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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Unpeaceful, uneasy feeling

by Mike Masterson | August 28, 2021 at 3:37 a.m.

In light of our nation's botched pullout from Afghanistan after 20 years (and despite President Joe Biden announcing the pullout with over four months to prepare for it), I chose to share this version of my column from February 2003.

It was published on the eve of launching our ill-advised Iraq war for which the George W. Bush administration also had no viable exit strategy. Eventually our presence led what would become the Muslim terror group ISIS to pledge allegiance to al-Qaida. (I highly recommend the compelling true story "Shock and Awe" on Amazon with Woody Harrelson and Tommy Lee Jones as reporters with Knight-Ridder newspapers).

"I've lately developed an uneasy feeling about what we're about to do in the desert tonight (apologies to the Eagles).

"It's caused by the Bush administration's single-minded determination to swat a hornet with the equivalent of a sheet-sized, laser-guided titanium fly swatter.

"I might refer to this action as a war, like TV's graphic-minded and hype-stering Countdown-Iraqers are so eager to do, except that increasingly I see our long-announced invasion as simply storming head-long into a sovereign country of already oppressed people. There we will wreak wholesale devastation and risk many American lives in an attempt to eliminate one man. After the smoke clears, then what?

"Indeed, Iraq might be able to supply terrorists with the same weapons of mass destruction we possess. But I'd venture to say that so might a number of other unstable and relatively unsecured nations at this moment, all of which hold Americans and our lifestyle in equal disregard. Pakistan, North Korea and even Russia jump readily to mind.

"Perhaps getting Saddam Hussein is the intended purpose of having 100,000 of our nation's youth fighting in the Arabian desert. I suppose that is the purpose behind further hamstringing our faltering economy. I suppose that is the purpose behind generating such uncertainty fostered by the thorny corn we will harvest after permanently planting it in the hearts and minds of Muslim zealots.

"I'm saying perhaps because, quite frankly, I have yet to see enough hard facts to support something as potentially catastrophic in the long run as this so-called war against a country without an air force or a navy or even a committed military.

"Now is probably an appropriate place to insert the formal disclaimer that I consider myself as red-blooded an American as the next citizen, especially having been raised in a military family of patriots and Republican politicians. Yet for some reason I never blindly embraced the ideologies of either political party, electing instead to judge issues and candidates on their individual merits.

"So please understand, these sudden unpeaceful and uneasy feelings of mine have nothing whatsoever to do with my politics. They stem instead from the same signals most of us experience when we sense unseen danger around us.

"It is more like my high school friend James Blackwell must have felt back in 1966 at the moment of no return when he leaped from a towering bluff into waters of the Buffalo River that proved tragically shallow. He hadn't checked the depth beforehand.

"I'm so confused at this point that I can't even recall exactly when our mission to erase al-Qaida madmen evolved into invading Iraq to disarm Saddam. I recall the vast majority of those 9/11 killers being from Saudi Arabia. Was there even one Iraqi among them? Where is any real evidence of their purported association?

"And weren't we supposed to be tracking down the terrorists and eliminating them? Instead, I see the hateful and negative infection they planted inside our society continuing its relentless spread from Ground Zero exactly as they had hoped it would.

"This scourge and its fever of assorted fears are threatening our freedoms, our openness and the very civil liberties that made us democracy's brightest beacon of hope on the planet. Can anyone recall when (since the Y2K nonsense) we have lived in such a color-coded climate of endless fears?

"And now, as if the damage to America isn't great enough, we find ourselves teetering on the brink of a decision with the dubious potential to become inhumanly vicious and virtually never-ending.

"Our nation's leaders still have no announced plan for what will become of the tumultuous country of Iraq once we bomb and ravage it. Yet here we are eagerly preparing to invade in impressive force with our space-age weapons that in moments can easily erase entire cities--an entire country--from the map. And we don't know what comes next? Why don't we know? No exit strategy? What is the rush?

"Perhaps it is all these dangling questions that have me feeling the way I do. But my instincts and my nose have always served me well. This crusade we are hell-bent on launching remains filled with uncertainty that carries a distinctly unpleasant aroma. Many say it is the smell of oil fields fueling our macho mission rather than risking thousands of American lives to vanquish one.

"German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche warned mankind a century ago that he who fights the dragon for too long risks becoming the dragon. Well, no one doubts that we have all the destructive and death-dealing, fire-breathing power we need to become one heck of a dragon in the eyes of the world.

"But still I wonder: Is this hornet swat what Americans really want? Is this how we want to see ourselves, and for others sharing this world to see us? Is what we are doing now the best example of the principles on which we stand united?

"If not, we need to quickly regain our senses, as well as our common sense. We should recognize that, as my old Ozarks sawmiller friend and sage Chance Purdem would say, 'There's shore lots more than one way to catch and skin a skunk.'"

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

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