Every vacation feels a little like one has stepped out of the world altogether, but the timing of our Hawaiian cruise in early February seemed especially out of time. I was somewhat aware of the developing situation in Egypt, because I went to the onboard gym to fight weight gain from the sumptuous meals and saw a little BBC coverage from Cairo on the TV monitors mounted above the elliptical machines and treadmills. Before our vacation ended, not only had Mubarak stepped down, but protests were gearing up in Algeria and Yemen, and Syria had loosened constraints on Facebook in order to calm the masses.
This week, the military forces of one of the longest-ruling world leaders in history, Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi of Libya, began firing on their own fellow citizens, killing hundreds. Diplomats and some soldiers, sickened by the violence, resigned from the government. Two Libyan warplanes deserted across the Mediterranean to the island nation of Malta, rather than obey orders to bomb their own countrymen. In Yemen and Bahrain, protests against rulers continue as well.
Oddly enough, I accidentally read a book before vacation that predicted this confusion among Islamic nations. I picked Endless War by Ralph Peters off the new bookshelf at my local library in the mistaken belief that it was anti-Iraq and Afghanistan war. Actually, the author is a retired Army officer who writes columns for magazines I never read, such as Armchair General and Armed Forces Journal, and worked for Fox News as a strategic analyst. But I found him a decent writer, a thoughtful analyst, and an interesting war historian. I actually agreed with him at times . . . or he agrees with me. He wrote, “It’s fundamentally wrong to let contractors go head-hunting among our troops in wartime.” He wrote, “The Bush administration’s mismanagement of its wars did not set defense thinking back a mere three decades to the post-Vietnam era, but a full century….” He wrote, “As for the mad belief that the Saudis are our friends, it endures only because the Saudis have spent so much money on both sides of the aisle in Washington. …The Saudis are our enemies.” And most of these essays date back two to four years.
But to return to the current turmoil, toward the end of the book, in a piece titled “Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars” that originally ran in the Spring 2009 issue of The Journal of National Security Affairs, Peters wrote: “Behind all its entertaining bravado, Islam is fighting for its life, for validation. Islam, in other words, is on the ropes…. Those who once cowered at Islam’s greatness now rule the world. The roughly one-fifth of humanity that makes up the Muslim world lacks a single world-class university of its own. The resultant rage is immeasurable; jealousy may be the greatest unacknowledged strategic factor in the world today.”
Why am I quoting this? Because—and here is where I step beyond what Mr. Peters might endorse—as ugly as it may get in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, and even Egypt and Syria, this is what needed to happen, and without the United States’ involvement. The people had to rise up and demand power, to demand a change in their leaders, by themselves or they’d never have the will to come up with something to replace them. And maybe that’s what should have happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have spent more than $775 billion on the Iraq War and $380 billion in Afghanistan. Nearly 4,500 American military personnel have been killed and 33,000 wounded in Iraq, and almost 1,500 have died in Afghanistan. The sketchy documented deaths of the people we’re “saving” over there amount to roughly 100,000 Iraqis and 17,000 Afghanis.
The money we’ve spent has gone a long way toward crippling our own economy as well as the rest of the world’s, and most Americans have lost all interest in the wars, if not forgotten them altogether, like a TV series that started off with high ratings and has lost all its juice and market share but keeps on running, unwatched. And for what? Maybe it would have been better if we had stayed out of it until the people—or irritated Muslim neighbors—had taken care of the problem. If we hadn't provided a target to hate, but simply minded our own business and engaged in trade where possible, sooner or later Muslim nations would have turned on each other, or themselves. Without costing us half so much as these stupid occupations have cost, and continue to cost us, in lives and dollars.