This past weekend, Sunni extremists blew up over a hundred Shi'ites, mostly women and children, in bombings that took place in Pakistan and Iraq. If you listen to Sen. John McCain, the Republicans' leader on defense matters, it's because we pulled our troops out of Iraq prematurely, and, oh gosh, we're doing the same in Afghanistan.
The tragedy of McCain is that he was authentically heroic as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, but this heroism has been transformed into profound influence over American defense policy, something of which he demonstrates no real understanding. In last week's confirmation hearing for prospective Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, he tore into Hagel for not agreeing that the 2007 surge in Iraq was successful.
For those unfamiliar with the surge, it was an infusion into Iraq of 30,000 additional U.S. troops at a time when violence was spinning out of control. Actually, things were already beginning to improve because Sunnis were starting to turn against al-Qaeda in Iraq, the so-called "Anbar Awakening," and the synergy between this and the surge helped quell violence noticeably for a time.
The problem was that there really wasn't anything to build on in Iraq. Studies, including a seminal work by the Rand Corporation, indicated certain conditions necessary for a stable Iraq once we left. These conditions were not achieved then, nor have they been since. The basic reason is the same as that for this past week's bombings. Shi'ites and Sunnis hate each other more than they like the idea of peaceful coexistence. Because of this, the surge, despite the ranting of McCain, did nothing more than prove the obvious, that more American troops can kick butt more thoroughly than fewer American troops.
Nonetheless, McCain reasons that our departure from Iraq assured defeat for its government. It's why Afghanistan will disintegrate. It's why the Syria problem isn't settled. It's why Iran is still supposedly working on a nuclear weapon. The President of the United States does not understand that we can simply kill our way to world peace.
I no longer think about the dollar cost, which is, by the way, insupportable. For years, although I never wore the uniform, I have been befriending people who did, some of whom have died in Iraq or Afghanistan. I know people who have come back wounded mentally or physically, or both. They could not change the Islamic landscape, because they could not heal the rift among the many Islamic sects.
Why doesn't McCain understand this? I fear that it is because McCain gave so much of himself, and feels that to wear the uniform, one must be ready to ready to sacrifice endlessly regardless of whether there is hope for success. I fear that he thinks it is the sole reason for the existence of our uniformed services.
But that is not all. There might be less impact on our country if McCain was alone. Unfortunately, he serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) with fellow Republicans just as misguided, and probably even less entitled than he, to decide the disposition of our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, McCain's sidekick on the committee, demonstrated an almost surreal inability to recognize reality during the committee's confirmation hearing for the new commanders of U.S. Central and Africa Commands (Generals Lloyd Austin and David Rodriguez, respectively) last week when he stated that we were pulling out of Afghanistan just when we were on the verge of victory.
Graham embraces the same dangerous philosophy as McCain: put some American marines and soldiers (which can now include women) in every s**thole in the Middle East, and have the rest of the troops train local soldiers who are more than happy to shoot our people in the back every chance they get. If they stay long enough, everything will be okay.
Graham also has a flawed understanding of his role in the defense policy process. Graham assumes that, because he deals with defense appropriations, he should be included in discussions of strategic options among civilian leaders and their military subordinates. The discussions are none of the senator's business. His job is to fund or not fund the decided strategy, not to stick his nose into deliberations that are the prerogative of the president, his cabinet, and the Department of Defense (DoD).
Then, there are some of the other Republicans on the committee. Its ranking Republican, James Inhofe, and the newly elected Ted Cruz, are far enough right to make one believe they would have been happier on Pope Urban II's Armed Services Committee, voting to begin the Crusades. Senators Kelly Ayotte and Deb Fischer mindlessly parrot the McCain/Graham philosophy so closely that one would expect to see McCain's lips moving while the ladies speak. Sen. David Vitter is the most astonishing member on this critically important committee. What's the old saying? If you moved his dinner plate five inches, he'd starve to death.
I don't pretend to have the answers. We remain reactive to world events, without strategies that point us in a clear direction. We still rely too heavily on our armed forces. DoD remains bloated, with a broken procurement system, mismanaged civilian personnel, and no clear path to dealing with troops' benefits or needs. We need to cut defense spending, but the coming sequester is no way to do it. All in all, I don't know if Chuck Hagel is the man to fix any of this, but, then again, who is? What we're not doing, and it's a huge mistake, is promoting talented young professionals within DoD who could begin to deal with these problems, but are held back by a career ceiling that saves the most important jobs for inept political appointees. Our politicians are not the ones with the answers, certainly not the Republican ones.