Skip to main content

Where the Dangers Lie

W.D. Ehrhart: We seem to remain, as a people, as gullible as ever, once again stampeded into winless war by leaders so besotted by the hammer of American military might that they persist in seeing every problem in the world as a nail.
Failed America Wars

Failed America Wars

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is violent, fanatical, barbaric, brutal, intolerant, and . . . add whatever other adjectives you’d like to throw in. I won’t argue that these characterizations are not true. But over the summer and into the fall, I have watched and listened with increasing dismay to the shifting sands of the US approach to the situation.

Not so many months ago, we were assured that the US would not get drawn into another war in the Middle East. But all through the summer and into the fall came an endless barrage of stories about Yazidis being raped and buried alive by ISIS, and the horrifying videos of Americans and other Europeans being savagely beheaded by ISIS, and the failures of the Iraqi and Kurdish militaries to stem the advance of ISIS.

The drumbeat for US intervention among US policymakers, lawmakers, and pundits began to grow louder and more insistent, and now the US is regularly sending airstrikes and drone attacks against the ISIS forces. Airstrikes, but no more, we were assured. This minimal military involvement, however, does not seem to be working, says counterinsurgency expert John Nagl, who argues that we should put “boots on the ground” by embedding “teams of combat advisers with” Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIS.

A year ago most Americans had never even heard of ISIS, yet now the US is once again militarily embroiled in a war in the Middle East. What if we send US advisors and they prove to be ineffective, as they have proved to be over and over again ever since 1961—including in Iraq in the past decade? Will we then have no choice but to send in the Marines?

Of course, we’re not doing this alone. Secretary of State John Kerry says that 40 nations have offered to join our coalition, though he adds, "It's not appropriate to start announcing" which nations will participate and what each will do. One remembers G. W. Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing” that included such nations as Albania, Latvia, the Fiji Islands, and the Dominican Republic, and can only wonder which nations belong to our coalition this time.

Back in 1990, when Saddam Hussein accused the Kuwaitis of slant-drilling and stealing his oil, the US ambassador to Iraq told Saddam that the US “does not take sides in Arab-Arab disputes.” What would you make of that if you were Saddam? Only after he acted on what appeared to any reasonable person to be a Green Light from the US did the US decide that putting the Emir of Kuwait back on his gold-plated toilet was a moral imperative.

We were told by a tearful young girl that Iraqi soldiers tore Kuwaiti babies from their incubators and threw the babies to the floor. Only much later did we learn that the “eyewitness” turns out to have been the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter, who was coached in her testimony before Congress by the same public relations firm that had handled George H.W. Bush’s 1988 election campaign. Her testimony could not be and has never been corroborated.

Meanwhile, the vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard turned out to be a bunch of rag-tag peasant draftees who were far more eager to run away than to fight Americans. American audiences were never shown The Highway of Death by the American media, but the rest of the world saw it. You want to talk bloodthirsty savagery? Google “Highway of Death” and see what you get.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

And a year later, no less a person than George Will—no bleeding-heart liberal—admitted that the Kuwaitis had been doing exactly what Saddam had said they were doing: stealing Iraqi oil.

Before the US started putting boots on the ground in the Middle East in August 1990, Iraq was a stable country. Syria was a stable country. Libya was a stable country. Not happy places, to be sure. But stable. And secular. Al Qaida didn’t exist. ISIS didn’t exist.

Before the US started putting boots on the ground in the Middle East in August 1990, Iraq was a stable country. Syria was a stable country. Libya was a stable country. Not happy places, to be sure. But stable. And secular. Al Qaida didn’t exist. ISIS didn’t exist.

Almost a quarter of a century later, with the US 5th Fleet headquarrtered in Bahrain, US air bases in Saudi Arabia, and US army bases in Kuwait, how is the Middle East doing? After eight years of US boots on the ground in Iraq, how is Iraq doing? After thirteen years of US boots on the ground in Afghanistan, how is Afghanistan doing? How is Libya doing after being liberated from Muammar Gaddafi with significant help from the US? Have we neutralized al-Qaida? How can ISIS be so effective a fighting force with no air force, no navy, no Pentagon, and no assistance from any major world power while those on whose behalf we want to expend American treasure and American blood can’t defend themselves without our help?

For that matter, where did al-Qaida come from? Isn’t al-Qaida the direct descendant of those Afghan mujahadeen the US so gleefully armed and funded against the Soviet Union back in the 1980s? Isn’t ISIS a direct outgrowth of al-Qaida?

Do we never seem to notice the Iron Law of Unintended Consequences playing istelf out over and over again? Do we not notice that the United States of America cannot make the world behave as we would wish?

I am not arguing that what is happening in the Middle East is anything other than a disaster for those who are living in the midst of it. I am not arguing that ISIS deserves a seat in the United Nations. But I am asking: how much more damage are we going to do in the process of trying to fix the damage we have already done? How many more enemies will we make trying to kill the ones we’ve already made? Will the Middle East be better off after we have intervened once again?

Finally, which is the greater threat to our national security? Al-Qaida or a crumbling infrastructure of highways, bridges, and tunnels, leaking municipal water systems, and an ancient electrical grid. ISIS or failing public schools, understaffed hospitals, and overcrowded prisons? Afgan Taliban or a national debt of nearly $18,000,000,000,000 and rising every day by $2,450,000,000? Islamist jihadis or a dysfunctional Congress gerrymandered beyond any possibility of compromise?

We cannot bend the world into the shape we desire through military might, or by any other means for that matter, and our attempts to do so have failed time and time again. Yet we seem to remain, as a people, as gullible as ever, once again stampeded into winless war by leaders so besotted by the hammer of American military might that they persist in seeing every problem in the world as a nail.

Bill-Ehrhart

W. D. Ehrhart