to wage peace, this isn’t the way to do it. Making millions of our fellow human beings destitute, homeless and without hope of redemption is shameful.
How much more good could the trillion plus dollars have done than being spent on this futile effort to bomb people into submission? For that matter, how could that money have possibly been more wastefully spent? The time has long since passed to stop the incessant destruction and begin trying more constructive ways to deal with conflict. Our retaliating for wrongs done us by others – both perceived and real – will not be effective if it continues to cause more “collateral damage” than it prevents. Early in his first term, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Hopefully, our next President can do likewise – and actually achieve peace in the process.
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