The President’s decision in Syria, and the cost of war

Following President Trump’s decision to pull back US forces from a potential conflict with Turkey in parts of Syria, he’s come in for fierce criticism from many quarters.  I support his decision, as I stated yesterday.  In that article, I said:

I’ve been on the front lines of a war like that – a war that the political masters on both sides kept going for years longer than it need have lasted, solely because of their intransigence and blinkered vision.  Many paid for those shortcomings in blood;  but it was never the politicians who paid.  It was always the men in uniform.  I don’t want to see any more American service personnel have to pay such a futile, pointless, yet permanent and irreversible price.

A few days ago, the Washington Post published an extraordinarily painful and poignant article describing the price paid by the families of servicemen for such adventures.  I think it adds weight to President Trump’s decision.

I was 22, married only two years and gingerly rubbing my beloved’s stump as we watched “Sopranos” reruns from a box set that Rudy Giuliani had given us on one of his visits to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where Cleve was being treated. We’d been living at hospitals on and off in the three months since he had been wounded. I thought about how we’d gotten there. Both of us had come from families who were too busy working to help us with schoolwork and too broke to pay for college. We’d done the best we could with the options given to us, and this was the result: a war hero and his caregiver, two young people who had chosen to serve their country. Or at least that’s how the military wanted us to think of ourselves. The reality was much more complicated. Yes, we were proud of his service. But ending up in that hospital, me feeding him cans of Ensure as he lay in his bed after surgeries, felt more like a stumble than a choice. We huddled into each other, and I felt around for bone spurs – fingerlike growths that commonly form at the end of amputated bones. It was soft like dough. “Does it hurt?” I asked, and he told me he’d just taken an OxyContin. “I can’t feel anything anymore,” he said.

. . .

Three years of pain medications – Dilaudid, morphine, Lortab, Percocet, OxyContin, fentanyl – meant he became an addict, which isolated him further. For me, his addiction quickly became scarier than his war wounds. When the military couldn’t figure out what to do with him after his first overdose, in the fall of 2008, and then a failed rehab attempt, in the spring of 2009, they retired him: Let Veterans Affairs figure it out. Where the doctors were skilled at treating gnarly wounds, they seemed ill-equipped to treat the addiction that many experienced as a result. Less than a year after his retirement, Cleve died.

Technically, he died of an overdose, but I also think it was isolation and loneliness. It was the summer of 2009, August or maybe July, when he finally retired. It had been two years since the amputation of his leg and a little more than three since the bomb. By January 2010, he’d grown violent. Without the comfort of the hospital and the friends he’d made there, he seemed to have lost his ability to control his temper, a symptom of PTSD that had shown itself in waves since he was wounded. He was pushing me away. In an attempt to save our marriage, he went to what we thought was an inpatient PTSD facility called Project Victory in Houston. There, he was kept in a hotel room across the street from the hospital. In it, he decided to smoke the medicine on his fentanyl patch. I assume he was bored. Maybe he craved the feeling of being high. There was no one there to stop him. He died there, alone.

. . .

I imagine myself as a little girl, born to a young woman and her soldier husband who struggled to make ends meet. Pink cheeks, large blue eyes and loose brown curls to my shoulders, I wait a year at a time for my father to return home from Korea and watch as my mother struggles to feed and clothe us. I say to my little-girl self: “One day, you will have all the money you ever wanted, but it will come at a price.” I am angry for her, at this country for sacrificing us, for sacrificing the working class, to wars and deployments for unclear reasons.

There’s more at the link.

Cleve, a Marine, served in Iraq.  As of June 2016, there had been 4,424 US military deaths in that country, and 31,952 wounded in action.  Many others served in Afghanistan, where to date, 2,433 US personnel have been killed.  The dead all had families who mourned their loss, and mourn them still.  The question has to be asked:  were their deaths worthwhile?  Was their suffering, which in many cases is ongoing, justified?  I have to answer that it wasn’t.

Both countries were “liberated” from sadistic, vicious regimes, but in neither case was there a plan – or the political will to pay the price – to rebuild them and “win the peace”.  As a result, both countries are still chaotic, disorganized, riddled with terrorists, and catastrophically unstable.  The sacrifice of so many US lives and service personnel has accomplished very little for the people of those nations, and done relatively little to keep us safe at home.  Oh, one can argue that by fighting over there, they prevented terrorism from becoming an entrenched problem over here;  but that’s impossible to prove.  It’s a panacea argument, advanced by those with an interest in “exporting war” as a means to the end they want to accomplish.  General Smedley Butler (who was awarded two Medals of Honor for heroism in combat) would have spat on them in contempt.

War is costly, in lives and broken families as much as any other way.  Despite that, there are times when it’s necessary;  but that should be determined in every case by asking, up front, whether the cost is sustainable and worthwhile.  In some wars (e.g. World War II) that’s pretty clear, right from the start.  In others (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) it’s anything but;  and the sober hindsight of history demonstrates that all those who died or were maimed in those wars, and their families, paid a terrible price for wars that could not be won, and were not worth winning even if we had.

Once again, I think President Trump made the right call – and I speak as one who still carries the scars of war on his body, and some of its shrapnel deep in his flesh.  If his critics can’t say the same, or have not served in combat, let them shut up.  They’re playing games with American lives.

Peter

14 comments

  1. I would argue that Afghanistan was necessary – after an attack like 9/11 you must. But the original limited goal of wrestling control back from the Taliban was complete before any non-SF boot arrived in country. It was probably the Green Berets finest moment. Everything after that was superfluous flailing.

  2. The problem with the actions we have taken in the Middle East is that two major courses of action are off the table from the start, and they are the only two that make some sort of sense. We aren’t going to wreck a country and then leave it as an object lesson about the cost of annoying us, and we aren’t going to conquer a country and then stay and administer it ourselves. What is left is a range of halfway measures that are unlikely to resolve anything. The Myth of Nation Building is that any culture is ready to joyfully adopt Representative Government, which is based in the pernicious myth that all cultures are equally valid.

  3. Roamer……..I do not understand how anyone could consider the war in Afghanistan necessary after 911. 15 of the 19 911 terrorists out were from Saudi Arabia….they did it for Islam, and most devout Muslims cheered it. Why not obliterate Mecca and Medina as a retaliation?

    Afghanistan is the graveyard of great nations…..England, Russia, and now the US. We have done nothing there except lose precious lives, blow up big rocks into small rocks, and enrich defense contractors.

  4. This article and your previous one are excellently and clearly reasoned… and, with respect to media reactions, irrelevant.

    Reason has nothing to do with the media’s sound and fury. If Trump withdraws troops from the Middle East, he’s a wuss who has abdicated American influence in the region. If he takes any military action whatsoever in the Middle East, he’s a crazed warmonger who wants to start World War III.

    Facts and reason and logic have nothing to do with it.

  5. I think there is a distinction to be made between ‘reason’ to do something and ‘a purpose’ for doing something.

    There were reasons for Iraq and Afghanistan and I think there were good reasons for both. But what was the purpose, which is a longer term issue.

    Ending the regimes was fine, it was done, come home. But then there was this floundering for a purpose, democratization? In cultures that didn’t understand the term and had no foundation for it individually – there is no individuality, it is all tribes.

    I supported Iraq and Afghanistan. My brother served in Iraq, his son Iraq and Afghanistan. Both are ok. I am tired, and I see no purpose, in our remaining in places where we are getting shot at from both sides. Our blood needs to be spilled to refresh freedom – to mock, mimic and amplify the Left: let it be done here at home first.

  6. Unfortunately, something had to be done, at the time, in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Both nations were a major threat to us at the time.

    But once any attempts at nation building failed, not because of us but because the people in-country were more interested in playing tribal male-reproductive-member games than looking at becoming fuctional members of the global community, well, time to pull out.

    They wanna play stupid games, we don’t need to be there. Until they become a threat to us, then we can knock them down, hard, again, and give them another 6 months of trying to get their poop together, then we can pull out, again.

    Trump is doing the right thing. Finally. Now that he’s gotten rid of all the ‘war, war, war’ cabinet members (Mattis was rather disappointing, very disappointing) he can start getting us out of bad foreign entanglements.

    Now pull us out of Germany. They’ve proven to be feckless ‘friends’ since unification.

  7. @ Dov Star;

    There was, and is, a very good reason why we haven’t attacked Saudi Arabia. If we attack the Saudis, we will win. And if we win, then WE are stuck with one of the biggest administrative headaches in the world; possession of Mecca. Assuming we aren’t going to pack the Kaaba with explosives and blow it into dust (and maybe even if we did) we would be stuck dealing, one way or another, with the Hajj.

    Playing on the freeway is easier, cheaper, and will probably hurt less.

  8. There is a middle course. Appoint a strongman, give him some equipment and funds to bribe allies. Give him a few months of security to establish his rule, turning a blind eye to necessary brutality he employs. Then bug the bleep out.

    I’m firmly of the opinion that if we had put Chalabi on the lead tank and declared him the savior of the Iraqi people, we’d have had a lot fewer problems, at a fraction of the cost.

  9. My youngest, a 100% disabled medic, died from a heart attack at age 41. His injuries were a large factor causing his heart attack. Maybe his loss is mitigated by the number of lives he saved.

    His widow probably has more in common with Cleve’s widow than most people she interacts with.

    Stupid wars. Praise President Trump for keeping us out of another.

  10. When they started talking about ‘nation building’ I couldn’t believe how stupid they where. We didn’t go there to ‘nation build’ we went there to remove a menace and deliver a warning: Leave us along, we’ll leave you alone’.

    And on top of that, NO ONE in the administration then (or any following one) knew a DAMN THING about the region, the people, the culture. They thought that you could just drop a modern day democracy on a group of ignorant goat herders? And who wants a ‘democracy’ anyway? WE don’t live in one.

    They could have put the king back in place in Afghanistan and just walked away and things would have been better than they are now, but no, these idiots all seem to think that everyone is just like we are here and want the same things we do. Well, they don’t.

    I used to think we should do -something- to try and stabilize those places before we left. But now? We should get out ASAP because no one in the State Department or I suspect any other part of the government, have a freaking CLUE what to do. Even Mathis thought he could ‘win’ there and two years later walked away on sour grapes because he couldn’t keep his promise.

    We are not an empire. We do not need to take care of the world or ‘police’ it. If they’re not bothering us, we should be home minding our own damn business.

  11. The thing about ‘Nation Building’ is that nobody in Washington, in either party, had the guts to do what we should have; wreck the place, say ‘don’t bother us again, or we’ll be back’ and freaking LEAVE.

    Which is too bad, but Gunboat Diplomacy needs a cold head and a sweeping disregard for what The International Community thinks.

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