President Obama Needs to Remind Us Why We Are There

“If anyone thinks you can somehow thank them for their service, and not support the cause for which they fight – our country – these people are lying to themselves. . . . More important, they are slighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to this nation.”

Those were the words of Lieutenant General John F. Kelly, United States Marine Corps, who is Secretary Gates’ senior military assistant.  He went on to point out that less than one percent of the population serves in the armed forces currently, and there is a growing concern within the military community regarding their isolation in the America they are defending.  Not only are our men and women facing isolation at home, they are being left on the battlefield with little support by their countrymen stateside.

A recent poll was released by ABC News and Washington Post shows that a paltry 34% of Americans find the war in Afghanistan worth fighting.  Sadly, this poll came out the same day General Patraeus gave his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee asking his audience, Senators and informed Americans alike, to “remember why we are there in the first place.”

These statistics must be detrimental to anyone who has sent a family member or friend overseas; however, these statistics must be even more harmful for those serving overseas themselves.  America was founded with the military, but philosophically, as a commercial republic.  The two founders who shared the greatest vitriol were Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.  Despite their differences, they agreed on founding a republic that was commercial in nature so as to avoid war.  Thomas Jefferson was the friend of the yeoman farmer, stating that “those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God…”  Hamilton hoped this commercial republic would “soften the manners of men, and [to] extinguish those inflammable humors which have so often kindled into wars…”  Until what can be considered fairly recently in the grand scheme of History, America never had a standing Army, opting to draft people when the occasion called for such measures instead.  Nevertheless, we find ourselves in a war at the present moment, but we also find ourselves regimented into thinking that a battlefield is where football is played, or where ideas clash in a boardroom, or where politicians vie for votes in an important election.  Even our professional athletes forget the difference between what they are, and what a true United States Soldier (or Marine) is.

America has faced large battles, and won.  What is the difference this time?

Marc Thiessen has a post over at The Enterprise Blog where he lays the blame at President Obama’s feet when he points out that public support for the war has plummeted since President Obama came into office.

“When Obama took office, a majority still said the war in Afghanistan was worth it. He lost majority support in July 2009, then regained it briefly when he announced the surge in December 2009, and then lost it again with a precipitous decline throughout 2010.”

Mr. Thiessen continues by addressing what he believes to be the crux of the problem, which is the failure of the President to defend his policies in Afghanistan.  Why hasn’t President Obama defended his endeavors overseas with the same zeal he defended his ill-conceived and unpopular health care legislation?  Mr. Thiessen does not go far enough, however, in condemning the commander-in-chief for abdicating his duties as the leader of our armed forces and making sure that the American public that is entirely separated from this war and its ramifications remembers why our men and women are over there in the first place.

Let us get something straight: President Obama never addressed the war in Afghanistan with the attention it deserved, and when he did, it was with a flaccidity that would excite an Urologist.  President Obama marched into the Oval Office with a view towards “slow[ing] things down” with regard to the military.  The military asking a sitting president for the tools necessary to defeat an enemy abroad was seen as a problem to be solved, but not the war itself.  As a matter of fact, most people have already forgotten that the president spoke with General McChrystal just once during the general’s first 70 days as commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, and that was a via video teleconference.  Finally, in October of 2009, President Obama met with then-General McChrystal in Copenhagen while the president was lobbying to have the Olympics held in Chicago.  He met the then-general of coalition forces in Afghanistan for twenty-five minutes in the front of Air Force Once.

Finally, it got to the point where President Obama had to act on the general’s recommendation for extra troops.  As the Guardian reported, “Obama agreed to deploy an extra 30,000 troops but only after months of dithering that many in the military found frustrating.”

To claim the president displayed some sort of ambivalence regarding the war in Afghanistan is an understatement.  The one most powerful weapon at his disposal (or what used to be) was his rhetorical ability, and even then he chooses not to rally the troops around the Afghan cause.  In December of 2009, President Obama gave a lukewarm speech to West Pointers that earned him considerable scorn from the right.  Even during this year’s State of the Union, the president dedicated six sentences to a war costing the United States $100+ billion and hundreds of American lives a year.  Those six sentences gave way to 25 seconds of applause, the same length of time it took the president to deliver those sentences.

How can we expect our fellow countrymen to continue supporting an endeavor that our own president seems to treat as a mere thorn in his political side?  This recent poll can be reversed if President Obama dedicated more of his time keeping Americans in the loop about what we are doing over there, why we are there in the first place, and using some of his famous rhetorical gifts to re-energize our commitment to those who are so committed to our country that they continue to fight even though 60% of Americans are not standing behind them.

As Peter Wehner said, “this is not ‘Obama’s War,’ this is ‘OUR war.'”

-rj

Leave Afghanistan

I know RJ will vehemently disagree with me, but here is an op-ed I wrote about leaving Afghanistan that Daily Caller was kind enough to publish:

On Monday, a former professor and I were chatting, and the war in Afghanistan came up. I have been supporting a 100% pull-out from that country- as well as Iraq- for some time now, and think that with the General McChrystal issue hitting the fan (for the record, I support the president’s acceptance of the general’s resignation), it’s as good a time as any to post about why we need to leave the country.

First, we should leave for humanitarian/ethical reasons. We are sending servicemembers to that country to die for an Afghan leader who is corrupt, and whose brother is a criminal. What is our goal over there? The Afghanistan people are, at best, a tribal people with no real central government and no willingness to even have a central government. Being there to have access to Pakistan is just not a good enough reason anymore. Secondly, to (admittedly, hesitantly) quote a front page poster at Daily Kos, the worse Afghanistan gets, the less likely we are to leave. Since when does a proper cost-benefit analysis include sending good money after bad, and since when does honoring those who have valiantly served, been injured and/or died in Afghanistan include sending more young people to die without cause?

Secondly, we should leave because the American people don’t support this war. Oh, they say they do. But as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert described in December of last year, our support is minimal. Some money or other means of assistance is sent by those affected directly or indirectly by the war (friends and family with military members overseas, etc.) and some truly patriotic Americans, but most of the nation is satisfied with rhetoric pulled from blogs, talking heads and Associated Press articles. (Oh, yeah, and they have yellow ribbons on their bumpers.) As Herbert put it,

The reason it is so easy for the U.S. to declare wars, and to continue fighting year after year after year, is because so few Americans feel the actual pain of those wars. We’ve been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than we fought in World Wars I and II combined. If voters had to choose right now between instituting a draft or exiting Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops would be out of those two countries in a heartbeat.

Thirdly, we should leave Afghanistan because, despite the very good reasons for entering in 2001, Bush and Congress ignored Afghanistan for half a decade while focusing on Iraq. Whether or not we should have focused on Iraq is a different debate for a different time…but they failed to conduct the war in Afghanistan with efficiency, and President Obama is not improving things. Instead, as George Will pointed out this week, we have created a military for babysitting. Even with President Obama sending 30,000 troops over to the nation, we have a timetable. Since when has letting the foe know when it’s safe to come out become American policy? Obama’s mistakes are somewhat different than Bush’s…but they have the same consequences for our young people dying over there. Again, the cost-benefit analysis is not in favor of staying in Afghanistan.

Fourth, we just don’t have a clue as to what we’re doing, as pointed out by The Washington Examiner. Period. Is Karzai a good guy for us? It depends on the day. Are we trying to kill terrorists, or win the minds of the people? Um…the answer is unclear- ask again later. Is our enemy in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen or Afghanistan? I don’t think anyone really knows, despite what they may say. It could be all four. Are we going to invade Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen next, as a result?

After our conversation, my professor sent me an e-mail with the following title: “Until: 1) We decide to WIN wars again & 2) The Harvard kids also serve …this says it all.” He was referring to a recent Herbert column, in which Herbert talked about the courage to leave Afghanistan. The fact is that if we want to win wars, we should have a beginning, a middle and an end planned out. We should bring in enough troops. We should know the culture. We should not be convinced by elitists to enter a conflict- elitists whose their total involvement in war consists of debating on TV or making a profit off of the deaths of our countrymen. Pay the taxes to support the war, or do a USO tour, or encourage your child to join the military. Something. (On that note, great credit goes to people like Senator McCain and Vice-President Biden, whose children have served in post-9/11 conflicts, and especially to Senator McCain, who supports the war despite the risk to his family.)

I wasn’t alive in 1972, but my professor, my father and an increasing number of right-of-center individuals are saying the same thing- they’ve seen Afghanistan before. Of course- and it is now clichéd- it was called Vietnam, then. Since Bush took office, our debt has risen nearly 125%, with over 10% of that cost directly attributable to entering Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve lost thousands of young men and women. As much as it pains me to say it, the honorable thing to do is tactically retreat, starting tomorrow, and conduct a full pull-out from Afghanistan and Iraq, and honor our fallen by swearing to never, ever forget our first duty to the troops is to use them to protect our nation, not appease the egos and wallets that have benefited over the last nine years from our involvement in the Middle East.

My friend Tom Qualtere, who works for The Heritage Foundation, wrote an op-ed for Daily Caller back in March, and in it he said that Millennial/Generation Y Americans “are the 9/11 generation.” I agree with him, if only because the specter of 9/11 has dominated this nation’s, and our young people’s, thinking and culture since the towers fell. According to Tom, however, our duty is as follows:

But for those of us who’ve chosen a vocation on the home front, our support for them and their mission must be unambiguous and unwavering. It is time for conservatism’s 9/11 generation to fully embrace and defend the role that history has bestowed upon us and wear our hawk feathers more proudly than ever.

Tom and I disagree on many policy issues, and Afghanistan is one of them. He will undoubtedly respond to this opinion by saying we are letting the terrorists win by leaving Afghanistan. This would be the case if we just left Afghanistan (and Iraq) and forgot about the Middle East. However, when we leave, we must do so with the following assertions to the rest of the world (and our own citizenry):

  1. We are going to get the government out of the way and drill for oil within our national borders, build wind farms and build nuclear power plants. No longer will we send tens of billions every year to nations that support terrorism and hate us. While I do believe we went into Afghanistan and Iraq for good and ethical reasons, the fact is that part of that reasoning was for the benefits of oil for America. Well, take away the need for overseas oil, and we can start minding our own business for a change. Moreover, many terrorist organizations will have less money with which to fund attacks against us. This will take years, of course- but better late than never, and the sooner we start the better off we will be.
  2. The international community has for too long relied on our military. We have over 700 bases worldwide, and given our budget issues, this is unsustainable. If other nations- the same ones who criticize and condemn us if we don’t get involved (see Rwanda), but also if we do (see Iraq), with world affairs- want to utilize our blood and treasure, they can sign treaties and trade deals that give America a slice of the economic pie we have not asked for during our six-plus decades of world protection. Protection of other nations should be handled on a case-by-case basis, not with the assumption we will help every nation without such agreements. Supporting Kuwait in 1991, for example, was done because a) it was in our national interest, and b) because we had the ability to strike and win without a prolonged, expensive endeavor. Essentially, the cost-benefit analysis was positive.
  3. Protect our borders with some of the troops we bring home, among other good immigration policies (allowing border guards to shoot; encouraging legal immigration through incentives, etc.). Terrorists will have a hard time hurting us without being able to get in. Good, effective border policy will also give us the time to better our energy policies, as mentioned above.
  4. The jihadists will probably claim victory; after all, they drove out the “Great Satan,” much as they did with the Russians in the 1980s. This is a major concern, as 9/11 was the culmination of a nearly a decade’s worth of minor attacks that went unanswered by President Clinton. However, that’s where minding our own business and providing them with less money come into play, as well as the treaties I mentioned above. By minding our own business, we will blunt some of the jihadist propaganda. Secondly, without money they will have less success in attacking us in our own nation. Thirdly, should our intelligence see a threat, they can work with intelligence agencies in other nations and sign treaties and work together to deal with threats both before and as they arise. Lastly, should all else fail, we will have our own border control forces.

A clarification: I do not support an isolationist foreign policy platform, nor do I believe we have caused all of the world’s problems. The Middle East would have been a pit of peoples fighting among themselves even if America had never even sent a single dollar or troop there. However, other than supporting Israel and other allies with which we have treaties, or responding as we did after 9/11 to a direct threat on our nation, we should not be in that part of the world. The difficulty, of course- and this is why we have experts in government and the private sector- is striking the correct balance between leaving with our tail between our legs, thereby encouraging boldness by our enemies, and leaving with our heads held high without showing weakness. I think it is possible to do the latter by leaving now, though I admit the idea is balanced on a blade’s edge, and would require much delicate work.

It is difficult to say something is not worth vast amounts of effort- in this case, money and blood- put into it. It’s especially difficult when we have not won a major military conflict (except in 1991) since World War II. However, pride is only useful if those with the pride (i.e. politicians, think tank observers, etc.) are in the conflicts or are otherwise directly affected. Otherwise, the consequences of the pride are simply foisted onto those patriotic Americans who die or are maimed as a direct result of the pride. The delicate balance necessary to leave Afghanistan without handing a public relations boon to our terrorist enemies is an important step in owning up to the mistakes pride have bought us in the War on Terror.

*Originally published at DailyCaller.com.