The haunting lyrics and music of "Bring Him Home" in the musical Les Miserables provide the context for consideration of U.S. foreign policy and the deployment of our military around the world. The moment family and friends say farewell to our women and men in uniform, the longing for return is present. We celebrate the courage and sacrifice of those who are in harm's way, while lamenting the circumstances that place them there. I have spoken to many military officers and to a person they aim to protect their soldiers while fulfilling the mission.
Since World War II, the USA military has been present around the world. In some cases, we are welcome, as we provide the first line of defense for smaller nations against totalitarian aggressors (think South Korea). In other locales, we have born the brunt of the cost of freedom while historic allies rebuilt their economies (NATO). At other times, we have engaged in controversial conflicts with mixed or negative results (Vietnam, and multiple Caribbean and Latin American interventions) that fuel anger and distrust.
The foci of our efforts since 9/11 include defeating terrorism overseas and defending allies from regimes bent on their destruction (Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle East deployments by air and sea). The results are mixed. Bush-haters point to the loss of life, fiscal black hole and animus toward the USA. Conservatives respond rhetorically with, "Well, no one has attacked us since 9/11, have they?" and they point to recent intelligence materials that reveal a complex web of misinformation on WMD's.
President Obama rode a wave of disgust toward the Bush years as well as a tsunami of historic hope all the way to Washington. He also pledged to bring American troops home as soon as possible, declaring Bush policies a failure in their current constructs.
Well, the exigencies of governing in the real world bring us to our current state of confusion. How do we confront terrorism, without egregious loss of life, unending occupation of other lands and spiraling deficits?
We need a Third Way for 21st century military action. Without being the world's policeman, a neocolonial occupation force or reverting to "fortress America", we can forge a sane policy. The answer is to target specific locations of terrorism, intervene with overwhelming force and hand over the reigns to local leaders in weeks, not months. Terrorism knows no geography and is no respecter of civilian and military opponents. Our military actions must fall within very specific boundaries of just war theory. We must reject the preemptive philosophy of Bush and the contempt for the military that is just under the surface of the current Administration.
We should station strike forces strategically so that we can respond to known threats in consultation with allies. We should also bring home all but essential personnel from any lands capable of defending themselves. NATO needs us as one ally, not the bank roller and burden-bearer that lets the EU develop her competitive economy while we bear their military costs.
We should help create an Iraqi Confederation that will defend itself soon and keep some troops there (as part of a real Allied force) to respond to serious threats. Afghanistan is almost intractable. She has resisted multiple empires and seems organically incapable of moderate self-rule. The best we can hope for is a UN presence and thousands of business and charity agencies establishing sufficient critical mass so that the major tribes can resist the Taliban. Let's turn over the nation-building to public and private civilian agencies and charities made for that purpose and bring our troops home. Let's bring most of our European troops home. Let's streamline our systems, give our great soldiers the support they need for care and transition and start rebuilding our domestic infrastructure.
Peacemaking is more than Sate Department elites engaged in endless conversation. Peacemaking is more than military intervention. Peacemaking requires the courage of millions to say no to fear, stand up to intolerance and forge a better future. Where are the Palestinian leaders who will unequivocally acknowledge Israel as a legitimate nation and future partner for peace? Every truce, every accord has come with an offer of friendship, yet the radical leaders refuse. Will thousands of Arab Christians and moderate Muslims finally say, "Enough!" to Hamas and others and decide to renounce all terrorism, all extermination language and secure a place for their children to grow up without hate? The media focuses on the 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem and misses the self-destruction of Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal. The fences bring derision, while unreasonable demands are couched as part of "negotiations." How about mobilizing thousands of Afghan Muslim women to say no to the Taliban? What about waging peace with massive business development and relief efforts in Iraq that will reveal the paucity of radical alternatives?
We need more peacemaking, more private investment, more charitable action and more moral courage. We do not need more government programs with all their corruption and inefficiency. Let's bring our brightest minds from all fields together, work on plans that will work and watch the real genius of liberty transform what look like intractable situations into opportunities for freedom.