U.S. troops in Mosul, Iraq in 2007. A foreign presence to Iraqis
I’m a retired U.S. military officer. When I think of U.S. troops, naturally I see them as my gals and guys. I identify with them. And I know enough of them to know that their intent is usually good — at least in the sense that they seek to do their duty.
But I’m also an historian with a modicum of empathy. I know that foreigners don’t see the U.S. military as I see it. Nor do they experience it the way I experienced it. To cite just one anecdote: I recall a story in the New York Times in which U.S. troops in Iraq ask an Iraqi farmer if he’s seen any foreign fighters around. The Iraqi has a simple answer: “Yes. You.”
Six years ago, I wrote an article for Huffington Post on “Catch-22 in Afghanistan.” I argued that the more the U.S. military intervened in the affairs of Afghanistan, the less likely it was that a permanent, and suitably Afghan, solution would be found to the problems confronting that country. Not much has changed in those six years, except that today the Taliban controls even more territory, the drug trade is even more pervasive, and corruption is even more endemic.
We need to learn (or re-learn) a basic lesson: The more the U.S. intervenes in conflicts within other countries, the less likely it is that a favorable outcome will result (favorable for the U.S., that is), simply because U.S. forces are viewed as a foreign contagion. And indeed we are that.
Ignoring its Afghan failures, the U.S. government now seeks to widen its military commitment to the most hotly contested areas of the Middle East. Our leaders act as if the way to end civil wars driven in part by radical Islam is violent intervention led by American troops.
But American troops (and drones and bombs and all the rest) are not the answer. Indeed, their actions spread the contagion further.
The other day, I was reading about “super-bugs,” those bacterial infections that have become highly resistant to traditional antibiotics due to misuse and overuse of the same. In seeking to “destroy” ISIL and similar “infections,” the American government instead often feeds them. Indeed, I was surprised to learn that in medicine there are super-bugs that literally feed on traditional antibiotics. They gain strength from being attacked. Such is often the case for “bugs” like ISIL, which feed off of heavy-handed U.S. military actions.
This is not an argument for the U.S. military to do nothing. Rather, it’s a reminder of the limits of power and the complexity of life. It’s a reminder too that to foreigners the U.S. military is the foreign presence, the contagion. Even when it seeks to act as a “cure,” it may in fact be feeding the disease.