Americans have historically been reluctant to go to war. When we do, we are generally pretty good at it. In the last century, after electing Woodrow Wilson who promised to keep us out of the European war, we joined our traditional allies, England and France, to stop the Germans. We did it again about twenty years later, but only after a sneak attack by Japan ignited our righteous anger, plunging us into the existing war in Europe and, for us, the new one in the Pacific.
Truman committed troops to Korea when the Communist North Koreans attempted to overrun the south. Yes, it’s been called a stalemate for a half century, but the South is a thriving economic power while the North can barely supply itself with electric power or feed its people.
The Vietnam War is generally seen as a failure of American military power. What prolonged the war was the refusal of President Lyndon B. Johnson to listen to advice given him by his Joint Chiefs of Staff in a private meeting they had requested in November 1965. One suspects that President Bush has not been listening to his generals either.
An entire generation was mobilized in the 1970s against the Vietnam War and they are all older and grayer, but still emotionally against war as an instrumentality of the state. This remains an unrealistic position because, against a criminal and fanatical enemy, pacifists will die right along side those who would fight. Surely 9-11 is proof of that.
President Reagan used military force sparingly and effectively. He did not go to the United Nations to get its permission. He warned Libya and then bombed Libya. He sent troops to Grenada to insure it didn’t turn into a little Cuba. In eight years, he managed to build up our military strength thus setting the stage for the Soviet implosion.
I spell out this brief history because I think a weary America is being purposefully whipped into yet another war frenzy and, in this case, it’s Iran.
After 9-11, we bought the cooperation of Afghan warlords and used our airpower to achieve a quick, but transitory victory over the Taliban and put al Qaeda on the run. They are back precisely because they do not fight war on our terms with a massed army. Our military, arguably the best in the world, is still configured to fight a conventional war.
We went into Iraq twice! The first time we did not put Saddam Hussein out of business (he had invaded Kuwait) so we had to go back again to finish the job. Against the advice of the generals, the White House underestimated how many troops it would take. In November 2006 a majority of the voters essentially said, “Time to leave.”
The proposed “surge” to clean out Baghdad is, in my opinion, a way of providing cover for the deployment of the bulk of American troops out of Iraq by the end of 2007 and to other missions. We will, in Nixonian terms, leave Iraq “with honor.” Others will call it a defeat, but we leave a nation minus one brutal dictator, with a constitution, and an elected government. Making that work is the responsibility of Iraqis.
What have occasioned my concern are Vice President Dick Cheney’s latest thoughts on Iran. He practically salivates at the thought of invading, in his view, to end Iran’s nuclear threat. The world, however, abounds in nuclear threats and has since the first A-bomb.
In that horrid region of the world both Pakistan and India have nukes. The threat of their use has actually driven the two nations, longtime enemies, to open peace talks and move toward normalizing their relations. Other nations, of course, have them as well. There’s Israel who probably owes its existence to having them. Elsewhere there’s the Russians, the Chinese, and even wretched little North Korea.
I suspect Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has over-played his cards at home and is scaring even the ayatollahs who really run Iran. Inviting an actual attack would set back their Islamic Revolution and possibly even end it. Therefore, looking for an excuse to preemptively invade or attack Iran strikes me as a very bad idea. For now, some statesmanlike patience seems the wiser course.
This is not to say that the West does not face a very long battle with Islamism. The defeat of this fanatical belief that the entire world must submit to Islam must remain the order of the day and will last decades.
Middle East specialist, Daniel Pipes, warns that, “Pacifism, self-hatred and complacency are lengthening the war against radical Islam and causing undue casualties. Only after absorbing catastrophic human and property losses will left-leaning Westerners likely overcome this triple affliction and confront the true scope of the threat. The civilized world will likely then prevail, but belatedly and at a higher cost than need have been.”
Barring an attack on the homeland, America needs to take a break from waging war with its attendant casualties and costs.
We need to build up our active troop strength that was foolishly cut during the Clinton years.
We need to continue restructuring our intelligence agencies for greater coordination and expand our human intelligence gathering capabilities.
We need to debate the great issues of our time as we prepare to vote for a new President in 2008.
Mostly, though, we need to resist a new war fever, a new call to arms, so that we can step back to determine what the next correct course of action should be.