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Our Worst Foe-be-us
by Al Dereaux
 

Hopefully I’m not alone, but I have long noticed a disturbing trend in our foreign policy: Our leaders’ short-sightedness (perhaps primarily re-election minded) too often stokes the fires we seek to extinguish. The Middle East, the ancient "fertile crescent," provides the readiest examples. Decades ago, when the Cold War was real, the pervasive "Us vs. Them" mentality made sense to a majority of Americans.

Once upon a time, it was decided that Iran constituted a terrible enemy of ours. Clearly this status was earned. Our reaction was to arm-to-the-gills Iraq, its neighbor and

Photo: mapquest.com

adversary, in what would prove to be a lengthy, ugly little war. (More of this comes to light every day, as our then-military leaders now admit sharing with Iraq classified battle information while shrugging their shoulders at the obvious evidence that Iraq was using chemical weapons to win this conflict.) These are two regionally large nations with a long common border whose southern areas are dotted with oil fields and just as importantly, ports from which to ship it. Picture real-life chess with an endless supply of pre-teen pawns and a healthy sprinkling of chemical weapons.


But a short decade later, Iraq became our definitive enemy by invading (oil-rich) Kuwait. We had assured Iraq that we considered its long-standing border dispute with Kuwait to be a regional squabble of little note to us. In short, Hussein ate the bait, and Iraq bit the bullet. Hundreds of thousands of our troops and more sorties than in all of World War II literally "bombed them back to the Stone Age"—the eloquent and exact words of Papa Bush. (Hell, it might have been the last coherent phrase he uttered.) The destruction resulted in the literal decimation of Iraq’s infrastructure; a fraction of Bagdad’s hospitals, bridges, and water treatment facilities survived. The Iraqi civilian populace was reduced to rags, but ironically Hussein remains to this day!!! How did that happen? All those bombs, and one of our primary objectives wasn’t even close to accomplished. At least the arms and oil industries here profited mightily out of it.


Years after that Superbowl-esque ass-kickin’, the once-simple chapter remains unclosed. The original call-to-arms centered on Iraq’s border dispute with Kuwait. Now, despite the intensity of the havoc our leaders chose to wreak, the issue remains unresolved. We still bomb Iraq now and again, maybe for old time’s sake, but Hussein still reigns with his Weapons of Mass Destruction (such an addictive little catch phrase, isn’t it?). It has the emotional tug politicians love, and a vagueness that allows it to entail any number of distinct meanings. Anybody who’s anyone has WMD, and we probably top the list.


The transition point is not whether Iraq is in possession of, or is capable of producing, WMD, but rather how they came to be. Quickly flash back to a time when we armed and strategized with them like a new recruit. And we turned our back while we knew they were field-testing their WMD on Iranian teenagers. Our vindictive Cold War mentality of choosing one side of a senseless conflict backfired in our faces and caused worse problems than originally existed.

 

In Panama as well, we (our Intelligence community, anyway) treated General Noriega like a favorite son. There is no doubt he was pampered by the CIA and he helped the agency’s drugs-for-guns program with the Contras. (Read: We gave them weapons to fight in Nicaragua, and they traded back cocaine.)


Similarly, one day during the Papa Bush administration, General Noriega came to be viewed from the other side of the telescope. Thus, our leaders deemed it necessary to dethrone the Strongman; and our invasion of

Photo: mapquest.com

his country began. (Doubtlessly a blatant act of war, but every administration can be counted as a repeat offender in this category.) We finally captured the General in his labyrinth after he grew tired of listening to the Iron Maiden album "Powerslave" blasted at 150 decibels. General Noriega was convicted and now resides in a taxpayer-funded cell. There was no effect on the supply of drugs to this country, so the whole charade appears to have been entirely a public-approval ratings stunt.


And, alas, a third extreme example emerges in Afghanistan. Was it right (indeed necessary) to support the mujahedeen against the invading Soviet army? Unquestionably, yes. We weren’t alone: China was chipping in as well, mirroring the tension of the time between China/Pakistan vs. Russia/India. The coke-for-guns scheme in Central America might have had a precedent (or sequel?) in a smack-for-arms swap in Central Asia. But what’s the point again? Our reactionary policy resulted in worse problems than we sought to solve. After the Soviets fell flat on their faces, catalyzing their collapse, could we have hung around to have an enduring effect in the region? Yes. Did we? No. And in their isolation (Central Asia basically epitomizes isolated), the fanatic (lunatic) mujahedeen turned al-Qaeda fermented. Hadn’t our Intelligence community forewarned of their mutation, intent, or abilities?


Consider Colombia. Our military presence there is justified as helping combat the "Drug War." There exists ZERO evidence that this is working. So instead of admitting defeat, we’re probably going to spend more money on this totally unwinnable fruitless endeavor. Perhaps our military presence there is REALLY about the eternal civil war that endures in Colombia, not to mention the rest of the continent. But that is just another futile front for us. Short of invading and occupying the entire country (continent?), we can’t hope to have an impact via this political approach. Meanwhile the flow of blow from South America remains unchanged.


We must be the only place on earth where if an operation does not, undeniably cannot, succeed, the result is to increase its budget. Heaven forbid our leaders use this money to pay down the ridiculous debt they’d prefer we quietly inherit. Heaven forbid they develop a foreign policy that amounts to more than the feet stomping out the brush fires the hands keep setting.


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Copyright©2002 by Al Dereaux.
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