Michael Steele, chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), has
put the Afghanistan war in the headlines again. Mr. Steele, who
apparently believes his job is to make outrageous statements for which
he must subsequently apologize, said Afghanistan is now wholly Barack
Obamas war and we have no chance to win, anyway.
Predictably, the Democrats howled in protest. So, too, did a phalanx
of big-name Republicans, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who
decried the defeatist comments as insulting to our troops in harms
way. Demands for Mr. Steeles resignation came pouring in from a
wide spectrum of politicians left and right. Even former Vice
President Dick Cheneys wife Lynn suggested the GOP might consider new
Officially, the war in Afghanistan started on October 7, 2001, in
response to the attacks of 9/11. It was dubbed Operation Enduring
Freedom and involved American and British Special Forces plus a
blistering American air assault. (If you want to know the real story
of the earliest days of the war, which actually started a bit earlier,
read local author Doug Stantons exquisitely researched and written
book, Horse Soldiers.)
George W. Bush was president at the time it all started. Support for
retaliation against Afghanistan was almost unanimous. After all, they
were then being governed by the Taliban, who had given safe haven to
al Qaeda, who had given birth to the 9/11 murderers. Congress
provided the go-ahead and funding, and the public was gung-ho for
vengeance. Weve been at it ever since, the longest military
engagement in United States history. President Obamas recent surge
placed another 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, giving us nearly 100,000
troops now engaged.
But this is not George W. Bushs war. And it certainly isnt Barack
Obamas war. It is our war.
Technically, it isnt even a war. No president has requested, nor has
Congress issued, a formal declaration of war since Franklin Roosevelt
requested and received one in 1941. Since then we have engaged in
military operations all over the world for all kinds of reasons. How
many countries? Lets run down the list.
Since World War II weve put our military in harms way in Iran (five
times, including deposing a democratically elected government so we
could install the Shah), Yugoslavia (twice), Uruguay, Greece, Germany
(twice), China (twice), the Philippines (twice), Puerto Rico, Korea,
Vietnam, Guatemala (twice), Egypt, Iraq (three times, including a
delightful moment in 1963 when we helped depose the ruling party so
Saddam Hussein could return from exile), Panama (twice), Cuba (twice),
Laos, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Chile, Angola,
Libya (twice), El Salvador, Nicaragua, Lebanon (twice), Grenada,
Honduras, Bolivia, Colombia, the Virgin Islands, Liberia (twice),
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Zaire (now the
Democratic Republic of the Congo), Albania, the Sudan, Yemen,
Macedonia and Pakistan.
Today, we have troops in more than 100 countries around the world.
About 370,000 of our 1.4 million men and women in uniform are deployed
on foreign soil.
Were pretty much oblivious to all of it. Never mind that all of this
is done with our tax dollars, the spending of which was approved by
our representatives in Congress and endangers our sons, daughters,
brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers.
But we arent arguing about winning or losing or military strategy.
Weve long since stopped arguing about whether or not we should be
quite this adventuresome. Now weve decided to fight over naming
rights to the war in Afghanistan. How absolutely remarkable.
Lost in the infantile name-calling contest are the warriors who fight
these things for us. Were fighting the longest running military
conflict in our countrys history and we have other troops in every
corner of the globe. But weve still been asked to contribute nothing
to these efforts.
Oh, yes, on the Fourth of July we pretended to honor our heroes by
giving lip service to sacrifice and then listening to the Marine Corps
Band just before settling in for some cotton candy and fireworks.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the death toll races toward 7,000 and
the casualty count has already exceeded 35,000. Except for their
families, friends and compatriots in battle, they hurt and die alone.
The rest of us suffer not at all. We sacrifice nothing. We focus on
oil leaks and vapid campaign rhetoric. Republicans rally for their
tea partiers and against illegal immigrants while blathering on about
less taxes and smaller government. The Democrats, a party in search
of a coherent platform, rant on about reforming Wall Street while
trying desperately to protect their majorities.
Do you know what the GOP or Democrat platform on the war in
Afghanistan is currently? They are both committed to victory. Have
you heard any candidate for any office discuss our troops in any
country other than Iraq or Afghanistan? Have you heard any candidate
talking about an increased budget for the Department of Veteran
Affairs or the VA healthcare system? Or maybe, in general, bringing
some of our troops from somewhere home? Not one.
No, Afghanistan isnt Barack Obamas or George W. Bushs war. Its
our war. All of them are. We all own every military deployment we
ever undertake. Were just not really interested in any of them.