Americans have had enough conflict
September 27th, 2013
10:15 AM ET

Americans have had enough conflict

By Matt Hoh, Michael Shank & Danny L. Davis, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Matthew Hoh served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq and on State Department teams in Afghanistan and Iraq and is a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy. Michael Shank is director of foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Daniel L. Davis is an Army Lieutenant-colonel. The views expressed are their own and do not reflect the views of the U.S. government or military.

Diplomacy appears to be winning out, for now at least, in the debate over how the United States should respond to Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack on its own people. The last minute halting of the march toward a military strike will no doubt have been a relief to many members of Congress and their constituents. But is this only a temporary reprieve from action?

Most Americans would surely agree that the United States should only pursue military action where vital U.S. interests are at stake. But even a cursory look at America’s actual use of force over the decade-plus since the September 11, 2001 attacks suggests that these impulses are being ignored.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, ultimately deploying hundreds of thousands of ground troops to fight counterinsurgencies. The U.S. also deployed air and missile power against Libya in 2011, and the government has acknowledged utilizing lethal drone strikes in a number of countries including Yemen, Somalia, and of course Pakistan.

The results?

Iraq threatens to explode into all out civil war, with suicide bombings still all too frequent. Earlier this month, for example, 30 worshippers were killed at a mosque near Baquba, while late last month, several dozen people were killed in a string of bombings in and near Baghdad. Afghanistan, meanwhile, is still riven by insurgent attacks as well as tribal, religious and sectarian disputes.

More from CNN: Public against Syria strike

The conflict in Afghanistan has left Pakistan even more volatile and unstable than it was prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and while some drone strikes may indeed have neutralized legitimate threats to the United States, the numerous deaths of innocent civilians is likely to have increased rather than reduced the number of potential enemies of the United States.

With all this in mind, it is little wonder that the U.S. public seems like it has had enough of military adventures. Indeed, they may have come to realize before their own government that lethal military force rarely provides the answer to complex international problems. Even before Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced a diplomatic breakthrough over Syria’s chemical weapons, one poll suggested that 62 percent of Americans were opposed to using force against Syria.

More telling than this though was a Military Times poll that showed those who have personally experienced the impact of war are even more opposed to intervention – 75 percent of active-duty personnel opposed intervention in Syria.

More from GPS: The trouble with drone policy

Such sobering opinions have not stopped America’s armchair generals from weighing in in support of a military strike.

Writing in the Washington Post earlier this month, Eliot A. Cohen argued that the United States has not earned the right of war weariness.

“The families of the fallen are entitled to war-weariness. So are those wounded in body or spirit, and their loved ones. The mother who has sent her son to war has a right to war-weariness, as does the father who prepares to send his daughter to battle again and again,” Cohen writes. “But for the great mass of the American public, for their leaders and the elites who shape public opinion, ‘war-weariness’ is unearned cant, unworthy of a serious nation and dangerous in a violent world.”

Richard Cohen echoes these views.

“The inescapable truth is that the world needs a policeman. The inescapable truth is that only the United States can play cop,” he wrote this month. “A further inescapable truth is that evil exists and needs to be fought.”

The danger of such thinking – that the United States can decide alone and for itself who will be subject to military strikes – cannot be overstated. And it is a view that seems inconsistent with the words of one of America’s great military leaders, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Speaking as president in 1953, Eisenhower said the best that could be hoped for in a world riven by the constant threat of war was:

“[A] life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

Over the past dozen years the United States has devoted more than a trillion dollars to the conduct of one war after another – the national Priorities Project estimates that American taxpayers have been paying some $11 million per hour on total war costs since 2001. We have gone into unimaginable levels of debt. Our economy remains anemic. With every act of war we arguably become less secure, while the “need” for more violence seems only to rise – costing more money and requiring the application of yet more violence.

The evidence, then, should be seen as overwhelming: the focus on war as a preferred instrument of policy has made our nation less secure and cost us more than we can afford to pay. We therefore appeal to reason and an examination of what has made our country great and powerful in the past, and return to the values and principles of global engagement.

The American people are already coming to this conclusion. It’s time for our political leaders to recognize that their approach to tackling the world’s problems has failed our country.

Topics: Conflict • Military • United States

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. 100 % ETHIO

    Very True!!!!

    September 27, 2013 at 11:42 am | Reply
  2. 100 % ETHIO

    A must read for Jewish, who caused too much flames and left America in big troubles.

    Jewish must read, understand and admitted how much they caused enormous damages to America.

    September 27, 2013 at 11:49 am | Reply
    • 100% ETHIO is an idiot

      100% ETHIO is an idiot, muslims are the cause of most problems in the world today.

      September 27, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Reply
      • John A

        Says who??? You, a jew!!!

        September 27, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
      • luciadelr

        Wrong. That's what the Western press would have us believe. The Jewish lobby in this country is pressuring Obama to intervene militarily in Syria, the same way Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle et al pressured G.W. Bush to invade Iraq. Ten years later Wolfowitz himself admitted we screwed up in Iraq. Muslims have nothing to do with the mess we've created.

        September 28, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  3. wjmccartan

    Its important for people like this author to continue to write, you have first hand experience in the battlefield and through that you gained some wisdom. Keep writing mister. The world doesn't need a cop, it does however need to ensure an education for every human being on the planet. Not one from a book regarding one religion. Science, technology, sociology, and yes history, that means everyone's history. The sooner we start ensuring a proper education for everyone, the quicker the human race will get our act together. War will continue, we've been at it since the beginning of time, maybe though with a global population of educated people, they might find a way to stop it. Then we might be ready for a world cop. To have this burden put upon any country is unjust and to think it can be done, is naive.

    September 27, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well put, wjmccartan. Thank you.

      September 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        I don't blame the Americans for their war-weariness. The two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had only solved the problems that the US faced at that very moment. In Afghanistan it was to topple the Taliban regime and to hunt down bin Laden. In Iraq the main goal was to oust Saddam Hussein. Once these objectives were reached, the US got stuck in a conflict and a cost in lives and treasure.

        September 29, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • martin

      Wars will be stopped when the media starts publishing the names and faces of those who promote war for profit at all levels: corporations, elected officials, government employees, Washington lobbyists and Wall Street bankers.

      September 28, 2013 at 10:22 am | Reply
      • George patton

        Very true, martin. Unfortunately, it appears that the powerful M.I.C. in Washington D.C. owns the Press so these names will not be published. They along with the cursed war profiteers sorely need to go to jail!!!

        September 28, 2013 at 10:45 am |
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    September 27, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  5. rightospeak

    Outstanding article. The problem is that our endless wars which have brought us to bankruptcy were based on lies and propaganda. The Big Money Trust that makes money on wars owns our media. The people we "elected " represent the interests of the Money Trust. Unless the corporations stop running our government the American people do not have a prayer for a better outcome and future.

    September 27, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  6. rightospeak

    Maybe I should shed some light on historical events and why they happened . Golf of Tonkin lie- to spread Communism into more countries. As Anthony Sutton indicated Wall Street helped the Communists with technology which was killing our troops in Viet Nam. Instead of an award for bringing the truth to light, he lost his job.
    History in Middle East- Lebanon was a prosperous place till bombs fell. So it is with Iraq, Libya and now Syria. Why was Clinton involved in cultural genocide in the destruction of Serbian Christian Monasteries in Metohija ? Why were hospitals and civilians bombed in former Yugoslavia ? Why is Clinton , Bush and others not charged with war crimes ?
    The American people who paid for these wars were lied to . When is the lying and propaganda going to stop ?

    September 27, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  7. myrtlemaylee

    Bravo to you all – authors of this article. As if a sane person has to earn the right to "war weariness". As if we all have not suffered or loved someone who suffered directly. We're all connected. We all know that war should only be a last resort. The irony is that the wisdom of the people is rarely reflected in the actions of the political elite. Ah, power. Thanks for this article.

    September 27, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  8. Fuad

    Bravo! At last the Americans are getting smarter and the the Zionist AIPAC and it's cohorts the Neo Conservatives are left wondering what it would have to do to start another war in the Middle East!

    September 28, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Reply
  9. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    September 29, 2013 at 2:47 am | Reply
  10. wstwood

    afganistan was russias viet nam for a long, long time. they finally gave up and pulled out because the whole region is way to unstable and it is a NO WIN SITUATON. so the united states went in? HEEEELLLLLOOOOOOOOO????????

    just what we needed

    September 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Reply
    • ✠RZ✠

      Wstwood.., a very good observation and valid point, put simply and straight forwardly leaving no room for argument or ambiguity. Could add a DUHUHHHH!! in there with the HEEEELLLLOOOOO????, but not at all necessary. Good stuff!

      September 29, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Reply
  11. Eddie Fonseca

    White Zombie the American punk rock and roll group wrote in the song More Human then Human which described being more human and being the American world police freaks which means, we are taking on the world problems from the Middle East to every other nation when we should be stepping the hell back and saying enough is a enough and let other nations solve their own problems. As Americans it's in our blood to stand up for injustice and let freedom prevail for people across the world, but we also should have a balance when it comes putting our great service men and women in harm's way for nothing when all it does it create more problems if America keeps on tackling world issues instead of the hands of approach like other nations do across the world. So as Americans we when look at our great flag which hangs in front of our house or an army tank in the Middle East, we all should be asking our government some tough yet but fair questions when it will be the end game for America to stop being the only nation to tackle world issue's will it be the job of other nations to step up to the plate to help solve word terrorist issues and health globe issues for years to come.

    October 31, 2013 at 1:23 am | Reply
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  15. Chris

    In my observation, many major events up until now has been revolved around, or at least heavily influenced by, that fateful descision to invade Iraq. Here are some related events, starting from the beginning:

    -Flash back to about 2004, when the Americans were seeing the true horrors of the Iraq war for the first time and were realizing that they had gotten themselves in a heap of trouble, the Neocon faction of the GOP, which had guided and defined the foreign policy of the Bush administration and party at large, had quietly disappeared from public discourse. This dissapearance of the Neocon philosophy had caused much upheavel for the whole party, which eventually caused a splintering into different schools of thought. This loss of message and therefore power and influince had cost the GOP seats in congress and control in the WH.

    -Although the Invasion did not cause the recession/depression in 2007, it had worsened the economic crisis. Interest rates and gas prices were higher than normal due to military spending and the impact of oil production, and it had a snowball effect on the rest of the economy.

    -Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Georga in 2008 was, according to him, morally justified. At least, Americans had lost the moral authority to criticize him, or the military stomach to stop him from doing so. The same thing happened when he had invaded Crimea a few years later, and we may encounter the same problem with moral superiority and military will in future invasions.

    -Obama had won the presedential elections in a landslide, not necesarilly because people had agreed with his progressive agenda, but rather because he was the most anti-war (at least in rhetoric) politican out there. Anybody who had supported the war, including Hillary, suddenly had that liability to carry, like a curse. It was now political poison. People wanted to forget the previous 8 years and have a quick exit from Iraq. They were ready for an alternative. Needless to say, Obama's future actions had changed the course of domestic policy forever.

    -The cost of the Iraq invasion has had real impact on the national debt. It, along with the associated costs (health care and disability of soldiers, etc) and the Bush tax cuts, had added an additional $4 trillion between 2003 and 2008 alone, and will keep adding for at least a decade more. This debt was inherited and tied to the Obama administration.

    -From the ashes of a once powerful GOP forms a new far-right faction: the Tea Party. Their main greviences have been the growing debt and the progressive policies of Obama (both directly caused by the Iraq invasion). This new sub-party has been increasingly the rallying cry for the GOP ever since, and marks the beginning of a new era of poisonous hyperpartisanship in American politics. Little do they know (or care to admit) the irony of supporting the Iraq invasion and tax cuts but then protesting against the increased government spending and growing debt.

    -Almost nobody can deny that the Arab Spring movement was partly inspired from the toppling of Saddam Hussein. But for the very same reason, the American public had lost the will to invest in military resources to aid and assist this new movement. Obama had already received much criticism for bombing Libya out of fear of being sucked into another quagmire. This lack of US support had at least helped cause a major crisis in Syria, which marked the end of the fleeting Arab Spring movement. Therefore the Iraq invasion takes some credit for the Arab Spring and also some blame for its fall.

    -Finally, it's a no-brainer that the current situation in Iraq has been the direct result of the invasion. The ISIS, a group that was born from the crisis in Syria, has seen the vulnerability of Iraq left by the invasion and is now taking full advantage of it. Iraq's "president", who was installed by the Bush administration, is turning out to be a sectarian thug who is most likely aiding ISIS. Nobody knows what this new turn of events will lead to, but probably our best hope is that it won't leave the whole Middle East into chaotic ruins.

    June 18, 2014 at 11:06 am | Reply
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