Thirty years ago I witnessed the beginning of what would become a major shift in American foreign policy. I was a Marine then preparing for service in the Middle East. We feared that region would become unstable now that the Soviet Union was gone and the extremists Arab and Persian nations funded could be directed at us. It had been a very long time since they were first promised autonomy and we were sure they’d betray us to get it.
Embassy Marines knew this threat all too well. They didn’t take liberty outside the confines of those facilities assigned them because it simply wasn’t safe to. Terrorism was a constant threat and had been for some time.
It’s strange to think about now, but we were less likely to be killed by a Soviet than by an Islamic Fundamentalist during the Cold War. Jordan might have been the only nation that wasn’t trying to secretly kill us to ignite conflict. Saudi Arabia was probably the leading offender, though they were careful to make it appear as though rouge elements they’d like to control but couldn’t were responsible.
Somehow we stopped seeing the games those nations played and allowed ourselves to be drawn in. Even though we knew Saudi wanted a puppet government in Afghanistan so badly they’d take on the Subject Union to get it we somehow come to see them as nonthreatening. We’d allow them to tell us Saudis participated in militia training there, and when an attack on us did originate there we’d simply accept their claim that those responsible acted independently.
We stopped suspecting the Middle East was a dangerous place and it chewed up 30 years of our time, our fortune, and our young as a result. This is what winging it and taking chances gets us. That’s what’s responsible for this, not the decisions made this year or last but the systemic erosion of faith in those who urge caution and carefully assess each situation before committing resources.
This is about establishing a sustainable path forward. This is not about making people feel good or bad about what they’ve done or the decisions they supported. Our nation should outlive those of us who feel one way or another about the outcome of this venture, so it deserves an honest assessment of what went wrong.