On September 4, 2002, five months before the invasion of Iraq, this writer warned in an editorial for the Washington Post that “China can only view the prospect of an American military consumed for the next generation by the turmoil of the Middle East as a glorious windfall . . . An ‘American war’ with the Muslims, occupying the very seat of their civilization, would allow the Chinese to isolate the United States diplomatically as they furthered their own ambitions in South and Southeast Asia.
Eighteen years later we are struggling with the bitter leavings of that unfortunate result. We have spent trillions of dollars from our national treasury on wars and frequently amateurish nation-building projects in the Middle East. We have lost thousands of good people to deaths in combat, and tens of thousands more to wounds and debilitating emotional scars that will stay with them throughout their remaining lives. Our military leaders have conducted numerous fruitless and feckless campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria that, in the end, have only further destabilized one region while decreasing American prestige and influence in another. Our larger foreign policy has degenerated from post–Cold War transitional to post-Iraq situational, without the guiding principles of a clear national doctrine. The leadership in the Department of Defense, both military and civilian, has been reduced to feeling its way from one day to the next, simply reacting to crises large and small rather than guiding the international narrative, which America’s global leadership managed to do even during the most difficult days of the Cold War.
The Iraq War is largely behind us, having blown apart that country and empowered Iran. Afghanistan is no better than it was when we first committed military forces there nineteen years ago and indeed is probably worse, consolidating Afghanistan’s firm position as a narco-state that is by far the world’s largest producer of opium. Libya has deteriorated into a full-blown failed state. Syria is a devastating riddle, clouded by our own government’s lack of transparency regarding the level of our national involvement. And the stability of East Asia, whose waterways carry the world’s most vital sea lanes, has become increasingly fragile. After two decades of being treated by American leadership as something of a second-tier strategic backwater, it comes as no surprise that the region is in danger of steadily drifting into the autocratic and economic orbit of an increasingly powerful China. Read the full article here.