Get Our Troops Out of The Nation Building Business

Mark Greene believes we are risking the lives of our service members and our precious resources in a mission our troops shouldn’t have to take on.

The New York Times reports today that an American Staff Sergeant, accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers had been drinking alcohol and suffering from stress related to his fourth deployment.

After ten years of war, American troops serving repeated deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq are facing catastrophic levels of post traumatic stress disorder. This is due in large part to the deeply flawed nature of our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is challenging enough to deploy and carry out a combat mission half way around the world, but America chose to deploy American military power to occupy and nation-build in two separate countries at the same time. And nation-building simply doesn’t work.

Nation-building is the worst kind of foreign policy in terms of cost, effectiveness and outcomes. Doing so in Iraq and Afghanistan for ten years is nothing short of madness. And our troops are paying the price, as are the hundreds of thousands of non-combatants killed or injured so far.

Policing an increasingly hostile population, constantly having to differentiate between civilians and well-hidden insurgents, is a brutal job for our troops on the ground, raising post traumatic stress disorders to catastrophic levels. We expose them to unending hit-and-run attacks from an enemy, one of whose primary goals is to cause our troops to accidentally kill innocent civilians. Our troops do not have the relative luxury of fighting a standing army. They don’t get to do what they were trained to do. Meanwhile, a generation of children in Iraq and Afghanistan have now grown up in this terrible cross fire. But it doesn’t end there.

By engaging in nation-building, we expose our troops to partnerships with government forces that may or may not be members of the very insurgency they are supposed to be fighting.

By engaging in nation-building, we pour trillions of dollars into these foreign nations, creating sinkholes of corruption; governments that undermine our efforts even as they take our money.

By engaging in nation-building, we help the propaganda cause of our enemies, allowing them to recruit new supporters.

Meanwhile, our troops on the ground, who have conducted themselves with heroic courage and skill, continue to be redeployed over and over again. They have no clear mission but to stand in the gap between a corrupt government and a brutal insurgency.

It’s time to bring our troops home and end the madness. When we withdraw our military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, the results will not be good, as photojournalist Michael Kamber explained earlier this week. No matter how much of our nation’s treasure we continue to pour into the corrupt Iraq and Afghanistan governments, chaos will ensue. Iraq and Afghanistan will end up aligned with Iran or other extremist political movements.

But staying will not change this. It will only delay it. And at a cost America simply can not sustain. So, its time to go. Its time to bring our troops and our treasure home. It’s time to use our economic strength and the vitality of our young men and women to rebuild America. It will take a generation to heal the wounds suffered by our troops. Wounds both mental and physical. Its time we began that work in earnest even as Iraq and Afghanistan move to bury their dead and seek some path forward for their people.

And God willing, we will never attempt to occupy and nation-build through military intervention again. Because it simply doesn’t work.

 

AP Photo

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene is an Emmy Award winning animator and designer. He blogs and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, the New York Times, The Shriver Report, Salon, HLN, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
Click here to read more GMP articles by Mark Greene. Get Mark's fully illustrated children's book FLATMUNDER for iPad from iTunes about kid's fears and the power of play. For kids ages 4-8.

Comments

  1. PursuitAce says:

    Here’s a simple solution. Get presidents out of the war making business. We the people, can stop letting Congress hide behind crap legislation which delegates wars to the executive branch. It’s the classic good cop, bad cop. And here’s how that happens. Let me paraphrase the “duke”…Whatever happens, however many people die, we’re going to blame you. No matter who does good, or who does bad, or however many billions get spent, you’re responsible and you’re gonna git killed (in the ballot box).

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Actually, Mark, we did it twice, successfully.
    The differences are striking. WRT Germany and Japan, we killed millions of them, soldiers and civilians. We pounded their nations flat–unlike Afghanistan, they had infrastructure they were used to, and we destroyed it. We occupied their countries for decades, running the governments ourselves–recall the department called “American Military Government”, or AMG. We hanged many of their war leaders. Jailed many others.
    We had a dedicated force called a “constabulary”, one of whose requirements was to be at least six feet tall for psychological purposes as they moved about on their duties.
    We shocked their pre-war culture, in a manner of speaking, leaving the indiges with nothing but a sense of catastrophic loss.
    We did not partner with the corrupt, two-sided, incompetent locals. We did not take orders from corrupt village chiefs. We did not honor their vile, twisted violent cultures.
    So, yeah, we can do it. But actually succeeding might offend the peecee among us. So we see the troops being used as meals-on-wheels.
    The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a confessing–just barely–just war church. Very close to pacifist if it’s a matter of US interests. But after seeing how bad things can get in the Balkans, and not having any Americans to blame, they came up with what they called “humanitarian intervention” which has a gauzy definition. After some nagging, I got a couple of the hierarchs to agree, grudgingly, that conditions for peace might “have to be imposed”. IOW, kill the bad guys so the good guys can do the humane stuff. See Somalia. But not too many of the bad guys. It’s their country and all….
    If we’re going to nation build, we need to recall the lessons and decide if we want to go that route, or only half-ass among cultures who would be improved should we haul them by the throat into the seventh century.

    • Right so before you think I’m some stereotypical anti-military lefty or something, let me start off by telling you a few of personal things. 1 – My great-grandfather was part of the nation building in Germany after WWII (Which doesn’t mean anything except that I’m familiar with the subject). 2 – I was going to join the Air Force out of high school (through an officer training program at university) but didn’t due to DADT. At the time I sincerely believed it wouldn’t be repealed in my lifetime. 3 – I have many friends and other family who have joined various branches of the military and I respect the hell out of them. — Again, the reason I’m pointing this out is so that you can see my perspective. Liberal, yes. Pro-peace, yes. But not anti-military.

      Anyway…as for the real meat of my comment – the only time nation building has worked is when we’ve begun the process after an official surrender. WWII and the Civil War (the north ended up ‘rebuilding’ the south, in a sense)…were both instances where the purpose of the war wasn’t to build a nation. The purpose was to stop a group of people (Nazi Germany, Southern Confederates, Imperial Japan) from continuing to do what they were doing. The nation building came after.

      The difference, is that in Iraq and Afghanistan, the purpose of the war has become nation building. There’s an interesting colonial undercurrent to the whole thing. We’re not just trying to take down a corrupt/toxic/totalitarian regime…we’re trying to show them a “better” way of running their country. It’s the same (or at least a similar) mentality to colonial Europe. They took over because they thought they had a better system…in their minds they were helping the more primitive nations by colonizing them. It’s a similar rationalization with the U.S. in the Middle East. We think our way is “better” and therefore we decide we’ll go mould them into a “better” country.

      That’s why international relations is such a delicate balance…it’s not the 1940s and we’re definitely not colonial Europe. We can’t just blow a country’s infrastructure (both civilian and military) to smithereens now without becoming an international bully. The U.S. already has problems staving off the label of ‘bully’ in the rest of the world. So I agree with Mark, here…nation building in the current international political climate doesn’t work.

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        “Anyway…as for the real meat of my comment – the only time nation building has worked is when we’ve begun the process after an official surrender. WWII and the Civil War (the north ended up ‘rebuilding’ the south, in a sense)…were both instances where the purpose of the war wasn’t to build a nation. The purpose was to stop a group of people (Nazi Germany, Southern Confederates, Imperial Japan) from continuing to do what they were doing. The nation building came after.”

        I don’t see the distinction. In all cases totalitarian regimes, which largely enjoyed popular support, were wiped out in favour of “friendly” (read: puppet) democracies.

        The only major difference is that the Germans were even more scared of the Russkis and the Japanese were really terrified of a Chinese invasion. Theres no common enemy in Afghanistan or Iraq… well maybe the Iranians, but only just.

        • True, Peter. I guess what I was saying with my distinction is that a war and ‘nation building’ are two separate and sometimes opposed goals. The purpose of a war is to win…to destroy the opposition enough that they’ll surrender. Nation building, on the other hand, requires that enough of the population and infrastructure is in place (or that there is enough cash to build the infrastructure) to create a country.

          • Peter Houlihan says:

            Ok, but in the case of WW2 the allies not only had to convince the Germans to stop fighting, but to withdraw from occupied areas, stop villifying the rest of the world through propaganda and stop oppressing ethnic minorities. The latter could only have come through occupation and political influence.

            In Afghanistan the purpose was to prevent 9/11 and to eradicate a base of operations for Al Quaida. Again, occupation was necessary.

            I don’t think anyone has any idea what the purpose of Iraq was.

            • Yeah I’m going to be snarky and say that Iraq was about a little boy wanting to prove himself to his daddy. (okay…I’ll end snark).

              Anyway…yeah in order to achieve the goals in both Afghanistan and Germany (during WWII) occupation was necessary, sure. But again, occupation and nation building are two separate things.

              The “War on Terror” is problematic anyway, just like the “War on Drugs” is problematic. But…if we just look at Afghanistan, then we’re looking a country who occupied a country with the assumption that we could fix it. Ah yes, we thought – here is terrorism, rampant sexism, corruption, and oppression – we can fix it and make a better system.

              Whereas with something like WWII – the US (and Europe) entered it with the assumption that they had to take down the Nazis (and Imperial Japan)…but there wasn’t an element of ‘we know better’ necessarily connected to it. It was more a – ‘well hell now you’ve attacked us, we’ve got to save our asses’ – type of thing. They weren’t trying to convince them to withdraw, etc by telling them that the Allies have got a better way of running things – they were ‘convincing’ the Nazis to withdraw by literally forcing them.

              Which isn’t to say that’s what was needed in Afghanistan…..Afghanistan is not Nazi Germany and we are no longer in the 1940s.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Heather.
    If we didn’t mind being called a “bully” for the spread of McDonald’s, I guess we could bear up under the label for taking down another nation. But we can’t even stand people looking crossly at us over fast-food burgers.
    Europe’s most important export is whatever it is that we get that makes us take them seriously. We have to embargo that stuff.
    The other difference between Germany and Japan on one hand and Afghanistan is that both countries were civilized, after a fashion. They had had a nodding acquaintance with the twentieth century.
    Actually, the yurps colonized various places in the world in order to exploit them, or place pieces vis a vis their yurp opponents on the global chess board.
    Running the places well came later. Some (the Brits) did it better than others (Germans, Phlegms, Italians, Spanish) The difference is plain, even now.
    In any event, if you’re not prepared to utterly destroy a country, including a substantial portion of its military age population and its work force, don’t even start.
    There is another benefit to this lesson. It was the conservatives who thought that, given the vote, Muslim countries would shortly look like Jeffersonian democracies crossed with New England town meetings. It was the racist liberals who insisted those benighted brown people were lost causes. Turns out the libs were right after all.

    • “The other difference between Germany and Japan on one hand and Afghanistan is that both countries were civilized, after a fashion. There is another benefit to this lesson. It was the conservatives who thought that, given the vote, Muslim countries would shortly look like Jeffersonian democracies crossed with New England town meetings.”

      Those are two sentences that highlight why what is effectively the U.S. version of colonialism is not only doomed to fail, but actually quite wrong. You cannot take one culture’s political system and attempt to slap it onto another culture’s political system. It’s ethnocentric and it completely ignores the very simple fact that different cultures are different. The reasons it worked in Germany and Japan were because the war was such, and the cultures were such, that it made that sort of thing possible. And frankly, Germany is still feeling the after-effects of the way the nation building went about there.

      The U.S. can’t force-feed it’s brand of democracy everywhere…precisely because it defeats the purpose of democracy.

      As a side note regarding European colonization: The reason for the exploration of new areas was to obtain resources and out-compete the other European countries, yes. The justification given for why it was okay for them to take over huge swaths of the map was that the people living there weren’t “civilized,” and thus by colonizing the place they were actually “helping” the natives become more civilized.

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  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Heather. God, gold, and glory. The motto of the conquistadores. One out of three for the benefit of the locals.
    I submit that the justifications came after most of the colonies had been mapped out. Late nineteenth-century efforts, it is true, were sold as anti-slauery crusades. But, as a general rule, the excuse for remaining as colonialists was, in part, that the yurps were running it better than the locals had been or would. Probably true, considering. But not for starting out, which actually began in the mid-fifteenth century–see Parry, “The Age of Reconnaissance”.
    The Honorable East India Company didn’t bother with such justifications.

    • “But, as a general rule, the excuse for remaining as colonialists was, in part, that the yurps were running it better than the locals had been or would. Probably true, considering.”

      Here’s the problem, Richard…that is precisely the ethnocentric view that I’m talking about. The colonial governments didn’t necessarily run things ‘better.’ Just look at the mess of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, and the class system in Rwanda, or how about the utter lack of a Kurdistan (though my understanding is that’s more to do with the Ottoman Empire). Its the same “we know better,” attitude that is behind a lot of the justifications made about Iraq and Afghanistan. The thing is, though…colonizers (or nation builders), don’t always know better…and sometimes they end up screwing it up even worse.

    • The destruction of the Mayan civilization hardly qualifies as “running it better”. The Conquistadores brought disease and the Inquisition to the America’s. They enslaved the population and eradicated it’s cultural and religious institutions which dated back two thousand years.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Heather. Thing about your examples is…they all take place when the locals are back running things. See the point?

    • Well now you’re not talking about nation-building, Richard, you’re talking about completely conquering and taking over. Are you suggesting that Europe should have kept all the land it took? Come on now.

      Not to mention…the issues I mentioned weren’t caused by the “locals” being left to run things again…the problems were largely caused because the colonizing country had caused a lot of problems that the locals now had to deal with. From what I remember of what I read about it years ago, Rwanda had the different classes prior to German colonization. When the Germans (and later Belgium) took over, they promoted the supremacy of one of the groups (Tutsi), and actually considered Hutu and Tutsi to be different races. So before, a Hutu could become a Tutsi (social mobility)…but the European colonization made changing class impossible. There was a Revolution in the 50s…sparked by the Tutsi and the Hutu having different opinions about gaining independence from Belgium. After they did gain independence, a sort of cycle of violence started – Tutsi in power suppressed the Hutu, and then the Hutu would take over and suppress the Tutsi.

      The Pakistan/Bangladesh/India situation is similar….in that the tensions between Muslims and Hindus existed regardless of whether the British were there or not. The part where the British screwed up, is by dividing the country based purely on religious lines. Originally Pakistan included part of Bangladesh…it was a country that existed on either side of India. That makes no sense…culturally the people in Pakistan and the people in Bangladesh are quite different, and they’re geographically far apart…and yet they were put into one country.

      Now if Europe had not colonized the area, would Rwanda still have problems with their class system? Would the Indian subcontinent still have problems with regards to religion? Possibly. Maybe. We just don’t know….because Europe came in, took over, and enacted all sorts of policies that they thought were in the best interests of the people they had colonized. But they were wrong, and they only ended up creating more problems.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Heather. If the Brits–not most of the others–had kept their possessions, it would be hard to say things could have been worse. It was the Muslims who wanted to divide the Raj. During the division, Joe Lunchbucket killed a million of his friends and neighbors.
    Sounds kind of racist to suggest the little Brown people are made into monsters by being ruled by white people.
    Then there is the Anglosphere, which is doing pretty well. US, Canada, Aussie, NZ, India.
    I don’t see the moral problem with the folks in charge being from a great distance as opposed to being from next door.

    • Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Canada all continue to have problems working out exactly how to deal with ‘native,’ or ‘aboriginal,’ populations. In a sense, the colonizers never left those countries…they just broke off from the Imperial country.

      “It was the Muslims who wanted to divide the Raj. During the division, Joe Lunchbucket killed a million of his friends and neighbors.”

      I assume you’re referencing Jinnah with that comment…but that’s too simple a view of the situation. There were both Muslims and Hindus who wanted to divide the subcontinent, because they were afraid of what would happen if one (or the other) was put in charge of the whole thing. Also, after the Partition, both Muslims and Hindus killed each other during the huge exodus of Muslims out of what became India, and Hindus out of what became Pakistan. But here’s the thing – the people who made the final decision about how the subcontinent would be given its independence were the British; they’re the ones who drew out the Radcliffe Line.

      “Sounds kind of racist to suggest the little Brown people are made into monsters by being ruled by white people.”

      That’s not what I’m suggesting. You are looking at what I’m writing and reading a very black/white paradigm. I’m saying that a colonizing nation that goes in and alters the social structure of an existing native society often screws more up than they fix.

      “I don’t see the moral problem with the folks in charge being from a great distance as opposed to being from next door.”

      Forget the morality of it, it’s not practical. An occupying force that takes over another country will always been seen as an outsider and resented for it. You end up with rebellions and attempts at independence. The only way it has worked, historically, is with the suppression and/or elimination of the native population. That’s where the question of morality comes in.

    • Western culture has proven to be just as destructive and ignorant as any others in the history of the world. The partition of India and Pakistan, much like tragedies across the middle east and Africa are the result of arbitrary and ill conceived borders mapped out by colonialists. We are still paying the price for those inept and self serving political decisions. And the slaughter during partition of India is no different than the slaughter across Europe during the first and second world wars, except we Anglos had to do it twice to be sure we didn’t like it. As for the Brits. They were merciless and arrogant tyrants. Just because they made the trains run on time, is no excuse to forgive them.

      • “Just because they made the trains run on time, is no excuse to forgive them.”

        Yeah which, at the moment the UK’s got some serious train timetable issues. Japan could teach the UK a thing or two about keeping trains on time. :)

        (Just had to inject a bit of light hearted commentary in here)

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