Last week I was watching a discussion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” which really resonated with me. The concept was not particularly novel or profound but it merits recording here on the blog. The discussion revolved around our protracted involvement in Afghanistan and the conclusion drawn is one I think makes sense.
First, however, I wanted to briefly refresh my memory about our major wars of the second half of the 20th century. It’s actually kind of depressing to read about it. From a casual glance, one gets the impression that we Americans love to fight and love nothing more than fighting against the spread of an ideology with which we don’t agree. Whether or not that ideology is any real threat to us is another matter entirely. In 1941 we very appropriately declare war on Japan for bombing Pearl Harbor. It is the last time in the 20th century that we actually declare war on a country that hurt us. The next big conflict in 1950 is the Korean War which basically is the result of the US and USSR sharing the spoils of WWII (Korea, a Japanese territory) but then falling out with each other based on ideology (communism). Communist China is our primary foe, with the USSR supplying support. The end of the three-year conflict has us no better off than we were before with a communist North Korea and a non-communist South Korea. China is no threat to the United States at this point, nor have they attacked us, but we jump on the United Nations bandwagon and get involved.
At about the same time, things start brewing in North and South Vietnam with the 50’s ending with our sending “military advisers” to the region. We all know how that turned out. Again, a region that posed no real threat to America other than embracing an ideology we opposed, gets a heap of American youngsters dropped in their lap, many never to return home. The great irony is that the big bugaboo of communism essentially dies of its own flaws in the 1980’s without a single shot being fired. The dreaded Soviet Union dissolves and communist China embraces, in a limited fashion, capitalism. What strikes me about both of these conflicts is our military involvement in regions that did not hurt us, and with no formal declaration of war.
Fast forward to the 21st century. We are attacked on September 11, 2001 by 19 men some of whom trained years earlier in Afghanistan, none of whom were actually from Afghanistan but rather were from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. Our response is to attack the country where most al Qaeda training occurred, Afghanistan. While we are at it, we attack Iraq which had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 and in fact, we dilute our focus in Afghanistan and increase our military activity in Iraq. We declare war on neither country. As our effort in Iraq finally draws down, we up the ante in Afghanistan, which by this time has next to no al Qaeda. We expand our mission in Afghanistan to include nation building.
So here we sit today with a commitment to withdraw some troops from Afghanistan in 2011 (ten years after the 9/11 attacks) and most but probably not all troops by 2014. The war is a quagmire. The government we are propping up is disloyal to the United States and basically a sham. Most Americans, honestly have lost interest.
So here is the proposal inspired the “Morning Joe” discussion. Let’s fight us a real good old-fashioned war! It’s a two-step plan that would most definitely make the world stand up and take notice, not to mention knock our fellow Americans out of their complacency.
Step 1: Re-institute the draft.
Step 2: Formally declare war on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
It’s basically the Bush Doctrine on steroids. If you knowingly harbor terrorists in your country or you finance them (e.g. Saudi Arabia), we will formally declare war on you and we will come over to your neck of the woods and bomb the living crap out of you until we are sure that you are taking terrorism seriously. The formal declaration is important. It is symbolic. It says that we are not engaged in some fuzzy-defined venture and we are NOT nation building. Any country harboring terrorists bent on America’s destruction is our enemy, end of story, and will pay the price.
This plan needs people to make it work. A volunteer army won’t do. So the draft must come back. And that is a good thing. Right now, we are waging an undeclared war with a small minority of folks, many of whom bear this burden because their civilian options are limited. Yes of course there are many patriots who would be there under any circumstances, but there are also loads of economically lower-middle class to low-class folks fighting this fight while the rich stay safe and cozy. That needs to change. We need forced buy in.
The great consequence of the draft is that anti-war folks finally wake up again. Folks who think a “war on terror” is a pipe dream equivalent to the “war on drugs” suddenly have good cause to hit the streets and protest because their best friend just got sent over to Yemen or their son or daughter just got shipped to Pakistan.
When I look at the last 50 years I see us doing a lot of fighting. Much of it prompted by no real threat to our safety. When the real threat comes, we fight these pseudo-wars with an all volunteer army that takes more than a decade to get the job done. We also tolerate incompetent governments insufficiently committed to stopping the terrorists within their own borders.
2011 is the year we should either pull out all the stops and make everybody take notice, or go home and stop doing a half-assed job that will go on forever.