Kamel: As Bush wars draw to a close, Americans need to rethink military policy


Jonathan Kamel, Columnist

After more than a decade at war, American troops are finally coming home from Afghanistan with combat missions expected to be complete by 2014. Similarly, the last American troops left Iraq in December of 2011 with great sighs of relief from military families and those who supported the war in Washington.

The ending of these two Middle East wars will bring closure and a period of reflection for the American military. It is important that we as a nation learn from the mistakes that propelled these wars into action and for our leaders to rethink what circumstances merit the full price of war.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were popular amongst the American people in 2001 and 2003 respectively, yet as they wore on they became increasingly problematic and revealed many weaknesses in American foreign policy. It is easy to blame the former President George W. Bush and his advisers for quick and irrational decisions made to go to war with both of these countries.

Yet 10 years ago, the culture in America was different. Americans were still hurting from the traumatic events of 9/11, and our sense of national security was gone. Bush began a universal “War on Terror” to restore a sense of national confidence and to avenge the deaths of Americans on native soil. Cloaked in this campaign of revenge was a policy Bush yearned to achieve: ridding the world of totalitarian governments and spreading the superior American virtues of democracy to fight terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.

This idea of American exceptionalism had existed for centuries. We had entered many wars before to “make the world safe for democracy,” yet in Afghanistan and Iraq these motives did not click. We entered Iraq to destroy the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was supposedly hiding, yet none were to be found.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, American military forces swiftly overwhelmed the opposition and took control of the country. Yet, they were then charged with occupying foreign soil and rebuilding broken governments. While we overthrew Saddam in Baghdad and restructured the government in Kabul, the region became no safer for democracy, and American soldiers were constantly at risk from terrorist attacks or sectarian violence. It was as if Bush and his counterparts planned everything up until the invasion and then had no clue what to do from there. It proved difficult to change the culture and overcome ethnic conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Looking back on the Bush wars, it is obvious these conflicts were not all about spreading democracy or fighting terrorism. If so, American troops would have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and killed Osama Bin Laden years before his eventual murder. Another motive for going to war was to ensure stability in an oil-rich region that is important to American energy needs, but it is the complex of American exceptionalism that warrants much of the blame.

Republicans and Bush during the early-to-mid-2000s believed the only way the United States could maintain its hegemony in the world was through military conflict. In their eyes, war was often the solution to domestic problems and provided unity in an era of uncertainty. Yet this strategy backfired under Bush, as the two wars caused a ballooning deficit, vast American casualties, and less faith in the government.

In the age of Obama, the mistakes made by Bush’s administration have largely been avoided. Obama has formed a new American foreign policy which combines negotiations, direct monetary aid, drone attacks, and cyber manipulation in place of the heavy handed military policies of the past. Maintaining American exceptionalism is no longer the principal target of the nation’s foreign policy. Obama and his aides realize in a modern global dynamic, the image of the United States as a police captain is no longer beneficial or productive.

War is no longer the primary option of the current administration, but the last resort in a series of processes that aim to prevent deploying American troops. Obama has taken a hands-off approach in supporting the rebellion in Syria or the many revolts during the Arab Spring, opting to use American aid or the support of allies to achieve the desired result.

While some may cry that America is forfeiting its position as world superpower by not wielding “overwhelming force” as it had in the past, the deficit will shrink and lives will be saved under this refined foreign policy. I don’t know about you, but I prefer the latter over a meaningless title that has worn down this nation for decades.

Jonathan Kamel is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].