Lessons to learn from conflict
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           President Obama addressed the nation this week, to mark the end of American combat operations in Iraq.
           Let’s hope he’s right.
           If he is, it will be one of the very few plans to work out as intended in that unfortunate and unfathomable region. Do not forget there are still 50,000 American men and women in uniform in Iraq, and they’re not exactly strolling through the park. Danger continues to lurk around every corner in a country that’s still a toss-up to go into civil war.
           There are lessons to be learned from America’s long slog:

       • This was a war of choice, not necessity, and that’s nearly always going to be a mistake. Iraq did not attack the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
       • Extremists within the borders of Afghanistan did attack the United States on Sept. 11. The United States should have gone into Afghanistan with guns blazing. But, did the Iraq campaign take America’s eye off the ball in Afghanistan? Seems so to us. Undoubtedly, it’s harder now to play catch-up in Afghanistan.
       • Is the world better off without the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein? Absolutely. But was that sufficient reason to fight a war? Absolutely not.
       • When the American people are angry and in a fighting mood, they can be led almost anywhere. That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
       • When reason returns, an unnecessary war becomes an unpopular war. And unpopular wars cannot be sustained.
       • Realistically, the two countries posing the biggest threats in the region are not Iraq and Afghanistan, but Iran and Pakistan. Throw in India as a wild card. Did this conflict reduce regional risk? Hardly.
       • The U.S. military, when unleashed, is unmatched in its ability to rain pain on an enemy. But the military is ill-equipped — for good reasons — when it comes to building nations and playing midwife to democracy in foreign lands.
Mind you, none of that diminishes the respect due America’s heroes in uniform. Whatever was asked of them, they did. Still today, they perform brilliantly. These young people are America’s best.
Which raises three more points:
       • The families of those who gave their lives in the service of their country must be cared for. Forever.
       • Those who suffered debilitating physical or mental disabilities must receive the services they need for as long as it’s needed.
       • Finally, the American people need to step back and take a long hard (and shameful) look in the mirror. For nearly a decade these two wars have been fought by a tiny sliver of the population. In fact, even counting family members, the number of people truly sacrificing for the call of duty is minuscule. More than 99 percent of Americans have no connection to the wars, and make no sacrifice to support the wars, which probably explains why so many seem not to know or care what’s happening over there. The political class is afraid to ask people to play any role. Here’s my take: There should be a war tax to raise the money to pay the cost of war; there should be a national service requirement, similar to other countries, which makes it a duty at some point in one’s life to take on a role for the country — that might be military, it might be public service. Duty should be shared — or not undertaken.
           I hope Obama is right, and that soon the rest of America’s troops can come home from Iraq. Likewise, it’s past time to redefine success in Afghanistan and move toward resolution. That’s unlikely to be a clear-cut military victory. Some sort of reconciliation is the only hope. And we cannot impose it.
           Last, but hardly least, let’s get serious about alternative energy sources. Yes, we all know, the world runs on oil and that need is not going away overnight. But our entanglement in the Middle East surely would lessen in direct proportion to diminishing thirst for oil. The most innovative and productive country on the planet ought to figure that out.