Opinion: Lessons from Foreign Entanglements

With Joe Biden’s disastrous pull out from Afghanistan bringing back memories of helicopters leaving the American Embassy in Saigon, it is time to examine our nation’s record in regard to sending our military troops to fight in foreign lands. Since World War II, the history of these “conflicts” has been abysmal and costly.

We have sacrificed some hundred thousand lives of our military heroes, not to mention the life altering injuries inflicted on many more. Trillions of dollars have been wasted trying to prop up corrupt governments and enriching their crooked officials. The return to Americans for this investment in lives and treasure has been a vast net loss.

In the Korean conflict, (let’s be truthful, when our soldiers die, it’s a war), we lost over 36,000 of our military people and over 103,000 were wounded. Financially, it cost almost 390 billion dollars. The end result is that it ended in a stalemate with South Korea free and North Koreans starving and living under a cruel, despotic regime. Even though the actual fighting lasted just over three years, we still have about 28,000 US troops in South Korea.

In the Vietnam war, more than 58,000 Americans were killed and over 75,000 were severely wounded, and that does not include all of those who came home and have since died, or are suffering from the ill affects of Agent Orange. It is estimated that the financial cost for the Vietnam war was over $843 billion. We were in Vietnam for 17 years and 9 months. That war ended when the North Vietnam army and Viet Cong overran South Vietnam, partially because the Democrat controlled US Congress refused to give any military aid to South Vietnam.

During the Iraqi war, almost 4,500 Americans were killed and over 32,000 were injured with a great many losing arms and legs. The monetary loss was over a trillion dollars. This war lasted seven years and five months and the results are debatable.

The war in Afghanistan is almost twenty years old. American service members killed in Afghanistan through April of this year: 2,448. Over 20,000 were wounded. (U.S. contractors: 3,846 killed.) At this time, the financial cost of this war is nearly a trillion dollars. With President Biden’s fiasco of a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, we have returned that country back to the Taliban and the primitive, backward, tribal culture that has existed there for centuries.

What lessons are to be learned from these non-declared wars? First, we should never enter into any conflict where our military personnel are at mortal risk, if we don’t intend to win. In Korea, General MacArthur is criticized for his insubordination to President Truman and his failure to anticipate the Chinese entry into that war, but at least he intended to win that war.

Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1967. Under his tutelage, the war became a numbers game about body counts. He believed as early as 1963 that we couldn’t win the war, yet through his leadership, we escalated a war which cost over 58,000 American lives.

Second, we need to hold Congress accountable. If we are going to send our military into harms way, Congress needs to do its Constitutional duty and declare war and they shouldn’t declare war unless we intend to win. No parliamentary parsing of words can be a substitute for a war declaration.

Third, rules of engagement should be written to protect our military personnel, not the enemy and not some pusillanimous behind the lines officers or Washington politicians who are afraid of bad press.

Fourth, we need to keep a close eye on monies given to and for the country in which we are fighting. In Iraq, the Bush Administration sent billions of dollars to Iraq in 2004 and had no idea where it went. A House oversight committee found it unbelievable that tons of cash money would be sent to a war zone. One memorandum concluded. “Many of the funds appear to have been lost to corruption and waste … thousands of ‘ghost employees’ were receiving pay cheques from Iraqi ministries under the CPA’s control. Some of the funds could have enriched both criminals and insurgents fighting the United States.”

We are finding out now, that the same thing was going on in Afghanistan. Some Afghani officials were listing ghost soldiers and police officers who didn’t exist and pocketing the money themselves. It’s bad enough our government wastes billions of dollars here without giving it away to foreign corruption.

The world is a dangerous place. No doubt in the future, we will have to enter into wars, but we should only do so if there is a serious danger to our country or national interest. Congress should declare war. We should intend to win any war we enter. We need accountability for the money we spend. Never again should we attempt to nation build. Lastly, we should never occupy another country for any longer than it takes to conquer it. In other words, we must do a much better job than we’ve done in the past.

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