“We have not reached the limit of our military commitments…” T.E. Lawrence (Mesopotamia 22 August 1920 in the Sunday Times)
Thirteen years after the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in which nearly 3000 Americans were killed and the American response against Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan a month later we enter a new phase of war against old and familiar as well as new and frighteningly brutal enemies.
Of course the war was extended to Iraq by the Bush Administration, pursuing the goal of toppling Saddam Hussein and his non-existent weapons of mass destruction. That extension of the war, which so reminds me of what T.E. Lawrence wrote about the British adventure in Mesopotamia in 1920 has led to the creation of a much more ruthless and capable enemy than Al Qaeda ever was and strengthened our old adversary Iran in ways that it could not have done itself. Lawrence wrote of the British effort:
“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”
Like the Bush administration the British reasons for going into Mesopotamia were cloaked in the words of liberation and protection, only from the Turks, not Saddam. Lawrence noted in words that are hauntingly familiar to those that paid attention to the American war in Iraq:
“Yet our published policy has not changed, and does not need changing. It is that there has been a deplorable contrast between our profession and our practice. We said we went to Mesopotamia to defeat Turkey. We said we stayed to deliver the Arabs from the oppression of the Turkish Government, and to make available for the world its resources of corn and oil. We spent nearly a million men and nearly a thousand million of money to these ends. This year we are spending ninety-two thousand men and fifty millions of money on the same objects.”
Perhaps the most poignant and relevant note on the ill thought out Bush decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was by Thucydides who wrote:
“Think, too, of the great part that is played by the unpredictable in war: think of it now, before you are actually committed to war. The longer a war lasts, the more things tend to depend on accidents. Neither you nor we can see into them: we have to abide their outcome in the dark. And when people are entering upon a war they do things the wrong way round. Action comes first, and it is only when they have already suffered that they begin to think.”
Last night President Obama announced his intention to fight the brutal and extreme fighters of the Islamic State, or ISIL by building a broad coalition spearheaded by American airpower and intelligence agencies. Of course the President’s announcement was met with cries of not being enough by some on the political right, and with equal vehemence by opponents on the political left who feel that he has displayed cowardice in the face of “9/11 fear mongering” and the implementation of a policy of “perpetual war.” Of course the answer is more complex than anyone wants to admit, the critics on both sides are right in some things and wrong in some things, and the fact is there are no good answers.
Sadly because of what we and the British and others have done in Iraq and Syria the President is left with few options, mainly those that are bad, and those that are worse. So now, as the President, with a fair amount of judiciousness and caution commits the country to continue and maybe even expand the war that began thirteen years ago, it is time to remember those burning towers, the flailing bodies of our fellow Americans and others falling to their deaths to escape the surety of death in those flames and those who have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan; not just Americans, but coalition partners and the people of those lands who had no say in what Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda did or what Saddam did or didn’t do; and who went from the oppression of Saddam or the Taliban, to unending civil, tribal and religious wars, in which they were caught in the middle, the Iraqis in a war that was devised by President Bush and his advisors.
There are always results and today we are dealing with the results of at least a century of incredibly short sighted decisions of Western as well as Arab leaders which have blighted the Middle East and caused immense suffering to the peoples of the region. Now because of those decisions there exists a terrorist organization which is rapidly becoming a state in the areas of Iraq and Syria that it occupies. Islamic scholar Reza Aslan described the Islamic State on CNN Monday:
“Number one, you do have to respond militarily to ISIS soldiers and fighters. These guys are fighting a war of the imagination, a war that they think is happening between the forces of good and evil. There is no negotiation. There’s no diplomacy. There’s nothing to talk about with these guys. They have to be destroyed.”
Sadly, Aslan is right in his analysis of the Islamic State. Because of that fact, on this thirteenth anniversary of the 9-11-2001 attacks we and the already suffering people of the region will see war continue without end. One wonders how many generations it will last and what the cost on lives and treasure will be.