The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ended some years ago. In Iraq, the war ended with the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government; in Afghanistan, with the fall of the Taliban government. What’s been happening since is occupation and resistance to occupation.
It’s always helpful to call things by the right name. One of the ways using the wrong word can trip us is illustrated by John McCain’s campaign theme. We have to win the war in Iraq, he keeps saying. Ending a war implies either winning or losing. No such baggage is attached to an occupation. You can end an occupation without either winning or losing. You just withdraw your troops.
The fact that what is going on in Iraq is an occupation is proven by the nature of the conflicts. They are between factions of Iraqis. Our guys are caught in the crossfire or killed by Iraqis who oppose our presence. There are no large-scale attacks directed against us.
Those who want to continue the occupation paint a horrific picture of what they claim will happen if we withdraw — a massive civil war, genocide or a regional war. There is no hard evidence to support any of those suppositions. But even if they happen, they need not concern us. Lots of factions in different parts of the world decide to kill each other from time to time, and we don’t interfere. As long as there are no Americans to get caught in the crossfire, let the Iraqis have their civil war if that’s what they want.
On the other hand, there’s never been civil war in Iraq. There were rebellions against the Baathist government and, before that, against the British-sponsored governments, but before our occupation, Sunnis and Shia intermarried and lived side by side. There were always Christians in Iraq and, until the state of Israel was created, Jews. That was, in fact, true throughout the Middle East.
As for al-Qaeda, it has been virtually wiped out in Iraq — not by us, but by Sunni tribesmen who turned against it because of its murderous fanaticism. McCain keeps confusing al-Qaeda with Shia and trying to link it to Iran, but al-Qaeda is a fundamentalist Sunni group way outside the mainstream of Islam. Most of its members are Saudis or Egyptians. It was never in Iraq until our war and occupation gave it an excuse to come in. It’s never been in Iran. For American politicians to suppose that without us it would thrive and grow in Iraq is just proof of their ignorance.
Our presence in Iraq is the only thing that made al-Qaeda viable. Our occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are the principal selling points in al-Qaeda propaganda. We have no interests, strategic or otherwise, in either country. The last thing al-Qaeda wants is for us to withdraw, which is why it should be the first thing we do.
Whatever someone imagines we gain by staying in Iraq and Afghanistan is far outweighed by what we are losing. We are losing lives in dribs and drabs, and we are losing treasure at an alarming rate. We have severe internal problems that our military presence in the Middle East aggravates. Our military is on the verge of being broken. Some Nobel laureates estimate the war will end up costing us $3 trillion. Well, plain and simple, we can’t afford it.
We should never go to war unless there are tangible, identifiable benefits for the American people for doing so. Try to think of a benefit we have gained from Iraq or Afghanistan. There are none. We deposed two governments that were not attacking us or threatening to attack us, and we let get away the private terrorist group that had attacked us. It does not matter that they were bad governments. There are lots of bad governments in this world. The only bad government we have an obligation to change is the one in Washington, D.C.
If we don’t change direction in this country, we’re going to end up impoverished and bankrupt, and you know what? Iraq and Afghanistan will still be the messes they are today.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.