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The World Has Changed: It’s Time to End Permanent – and Unnecessary – Deployments to Middle East

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Hussein Malla

Conventional thinking in establishment Washington says America needs tens of thousands of combat troops permanently deployed in the Middle East for the security of our country. If we were to redeploy these forces back to home base, the assumption goes, we risk “a new 9/11.” 

This fear mongering is egregiously inaccurate and historically indefensible, and it saps our military of strength with no benefit to our country. It is time to reorient our global force posture in light of geostrategic realities and withdraw most of our troops from the Middle East. 

To understand why U.S. security would be better served by a smaller global footprint, consider what the last 29 years of constant military operations have accomplished:

Operation Desert Shield/Storm, 1990-91. Result: preventing Saddam Hussein from attacking Saudi Arabia—but American security was never directly threatened.

Operations Provide Comfort, Provide Comfort II, Southern Watch, and Northern Watch, 1991-2003. Result: billions of dollars spent and hundreds of thousands of air sorties flown to support the Kurds in northern Iraq and conduct no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. Again, American security was never at risk.

Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003-2011. Result: an eight-year war removed dictator Saddam Hussein from power, but post-war analysis revealed he was never a threat to the United States. After Hussein’s ouster, we fought a brutal and fruitless counterinsurgent war that cost the lives of 4,500 Americans and wounded 32,000 more. American security was never at play.

Operation Odyssey Dawn, 2011. Result: U.S. jets and attack assets participated in multinational effort to depose Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Libya remains in a state of civil war today. Once more, American security was never at play.

Operation Inherent Resolve, 2014-present. Result: U.S. troops supported Kurdish rebels and other militias in Syria to help defeat the Islamic State in Raqqa and then remained in an unspecified role to this day. And yet again, American security was never at play.

We have spent trillions of dollars, lost thousands of lives, and seen tens of thousands of Americans suffer physical injuries, while hundreds of thousands of other veterans deal with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. The cost is shocking in every category. That shock should turn to anger, however, with the recognition that these sacrifices were never necessary to keep us safe. 

The first U.S. combat troops to be dispatched to the Middle East following World War II came in July of 1958 when President Dwight Eisenhower sent nearly 15,000 U.S. Marines to Beirut. They were intended to respond to a coup in Iraq that Eisenhower feared would usher in a wave of anti-American, pro-communist leaders in the region. It didn’t take long to discover the coup represented no threat to America, and Eisenhower redeployed the troops three months later. For the next two and a half decades, no American troops were stationed in the Middle East.

Then, in September of 1982,  President Ronald Reagan dispatched 1,200 Marines to act as peacekeepers in Lebanon. The decision backfired a year later when 241 Americans were tragically killed in a suicide truck bomb attack. Reagan resisted considerable pressure to escalate the conflict and instead withdrew the remaining troops the following year.

From 1984 until August 1990, when a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division became the first to deploy in support of Operation Desert Shield, there were no American combat troops stationed in the Middle East. That means that from 1945 until 1990, U.S. military intervention in the region amounted to only a handful of deployments, never exceeding 15,000 boots on the ground, with just one operation longer than four months. 

What makes that record more astonishing is that it occurred while Middle Eastern oil was of profound importance to the United States and the possibility of Soviet intervention and expansion of communism were real and ever-present threats. Yet we fought no wars in the Middle East during that time, permanently stationed no troops there, and nevertheless were able to effectively secure our country. 

Today, in stark contrast, there is no Soviet threat looming; we are not dependent on Middle Eastern oil; and there are no regional conflicts or actors which could conceivably pose a serious military threat to our country. 

Yet there are presently more than 45,000 U.S. troops permanently stationed on several Mideast bases, the Associated Press reported this week. That’s in addition to the thousands more in Afghanistan, Somalia, Niger, and elsewhere in Africa. Why are we fighting endless wars and needlessly maintaining these large-scale deployments? 

We have proven, conclusively, that the United States’ ability to project power anywhere in the world is more than sufficient to keep us safe. We have done it when the strategic environment was far more hostile than it is now, and we can stay secure without permanent deployments in the Middle East today. 

It is time to stop putting tens of thousands of Americans at risk because of an unexamined and unsubstantiated fear. The cost is too high, and it diminishes our ability to defend against real threats elsewhere. It is time for these deployments to end.

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