Tom O’Hara: ‘Getting out’ of Iraq and Afghanistan saves lives, money

Robert Gates was an impressive and pragmatic Defense Secretary.

Here was a blunt Republican telling Congressional hawks that the military budget needed to be cut: we don’t need all those $1 billion fighter jets.

His memoir is going on sale Tuesday (Jan. 14),

“Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” and it’s causing a stir.

He says in the book that months after ordering a surge of troops in Afghanistan in late 2009, President Obama began to doubt the strategy. Obama, Gates writes, was just interested in “getting out.”

To that, I say hallelujah.

That’s partly why Americans voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. You don’t have to be a military or foreign affairs expert to conclude that we don’t want to be fighting wars in that part of the world.

Everyone knows the numbers: more than 6,700 Americans killed and more than 50,000 wounded in the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among those killed were 346 Floridians.

Don’t forget the trillions of dollars squandered, money that conservatives seemed eager to spend while driving up the national debt.

From 2010 t0 2012, I worked as an editor at a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. The “Arab Spring” erupted and I got an intense education about that part of the world.

We can’t win any wars over there. Gates says we left Iraq sufficiently stable so that Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki could establish a government. But today, al-Qaida jihadists, disaffected Sunnis and frightened Shiites are killing each other at a furious rate there.

In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, the petulant president, refuses to cooperate with the United States over how many Western troops will remain there after we end our combat role there this year. It won’t be long before Afghanistan is a lawless land once again.

Did we win in Libya by helping to oust Moammar Gadhafi? The murder of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi is not terribly heartening for those who expected democracy to blossom there.

In fact, centuries of failed Western attempts to impose our ways on the Islamic region from North Africa to Pakistan show that the people there are in no rush to adopt our mores.

We have significant interests in those places and we need to protect them. We need the oil to flow. We need military installations there. We need to know what the Saudis and Kuwaitis and Jordanians know about terror networks. We’re committed to protecting Israel.

But it’s clear we can’t do all that with tens of thousands of troops on the ground. We need to use spies and operatives and drones and special-ops teams.

I met many smart, charming and savvy Arabs, Pakistanis and Indians during my time in the Middle East, but there simply are not enough of them.

 The millions who embrace the edicts of their conservative religious leaders are in control.

Millions of Islamists despise the United States. Many want to fly more airplanes into our skyscrapers and have the money and devotion to pose real threats.

And that’s not just me talking. Here’s what Gates told the Washington Post: “I look around the world today and all I see is more trouble coming. I see the Middle East getting worse, not better. I see problems in Asia getting worse, not better.”

Though frustrated that Obama was just interested in “getting out,” Gates was far from a detached military tactician. The toll on the soldiers who fought in those wars wore him down.

He visited the troops often. Each night he wrote letters to the families of dead soldiers. Trying to protect them became his priority.

The best way to do that is to do what Commander-in-Chief Obama has been trying to do for years: Just get out.

Guest Author


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