The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Jim Scofield

March 14, 2014

Jim Scofield | Our emphasis on solving crises militarily is warped

JOHNSTOWN — Both of our major political parties can’t resist the lure of tough-guy, militaristic stances. Republicans, like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are criticizing President Obama as too soft on Russia’s moves in the Ukraine, on withdrawal from Afghanistan and on a proposed, slight cutback in military spending.

Instead of praising Obama for showing a touch of restraint here and there, they want confrontations with Russia, Syria, Iran and others. They never saw a war they disliked and believe foreign policy should consist of militaristic threats and actions.

The Democrats, too, fearful of not standing tough, are never far behind.

Does the U.S. have the right to control the Middle East and Eastern Europe, 6,000 or so miles away? Attacking Russian President Vladimir Putin for sending troops into the Crimea seems blatant hypocrisy. True, Putin is a despot with aims of restoring the empire. But, at least these actions by Russia are on its border, and the Ukraine is a country with a large Russian population.

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Cold War relict, was reconstituted by the U.S. and some Western European countries to threaten and split the Russian enclave, and the West certainly was abetting the protests in the Ukraine that deposed the elected, Russian-friendly president there. Our emphasis on NATO could dangerously lead us back into the nuclear standoff of the post-World War II years. Both the U.S. and Russia still have thousands of hydrogen bombs, easily targetable at each other.  

The United States has not hesitated to invade Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, to threaten Iran over nuclear weapons it doesn’t even have (unlike us), not to mention other countries in that area that our drones bomb regularly. These countries are nowhere near our borders. It’s a policy that is truly imperialistic.

We don’t have much of a right to condemn someone else, given our actions. Our policy can’t pretend to such self-righteousness. We need to employ a temperate diplomacy with Russia and others, not big-stick stuff.

Our political leaders exploit public fears. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were horrible and shocking, but no threat to our existence as a nation. Even before 2001, we had done worse to the Middle East in terms of numbers killed, such as in our first Gulf War in 1991 against Iraq, and with our previously cynical support for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s savage invasion of Iran in the 1980s (which killed about 1 million). Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan actively arranged the importation of militant and radical fundamentalists into Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s in order to give the Soviet Union trouble there. Many of these intruders eventually morphed into al-Qaida and the Taliban, making for a fanatical, religious Afghan government. It’s called “blowback.” These wild policies have been our Frankenstein monster, helping to create enemies for us.

The Iraq invasion is a clear case for a war crime. The dishonesty of telling our troops that we were there to fight terrorism! Without an official investigation and judgment on the conduct of this war, which killed over 6,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, we leave our leaders recklessly free from fear of public accounting.

Terrorists are a problem (not all are Muslim, either), but nothing like the nuclear standoff of our cold war confrontation with the Soviet Union. Our war against the Taliban is misplaced. It may be a cruel group, but it isn’t an international terrorist threat. Stoking these present fears, spending more than a $1 trillion on our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan – a Harvard Kennedy School study assesses the final total costs at $4 trillion to $6 trillion – has seriously bled our wealth and weakened our nation. And we are leaving both these countries worse than before our wars there.

Our press and public are beguiled by the claim that we promote democracy. This is hard to see in the Middle East, with our history of support of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, the Gulf and Saudi monarchs and the Shah of Iran for years. America there represents force and imperial power, not the democratic aims it should.

Our emphasis on military solutions is warped. Foreign policy shouldn’t mean one war after another, or those secret drone assassinations in countries we aren’t at war with. Long-term reliance on a huge, expensive military weakens our democracy. That our military, whose job is to train our youth to kill, is our most admired institution shows that our values have become distorted.

Jim Scofield of Richland Township is a professor emeritus of English at Pitt-Johnstown.

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