It occurs to me that the problem with U.S. military interventions is that we always try to couch them in terms of making the world safe for democracy or helping people escape some tyranny. But sometimes we just make things worse and we lose our own people and money in the process.
It’s about time we coldly assess things and do what is in our own best interests.
Let’s go back:
Just prior to our intervention in the already ongoing World War II there was a strong isolationist movement in this country. We had already gone “over there” in World War I to save the bacon of our allies in Europe, and what did those Europeans do? They began bickering all over again. There was a strong sentiment for staying out of other people’s quarrels. But of course Japan, who happened to be allied with Germany, pulled a surprise attack on us (did we kind of ask for it by putting an embargo on them? I’m just asking), and we were drawn into WWII.
But the general assessment is that it was a good thing we were because we needed to stop Hitler in Germany who darn near took over the world — Germany was actually close to developing a nuclear bomb, although we managed to prevent it from doing so (you know the story about the heavy water in Scandinavia and all?).
The United States and its allies won the war, vanquished the enemies, demanding unconditional surrender.
A baby boomer, I grew up watching WWII movies and playing army in the back yard and empty lots and even over at the high school across the street where they had some surplus WWII army trucks, complete with the big white American star on o.d. background.
When I was real little the Korean War was going on, but it was called a “police action” at the time, and then I used to watch a program on Saturday mornings, some kind of documentary show, where they spoke of the “Korean Conflict”. It seems it took history to give it war status.
I think Korea was the first different kind of war maybe. I mean we did not get total victory. We got a cease-fire and the North Koreans and their Chinese allies went back behind their lines. So, it was a victory of sorts, seeing as how the enemy had at one point pushed our side to the bottom of the Korean peninsula.
But while we fought in WWII to save the world from a madman (and the Japanese militarists too), we (the U.S. or the world) were not under direct attack in Korea. This was a geopolitical decision on our part. The U.S. had decided that it must fight the spread of communism. But even if the communist North Korea had taken over the whole peninsula, there would have been no direct threat to the U.S. They would not then be able to invade the West Coast or anything like that.
I’m using a shorthand here (I know there are many more details of history).
And the same held true for Vietnam. But we were so invested in the South Vietnamese government as our representative of democracy in Southeast Asia (even though it was not much of a democracy and had corrupt leadership) and we were so wedded to the domino theory that if one nation fell all the others would tumble like a row of dominoes, that we got mired in an unwinnable war there, which was a combination insurgency, civil war, and war of outside intervention by the old USSR and to some extent Communist China.
For public consumption or propaganda we went in to help the poor South Vietnamese people. But in reality it was a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union already locked in the “Cold War”. The two superpowers, armed with nuclear missiles were equally afraid of mutually assured self-destruction should they lob nuclear missiles at each other. So they decided to duke it out in Vietnam, sin nuclear weapons, although early on there was some speculation about using them in Vietnam and earlier in Korea. Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater did not discount the idea of using nuclear weapons but lost in a landslide, partly because of his position.
But in my mind there was no threat whatsoever presented to the United States from Vietnam. We lost the war. Vietnam is still communist, the independent South Vietnam having disappeared. And it is a fine commercial trading partner with us today.
All that worry about communism taking over, but the reality was that it defeated itself. The USSR evaporated and went back to being Russia. We have finally restored or are restoring relations with communist Cuba, which has struggled under the weight of its unworkable communist economy all these years.
Vietnam was especially cruel to my generation. American youth were expected to sacrifice their lives for what?
Today we let folks who have nothing else to do, or who need a job, or maybe who just are adventurous and brave and patriotic individuals, fight and get gravely wounded or die in foreign lands in conflicts that have nothing directly to do with us.
Yes, I know, fight them over there before they come over here.
Using the above rationale we will always be in war.
It makes no sense.
A recent memo among mostly mid-level State Department staffers urging the Obama administration to take tough action against Syrian president Assad over his continuing oppression and use of chemical weapons on his own people was in the news. President Obama has been criticized for threatening Assad with retaliation, drawing a line in the sand, and then backing down. But apparently Obama, after making the threat reconsidered and thought we should not risk getting involved in still another war. We should not do “stupid stuff” he said.
And while I think he should not have made the threat in the first place if he was not prepared to followup, I have to agree. Why should we get involved in another unwinnable war? What’s in it for us, except misery?
On the other hand, one could argue that the instability created by the tumult in Syria affects the whole world. Millions of refuges have flooded Europe, causing major problems, including social conflict and depletion of resources and security risks, because hidden within those hordes of refugees are Islamic terrorists.
Also, the civil war in Syria is enabling ISIS and other terrorists to create a base from which to spread their terror around the world, including the United States.
With all that in mind, the U.S. and other Western powers would have a clear case for going in and cleaning things up. But that seems problematic.
While the world has sympathy for the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire, we have to realize they live by different rules and culture than we do. They live in a religious and tribal social system that does not square with our modern Western norms.
I would say if they want to seek refuge in the West, then they must adapt to our norms.
And I would also say the U.S. should steer clear of nation building. It seems that it just makes things worse. We create resentment among people as we play the part of the conquerors or the well-meaning interlopers. And what is the justification of sending American soldiers into a foreign land to meddle in the affairs of others (other than for our own defense)?
But with all of this, we do face the existential threat of ISIS and like terror groups who thrive in these foreign lands among all the chaos. So if it is that justification we use to intercede than maybe so be it. But we then cannot take half steps (we always seem to want to not get our hands dirty, air power vs. ground power). We must have resolve.
But we dither and wring our hands and cannot make up our minds even while taking action. In the end, we do stupid stuff.