Feeding the Disease of Terrorism

07kurds.xlarge1 U.S. troops in Mosul, Iraq in 2007.  A foreign presence to Iraqis

W.J. Astore

I’m a retired U.S. military officer.  When I think of U.S. troops, naturally I see them as my gals and guys.  I identify with them.  And I know enough of them to know that their intent is usually good — at least in the sense that they seek to do their duty.

But I’m also an historian with a modicum of empathy.  I know that foreigners don’t see the U.S. military as I see it.  Nor do they experience it the way I experienced it.  To cite just one anecdote: I recall a story in the New York Times in which U.S. troops in Iraq ask an Iraqi farmer if he’s seen any foreign fighters around.  The Iraqi has a simple answer: “Yes. You.”

Six years ago, I wrote an article for Huffington Post on “Catch-22 in Afghanistan.”  I argued that the more the U.S. military intervened in the affairs of Afghanistan, the less likely it was that a permanent, and suitably Afghan, solution would be found to the problems confronting that country.  Not much has changed in those six years, except that today the Taliban controls even more territory, the drug trade is even more pervasive, and corruption is even more endemic.

We need to learn (or re-learn) a basic lesson: The more the U.S. intervenes in conflicts within other countries, the less likely it is that a favorable outcome will result (favorable for the U.S., that is), simply because U.S. forces are viewed as a foreign contagion. And indeed we are that.

Ignoring its Afghan failures, the U.S. government now seeks to widen its military commitment to the most hotly contested areas of the Middle East.  Our leaders act as if the way to end civil wars driven in part by radical Islam is violent intervention led by American troops.

But American troops (and drones and bombs and all the rest) are not the answer.  Indeed, their actions spread the contagion further.

The other day, I was reading about “super-bugs,” those bacterial infections that have become highly resistant to traditional antibiotics due to misuse and overuse of the same.  In seeking to “destroy” ISIL and similar “infections,” the American government instead often feeds them.  Indeed, I was surprised to learn that in medicine there are super-bugs that literally feed on traditional antibiotics.  They gain strength from being attacked.  Such is often the case for “bugs” like ISIL, which feed off of heavy-handed U.S. military actions.

This is not an argument for the U.S. military to do nothing.  Rather, it’s a reminder of the limits of power and the complexity of life.  It’s a reminder too that to foreigners the U.S. military is the foreign presence, the contagion.  Even when it seeks to act as a “cure,” it may in fact be feeding the disease.

6 thoughts on “Feeding the Disease of Terrorism

  1. My not very bold prediction: the chickens will continue to come home to roost on US soil for years to come. Even if every contemplated act of domestic terrorism, inspired by overseas jihadist ideology, could somehow be thwarted, this would still be the case. The US national debt is already too swollen to ever be paid down, and every year the Pentagon is handed a new obscenely costly menu of new toys, to say nothing of all the spy agencies whose real budgets are concealed from the taxpayers. Now add in the cost of caring for wounded troops, the productivity lost because of their physical, and often psychological, disabilities, and the handsome pensions assigned to the generals and admirals as they retire. Stand tall, America, you just set a new annual record for hard-drug overdose deaths. Those opium poppy fields in Afghanistan are a very important resource to be defended! Let’s gloriously sacrifice some more US personnel, like the half-dozen who got torched the other day!! Hallelujah, keep waving that grand old flag!

    Primary blame falls on the Cheney Administration. Secondary blame falls on Obama for embracing, and in some areas escalating those policies. These are CRIMES, not mere “well-intentioned errors.” Unfortunately, no prosecutor is on offer. But ultimately blame falls on us all, for failing to demand with sufficient force a new direction for our nation.

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    1. Greg: Sadly, our so-called elites, together with a compliant media, are doing their best to enlarge and empower the national security state, in the name of “security” and in the cause of alleviating our fears, even as they do their best to aggravate those fears and misdirect them toward “outsiders” (Mexicans, Muslims, what have you).

      We all need to come to our collective senses to recognize that fear is the mind-killer, and that our worst enemies are very much made in the USA. Not a happy thought for the holidays, but there you have it.

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  2. “Our leaders act as if the way to end civil wars driven in part by radical Islam is violent intervention led by American troops.”
    I’m not altogether certain that our leaders are concerned with ending civil wars at all. Certainly not conflicts in Iraq, Syria, or Yemen, for example. Isn’t it more the case that many recent “conflicts” have been fomented and encouraged? Isn’t “radical Islam” itself something that has been fostered?
    Sure power has limits and life is complex, but the way in which “power,” in all manifestations, is exercised is the point. And it’s difficult for me to see how any recent American foreign policy projections can be viewed as “”seeking a cure.”

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    1. Spot-on observations, Mr. Herr. I watched Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK” tonight for first time in ages. He has New Orleans DA Jim Garrison describing the Vietnam War as an “$80 billion a year business” that the War Establishment just couldn’t bear to lose. (Should we be nostalgic for the good old days when war was so “cheap”?) This was part of the theory that Kennedy really did plan to draw US troops out of Southeast Asia in his second term in office (personally, I reject that notion), and thus earned the enmity of the generals and admirals. Getting back to the present, though, yes, “radical Islam” certainly is a convenient phenomenon for those with big fat vested interests in war/intelligence circles. We might call it “the gift that keeps on giving,” in keeping with the Holiday Spirit!

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  3. “This is not an argument for the U.S. military to do nothing.”

    On the contrary: given the tedious litany of U.S. military bungling and devastation wrought upon a world that did not deserve it — for about sixty years now — “doing nothing” describes exactly what the U.S. military needs to do. Since it functions as nothing more than a vast money-laundering scam to fleece the general populace for the sole benefit of the oligarchical collective, the U.S. military needs not only to do nothing, but to not exist as well. And the sooner the long-overdue demobilization begins, the better.

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