Henry Lawton is a candidate for the M.Phil in International Relations at Jesus College. He has published a number of journal articles on different elements of contemporary U.S. foreign policy; including special operations raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan, tensions with Iran and the use of social media to monitor Human Rights. He has interned at a number of foreign policy think tanks and was employed as a policy advisor to a Federal parliamentarian in Australia before coming to Cambridge.
"Can I be honest with you? I am bad news. I'm not your friend. I'm not going to help you. I'm going to break you. Any questions?"
So goes the memorable line from the American interrogator in Zero Dark Thirty - the film that, along with The Hurt Locker, comes closest in the popular consciousness of the Anglosphere to an uncomfortable zeitgeist of the post-9/11 era. When this controversial film was largely snubbed at the Oscars earlier this week, many breathed a sigh of relief - better to forget All That.
To this Australian, whose armed forces have been heavily involved in so many American military misadventures, there is a profound and shameful disconnection between me - as a civilian in whose name the wars of the past decade have been fought - and the costs and consequences of U.S.-led military dominance. Where is our regret? Our introspection?
Restraint is a scarce virtue for the elites who largely craft our foreign policy; 'The Best and the Brightest' as bitterly but not inaccurately labelled by the late David Halberstam as the war in Vietnam was winding down. On February 25th 2011, then-U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, voiced this frustration when he told an assembly of Army cadets:
"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined.' "
Ok, let's examine. The post-9/11 intoxication of wealth, power, fear and the ease with which they can be used and abused has seen the constant and incredibly costly search for easy answers to contradictory, contingent, and complex international problems. Here are just two consequences of American-led actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, drawn from the authoritative Costs of War project complied 31 October 2012:
• Putting together all of the wars' dead, their moderate estimate is that 313,890 have died. This total includes US and allied uniformed troops, US contractors, national military and police in the war zones, civilians, opposition forces, journalists, and humanitarian and NGO workers. Of course, this doesn't include the millions of people have been displaced indefinitely.
Yes, that many.
• While most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars' budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid as of June 2011 are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars.
Yes, that much.
Was it worth it? How many schools, hospitals and crucial pieces of infrastructure could have that built? As President Eisenhower once cautioned:
"..each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.."
Pity nobody listened. So yes, the overwhelming American dominance that allowed our Coalition the reckless luxury of searching for those 'monsters to destroy' this past decade is something we should regret - at home and abroad.
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