In an interview earlier this week, President Obama stated that America faced greater danger from a "lone wolf" attacker such as the one in Norway than from an organized group of terrorists like that faced on 9/11.
For the record, I agree with him. And it's because of that agreement that I have to ask--What are we still doing in Iraq and Afghanistan?
If you turn your memory back to the Bush presidency and the months following 9/11, you'll recall that the rationale for invading Afghanistan was to prevent future attacks from Al Qaeda. We were destroying sites of "refuge" for "global terror" that posed a threat to our existence as a nation. The Iraq war rationale was much more tenuous but related to that of the earlier conflict. Regime change in Iraq and an effort to reshape their country into a liberal democracy were supposed to secure our own safety.
Fast forward now to 2011. 50,000 soldiers are still in Iraq but (we are told) are due to return home at the end of this year. In fact, they might be thrown out as Iraqi clerics have threatened to declare a Fatwa against us if we don't leave by that deadline. More than 100,000 troops are currently in Afghanistan and even with gradual troop draw downs some U.S. soldiers are slated to stay there until at least 2014.
Given the fact that these are now the longest wars in U.S. history, one has to ask--Has either conflict actually made us safer? I guess the answer all depends on how you define safety. No more 9/11 style attacks have happened on U.S. soil since 2001. But was it our intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan that led to this outcome? I seriously doubt that anyone, even George W. Bush, would be so foolish as to argue for a direct causation between the absence of organized terrorist attacks in the United States since 2001 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This lack of a clear cause and effect relationship leaves us with a less than satisfactory answer for our continued involvement in these wars. We're there because we're there and its good that we're there.
While Americans were busy since 2001 fighting and dying in the "war on terror" in the far corners of the earth, the greatest dangers we faced have been homegrown in variety. Someone like the mentally ill community college student that shot Arizona Senator Gabrielle Giffords and the far too numerous school shootings that have occurred throughout the nation.
Terror it seems has no army, no fixed place to fight it in battle. Instead it has a hundred heads. Most of which have nothing to do with Al Qaeda. And as for the high minded task of nation building, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan are anywhere near to becoming liberal democracies. The history just isn't there. Once we leave Iraq, if we are lucky they will become a dictatorship run by moderate Islamic politicians. If not, we will have singlehandedly created a new ally for Iran. As for Afghanistan, Karzai must see the writing on the wall. Once we leave his head will be put on a pike and tribal warfare will resume.
The only way we can retrieve some dignity from this debacle is to admit our mistakes as a nation and learn from them. But I don't see that happening. We have a long history of knee-jerk nation building and an even longer one of moral certitude. Just ask the Native Americans.