Sometime late next year, a young man or woman who was not yet born on September 11, 2001, will raise their right hand and join the U.S. armed forces. Given the tempo at which those forces have operated the past 17 years, that young person likely will be sent quickly to the Middle East in some capacity.
There, they will form part of the second consecutive generation to fight this “war.” Unlike my uniformed cohort, they will have no memory of the events that led to them being there. Nor will they have a concept of a time when the TSA didn’t exist, and the government didn’t conduct constant surveillance. For them, America has always been at war.
The same will hold true of their contemporaries who stay in civilian life.
So what have we accomplished thus far, at the expense of nearly 7,000 dead and almost $3 trillion? Very little, it would seem:
…Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, U.S. policies in the Mideast appear to have encouraged its spread.
What U.S. officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that Al Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said.
In fact, a good case can be made that the resilience of jihadi groups in the face of the most technologically sophisticated military force on the planet only underscores the righteousness of their ideas. In swatting bees with sledgehammers, we’ve only increased the size of the swarm, with no vision of how this is supposed to end:
There is a stunning lack of strategic vision in America today. The range of foreign policy activities, beyond so-called “traditional diplomacy,” extend across military power and include everything from financial aid to information to exchanges of all kinds. These instruments are, however, seemingly applied without synchronization or thoughts about end states. The different bureaucracies often work together only on an ad hoc basis and rarely share collaborative requirements and communications with their respective oversight committees in the Congress.
Our few and feeble attempts to articulate vision have been badly flawed, and rarely considered the cultural and political realities of where we were fighting. I was in Baghdad when the Bush administration declared our objectives there were a stable, unified, democratic Iraq. A quick wit in our section soon had those diagrammed with a triangle on a marker board with the caption “pick any two.”
While pursuing this quixotic endeavor abroad, we have also failed to secure our own borders or effectively increase scrutiny of those entering our country. The 9/11 hijackers covertly but legally entered the United States. Now we have a veritable open fifth column of Islamists spreading the influence within the country. Since many young Americans have been conditioned to believe their nation to be a blight on history, it’s difficult to mount an effective ideological defense.
Our continued thrashing about in the world only underscores our nation’s diminishment. One measure of “just war” — a pillar of Western thought rarely referenced in the general public these days — is whether a conflict results in improved circumstances. Can anyone say that Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen… or the United States are better off after a generation of warfare? Is this likely to change when the sons and daughters of the original military force are the ones doing the fighting?
Seal the borders. Deport the disloyal. Bring our troops home. That’s a coherent proposal, and at least has the benefit of not yet having been seriously tried. Anything short of that is insanity — defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That’s no way to honor the memory of those who died 17 years ago… or the tens of thousands of American servicemen dead or disabled since then.