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Offshoring War: How Obama—and Those Moments of Silence—Insult Military Sacrifice

| November 13, 2010

President and canon fodder.

“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.

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.

The Live Column

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.

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13 Responses for “Offshoring War: How Obama—and Those Moments of Silence—Insult Military Sacrifice”

  1. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    Although I don’t agree with your spin mostly in the article, I do agree that our news media does a deplorable job on many major topics not just this one. Although I do not own a newspaper, or a website that claimes to be a place of Breaking and relevant news, you do!.

    So pardon me if I find it a tad ironic, that you describe the media as desensitizing the issue. You bring the point of view as I read it that you are mainly against war, all war, and I respect that opinon. However I happen to think that at times war is necessary, and although wholly unsavory, we as a REPUBLIC, owe it to ourselves to make sure that our elected leaders when they send troops in harms way, that they not forget them either.

    I happen to think (my opinion) that there is a sect of a particular religion, that wholly has ordained it as their religious goal, to not only insist theirsis the only “RIGHT” religion, but to resort to carnage and bloodshed to achieve that goal. This country was founded on the right of Religious Freedom, and when we fail to defend that right, we fail to exist.

    If I was a journalist, and I felt that we were (as a society) avoiding the ongoings in Afghanistan then I would use my vehicle to publish the on going events on a very regular basis. Youwoud be doing your part to inform those who are intelligent enough to listen and draw their own conclusions. American Government is no more than an extension of its people as a whole. When the people make them accountable as we do every so often, government does listen and is adaptable for change.

    Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and on and on are a rebilious culture of extermists going both ways, without the infrastructure to protect the basic rights of even the basic citizens they claim to represent. This war cannot be changed one country at a time, as it is regional in its core. With the infightng from many sides all for different and typically self serving reasons.

    The United States is not, nor do I think it should be the Worlds Policeman. I do feel though that when American Business’s and Dollars are put in jeopardy, or when another nation asks for help, we should offer it and give as necessary to meet common goals. We have over the past 50 years forgotten one very important lesson. War is not won until you occupy and control the area, whereas you can then let the locals take over building infrastructure and establishng a solid foundation on which a real government can exist. We should look more toward what was necessary for the ALLIES to continue to do for years after VJ Day when World War II was considered over. When we follow those ideals and plans maybe we can actually declare victory.

  2. Van says:

    Pierre, you really need to look at Common Dreams for a few responses to this piece. Jim N’s is so incoherent and self-contradicting as not deserving of an answer. But there are several on CD you really should look at and maybe reply to, if you have the time, what with your owning a newspaper and all. (Disclosure: I am “Ephraim” on CD.)

  3. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    Incoherent and self contradicting?
    Lets see…
    #1 This is a news outlet – Rather than gripe about no coverage – Give some. like there were 8 american soldiers killed last weekend in Afghanistan.
    #2. We can’t win the war. Yes we can when we look at it as a regional conflict involving many players, rather than as solely an Afganistan Only conflict. (Not unlike Vietnam & Cambodia)
    #3. War is not and should not be about Political Parties. Rep started it, Dems, funded it……B.S. This is America … We should be on the side of our troops UNITED & Together until they come home. Let them do the job they are trained to do and get it over with.

    Oh and thans for the listing common dreams I din’t know my computer would go that far left, but I’ll take a look as your opinionwhatever it is is important. Many people have died, and been wounded, just so you can have your say also… Isn’t the UNITED STATES Great?

  4. seenthisb4 says:

    To die for a cause that no longer has a purpose is the most tragic of human endeavors. Woe to those who would call for such a sacrifice, without sharing in that sacrifice.

    Can we really stomach looking at ourselves in the mirror and saying, “I feel safer knowing that someone else’s sons or daughters died for me today?” Are we OK with falling asleep knowing someone else’s dad, mom, uncle or aunt will die for our children tonight?

    Are any of us who know these wars are necessary prepared to take their place so they can be home for the holidays this year? How about filling in so they can be there for their children’s birthday? Are any of us who know these wars are necessary prepared to enlist or re-up or encourage our children to do so? We ask and expect much from others that we would not even consider of ourselves.

    Incidentally, if it takes our neighbors children’s death, in some third world hell hole, to make us feel safe, why do we spend $80 billion dollars a year on 16 intelligence agencies?

  5. Keisi says:

    Well Jim, i think we all should be happy that youre not a journalist.
    Why dont you join the army and help them out overthere? If its all that great and just

  6. John the Piper's Son says:

    Excellent article and I thank you for writing it. It is all too apparent (judging from most of these responses) that most of these responses indicate that the writers do not get it. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were illegal and immoral. Since 15 of the terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, why didn’t we attack them? Oops, I forgot about the tight connection between the Bush and Bin Laden families.
    The idiots that are so happy about this systematic slaughter of peoples should be confined to a lunitic asylum.
    I was a grunt in Vietnam in 1968 and Pierre’s article is spot on. The United States should mind its own business instead of playing the “Great Game” because we have already lost.
    Keisi is correct. If all of you jingoistic imbeciles should sign up right now. I am sure you would make crackerjack storm troopers. When I served in Vietnam I did not have the luxury of being a volunteer. I do have sympathy for those who had to join because of economic circumstanses; for the others who were too lazy or stupid to do some critical thinking, Sin Loi (sorry about that). You asked for it and you got it. In spades. Boo hoo.

  7. Jaime says:

    You seem to be so concerned about these soldiers’ well being. Do you forget that they are volunteers? That means they went to do the killing willingly. Moreover, what sacrifice are you talking about? Sacrifice entails actions that are noble. How noble is invading, raping and assassinating? To you the innocent is just a number, a statistic. Who can care about these untermenschen after all? Even if they die by the millions, their lives are totally expendable. But the day will come when you as a society will have to pay the consequences of your actions and indifference? It may be your children or grandchildren, but the blood of the innocent claims to heaven, and the revenge will be terrible.

  8. Popsiq says:

    You’re part right but for all the wrong reasons. What makes you think that America has any right to start a war of aggression? It was not attacked by either of the countries it attacked.

    What makes you think that America’s role in the world is ‘good’ for anybody else on earth but Americans? ‘Business interests’ trump altruism 99.9 percent of the time and business interests drive America’s politics and, thus, foreign policy. Most of America’s wars have resulted from the activities of ‘business interests’.The latest ones no less than any that have gone before.

    That there are young Americans willing to don a uniform, learn to bear arms and take these weapons around the earth to attack people who don’t even understand why they’re being attacked is to me no more laudable than the service of a SS man or a member of the Cheka. They’re soldiers, period. Their trade is the giving and taking of death and destruction. For all their intentions, there is little ‘good’ in what they actually do. To ascribe to them a general distinctive ‘honor’ they may not individually merit, is the basis of a militarism that, in times past, we decried in others, and had to defeat, twice. We should honor the service of those who give life to others instead of taking lives from others. Habving and arny and no enemy is a dissonent state, and so there is always a necessary paranoia among the uniformed, this paranoia now affects civilians.. Militarism is rampant in America to-day and even the growing parade of the disabled and disfigured don’t bring home to most Americans any notion of the greater disability and disfigurement such men cause in other places on earth.

    Maybe if it gets to the point where every American gets to see the products of this war every time they go to the Mall, they’ll wake up. But I doubt it, taking care of business is job 1.

  9. Jay says:

    Anyone who understands war knows that military action can never be used to create social progress. Militaries exist to kill people and destroy things because there is no other option. To send our military into harm’s way and pretend you are doing anything other than killing people and destroying things is idiotic, traitorous and incoherent (and inevitably leads to the troops on the ground being ignored.)

    Liberals who say that our military should be used to spread democracy abroad are just as much to blame for this war as are Republicans. And after Obama’s election it is clear many such liberals have polluted the democratic party. They should know better than to use violence as a means to create progress. However, conservatives have slipped into an even more repulsive error, pretending that social progress can actually be used as a guiding strategy to expand war. To liberal hypocrites, war is the means and social progress the end; to conservatives, social progress is the means and military power the end. Either way the root of the problem is to realize that the military is only trained to kill and destroy. Asking our troops to do something that they are not, and cannot, be trained for, if they are to remain effective, is an intrinsic betrayal of our troops.

    Jim N says that the culture over there is hopelessly rebellious and extremist. If that is the case we need to be honest and allow our military to fight using all of its most advanced technology. we need to stop wasting time trying to win the hearts and minds of anyone and stop having our troops fighting with one hand tied behind their back. if anyone really cares about our troops they would never support the war in its current form. To say you support our troops and support this form of warfare is pure idiocy. Jim N is a fucking traitor to his country and to veterans like me.

    The only way to support our troops is to either bring them home or give them full authorization to start taking land and giving it to our allies to cultivate. There is no such thing as a “new kind of war” such an idea is liberal idiocy. The rules that govern war are eternal and the only explanation for the current war is that republicans don’t really want to win because they never really wanted to leave the middle-east. They see it as a pool of cheap labor. They do not want to win, they want to move the military sphere of influence from Europe into the middle-east and eventually into Africa. Google Thomas Barnett if you don’t believe me. If they were at least honest about that then a sane person could argue that Obama and Bush support our troops. But if leaders fundamentally tell our troops they are fighting for one thing and then fight for something else, anyone who supports the war has betrayed our troops.

    Thank you,
    A veteran of operation “Allied Force” – Remember, not counting the mass murder of innocent Serbs, No one died when Clinton lied! (I wish less people had supported war when I was fighting, I’m not so fragile that my feelings would have been hurt by someone telling the truth. A military dependent on public opinion is already defeated.)

  10. Stan Buchholtz says:

    As enthusiastic a supporter I am of Obama, I am equally as distressed and disappointed at his decision to pursue the unwinable Afghan war. It is astonishing to realize that the “Best and the Brightest” of our country just never seem to learn from history.
    It is encouraging, however, to find so many very insightful comments in response to your essay on this issue in Flagler Live.

  11. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    Dear Jay:
    To call me a F***ing Traitor is not only very wrong but you evidently have the wrong opinion.
    I never said or implied that the US should be the worlds policeman, as was asked of us in both Viet Nam and Korea. I said the opposite. I said to occupy the country. Just like we did in Germany and Japan after WWII.

    I don’t think we need to go to war near as often as our government does or has, however, I do not think that we should allow any group of people regardless of religion or class to call for us to be attacked and killed as we were on 9-11. My position about that and let me be clear, is it is not one nation or two that is behind this, It is a religious sect that occupies many countries, not unlike Hitlers Nazi’s did after invading, Poland, Austria, Italy, France, and even Germany. The difference is this sects guerrilla tactics and what they want to do.

    If my opinion makes me a traitor then so be it. But I doubt seriously you’d find many people half as patriotic as I am. yes I’ve been to other countries, and seen how they live, we may not always be right, but I still think we are the best.

  12. Phil Restino says:

    Thank you, Pierre Tristam, for writing and posting your recent article “Offshoring War: How Obama—and Those Moments of Silence—Insult Military Sacrifice”, and for the accurate caption “President and cannon fodder” to the photo of Obama with the troops in the background.

    We’re told that we are a nation answerable to the rule of law, and where the rights of the minority are no less than the rights of the majority and that no one is above the law. Those of us who served in the military and those who are elected to serve as our representatives in Congress swear an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution (the supreme law of the land) against all enemies, foreign and domestic. If we go back to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunals after WWII in 1945 and examine the war crimes the U.S. cited in prosecuting the Nazis, and if we looked at the U.S. Constitution, U.S. federal laws, the United Nations Charter, the Hague Convention, the Geneva Conventions, The United Nations Convention Against Torture, it is very clear to see that the U.S. wars on and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are not only immoral, but by U.S. and International law illegal.

    Our U.S. Presidents Bush and Obama who have commanded our military into these illegal actions are in turn war criminals, and they need to be held to account as such by the American people … especially by those of us who took an oath to support and defend that supreme law of the land which every American, including the President, is answerable to.

    In March of 2005, Veterans For Peace ( as a national organization made its official call for the Impeachment of President George W. Bush for his responsibility for the illegal wars he launched and continued to prosecute. VFP continues to call for the arrest and prosecution of former President George W. Bush for those crimes. Although the Veterans For Peace has yet to make the same call for the Impeachment of President Barack H. Obama for the same war crimes cited in the call for Impeachment of President George W. Bush, the Central Florida chapter of Veterans For Peace addressed the issue in the first months of the Obama administration and subsequently passed a resolution at our chapter level in July of 2009 calling for the Impeachment of President Obama for war crimes.

    As the American people, we have a responsibility for what our servant government does in our name and with our tax dollars, especially when using our sons and daughters to kill and be killed in a “pre-emptive” war (aka war of aggression). We have the responsibility to call for the removal and prosecution of any and all U.S. war criminal Presidents, along with a demand for an immediate halt to any illegal and unjust military actions being prosecuted by our U.S. military.

    To sign on and/or find out more about our Central Florida chapter of Veterans For Peace calling for the Impeachment of President Obama for war crimes, please contact us at (386) 788-2918 and/or visit our website at Remember, War Crimes are War Crimes: Prosecute Bush, Impeach Obama!

    Philip C. Restino, Jr.
    Chapter Co-Chair, VFP Chapter 136
    Central Florida Veterans For Peace

  13. Jaime says:

    A people that belives itself to be chosen or “the best” is precisely the root of the problem. There are thousands of ways I could mention why the US is not the best, nor the worst. It is just a country like any other. It is precisely due to this perverse teachings that you go to other places and invade and maim and kill, and you still feel good. In fact, this sense of feeling superior correlates quite well with Nazism. Hitler couldn’t have said it better. A logical and natural result of this is seeing the others as inferior so American ways, customs, beliefs should be the norm for everybody. This idea of being the best is also proper of the brutish and uncouth who has rarely educated his mind with things other than American Idol or the Sunday comics.

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