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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pensacola, Florida




My morning coffee group can solve just about any domestic problem, and it generally offers better solutions than the folks up in Washington.  But all of a sudden, our daily rants about Wall Street bailouts, corporate welfare, the bumbling educational system, and lousy final four picks are being overshadowed by murky events from half way across the globe.  We now are inundated twenty four-seven with news on countries most Americans could not point out on a map.

If you sometimes think the world is spinning out of control, maybe that’s because it is — and at breakneck speed.  Japan has been crippled by a gigantic earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear meltdown.  Revolution has engulfed the entire Middle East and North Africa.  A month old crisis is eclipsed by a new cascade of events, and the U.S. has now declared war on Libya. We’ve been broadsided with American confrontations from countries and factions we can’t even pronounce.  Try Djibouti, Qatar, Shiite, or Nicker-rog-wah.

It was exactly eight years ago this week that President George Bush gathered the so called “Coalition of the Willing” to invade Iraq.  President Barack Obama has now jumped into the fray by invading Libya under the banner of “Operation Odyssey Dawn.”Â  As Steven Colbert pointed out, President Reagan fired missiles on Libya in the 1980s, and named his mission Operation El Dorado Canyon, a name that “sounds like some serious desert ass kicking.” As for Odyssey Dawn?  “That’s not a military operation,” Colbert said. “That’s a Carnival cruise ship.”

Those of us who gather each morning to commiserate about our daily lives are not well versed in foreign affairs.  America has been the center of the universe for decades, and we all agree that our schools have done poorly in bringing the rest of the world alive to our young minds.  But we do have some basic common sense and follow what happens beyond our borders in a broader view of how we are affected.  And we know a few things that don’t seem to sync in up in Washington.

First, we know we have been at war for a long time.  Our troops have been fighting in Iraq for eight years, which is twice as long as our World War II efforts to defeat Nazi Germany.  4,385 U.S. soldiers have died over a war that was supposed to have ended back in 2003.  Remember President Bush, standing in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner, telling us that “the United States and our allies have prevailed, and that major combat operations have ended?”Â  So the Iraqi war ended, and then another 4300 American soldiers were killed there.

Our longest war in Afghanistan continues into its tenth year.  More than 1500 U.S. soldiers have been killed and we are spending $2 billion dollars a week to keep this war machine moving. 64% of Americans oppose this war, including a wide majority of my deep southern coffee group, but our congressmen seem quite comfortable with letting the president and the generals carry on as they see fit.

Second, experience and common sense tells us it’s easy to start a war, but hard to end one.  Hey, we have invested blood and money in this foreign country’s cause, so we just can’t pull out.  And then we have to undertake nation building, even if that nation shows little or no interest in wanting to build it.  There are always a multitude of reasons why we can’t get out. And we just may not have that tolerance to wait.  There is a Pashtun taunt that is often hollered to our soldiers in Afghanistan:  “You have the watches, but we have the time.”

Third, we all know that air power doesn’t win wars.  Oh, maybe the A-bombs dropped on Japan hastened the ending.   But again, going back to common sense, when some general starts talking about “no fly zones” bringing Libya’s Gaddafi to his knees, we know better.  A lot of civilians are going to be killed, and we are going to see American troops on the ground fairly soon.  You can bank on it.

Fourth, is the America really invading for humanitarian reasons, or is it primarily about oil?  The U.S. showed little humanitarian concern for years of massive slaughter throughout Africa, the most catastrophic example being Rwanda.  Zimbabwe, under brutal dictator Robert Mugabe, continues to carry out numerous atrocities against his own people. In his new book, “The Fear,”Â  Peter Goodwin, points out that most Americans view Africa as monolithic, with little understanding of individual countries.  Libya is much easier to understand. It’s a small country with a bad dictator who has been accused of killing Americans, and sitting on lots of oil. Easy call there.

Here’s what my gang at coffee is saying. Wall Street bailouts have cost the U.S. a bundle, we can’t afford to fix our roads and crumbling infrastructure, home values have plummeted, our national debt continues to rise at alarming rates, and our educational system seems to be going into the tank. But there seems to be no end to tax dollars available to fight big wars and small brushfires worldwide.  We may be our brother’s keeper, but are we obligated to be? And just as importantly — can we afford to be the world’s peace keeper?  So when we do bring down a tyrant like Kaddafi,  do we end up just propping up another puppet, who often turns out to be just as brutal as the one just deposed? Using the bully stick of U.S. troops, are we destined to perpetuate these “necessary” wars with no end in sight?  We executed Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and created the perfect storm for the Taliban tyranny to explode across Afghanistan, destroying our soldiers and fortunes at an incredible rate.

Here’s the bottom line from my guys.  American is not the Messiah, and our government has been hypocritical in “picking and choosing” its “humanitarian” fights.  Our country is broke. Yes, there is a role for America to play in a United Nations effort to intercede when brutal dictators set prey on their countrymen.  But it’s not always our cause.  We can’t have a dog in every fight. Our government needs to quit looking for (supposed) dragons to slay abroad.

If we continue to jump into every future skirmish, they ought to call the next one “Operation Enduring Idiocy.”


We cannot ignore our own complicity in arriving at this point. We cannot continue to arm regimes that abuse their own citizens, and try to claim the moral high ground when addressing the conflicts that those same arms have helped to perpetuate.”Â Â  DAVID LAMMY

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.


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