Most often, war is used as a simple solution to a misunderstood problem. Those who fight our wars are brave. But those politicians who send our troops to war are simpletons. Their decision to go to war is too often like a solution adopted by the proverbial pack of dogs who get annoyed with cars.
They first invade the roadway and give chase. When a dog finally captures a car, it barks. That is a secret dog code signaling “victory.” But, as the “captured” car pulls away, the dog’s teeth are locked onto the car’s tailpipe. The canine is overcome with confusion. “What can I do with this car now?”
The story always ends in tragedy. The car speeds away and the dog hangs on. The dog dies from carbon monoxide poisoning, and the traffic problem becomes worse than ever.
With very few exceptions, that story is a parable describing America’s adventures in war. It proves that President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and a broken clock are right twice a day. In fact, it chimed twice when the President announced America’s pullbacks from Syria and Afghanistan.
President Trump finally broke ranks with “neo-cons” like John Bolton, Lindsay Graham and the late Sen. John McCain. He decided that taxpayers in Carthage, North Carolina, should not pay to colonize and bring Jeffersonian Democracy to parts of the world that still worship barbarism.
The president properly became impatient. Warriors like soon-to-be former Defense Secretary Mattis conquered nations quickly. But once a war was won, once a country like Afghanistan was subdued, it was left for civilian leaders like President Trump to ask, “What do I do with Afghanistan now?”
The answer of the neo-cons like Bolton and Graham was a perpetual occupation and an effective colonization. Beyond money, the price was about 10 dead or dismembered service members each month “for forever.” And, as such, President Trump properly rejected the cost.
Some say that the Afghanistan conflict was America’s longest war. They forget America’s experience in the Philippines. Our Afghanistan and Syrian conflicts are closer to that conflict.
The Philippines was a prize from the often forgotten Spanish-American War of 1898. The resulting treaty awarded those islands to the United States. But what the nation actually got was an anti-American, often anti-Islamic, irregular war. It was only interrupted by the Japanese invasion of World War II. It only really ended when the United States capitulated and granted the Philippines its independence in 1946.
We did not know what to do with the Philippines in 1898, and we do not know what to do with Afghanistan and Syria now. The same could be said of our recent excursions into Iraq and Libya, and our less recent excursion into Lebanon.
For two years, President Trump lost his way. He campaigned for but did not fully implement a policy of “America First.” It was a terrible policy when first advocated by Charles Lindbergh and others who wanted to ignore Hitler’s march through Europe. But today, Syria, still ruled by a despot, is not ruled by Hitler. Afghanistan is the same ungovernable mess that caused the British to withdraw in 1918 and the Russians to withdraw in 1989.
Some say we must learn from our experience from World War II and be proactive. Actually, we must learn from our experiences elsewhere, declare victory and pull out.
Every politician must ask whether the occupation of a foreign country benefits the taxpayers of both Pinehurst and Peoria. To the extent that there is little or no benefit, then America must withdraw from overseas and require that any fighting be done by those local warriors who should care.
The United States has never embraced a role as a colonial power. Americans, perhaps influenced by the ideology of Woodrow Wilson, never felt comfortable creating or ruling an extraterritorial empire. Like World War I, wars were supposed to be finite and fought for a specific purpose. Once the war was won, the troops were returned home.
The Vietnam War was described by songwriter Pete Seeger as a “Big Muddy” river.
The deeper you go the more likely you are to drown. In Afghanistan and Syria, President Trump believes we are “waist deep” and wants to get out. The neo-cons say, “Move on.”
It’s time to go home.