Moral Consequences of Militant Foreign Policy

From September 12, 2001, when Friends Committee on National Legislation raised its banner, "War Is Not the Answer," until today, we see military failures compelling Quakers to work harder for peaceable answers.

Global terrorism has increased, with attacks multiplying 20-fold since 2003. The war in Iraq now provides a training ground for new jihadi tactics. Having spread to Afghanistan, the new techniques are spurring a sixfold increase in insurgency attacks, adding heavier burdens to one of the world’s weakest and poorest countries. The misery of Afghanis, Iraqis, Palestinians, and Lebanese is searingly clear.

These are moral reverberations of a militant U.S. foreign policy. But they go well beyond the loss of life of combatants, civilians, and their social and economic infrastructure. Wider, unintended fallout comes from deficit-inducing military costs and neglect of other options, underpinned by a ruling ideology of unilateral control, privatization of government services, and preferences for corporate elites and fundamentalist supporters.

Leading with war power, diplomatic "soft power" is impoverished, producing pallid and grudging participation in multinational efforts to address the larger threats that feed terrorism. Some examples:

  • The U.S. has failed to help Afghanistan deal with interference by neighboring states, such as border issues with Pakistan, and the influx of funds to groups favored by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan, while fending off joint responsibility for assuring reconstruction under the recent Afghan Compact.
  • The Spring UN Small Arms Conference collapsed, attributed by many, including FCNL, to U.S. recalcitrance.
  • The lead foreign aid agency, USAID, no longer addresses poverty reduction as the thrust of its mission; its former high standing was diminished by a report that it had hidden the true contractor costs of Iraq reconstruction, allowing "overhead" at many times the cost of the contract.
  • Overall, the United States provides only about half as much per capita for aid as the EU; over a fifth of aid funds go for military purposes, mainly to Israel, Egypt, and Pakistan; in the name of "fighting terrorism," these allies readily accepted tacit license to confront insurgency threats and, often, dissent of other sorts.

U.S. security specialists and international analysts, recently polled, say that Islamic animosity and the Iraq war are the main reasons why the world is becoming more dangerous; that the major threats are nuclear materials, growing poverty, global warming, and terrorism exacerbated by U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The biggest policy fault of the powerful in the U.S. and their militant "staying the course" stance is failure to see to how these issues feed terrorist recruitment and support, so stark in the wrenching struggles in the Middle East.

The relentless U.S. war-is-the-answer focus in Iraq becomes perverse to U.S. interests, as the administration seeks to bypass international law and neglects long-term global threats. The very effort to achieve secure oil access in the Middle East by military means has stirred a hornet’s nest of rage and revenge throughout the "arc of [Shia] Islamism," from Iraq to Palestine and Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Pakistan, restricting diplomatic options, spurring oil prices, and affecting U.S. consumers and economy.

Even U.S. expectations of diplomatic loyalty from an elected Iraqi government were disappointed when its prime minister supported the militants in the Lebanon-Gaza-Israel war. The new governments no longer want the U.S. military to have "freedom of action." The Afghan government wants a "status of forces agreement" to regulate legal status of troops, contractors, and detainees, with requisite Afghan authorization before breaking into private homes, and with penalties for crimes.

Effective U.S. leadership for facing global challenges would require vigorous U.S. multilateral cooperation and a shift in U.S. fiscal and political priorities. Little noted, the full economic costs of the Iraq and Afghan Wars by 2015 are estimated at $1.3 trillion—including interest payments on debt attributed to war; combat operations current and future; higher costs of recruitment, disability, and healthcare for over 20,000 injuries; and demobilization. The estimate before the Iraq war was $60 billion.

This burden, added to ever-rising costs of energy, global warming, Social Security, and Medicare, is even now cutting into the well-being of those in the U.S. with less access to healthcare, housing, education, and even "food security," as growing numbers of children are living under "hardship conditions"—subtle measures of "internal security."

Militant foreign policy is set to continue, in spite of criticism at home and abroad, and many security setbacks. The military and its colleague weapons contractors seek billions every year to deploy a "nuclear missile defense" [NMD] system, despite multiple testing failures. Paradoxically, the recent rockets fired by North Korea became an emperor-has-no-clothes scenario when the Department of Defense could not determine how many rockets were fired; if you cannot know how many rockets are coming, how many NMD interceptors do you release—even if weather, decoys, and technologies do not interfere?

The war thrust of foreign policy, ironically, may well be weakening the defense establishment and its credibility, according to recent coverage in the New York Times and the Government Accountability Office:

  • Fifty thousand private security guards in Iraq, under 180 contractors, to the chagrin of the military, are poorly screened and monitored, poorly qualified, and, sometimes, former criminals; they are not coordinated with the U.S. military or subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. At $800 million, they take a fifth of reconstruction monies.
  • The need for more troops has led to lower standards for Army recruits, while more neo-Nazis and white supremacists are joining because their leaders urge them to enlist as a way to train "for the coming race war and the ethnic cleansing to follow."
  • "Any cost-constraining efforts [over future weapons systems] . . . has been overtaken by the focus on Iraq"; costs are 50 percent over budget, and overruns will total $1.4 trillion by 2011, double pre-2001 overruns.
  • Conceiving Iraqi distaste for the military presence as a public relations issue, defense officials are spending tens of millions to have a U.S. contractor write articles and pay Iraqi journalists and clerics to laud U.S. efforts, while comfortably outfitting reporters in a new U.S.-built Baghdad Press Club.
  • At home, support for the wars is declining. Rebuilding Afghanistan ranked last of 30 international concerns; seven in ten believe the administration’s handling of the Iraq war has made diplomatic efforts in the Middle East harder.

It is painfully clear that although war appears to be started and sustained by "strong leaders" making "hard choices," minimizing "collateral damage," and by "skilled warriors" "serving their country," the flood of moral consequences on people’s lives, livelihoods, and habitats, "unto the third and fourth generation," are being and will be felt by losers and "winners," victims all. Knowing that war is not the answer, Quakers cannot be silent.

Nancy Milio

Nancy Milio is professor emeritus of Health Policy at University of North Carolina and a member of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Meeting.