The Middle East: a mistake America can’t get right

Updated: May 25, 2015

Long before Saddam Hussein first brought American troops to Iraq with his invasion of Kuwait, the Middle East had already shown the world that its countries were capable of staving off (and eventually defeating) global superpowers in combat. Look at what happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Afghanistan is a failed state populated by poverty-stricken opiate farmers, and yet they were able to ultimately stop the Soviets from installing a communist puppet government by out-maneuvering and out-lasting the vastly superior invading force.

I would like to say that the U.S. would never have made the same mistake that the Soviets did by invading Afghanistan if it were not for 9/11, but the United States has a history of getting involved in wars that other global powers have lost. America usually has the mindset that we will somehow be better than others at fighting the exact same war in the exact same way. Case in point: Vietnam. In the 1950s Eisenhower said that the French were idiots for letting the Viet Minh outmaneuver and defeat them in battle, and yet sure enough we gradually took the French’s place in Vietnam and proceeded to be outmaneuvered and defeated in battle. We even had our own version of the French’s Battle of Dien Bien Phu that signaled our eventual defeat (the Tet Offensive.)

We are all taught from an early age that history repeats itself, a lesson that our government officials unfortunately seem to have trouble retaining. Sure enough, 40 years later America has made the exact same mistakes in Iraq that it made in Vietnam. We poured money and troops into a region where the native people viewed us as invaders and we were eventually forced to withdraw from the country after failing to make significant progress against the opposition’s guerrilla fighters. But the ironic parallels do not stop there. Two years after the last American troops left Vietnam, the Viet Cong pushed past the border into South Vietnam and secured the capitol city of Saigon. Sound familiar?

The exact same scenario is playing out right now in Iraq. Two short years after the last American troops left the country, ISIS stormed in and seized control of nearly every major city in a matter of weeks. If there was ever a clearer example of how history repeats itself (and how hopeless some wars truly are) it is this. Why do we commit ourselves as a country to “saving” the people of other nations from their own governments? Has it ever occurred to anyone that perhaps global policeman isn’t a good roll for any state to play?

Let’s continue the comparison between the Viet Cong and today’s terror groups, namely the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The Viet Cong actually had scattered support from the people of South Vietnam, especially as U.S. presence in the country dragged on. While I’m well aware that ISIS members are responsible for great atrocities, I should point out that they do have support from numerous Iraqis and Syrians (not to mention multiple Americans and other westerners who have left the West to fight for the ISIS cause.) For the uninitiated, that cause is the creation of the Islamist State of Syria and Iraq, or ISIS.

In our media we hear about ISIS members killing civilians and journalists, which is completely unacceptable. But what we don’t hear about from our media is the number of innocent civilians killed by US forces during the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is true that all of the killings brought about by ISIS are intentional, where as the casualties caused by U.S. forces are (mostly) accidental. But I doubt a grieving family would care to differentiate between the United State’s drone missiles and ISIS’s roadside bombs when at the end of the day their loved one is still in an ashtray. Maybe instead of a foreign force imposing a system of government that runs counter to the local culture, the natives would be more receptive to a local force imposing a system of government that they are all familiar with and (for the most part) accepting of.

All we have proven as a country since our shift away from isolationism is that when it comes to foreign policy, we are capable of five things: invading any country who’s actions do not suit American interests, spending ungodly amounts of money building roads and schools for these countries (even as our own fall into disrepair), killing a vast amount of the native people and enemy combatants while sustaining relatively minor casualties, imposing our own values over centuries of tradition, and compromising on our originally stated objectives before withdrawing our troops and calling the mission a success. America needs to take a page from its own textbook and realize that history always repeats itself, in every aspect of life.

Lastly, please consider the following: The Vietnam war was a result of the Truman Doctrine of containment during the Cold War, and what did that doctrine achieve? An empty treasury in the early ’90s and a Soviet state that was on its way to ruin regardless of our actions. The Iraq war was the result of the Bush Doctrine as part of the War on Terror, and what has that achieved? Weakened American prestige on the global stage and proof that we as a people are incapable of learning from our past mistakes. The world does not need nor want America to interfere in its affairs, and the sooner we get back to minding our own business, the sooner we can continue to move forward as a nation.

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