A New War, The Same War

We grew up under two wars, and they’ve left their mark. An American presence in the Middle East has been a fixture of my life to the point that I have just come to assume that it’s what we do. We bomb, we send troops, we overthrow governments. All in the name of democracy. All in the name of peace.

First it was about justice. I was seven when the towers fell, and when we went to war I didn’t know who we were fighting, or where. We had to get payback, we had to punish those who had killed Americans. I was still a bit fuzzy as to what it meant to be an American, but I got the picture. We were defending America, showing that we would not be brought low. Whoever we were, it was important that we be that.

Then somehow it became important that everyone else be more like that as well. Now, it was about democracy. There were people to be liberated, lives to be improved everywhere, and all of it could be accomplished with some bombs and some boots on the ground. The Middle East could be democratic, free, and self-governed, and to top it all off a little more American. All it would cost them was blood.

And it goes on and on. A problem springs up, and we have the answer, and somehow that answer is always the same. I’m not sure who’s safer, I’m not sure who’s better off. I don’t know what we’re fighting anymore, and I surely don’t know what we’re fighting for. The only thing I know, the only thing that’s become predictable, is what our response will be. Our solution is never a surprise.

I wasn’t cognizant in 1994, nor was I really in 1999. I don’t think anyone knows what would have been a success in Rwanda, nor whether we can count Kosovo as a victory. But I’m not sure Syria is a part of that, I’m not sure that it’s the same issue. Because to me it just seems the latest entry in our dozen-year crusade.

So I was disappointed when President Obama announced that he would seek the approval of Congress to go to war in Syria. When we could be winding down our live experiments in the Middle East, the President, and now the Speaker of the House, wants to make them formal. I don’t disapprove of the President’s following constitutional procedure, I disapprove of him wanting to prolong a war we’re already fighting.

I don’t believe that this is a limited conflict, no matter what boundaries are put on the military operations in Syria, because the conflict is not confined to Syria. It’s the same fight that we fought in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. We’ve been fighting this war for so long without calling it a war, I don’t think that calling it one now will change anything.

What would be a change would be ending it. End the fight. Leave, go home, and try to move on. Let’s get out of the war business, and get over our god complex. We can’t solve all the world’s problems, we can’t stop all strife, and we can’t bomb our way to peace.

This isn’t a radical idea, it doesn’t ask us to do anything radical at all. All we have to do is stop. Stop attacking, stop prolonging our war. We’re winding down our presence, in terms of troops, as it is. But we should also stop adding new countries to the list. Stop starting new bombing campaigns, stop ordering new drone strikes, and bring this war to an end.

There will always be another target, there will always be another evil for us to purge. We brought down the Taliban, and then there was Saddam Hussein. We helped oust Gaddafi, and now there’s Assad. We can play this game all day.It will never end.

We are not going to bring peace by the sword, we cannot make a region stable by targeted airstrike. More than a decade in, we still have no conditions for victory, no long-term goals, no end in sight. This is a war that can go on for as long as we want it to.

But it can also end. We don’t need to keep going, nothing compels us to launch a new attack. We can rise above the path we’ve created for ourselves, move beyond constant war. Instead of making war a permanent state of our being, we can back off, we can end it. We can recognize our shortcomings, our mistakes, or ignorance of local politics and history, accept our limitations and put this war behind us. We should not forget it, but we need not prolong it.

It will take courage for us, as a nation, to accept that there are things we cannot do. It will take courage to realize that there are situations beyond our control. Our influence does not know no limit, our might is not almighty. Whatever our intentions, there are things that we cannot do.

The world has seen enough of American might. Starting another war brings us no closer to the end, it just continues what we’ve already been doing for so long. It’s time to stop.

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