War — what is it good for?

As I am flying out of Madrid today, security is unusually tight — they are running a marathon in the city, and marathons are now high-risk events.

The news is usually consumed with details of the Boston bombers and the aftermath.  However, this weekend USA TODAY ran a heart-stirring story of an American veteran of the Iraqi war who is recovering from terrible burn injuries.

We can never underestimate the sacrifices our veterans have made.  Over 2 million men and women served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Over one thousand died; over three thousand came home with devastating burns or amputations; over 50,000 incurred other injuries, and up to 400,000 experienced post-traumatic stress injuries or mild head trauma.

The news flurry regarding the Boston bombers shows how short-sighted we are.  First, there is much more attention given to the handful of victims and to the perpetrators than to our vets, dozens of whom commit suicide every year because they cannot fit into a society that does not understand and appreciate what they have done.

Second, after all the sacrifices, injuries, and continued misunderstanding, the bombings in Boston demonstrate that a thousand US deaths and tens of thousands of injured have not made us safe from our supposed adversary in the “War on Terror” — the violent hatred of jihadists against innocent Americans, based on the very real damage that American foreign policy has done to Muslim communities around the world.

To be sure, America has defended Muslims too — in Kosovo, in Bosnia, and in northern Iraq (Kurdistan), the U.S. has helped Muslims find security and autonomy to run their own lives.  In Libya, US actions freed a nation and likely saved tends of thousands from being massacred by Gaddafi’s forces.   But on the whole, whether in Palestine, Syria, Chechnya, Afghanistan, or Iraq, when Muslims die or are driven from their homes and their land, the U.S. either does little or nothing to stop it, or actively supports the forces that are doing it.  And when death rains down suddenly and magically from the skies, courtesy of drones and predator missiles, the logo U.S.A. is found on the bomb fragments that remain.

What have we accomplished at the cost of so much injury and blood?   Did we punish al-Qaeda for killing 3,000 Americans on 9/11?  Yes, but that was done by a Seal team that caught up to bin Laden in Pakistan, and by special forces and drone attacks on al-Qaeda leadership — not by the massive ground invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Have our efforts won the US greater support among Muslims of the world, earning their trust and help in putting an end to Islamic terrorism?  If only that were so; but most studies suggest the opposite has occurred.

And yet, one place in the Islamic world where the U.S. is applauded and thanked is in Libya.   There, the US intervened minimally and sensibly; protecting innocents and pushing back against Gaddafi’s forces just enough to stop them and let demoralization and the efforts of Libyan rebels end Gaddafi’s rule.

That is the lesson of war.  Not that it is always wrong, but that one has to be careful to make sure it is done right.  That the need is truly vital, and the actions proportionate and well-designed to reach a goal.

As much as I consider US military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan a tragic and misguided waste, the Vietnam of our generation, I still believe the US should set up a no-fly zone along the Syria-Turkey border, and increase its lethal aid to Syrian rebels. (More about that in a forthcoming post).

But today, as I leave behind the Madrid marathon, I want to remember our veterans, and ask that they get our respect and thanks for their sacrifices.  Whatever the outcome, they did what they were called upon by our government to do; for that they deserve more thanks and support than they have received.

 

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About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
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2 Responses to War — what is it good for?

  1. Jina says:

    Fabulous, what a blog it is! This webpage provides useful information to us, keep it up.

  2. Huda says:

    This is a great post, thank you. As a person from Syria, I think you suggested the best solution, you have my respect.

    Worrying for spillover, I think the worst case scenario is being played right now. Things will be worse if no one provides any real help for centrists. The more time Assad is left to use bombarding arsenal over civilians and others, the more Syrian people are losing their appetite for life and be convinced to fight until they die, standing more and more by extremists.

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