Saturday, December 05, 2009


There are always lessons from war. The only question is whether a society can agree on what they are.

Vietnam surely had its lessons. The pity is that those lessons differed depending on whether you’re a hawk or a dove. For the hawks, the only real lesson was that when we fight, we had better bring overwhelming force. In other words, no country, even America, can wage war with halfway measures. Like General Sherman might have said, if you’re in, you’d better be ALL in.

For the doves, of course, the problem in Vietnam wasn’t how we waged that war, but why. From the dovish perspective, Vietnam wasn’t a war of necessity, and thus shouldn’t have been waged. If ever war is justifiable, it must be because American interests are gravely and indisputably threatened, not because someone can make an argument that bad people halfway across the world may possibly, conceivably, threaten us if we don’t kill them first. With a few exceptions – does anyone remember “Hanoi Jane?” – the doves didn’t so much praise the Viet Cong as question why we felt they were such a danger to us. According to the dovish argument, the third-world is littered with militaristic, undemocratic, uncivilized groups – some that are in power, and others that would like to be. Is it our place to wage war against each of them? Half of them? Or only those who are placing us in a clear and present danger? The Viet Cong clearly did not fall into that last category. And neither did the Iraqis in 2002. Nevertheless, it was in that year when a Republican President sold this nation a bill of goods about the dangers of Iraq to American security.

To the average American, the risk posed by Saddam Hussein couldn’t possibly have been obvious. We understood that al Qaeda threatened us, not Iraq. Yet we also were admonished by our President and his Defense Department that Saddam was a butcher who had demonstrated that he couldn’t be trusted and was once again preparing to make mischief. When it came time for a vote, not only did the President’s party support the war, but the majority of Democratic Senators did so as well. After all, the leaders of the Executive Branch wee intimately familiar with the intelligence reports, and those reports (we were told) suggested that war was appropriate. So shouldn’t we place our trust in our democratically elected leader and his team of dedicated professionals to tell us if we are legitimately in danger from another regime?

Apparently not. That, at least, was what I thought the lesson was from Iraq. As it turned out, the so-called “weapons of mass destruction” never existed. Saddam was much less of a threat than advertised. As a result of our little adventure, we’ve lost thousands of lives and ungodly sums of money in a war that has lasted nearly seven years and could conceivably last many more, for there’s no telling what will happen to that country once the U.S. starts pulling out its troops en masse. Presumably, only the fringe right-wingers would defend that war now, and for the rest of us, the insanity of waging a major war based on a “Just Trust Us” rationale should be readily apparent.

That all makes sense, except for one thing. This is America – or as it is also known by fans of NASCAR, Pro Wrestling and Rambo movies, “Amurica.” And here in Amurica, we love our wars, thank you very much. We love ‘em, because we win ‘em, or at least we used to. We’re men, not pussies. Nobody kicks us around – certainly no gang of third-world thugs. Amuricans don’t just send a few shots across the bow. We kick ass and take numbers. That means that when we go into Afghanistan in 2001 looking for a little regime change, we don’t leave until we’ve secured that territory from the Bad Guys. No matter that it has been eight years, and the country is still a Balkanized assemblage of tribal regions, loosely controlled by a corrupt stooge that we helped put in power. No matter that historically, one empire after another has tried to take over that mountainous land, and all have failed. We’re different. We’re Amuricans. And we’re not leaving until we finish the God damned job. And that job starts with mobilizing more men, more firepower and more will. Let’s roll!

So say our millions upon millions of war hawks. Theirs is the mentality that rules the GOP at present. They will make sure that the 40% or so of Republicans in the Congress will support President Obama in his desire to “win” the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban. But where will the other votes come from? Surely not from the Democrats, right? Surely they can’t be fooled into supporting another “war of choice.” After all, it has been said that there are only about 100 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, a tiny fraction of the number who are in Pakistan, and the Taliban in Afghanistan don’t appear to pose any more of a threat to us than Saddam did. To be sure, the Taliban once was guilty of harboring al Qaeda, but we hardly need to escalate the war to guard against that from recurring. Besides, we’ve been fighting and killing Taliban in Afghanistan for eight years – and we even replaced them with our own puppet regime, corrupt though it might be. Isn’t that punishment enough for the war-crime known as “harboring terrorists”?

By any sane measure, the Democrats in Congress and in the nation at large should be opposed to the escalation in Afghanistan, just as they opposed the surge in Iraq. By any sane measure, the Democrats should be telling their President that while he might have all sorts of good reasons for escalating the war in Afghanistan, it is incumbent on him to enunciate those reasons so we can decide for ourselves if they are truly compelling. “Just trust us -- we’ve received the intelligence briefings and you haven’t” worked for W, but it can’t work for Barack. Just because we respect his intelligence and his thoughtfulness and he doesn’t come across as a war monger, doesn’t mean that we can give him carte blanche to escalate wars for speculative reasons. Let’s face it: “our enemies are in Pakistan so let’s fight their former harborers in Afghanistan” isn’t exactly compelling logic. Nor is “nobody else in history has tamed Afghanistan but I say we can do it in 18 months.”

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of 21st century America is that if it isn’t clear whether this country should wage a war, all a President has to do is sound the war trumpets, and the Congress will fall in line. When a Congressman doesn’t understand the rationale, he says “I’m not sure about this war,” which is code for “I don’t get why we’re doing this, but I guess I better vote for it, because otherwise I’ll come across as weak and unpatriotic.” It explains why each of the Democratic presidential candidates in ’08 who had served in the Senate when we invaded Iraq backed the war when the crucial vote was cast.

In police work, this kind of mentality is known as “shoot first, and ask questions later.” It has become our nation’s default option every time a President is bracing for a fight. I’m well into my 50th year as an American, and I can’t remember a single time when the President called for war and the Congress stopped him from waging it. It won’t happen now either.

But let us not end this blogpost on such a sobering note. Please remember that this Sunday from 2:00-6:00 p.m. at the 6th and I Street Synagogue in Northwest Washington D.C., Yes We Can – Middle East Peace is sponsoring a major event to support a two-state solution to end the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians. See for more details. As one of the organizers of this event, I can tell you that we’ve been planning this for months, and everyone who attends is guaranteed to leave inspired. So if you live anywhere near Washington, D.C., come! And if for whatever reason, you can’t come, spread the word. This is no time to ignore such an important event. Remember: peace isn’t something that just happens. If we want it, we must pursue it as strenuously as the warmongers pursue war.

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