“We just marched in, we can just march out.” Those were the words of Congressman Ron Paul during a debate while he was running for President in 2012. They were in response to a question of Paul’s desired foreign policy of non-interventionism as well as his call for an immediate and total withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. “How would he accomplish this goal?” he was asked. The sentiment of his response was that it seemed quite simple for the US to just invade, so it would be equally simple for the US to leave.
The CIA described the negative backlash US foreign policy in the Middle East would generate as ‘blowback.’ After more than half a century of intervention and interference in the affairs of the countries of that region, it is no wonder that hatred of US imperialism has developed and militant groups have formed to fight against what they view as an occupation of their homelands. Blowback has come to rear it’s ugly head on far too many occasions. Whether it was the Iranian hostage situation, the attack in Benghazi, or the horrific attacks of 9/11. Contrary to the propaganda, US presence in the region does not make Americans safer.
A sober look at US foreign policy over the past decades should sicken any moral person. Starting with the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran, a move which had zero to do with protecting the USA or protecting American citizens’ freedoms, but which had everything to do with protecting British oil interests in the region, US intervention in the region has been one sickening, insane, immoral action after another.
Consider that Osama bin Laden was a US ally during the Cold War when his ‘freedom fighters’ were heavily armed to fight against the Soviets who had occupied Afghanistan. Consider that Sadaam Hussein too was a US ally, who was also heavily armed to fight against Iran during the 80s. Hussein was adamantly anti-Muslim extremism, and was the primary stabilizing force in that country where Christians, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and countless other groups were able to live together in relative peace. This had been the same case with Assad in Syria. Qaddafi in Libya. Mubarak in Egypt. I am not defending these men. I don’t defend any government no matter how benevolent it is, and these men and their governments clearly were not benevolent and they committed atrocities that any defender of human rights would protest. But the clear fact is that under the rule of these men, there was order in the region.
After Mubarak was no longer in power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood quickly took over and stole much of the cached weapons that the US had so kindly provided to that country over years of generous foreign aid. Libya is now a jihadist wonderland, and groups like Boko Haram have amassed much of their recent increases in power thanks to the same foreign aid programs to Libya. Iraq is in shambles. Syria is crumbling. The situation in Yemen is worsening. Pakistan is also in poor condition. Afghanistan will turn to chaos if the US military ever leaves. All of these countries and their leaders had long been receiving massive amounts of US military supplies and financial support. Now that they are no longer in power and militant groups have taken control of much of the region, those groups are seizing the very arms that the US had sent over there in the first place, and are using weapons marked with ‘Made in USA’ to wreak havoc throughout the region. How does a group like Boko Haram become so powerful? Where do all their new weapons come from? The stockpiles of US supplied weaponry were simply abandoned in Libya when Qaddafi was killed. Perhaps Boko Haram found some of them.
As bad as the previous fifty plus years of US foreign policy in the Middle East has been, the past decade has been equally as bad if not worse. The US should never have fought Iraq War 2, and should absolutely not get involved in an Iraq War 3. The US should have never invaded Afghanistan. Perhaps some people will agree with me about Iraq. Not so many people will agree with me about Afghanistan, because after all that’s where Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda was, and the US had to get them to make them pay for their crimes of 9/11. I don’t disagree that justice needed to be served with regards to 9/11. My point is that the job could have been done far more efficiently, at far less cost to the American taxpayer, and justice could have been brought to those responsible much quicker than the near decade that it took the invasion.
Constitutionally, there are two ways for the US government to deal with enemies. First, there can be (through a vote of Congress) a declaration of war. This is difficult when the enemy is a small stateless adversary. For this type of enemy, the second constitutional option is to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal. This little-known secondary option is essentially putting a bounty on a person’s head. This is the tactic that should have been taken to bring justice to Bin Laden and those responsible for 9/11. Had the US government put $50 or 100 million on Bin Laden’s head, with the level of poverty and the number of people who are always looking for a payday, he would have been handed over in a time frame that likely would have been far shorter than that of the war. The same could have been done with any of the other 9/11 ringleaders within Al-Qaeda. This avenue would have saved taxpayers TRILLIONS of dollars, and the satisfaction of bringing justice to Bin Laden would have been felt far sooner. There currently exists too much power in the Executive Branch to wage war, and Congress should reassert their Constitutional powers of war-making.
Neither conservatives nor liberals have been very good on this issue, and there are reasons why each should support a more non-interventionist foreign policy. Intellectual consistency is something that everyone should strive for.
For conservatives, a more humble foreign policy should satisfy desires for limited government, and should also appeal to the sense of right to life. Financially, the first ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan cost an estimated $4-6 Trillion. That is more than the estimated cost of the first ten years of the conservatively reviled (and rightly so) Affordable Care Act. Advocating for the right to life should apply not only to the unborn, but also to the US soldiers who are sent halfway across the world to die in fruitless and unnecessary wars. More Americans died in Iraq War 2 than died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Countless more have been maimed, wounded, or are suffering psychological problems as a result of their deployments overseas. More soldiers returning from these wars have committed suicide than were killed in action, and that fact alone should say something about the nature of these wars. Adding insult to injury (or more accurately, adding insult to death), the VA and the US government routinely is unable to provide adequate medical treatment for both physical and mental conditions to those they ask to fight in their wars. If the government that initiates these wars so very clearly does not care about the people who are actually doing the fighting, their initiation of these wars should not be so resolutely defended.
To liberals, where has the antiwar left gone? During Bush II’s reign, liberals were out protesting the wars at every chance they could get. Now that Obama is commanding these same wars (and starting new ones of his own) these same people have become far less vocal, much more accepting of war, and in some cases have even become cheerleaders of the very wars they once opposed. If the war is wrong, it is wrong no matter if the person in the White House is wearing a red tie or a blue tie.
All Americans should be concerned with the severe loss of liberties that has taken place in the years that followed 9/11 and during the ensuing wars. For all the talk of “the troops fighting for our freedoms” there certainly has been a lot of loss of freedom since these wars began. Americans no longer have the freedom to hold any expectation of privacy in phone calls, in text messages, emails, browsing histories, financial information, etc. We don’t have the freedom to travel unmolested, whether it is through the airport, or while driving in our cars. The right of habeus corpus has been attacked. There is no longer the right to protest in front of certain elite politicians. For those who say that the reason the US was attacked on 9/11 was because “they hate us for our freedoms,” it seems the terrorists are winning as more and more of our freedoms have been and are being taken away.
Thinking about US foreign policy in another way, let’s try imagining ourselves in the shoes of the average Middle Eastern person. Imagine China suddenly decided that the US government was tyrannical, and that the American people needed to be protected from that government. They come over here and set up military bases, go on patrols, establish curfews and rules of travel, fly drones over our heads, and drop bombs and fire bullets at will. No one in the US would accept that. Average American citizens would certainly and immediately take up arms against that kind of occupation. How hard is it to imagine that the average Middle Eastern person feels the exact same way about American occupation of their lands? Why is it a surprise that US presence, meddling, and occupation of Middle Eastern lands results in such anger and animosity?
The latest threat to be all over the news is ISIS. ISIS has clearly become a very powerful and dangerous terrorist organization in recent months, and concerns of their growing forces and power are legitimate. The concerns of their potential of sending ‘sleeper cells’ into the US to commit acts of terrorism are also legitimate. The US borders are porous; everybody knows that. How does worrying about the border between Iraq and Syria help to secure the border between the US and Mexico? The solution to this problem cannot be more of the same failed policies of the last fifty-plus years. The first two Iraq occupations did not produce anything good, millions of people have died or been displaced, and there are more acts of terrorism occurring today than before the “War on Terror” began. So what will be different about a third occupation that would finally do the trick?
There has to be a change in policy. Instead of policing the world, and having the US military always and everywhere, the troops should all be brought home. Immediately and completely. Not just from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from Italy, Japan, Korea, Guam, Australia, Germany, The Philippines, Grenada, and every single other country where the US has military personnel stationed.
This idea terrifies some Americans. I can already hear some saying, “But then they’ll just come here and we’ll all be dead in a week!” Instead of having troops in every corner of the globe, getting involved in every skirmish that takes place, while inciting hatred from those people who don’t want the US military in their backyards, the better solution would be to bring them all home. Station the Army and the Marines all across the Mexican and Canadian borders, and have all their guns facing outwards. Bring the Navy home, and have them set up a defensive position along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and around Alaska and Hawaii. Have all of their guns pointed out. Bring the Air Force home, and have them on ready alert, flying defense patterns off the coasts of the US. Have all of their guns pointed out too. I’d dare any terrorist (or even any foreign country) to come over and try to get through that. Even if by some outrageous circumstance, a terrorist organization was able to set itself up inside the US, there are millions of armed American citizens who would stop at nothing to protect their own lives, their families lives, and their property. Not only that, but the entire US military would already be here and would be able to annihilate any rag-tag group of wannabe bad-asses that tried to start something in the US.
Instead of letting the emotion of “supporting our troops” and “they protect our freedoms” cloud our judgment, let us pause to think about what is really going on, and to examine the history of what has been going on for decades. Let us imagine walking in the shoes of those who are the victims of so much destruction at the hands of US foreign policy. Let us imagine how we would react if some foreign country came into America and tried to do to us what the US is doing to other people. Let us understand what really is defense versus what is clearly offense. Let us understand the enormous costs of these reckless policies, and think about how TRILLIONS of dollars could be put to infinitely more productive use. Let us especially look with sympathy upon the thousands and thousands of US soldiers who have lost their lives, who have lost limbs, and who have suffered severe mental trauma from these needless wars.
My brother is a US Marine. I was terrified every single minute that he was serving in Afghanistan. I don’t want to fear losing him because of the policies of a bunch of liars and chicken-hawks who never seem to find a war that they don’t like. If Lindsay Graham and John Kerry want to fight ISIS, let them go. Let the volunteers of the US military stay here and do what they signed up to do – defend the United States of America.