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May 11, 2012

Why War in Afghanistan?

Roy Meachum

A survey published this week shows that 92 percent of Americans oppose war in Afghanistan with only eight in favor. The longer the situation lingers; the more the support wanes. There have been jokes: Would the last one out turn off the lights?


The casualties inexorably mount. Young men and women die or are horribly crippled. Republicans blame Barack Obama. In fact, George W. Bush started the nightmare adventure even before he ordered the invasion of Iraq. His first secretary of state, Gen. Colin Powell, said in his latest book, that there were never deliberative discussions within the Bush White House. The former armed forces chief of staff was responsible during Desert Storm for not permitting the victorious allies to march on until reaching Baghdad.


“I learned later that Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, had authored the unusable presentation, not the National Security Council staff. And several years after that, I learned from Dr. Condoleezza Rice that the idea of using Libby had come from the vice president, who had persuaded the president to have Libby, a lawyer, write the ‘case’ as a lawyer's brief and not as an intelligence assessment.” (Mr. Libby was later disbarred; his 30-month sentence prison sentence for lying to federal investigators was commuted by Mr. Bush.)


General Powell is a realist, but most of his fellow generals and admirals are afraid of being tagged “losers” since Vietnam. They simply don’t want to be used as scapegoats for politicians’ mistakes. Besides they feel a need to justify the trillions spent on the country’s war machine. Switching from the draft made their basic mission easier as it did for the elected officials. Three decades ago next year they ran for the shelter of an all-volunteer force, raising the pay to entice young people.


The republic in Rome came apart when it was defended by mercenaries, most of them foreign-born. People who fight for pay tend to put self before country, no matter the heroic examples from the past 29 years. They were usually inspired by friends and buddies. Camaraderie exists strongly among professionals.


Poet Rudyard Kipling wrote about the publically ignored 19th century English Army in “Tommy Adkins.” Officered by the upper class who fought for glory and medals leading to rapid promotion and appointment to the nobility; in the ranks they were volunteers, too. But, to them, London owes its African colonies and the fact when I was a child that “the sun never set on the British Empire.”


The United Kingdom had nothing to do with Iraq, because that country was under Ottoman rule. In dominating the Indian subcontinent, London learned – to its regret – that Afghanistan deserved: “the graveyard of empires.” Nothing if not thick-headed, the Soviets invaded and had their backsides whomped. Ordered by self-serving politicians, the American war machine ventured forth into the same crags and mountainous valleys and was treated to the same medicine. With no hope of nobility, our armed forces stay there. The admirals and generals and subalterns are fighting for promotions, which only come with life-costing combat. Before World War II, captains stayed at that rank for almost 10 years.


Taxpayers pick up the tab. I’m not alone in tracking the present Great Recession to over-reaction taken after 9/11. Having cut taxes for the wealthy, the Bush Administration engaged in foreign excursions that broke the national treasury and sent the economy into a tailspin. The expeditions were against “darker skinned Arabs,” as a result – and President Bush used the word “crusade” – we are accused of fighting Islam because of racist thinking.


Recently a Frederick businessman curled his lip when he said “Muslims.” The Internet displays Bush Vice President Cheney’s photo as an illustration of “snarl.” That mind-set has cost American motorists billions or more.


During the days when world maps were splashed with England’s red color, its citizens went around changing cities’ names to accommodate their tongues. In the American century, my fellow citizens went much further, shaping mentalities to suit their fancy.


It’s simply time to stop all that.


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