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Behind the Lines: Iraq and the role of government
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.

Lambson: Your "One Picture Is Worth a Trillion Dollars" cartoon is priceless. Withdrawing from Iraq will save not only money, but also, and more importantly, lives. Believing that the role of government should be limited to protecting citizens from force, fraud and theft, I opposed the wars in Iraq. We should have a strong military, but only use it when our security is directly at stake. Our government's penchant for interventionism actually reduces our security, making our citizens targets for terrorists.

Bagley: We agree on something! I'm not a pacifist, but fighting senseless wars like Iraq is just stupid. The First Gulf War and no-fly zone had neutered Iraq's military; Saddam was a threat to no one. In fact, he was reduced to writing self-pitying romance novels. http://www.eonline.com/news/no_joke_sacha_baron_cohen_adapting/221683 The U.S. should have focused its response on the criminals behind 9-11.

Lambson: Which I thought was the reason we went into Afghanistan, but having found bin Laden (in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, incidentally), why are we still there? It makes sense to retaliate against criminal acts of aggression on self-defense grounds, but it is wrong to leave our military men and women in harm's way without a very good reason. They deserve better.

Bagley: The argument is that they need to stay in Afghanistan until the American mission succeeds. There was a window where things might have gone better, but that time is long past. I suggest watching the documentary "Restrepo."http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/restrepo/ In a weird way it brought to mind my LDS mission to Bolivia, but it also crystallized for me the futility of changing Afghanistan. The question to ask is, when has anyone ever succeeded in Afghanistan?

Lambson: We only succeed in making more enemies, achieving "Great Satan" status in the eyes of many. Countries that mind their own business are targeted much less.

Bagley: Spoiler Alert: Anyone not wanting to know that you are a libertarian should stop reading about nine words ago. Presidential candidate, and your fellow libertarian, Ron Paul, has received some grief for his unique (among Republicans) foreign policy, which you just described very well as minding one's own business. Some say that in today's interconnected world such a policy is naive and possibly dangerous.

Lambson: I think it is more naive to believe that our government can intervene without making grave mistakes that result in unnecessary death and destruction. Even World War II, which was absolutely necessary, in my view, might not have been necessary had we minded our own business during World War I. Our entry into the first World War tipped the balance and resulted in the Versailles Treaty, which facilitated Hitler's rise to power. (Apologies to those who thought I was a Republican.)

Bagley: I suppose that is one reading of history. Ron Paul would have had us stay out of Libya, but our limited help to the rebels seems to have turned out fairly well. NATO's intervention prevented a massacre, we lost no military personnel, it cost one-thousandth of Iraq, a crazy dictator is gone and, most important, the Libyan people like us.

Lambson: There is no such thing as a monolithic Libyan people. Some Libyans like us and others hate us. Furthermore, when the government does so much, the law of averages will make some things turn out well. This doesn't mean that a policy of intervention is better than minding our own business overall. Finally, it remains to be seen whether the situation in Libya turns out well.

Bagley: We'll see. By the way, if you haven't already, I recommend renting the film "Charlie Wilson's War" http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/charlie_wilsons_war/. It's an entertaining retelling about our alliance in the 80s with the "Holy Warriors" Mujahideen to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

The comment section lit up last week with comparatively (compared to the rest of the web, that is) little name calling and many readers posting some very readable cri de coeurs about the sad state of our politics. From among so many good ones, below is my very subjective Top Comment pick.

Top Comment:

petragalazio wrote,

I don't really understand why so many adults (Republicans) rationalize this gerrymandering by saying, "... but everyone else is doing it!" I didn't let my kids get away with this ... Utah should lead good behavior, not rationalize bad behavior.

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