I should clarify something during this season when everyone hopes for peace and good will: I am not a pacifist.
If war is forced upon us, we have no choice but to fight it. Ernie Hemingway said it well when he observed that there are several things worse than war, and they all come with defeat.
I have opposed and still oppose the war in Iraq because, knowing something about the Middle East, I knew it would be futile. I knew we weren't threatened by Iraq. I knew that the war would be a war of aggression on our part. I knew that no clear-cut victory would be possible.
Even though there has been some diminution in violence, the fundamental political problem remains. The Sunnis, the Shi'ites and the Kurds are not fond of each other. For a long time, the Shi'ites and the Kurds suffered under Saddam Hussein's primarily Sunni regime. Now that the Shi'ites and the Kurds are in control, they are not going to be easily reconciled. Furthermore, the Kurds don't especially like Arabs and want an independent country. The Turks don't especially like the Kurds and will react violently to any move on the part of the Kurds to declare independence.
So, the U.S. forces in the country have a wolf by the ear. We can keep the level of violence reasonably contained as long as we stay there, but neither the armed forces nor the U.S. budget can afford to stay there indefinitely. And to leave, we have to let go of the wolf.
The present peace in the Anbar province came about because the al-Qaeda fighters went too far and the Sunni sheiks decided to kill them. We, opportunistically, said, "Hey, as long as you're killing al-Qaeda instead of us, we will give you guns and money." Now the Marines in Anbar are enjoying Arab hospitality, which I fear they are mistaking for friendship.
I don't know how things will play out. As long as the cowardly Congress continues to fund the war, the troops will be stuck there. Don't look for any victory parades or celebrations. Bombs and bullets will stay on the menu probably as long as we are there and afterward, too, until some new Iraqi strongman takes control.
As for Afghanistan, where the situation is deteriorating, Americans should be clear about what we did there. The Taliban won the civil war by driving the northern warlords out of Kabul. We hired the warlords to fight the Taliban, bribing them with cash and air support. Afghanistan is now run by the warlords, and they are turning it into a narco-state. At the same time, we failed to catch or kill Osama bin Laden, who was the only person in Afghanistan or Iraq who had attacked us.
Now the U.S. has dragged NATO into the fight, but I don't think the Europeans will stick. What is the point of a European getting himself killed in Afghanistan? Or an American, for that matter? There is nothing in Afghanistan except fields of opium and men with rifles.
We are overextended, both militarily and financially. That's just a sad truth. Our economy is teetering on the edge of a recession or worse. Our so-called diplomacy in the Middle East is getting less than zero results. We are crazy to try to stay there. The age of colonialism is over.
We should go to war only in self-defense. I don't believe the American people wish to adopt Iraq and Afghanistan as permanent wards of the taxpayers. I don't believe they want to keep burying sons and daughters whose deaths don't make America safer. That's not pacifism. It's common sense.
December 22, 2007
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2007 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.