Forever War in the Middle East: William Astore
Posted on February 17th, 2024


War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

So that classic late 1960s song claimed. Still, for Bill Astore and me (and, I have little doubt, Joe Biden, too), such a thought didn’t cross our minds as we played with toy soldiers on the floors of our rooms as kids. I can still remember spending endless hours refighting both the Civil War and World War II — the war my father was in and, strangely enough, at least to me then, wouldn’t talk about — with my books piled high to create canyons and islands. However, as TomDispatch regular Astore says today, growing older, we did leave those toy soldiers and the floor wars behind, though he ended up an officer in the U.S. Air Force and I must admit that, 60-odd years later, I still have a box of the Blue and the Gray somewhere deep in a closet and a tiny General Ulysses S. Grant on a horse perched on a shelf by the desk where I’m writing this.

Ah, we boys and our toy soldiers. Unfortunately, at some level, it seems as if our leaders didn’t leave them behind at all. Only recently, three all-too-real American soldiers were killed in a drone strike on a base at Jordan’s border with Syria. And grim as that was — as well as a grim reminder that, so many years after America’s major wars in the Middle East ended, tens of thousands of our troops are still stationed on bases scattered across the region — the response has been grimmer yet. The Biden administration began with air strikes (including by B-1B bombers flown all the way from Texas) on 85 targets at seven sites in Iraq and Syria. Those sites were theoretically connected to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force and affiliated groups. But as Simona Foltyn recently reported for the PBS NewsHour, some of those planes actually devastated an Iraqi force that claims to have had nothing to do with any attacks on U.S. bases, while also killing civilians. A day later, yet more air strikes were launched against the Houthis in Yemen. Republican lawmakers promptly claimed that such strikes were distinctly too little, too late.” And of course, even more plane, missile, and drone strikes across the region followed. As yet, there’s no end in sight to the reprisals for the deaths of those three Americans, even as the utter humanitarian disaster in Gaza and the possibility of a larger conflict in the region only grow.

All of this should be a reminder that this country, whatever the pretensions of its leadership and its national security bureaucracy, is no longer the sole superpower on Planet Earth as it was in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. It’s a declining imperial power, increasingly in chaos at home. But with that, let me point you toward the floor of retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular Bill Astore’s childhood room and let him take it from there. Tom

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