Four Years Later
Four years after entering the Second World War, the United States and her allies had responded to an existential threat by defeating the enemy on two fronts on opposite sides of the world. Four years after preemptively declaring war on Iraq, we are still mired in a conflict that has taken 3,211 American lives and those of at least 60,000 innocent Iraqi civilians. While the initial military defeat of the Iraqi army was relatively well-executed, there was a total lack of planning for the reconstruction of a functioning society. Senior Defense Department management expressed utter disdain for State Department plans to rebuild Iraq, and many of the problems faced today can be directly traced to the inept decision-making in the first days of the conflict. With this kind of track record, we must not allow President Bush to expand the war to Iran.
Today, American troops are fighting in the middle of a civil war, unable to prevent attacks on civilians, their very presence increasing the violence. We have lost in Iraq; there is no hope of the “surge” working. The influence of an extra 21,500 troops will do little to secure Baghdad’s population of 4.5 million, particularly when sectarian elements are determined to kill each other. Estimates by retired General Jack Keane and Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute put the troop strength required to fully pacify Baghdad at 30,000 troops for 18 months. While the recently installed General David Petraeus claims the surge is working, in the last weeks there has been a chlorine bomb attack in Fallujah that injured 350 and killed eight, a suicide bombing at a college that killed 45 students and staff, and at least 113 bodies found tortured and executed in the Baghdad area.
I do not list these statistics to shock, merely to demonstrate the magnitude of the violence and the challenge posed to our forces. Until recently I argued against withdrawal, feeling that we owe it to the Iraqi people, having unleashed this violence, to do our best to contain it. But the continued slaughter, compounded by the anger at the indefinite length of our presence, leads me to believe that the best course of action is to bring our troops home. The forces at work in the region: the ancient religious hatred, the militias armed with weapons we did not secure in the invasion, and the seemingly endless supply of young men and women willing to blow themselves up in a crowd, all conspire to make our overwhelming military might completely ineffectual. This is not to disparage the efforts of our troops, only the politicians who sent them in harm’s way without sufficient armor, planning, or historical insight to make victory achievable.
In the midst of the current conflict, the Bush administration seems to be invested in provoking Iran into a war. It has publicly accused Iranian agents of supplying Shia militias with the expertise and material for roadside bombs, and has deployed the USS Stennis Carrier Battle Group to the Persian Gulf. Alongside the USS Eisenhower, there is now enough firepower in the area to maintain 24-hour aircraft operations, a capability unprecedented since the beginning of the Iraq war, and a clear warning signal to Iran. While the new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates claims that we “are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran”, the White House maintains, as ever, that “all options are on the table” to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Neoconservative author Andrew Roberts recently cautioned President Bush that his legacy will depend on whether he prevents the nuclearization of the Middle East. According to press accounts, Bush frowned and nodded gravely.
Four years after we began this war, we have little progress and much chaos to show for our enormous cost in blood and treasure. We cannot let President Bush maneuver us into another war of choice based on exaggerated evidence. Given the level of competence displayed in the pre- and post-war planning, it is lunacy to expect that we can salvage our current situation by doubling down and going to war with Iran. Any decent poker player, of which there are many here at MIT, knows that this strategy leads straight to ruin. Playing no-limit with the lives of our soldiers and innocent civilians isn’t just bad policy, it’s immoral. And a President who believes he is accountable only to God should take that to heart.