I’ve watched the coverage and read articles reflecting on the 20-year anniversary of the “shock and awe” campaign launched against Iraq all weekend. I was two years deep into what would turn out to be an over 20-year career in uniform when the “shock and awe” happened – and like most military efforts during my time in service, perhaps the only thing that was shocking and awful was how we continue to miscalculate foreign policy repetitively.
Most of the coverage was dull and run-of-the-mill. Some of it heralded the bravery of men and women like me and the incredible advancements in military technology that was showcased and propelled further thanks to our invasion.
But one person’s take on the war caught my eye: fellow veteran and Senator J.D. Vance. It’s not every day a politician admits our country made a foreign policy misstep, and it’s certainly not every day that a veteran politician calls out the hubris of our entrenched leaders.
Senator Vance joined the military right after high school and on the heels of our invasion of Iraq.
Senator Vance reflects:
“As an 18-year-old kid, I supported the war. I enlisted in the Marines a month after we invaded, and left for bootcamp a few months after I graduated from high school. Even though I was just a kid, I still feel guilty for supporting the war.”
While it’s not every day you witness a U.S. politician publicly admit that perhaps our foreign policy is less than perfect, what he tweeted next I found particularly interesting:
“Very few of its cheerleaders show any remorse or willingness to rethink what made them so wrong.”
I might’ve still been young at the time of the invasion. However, my memory can still recall the seemingly overwhelming support by politicians and those in the defense and foreign policy spheres to dive into Iraq. Of course, it didn’t hurt that, at the time, Secretary of State and revered retired General Colin Powell testified to the surety of weapons of mass destruction in what is widely considered the cradle of civilization.
It wouldn’t be until much later that we would all learn that his testimony to Congress, where he mentioned these weapons no less than 17 times, was based on thin and faulty intelligence reporting. But then again, many things were said that remain to be atoned for.
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Senator Vance summed up the real winner of the Iraq war succinctly:
“It cost over $1 trillion, and turned Iraq into a satellite of Iran.”
While Brown University and I would argue he undersells that estimate, putting the price tag closer to $2 trillion, his summation of the real winner is accurate. Today Iran is enjoying the spoils of yet another failed American war, having trained much of the new Iraqi military and placing puppet pro-Islamic Republic politicians in power.
President Bush said at the onset of the invasion:
“We will accept no outcome but victory.”
According to a 2019 U.S. Army War College study, that victory was for Iran:
“An emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.”
Blowing money on unwinnable wars is what we do best. So far, we’ve spent $46.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine compared to the $43.4 billion we spent in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2010.
We are keeping pace nicely with our status quo, which brings me to Senator Vance’s vain hope.
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My good fellow vet Mr. Vance is quite a bit more optimistic than I when he writes:
“I hope we do better in the future.”
All signs indicate that it is unlikely. We didn’t learn our lesson after the Vietnam ‘quagmire’; in fact, we dusted off that fantastic vocabulary word as we found ourselves embroiled in a much longer conflict than anticipated in Iraq.
Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confidently declared that the Iraq invasion wouldn’t last long:
“Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.”
Sound familiar? It should; this same misguided and blind arrogance would be echoed when the Biden administration and their defense lackeys would claim that Afghanistan wouldn’t fall directly after we haphazardly popped smoke and bailed.
This lack of adversarial insight would rear its ugly head again when Pentagon officials would claim Ukraine would fall in 72 hours. Have we learned our lessons, and will we ever?
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Boldly calling out the men who, as ticks, feed off of the blood and gullibility of the American public, Senator Vance wrote:
“Our foreign policy is still held hostage by men so desperate to avoid looking in the mirror that they will support the next war, and then the next one, until their country is hollowed out.”
We did it in the 80s with Afghanistan and our covert operations that funneled oodles of cash and weapons to the mujahideen fighters in a successful effort to expel the Soviets. But, of course, those same fighters later formed the Taliban, and we all know how that turned out.
I spent time all over the world while I was in uniform, including some of my favorite memories in the beautiful Balkans. In 2008 when Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia.
Last week the EU hosted talks in Macedonia between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minster Albin Kurti to quell the long-held tensions between these two countries. However, given that Russia and China don’t observe the independence of Kosovo and President Putin has proved resilience and resistance are effective, hope that Serbia will have a change of heart is slim.
History is destined to repeat itself. Our continued failed foreign policy and lack of accountability for our failures help the cycle along.
I enjoy history, and reflecting on the past can be enlightening, but it’s also essential to look to today. For example, Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General Michael Kurilla testified at the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.
He was asked to discuss how the Russian military interacts with our service members stationed in Syria.
The General said:
“They fly over our bases with ground attack aircraft with weapons on them in an attempt to try to be provocative.”
Here’s the best part:
“Really, it’s not what we expect from a professional air force.”
And therein lies the rub, why would we ever expect anything different from Russia? But the best question remains, why do we have 900 U.S. troops in Syria at all?
When the invasion of Iraq was proving to last longer than five days, weeks, or months as Secretary Rumsfeld promised, President Bush said of the campaign that it:
“could be longer and more difficult than some predict.”
And so the same tune we whistled during Vietnam, we whistled during the Iraq war, and we whistled again in Afghanistan. Now we listen to the same melody again with Russia.
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