America’s failure to commit to Afghanistan and Iraq for the long haul has created an environment in which extremists are once again creating chaos in the countries we sought to liberate from despotic regimes, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a Fordham University audience this week.
“When you go in and occupy a country, when you occupy Afghanistan, when you occupy Iraq, you take on a 40- or 50-year responsibility,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace on Wednesday. “Not four years or five years. Not ‘let’s go in, topple the government, give them a little bit of help’ and then say ‘good luck’ and leave.”
Pace served as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs under President Bill Clinton and chairman under President George W. Bush. Both men, he said, made thoughtful, considered decisions on the use of military force, but Bush’s decisions were not accompanied by a strongly made case to his constituents.
“President Bush could have done a better job of educating the American people about what this really means,” Pace said of the wars.
The meaning, Pace said, is that America is faced with an enemy that has a “hundred-year plan, and that hundred-year plan is to annihilate us and our way of life.”
Pace’s remarks, delivered during a the question-and-answer session following a leadership lecture at the Fordham Law School, come as the United States once again faces a decision on whether to deploy more troops to the Middle East to face a growing threat from an extremist group, known as ISIS or ISIL.
ISIS is seeking to establish a caliphate in Syria, Iraq and beyond, and has claimed responsibility for the slaughter of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers as well as members of ethnic groups living in the region. The group has also delivered videos of beheadings of British and American citizens captured in the region.
Departing the region without fulfilling our “moral obligation to leave [the people of Iraq] better off than when you got there” has created a situation where “we shouldn’t be surprised that ISIS comes in,” Pace said.
“I couldn’t have told you what the name of the group was going to be, but I could have told you that it wasn’t going to be good,” the general continued. “And the same could happen and will happen in Afghanistan if they leave that nation too quickly.”
Pace was reluctant to say what the United States should do. He said he was no longer privy to the type of information he had when he was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. But he did say that eventually, we will have to engage again in battle with a relentless enemy.
“The longer we’ve waited to fight, the harder the fight going to be,” Pace said. “And that’s where leadership comes in at the national level. That’s where the presidents of the United States explain, ‘it’s not 10 days, it’s not 10 months. It’s decades of obligation when we do this.’ It’s when the president of the United States needs to stand up and explain to the American people, as distasteful as doing this again is, if we don’t do it now, then we’re going to have a bigger problem later on.”