OPINION: No more attempts at nation building

Special to The TelegraphJune 25, 2014 

While in college and the military, I studied the Middle East, its people, culture, political systems and religious beliefs. The countries comprising the Middle East have been ruled by tribal leaders, kings or military dictators for centuries and apparently cannot overcome their cultural, political and religious differences to embrace a system of government where all men and women are created equal and every person has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

During my Air Force career, I served in Saudi Arabia as a commander gaining firsthand insight into the region and its people. Before the U.S. launched its pre-emptive attack upon Iraq in 2003, I forewarned the president and our Georgia congressional representatives and senators not to engage the U.S. militarily on the ground and not to embark upon nation building in Iraq. In fact, I predicted that if the U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein and replaced him with a U.S. sponsored, democratically elected government that within five years after U.S. troops left Iraq, either a new Iraqi general would rise to power as a dictator or, spurred by radical Islamic fundamentalism, a religious war between Sunni and Shia Muslims would erupt based upon centuries old differences.

Since U.S. armed forces left the country, it has taken Iraq only three years to revert back to its historical self-destructive nature. And, it will only be a matter of a few years before the Taliban eventually overthrows the U.S. sponsored government in Afghanistan and replaces it with a government based upon Islamic Sharia law. So, what has the U.S. accomplished by attempting nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan? Sad to say, we’ve accomplished very little except to create a political and military vacuum which facilitated Iran’s rising influence in the region, killed a few terrorist leaders, further inflamed radical Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists against the U.S., and emboldened them with a determined resolve.

U.S. foreign policy and its nation building strategy has been a dismal failure resulting in the deaths of 6,753 soldiers and civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan and 51,740 wounded according to the Department of Defense website, not to mention adding to a spiraling, out of control national debt.

Therefore, we should learn from this debacle that a fundamental premise of America’s foreign policy must be to refrain from future attempts at nation building, especially in the Middle East, at such great costs of lives, casualties and treasure.

The Congress must review the War Powers Act and introduce legislation to curtail a president’s ability to deploy U.S. armed forces, especially ground troops, without a thorough review and approval by Congress which must be willing to withhold funds from the Department of Defense to avoid future nation building efforts.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Military Service Chiefs must be willing to stand by their military strategy recommendations and tell the president and secretary of defense what they may not want to hear even if it means they must submit their resignation. And, each American citizen should write the president and their elected congressional leaders and demand that a prohibition on nation building must be a fundamental tenant of U.S. foreign and defense policy.

However, America should not adopt an isolationist policy nor shirk its responsibilities as a world leader, but as a nation, we must give deliberate thought to and fully understand the ramifications of foreign policy and military strategies being considered before we commit this nation’s armed forces to military action on foreign soil.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Alan L. Gardner is a resident of Warner Robins.

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