The recent news of the final U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq and the impending draw down of troops from Afghanistan has generated many discussions, articles and letters questioning and purporting to answer whether or not our military efforts have been worth the costs. It seems many of the arguments ignore important factors that must go into such an equation if one is serious about assessing comparative value, moral or otherwise. I have listed a few here that appear to be routinely overlooked:
• Radical and dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and South Asia have proven to be hostile and deadly to their own populations and to the rest of the world, especially the United States and its allies.
• The U.S. is a nation created and protected by laws its citizens consent to be governed by. Our military is maintained to enforce both our domestic laws, when necessary, and the international laws we have agreed to. Both the Iraq and Afghanistan engagements have been authorized by the United Nations.
• The assumption that all casualties caused by organized armed conflict are morally abhorrent ignores generations of gruesome and ethnically inspired murder and injury that routinely occur under failed, radical or dictatorial states. Pity the fool who tries to play the actuary when it comes to comparative loss and suffering. For example: Was the American Civil War worth it? World War II? Rawanda? The Balkans?
• The dead and wounded U.S. soldiers and sailors were paid fairly and every one of them volunteered freely to serve in harm’s way. The overwhelming majority of US service members willingly deploy more than once. The losses, while still significant, are historically very, very low.
Compare this with recruiting insurgent fighters by threatening to kill their families, or Iran’s practice of clearing Iraqi mine fields by forcing thousands of their own children to run through them.
Real consequences of sustained military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
• Saddam Hussein and the Baath party are dead and Iraq is now an internationally recognized democracy with substantial natural resources under its own control. The U.S. has substantial influence in both the Iraq government and economy.
• The Taliban government has been ejected and Afghanistan is now an internationally recognized democracy that aspires to protect the most basic human rights, especially those of women — a fascinating and evolving subject worth closer examination. Google it.
• Though Iran continues to be run by a brutal religious regime in pursuit of nuclear weaponry, it is now geographically and politically surrounded by emerging democratic governments. Its populace is bombarded by unfiltered news and social media supported by a communications infrastructure built largely as a result of international military and civilian intervention and investment in Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan.
These combined factors bring Iran ever closer to the tipping point of positive political transformation.
• Many Middle Eastern dictatorial regimes have fallen in popular and relatively peaceful revolt this year due largely to this burgeoning communications infrastructure.
• Osama Bin Laden is now little more than fish excrement and most of his close associates and accomplices have been killed. Al-Qaida has been effectively neutralized.
• In 10 years, the United States military has evolved from being one of the world’s most destructive forces to the undisputed greatest civilizing force on the planet.
The question of worth is really up to each one of us. I’m thankful we can still discuss these things freely, publicly and without fear; and that’s just one of our unquestionably priceless freedoms that should never be taken for granted.
Matthew Leahy lives in Trescott.