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Has ‘Mission Accomplished’ made us safer?

lew patrieLew Patrie, M.D., GUEST COLUMNIST
Asheville Citizen-Times
March 4, 2016

Brita Clark’s Feb. 7 guest column in the Asheville Citizen-Times calls us to action to address and eliminate the threat of thousands of nuclear weapons still on hair-trigger alert.

Should we also be concerned whether our country is provoking war and terrorism?

In the Feb. 3 edition of The Nation, Stephen F. Cohen stated, “The Obama administration has just recklessly escalated military confrontation with Russia.” He added, “The Pentagon’s announcement that it will quadruple US-NATO heavy military weapons and troops in countries on or near the Russian eastern border pushes the new Cold War toward actual war, possibly even a nuclear one.” Cohen expressed despair that these ongoing developments have barely been reported in the U.S. media and that there has been no public debate, even by presidential candidates.

What would our reaction be to a build-up of Russian military forces in Mexico or Canada? Wouldn’t this move jeopardize our efforts to work out differences with Russia over Iran, Syria and the Ukraine? Wouldn’t it risk, as Cohen expresses, an escalation of the new Cold War toward actual war, including the global catastrophe of nuclear war?

The U.S. media most often emphasizes the costs of our wars in terms of the sizable losses of lives and the massive number of traumatic brain injuries and other disabilities suffered by American troops. The few accounts of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq and destruction of the countries’ infrastructure have often been minimized. The media most often fails to mention the approximately one million deaths of Afghani and Iraqi civilians related to these wars.

Our military brass has recognized the damage we have inflicted on countries we have invaded. For example, in 2006 Gen. David Petraeus stated that when we fail to provide security, or threaten the security of civilians, that such a situation can promote an insurgency. Although 2003–11 polls described Iraqi attitudes toward the United States during the war, our military did not make good use of them. These surveys, along with mortality surveys, could have red-flagged the significance of destructive violence in the country and become the basis for important policy decisions. For example, we must protect civilian populations as the Geneva Conventions obligate us to do.

During the worst of the conflict, 80 percent of Iraqis blamed the U.S. for the mayhem. Even after war had subsided in 2008, a survey conducted by ABC News revealed 70 percent of Iraqis denounced the U.S. role in their country; 55 percent of Iraqis judged security to be worse than before the war, and many endorsed attacks on U.S. led coalition forces. In 2014, 73 percent of Iraqis saw the United States as a source of instability.

Certainly, Iraqi’s profound opposition to that war relates to the devastating destruction that left the country “a smoking ruin”, as cited by historian Juan Cole. Scholars Stiglitz and Bilmes determined that the economic toll for Iraq runs into trillions of dollars. These wars likely have contributed to the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS).

Has “Mission Accomplished” made us safer? Should we not question the consequences of all our military operations from Vietnam to the present, considering how they have affected our security? So what about the future? Should we wage more wars in the belief that they will make us more secure? Or has history taught us wars will create more terrorists seeking revenge on our nation? Our administration’s plans to escalate our aggressive moves toward Russia may lead to an increased threat of war and that nuclear weapons might be used, endangering the human species.

Respected leaders, past and present, tell us that we must find nonviolent solutions to conflicts if we are to leave a world for our grandchildren.

When will we finally learn that violence begets violence?
Will you inform Congress of your convictions?

Lew Patrie, M.D. is with Western NC Physicians for Social Responsibility. He lives in Asheville.

Mission Statement

PREVENTING WHAT WE CANNOT CURE: Physicians for Social Responsibility is the medical and public health voice working to prevent the use or spread of nuclear weapons and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and the toxic degradation of the environment.