Monday, 19 September 2011 13:25
Iraq, Afghanistan Wars: How High The Price To Pay?
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The world around us has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. When the 9/11 attacks blindsided America, two billion people — one third of the world’s population —  were glued to television and computer screens, watching the attacks unfold.  There was no Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube to update the tragic events of that historic day.  Since then, the country has modified how it communicates.  But is America’s world view any different?  Are we better prepared for future terrorist attacks, and if so, at what price?   How much are we willing to compromise our civil liberties for greater security?  And who in our government is asking these critical questions, or trying to develop reasonable answers to them?



Our country bounced from reacting to a few Saudis who brought down four planes with box cutters to an all out war in Iraq.  Looking back and with the knowledge we have now, was it a disastrous mistake to invade Iraq.  Yes, Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, who brutalized and killed his own people. These atrocities are still happening in other Arab nations, and in a number of African countries as well.  But is it America’s role to be the world’s peacekeeper at whatever cost?

Pulitzer Prize winning author Samantha Power’s book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” is about humanitarian intervention. Power strongly supported America’s armed involvement in both Bosnia and Rwanda, but she says that the U.S. made a mistake by invading Iraq. “My criterion for military intervention with a strong preference for multilateral intervention is an immediate threat of large-scale loss of life.”  She concluded that such a threat was not met to justify the Iraq invasion. Power will be a guest on my radio show in the weeks to come.

Perhaps an assassination attempt of Hussein and his top leadership was warranted.  But a 10 year war at a cost approaching a trillion dollars has left 4500 Americans dead, and 32,000 wounded. And over one million Iraqis, most of them civilians, have met violent deaths as a result of the 2003 invasion, according to a study conducted by the prestigious British polling group, Opinion Research Business.

As Bill Keller wrote in The New York Times this week, “The world is well rid of Saddam Hussein.  But knowing as we now do the exaggeration of Hussein’s threat, the cost in Iraqi and American lives, and the fact that none of this great splurge has brought us confidence in Iraq’s future or advanced the cause of freedom elsewhere, Operation Iraqi Freedom was a monumental failure.”

Yes, we are Monday morning quarterbacking here, and it is easy to second guess in hindsight.  But nonetheless, our military leadership too quickly embraced the rhetoric of Ahmed Chalabi, who was then the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and former Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq.  Chalabi was a real charlatan in convincing the U.S. that they had a winning strategy and should play ball with him.  I had the opportunity to talk with Chalabi in Washington last year, and I quickly found him to be a charmer and quite convincing.  But he led the U.S. down a primrose path that now seems to have no end in sight.

With so much false information floating out of the Bush administration, it is little wonder why there was such a strong support base for invading Iraq.  If I had been in congress, I too would have mistakenly supported the war effort. But we now find ourselves having been sucked into supporting freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan while America is more at risk here at home from the slide of our own economics.  Simply put, with no additional revenue, and some members of congress even hollering for tax cuts, how much more worldwide spending can the U.S. sustain?

Sociologist Charles Kurzman asks the question: “Why are there so few Muslim terrorists?”  In his new book, “The Missing Martyrs,” Kurzman writes:  “If terrorist methods are as widely available as automobiles, why are there so few Islamist terrorists?  In light of the death and devastation that terrorists have wrought, the question may seem absurd.  But if there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, many of whom supposedly hate the West and desire martyrdom, why don’t we see terrorist attacks everywhere, every day?” He concludes that Al Qaeda has failed to successfully recruit by any significant numbers. So how much more do we feel needs to be spent in America’s efforts to be free and safe?

Of course America should have a major world presence.  Jefferson began the precedent when he sent Navy ships to attack the Barbary pirates back in 1802.  The U.S. needs to be bold and aggressive in supporting and defending American interests abroad.  But it also needs to be selective.

Afghanistan emits many of the same issues that need to be addressed in Iraq.  And history tells us we could be engaging in a lost “nation building” cause there as well.  Many have tried to invade or “work their will” in Afghanistan, and all have failed. Failure drove away the Mongols, Alexander the Great, the British, and the Russians who lost 25,000 soldiers and saw the Soviet Union collapse.  Considering the limited and undefined gains, can the U.S. afford to continue to wage such a fight?

Finally, how many tradeoffs are the American people willing to make when it comes to giving up basic freedoms?  Government often overreacts in time of emergency by stripping away civil rights.  Look at what Lincoln did by suspending habeas corpus at the outbreak of the civil war. This week’s USA TODAY/Gallup poll finds that fewer Americans are willing to trade their civil rights for more security. After 9/11, in 2002, 47% of the population was willing to let government violate “basic civil liberties” in an effort to fight terrorism.  That number has now dropped to 25%.  More Americans are realizing and accepting Benjamin Franklin’s admonition that, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

On my radio show next weekend, I’ll be talking with Thom Shanker, a Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, who has written a new best seller, “Counterstrike, The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.”  He concludes that the Arab war effort, though prohibitively expensive, was worth the price.  A twenty-first century war on a decentralized multinational network of terrorists could not be fought using conventional methods.  It was imperative for the U.S. Military to develop new approaches and techniques. And it looks like that search for new approaches and techniques must continue for years.

So there is an ongoing learning process and the questions remain:  How much cost in dollars and lives can Americans endure to fight seemingly fruitless wars? And what is the cost to liberty that we are we willing to sacrifice to fight terrorism?  These are important questions that have yet to be answered!

“The trade-off between freedom and security, so often proposed so seductively, very often leads to the loss of both.” — Christopher Hitchens

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the South and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

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