Thursday, June 09, 2011

The War That Never Ends

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Jill and I used to ask ourselves why anyone would want the job, given the mess the country was in. Turns out we were right; the job is not one you would wish on your worst enemy. The economy is in shambles, and our relations overseas deteriorate with every passing day (or with every drone attack).

What’s a right-minded President to do? If he were strong enough, he might say, “enough, already,” and pull our military out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen (yes, we’re in Yemen). His liberal base would cheer, but the hawks would howl. General Petraeus, whose approval ratings are sky-high, would appear on the Sunday talk shows to lament our lack of will. So it will not happen. Barack Obama is not strong enough, or confident enough, to do what he knows is right.

Here’s the math: We are spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan. That’s about $230,000 a minute. It’s money we don’t have, money we have to borrow. But to do that, we have to raise the debt limit, already $14 trillion. How big a number is 14 trillion? There are about 31.5 million seconds in a year, so 14 trillion seconds ago puts you back at the dawn of time (31,746 BC).

Yet those who favor a “robust” foreign policy will not quit. Senators Chambliss and McCain, among others, are pushing back against any attempt to disengage. (Can you imagine what our foreign policy would be like under a President McCain?) And their point of view resonates with many, for fighting is popular among a certain segment of the population, just as brawling is the attraction for many who attend professional hockey games.

More than half a century after World War II and the Korean War, we still have thousands of troops in Germany, Japan, and Korea. Our military footprint is on every continent, and it is expanding. And it is expanding under a President who campaigned and was elected as the anti-Bush. Meanwhile, China, on track to become the world’s largest economy, keeps its troops at home. What’s wrong with this picture?

But there is hope. Republican Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina has broken with his party in cosponsoring an amendment to accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan – an amendment that drew the support of 26 Republicans, including three freshmen elected with Tea Party Support. Then there is Ron Paul, the presidential
wannabe who sensibly favors trimming our overseas military commitments.

After 10 years in Afghanistan, it is time to cut our losses and withdraw. Failure to do so is lunacy.

In the musical Miss Saigon, the Engineer (Jonathan Pryce in the original) sings about the seeds of the Vietnam War:

“Then it all changed with Dien Bien Phu. The Frogs went home. Who came? Guess Who?”

If there is ever a Miss Kabul, the lyrics might go like this:

“Then it all changed with Helmond Province. The Russians went home. Who came? Guess who?”