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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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by Al Dereaux.
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