Friday, November 27, 2009
Next Tuesday will be an historic day for Barack Obama, not to mention in the lives of our troops who are already in Afghanistan and who will soon be going there, and their families. For Barack Obama it will be the beginning of the end of his Presidency, the death of his potential. For many of our troops, it will be the beginning of the end of their lives, if not in fact, in terms of what they might have been without yet another prolonged commitment in harm’s way. Death in the field of battle may be the ultimate distraction, but there are other, more or less subtle consequences for those who survive. We all know that war is reprehensible. The question before President Obama is whether or not it’s necessary.
No question about it, a well-meaning, although dangerously inexperienced President has thought long and hard about what to do, carefully considering every option. Word is that he’s decided to commit 34,000 more troops and billions of more dollars we can’t afford. He has a plan, but what happens in any theater of war isn’t just up to us, and the best made plans have a way of unraveling. If the history of these kinds of things is any measure, hindsight will not be kind.
Unfortunately, what we have here is a triumph of style over substance. Barack Obama and George Bush may be worlds apart intellectually, but the basic premise of their thinking turns out to be the same: The United States should use military force to fight this, to fight that. Terrorism is only the latest enemy. When I was in college, it was communism.
Here’s the thing. Terrorism is a real problem that has taken the lives of thousands of innocents here and in other countries, but you don’t kill movements with massive force. Movements need to play themselves out, to exhaust themselves in the light of day until they expire or morph into something more civilized and become absorbed into the mainstream of their greater culture, until they prove the destructiveness of their principles or demonstrate their value.
Except in the most immediate “clear and present danger,” using significant military force to overwhelm an insurgency sends one and only one message: The use of force to settle our disagreements is perfectly acceptable. In a way, it’s the same reason why parents should never strike their children. Besides the pure inhumanity of it, the only point you’re making is that it’s okay to use force to make your point. The underlying issue, whatever it was, is lost in the struggle and never really decided. Is that the best we can do? Is that the American persona that makes us proud to be one?
Forget about the fact that we can’t afford to keep our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone send more. Forget about the sacrifices our military personnel and their families make for our country. Forget about the argument that says the only reason the opposition is fighting us in Afghanistan is that we’re there in the first place. And forget about the post World War II history that says we can’t win, that we can’t really accomplish our objectives by waging wars, that the most we can hope for is a short-term fix. (We didn’t defeat communism. It collapsed by virtue of its own ineffectiveness.) Put all that aside. There are other solutions to the same problems. They may take more time, but there other more civilized, more enduring solutions that are far less expensive in all respects.
Candidate Barack Obama promised change. As it turns out, the only changes we’ve seen so far have been superficial matters of style and process, when what counts are the conclusions. He’s working with Congress to force-legislate an ill-conceived healthcare program. He wasted literally hundreds of billions we didn’t have to spend bailing out a select group of our largest corporations while having no real economic policy to fight massive un- and under-employment. And now, when it comes to the use of our military to combat the threat of terrorism, he turns out to be no better, no more imaginative, no more daring than his predecessor in office. Oh, and did I mention the federal budget is in a shambles?
All that talk about change, and the best he can come up with is sending in more troops. President Obama may wrap all this in an exit strategy, but we know spin when we hear it. More troops is more troops. We may be able to “stabilize” the country, but government corruption will continue and the movement that is our enemy, Taliban or other, will remain out there to regroup and re-energize itself.
Bummer. We finally get a bright guy in office who can string a few cogent sentences together and doesn’t embarrass us every time he travels abroad, and he turns out to be a one-term President. What a disappointment. Even George Bush managed to get himself re-elected.