In 1838 the Cherokee were stripped of their rights and forced to move against their will by the governments of Georgia and the United States. The Cherokee coined the phrase, "Trail of Tears," to describe their suffering. The term seems apt in this case to describe the trail of suffering in the Middle East and beyond from 1948 to the present. The violence began when I was in grade school and has continued unabated to the present. To make matters worse, today the issues are far more complex, far more deadly, far more serious than when it all began and there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet. To illustrate this point of view, it began with simply the question of the survival or extinction of the Israeli nation. While that question still persists to this day, the issues today are far more complex because the U.S. is involved in two wars in the Middle East, one involving NATO.
Presented here is a highlight reel of the tragedy known as the Middle East Conundrum, or the "Trail of Tears," if you will. 1948-1949, following Israel's declaration of independence, forces from the surrounding Arab nations, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, launched an all-out, but uncoordinated attack on the vastly outnumbered Israel i forces. However, Israel managed to avoid being driven into the sea and even expanded their territory over the original UN partition plan. The Suez Canal Crisis, fall 1956. June 1967, the Six-Day War between Israel Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The Israeli victory further entrenched Arab hatred of Israel. Oct. 1973, the Yom Kippur War, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, a day when large portions of the army were on leave to be with their families, the combined armies of Egypt and Syria entered Israel relatively unopposed; result: another Israeli victory.
1979-1989 - the Soviet/Afghan War resulting in a defeat for the Red Army and collapse of the Soviet Union quickly followed.
1980-1987 - the Iran/Iraq War: basically a stalemate.
1991, the Persian Gulf War: resulting in a quick victory for an American-led coalition.
Sept. 11, 2001, the terrorist organization known as Al-Qa'ida, based in Afghanistan, attacked the United States, resulting in the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center along with Building No. 7. Nearly 3,000 American civilians died, and the Pentagon was also severely attacked.
In Oct. 2001, an American-led NATO force attacked Afghanistan. Those forces are still there over eight years later.
In March 2003, an American-led coalition invaded Iraq. U.S. forces are still there. The coalition is not. In addition, today serious questions are being raised about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Sept. 5, 1972 - the Olympic Games, Munich - a little-known Palestinian group called Black September attacked Israeli athletes within the Olympic Village, nine Israelis were killed along with five terrorists.
Nov. 4, 1979 - the U.S. embassy in Tehran is attacked, and the Hostage Crisis begins, lasting 444 days.
April 18, 1983 - the truck bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 63.
Oct. 23, 1983 - the truck bombing of U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut killing 241 American troops, and, moments later, another bomb went off killing 58 French soldiers. During the 1970's and 80's there were numerous attacks on civilian airliners, most resulting in deaths and/or the destruction of the aircraft.
Feb. 26, 1993 - the World Trade Center in New York is bombed, six killed, 1,000 injured.
Nov. 13, 1995 - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - seven people are killed in a U.S. military center by a car bomb.
June 25, 1996 - Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia - 19 American soldiers were killed and 500 wounded when a fuel truck exploded. Aug. 7, 1998 - U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania are bombed almost
Oct. 12, 2000 - the U.S. destroyer, Cole, was bombed while docked at Aden, Yemen for refueling and 17 sailors were killed.
Oct. 12, 2002 - in the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Indonesia, a suicide bomber and a huge car bomb killed 202 in Bali, most were foreign nationals enjoying a vacation.
March 11, 2004 - the Madrid train bombings killed 191 people, injured 1800, and drastically affected the Spanish elections held three days later when a peace candidate, Jose Luis RodrÃguez Zapatero, surprisingly became the P.M. of Spain, and as quickly as possible he withdrew Spanish forces from Iraq.
July 7, 2005 - in the worst attack on London since WWII, three bombs exploded within fifty seconds of each other on three London Underground trains, a fourth exploding an hour later at 09:47 on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square, and 50 civilians were killed.
In the midst of this on-going turmoil, serious consideration should be given to the possibility that the President of the United States is not helping. On Dec. 1st, Obama announced that he has ordered an additional 30,000 combat troops to Afghanistan and there is every likelihood that soon he will announce an additional 4,000 trainers to that combat zone. He stated that this strategy has three core elements. First, he intends to maintain pressure on Al-Qa'ida on the Afghan-Pakistani border and in other regions of the world. Second, he intends to blunt the Taliban offensive by sending an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, along with an unspecified number of NATO troops he hopes will join them. Third, he will use the space created by the counteroffensive against the Taliban and the resulting security in some regions of Afghanistan to train and build Afghan military forces and civilian structures to assume responsibility after the United States withdraws. He added that the U.S. withdrawal will begin in July 2011, but provided neither information on the magnitude of the withdrawal nor the date when the withdrawal would conclude, making it clear that this will depend on the situation on the ground, adding that the U.S. commitment is finite as is our patience.
It would be well to examine each of these objectives and attempt to discern if they are achievable. The first objective is somewhat surprising. Al-Qa'ida is no longer in Afghanistan. According to the military's own assessment there are approximately 100 Al-Qa'ida fighters in Afghanistan. Al-Qa'ida and its leadership is located in the northwest frontier regions of Pakistan, and, legally, not one of those 30,000 troops can enter that country. If the President wishes to combat Al-Qa'ida "in other regions of the world" why is he posting 100,000 American troops in a country where that organization barely exists? Incidentally, there are still 124,000 troops in Iraq where Al-Qa'ida is and always has been nonexistent. Consequently, due to the drawn-out nature of both these wars, the additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan drops our reserves to extremely dangerous levels. A military commander shudders at such a prospect and battles have been lost due to the absence of a reserve.
The second objective is to blunt the Taliban offensive, not to defeat the Taliban. Since the days of Alexander the Great, who also tried to subdue Afghanistan, the objective of war is to defeat the enemy. If a nation's people, if a nation's leaders do not have the will to defeat the enemy, said nation has no business going to war in the first place. This objective in the minds of some is beyond incredulity, and it sharpens the resolve of the enemy, in this case, the Taliban.
The third objective is to secure some regions of Afghanistan for rebuilding projects. What about the regions not so lucky? Will they remain under Taliban control? The President is not admitting that, but, taking into account the second element, it certainly sounds like it, and he has said nothing to dismiss that supposition. Another objective in the secure regions is to train Afghani security forces to liquidate Afghani troops, meaning the Taliban. First, we have been doing that for several years now with no appreciable results. Second, in an insurgency war that has never worked, amounting to pabulum for the home folks, something for which they can vainly dream about. I. F. Stone, disparaging of the Vietnam War in the 1970's, concluded: "Not enough Asians are going to fight Asians for us even if the price is right." Why would Islamic Afghans join with the Christian West to fight Islamic Afghans? A critic might state that idea is working in Iraq. That is not a valid claim, not by a long shot, and the critic is reminded that there are still 124,000 American troops in Iraq. The aforementioned critic can make that claim when, and only when, those folks are home ... or gone to fight in Afghanistan.
As to the time-line, many regret it because it appears to the American people that the Afghan war will drag on for another 18 months, making it nearly a ten-year war, the longest in our history. Meanwhile, we are not out of Iraq, either, and the seventh anniversary is rapidly approaching.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs admitted recently that each extra American soldier deployed will be at a cost of a million dollars a year, not including the added expense of training and maintaining a security force.
AU.S. Army general pointed out that we are in above our heads in the Middle East, more specifically, Afghanistan. Our troops are in the midst of a hornet's nest, outnumbered with supplies lines that stretch around the globe and their final lap is through the most treacherous terrain found anywhere in the world, western Pakistan and the Khyber Pass. In addition, mathematics does not work in Afghanistan. In so many words he illustrated the problem in this way. Let us say that in a certain locale there are ten Taliban soldiers and a firefight breaks out between them and NATO forces. The NATO forces kill two of them, that leaves eight, right? No, not really. Hypothetically, but only in terms of numbers, four close family members of the two deceased Taliban soldiers become enraged at the attack on their family and join the Taliban. In essence, two enemy are killed resulting in a force of twelve rather than eight. In Afghanistan that is a simple but accurate illustration of what is happening there. Along with the forbidding landscape, that is one reason why no world power since before Biblical times has ever been capable of reining in Afghanistan, not the British Empire, not the Soviet Union ... and not the United States. The strange mathematics is the reason General McChrystal told his troops recently that the supply of militants is effectively endless.
Humans have a remarkable capacity to learn from past mistakes. Actually, it is how we have survived during untold millennia since the last Ice Age and the extinction of the dinosaurs. We have an unique capability to not be burned twice, to learn, thus ensuring our survival. This unique survival instinct is embodied in the old adage, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Yet, when it comes to the Middle East Conundrum we humans experience brain death. After 60+ years of turmoil, death, and destruction we have learned nothing. Many on both sides brandish a sword when a white feather might be more appropriate. The unintended consequences of this intransigence on the part of our world's leaders will result in another decade of killing and destruction followed by more decades of death.
Unless something is done and done quick, because everyday brings more death, injury, and suffering. It will require American leaders above my pay grade to iron it all out and make it go away. The first step, I think, is for those folks to get together with the folks in the Middle East and start talking, serious life-saving talks. They start with this mind set: Islam will never, ever conquer the West or change our thinking, and the reverse is also true. Then go from there and end it.