“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.'”