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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Wrong Call, Mr. President

12/4/09

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953

Afghan-HetheringtonHaving taken a long walk after a filling Thanksgiving dinner, we’ve been thinking and working on a longer piece about the president’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. In short: Good process, wrong conclusion. Stay tuned for details.

In the meantime, we wanted to run some good thoughts from New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who, as usual, nails it:

. . . the president has arrived at a decision that never was much in doubt, and that will prove to be a tragic mistake. It was also, for the president, the easier option.

It would have been much more difficult for Mr. Obama to look this troubled nation in the eye and explain why it is in our best interest to begin winding down the permanent state of warfare left to us by the Bush and Cheney regime. It would have taken real courage for the commander in chief to stop feeding our young troops into the relentless meat grinder of Afghanistan, to face up to the terrible toll the war is taking — on the troops themselves and in very insidious ways on the nation as a whole.

More soldiers committed suicide this year than in any year for which we have complete records. But the military is now able to meet its recruitment goals because the young men and women who are signing up can’t find jobs in civilian life. The United States is broken — school systems are deteriorating, the economy is in shambles, homelessness and poverty rates are expanding — yet we’re nation-building in Afghanistan, sending economically distressed young people over there by the tens of thousands at an annual cost of a million dollars each. . . .

A recent Bill Moyers program on PBS played audio tapes of Johnson on which he could be heard telling Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, “Not a damn human thinks that 50,000 or 100,000 or 150,000 [American troops] are going to end that war.” McNamara replies, “That’s right.”

. . . The tougher choice for the president would have been to tell the public that the U.S. is a nation faced with terrible troubles here at home and that it is time to begin winding down a war that veered wildly off track years ago. But that would have taken great political courage. It would have left Mr. Obama vulnerable to the charge of being weak, of cutting and running, of betraying the troops who have already served. The Republicans would have a field day with that scenario.

Lyndon Johnson is heard on the tapes telling Senator Richard Russell, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, about a comment made by a Texas rancher in the days leading up to the buildup in Vietnam. The rancher had told Johnson that the public would forgive the president “for everything except being weak.”

Russell said: “Well, there’s a lot in that. There’s a whole lot in that.”

We still haven’t learned to recognize real strength, which is why it so often seems that the easier choice for a president is to keep the troops marching off to war.

Bob Herbert, “A Tragic Mistake” (New York Times, Nov. 30, 2009)



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