The Dynamics of War

03/12/2013 04:56 pm ET Updated May 11, 2013

Writing as a student during the Vietnam War in his surprise bestseller, The Strawberry Statement, James Kunen noted that, while people have been sent to prison for opposing wars, no one is ever penalized for backing unnecessary wars, or for resisting abandoning a failed campaign.

This is a good week to think about Kunen's truism. On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war, Arianna Huffington summarized the state of the war. Its major impacts -- in addition to sustaining horrible (and continuing) human and financial tolls -- has been to thrust Iraq into the Iranian camp. And yet, as Arianna notes, it is the proponents of the war who chastise its opponents -- for example, Senator John McCain attacked the Secretary of Defense nominee for opposing the Iraq surge -- with no fear of contradiction, let alone suffering any penalties.

At exactly the same time, after 12 years in Afghanistan, we are reaping our just deserts in that country. Despite trillions spent -- and counting -- and thousands of American deaths and many more casualties, now-Secretary of Defense Hagel can't manage to hold a press conference with our puppet ruler there, Hamid Karzai, amid accusations by the Afghan president that we are negotiating with -- even encouraging -- the Taliban, his demands that we accelerate our withdrawal of special forces and other troops, and suicide bombings conducted by men wearing Afghan uniforms leading to American deaths.

Karzai has gone as far as accusing American soldiers of murder. Typically, commentators ridicule the man as an ingrate after we have kept him in office. But whose problem is that? Right -- ours.

When we reflect on the administrations and policies that led to these decade-and-longer wars with such ambiguous (at best) results, we note that, of course, George W. Bush forced the Iraq War down our throats, while current President Barack Obama objected. Obama, himself, however, doubled down our forces in Afghanistan. How is it that, no matter who's in power, we become enmeshed in never-ending struggles in foreign countries? And once in such wars, we resist terminating them -- as occurred in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus Hagel is in a position of now defending an Afghan War that his prior positions might seem to make him critical of.

Actually, we can see the process unfolding before our eyes, as Vice President Joe Biden forcefully announced to AIPAC, the pro-Israel American lobbying group, that President Obama "does not bluff" when it comes to going to war with Iran. Hagel, meanwhile, who some felt was not sufficiently strong in his support for Israel, has likewise indicated that he is on board with American-Israeli policy towards Iran. In other words, there are powerful forces pressing for a more bellicose policy -- up to and including war -- with yet another Islamic country, while there is no equally insistent force for peace.

And, so, it is quite easy to imagine that however long, painful, expensive, and futile our last two wars have been, we could easily enter another one. In this regard, it is worthwhile recalling two presidents who kept us out of wars, one of them repeatedly. The first, of course, is Dwight Eisenhower, who withdrew us from and kept us out of wars in Asia, the Middle East (both Lebanon, during the 1958 Middle East crisis, and Egypt during the Suez Crisis, 1956), while refusing to get involved in Eastern European revolts against the Soviets in Hungary and Poland in 1956.

That Eisenhower really hated wars! Of course, this is credited to his having been involved close-up with the carnage of World War II. Likewise, the other example of a president who resisted the powerful forces he faced towards war with Russia during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, had fought in that war -- suffering lifelong injuries due to the demolition of his PT boat. Chuck Hagel, too, has seen war close up and suffered from it.

Hagel's nemesis during his confirmation hearings, John McCain, obviously suffered directly from fighting in an American war as well. Nonetheless, on balance, it might seem that bringing back the draft would make America more cautious about proceeding into battle.