Friday, October 21, 2011
Before you give your answer, perhaps a brief history lesson is in order.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States, under the direction of then President George W. Bush, launched two separate military operations; the first sent U.S. troops to Afghanistan (where we still remain in combat operations 10 years later), the second sent U.S. troops to Iraq where we have presently withdrawn our combat forces but still have other troops remaining. To date, the war in Afghanistan has cost the United States taxpayers $455 Billion dollars and counting, and we have lost the lives of 1,140 American soldiers. Likewise, the war in Iraq has cost the United States taxpayers $802 Billion dollars and counting, and we have lost the lives of 4,481 American soldiers (which is more than the 3,000 lives lost on 9/11). The 2 wars combined account for $1.28 Trillion (with a "T") dollars of our national debt, and over 5,000 American families have lost a loved one.
By contrast, consider the recent military operations in Pakistan and Libya under the direction of President Barack Obama. Again, putting our personal feelings aside and focusing simply on the cost of war in terms of money and, more importantly, in terms of human lives, the NATO operation which ultimately lead to yesterday's death of Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi cost the United States taxpayers $1.1 Billion dollars and we lost 0 American lives in the process. Similarly, the operation to kill the worst terrorist the world has ever known, Osama bin Laden, was carried out by Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan and lasted roughly 40 minutes. Although the exact dollar figure to send the SEAL team in cannot be known for certain, the fact that the team's occupation of Pakistan lasted no more than 1 hour tends to suggest that the cost to the United States taxpayers was likely in the thousands of dollars on the low end, perhaps into the low millions of dollars on the high end. Moreover, not a single American soldier was killed during the operation.
To recap, using option (A) from above, the United States launched 2 wars, occupied 2 foreign nations, spent $1.28 Trillion dollars and lost 5,621 American lives. Using option (B), the United States launched 2 strategic military operations, partnered up with foreign nations, spent a little bit over $1.1 Billion dollars and lost 0 American lives.
In today's complex world of foreign relations, the days of declaring an official "war" are virtually extinct. Even during America's military involvements in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Saudi Arabia and Somalia, our nation never officially "declared war" on another foreign nation. Without getting us off onto a tangent about the legality of such actions, my larger point is that nations rarely go into war with other nations in today's global society. The "Old School" mentality of fighting a war with a sledgehammer -- represented by the Bush Doctrine approach in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has given way to a "New School" mentality of war using a scalpel -- represented by the Obama Doctrine in Lybia and Pakistan. It no longer makes sense to invade and occupy an entire nation when simply removing a few individuals will suffice.
The down side to this new school approach is that it requires the United States to maintain good relationships with foreign nations -- maybe even with countries like Pakistan who we don't like -- whereas the old school approach did not bother with such matters. Under the old doctrine, it was "us" versus "them." Today, such a black-and-white mentality no longer produces results. Perhaps the best example of this paradigm shift was the killing of Osama bin Laden because it required the CIA to partner with Pakistan's intelligence community in order to gain the whereabouts of the mansion bin Laden was hiding in. Without working with Pakistan, we simply would not have found bin Laden. The old school approach, by contrast, would have simply sent 40,000 U.S. troops into Pakistan for 10 years and crossed our fingers that bin Laden didn't slip away into a neighboring country. When you consider that the annual cost of sending 1 U.S. troop into Iraq is $390,000/year, it begs the question of whether large scale military operations were ever a good idea.
Again, putting aside the many objections that we may have to going to war in the first place and sticking solely to the hypothetical which assumes a situation where we must go to war with a foreign enemy, is it better for America to (A) send all of our armed forces in to invade a foreign country or (B) use our international connections to help us send a small military unit specifically aimed at a certain target?