To The Victor Goes The Bill?

The wars in Iraq have resulted in serious political, military, and security consequences for the United States. The U.S. military presence in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait incited Osama Bin Laden to act against the U.S., while the expanded U.S. military footprint in the Middle East, North Africa, and Afghanistan fuel the hatred of groups like AQAP and ISIS to wage an unprecedented war against European and American governments, their citizens, and industries. But there has been a heavy economic toll as well.

The cost of moving, arming and feeding troops to fight successive wars and military interventions is estimated to be billions of dollars, not including the cost of the training and equipment to prepare US troops to go to the Middle East and Afghanistan and fight. In addition, over the past 15 years, billions more in taxpayer dollars have been spent in places like the National Training Center (NTC) in California, The Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) in Germany, and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Louisiana. The NTC has built expansive training facilities designed to prepare soldiers for deployments to the Middle East. Many feel that the funding and training dedicated to the fight overseas would be better spent on strengthening our national security here at home. For instance, increasing pay for law enforcement, training Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel to a higher standard, and increasing funds for law enforcement to detect and interdict terror cells in our homeland.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan have reaped the most benefits from U.S. interventions in Iraq. While the U.S. currently has an undisclosed number of Special Operations (SOF) troops on the ground in the region to fight ISIS, the Saudi, Jordanian, and Kuwaiti militaries are minimally engaged. These nations have the capacity, in terms of money, men, equipment, and training, to wage this battle. They send their officers for U.S. and European military training, buy U.S. equipment, and have large and modern standing Tank, Mechanized and Airborne units. The Jordanians alone have a 13,000 man strong Special Forces unit that have been trained and equipped by U.S. Special Forces at the King Abdullah ll Special Operations Training Center (KASOTIC). Kuwait, an oil rich country, has multiple standing Armored and Mechanized brigades. Clearly capacity and capability are not why these countries lack a significant presence on the battlefield.

Although ISIS poses a greater direct threat to Saudi Arabia and its neighbors than it does to the U.S. and they have the capacity to make significant contributions to the fight, the U.S. still bears the human and economic cost of these campaigns. To add insult to injury, Saudi citizens have been directly or indirectly involved in major attack against the U.S., from the Khobar Towers and the USS Cole to 9/11. Given this, why is the U.S. taking the lead and paying the price? The answer is not simple, but regional sensitivities seem to play a large part in the limited nature and scope of the involvement of regional powers. For instance, experts report that the U.S. provides Saudis with few air targets and that those targets are deliberately chosen to minimize collateral damage (e.g. bridges and storage sites) and to avoid Muslim casualties. This is designed to limit blowback against Saudi Arabia and potential for unrest within that country.

So what do we do? How do we balance diplomatic relations and regional alliances with the need to reconfigure the military and economic response to an ongoing threat? Do we refuse to drop another bomb and recall troops until the Saudis, Jordanians, and other regional powers pay the tab? Should the US advise and assist, but draw down from a war that primarily benefits a group of nations that are not willing to take the lead in a fight for their own survival? One thing is clear, the plan needs to be revised and the nations directly at risk need to start paying the tab. Until then, the U.S. should consider a slowdown in operations, if not a complete pull out.

While the ultimate outcome of the conflicts in the Middle East are less than certain, one thing is clear, the Middle East has not been a good investment of U.S. time or money. Violent extremist groups continue to grow and morph, becoming bolder, savvier, and more ruthless. They have made good on their promise, to bring the fight to us and so we must make sure we are ready for that fight. Our allies in the Middle East utilize their resources and time, as they seem fit, in securing their borders, combatting their extremists, and assuming the cost of those extremists that are on their doorstep while the US fights the hard battles for them.

Brian E. Gould (USA SF, Ret.) served in the U.S Army and U.S. Special Forces for over two (2) decades. During his military career Mr. Gould was engaged in the Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and African theaters as part of U.S. ongoing missions and military operations. Mr. Gould specializes in providing advisory and management services for international reconstruction and development projects, stability operations, and international commercial development.