Who’s Anti-War Now?

I am. Principles aren’t principles unless they’re consistent. Now that the White House and Congress have changed hands since 2006, it’s interesting to see politicians and pundits on both sides of the ledger flipping and flopping.

Still, the world is not two-dimensional and those who pretend it is do an injustice to reality. I’m willing to give Barack Obama some limited benefit of the doubt on America’s two wars because he inherited them from George W. Bush.

Now that he is president, Mr. Obama has the duty to direct US war policy in ways that are sane and in keeping with America’s constitutional values. As Richard Nixon said about Vietnam when he assumed the presidency, “This is Johnson’s war, but in six months, it will be mine.” It was, and he didn’t do a good job with it.

War is rarely noble. If any war approaches nobility, it was World War II and because of that, I think Americans have been confused about war since. Because we were clearly the “good guys” in that war, we tend to reflexively think of ourselves as “good guys” in all subsequent wars.

We have not been the good guys in Iraq. That war is a brutal, stupid mistake. Mr. Obama gets partial credit for promising to draw down our troops in Iraq and for promising to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He’ll get full credit when he makes good on those promises.

Afghanistan is another story. I don’t think our cause there is noble, I do think it’s necessary.

We face a handful of unpalatable choices in Afghanistan. We don’t want the Taliban to take over and make the country a haven for terrorists nor do we want the country to descend into the warlordism and opium production that preceded the Taliban’s first takeover. The Karzai government we’ve supported is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent (very much like the disastrous Diem regime in South Vietnam).

What’s the solution? I don’t know. I do know Donald Rumsfeld’s massive bombing campaign that opened the Afghan war was stupid and brutal, like the Iraq mistake. Somehow, we have to find a way to make Afghanistan stable, governed by people who are a threat to neither Afghan citizens nor other countries. I know getting there from here will be a long process and will entail the goodwill of many nations, both in the region and around the world.

The Afghans have had poor to terrible governments as long as history can record. It is understandable, given their plight, that the Afghan people have little or no hope for a decent society (or would even know what one looks like), so we have to have that hope for them. If we are to have a policy – a war policy, a foreign policy – that is worthy of the United States of America, then we need to have as our goal the stability of Afghan nation and the well being of the Afghan people. We need to help them stand until they can stand on their own.

General David Petraeus was in Washington yesterday, asking for more troops. We will soon have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan and Gen. Petraeus would like another 10,000 on top of that. Many of these troops have been rotating on and off combat duty for seven and a half years. Stateside lives are in tatters; many suffer from post-traumatic stress. All of us owe these men and women a huge debt and we should not scant on paying it. They have sacrificed greatly and deserve our support.

President Obama seems intent on extracting us from a foolish and unnecessary war. The other war, the unwelcome but necessary war, he seems determined to fight as wars should be fought, with sadness and determination.

© Mark Floegel, 2009

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