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June 28, 2011

Damned Either Way

Roy Meachum

Barack Obama cannot win.


When the president announced in December 2009 that another 33,000 troops would be added to the U.S. forces already in Afghanistan, he alerted the world they would be called back, starting this July. Thursday night he affirmed the warning: 10,000 are scheduled out by the end of the year. Another 23,000 are due to be removed next summer.


For doing exactly what he said, the commander-in-chief met persiflage of criticism from left and right.


Some Democrats wanted them all returned, citing the Afghan government’s non-support and constant griping about military actions that the American command felt a necessity. There have always been indications that Kabul’s President Hamid Karzai and his entourage are much too cozy with the enemy Taliban. Particularly after Navy SEALs took out Osama bin Laden, the nation’s public has expressed impatience with the longest war in U.S. history.


The big hang-up now is objections from the Pentagon. Many Republicans swear allegiance to what GOP President Dwight D. Eisenhower termed “the military-industrial complex.” The retired five-star general issued warnings against the complex, fearing the nation might become enthralled.


After Korea and Vietnam ended in virtual stalemates, the armed forces brass determined they would never bow to political realities again. When the combined Chief of Staff Colin Powell nixed the invasion of Iraq after Desert Storm, the military barely contained its fury. But that was under President George H. W. Bush, his son offered no such constraint. The younger George W. Bush expanded the war in Afghanistan and gave the okay to take Baghdad, offering reasons that turned out to be false.


But that was in a much rosier economic clime. The reasons for the Great Recession can be debated and the causes argued. Only recently have I read about the wars’ cost that certainly reaches into the trillions. Everybody understands that now precisely because of the move to slash federal budgets that affect everyone.


Still the military-industrial complex resists fiercely any hints that it should tighten its belt; it argues jobs are at stake and it is right. There’s also the overweening determination of the admirals and generals to get their way; they fight on for victories even where there is no hope. The Soviets were only the latest to discover why Afghanistan earned the name “graveyard of empires.”


President Obama tried the high command’s way, which is what last year’s “surge” was all about; it didn’t work, despite arguments from the Pentagon that only a little more time could bring success. The sentiment was expressed lately by exited Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Nobody anymore pretends that American troops and weapons are an absolute necessity in Iraq; they are now relegated to training missions despite the cost to taxpayers. Does anyone recall how the U.S. public was assured that invading Baghdad would be paid for by revenues from the nation’s rich oil fields?


My support for Barack Obama in 2008 was partially hinged to his campaign vows to pull forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan. In part I justified his reluctance to honor his political promises because of the economic nightmare he inherited. With everything the president had to wrestle with, the military-industrial complex could have rated minor. The crippling and loss of young Americans must have been acceptable when balanced against the nation’s very survival, and at times survival was questionable.


Readers can remember that I opposed military involvement in the Middle East. There is no joy in my heart that things turned out as I feared. I’m very sad at the waste of lives and money.


The president has been jumped on for the removal of the 33,000 just in time for next year’s election. But he simply is doing what he said in December 2009, as I wrote.


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