I spent a couple of hours Friday with a man who I once thought was wrong.
John Batiste. A retired two star out of the United States Army. Between him and his dad, they’ve been boots on the ground in every fight we’ve had since World War 2.
And five years ago I thought he was full of crap.
He was going around the country bad mouthing the Iraq war.
And I was certain he was wrong. I was bothered he was against “the team.” I was sure he was feathering a Democratic nest for himself.
For context, he commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq. I was a corporal who typed 20 words a minute in Indiana.
But I was sure he was wrong.
Five years later, it seems pretty clear that he was a lot closer to the truth than I was.
From this perspective, looking back on a decade of war, there is an odd sickening of the stomach that makes you wonder if any of it was worthwhile.
As I see it, the benefit of Iraq was that it changed the venue on the war with Islamic fundamentalism. Instead of them attacking our civilians on our streets, we got them to attack our soldiers on their streets.
That is not an insignificant benefit. It provided true service to the safety and security of the American homeland.
But it probably could have been achieved by other means, and certainly with less exposure and impact for ourselves and others.
Because beyond that, Iraq was a complete failure. Iraq is dramatically worse off today, the region is significantly destabilized, and America and the world are endangered by a freed and empowered Iran.
Yes, Saddam Hussein was a murdering dictator. But more people had better lives and fewer people died under him than under the current situation. Saddam Hussein kept militant Islam under control. Iraq is now a hotbed of militant Islam. Whereas there may have been a token dozen or so al Qaeda fighters in Iraq before we invaded, there are now more than a thousand.
This is all a sad realization, but it is also an undeniable fact.
I believed the president, I believed the Defense Department, I believed Colin Powell. I resisted the shrill anti-American spirit of those who opposed this war from its start. But with all those things said, knowing what we know now, we never should have invaded Iraq.
It is honestly inconceivable that the president ever would have ordered the invasion.
Sadly, John Batiste’s report that he was in a White House meeting six months before September 11 that talked about the importance of “regime change” in Iraq leaves you thinking all of this happened to settle some Bush family score.
As to Afghanistan, we went in and did what had to be done. We knocked down the Taliban, we chased out al Qaeda, we got the job done.
But we stayed.
And we have now, inexplicably, escalated.
We have turned a war that should have been over into another quagmire from which we have no plan for extraction.
It is as if we not only don’t have a strategy, we don’t know what a strategy is. We have no reason to be there, we have no stated purpose or agenda, we have no idea of what constitutes victory or how we come home after that.
It’s almost as if two presidents have decided to bankrupt our military and shed our blood in two grand misadventures.
Yes, we needed to hit Afghanistan. But by the end of 2002 we had done everything that we needed to do there.
But we are still there, with more troops, and now an argument over whether or not the president even has to inform Congress about what he is doing in Libya. The White House claims we are not engaged in hostilities and typically anti-war Democrats defend the policy because it comes from one of their own.
And 10 years later we have a military whose demonstrated weakness has invited insolent challenge from China, Russia, Venezuela and Iran. We have ground down our force and spent up our budget and after a decade of fighting we are dangerously weaker.
After 10 years of near-constant war with militant Islam, it is only our national pride which prevents us from seeing that they are winning. We have had two administrations of fundamentally failed leadership on military matters and these fools errands have imperiled our national defense.
The general was right and I was wrong.
And I am fearful for the future.
Because demonstrated in the handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is the same political mishandling and incompetence that led to failure in the Vietnam War. We didn’t learn the lesson of Vietnam, we refined, enhanced, enlarged and repeated the error.
We have pretended we were nation builders, and that politicians could micromanage warriors, and that rules of engagement separated us from the savages. We have sent the world’s best military to war under the world’s dumbest politicians.
That includes a president from my party and a president from the other party. One foolishly started a war, the other foolishly restarted a war.
And here we are.
In the context of looming national bankruptcy, with meaningless borders and decaying morals, we have all but broken our military.
And somehow we expect to survive.
Without an interruption to our welfare check.
These will be days of trial and uncertainty.
But there is one thing that is certain.
The general was right about the war.
And I was wrong.