“The responsibility for starting and ending wars, the way wars are fought and the losses we suffer all rest with our elected civilian leadership.” – C H Smith
What have we learned from 24 years of war? Since the First Gulf War in early 1991, the U.S. has had continuous combat operations in one theater or another. After the first war, combat air patrols enforced the No-Fly Zones over Iraq for years, until 9/11 triggered the first phase of the Afghanistan War and President Bush led the nation into the Second Iraqi War in March 2003.
Though this war officially ended with U.S. troop withdrawals in December 2011, the war continues to burn through lives and treasure in Iraq and it continues on in the memories, wounds and lives of veterans and their families.
What have we learned from 24 years of continual warfare? There may be two sets of answers: one set for policy-makers, those we have elected to make the consequential decisions of war and withdrawal, and another set for the citizenry who provide the volunteers who actually fight the wars and the treasure to pay for the wars and their long aftermath.
For policy-makers, Foreign Affairs just published three informed essays on the complex legacy of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. Each is thoughtful and worth reading:
More Small Wars: Counterinsurgency Is Here to Stay? Foreign Affairs by Max Boot
Pick Your Battles: Ending America’s Era of Permanent War? Foreign Affairs by Richard K. Betts
Withdrawal Symptoms: The Bungling of the Iraq Exit?? Foreign Affairs by Rick Brennan
I also recommend a previous Foreign Affairs article from 2005, just two years into the Second Iraqi War by former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird: Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam Continue reading