The Middle East: A Just War of Attrition
Who were the real losers of 9/11? The civilian population of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the US civilian population? I don't mean in the sense of long term economic effects, or even airport security lines, I mean in the cost of human life. By the numbers, its certainly not the US. The war in the Middle East has lead to over 1 million deaths in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan, and 80,000 in Pakistan, totaling 1.3 million. Compared to the 2,996 American civilians killed in the 9/11 attacks, the number is massive, a serious symptom of the seemly endless war of attrition that is the War on Terror. It is the longest military engagement in US history, spanning from beginning of Operation Enduring-Freedom in 2001, to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, to the most recent series of air strikes supporting Iraqi efforts to retake Mosul from the Islamic state. To ask a simple question, does the sentence match the crime? Are the innocent people of Iraq Afghanistan and Pakistan to be held responsible for the actions of a terror group? Do they deserve 433 casualties for every one of our own? The answers are no, no and no. And now a final question, have the various military engagements in the Middle East been just? Yes.
Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan Directly Caused by US Forces
The answer to that last question may seem counter intuitive, but when we talk about justice, shared conceptions do not always lead to shared opinions of its application. When I talk about justice in the context of this article, I consider the primary duty of the American government: protect the rights of Americans. When someone complains that our government is not moral, or perhaps cruel, I would always refer them to the Constitution. Morality can change from person to person, it is somewhat relative, but the US government has its own morality, its own code of ethics, and it has been using it since 1789. If a government official makes a decision, to evaluate it objectively is to evaluate it in the context of the Constitution. But how is this applied to foreign policy?
There is no amendment for US-Afghan relations, so if we want to find moral (constitutional) guidance we must look at the overall purpose of the Constitution. I have already said that the Constitution is primarily concerned with the protection of the rights of Americans, but if we turn to the preamble we can see that it is also responsible for establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty. Does the war in the Middle East do these things?
I believe that every part of that sentence is connected when it comes to US military actions. Establishing justice is ensuring that the negative rights guaranteed by the Constitution remain intact. Insuring domestic tranquility means that the government must prevent any attempt to injure the state of American society. Providing for the common defense means protecting the property and liberty of Americans. Promoting the general welfare means ensuring that Americans have access to means of self-improvement and can live their lives without unjust suffering. And securing the blessings of liberty means being on the watch for any attempt to hinder, handicap, or destroy the American experiment in liberty. The common thread in all of these is protection of the American way of life, a way of life built on personal freedoms. In this sense the justice of the war comes down to one question. Has the war in the Middle East injured, or protected the American way of life? Are we safer because of the war in the Middle East, or in more danger?
I believe we are undeniably safer. However you regard the successes or failures of certain combat missions, there is no doubt that the previous terror establishment in Iraq Pakistan and Afghanistan has been seriously damaged. The Taliban no longer control the government of Afghanistan, the deaths of key-leaders has degraded the Al-Quaeda's ability to do much more than inspire lone-wolf attacks, and despite the constant media hype, the Islamic State has never truly posed a threat to the homeland or been able to reach American citizens at home with the exception of lone-wolf attacks done in their name. We have established a government department specifically geared towards plugging holes in national security, paying special attention to counter-terrorism measures, cyber security, and border security. The Department of Justice has expanded to create a national security division, consolidating counterterrorism and counterespionage litigation as well as terror-related policy decisions. The FBI budget has tripled, and an ever larger section of its workforce is now expressly devoted to the preemption of domestic terrorist threats. Each of these changes were not immediate after 9/11, but became clearly necessary after our involvement in the Middle East shed light on just how easy it was for terrorists to reach and cross our borders. Our involvement in the Middle East has also imparted a better understanding of the way that terrorist groups operate and structure themselves, provided the ability to oversee and assist the training of militants from local nationalities to fight terror groups, and allowed for near instantaneous action once relevant or useful intelligence is gathered.
Yes, lots of lives have been lost. Loss of life is a tragedy, whoever it may be. Does that mean that we have not been made safer? No. If the US had allowed Islamic terrorism to fester and become further ingrained in the populous of the Middle East, it would have opened itself to a litany of post-9/11 attacks which could have claimed hundreds or thousands more American lives. Because we decided to invade, we were able to attain a level of control which so far has been incredibly useful in securing our nation. Did we spend too much money? Yes. Did we not account for the money we spent? Yes. Were there many local civilian casualties? Yes. But the war was not unjust. When push comes to shove, the American government must always put American lives and the American way of life first. If it makes us safer, if it protects the Constitution and our rights, it is just. Our previous and current involvement in the Middle East has drastically increased and security our global power situation, a power situation which maintains the American way of life. With no doubt is it just.