Thursday, December 3, 2009

A War Is Not a Football Game

070822-A-6849A-667 -- Scouts from 2nd Battalio...Image via Wikipedia

I dutifully watched President Obama's speech on our "surge" in Afghanistan Tuesday evening.  I say dutifully because it quite frankly was hard for me to stay focused. I kept playing with my iPhone while it was on.  The next day I thought I really should watch it because I know I'm going to have to discuss it.   So, I brought it up on YouTube and tried again.  I kept having to stop it and go back because I just kept drifting off to do other things.  I hate war. I hated it when I heard that Obama had decided to send in 30,000 more troops.  I was hoping after weeks of meeting with advisors and hearing all kinds of brilliant plans he'd come up with something new, something innovative.  Something I could really get behind.  But, alas, he did not.  30,000 more troops.  $30 billion more dollars (per year- $1M per man per year) and who knows how many more lives; poured into a dysfunctional country that doesn't seem to even want peace or democracy.

The reaction to Obama's speech has been fascinating.  The far left feels betrayed, is shocked and outraged.  Michael Moore's open letter to the President blasted him and said if he followed through on this decision he would be the new war President.  Pacificistic idealists said "war only brings more war" and insisted the only course of action is to bring all of our troops home immediately and unconditionally. Fortunately for them, it's easy to be idealistic when you don't really have responsibilty for the safety and security of a nation (or a few nations) in the balance. For them, it's all academic.  If Obama were to make that move and in six months or a year another 9/11 was launched from Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, I suspect many of those on the far left would wish they had been a little more pragmatic.

As Jon Stewart pointed out, if the far left feels betrayed, then the far right should be happy.  Right?  No.  They didn't like the "spirit" of the speech.  They wanted Obama to be more upbeat, more "rah-rah".  They wanted him to shake his fists and get us all fired up about going out there and kicking some butt.  They complain that Obama didn't use the word "win".   They say by setting a goal to begin withdrawal we show we are not really committed.  We just committed about $45 billion  additional dollars and the lives of 30,000 men and women for a year and half  and we're not committed?  Winning is important to them. Winning at all costs apparently.  No deadlines.  No timeframe for withdrawal.  Just a blank check and an unlimited supply of young men and women is what they want. One of my conservative friends claims the end date (just before the next Presidential election) is politically motivated so that Obama can claim victory on that date.  Huh?  By making that date public, Obama is taking a huge risk.  If he doesn't make it (actually pretty likely), his opponents will immediately say his strategy has failed.

The left hates the content.   The right hates the spirit.  What's a President to do?

I've got news for those who want to "win" the war.  War has changed over the course of the last several decades.  In the old days, you had a government who had an army.  Our army fought your army and when our army kicked your army's butt, you had to concede and give us what we want.  In those days we fought over land, trade routes, spices- you  know, the important stuff.  Now though, we are fighting an ideology, not an army.  Al Qaeda doesn't represent a country.  They don't really even have any specific demands.  Al Qaeda represents an ideology.   They have a virtually unlimited supply of recruits.  Their "leaders" don't really care how many "troops" they pour into this fray.  No amount of attrition is going to make them say uncle.  In fact, the more oppressive they can make us out to be the more successful their recruiting becomes and the so-called leaders get to feel they are on a true jihad (as they have incorrectly defined jihad).

Obama took the middle road.  He has agreed to a limited commitment with some definite goals and an end date.  By doing so, he angered the hawks.  However, he did not agree to begin an immediate withdrawal.  By doing so, he angered the doves.  When you have people on both extremes angry with you, it's just possible that you're doing the right thing. At first I thought he was compromising, trying to appease both sides and by doing so, he might be just making everyone angry.  But, the more I think about it the more I think the strategy makes sense.  It's not either or, in this case.  It's both.  We have to stay for some period of time and use some amount of force.   If we're going to do that, we have to have enough force to get the job done and keep our troops safe.  But, we have to make it clear to the Afghan government (and the other governments involved) that we will not be there forever.

Someone joked that it took Obama months to make a decision George Bush could have made in a few days.  I'm glad Obama took his time on this decision.  I'm glad he weighed all possible options.  Because he took his time, I feel confident that this is probably the best course of action for us, as much as I hate to hear it.  I'm glad that Obama didn't get all rah-rah in his speech.  His mood was appropriate for the content.  Somber, reserved, reluctant but resolved to do what needs to be done.  He didn't use the word "win" because we will not "win" against Al Qaeda with guns and tanks, not even with drones.  We have to win the hearts and minds of the people they are recruiting.  The only way to bring lasting peace to the region is to not only carry a big stick but to recruit their recruits out from under them to convince them there is a better way.  Otherwise, it's like trying to kill an army of cockroaches with a flyswatter and the cockroaches are reproducing as fast as you can take them out. 

War is not a football game.  No one's keeping score and there is no clock.  Unfortunately, there is a time when you have to use protective force.  This seems to be one of those times.  We need to protect the people of Afghanistan and the people of America until Al Qaeda and the Taliban can be contained by changing the way of thinking of enough people. 

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Joe said...

Excellent post!

I think Obama's decision to stay gives the U.S. more time to influence Pakistan to assume more responsibility in the region. If we only pour in more troops for another 18 months we will only kill more Taliban and al-Qaeda and U.S. and allied troops. We must get Pakistan fully ramped up politically and militarily over the next 18 months or we won't leave except to see the region immediately overrun by the Taliban and al-Qeada.

Anonymous said...

On PBS they showed a movie called Mrs. Minerva - WWII Britian being bombed at the beginning of the war. Instead of losing the pilot son in the movie, the brand new daughter-in-law was killed in an air raid. The family hid in a bunker with the two younger siblings as bombs dropped relentlessly and their lovely flower show was won by the lowly train station manager who died one hour after winning.

I imagined this family as being middle eastern, doing their best to survive the bombs my nation was dropping. No pilots in our planes, we can use drones flown by stick control thousands of miles away. No eyes on those - just a camera and a heart safe at home. Sarge, in Beetle Bailey, just yesterday exclaimed how these drones were saving pilots lives and the one soldier asked "But what if the other side gets drones?" and Beetle Bailey said with a smile, "That would be great so we could all go home and let the drones fight it out."

Eight year - Osama Bin Laden is either free or dead but has never been captured. Almost 5,000 soldiers dead, thousands maimed, suicide, divorce (my daughter will be one of those stats soon), psychotic behavior from PTSD and no one has be held accountable for the war of choice - IRAQ.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan's women are abused, buildings destroyed, lives in shambles. We have Americans living in foreign countries because their husbands have been accused of being terrorists with no evidence and forced back to native lands they had abandoned years earlier.

I voted for Obama for change. This is SSDD. I have been removing myself from websites and emails from groups I thought wanted to give the American public decent and reasonable healthcare, a country of peace with us out of wars over oil - and it isn't going there - our rich are geting richer, our poor - poorer and food security puts my state at fourth from the bottom.

I keep watching Loose Change and there is no way a 747 hit the Pentagon - no way a 747 plowed into the field in Pennsylvania. We are at war for all the wrong reasons. Every death is for the same wrong reasons be it one of ours or one of theirs.

I am sorry Obama let himself get talked into acting tough - because nothing inside me says he's right - his only saving grace is that he himself didn't put us there in the first place - for that man is truly a traitor along with his entire administration.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian: I am a pacifist Christian so I cannot support this decision of President Obama. But I do have to agree with your defense of him on this issue. We who voted for the President have no right to feel BETRAYRED--Obama is doing exactly what he said he would do during the campaign when he said we need to put our military resources in Afghanistan since their country WAS linked to 9-11 instead of in Iraq which had nothing to do with it. I am less confident than you seem to be that our committing more troops to Afghanistan will make us safer from another terrorist attack, but I suppose reasonable people can differ on this. The bottom line for me is that Christ said we should love our enemies and I cannot reconcile that mandate with war.

your friend
Keith Johnson

Brian said...

Understood Keith. I'm not a pacifist. I do believe there is a time when force is justified to defend oneself or others.

I'm actually not all that confident that force alone will keep us safe. It might make us a little safer. I like the fact that, along with force, Obama is reaching out to the rest of the world, including the Muslim world, trying to work out our differences.

Don said...

No "right" answers to be found on this issue.
"I'm not a pacifist. I do believe there is a time when force is justified to defend oneself or others."

I feel the same, Brian.

Someday said...

What exactly is our goal in Afghanistan?
My position was that of a hawk when President Bush told the Taliban to turn over the murderers or suffer the wrath of the US. I was all for that. I was actually a member of the military at the time and would have gone eagerly myself.
But why are we in Afghanistan now? We already chased the bad guys out and rounded up those that we were able to in the process.
Our objective there was to capture Bin Laden and his criminal associates. I'd support President Obama if he told Pakistan to turn over Bin Laden or we will go in and look for him ourselves.
The Taliban I don't care about.

What is it we are trying to do in Afghanistan?
The terrorists already have a place to train and recruit. The problem is, that place is in Pakistan, and we are too sensitive to cause political injury to the Pakistanis to attack them like we would like to as long as they are there.
At least when they are in Afghanistan, we can attack them when they act out.
The government we planted there is corrupt. They are not going to build a strong democracy in that region. It's time for us to either withdraw or advance. I know we will not advance, so let's bring our sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters home.
When I speak of advancing, I do not mean as armies do when they fight each other. I mean surround the enemy where they hide and finish the job. If we are not willing to do that, then it is simply time to go home and promise to return if they ever dare attack us again.
Staying there is inviting them to attack us.

Brian said...


You make some very good points. If the government of Afghanistan is not going to step up, we are wasting our time. And, we have accomplished most of what we set out to do there. We have nearly driven Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan. Our mission was not to defeat the Taliban.

I don't know if we can simply leave the country in the state it's in. But, one could argue it's no worse than it was when we got there. The government is corrupt and the Taliban is pretty strong. Do we want to let the government collapse, the Taliban take over, then go in because the Taliban has invited Al Qaeda in? I don't know.

I think you're right that, if we are going to be there, we should finish the job.