America responded to being attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, by launching two wars. The lives of uncounted Mississippians with military connections have been disrupted in many, many ways. Thousands have served in Afghanistan or Iraq, either in uniform or as civilians, hundreds have been wounded and, according to the latest tally, 65 Mississippians have given their lives.
The reality of war is those 65 headstones carved for Mississippians and the 5,564 carved for other Americans.
The unreality of war continues to be the political gameplaying. The greatest travesty is how callously both Democrats and Republicans keep jockeying for the higher moral ground.
When they debated before the 2000 election, Al Gore and George Bush were absolutely firm on two points. First was that a prescription drug benefit was needed as part of Medicare. Bush got it passed. Second was that America should never, ever engage in foreign “nation-building.” That’s what we’d tried in Vietnam. Both said it was a mistake. Both nominees were adamant that any military deployment would be in response to clear threats to national security and would have clearly defined objectives and exit points.
Now, 10 years later, President Barack Obama, who propelled himself ahead of then-rival Hillary Clinton on the basis of his early opposition and consistent votes against invading Iraq, is following the script in Iraq written by Bush, the Republican president, and by his vice president, Dick Cheney. That sentence may shock some people, but it’s verifiable.
In the run-up to 2008 elections, a growing insurgency and rising death counts from Iraq dominated the news. Acting against the advice of a study team, Bush decided to escalate the war. The “surge” was decried as folly by legions of Democrats, including Obama.
Two years have passed. Obama hasn’t changed so much as a comma of the Bush-Cheney surge-followed-by-phased-withdrawal plan. This is because nation-building effort appears – for now – to have taken root. Later this month, the number of troops in Iraq will be cut to a mere 50,000 or so (a higher number than during seven of our years in Vietnam) and headlines will hail Obama for “ending the war as he promised he would.”
That’s not close to accurate, but lots of people caught up in the push-pull of partisanship will believe it.
The war in Afghanistan started before the war in Iraq and, it appears, will last longer. The initial purpose was clear. The Taliban rulers had allowed several hundred al-Qaida terrorists to train there. Displacing the Taliban and emptying the camps was the job to be done. It was accomplished almost as swiftly as overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
In both venues, winning the peace has been the grinding challenge.
Obama, who did not oppose the Afghanistan effort, insists on “victory,” whatever that means. He has escalated troop numbers as coalition nations reduced their commitments. A full-scale “nation-building” effort is under way.
The president will never admit it, but that’s the strategy that worked for Bush who, of course, had earlier said it would never be tried.
Today, Democrats and many in the media who insisted America had no business using the military to stand guard while Iraq got its act together are saying we have a humanitarian duty to do the same thing in Afghanistan.
Politicians of all stripes recognize that Americans have a low threshold of tolerance for any war – especially long, drawn-out wars where the definition of a win is vague, at best. So what else could they do now other than point fingers of blame at each other? Politicians won’t level with the public on the very simple truth that Osama bin Laden and his followers as well as most of the rest of the world see America as a single entity. Our internal politics – whether the president is a liberal or a conservative – has zero significance to al-Qaida. Bill Clinton was president during the planning period for the attacks on U.S. soil nearly nine years ago. Bush had been in office only eight months when the plan was executed. Yet day in and day out we’re told Republicans have answers and Democrats don’t or Democrats have answers and Republicans don’t.
A dose of honesty about how we got in and whether we’ll get out might not make either war end sooner. But it would be refreshing.
The reality of the war is the graves.
Opportunists who claim credit or place blame while others shoulder the load are a distraction.
Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail to:firstname.lastname@example.org.