Sergeant Bales: America Revisits My Lai

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales Smiling

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales

Afghanistan was the good war.  The United States was clearly pursuing its national interest by deposing a Taliban-led government that gave Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda the safe-haven from which they launched the 9/11 attacks.  Side-benefits included freeing the Afghan people from a regime that performed soccer stadium executions and imprisoned women for being the victims of rape.

The war in Iraq could be faulted as a “war of choice.”  President Bush, instead of continuing to pursue a policy of containment of Saddam Hussein, chose Iraq as the place to reshape the international battlefield with Al Qaeda.  If a democracy could be created in the heart of the Arab Middle East, among a well-educated population with rich oil reserves, then the lie of the West’s war against Islam could be exposed for all to see.  We would create allies by ridding the Iraqi people of a tyrant who was, in the NY Times’ Thomas Friedman’s opinion—and most of the world’s—a one-man weapon of mass destruction.

For the record I believe that that the Bush administration sincerely believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, or that he was well on his way to doing so and would have no compunction about sharing the technology with Hamas, whose suicide bombers were being funded by Saddam.  I also believe, though, that President’s Bush’s chosen geo-political strategy provided a lens through which to see the intelligence about these weapons.

As someone who supported the war at the time, I remember seeing Colin Powell’s presentation before the U.N. and thinking, “They don’t have anything like those photographs of the missile installations that Kennedy had during the Cuban missile crisis, do they?”

A wise man once told me that just because a variety of factors go into making a decision, some in tension with one another, doesn’t mean that any of those considerations are necessarily unreal.  I don’t think Bush or his administration lied about their weapons of mass destruction convictions.  They also thought the war made sense for strategic reasons as well.  Both were probably true in their minds and colored the evaluation of each.

The Bush administration made a bet, though—which the Obama administration has continued playing—that democratic institutions could trump a theocratic faith, Islam, that is hostile to democracy.

The results in Iraq have been at best mixed and are likely to deteriorate.  For now, the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shiites have gamed each other’s tribalism through the ballot box.  The longer this has gone on the more the regnant Shiites have exerted strongman controls, while the Kurds have holed up, relishing their relative independence.  Crucial decisions about the flow of oil revenues still have not been made, however.  In Iraq, democracy is coming to mean little more than a tribal stalemate that’s unlikely to endure.

In Afghanistan the democratic institution versus Islamic culture gamble has proven even less successful.  Now that we have announced our withdrawal as of 2014, the exodus of American troops has become the predicate for the maneuvers of the Taliban, the Karzai government, and the mischief-making Pakistanis.

With Pakistan, a nuclear-state, to the south and east, and Iran to the west, stability in Afghanistan, even under a corrupt Karzai government, has value, especially when the clear is the Taliban.

It’s time to admit, though, that the democratic institution versus Islamic culture bet is a loser.  The fundamental roots of every culture go back to its cult—its religion—and Islam, in its purest form, is profoundly hostile to democracy.  The motivating idea of Islam is that there should not be a division between church and state—at all. We can talk about “moderate Islam”and Turkey emerging as a modern state, etc., and wish for those forces to emerge as the true representatives of Islam, but theologically that’s like wishing for Unitarians to emerge as the true representatives of Christianity.  Conservative strains in Islam have much the better of the theological argument.  Read their texts.  You can only be a moderate Muslim by ignoring central elements of the faith.

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  • Deacon Don Bourgeois

    I will not try to justify Staff Sergeant Robert Bales actions in this tragedy, but I am livid over the fact that he should not have been there. After three tours in Iraq and his injury to his head and brain and all the bloodshed he experienced, how could they have thought this poor man could not be affected and should not be in combat again. I hold the Pentagon higher ups that sent him there responsible. Of course they will look like the good guys and crucify him and He will be their scapegoat!  Please pray for him and his family.

  • Harold Fickett

     I think most of America feels the same way, Deacon Bourgeois.  We are confronted with an event stupefying in its sheer horror, and yet its perpetrator evokes sympathy as well, as someone broken by the demands of an overwhelming situation.  I would say that we as the American people have to take some responsibility for this as well because we are all too happy to let a paid military deal with the world while we occupy ourselves with trivial entertainment and gossip.

    Many times in the past few years I’ve been on airplanes with fine young soldiers, and I always think: “Are we sure that the sacrifices we are asking of these young people are justified?”  I don’t believe that our government sends people into harm’s way without careful consideration, but any miscalculation in this regard has such excruciating consequences that the debate in this country over such matters should be both more intense and far more informed than it is.  I have come to the sad conclusion, as indicated in the article, that in Afghanistan we can do no more than take strictly anti-terrorist measures.  

  • Claireoneill

    The root of the problem is politicians running the wars. Let the military do their job. These wars that drag on and on are for political reasons. War is horrible and people die- good people die and innocent people die as well as bad people and guilty people. The military men on the ground need to make the call not Washington.  No one can avoid blood shed  in war and people need to understand how gruesome it can be.

    The idea of making countries over into good democratic societies is a political idea not a  military one. The military needs to take control and to be honest all we can do is make it an occupied little America until a generation goes by and the children have grown up with American-like rights and freedoms. Then they will desire the freedoms they have grown up with. You can’t just fight leave and think it will change. You can’t remain and occupy the countries as police while they just keep playing the same tribal game.

    If we are going to war do it, over throw the country and make it an occupied holding until they know what true freedom is. Let American companies invest in them and help them rebuild. Then you show them how to run their government to benefit their country. I know of no other way.

    I  was in the Air Force Reserves right after Vietnam and was one of the first women in a combat unit to sign up to go to the front if needed, luckily I was not needed. I was not married and had no children. I had an important role to play in getting bombed out runways up and running  within 24 hours. I take war seriously and since Vietnam or before we are have been trying to make nice during war and it can’t happen. Men crack and men become heroes and neither intends to, they only intend to survive each and everyday. Families are destroyed and addictions happen all because war is an unnatural state, so do it quickly and fight hard to win not to further a cause. Fight to take control and win the war not to come to some political agreement with people that aren’t ready for democracy. Then occupy and then teach. I see no other solution, so let us all be careful before we take to going to war. The world may not like us for being occupiers but just how do these politicians think they are going to get people to change their ways when there is no other example of life but their old way? 

  • diogenes999

    “Afghanistan was the good war…”  Have any idea just how removed from Jesus-like thinking such a comment is?   

  • diogenes999

    The US went to Afghanistan to try to apprehend Osama bin Laden.  

    Because of 9/11, it was (sort of) justified in doing that.  

    But it had no brief to take it upon itself to occupy and reshape the political. religious, cultural landscape of another sovereign nation.  None at at all.  

    I am quite incensed by your arrogance, and hence I have quoted your comment on my blog and will deal with it there so as to not further disrupt this thread here.