I remember taking a business trip shortly after the beginning of the Iraq war and being seated next to a contemporary, a retired Army Colonel who worked for a defense contractor. He and I had much to talk about and found ourselves making the same rationalization. It went something like this: no, there weren’t any WMDs but we won’t know the true impact of our military venture for quite some time. The real reason for the attack was to create a democratic government in the Middle East to serve as a model – to prove it could be done. To prove that free societies could exist in the Islamic world. It would take quite some time to see if it would work. A generation or more.
That was our rationalization. Our way of being supportive to our country and our troops.
I opposed the war from its conception. It made no strategic sense to me. To understand why, you have to remember your geography lessons and mix in a little macroeconomic analysis. The United States is blessed by the most favorable geography in the world. We are the only nation with long seacoasts and navigable seaports on both the Atlantic and Pacific. You see, much like the global economy of 400 years ago, it is still cheaper to move goods by sea than by any other method.
Okay, let’s shift from our geography lessons to our history lessons. From the presidency of George Washington to that of JFK, the U.S. made a series of strategic moves to consolidate and secure its economic future.
From Washington’s signing of "Jay's Treaty" which was highly unpopular (and which I wrote about in a blog post titled "Let's Put the Washington Back in DC") to the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish American War and WW II, we fought to secure our sea lanes. These gains were further consolidated by the post-war institutions set up by Truman and Eisenhower (the UN, NATO, SEATO et al.) and defended without a shot being fired during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
The result? Today, the US Navy controls every sea lane in the world. We take it for granted. But many Americans died to establish this awesome sea power and many politicians and presidents put their country ahead of self-interest to create it.
Which brings me back to Iraq. There are only two other geographic ranges with the potential to compete with the U.S. One is the plain that stretches from France to Russia. And, the other, in the Middle East and Southern Asia, stretches from the Mediterranean to the Himalaya Mountain range.
Ever wonder why there have been so many wars fought by Germany against northern European competitors? It’s because there are no natural boundaries between France, Germany, Poland and Russia. Southern Europe has numerous mountain ranges and rivers. And, less history of warfare as a result.
The partitioning of the Middle East, primarily achieved by the British between the two world wars, was designed to establish dictatorships that would serve our interests – oil exports. It has always been in our interest to have internecine competition between the larger Middle Eastern states. Why? Because a consolidation of all those countries coupled with their oil wealth could create a serious strategic competitor to the U.S.
Which brings me back to Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s government served as a wedge between Iran and its sympathetic allies to the west of Iraq, mainly Syria which has great influence over Lebanon. His removal, coupled with the installation of a democratically elected government in Iraq, enabled by and legitimized by the U.S., has provided Iran with an opportunity.
Iran has developed security and trade relationships with not only Iraq but also with Syria and Turkey. Turkey? Aren’t they a U.S. ally and NATO member? Yes. But, they are also an emerging economic power whose rejection by the European Union has caused it to look eastward for trade relationships. Toward Iran and, of course, China. And, they have an Islamic democratically elected government.
NPR Reports that elements within Pakistan’s security force favor the reinstallation of the Taliban in Afghanistan to stabilize that country.
Back in the US, there is little patience left to support our land wars in Asia. And, in Washington, the pressure to reduce the deficit will take its toll on our military capability. What’s worse is that, despite our natural advantages, investment capital is flowing out of the U.S. not into it. How can this be so?
US multi-nationals are incentivized by our tax code to invest their money overseas. Manufacturers with high tech operations in the US can’t find workers with the math aptitude to fill jobs despite our 9% unemployment rate. And, our political system is mired in partisan fighting rather than finding solutions.
Why? US multi-nationals are incentivized by our tax code to invest their money overseas. Manufacturers with high tech operations in the US can’t find workers with the math aptitude to fill jobs despite our 9% unemployment rate. And, our political system is mired in partisan fighting rather than finding solutions.
Before turning off the TV on Sunday morning, I watched an excerpt of a Tom Hanks narrated documentary, BOATLIFT, a 9/11 Tale of Resilience. Americans pulled together on that day. Many, who were safe in another part of New York, participated in a heroic effort to save their countrymen without regard to their own safety. Hanks’ narration compares the event to another famous boatlift when British and French citizens were rescued from Dunkirk. It was on that occasion that Winston Churchill delivered his famous speech declaring that “this was their finest hour”.
Has our hour passed? Can we pull together? WHO WILL LEAD?