The United States’ Perpetual Groundhog Day

American soldiers prepare to storm a building in Iraq
American soldiers prepare to storm a building in Iraq during the previous conflict

The team at Tom’s Dispatch have done another excellent job of highlighting the seemingly perpetual nature of the United States’ military misadventures in the Middle East, a variation on Einstein’s famous (if apocryphal) quote: One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting a different result.

“It was August 2, 1990, and Saddam Hussein, formerly Washington’s man in Baghdad and its ally against fundamentalist Iran, had just sent his troops across the border into oil-rich Kuwait.  It would prove a turning point in American Middle East policy. Six days later, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was dispatched to Saudi Arabia as the vanguard of what the U.S. Army termed “the largest deployment of American troops since Vietnam.” The rest of the division would soon follow as part of Operation Desert Storm, which was supposed to drive Saddam’s troops from Kuwait and fell the Iraqi autocrat.  The division’s battle cry: “The road home… is through Baghdad!”

In fact, while paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne penetrated deep into Iraq in the 100-day campaign that followed, no American soldier would make it to the Iraqi capital — not that time around, anyway.  After the quick triumph of the Gulf War, the Airborne’s paratroops instead returned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.  And that, it seemed, was the end of the matter, victory parades and all.

…when the First Gulf War ended in the crushing defeat of Saddam’s forces and he nonetheless remained in power, the stage was set for the invasion that began Iraq War 2.0 a dozen years later.  Perhaps you still remember that particular “mission accomplished” moment.

In the course of that invasion, the 82nd Airborne would conduct “sustained combat operations throughout Iraq.”  Once the occupation of the country began, paratroopers from the division would return to Iraq in August 2003 to, as an Army website puts it, “continue command and control over combat operations in and around Baghdad.”  In other words, they were tasked with repressing the insurgency that had broken out…

As it happened, parts of the 82nd would redeploy to Iraq again and again until, in 2011, its 2nd Brigade Combat Team was “the last brigade combat team to pull out of Iraq and successfully relinquished responsibility [for] Anbar Province to the Iraqi government.” Then, homeward they went (yet again) and that, of course, should have been that.

But that, as Dr. Seuss might have written, wasn’t the end of it; oh no, it wasn’t the end. Just this week, with Iraq War 3.0 (and Syria War 1.0) underway, it was announced that the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne, 1,000 paratroopers, was being dispatched to — you guessed it — Iraq to train up the woeful, partially collapsed, previously American-trained and –armed (to the tune of $25 billion) Iraqi Army.  By now, it should be evident that there’s a pattern here for those who care to notice.  And with this in mind, TomDispatch has called back to the colors one of our regulars, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore, to explore the strange repetitiveness of American war-making in these years.”

Read the whole thing here. Meanwhile in Iraq itself the contested city of Mosul remains the likely next source of conflict between the Iraqi “national” government in Baghdad and the Kurdish “regional” government in Erbil, as examined in a frontline-report on the blog War Is Boring. Once the mutual foe of the Islamic State is out of the way, of course.

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4 comments

  1. An army is a simple tool. It is there to obliterate your enemy while expending the least amount resources on that task, and then taking what he has to benefit yourself (the spoils of war). It is not to wrestle him down and then build him back up spending more money for his country’s well-being than for your own, with no control over the money, no market for your products, or any other return aside from dislike and hate. If you don’t want to kill your enemy, do not send the military, send the Peace Corps.

    1. Agree with that. I’ve always said that in the post-9/11 frenzy I can understand the US invasion of Afghanistan, even if I believe it should have been avoided (military action of some sort was inevitable but not a full-scale invasion and occupation). Iraq on the other hand was just madness, with no rationale or logic to it. If one aim was to retaliate for 9/11 they should have invaded Saudi Arabia, given the nationality and financial backing of those involved in the terror attacks. Obviously that was never going to happen so the next best thing was…

      1. Very true. In my opinion it was all “kneejerk” madness without rationale or logic (albeit understandable). A concerted effort of intelligence and special forces is what ultimately brought the henchmen of that misdeed down. How much more effective, politically and militarily would it have been if that technique would have found the perpetrators early, and without any massive invasions and other political and financial nightmares? It is by far scarier for a terrorist to be shot at home without any warning and completely out if the blue than following a long-standing bloody conflict that appears to prove many of that same terrorist’s assertions about his enemies. But then there was this cry for revenge and a golden opportunity for some to take some serious tax payer money.

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