A lethal combination of events should make Americans alert to the possibility that the United States soon could be dragged into another unnecessary war.
The first is the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War and the role of the George W. Bush administration in scamming the American people so it could invade and occupy that country. For the most part, American media were complicit in the fraud, not providing the critical analysis that might have headed it off.
The second is that the Department of Defense, like the rest of the government, is facing budget cuts, due in part to sequestration but also because Americans will want their peace dividend now that the Iraq War is over and the Afghanistan War soon will be.
The third is that the world is always full of what the American military-industrial complex, first identified as a danger by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, can portray as lively candidates for U.S. military intervention.
The Iraq War was a success for no one other than Mr. Bush, who was reelected as a war president in 2004. It is hard to imagine that he would have been reelected without the war. America lost more than 4,000 citizens in Iraq and many thousands more were disabled. An estimated 110,000 Iraqis died. The financial costs are estimated at up to $2 trillion.
Who can say what America could have done with that money if the Bush administration had not dragged us into the war with false claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida? The price of gas in the United States is now about twice what it was in March 2003. "Making Iraq a beacon of democracy and development in the Middle East" turned into a bad joke. Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis are now back to fighting it out tooth and nail for power.
The Department of Defense is busily making the case in Congress and the media for not having to take the budget cuts destined for other parts of the government -- education, health care, infrastructure and programs for the poor and elderly. Former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was not reluctant to scare Americans by suggesting that national defense would be shattered by even deeper cuts when they saw what would be done to domestic programs to preserve the military's big slice of the pie. The new secretary, Chuck Hagel, is keeping his head down on the subject. The fact is, with the Iraq War over and the Afghanistan War winding down, the Pentagon can get by on less, absent some new military adventure.
And that is a problem. The Pentagon and the defense industries with their clients in Congress, and, to an embarrassing degree, some in the media, are eagerly seeking a new war so that the military can continue to claim the lion's share of the discretionary budget. Some of the candidate wars are so obvious as to be laughable.
One is in Mali. Some suggest that if the United States does not weigh in as France begins to withdraw forces from that Sahara sandbox somehow al-Qaida will take over and, from that landlocked West African desert outpost, pose some kind of threat to the United States. Forces of Mali and other African countries aren't up to the job. The United States, which has already spent more than a half-billion dollars to train, supply and support French and Malian forces with air and intelligence assets, including a new drone base in neighboring Niger, is, according to some, the only answer.
The bottom line is that there is no problem in Mali that the United States needs to address.
A second candidate war is in Syria. Syrians -- the government and the rebels -- have created enormous havoc, more than a million refugees, a serious humanitarian problem and an even-worse governmental problem inside and outside the country in two years of destructive fighting. No one has yet been able to identify anything useful the United States could do to make the situation better. We provide some useful humanitarian aid. We also provide some not very useful training and "non-lethal" but fungible military aid to the rebels.
The United States lacks the credibility with any of the parties to play a significant role in bringing about a negotiated settlement in Syria. To gain the necessary leverage we would have to work with some countries with which we have serious problems. Tops on the list is Syria's best friend, Iran. The Obama administration is too busy courting the Israelis to be practical about talking to Iran about Syria.
President Barack Obama is long overdue in having a heart-to-heart with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to clear up differences over Iran and Syria, among other problems between the United States and Russia. In the meantime, Mr. Obama must not let the United States be drawn further into the Syria conflict. The continuing chaos in Libya remains clear evidence of what happens when America gets into a war without looking ahead to the successor situation. War with Iran remains a street without joy.
Other conflicts the Pentagon and defense industries see as potential funders for their enterprises include the rocks sticking up in the South China Sea which have China, Japan and the United States hissing at each other, and the North Korea-South Korea shouting match, enhanced by U.S. military actions. None of these is worth a war, but the Iraq War showed that some U.S. wars are supply-driven. We don't need any such wars now.
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1976).