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By Bill Shunas

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Many of us have called for the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the bringing home of the troops. For expressing these ideas we get called isolationists. Same same if you opposed taking military action against ISIS. Presumably isolationism is a bad word. Isolationism is where the United States was supposed to be before World War II showed us the right direction, the right direction being heavily involved militarily just about everywhere.

It's not exactly as if the US was totally isolationist before World War II. From the shores of Tripoli to the invasion of the Philippines to military actions in Central America and World War I, the US actively intervened on behalf of American capitalism long before World War II. The period of what's called isolationism really only refers to the years just before World War II. Then, after the carnage of the Great War, plenty of Americans wanted no more. Then the Depression hit, and people were more concerned about the domestic front. FDR was wondering how he could mobilize a war effort. Pearl Harbor solved that problem. FDR got his mobilization. We had WWII. After that there was no more isolationism. In the seven decades since, we've fought half a dozen wars, had dozens of smaller actions and sponsored others in their wars while we've shown the flag all over the globe. While doing these things we have brought into existence a military armed with the most effective and technologically advanced equipment with more firepower than anybody ever had.

So how's all this military activity going for you hawks out there? In the smaller actions the US has done pretty well. After all, we defeated Grenada. Not fair, I suppose. We did bring under control some bigger countries — like Panama. Haiti. Dominican Republic. Small flag showing actions aren't always perfect. We had the barracks blown in Beirut, and we lost hundreds of Marines. Usually, however, overwhelming firepower in small places works for a short time where we want to impose our will.

How about wars? Wars and football share several metaphors. You throw a bomb or blitz and so forth. In football you win, lose or tie. So, how's the US military doing? We started out with an eight game winning streak. The Revolutionary War. The War of 1812. The Mexican War. The Civil War. The Indian Wars. The Spanish American War. The Great War. Wold War II. Then came Korea — a tie. Vietnam — a loss. The Gulf war — a win. Results in Iraq and Afghanistan may take years to determine, but that looks like a loss and a tie or likely two losses. So after that eight game winning streak our team has one win, three losses and a tie. Doesn't take an anti-war person to figure this out.

So before World War II you had a couple of decades of isolationism which was not consistent with our history. Today isolationism is only a word used by hawks when they want to go to war. After World War II we've had seven decades of excessive military intervention. These interventions have not been generally successful and have caused war weariness on the homefront. Next should be some kind of synthesis between all the military actions and the war weariness. Probably this means a withdrawal of sorts from Middle East activities and more use of the Navy, especially in the Pacific around the South China Sea. I think Obama wants to move this way although events in the Middle East keep pulling him back. And then John McCain and his three friends amp up the call for more war against ISIS or the terror group du jour. What Obama wants is to be more involved with that Pacific strategy. There we can check some of China's economic expansion. In that area you have Asian states (including Vietnam) which are modernizing and want a US presence. The region also has numerous deposits of oil and natural gas, and most importantly, much of the world's trade is moving through these seas which connect the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

When the US begins to focus on these areas, with the possible exception of the Korean peninsula most activity will be air and sea. If things develop that way anti-war and anti-imperialist forces in the homeland may have to play different roles and have different arguments. Before we get there, however, it's hard getting out of the Middle East. One step out and you get sucked back in like a quagmire. If it's not the Taliban, it's Al Qaeda in Yemen. If it's not Al Qaeda in Yemen it's the Islamic State.

The Bush administration made several bogus assumptions when it decided to wage war on Iraq. Among those assumptions was that this was a viable nation as opposed to a collection of diverse people living within an area that was drawn on a map by foreigners. The state of Iraq includes Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians and subgroups of these. The lines that define Iraqi borders were drawn on the map at the end of World War I. This was called the Sykes(a Brit)-Picot(a Frenchman) Agreement. With all the superior colonial attitude they could muster, the Europeans neatly divided the areas of influence and created new states from this land which had been part of the now defeated Ottoman Empire. Borders were neatly drawn and artificial states were created just like Europe and Europe's colonies. They would be easy to administer, right? They even created monarchies. The problem is that people in the area didn't think with Western minds. Their power structure started with families which made up clans which made up tribes. That is where loyalty is, not determined by lines on a map.

The artificial boundaries held as long as the British and the French were the strong arms in the area. They held while Western powers, including the US, held up sultans and dictators like Saddam. Some of those lines on the map define countries which are stable for periods of time and have loyal people trying to make their states work. However, in other places it doesn't work. Loyalties are elsewhere. And thus entities like ISIS come into being. The Islamic State is vicious and oppressive, but it has unfortunately struck a chord with some in the Arab world. It doesn't look to be going away easily as long as some of the tribes and clans are willing to fight for it. Now the US has to figure out how to escape this quagmire caused by ISIS and move into 21st century imperialism. We, and more so the British and the French, are responsible for this bloodbath. Yet more intervention is not an option. It only gets you more stuck.

Bill Shunas is a Vietnam veteran, author and VVAW member in the Chicago chapter.

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