“Honoring those who’ve served,” President Obama said in Seoul two days ago, “is about more than the words we say on Veterans Day or Memorial Day. It’s about how we treat our Veterans every single day of the year.”
Assuming, that is, that those veterans get to come home. Obama is ensuring that hundreds of them, and soon to be thousands, won’t be coming home from Afghanistan. He’s ensuring that thousands will come home maimed, psychologically demolished, irreparable. And he’s doing so knowing, as anyone with an elementary sense of history and a vague memory of the last 10 years should know, that the casualties are in vain. Those men and women are dying uselessly, in cause lost years ago, but still pursued for the same reasons Vietnam was pursued uselessly after 1967: to save face. How ironic, how repulsive, that saving national face hinges on the willful disfigurement of thousands of men and women.
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When a president sends soldiers to die in a war that long ago ceased having a claim to being just, a war that quickly lost its chance of being won, and a war fought on behalf of a non-existent nation of tribes as ungrateful as they are resentful, hateful or malicious toward the American presence, those Americans are no longer being sacrificed by their nation. They’re being murdered. The complicity is national, too, down to that pathetic “moment of silence” that’s become the norm at the beginning of local government meetings, allegedly on behalf of servicemen. That silence, more complicit than respectful, is the last thing they need, if this nation were to show its true allegiance to servicemen’s sacrifice.
Two things happened this election season that say more about the immoral (rather than the demoralized) state of the nation than the mechanics of the Republican sweep. One of those things was a void. Virtually no candidate talked about Afghanistan, now the longest war in American history, and one claiming an average of 40 American lives a month. The public certainly didn’t care to talk about it, because it doesn’t care. And the Obama administration didn’t talk about it publicly. Why rouse another shame on its record? But it did signal that its promise to begin drawing down forces there in 2011 can now be added to its growing list of flip-flops, cave-ins, wilts and betrayals.
That was the second thing that happened, near the very end of the campaign and immediately after election day. It won’t be before 2014 that Americans will start withdrawing. “The end of 2014,” if Joe Lieberman, one of the Senate great war lovers, tells Army Times, as if it were nothing more than train schedules he were playing with, not lives.
A little taxpayer math, since Congress is refusing to extend unemployment benefits for Americans, benefits that expire in less than two weeks—in time for Christmas—if Congress can’t muster the $33 billion necessary to prolong them for six months. Here’s how that $33 billion stacks up against what members of Congress blindly approve, without debate. As of September, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost us $1.1 trillion. Afghanistan alone has cost $336 billion. Costs in Afghanistan are rising fast: $60 billion last year, $105 billion this year, $119 billion asked for next year, or three times that unemployment extension in a country with 15 million unemployed. Those costs in Afghanistan don’t include caring for veterans or lost productivity and whatever else is lost when men and women don’t return, or return in pieces.
Remarkably, not an audible word from public, media or politicians about all that. Republicans have an excuse. They’re too busy reclaiming the scene of their crime on the American economy to the kind of public acclaim that gives slasher movies their brief popularity. What of that oxymoron of our age, the responsible press? Justly blamed in 2003 for swallowing Bush’s Iraq fictions whole, it’s not even being blamed these days for forgetting that Afghanistan exists. There’s no one to blame it, since the public at large has reverted to thinking of Afghans as nothing more than a type of blanket.
The GOP is probably saving its Afghanistan card for 2012, when it’ll be able to turn the tables on Obama and use his own words—used against Bush’s incompetence in 2008 and John McCain’s allegiance to that incompetence in Afghanistan—against him. It’ll have every reason.
After endless dawdling last year, President Obama made what until then was the worst foreign policy decision of his presidency: he endorsed a plan to escalate American military power in Afghanistan, even though, after nine years of war, American forces were nowhere near gaining an advantage or attaining an objective, other than merely being there. By then it was made clear by the CIA and the Pentagon that al-Qaeda was in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan, and that Pakistan’s double-face, not to mention Pakistan’s nuclear stash, is the more serious strategic threat than either Iran or Afghanistan will ever be. Then there’s that Afghan president. The country is ruled by a corrupt, fraudulently elected double-dealer with no interest in resolving conflict and no respect from Afghans at large, let alone for US troops. But Obama and Hillary Clinton—a secretary of state even more ineffective than Condoleezza Rice or her husband’s Warren Christopher—still pay tribute to the guy as if he were their equal.
Here’s what we get in exchange: Last month the war entered its 10th year. So far this year, 431 U.S. soldiers have been killed, by far the highest tally of any year since 2001, for a total of 1,378 American soldiers killed. Last year’s total: 317. The war’s evolution has the grim distinction of annually breaking the record of US soldiers’ deaths nine years in a row. Add to that the soldiers killed from NATO and other allied countries, and the tally rises to 2,203. Add the Afghan tally, which registers barely or not at all in most Americans’ idea of the war, and we’re into the tens of thousands, with nothing gained and less settled: The Taliban controls most of the country. The US and NATO militaries are pulling off isolated, tactical victories, but they’re not altering the overall equation. There’s no victory here–not one to preserve, certainly not one that can be gained.
That was true in 2001. It’s been true since, with no let-up except in cavernous illusions whenever it’s time to pony up more billions and more troops, and whenever the elected have to pander to veterans with those words of respect so insultingly at odds with the reality of the country’s contempt for its troops. True, returning soldiers aren’t being spat on at airports. They’re being applauded. They’re being invited to schools and honored in church. But that’s more vile than the spitting, because it amounts to a celebration of indifference: Thank you for fighting and dying over there, wherever that may be. Now don’t bother us with details. Facebook status updates beckon.
The economy’s been outsourced. Why not the war? “So I want all of you to know when you come home your country is going to be there for you,” Obama told those prop soldiers in Seoul. “That is the commitment I make to you as Commander-in-Chief. That is the sacred trust between the United States of America and all who defend its ideals.” There’s an even more sacred trust: those soldiers’ lives, whose loss demeans the very ideals Obama claims to be defending.
Pierre Tristam is the editor of FlaglerLive. Become a fan.