Wednesday June 6 marks the 68th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe, beginning the final part of World War II. The certainty that took the United States into that war also elevated the country as a superpower.
After World War II, uncertainty began to set into the purpose of American war-making. The Korean War for example, was treated as a police action even though thousands of American soldiers died and it was a real war with an uncertain ending that finished where it began on the 38th Parallel.
Then there was the Vietnam War that almost tore the country apart and caused our soldiers to die in the futility of defeat or who faced hatred upon their return home. The Gulf War was a clear victory that redeemed the American military, but was cut short after 100 hours because politics dictated that Saddam Hussein should live to fight another day.
Uncertainty came to a head in American’s decision to invade Iraq for no responsible reason. America had made the ultimate mistake of attacking first and asking questions later.
In March 2005, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction offered a report on the intelligence community’s treatment of uncertainty about Iraq. Among the concerns were that the pre-war assessment of whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction did not adequately represent those uncertainties, adequately expressed the level of confidence in that evidence nor adequately explained the conclusion about going to war to the policy makers.
On top of that, the United States’ focus was placed on the pursuit of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden as reason to go to Iraq and fight a war on credit. Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan stagnated and has lasted much longer than Americans can support.
It appears now that our policy makers are coming to terms with the ambiguity of our war objectives in dealing with current issues in the Middle East including Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Yemen and Syria’s struggle for liberation. Also, Iran is providing another opportunity to face an intelligence challenge similar to the Iraq assessment before the invasion.
It is almost like a do-over that is seeing the challenges being met in different ways. In Egypt and Morocco’s case, the world watched as their citizens took their countries back. Libya and Yemen’s struggles have generated limited military support to accomplish the aims of populations seeking political freedom.
At the moment, there are those in this country clamoring for the United States to engage in direct support of Syrian rebels no matter who they are. They also want us to go to war to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
At the same time, there are nuclear powers such as North Korea and Pakistan that provide unique challenges that cannot be solved militarily. It is clear that America has to exercise leadership in a very unpredictable world.
It is also clear that America is beginning to recognize that today there are great uncertainties of purpose associated with taking the country to war. We are also coming to realize that there might be other ways of effectively dealing with the problems of the day.
As we commemorate the June 6 invasion of Europe, we should remember that in World War II we were attacked first and we had a clear understanding of why we were at war. The bottom line today is that war does not make the same sense that it used to.