Winding Down a Misbegotten War

August 20th, 2010

By Jan Barry

As the last U.S. combat units rumbled out of Iraq under President Obama’s August deadline, Time magazine’s chief political columnist, Joe Klein, summed up the costly consequences of what he called “a war that should never have been fought.” Blasting the Bush administration for blundering into “a neo-colonialist delusion” that caused hundreds of thousands of casualties and may still cost trillions of dollars for health care of a generation of war-mauled veterans, Klein then turned his ire, remarkably, on himself.

“As for myself, I deeply regret that once, on television in the days before the war, I foolishly–spontaneously–said that going ahead with the [March 2003] invasion might be the right thing to do,” he wrote in a column titled “Never Again” in Time’s August 16 issue. Although he subsequently wrote about the war with increasing skepticism, Klein added, “The issue then was as clear as it is now. It demanded a clarity that I failed to summon. The essential principle is immutable: we should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack. Never. And never again.”

War veterans who protested the invasion and brutal occupation of Iraq will take little pride in having predicted the disastrous impact on Iraqi society and on U.S. troops that Klein describes, seven years into what he calls “a profound misadventure” with toxic effects. A Time news piece that follows Klein’s column cites a Rand Corp. study and military reports that found that “more than 500,000 troops have returned home to the U.S. in the last decade with a mental illness,” created by the relentless stress of repeated war tours mixed with an epidemic of traumatic brain injuries from roadside bombs and other explosions.

Veterans For Peace activists, who warned of such dangers to soldiers and civilians for years, contend that the draw-down of troops in Iraq is a misbegotten maneuver by the Obama administration to claim peace in Iraq while waging a wider war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, under the same misguided strategy of the previous administration of trying to police unruly corners of the world with highly destruction military actions.

“The lessons of this disastrous intervention should also be an impetus for Congress and the administration to end the war in Afghanistan,” Veterans For Peace leaders said in a recent statement. “It’s time to focus on creating real security here at home and rebuilding America.”

But Time magazine and its chief political writer are not ready to tackle that issue. Like most of the mainstream news media, they take their cues from the White House on how to stay within accepted parameters in discussing foreign policy. “Obama’s announcement [of the end of combat operations in Iraq, in a speech to the Disabled American Veterans] was no celebration. It was a somber acknowledgement that amends will be made to those whose lives were shattered and that their courageous service in an unnecessary cause will be honored,” Klein wrote.

“A national discussion about America’s place in the world, and the military’s excessive place in our foreign policy, would also be appropriate in the wake of this disaster,” he added, “but I’m not holding my breath.” So that means a debate on the implications of the war in Iraq and lessons to be drawn for the war policy in Afghanistan isn’t about to happen, unless the public overrules the press and politicians and demands it.

(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)

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One Response to “Winding Down a Misbegotten War”

  1. Tom Carter |

    Seems to me Klein’s statement that “we should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack” is off the mark. To avoid ambiguity, it would be better to drop “go to war” and say something like “use military force.”

    9/11 was an attack, of course — the worst attack on U.S. soil by foreign forces in history. A retaliation with military force was necessary, making the initial action to overthrow the Taliban and root out al-Qaeda in Afghanistan completely justified. I also continue to think that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was justified and necessary because of the real threat (as we knew it at the time) of his development and use of WMD, his destabilizing influence in the region, and his potential to support future terrorism against the U.S. If one subscribes to the philosophy that sovereignty doesn’t protect a state from intervention when it abuses its own people (e.g., Kosovo), then that’s another justification.

    However, in both Iraq and Afghanistan we went astray. Bush was right when he declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq, in terms of the successful defeat of Saddam’s regime. Same in Afghanistan, after we deposed the Taliban and killed or dispersed al-Qaeda (unfortunately not capturing or killing Osama along the way). Then, in both places, we went into some strange kind of counterinsurgency cum nation-building, and neither the military nor other elements of the government were equipped or ready to do it. The hard truth is that the people of Iraq and especially Afghanistan are not capable of building and sustaining anything resembling the democracies we think we’ve created (or will create). They’re both going to revert to their natural condition as soon as we’ve gone — Iraq to chaos resulting in strong-man rule, Afghanistan to a worse condition.

    Bottom line, kicking butt and taking names in both countries was the right thing to do in the aftermath of 9/11, but then we should have gone home and dealt with any terrorist threats that subsequently emerged with offshore military power. By hanging around and trying to create something that won’t happen, we foolishly wasted a lot of blood and treasure.

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