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Monday, September 15, 2014

The War Plan, Part II

I wrote last week about what I consider the real plan of War with ISIL that exists behind the scenes. Based on the President's speech, one would tend to think that the U.S. doesn't have large numbers of special ops forces stationed all over the Middle East and part of Africa. Moreover, it sounds as though we have not used thousands of drone attacks to take out the leadership of Al Qaeda. On the other hand, because these are all fundamentally "secret" operations, one might expect to hear very little about them.

What we did hear about is a strategic plan not unlike those used before in Desert Storm (George H.W. Bush), and to a lesser extent in Iraq and Afghanistan (George W. Bush and President Obama). Now to be used mostly in Iraq, but also aimed at ISIL within Syria, a similar 4-point Plan seems to be the best we can do without putting regular combat forces on the ground.

#1 -- air strikes (150 over the past month); there is no safe haven because Syria is not off limits

#2 -- increase support of troops on the ground by depending on other countries to provide them; perhaps even Arab countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia

#3 -- counter terrorism measures will be used, such as cutting off funding, or stemming their advances, improving our intelligence; training national armies and groups

#4 -- humanitarian support to communities at risk; to refugees driven from their homelands including Sunni & Shia Muslims and religious minorities

The key to it all, of course, is the support of other countries, and the build-up mainly of the Iraqi national military. Today the latest news from MSN includes the following:

"With memories of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq still fresh, the U.S. has so far been alone in carrying out air-strikes and no country has offered ground troops. But French reconnaissance jets made their first sorties on Monday, French officials said. An American official said several Arab countries had offered to conduct air-strikes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issues.

"The terrorist threat is global and the response must be global," French President Francois Hollande said, opening a diplomatic conference Monday intended to come up with an international strategy against the group. 'There is no time to lose'."
It is obvious that this will be a slow process that cannot happen overnight . The President said we have the capacity to lead against this uniquely brutal force, and that we must do so. He also said we should welcome the responsibility to lead toward justice, freedom and peace , as we did on that Iraqi mountain- Mt. Sinjar - where civilians who were trapped were evacuated and saved from being massacred.  He also said he needs the support of Congress in funding this Plan.

Although I support the President in his difficult role as Commander-in-Chief, I am very uneasy with the process we employ to choose the war option, and I feel obliged to raise some fundamental questions in regard to this Plan:

1) Where does the obligation come from? On what do we base that belief that we have a responsibility to lead the world toward democratic ideals and constitutional government. It's just a bit too evangelical for me.

2) Why is War now treated as a non-negotiable action that can be made by the President without a congressional Declaration of War? Have we gone too far away from the Constitution's vision that Congress must share the burden of this major decision? The War Powers Act may have denuded one of the basics of our Constitution: that of checks and balances. There should always be a debate about going to War, and a declaration from Congress that they have debated it and are behind it.

3) The Middle East is a quagmire. The issues there have persisted for thousands of years. What makes us think that we can resolve problems between various factions and make everything right? We can't...and we shouldn't be attempting to do so.

4) Is it enough to declare war on the basis of vague threats against our homeland that may or may not be possible, and because ISIL beheaded two American journalists and threatens more such killings? Or, is it because ISIL believes they have a mission to build a new Caliphate that stretches across the borders of several Arab countries, and a mission to attack certain countries, including our own? This sounds vaguely familiar. Remember the concept of the Sudetenland - the German Nazi equivalent of territories that stretched across national borders into several European countries like Austria-Hungary, Southern Bohemia and Czechoslovakia? This uber-nationalistic fervor may be the real threat for it ignores the sovereignty of nations, the protection of innocents and minority populations while rolling over and devastating certain populations (like the Kurds, Christians, the Shia or Sunnis).

Even though we continue to use weapons and tactics and strategies that mimic the wars of the past between nations, we are not fighting the same kind of war. We are now involved (as many think we should be) in a long-term ideological, counter-terrorist, containment-type series of confrontations with a foe that will at times change or morph into another group or unit.

And what we have here is a reality that will not go away anytime soon. The United States is hated by these terrorist groups and our destruction is one of their primary goals. Given that bellicose stance, many voices say there is little we can do but to seek to prevent these militant faux Islamists from getting anywhere near our shores. We are thus involved in a war of self-defense and of pro-active offense at the same time.   Unless moderate Muslims decide to arm themselves and fight for their religious beliefs and for the safety and security of their own nations, there will be no easy peace, and no backing off from constant war. 

Had we not gone to Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place, we would not be in the untenable situation in which we find ourselves. In other words, we chose two wars of the type with which we were familiar, in order to seek "justice" for the attacks and deaths of 9/11. What we wanted was "revenge" not justice, and we did get it somewhat in Afghanistan by destroying Taliban cells, and by taking out the leader of Al Qaeda (Osama bin Laden; albeit in Pakistan!), as well as many in their leadership.

It took us over ten years of war at a cost of too many young lives. As of August 4, 2014, there have been 2,201 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan and additional 134 fatalities in the broader Operation Enduring Freedom outside Afghanistan. 1,819 of these deaths inside Afghanistan have been the result of hostile action. 19, 964 American service members have been wounded in action during the war. In addition there are 1,173 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities (reported by Wikipedia from other sources).

The Congressional Research Service reported to Congress on March 29, 2013 the following costs of the War on Terror since 9/11:

"With enactment of the sixth FY2011 Continuing Resolution through March 18, 2011, (H.J.Res.
48/P.L. 112-6) Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

Of this $1.283 trillion total, CRS estimates that Iraq will receive about $806 billion (63%), OEF $444 billion (35%) and enhanced base security about $29 billion (2%), with about $5 billion that CRS cannot allocate (1/2%). About 94% of the funds are for DOD, 5% for foreign aid programs and diplomatic operations, and 1% for medical care for veterans." (emphasis mine)
We are still paying in more than money for the veterans who were physically and mentally maimed and disfigured. Ten years, and all that money, mayhem and maiming to produce what in the end? The dismantling, perhaps, of a terrorist group - the Taliban - that at its zenith may have numbered around 25,000. The training of Afghan forces to fight their own battles? That's ironic, since the Mushahadeen had fought off Britain, France and Russia before us. Once again, we should never have gone there to fight a conventional war, but it appears we were not ready for a new kind of warfare.

Iraq was a huge mistake from the very beginning. It was not a war for justice, but for revenge upon Saddam Hussein who threatened the life of our 41st President and felt the vengeful wrath of his son, #43. But I have written on that subject before, and do not feel obliged to repeat what I have said. The question is: what did we get out of ten years of war in Iraq? What did we accomplish of a lasting nature that will enable Iraqis to lead better lives? What did we win? I truthfully do not know. We killed Saddam. We trained some troops (many of whom ran away in the face of ISIL), and now we are sending some more "advisors" to re-train them. (Does this sound familiar: that's how we got embroiled in Viet Nam!). We got rid of al-Maliki as Prime Minister, but what difference does that make if Sunni and Shia can not find common ground or common cause?

What does it all mean to the thousands (no, millions) of Iraqi citizens killed or wounded and to the Iraqi refugees who have fled from their devastated homeland? Here are a few statistics from Brown University's research in 2013: There have been at least 133,000 civilians killed by direct violence since the invasion. The actual number is unknown but likely much higher. Approximately 1.5 million people are still displaced from their homes.

5) Are we hailed as conquering heroes? Not so much -- more as conquerors and invaders. The only good thing about the war in Iraq is that we finally made up our minds to leave! Too bad we can't leave well enough alone, withdraw all Americans troops and civilians, and let the Iraqis find a way out of their ancient (religious and secular) disagreements and bellicose entanglements. We can provide humanitarian and other help as required.

6) Have we, as in our past, chosen to fight because of a need for revenge? What we seem unable to learn is that revenge or vengeance or honor or national pride are all cyclical in their nature. They can never be satisfied, because one side or the other must always seek to avenge that wrong that they perceive coming from the other side. Look briefly at Israel and the Palestinians. They have been going at this for thousands of years, and there is no end in sight because revenge and vengeance can never be satisfied. One side has to be willing to lay on the table another way to relate, a way to seek common benefits and common ground, and common cause. One side has to lay aside the past atrocities; one side has to say "enough". We must find a way out of killing, of grabbing land, of building enmity instead of peace. One side has to say, let us put the past behind us and move together into the future. They are not ready to do so. Are the Kurds and the Afghans ready to do so? Are the Shia and the Sunnis ready to do so? Not likely...

So here is my take on the 4-point war plan in relation to what I have just said. A substantial and familiar Plan, except it leaves out one large caveat -- we cannot re-solve the enmities, the hatreds, the flaws of other cultures.

We continue to make a basic mistake that is made by many nascent counselors -- you cannot solve the problems of other people for them! You can offer suggestions in the form of options, you can offer support for positive behaviors, you can offer personal empathy for pain and hurt that the patients manifest, you can listen and offer your concern. But, you can't solve their problems for them, and the worst thing you can do is to be drawn into their problems by being manipulated, challenged or belittled. The wise counselor learns at some point that the patient owns the problem and must take responsibility for that problem. It will not be solved by the counselor's personal intervention or by confrontation or even by bribery! The person who owns the problem must address the problem and utilize the resources offered as aids in that process. He or she must find the way out, hopefully with the expert guidance and coaching of the counselor, and others.

We have not, as a nation, learned that lesson. We allow ourselves to be drawn into the problems of other countries who manipulate us into giving them money, weapons, trainers and other personnel. We give in as well to our own mythologies of honor on the battlefield, of pride in our status, of revenge not only as a viable human trait but as a virtue we should pursue. We as a nation are trapped by our "exceptionalism", believing that we have a manifest destiny to lead the world in the true paths of education, democracy and freedom, while at home we struggle mightily with our own flaws in these areas. We have the false perception that without us, there is no answer. That is why "isolationism" has such a bad reputation. Staying out of other peoples' business is not seen as a virtue, but as a sign of weakness. A strange twist. We have people like John McCain who can't seem to see anything amiss in the world without wanting us to become militarily involved.

And finally, we are betrayed by our own sense of mission. We think it incumbent upon us to spread the good news of democratic values and institutions to all nations so that the people of the world can all have the possibility of reaping the benefits of democracy (and capitalism). It is reminiscent of the evangelical fervor of certain early Christian missionaries who belittled, negated and destroyed the native cultures of so many around the globe in the name of a sacred mission. As one who knows that side of Christianity first hand, I take no pride in the missionary spirit that negated the positives of certain cultures in order to gain converts to their churches that then discriminated against the very people they had baptized into their Faith.

We are not the saviors of this world. There are other ways to bring our successes to others. There are other ways to aid those in need. There are other ways to interact with countries, and even with cells of enemies. But just as the Middle East is not ready to find new ways to act toward other nations, so we too are failing in our interactions. We must get forces out of the Middle East and out of Africa and send in mentors, advisors and teachers. We must stop giving weapons to nations and groups just because they want them, or just because we need to bribe them to be "on our side." Can we not approach nations from the standpoint of peace and ask, what can we do together to promote peace, prosperity, education and health in your country (but no weapons). Can't we begin to contract with governments and groups around the world in mutual attempts at finding creative ways to combat the real enemies of disease, hunger, and ignorance? Must we always be forming military or economic alliances? What about alliances for peace and good will?

The President's four-point Plan for devastating the ISIL forces is indicative of where we are in our defining moments. We are at war, again. Sometimes we have tried to break out of old patterns. The Peace Corps was an example. The Gates and Clinton international Foundations are examples. The Carter foundation has made peaceful contributions throughout the world. Why must our government display only its military might and prowess, when we have so much to give in the pursuit of peace and human development? If we must be at war, can we not also find ways to be pursuing peace?

There was a moment in time when the ISIL organization was rumored to be a group delivering services like garbage collection and food distribution. Perhaps we needed right then to offer to join in humanitarian efforts with them, and others, to meet the needs of many of those caught up in the exigencies of war. We are, and have been, neglectful of our peaceful humanitarian side of this equation of approaches to what many consider militant and flawed nations and groups. It is time for us to catch up with our better angels.

Could President Obama's 4-point plan contain a fifth point that emphasizes a new approach to militancy? I don't have a definitive answer, but we might find out something if we made negotiations and good will gestures a part of our overall strategy. Oh gosh, I forgot -- it's another sign of weakness to talk with enemies -- it borders on appeasement. Remember Andrew Young and the Palestinians - fired as UN ambassador because he wanted to hold talks with the likes of Yassir Arafat. Remember Yitzhak Rabin - shot dead by a countryman because he wanted to offer an olive branch (even land, God forbid) to the Palestinians. Remember Nelson Mandela - excoriated by some for pushing an agenda of reconciliation. Or Martin Luther King, Jr. jailed more than once by the white establishment for his actions of non-violent protest, and yet he always held open the possibility of negotiations and peaceful means of advancing the cause of Civil Rights for African Americans.

I have no doubt that the President is talking and negotiating behind the scenes as he has done with Putin of Russia, Musharraf of Pakistan, with Mubarak of Egypt and probably with some of the leaders of Iran. But peaceful means of resolving tense problems did not make it into the Plan, and we all know why. The forces of vengeance and revenge are not tolerant of what they perceive as appeasing the enemy. They want none of it. And that is why we remain mired in a part of the world in which we have no business being present as a military force.

We are the victims of our own militant mythologies. We struggle with peace because we cannot shake the concepts of the Wild West, rugged individualism, the survival of the mightiest or the fittest (Social Darwinism), and the ever-present belief that violence is the only way to approach threats or insults. War is at the heart of many of our celebrations and national holidays because war is where we believe true valor and comradeship are found. We are the bearers of an enormous burden because we believe it is necessary to use violence to back up our myths founded on the concept of dominance. (Even in domestic relationships, we find that myth is all too prevalent). We have never resolved our deep-rooted folklore about strength and weakness, nor about the beguiling conundrum of Power. We confuse power with dominance and weakness with grace and humility when the religious documents that underlay our culture say exactly the opposite. We tell our young men to "stand up to that bully" or "shake it off and act like a Man" or "Man Up." We tell our young women to be strong at the same time that we teach them, and legally force upon them, an attitude of compliance, and too often, that of inferiority.

We are not ready to be the saviors of anybody's country, or anyone's culture, or anyone's political structure until we have resolved our own flaws and short-comings. We are strong militarily but not so strong a moral force for openness, good will, cooperation, acceptance of differences, self-sacrifice for the good of the many. While we are known for humanitarian efforts to other countries, we do not know how to approach enemies with olive branches and gifts of reconciliation. In fact, we eschew the very idea because it smacks of surrender or appeasement or self-deprecation. What we constantly overlook and ignore is the power of peaceful interactions and the positive power of our humanitarian services and our abundant technological and sociological resources. The war option is not the only means at our disposal for resolving international issues.