COMMENTARY: The Horrors of War and the Failure of American Foreign Policy

Pat McGeehan

(Former Delegate Pat McGeehan is Chairman of the WV GOP)

Foreign intervention in its most extreme case is war, the initiation of which is not a conservative idea- it is a very liberal one. The Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the British, and the Russian- all came to a close after the adoption of this naïve and ignorant ideology. If we do not reverse policy, what's left of the American Republic will meet this same fate.


War only destroys-both lives and resources. It does nothing for society on the whole. It can never "boost" the economy, and for those involved survivors, its scars and wounds never leave. As such, its justification should be carefully considered. Unfortunately though, in spite of our advancements in technology and education, our country's leaders have pitifully yet to consider war as a last resort to international differences. Over six years ago, war for me became a very personal experience, one that has shaped my life perhaps more than any other. I will explain the influence on my life, and perhaps provide a slightly different perspective from the one which is promoted in the network news.

I grew up in a fairly conservative household. My father, a career Air Force Officer and B-52 Bomber Pilot, was a staunch Ronald Reagan supporter. Dad was killed in the mid-90s, when his B-52 went down at an Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington. Long before his death though, the Cold War still raged on. Dad was often on alert and fear of a Russian offensive or the spread of Soviet-style communism was a very real feeling. And thus, it was during the 1980s that my view of the world was shaped by the "good guy" Americans and the "bad guy" Russians. I remember one conversation with him when I was still very young. In simple language, Dad told me, "We stand for capitalism. They stand for communism." Through the primitive lense of a young child, the lesson was straightforward. But even today, this guidance still serves as my personal foundation for right and wrong- for the difference between these two distinct choices of social interaction is nothing more than individual freedom. Liberty was what separated good and what could become evil. This is the lesson I took to heart. But over time, we have lost the lesson-and ironically, the infection of government power and the decline of liberty is the legacy of our "victory" in the Cold War.

The initiation of war can rarely bring more liberty to a people. Usually less of this most important idea is the result-along with less defense in the long run. But steadily, belligerent war-the ultimate negation of the American tradition- has become the status-quo for our nation. And belligerent war has a tendency to spread. Both political parties, even the so-called "small government" party that Goldwater and Reagan helped to shape, have slowly corrupted themselves with the policies of war hawks and defense lobbyists. This has not happened overnight, but it has most certainly happened.

Through the continuation of offensive wars around the globe, and the blatant disregard for the US Constitution, our foreign policy has leapt from one of humility to empire. Sadly, much of this fault lies within the failed leadership of my own political party. The Neo-Conservatives (slang for "Not Conservative") have practically placed aggressive war as a party platform, and to listen to these War Hawks call for still more intervention into sovereign nations is now the norm. Overtime, the War Hawks of both parties mistook and manipulated the simple policy of defense and replaced it with belligerent offense-aggressive war that this country once despised. See, my Dad never promoted war in its own right- he opposed its use for reasons we now give as just. Neither did Reagan, who once said, "People do not go to war, governments do."

Just war can never live on the same plane as aggressive or belligerent combat. The two are diametrically opposed. War of course must only be engaged through the defense of life and property-this is what the history of wisdom tells us. It is indeed necessary at times, but anything that aims to stretch this basic definition will ultimately lead to careless decisions about the lives of our men and women in uniform.

Shortly after my father's death on active duty, I graduated from the Air Force Academy, anxious to get into the fight in Afghanistan and the Middle East. I got my wish, and as an eager Intelligence Officer, deployed overseas less than two years later. For part of my tour, I served as a lead intelligence advisor to one of the senior ranking Generals in theatre, giving me much exposure to higher-level policy decisions in the region of central Asia and the Arabic Peninsula. As a young Second Lieutenant, I was barely out of training- but I had studied military history in depth at the Academy, and so I was able to apply the lessons from failed military campaigns to the current state of affairs. The old adage that those who fail to read history are doomed to repeat it-that was never truer than our American intervention in Afghanistan...and Iraq.

The growth of the military state has worked in the same fashion as any other government agency; it is one large bureaucracy. The only difference is that, while domestic bureaucracy destroys wealth, military bureaucracy destroys both wealth and lives. While I participated in combat operations, several times these were merely played out on a real-time video screen. We would simply "call in" American air assets to deal with one threat or another, but the real task was determining what exactly constituted a threat. Growing bureaucracy can lead to "mission creep" or the ever-changing and arbitrary objective of what our ends should be, and what means should be applied to achieve these ends. Bureaucracy will always tend to self-perpetuate the expansion of its own existence- and power.

And since bureaucracy works by following the rules (while the market place works by following profit and loss), our rules- though constantly convoluted- had one central theme. If unidentified personnel were confirmed with weapons, they could be deemed hostile. The problem was that natives in the region of Afghanistan ALL carried weapons. An Uzbek or Pashtun or Tajik is just as likely to own an Ak-47 as a West Virginian is to have a shotgun stashed in the closet. Of course, what would happen if foreigners intervened in the United States? The shotguns come out of the closet-and so it was with the tribal people in Afghanistan. In several instances, these insurgents-who many times were just local natives fed up with the American occupation-would gather under the cover of night to perhaps raid one of our convoys, or strike back at one of our supply lines. All for naught, as our air assets would decimate hundreds of these gathered fighters at a time with little difficulty. Our reprisals were massive-and we could easily discern their limbs and other body parts coming apart. This example is one of many- and it is important to understand that this is the real face of war, ugly and horrid- it is always and everywhere hellish by nature. But now, it is worse than hell- for most Americans, war is impersonal.

The results of aggressive war policies can never be blamed on our heroic men and women in uniform, but the fault alone must ultimately lie with our own misguided civilian leaders. Republican or Democrat-both breeds have endorsed the same policy of unconstitutional war. Thus, all policies implemented by our government should first analyze cause and effect. It is illogical not to do so, and the largest consequence of our interventionist foreign policy not being correctly analyzed is that of "blowback". This concept works very much the same way as domestic regulation into the otherwise free economy, for this is the unintended consequence of meddling in foreign internal matters.

Over the past few decades, hatred for the United States has been mounting throughout the different corners of the world. But the cause of this resentment and hatred does not rest from some unknown, mystical reason. Still to this day, many politicians stand up and tell us that "We are just so free. The rest of the world hates our freedom." How ludicrous! This foreign resentment comes about because we have been sticking our nose in someone else's business! 200 years ago, our ancestors revolted against a foreign power for merely taxing the tea they drank and the stamps they used. Can we blame the native Iraqis or the people of Afghanistan for taking up arms against a power that bombed their very home? Some would say more intervention is necessary- and who cares if the American nation is to be hated? More invasion and more war initiation will only further weaken our Republic and spread our forces thin—and foreign hatred will often manifest itself into determined armed attack, sometimes in the form of terrorism, as it so often has in the recent past.

By the end of my tour, I reached my own conclusion that nation-state building and policing the world was a policy doomed to failure. And one that has wasted American and foreign lives in the process, along with trillions of tax dollars. Of course, I had the personal experience—one that most Americans have not. To shift the social norm can sometimes upend everything one has come to learn. Thus the resistance to the message-that possibly, just possibly—our Founders' wisdom of restraint and the absence of entangling alliances abroad may hold true through the ages. At the very least, we should demand that the Constitution be followed, and if war is entertained, the Congress of the United States must hold the debate, make it transparent, and if necessary, the people's representatives must issue a Declaration as required by the highest law of our land.

But we have not done this in 70 years. The Constitutional Principle of a Declaration of War has been relegated to obscurity. Even as I write, our American policy has escalated once again, and we are now bombing Libya, an entirely different sovereign nation (ignoring the fact that the President of the United States has no authority to do so, as surely as the Congress has no authority to delegate away its vested power of war). Initiating foreign conflict- especially without a Constitutional Declaration- leads to endless war. But it causes other detrimental and undesirable results as well.

Once the entity of central government is granted more power-the sphere of its influence can never be managed or constricted into one sector of life over the other. It must always spread, and inevitably corrode the fabric of civil and economic liberties of its very citizens. If the power is granted to sever the Constitution in one area, then it is by default granted the power to do it in another. If we permit centralized government to invade a foreign country without a Declaration of War, then we award it the power to coerce every citizen into the purchase of health care insurance, or endow renegade bureaucrats with the authority to tax carbon dioxide. As Friedrich A. Hayek wrote, this is the Road to Serfdom.

For decades now, the United States has been at war, in one way or the other. And the only sign of the cessation of hostilities comes not from the impossibility of victory, but from our ever-increasing steps towards bankruptcy. Great nations do not collapse from military reasons, but from financial ones. Trillions spent every year in foreign affairs with little or no return on investment, our current course in foreign matters is simply unsustainable. Forego the propaganda and ask yourself, must our nation really engage in perpetual war to secure our nation's citizens? Do we really have countless enemies just longing to kill us for no particular reason, other than our own fleeting "freedom"? The answer lies in logic and human reason.

Guns or butter? There is no such option, for the venue of centralized power is inherently blind to its application. We must remember that the Warfare State will always lead to the Welfare State, and vice-versa. If you have one, sooner or later, you will always have the other. Liberty then, can only be preserved with the limitation of both domestic AND foreign intervention. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations- entangling alliances with none."

Comments powered by Disqus