Osama bin Laden is dead, time to go on a mission and declare peace

I have been reading the Book of Mormon every morning to my young boys (ages 3 and 5).  We just read about the Amlicites and the Lamanites attacking the Nephites.   I was struck with how the people responded to their great victory over the Amlicites and Lamanites (Alma 4:2-4):

But the people were afflicted, yea, greatly afflicted for the loss of their brethren, and also for the loss of their flocks and herds, and also for the loss of their fields of grain…and so great were their afflictions that every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed that it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty..and they began to establish the church more fully.

Now, contrast this to the evil Nephites at the end of the Book of Mormon after winning a battle against the Lamanites (Mormon 3:9):

And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast of their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.

The contrast could not be more clear.

The righteous response to victory in war is sadness. It is reflection. It is turning to God. It is a time to mourn the good people who were slain. But most especially it is a time to spread the message of peace, the peace of Jesus Christ, throughout the world.

Remember Alma the Younger? I consider him one of the great heroes of the Book of Mormon. He killed Amlici and the king of the Lamanites and led his people to victory in battle. What does he do after that? He strengthens the church. He baptizes thousands. And then he goes on a mission to proclaim peace!

The death of an evil enemy is a time for celebration, but only if we learn the right lessons from his death. It is righteous to kill an enemy like Osama bin Laden. But we need to remember why he became an enemy. He became an enemy because we helped create him by funding him in Afghanistan and then staying in the Middle East, occupying Muslim land. We did not proclaim peace, we proclaimed conquest and war. We became involved in entangling alliances, a fate that the Founders continually warned us against.

Our initial attack on Afghanistan was justified by the doctrines of just war. We had been attacked. But what did we do after that? We invaded another country, Iraq, based on false information. Then we decided to increase our presence in Afghanistan. And now we have invaded another country, Libya, fighting on the same side as the people who fought against us in Iraq!!

Note it was a small group of Navy SEALS who killed our enemy. How different history would be if we had left our troops at home and used intelligence to track down Osama bin Laden and kill him. The message to our enemies would be clear: we will not be goaded into an overreaction if you attack us. But we will find you and kill you, no matter how long it takes.

We have spent more than $1 trillion fighting wars in the Middle East. How many innocents have been killed?

How would Alma respond now that the enemy has been killed? He would mourn the dead. He would ask us to send up our prayers to heaven. He would build up the Church. He would ask us to go on a mission to our brothers and sisters, speaking of Christ and the peace that comes from accepting Him into your heart. This is what I plan to do.

Note the readers: I was a big supporter of the Iraq war from 2003 until 2007. I was wrong. One of the reasons I am speaking about this issue is to make up for being so wrong. There is nothing cynical about this. I am declaring peace, not war. Please join me in this effort.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

53 thoughts on “Osama bin Laden is dead, time to go on a mission and declare peace

  1. I have to say, I’m “glad” he’s dead. But I’m not sure that is the right word to use today. And I’m througly disguested at the people dancing in the streets and newspersons saying we should “rejoice”.

  2. Glad to hear you’re taking this approach. It’s good that he’s been brought to justice, but it’s nothing to celebrate.

    I think the combination of modern communication technology (Facebook etc.) and tactical intelligence (like these Navy seals) is the only way to go. If people are informed through the internet, etc., they will rebel against their oppressive governments on their own, and there’s no reason for us to get heavily involved in any of that.

  3. Tim, totally agree. If there is one lesson we have learned from this, it is that the occupation of Afghanistan didn’t get OBL. It was old-fashioned intelligence and a quick, well-trained strike force. The former costs trillions, the latter costs millions. I’ll choose option B.

  4. To quote then-Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley at the height of the Vietnam war, “I know of few if any alternatives with which we can live other than the alternative with which we are immediately faced.” That quote should not stand alone out of context of the rest of his thoughts, which you can read here:

    This is not to say he can’t be in error. But if you want to play that “just an Apostle speaking as a man” card, might I suggest you re-consider the words of George Washington who was not even that. And this is not even to say that I don’t see the wisdom and prudence of avoiding entangling alliances (I generally agree!)

    I hope we can all see we are caught between a rock and a hard place. And when you’re stuck between the rock and the hard place I do not thing the solution is just to pretend there is no rock there at all and mind your own business. And I do not suggest things have been done as they ought to have been done either. Geoff, I don’t disagree with your prescription that now is the time for teaching with love and persuasion and not boasting and gloating. But I do not think the solution to do nothing and call home the troops will yield the kind of fruit you desire.

    It is indeed enticing to argue for such, as then we can at least claim we are above the fray. But being above the fray and watching thousands of people die in Vietnam who look(ed) to the USA to support freedom or in northern Iraq after the first Gulf War, etc. etc. Yes, we were above the fray and people died and we’re either still there in Korea waiting for the military holocaust to come while we watch the humanitarian one occur.

    I suppose it was the heavy US occupational presence that drove the Islamic pirates to their acts of terrorism in the Barbary Wars?

    Recalling all the troops, telling the world to fend for itself, may sound like we are removing our self from the conflict and removing ourselves as the source of conflict. It is indeed satisfying to think of. Withdrawing the troops and our involvement is not just a thought experiment, it’s an action which will have an immediate effect of one or likely dozens of despotic powers filling that vacuum. So while I agree with your misgivings, I find myself returning to the wise, sorrowful words of an Apostle of the Lord who wearily observed that there are few alternatives we can live with other than the alternative with which we are immediately faced.

  5. Chris, your thoughts are very well-expressed, as usual. I think now is the perfect time to declare victory and come home. Our Libya adventure shows the folly of entangling alliances: we are fighting on the side of our declared enemies. What could possibly go wrong?!

    From a fiscal perspective, we simply can’t be the world’s policemen anymore. We don’t have the money. I have written about a dozen posts in the last year showing how we don’t have the money and how our continued spending is ruining the country. This applies to our military budget as well.

    The Constitution calls for Defense spending, not military spending. We can defend our country quite well by changing our foreign policy to concentrate on defending our true interests, ie the homeland. We could save literally hundreds of billions a year by doing this, and we should.

  6. I agree with your assessment of the problem. I just disagree with the conclusion/solution. I don’t suggest to have a firm grasp of what we should do in order to “do it right” either. I think that’s the difficult aspect of leadership and it’s above my pay grade. But I’ll vote for it when I see it.

    As far as the funding is concerned, Brigham Young once observed in regard to the Indians, “It’s cheaper to feed them than to fight them”. So if someone wants to call for a more engaged military presence with the goal of enabling others to defend themselves and create functioning states I suppose I might be inclined to support that. Believe me, I’m not calling for more and more Libyan misadventures. That mini-conflict seems to be done in the most strange way, as if the goal was just to replicate the worst aspect of Gulf War I – a decade of “no fly zones” with the occasional missile strike while allowing a conflict to stew on while people die.

    I can almost guarantee that within a few years of bringing home overseas troops you will watch as an immediate effect in the USA the number of our carrier groups will be reduced. That would certainly reduce any perceived ability to strike as we have done in Pakistan. But if as a nation the goal and desire is to reduce our involvement I would suggest we do it with a strategy and not as a knee jerk reaction. Adding more carrier battle groups and marine expeditionary forces in order to maintain a “floating army” is one thing that might be a positive idea. Keeping a large(r) presence in international waters with the ability to not only to retaliate, but to influence and prevent conflict escalation could be a good strategy. But it certainly wouldn’t be cheap.

  7. Chris, I think it is the ground troops and occupation that are the major problem. If I were president, here is what I would do with our foreign policy:

    1)immediately convene a peace meeting with the Taliban. Agree with them that we will pull out under XXX conditions. Let them know privately that if they ever harbor an al qaeda-like group again we will be back and will kill them all.
    2)Declare a peace agreement with the Taliban and begin pulling out.
    3)Start doing just as you say and create a carrier group that patrols the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Let the world know about this carrier group. The purpose would be to let Middle Easterners know we are ready to defend ourselves if attacked. Otherwise, we will stay out of internal affairs.
    4)Pull all troops out of Iraq and declare to Iraqis and the world that we won and are leaving.
    5)Immediately stop all operations in Libya and declare that it is up to Libyans to work out their own problems.
    6)End all foreign aid to the Middle East. Declare our policy is neutrality and friendship to all.
    7)Close military bases in Germany and Okinawa. Study what other bases can be closed.
    8)Announce “friendship free trade agreements” with the world and negotiate free trade everywhere.

    The above policy would probably save us at least $200 billion a year, if not more. It would make us safer, would calm the bond markets and save Americans from being killed. We would do business with more countries and create new American (non-military) jobs.

  8. I was a supporter of the war in Afghanistan because I believed that was the way to capture or kill the people that had attacked us. In fact, one of the reasons I was so unhappy about the war in Iraq was I felt like it took the focus away from our real enemy. Now that we find out he was killed by a small group, relying on almost a year of intelligence gathering, it’s upsetting to think about the lives on both sides and the money wasted destroying a country he wasn’t even staying in any more.

    I like your plan Geoff because I think it reflects the modern enemy. Not countries full of armies battling each other, but small pockets of enemies that can be taken out with less money spent and people killed.

    As for his death, I don’t feel guilty being happy about it because in my mind that could bring us one step closer to bring an end to the war over there and having more of our troops come home. Now it may not end up having the slightest impact on that situation, but I can hope.

    “1)immediately convene a peace meeting with the Taliban. Agree with them that we will pull out under XXX conditions. Let them know privately that if they ever harbor an al qaeda-like group again we will be back and will kill them all.
    2)Declare a peace agreement with the Taliban and begin pulling out.”
    I agree, but think it’s probably political suicide. Maybe a Republican could get away with it, but if Obama attempted this I believe most conservatives would spend the next 18 months calling it his Vietnam and wondering aloud why he’s such a wimp and why doesn’t he believe the U.S. can win.

    “6)End all foreign aid to the Middle East. Declare our policy is neutrality and friendship to all.”
    Does this include aid to Israel? Because if it does, that’s a very bold statement.

  9. I think we liberate Israel by ending aid to both Israel and her enemies. I am very pro-Israel, but Israel can defend herself. Look at how Israel has handled the Iranian nuke threat: by introducing computer viruses and killing the top Iranian nuclear scientist. I say we do more trade with Israel, and all of the world, and we stop foreign aid. Yeah, I’m not likely to get elected to anything anytime soon.

  10. Geoff B.,
    It was my understanding that the U.S. had more than a little to do with the computer viruses. Am I mistaken?

    Agreed that we should pull out of there (stop sending them big money and big weapons).

  11. Wow, I’m absolutely shocked. You may be one of the few conservatives I’ve heard say that, but I totally agree. Maybe they don’t need to be cut off completely, but large reductions across the board would be great.

  12. Geoff, I agree.

    I would also add to your list, a note that we will seek peace with other nations. However, if we find that a nation has supported terrorism against us or our allies, we reserve the right for retribution. For example, if they harm or kill 5 Americans, we will wipe out a small town of our choosing that supports those terrorists. Not a nice thing to do, but better than the tens of thousands who have died in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. And with each additional attack, the retribution goes up.

    If they realize that we are serious, they will think thrice before attacking. Such concept worked with the Soviet Union regarding nukes. Such will work with this, also.

    As for free trade concepts, I agree, however they must be established without all the additional pay offs and bribes that currently affect the free trade agreements we have. Also, we need to ensure an even playing field with those who cheat, such as China with their currency.

  13. I have always found the celebrate American death mob behavior in the Middle East disturbing. I was dismayed to see Americans imitating it.

  14. JJ, next time a conservative tells you he is in favor of foreign aid, ask him why he favors socialism. Foreign aid is nothing more than taking money from American taxpayers and giving it ti mostly corrupt govts overseas. Why do we think those govts will use the money wisely. I am in favor of extensive private, voluntary aid to the foreign poor like the Church does. Btw, I think most conservatives would disown me now. I am more libertarian than conservative.

  15. I think the jumping up and down type celebrations are more than a little unseemly, but there is certainly more than a little difference between celebrating the death of a mass murderer and celebrating a mass murder.

  16. This is what I often see the ever-so-tempting (to me) isolationist policies being reduced to. Hold up in the USA. Make a warning not to mess with us. If you do, we’ll kill you all. “Let them know privately that if they ever harbor an al qaeda-like group again we will be back and will kill them all.”

    Except for it mistakes everything we know about the nature of knowledge, wisdom, judgement, forgiveness, and mercy. Imagine your scenario where 10 years after we’ve left the world to itself, so to speak, the USA is attacked again, this time under some pretense that because American companies have factories or do business with factories in XYZ land we are supporting some “bad” regime (in the eyes of the future terrorists). The broader point is, that we, or someone else, will always be irrationally blamed and those willing to commit violence will often seek to do so.

    So now that we’ve been Mr. Nice Guy for 10 years, and we get attacked again, and some nation is/was complicit we decide to go with your “I warned you once, and now you all die policy” and nuke or bomb the hell out of the place. Where is the virtue in that? We get to feel happy that we were above the fray and then we sail in like triumphant Gods and destroy those who ought to be destroyed after we left them to themselves and they couldn’t play nice?

    I actually don’t see much difference from that policy to the one we currently pursue, other than our current policy is aimed at involvement, engagement, mixed with the always present threat of military intervention. Let’s not forget Japan attacking Pearl Harbor because they deemed us a threat to their own expansion (and the oil/trade issues).

    Even if we hole up somewhere, we will always be a threat to some imperialistic nation or tribe of fanatics. Better I believe to stay engaged with the world. And I’m not suggesting our current policy over the last 20+ years has got it right. But getting it wrong in a different direction that leaves us strategically and influentially worse off doesn’t seem like a better idea.

  17. Chris, there is probably a middle way between my non-interventionist policy and the current foreign nanny-state policy where we police the world. I don’t pretend to have all the answers — I am just a businessman with access to a computer. All I know is the current policy is not working, and we can’t afford it. So we need some changes. I will favor candidates who are more non-interventionist. Let’s see if any of them get elected.

    Tim, my understanding is that the Israelis were primarily behind the Stuxnet virus, but I think the program is so secret that we will not know all the details for some time, if ever.


  18. I didn’t come back to the idea of “we’ll kill them all” as it relates to knowledge, wisdom, mercy, etc. The fact is, one group or one person may decide not to act aggressively as a result of your warning, but others will. How will you know who is who? Will you issue this proclamation from generation to generation? Repeatedly warning and teaching each of America’s potential aggressors not to mess with us? How will you do that (credibly) from within fortress America?

    It assumes a static state of knowledge and experience, which just doesn’t exist. We can all decide today what to do, but as a society, what will happen in 5 years? And will it be taken for granted that the same people are in charge or involved on “the other side” 5 years from now? Each generation brings a new crop who will have to be “taught a lesson”. I just don’t think heavy handed isolationist with the threat of overwhelming force philosophy will work the way you imagine it will. “They” won’t be the same people in a few years and “We” won’t have the same combat capabilities and experience in a few years, especially after withdrawing. It would seem as if I am arguing for endless wars and preparation for wars.

    I’m not, and it seems to me, the answers are always clear and we can in fact return to the proclamation to the world, “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”

    Successful societies start with the family. Successful individuals start with the family. Teaching the principles to the family in the above quote unceasingly from generation to generation, never taking for granted that what was taught once needs to be taught again (and again), is the only way.

    So that would be the one of the “few alternatives” I and I believe Elder Hinckley referenced that we could live with, other than what we are doing in. In absence of that I believe the more difficult and correct policy to pursue is one that keeps America active on the world stage. For if it’s not America, it will be someone else. And the justification, “well we warned you we’d destroy you if you messed with us” rings flat to my ears when our actions set the stage for someone to come to power and mess with us to begin with.

  19. Thanks Geoff. I feel a lot of the same things. Only a few minor disagreements but the overall sentiment I think is enough for me not to delineate them. (Like you I was also fooled about Iraq back when this started. The circumstances of the past decade have changed my life forever.)

  20. “JJ, next time a conservative tells you he is in favor of foreign aid, ask him why he favors socialism. ”

    I should make it clear Geoff, most conservatives I talk to are not in favor of foreign aid, UNLESS that aid is to Israel. That country really flips the trigger of conservatives, especially the social conservatives.

  21. Chris,

    Our engagement in all the world has increased our risks and dangers. Yes, even if we are less interventionist, we will still have risk. Guess what? Freedom and being the good guy means you accept risk. At the same time, one cannot show weakness to tyrants, otherwise they will try to topple you.

    We have been the world’s police force for decades now. Ever since the Truman Doctrine, at least. How has that worked for us? Cold War. Korean War. Vietnam War. Serbia. Panama. Lebanon. The current Islamic Jihad wars. Etc. I don’t see the world’s police force as fixing anything long term. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had a few years of peace, but then others filled the vacuum. So the generational reminder to other nations to play nicely will always be made, whether as a police force, non-interventionist, or something in between. It ends up being a checkbook issue. How much do we wish to spend fighting others’ wars? If Libya is okay, why not Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Iran and Pakistan? Why don’t we just invade or bomb everyone who may someday be a risk to us? That’s what the Bush doctrine states: preemption.

    Our nation, under George Washington’s counsel, was wise to stay out of Europe’s fights. While the squandered their lives and fortunes over silly wars, our nation mostly focused on becoming great. Today, while we squander lives and wealth over useless wars, China and India are becoming the new world powers. See a corollary? I do.

    How will we defend ourselves or others, when our military is worn out, its equipment exhausted, our dollar is worthless, and we are bankrupt?

    How did we win WWII? We bombed the fight out of Germany and Japan. We show great horror at dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but actually killed more civilians in fire bombing Dresden. The results were the same. We have had no more wars with Germany or Japan. They have rebuilt their societies with more liberal policies of freedom and wisdom, not the nationalist fanatic concepts that created Hitler’s Third Reich and the Emperor’s vision of owning the Pacific.

    Previous interventions have actually caused later troubles. Woodrow Wilson’s dividing up of nations after WWI led to the Serbian/Bosnian wars 75 years later, for example. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq have only created a huge financial mess as they were run by Pres Bush, and continued by Pres Obama. They’ve opened up radical Islam into more countries, making more potential enemies for us. I do not see the wisdom in those choices.

    Better to tell Pakistan that if any terrorists in their country attack us in anyway, they will be held partially responsible for it. In such a case, they wouldn’t be harboring the future Osama Bin Ladens in Islamabad’s suburbs in million dollar mansions.

  22. Ram:
    You think the history of interventionist wars started with the Truman Doctrine?
    Check Wikipedia for the list of wars involving the USA. In the hundred years preceding WWI:
    Northwest Indian War
    Franco-American War
    Barbary Coast War
    Algerian War
    Dozens and dozens of Indian Wars…
    Mexican-American War
    Bombardment of Greytown
    Spanish-American War
    Philippine Insurrection
    Moro Rebellion
    Boxer Rebellion
    Occupations of Honduras
    Occupation of Cuba
    Occupation of Nicaragua
    Pancho Villa Expedition
    Occupation of Haiti
    Occupation of the Dominican Republic

    And all of this was before America’s big role on the world stage.

    If you actually list out all the campaigns against individual tribes there are so many wars….

    You can see them all there. (some) Historians like to attribute our wars to our post-WW2 doctrines. But the evidence shows that as a nation founded in war, we have persisted in being a warlike nation.

    Granted, I’m not happy with it. But the whole, “let’s reduce our enemies cities to rubble if they mess with us” does not seem to be the correct line to walk. I think being engaged and finding ways to fight those who truly deserve to be fought, while at the same time going to great lengths to minimize casualties is actually something that makes America great. There is evil in the world and it needs to be battled against.

    Button-up the battleship America, and evil will still exist, only it will come to you on their terms, not yours — and you end up with terrible responses such as fire bombing cities or villages because we’re so fed up with the situation. No, I prefer the terrible alternative of being engaged and finding ways to conduct ourselves humanely with honor in the midst of the horrors of war (a paradox if there ever was one).

    Equally desirable, and I’m sincere in it, is being willing to lay down my life peacefully for the Lord’s sake. But while that action my be “good” for my own eternal character, I don’t see how it helps my neighbor who does not have the same testimony I do.

  23. No, I prefer the terrible alternative of being engaged and finding ways to conduct ourselves humanely with honor in the midst of the horrors of war (a paradox if there ever was one).

    Chris, war is by nature inhumane. It must be. It is not won otherwise. That’s why we should think good and hard before engaging in war (or signing up for the job of World Police). It’s also why, once we commit, we finish the job as quickly and efficiently as possible. Conducting Afghanistan “humanely” with ridiculous ROE’s and politicians and lawyers calling the shots is why we’re still bogged down there. What we did to Germany and Japan in WWII sucks, but the results are pretty clear.

  24. Wow, my blockquotes were magically reversed on me (either that or I fat-fingered the code).

    The top quote is Chris’. The bottom quote is my response.

  25. I do not think American interventionism started with Truman. I think our being the world’s police force started with him. Or hyper-interventionism.

    Few of our ventures in interventionism have brought us long term strength. Very few.

  26. There is evil in the world that needs to be fought. However, our interventions have often been misdirected and misguided. Ho Chi Minh was a communist who actually preferred being friends with the USA than Russia or China. We forced him into their camp by intervening. Only now, 40 years later, are we finally becoming friendly towards them and changing their system through free trade.

    What is so different between killing tens of thousands of Iraqis over a few days, rather than over a few decades? Just the amount of money we spend and our own casualties.

    Same in Afghanistan. We saw what happened to the Russians there. You’d think we would have expected the same. We needed to go in, kill Al Qaeda, and then leave. We would encourage them to join the world, and in doing so, we would help them. But they are no further along than they were a decade ago. Once we leave, the Taliban will restart the wars there. We have a new Vietnam, where many are dying and will continue to die, regardless of what we do there.

    It is an issue of living in the real world. There will always be evil men. We must destroy them, or be a symbol of light and peace for others to emulate. We cannot be a police and welfare system for the world. It does not work.

    For our true enemies, we must crush them. And then we help the survivors to rebuild, just as we did during WWII. But Iraq and Afghanistan were not crushed. Al Qaeda was not crushed. Even now, with Bin Laden dead, they are not gone. War is always awful. There is no such thing as a sanitized war. You may delay some events with a sanitized action, but eventually you can no longer kick the can down the road.

  27. My reservation in pulling out of Iraq or Afghanistan is rooted in our Vietnam experience. If you look at the records from 1973-75 you will see that we won that war. Nixon achieved peace with honor and all that, but we didn’t follow through when the Vietcong took over Saigon two years later. Ever since then the perception has been that America lost Vietnam, despite the fact that we were the diplomatic winners and had beaten the enemy in every direct armed encounter.

    We thoroughly pwned Saddam’s forces during the Gulf War and achieved our objective of liberating Kuwait. Imagine my surprise when I took an international politics class in college eight years later and learned that in Iraq, the people had always believed that they had won the Gulf War. We mocked their information minister in 2003 who kept telling their people that they were winning, up until our tanks rolled into Baghdad and exposed his lies in the most embarrassing way possible. Information and communication is vital in making the ignorant masses realize what’s really going on, and I don’t trust foreign Islamic governments to allow their people to know what’s really going on in the world.

    Look at how bullies and brutes behave in a fight. If you declare victory while they’re still fighting, they won’t believe it. The only way to convince a bully that he’s lost is to dominate him so thoroughly that he loses the will or capability of fighting back. If you walk away before that happens, you’ve lost, even if you tell him you’ve won. Captain Moroni didn’t just declare victory when he had outflanked Zerahemna’s army; he made them promise to keep the peace before letting them go.

    And if our enemies and the civilians who support them think we can be beaten, they won’t give up looking for ways to give us trouble. That’s why completely pulling up stakes in Iraq and Afghanistan sounds like such a bad idea to me.

  28. But we can say we’ve now killed Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, so we can now take our armies and go home as winners. Then we can continue the war on terror with quick assault teams and drones.

  29. Witt, I think you need to take a step back and look at the purpose of our foreign policy. The purpose should be to protect the homeland. Full stop. Not our interests, not Israel’s interests, not the UK’s interest. Defense of America.

    We have real enemies out there. They are radical Islamists who want to destroy the United States. There are at most 1000 of them hidden in caves in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What the heck are we doing working with the corrupt Karzai government? Our goal should be to have intelligence, small strike forces and rapid attack groups that will help us go after our real enemies. Everything else is peripheral.

    Nixon spent a good five years trying to extricate us from Vietnam, and even after millions were killed, we still did not have peace with honor. What is the end game in Afghanistan? A Western-style democracy? A pacified countryside? Ain’t gonna happen in our lifetimes. Now is the perfect time to declare victory and leave.

  30. Geoff is right. We have no reason to be in Afghanistan right now. What we did in killing Osama Bin Laden can easily be done elsewhere with other terrorists, as well.

  31. You missed my point. We can’t just declare victory and go home. The other side has to admit defeat. It’s so simple a stupid playground bully can explain it. If we tuck our tails and go home it will hurt the image of strength that is so important in deterring enemy attacks against us, which will not further our efforts to defend ourselves. We can argue back and forth about whether what we’ve done over the past ten years was the wisest course of action, but that’s not nearly as useful as dealing with matters as they are. And with things as they are, there’s no easy way out, even if we all want out.

  32. Peace! I sometimes will read the parts in the Book of Mormon where there is peace and purposefully avoid reading far enough for conflict to begin again. Peace to you, brother. Peace to the world!

  33. Witteafval,

    Why? There have been many wars ended with neither side declaring victory. Why can’t we state that we have met our objectives and go home? What are our objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan right now? What defines victory? When we’ve killed Osama Bin Laden? When we’ve killed all Afghanis and Iraqis? When we’ve killed every radical Muslim on earth? How about when we’ve nuked the entire world, leaving only the United States?

    What is your definition of victory?

    Seems to me we’ve gone beyond any requirements for victory. I also seem to recall Pres Bush standing in front of a sign that stated, “Mission Accomplished.” Well, was it or not? Is the only way to declare war to annihilate or convert everyone? I do not think that is realistic nor what we want as a nation.

  34. My definition of victory is when the other side gives up, as I said before. Nixon declared “peace with honor” in Vietnam, and the Vietcong took over the south as soon as we left. Bush declared “mission accomplished” when we took over Baghdad, and the fanatics kept fighting. As long as the enemy keeps trying to fight us, we have not met the requirements for victory. World War II didn’t end when we dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, respectively; it ended when Japan’s emperor announced their surrender on August 15th, and his officials signed the peace agreement on September 2nd.

    When Moroni’s army outflanked Zerahemna’s army, his condition for letting the Lamanites go was that they covenant to not attack the Nephites again. When they refused, he ordered his side to attack again, and they didn’t stop until the Lamanites agreed to his terms. Have the Taliban or Al-Qaeda or other terror organizations been willing to accept any meaningful terms we might have offered? Tell me when they do.

    Our objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq are the same as they’ve been from the beginning: overthrowing governments that support terrorism, and creating conditions in which the people can organize a government stable enough to ensure their own security without relying on us for help. Iraq has mostly done this, which is why our troops have been in the process of leaving there. There’s more to do in Afghanistan, but if we leave now, we would show the world that the Taliban can outlast us and that those who supported us can’t count on us to help them. We can’t afford to send that message.

    If I declared myself the winner in this debate, no one else with a differing opinion would believe it. If someone else told me my viewpoint was more correct than theirs, I wouldn’t have to say I had won, though that would be the reality.

  35. So, in Vietnam you would have had us level Hanoi? Burn South Vietnamese villages for supporting the Viet Cong? Those would have been the only way to victory. Unless, of course, China and Russia stepped in and nuked us back.

    As for Afghanistan and Iraq, do you really think they will be able to be changed? Perhaps if we stayed there a couple generations they might. Are you willing to join the Army Rangers and do your share of the fighting, and perhaps being killed?

    Moroni’s event was different. The enemy was directly in Nephite territory. He wasn’t in the middle of Lamanite country. He had no option but to demand surrender from them, or give up land.

    Let’s keep our analogies from the BoM apples to apples, shall we?

  36. I’m not saying what we should have done to win in Vietnam, nor what we should do to win in Afghanistan. Stop asking such manipulative questions. What I am saying is that winning isn’t achieved just by saying we’re winning. That’s Charlie Sheen thinking.

    The analogy with Moroni works just fine within the limits of my main point: If the other side hasn’t given up the fight, you haven’t won. The principle works whether the army that’s in a position to win is fighting on its home turf or within foreign territory. Moroni didn’t have to stop the battle to give the Lamanites a chance to withdraw under a covenant of peace; he had already outmaneuvered them and was simply offering them a chance to survive out of the greatness of his heart. He had every option available to him, from letting them go without preconditions to wiping them out to the last man.

    I think we can win in Afghanistan. Even if it grinds down to the kind of impasse we’ve been at in Korea for the past 50 years, that would be preferable to telling our enemies that we don’t have the integrity to finish what we’ve started. If I was younger and single the chances are very good that I would have joined the military once I got out of college shortly after 9/11. I voted for Bush in 2004 because unlike the other candidates, he didn’t promise to lose in Iraq–it’s not fair to give Bush all the credit for the war, because he had my support and the support of millions of other Americans who voted for him. I may not be eligible now to be a Ranger and put my life on the line the way they do, but that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to do that if I had to. Heck, I’m spending my time talking about this when I could be having more fun doing something else.

  37. That’s a cop out. You tell us that our view is wrong, but then will not expound on what victory means for you?

    There is a huge difference in South Korea. They’ve actually liked us there. I spent a year in South Korea in 1985 in the Air Force. The people treated us great. And there were no terrorists nor incursions going on, except at the border with North Korea. So, once again, you are comparing apples to oranges.

    Moroni’s story does not fit. Moroni did not march into downtown Lamanite capitol city and force a surrender. He didn’t have to. He just had to expel the enemy from the Nephite lands.

    Guess what? We’ve pretty much expelled the terrorists from the United States. Yes, there are a few here and there. But they are not an army. Nor are they in Afghanistan or Iraq. It is mop up operations now within the USA. And when they attack, we can do attacks on other nations, such as we did to kill Osama Bin Laden. Of course, that does not require that we are fighting in Afghanistan to do so.

  38. Witt, I used to believe what you are saying, and I ask this with all due respect: what is the definition of winning? You seem to imply it is staying 60 years if necessary like we have in Korea. Really? My cousin is currently serving in the region. I would really prefer that he die for a really, really good cause, not to protect our self-respect for no good reason. How many Americans are going to die in the next 60 years in Afghanistan while we protect our international self-esteem? And worse, how many more bin Ladens are we going to create occupying a country that doesn’t want us there? Did you know that Karzai, our supposed puppet, has told his people that he has three enemies, the Taliban, the U.S. and NATO? Is there any good scenario with him as the leader?

    Also, what does history show us regarding the nature of Afghanistan? This is important because history showed us with Vietnam that the Vietnamese would fight to the death. They had spent centuries fighting the Chinese, the French and others. What does history show us regarding Afghanistan?

    I have to say that the smartest possible thing we could do right now would be to declare victory and leave. I think that among everyday Arabs we would gain more respect because we would show that we are not like the Russians, ie, stupid enough to stay in Afghanistan until we are completely broke.

  39. I’ve said it three times before. Victory is achieved when the other side has given up the fight. Why is that so hard to understand?

    If it takes 60 years to win a fight, it takes 60 years. If it takes less than a minute to win a fight, it takes less than a minute. The variable is how resolved your opponent is to keep fighting; how much they have to gain by continuing the fight versus conceding the thing their opponent wants. We didn’t really win in Korea, but we haven’t lost there either. MacArthur lost his job because he wanted to escalate the war by attacking China, but Truman said no. Instead both sides reached a stalemate, a cease-fire came about, and that’s how things have been ever since. If we have to settle for a divided Afghanistan similar to Korea, that’s a better alternative than tucking our tails and running for home.

    Our campaign in Afghanistan is not about self-esteem. It’s about overthrowing a government that had hosted the terror organization responsible for carrying out 9/11. Although we gained the upper hand over the Taliban rather quickly once we went in, they’ve never quite given up, so we’re still there. There have been many Afghans willing to support us, and if we pull out right now we would betray the trust they put in us. Self-esteem isn’t the issue, it’s credibility. When you say you’re going to do something, and then you give up before the job’s done, how credible are you? How trustworthy? Why would anyone believe in you again? They don’t care that your obstacles were a little tougher than you expected, they just see that you didn’t have the fortitude and integrity to be as good as your word.

    Based on our history, I don’t see our presence in Afghanistan as analogous to the Soviet or British attempts to conquer that country. We’re not establishing a colony there; we’re not trying to control the area as a buffer to protect India from China or Russia, or whatever. They don’t have any resource to exploit that we can’t obtain more easily elsewhere. The territories we have conquered in the past have either willingly joined us as territories or states, or gained their independence. If Karzai says we’re an enemy, he’s not a very good puppet of ours now, is he? The fact that we allow him to rule with that attitude just proves how uninterested we are in ruling Afghanistan the way the Soviets wanted to. He may not be an ideal leader by American standards, but that’s who the Afghans picked, and he’s still a better choice than the Taliban. We have to work with what’s there.

    And I fail to understand why anyone would think the Arabs would respect us for leaving before the job’s done. They would perceive our withdrawal as weakness, and weakness invites abuse, not respect. Leaving Afghanistan because of costs is such a shortsighted idea; with the Taliban still around they’ll just go back to doing what they did before we came in, and we’ll have to face these costs all over again when their terrorist guests carry out another big attack and we decide to take them on once more. This doesn’t mean I like the situation, but when has reality ever cared about our feelings?

  40. Witte,

    You are still comparing apples to oranges. Korea was two nations prior to the war. There was no internal dissension. Afghanistan is like Vietnam, where you have an external enemy (N Vietnam / Al Qaeda) and an internal enemy (Viet Cong / Taliban). We could not win in Vietnam, because even if we destroyed Hanoi, we couldn’t get rid of the VC.

    If you wanted victory in Vietnam, it would have required obliterating the north, and then burning villages in the South where the VC hid out.

    We could do that in the Middle East, also. But be prepared to nuke Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine, and perhaps several other nations. To “win” by your definition means we must have them begging for surrender. Since Al Qaeda and jihadists dwell in many Arab nations, we’ll have to accomplish utter destruction to win. This is what we had to do in WWII. Ready to go nuclear on the Arab world?

    I’m personally not into such killing, unless absolutely necessary. And I’m not convinced it is necessary.

  41. Korea was two nations prior to the war. There was no internal dissension.

    That is a bit of an oversimplification. South Korea and North Korea were never intended to be independent nations. Korea was governed as a unified, independent country for nearly a thousand years. Japan annexed Korea in 1910, and ran it as a unified peninsula for the next thirty five years.

    Towards the end of WWII, Russia jumped in to the battle against Japan, and ended up occupying what is now North Korea. After the surrender of Japan, the U.S. ended up occupying the south. The idea was after a time there would be free and fair elections to choose a unified government, but this never happened.

    Instead, in 1948 there were elections in the north, and elections in the south. Neither government recognized the other. Both sides considered themselves to be the legitimate rulers of the entire peninsula. So in 1950, the north decided to invade the south, and there started a three year war that ended in a cease fire, not a peace treaty.

    Only relatively recently has there been any real sign that either government is willing to make peace with the other. That’s not going so well lately either.

  42. As far as Afghanistan goes, I think the idea that there can be a divided Afghanistan without a foreign military presence is more than a little naive.

    If we withdraw completely, the Taliban will retake the country in short order. The best we can hope for is a negotiated settlement of some sort – most likely a de facto recognition of the status quo. We would have to have some military presence in the country to maintain that, albeit far less than what we have now.

    It’s one of these you break it you bought it kind of things. As attractive as it sounds, we are not just going to walk away. We would at least have to try to broker a peace agreement first.

  43. Mark, yes it was an over-simplification. But it still fit my thoughts on the issue. Afghanistan is like Vietnam, not like Korea.

    We brokered a “peace” in Vietnam. It lasted only long enough for us to leave. We could have remained decades, and it would still have been a waiting game for the enemies.

  44. I agree that the situation we had in Vietnam is more like Afghanistan in certain critical respects, most significantly geography. If South Vietnam was a peninsula, it probably never would have been overrun.

  45. I’m well aware that we could be there for a long time. Islamic jihadists have had it in for the U.S. ever since the Barbary War of Jefferson’s administration. Claiming that Korea and the Moroni example I cited are irrelevant misses the very limited point I was making with them, that in both cases victory wasn’t gained by just claiming victory. It doesn’t matter if the fight happens on foreign soil or at home, in an offensive or defensive effort; if you give up the fight before the opposition does, you have lost, even if you had the upper hand. Moroni didn’t win by saying, “I won. Have a nice day.” The only thing we won in Korea was a free south, not the war, which is why we still have troops on their border to the north. I’m not saying how we’re supposed to win; I’m just saying that declaring victory and leaving is in reality a loss. And in the long run we can’t afford that kind of a loss.

  46. And for me, it isn’t a loss. Nor is it necessary to continue having soldiers in South Korea. They have long been able to handle North Korea by themselves.

    And given we have quick airlift/naval capability, we can be in any area of the world fairly quickly.

    Moroni ended the war when he kicked the Lamanites out of his lands. Yet, he could have insisted that it wasn’t a victory until they had gone to the capitol city of the Lamanites and destroyed it. That is basically what you are insisting we do. Instead of driving Al Qaeda and terrorists from our shores, you would have us occupy dozens of nations where Al Qaeda and other terrorists hide out. If that is the case, why do we not take the full all-out war to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and etc? Why do we not wear out our soldiers in leveling nation after nation?

    Of course, France and Germany sold weapons to Iraq during the years the international sanctions were on it, so we should nuke France and Germany as well!

    If you take your logic to its end, then we may as well admit we are war mongers and go kill everyone.

    As I’ve explained above, you are still comparing Moroni to oranges.

    It would be better for us to declare war on terrorism. We succeeded in getting OBL, and we can get others also, much cheaper, and more effectively, by withdrawing a space, and giving them room to hang themselves.

  47. Nor is it necessary to continue having soldiers in South Korea. They have long been able to handle North Korea by themselves.

    I know an awful lot of Koreans who would strenuously disagree, and US military presence in Korea isn’t only about North Korea.

  48. Witt, let me give you my last thoughts on this subject, not with the feeling that no matter how good my arguments are that I will somehow “convince” you, but instead with an honest sharing if how I went from generally supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to now very strongly opposing them. I think you are a pretty smart guy, and I don’t think any of this will change your mind (it would not have changed my mind four years ago), but I hope perhaps to develop a coherent philosophy that might be of interest to other readers.

    1)When is war justified? In my opinion, only defensive wars are justified in which the United States is directly attacked and is retaliating. I feel that in the last 100 years, there have only been two justified wars, World War II, and the beginning of the Afghan conflict, perhaps the first six months. Once we overthrew the Taliban and had al Qaeda on the run, we should have left Afghanistan.

    2)What does the Constitution say about war? The only justified wars according to the Constitution are those where Congress declares war. We have not had a declared war since World War II. Congress would have declared war on the Taliban in 2001 — it was a huge mistake for Bush not to ask for a declaration of war. This is extremely important because we must live by the rule of law. We cannot have a founding document that is ignored all of the time (as it is today).

    3)What would happen if we left Iraq and Afghanistan? Well, this is the 100 trillion dollar question. I believe the Arab world would respect us for it. Let me tell you why. Which country is responsible for some of the biggest human rights abuses against Muslims today? China. Yes, China. China has repressed, jailed and killed tens of thousands of Muslims in Western China for decades. Islamists should have a long list of grievances against China, but they don’t. Why? Because China leaves the Middle East alone. China”s policy is simply to do business with the middle east, with Africa, with Latin America, etc. Islamists don’t hate the Chinese, even though they have a real reason to (the repression of Muslims in China). No suicide bombers are attacking Chinese interests. In fact, there is virtually no security around Chinese embassies and businesses worldwide. Why? Because China does not interfere in other people’s internal affairs. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we should emulate China in other ways, instead I am concentrating on the narrow issue of foreign policy. Our policy should be to do business with the world and be neutral and announce that we are friends with everyone.

    4)We can’t afford it. We simply cannot afford to be the policemen of the world. Our debt this year is $1.65 trillion. Next year even higher. We spend nearly $800 billion a year on “defense.” We could easily spend half of that and defend our country against foreign attacks, which is what defense is supposed to be. Yes, we should cut elsewhere, and everywhere. We should have a balanced budget. The only way that is possible is to include large, and I mean huge, defense cuts.

    5)I simply cannot justify to myself arguing in favor of wars overseas. Emotionally, it seems incredibly wrong. When we are attacked, yes, I say we respond, just as the righteous groups in the BoM did again and again. But proactive wars, like the ones we are still conducting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. seem very, very wrong to me.

    So, I have laid out my case. These are the arguments that convinced me to go from neocon to non-interventionist. I hope they are convincing to someone else.

  49. Like Geoff, four years ago, I was also sucked up into the neo-conservative stuff. But I’ve re-looked at everything over the last 4 years. Interestingly, in the early 1990s I was a Libertarian. But with 9/11 followed Bush into his new methodology and wars.

    Now, I realize that the Libertarian way, though not perfect, is the best method. We need to get out of foreign wars and nation building and world’s police force. It hurts us in the long run. Our real enemies are gaining strength and quietly building their militaries and financial power, while we squander both.

    We will have no strength to defend ourselves at home when our economy collapses under such over-extending. Our military will be too busy elsewhere to save us at home. And we won’t be able to afford to bring them home.

  50. Supposing that it is actually necessary for US troops to remain in South Korea, at a minimum South Korea should bear the full cost for them to be there.

  51. But then why us? Why should South Korea employ our military? Are we going from world police force to mercenaries? Why can’t South Korea, one of the world’s strongest economies, afford to manage their own military. And if they need more, hire some private force?

    Having been to the DMZ, I know that the RoK (Republic of Korea) has sufficient firepower to take down the North, which cannot even feed itself. We are in South Korea as much to keep the South from invading the north, as to keep the north from invading. We are no longer needed there.

    Strategy-wise, there is no reason for us to remain there. At least not at the strengths we currently have. A few military advisors and a promise that we’ll be back if there is trouble, is all we need. We have little to no military presence in Taiwan, yet our agreement with them casts a shadow that is powerful enough to keep Red China from invading.

    However, if we wear out our military and its equipment in useless wars and deployments, or if we bankrupt our nation so we cannot afford our needed military actions, then Red China will not fear invasion into Taiwan.

    We will defeat ourselves, if we attempt to keep doing what we are doing.

  52. What a great read. Thank You. I agree whole heartedly, and this are the same conclusion I’ve come after reading the book of mormon.

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