My friend Brett Pharo wrote this regarding ISIS. Brett is a sheep farmer in Michigan and regularly sends his very insightful “Random Thoughts from the Corner Chair.” I was planning to write about the same subject and can’t improve on what Brett says here so I’m passing it on in place of The Alternative.
What I’d really like to see come of this is some discussion of what Brett and I think regarding our government’s ongoing involvement in the Middle East. Please feel free to write to this paper or me and I will pass it on to Brett.
Random Thoughts from the Corner Chair
Ok, so our leader has finally gotten his wish to bomb targets in Syria. Of course we’re bombing the opposite side he wanted to bomb a few months ago, but let’s not quibble about details when we have the opportunity to take out a few “targets.” Notice how “taking out targets” sounds so much kinder and gentler, to borrow a phrase from the previous Chief Executive, than does “kill, maim, destroy, raze, and mangle.” Don’t get me wrong, these ISIS, ISIL, IS, or whatever folks seem to be some bad dudes and dudettes, but why does this somehow justify the President to bomb targets in a foreign country? And to do so without a declaration of war, or even a credible threat to our country? I understand that a lot of Americans, both in and out of DC, think that the entire world is our country, but maybe for less money we could buy everyone a map of the world so they would understand where our boundaries lie. Yes, I know these IS folks have decapitated some of our citizens who were in that area of the world for whatever reason. Let’s look at a plausible analogy of a Chinese visitor, reporter, businessman, or what have you being killed by low-life gang thugs in Chicago. Would we (you) be OK with China sending in war planes to take out “targets” important to the operation of these gangs? I wouldn’t.
Isn’t it about time we admit that our strategies and policies in that part of the world are a miserable failure? From most points of view, that is, but I’ll get back to the exception. For some reason we Americans are just sure that everyone everywhere wants to be like us – our governmental system, our morals, our consumerism, etc. That’s every bit as ego-centric as them believing we would want to be like them. We have, or I should say had, an exceptional constitutional system for our people. That doesn’t make it right for everyone else, and as it’s become corrupted it may be questionable whether what we have now is best for us. Another topic for another time.
Let’s look at how far we’ve come with mid-east strategies. Turn the clock back a few years. The countries in the entire area were relatively stable. The exception, of course, was that most of the countries wanted to eliminate Israel from the map, which has not really changed. That stability was rather remarkable when you realize that many, if not most, of the boundaries were put into place by the British and French rather than by the natural inclinations of the inhabitants themselves. America, though not on the best of terms with all the nations, had functional relations with them. Yes, our guy the Shah of Iran was booted out and replaced by a theocracy, we gained influence relative to the Soviets in Egypt, and the Soviets were bogged down in the quagmire that Afghanistan always is.
We felt compelled to assist the resistance in Afghanistan, so we equipped and trained them. They would become the Taliban and Al Queda. They were for us, until they weren’t. We didn’t want any one country to become too powerful in the area, so we equipped Iraq against Iran in one of the bloodiest wars of that century. Saddam Hussein was our man, until he wasn’t. We built huge military bases on the Arabian peninsula anchored around Saudi Arabia, because the Saudi Arabians were our friends, until they weren’t. One of our Hollywood actresses was Queen of Jordan, so they were okay, except when they weren’t.
Fast forward to fairly recently. The countries on the peninsula were all stable kingdoms. Of course we don’t normally like kingdoms, but these guys gave us oil and places to put our military toys. Iran was still a little iffy, but they are an ancient people and not likely to court their own doom by making us want to attack them. Afghanistan was controlled by the folks we armed and trained. Ditto for Iraq, where Saddam ruled with an iron hand, but would not tolerate Islamic fundamentalism and saw to it that Christians could worship in peace. Syria ruled by a dictator, but again one that resisted Islamic militants. Egypt was to a degree a democracy that resisted Islamic militants. Libya, led by Qaddafi, was under an egotistical tyrant, but he resisted Islamic militants strongly. And we had our military and diplomats all over the place showing them American consumerism and, to their point of view, lack of morals. What could go wrong?
In Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, we were courted by the rulers, but resented by the people to a great degree because of what they perceived as our having a degrading effect on their societal morals. Whether you or I think their moral codes are superior is immaterial. They did/do. A group of Islamic militants, trained by us, and primarily from our close ally Saudi Arabia, became quite active in their desire to rid their region of direct American influence. They made some minor attacks, and then made the major attack on September 11, 2001. They were Al Queda. They were being given a base of operations by our former friends in Afghanistan, the Taliban. We were attacked by Al Queda with the support of the Taliban. In my opinion, we had every right and obligation to retaliate into Afghanistan. We did, and we should have left it at that and been out of there in a matter of months. Liberators who overstay their welcome are soon viewed as occupiers.
Not content, for some reason, we decided to attack Iraq. We had no justification for doing so at this time. Yes, we did when they invaded Kuwait several years before, but that was done and over with and handled appropriately. But in 2002, we had no reason to attack a sovereign Iraq. We displaced a stable secular dictatorship and in its place we now have massive religious violence with no tolerance for other beliefs, and in the process we destroyed a once prosperous country.
In Libya, we displaced a stable secular dictatorship and replaced it with Islamic militants and religious violence.
In Egypt, we approved the removal of their secular government and in its place is more chaos and violence.
In Syria, many desired to intervene to remove a secular dictatorship and replace it with Islamic fundamentalists, some of whom have now begun decapitating our people in the area. So now we are sorta on the side of the dictator, though we want to arm a third group to fight both the dictator and the IS. Hmm. What could go wrong?
Can we never learn? Why are we so bent on war and destruction? War is not some nice diplomatic tit for tat. War, as Sherman put it, is hell. War is death and destruction. War is pain and suffering. War is destruction of decades worth of infrastructure and sometimes centuries of historical artifacts. War is orphans and widows. War is maimed men, women and children. War is the opposite of all that is good. War is profitable. Wait, what? What happens in war? Things are destroyed. That means new things have to be bought, be it bombs, planes, cars, trains, schools, oil, or pogo sticks. GDP soars, jobs are created, fortunes are made. War is profitable, and an enemy is a powerful distraction from problems at home.
There may be causes for which war is a viable option, but they are few. War is failure – failure of diplomacy, failure of reason, failure of compassion, failure of empathy, failure of communication – failure of mankind. Sure someone can always be blamed (the other guy), but ultimately war is the failure of mankind.