If you haven't noticed, election-year politics are moving the United States, day by day, toward new armed interventions that would be unwise.
We are, in fact, still not free of old ones from which the American people already are fatigued. This was highlighted anew this past weekend when a GI in Afghanistan lost it and gunned down 16 Afghans, including several women and children.
First, Afghanistan. President Barack Obama faces a dilemma there resembling that which President Lyndon Johnson faced in the late-1960s as he looked for an honorable escape route from Vietnam.
Johnson invited his old pal, former Oklahoma Sen. Mike Monroney, into the White House for late-afternoon bourbon-and-branch-water and candid discussion. According to Monroney, the discussion went as follows:
Johnson: "Mike, I've got to get out of this Vietnam mess without hurting our interests or appearing to cut and run. How do I do it?"
Monroney: "That depends on available transportation systems."
Johnson: "What do you mean, available transportation systems?"
Monroney: "Where you have trucks, you load up the troops and put them in the trucks. Where there are no trucks, you march them out. When they get to where there are airports or harbors, you fly them out or put them on ships. You arrange with the North Vietnamese to leave them alone until they clear out. Then you give a speech to the American people and declare victory. Our job was done and we left with honor."
Johnson: "Not quite that simple, Mike."
Monroney: "Oh yeah? If we continue the present 'stay the course' strategy, I bet the idea will look good to you a few months from now."
And so it would have. It would be 1975, following Johnson's successor President Richard Nixon's resignation from office, before American troops finally left Vietnam — many billions of dollars and thousands of lives later — pretty much as Monroney had suggested to LBJ, but in a less-ordered way.
The most recent incident in Afghanistan should remind us anew that, long term, there is no long term for us in Afghanistan.
Under pressure from Republican presidential candidates, and his own senior military officers, Obama is trying to pursue policies leading to an ordered withdrawal in the year ahead. During the interim period, Afghan military forces and police are supposed to be trained up to take greater responsiblity for internal security. Quiet negotiations are taking place with the present Afghan government and the Taliban to arrive at some kind of modus vivendi after a departure of NATO troops. In meantime, violent backlashes take place in-country in response to such actions as the recent unintended Koran burning by U.S. troops and last weekend's shootings.
One fact is clear: The United States has no more vital interests at stake in Afghanistan than it did in Vietnam. This fractious, tribal-dominated country has an economy largely dependent on narcotics harvesting and trafficking. It was important to us when its Taliban regime harbored Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda training bases. But Osama is dead and Al Qaeda's main operating centers are now in Pakistan and in various parts of the Middle East. Nuclear-armed Pakistan, a nuclear-arming Iran, and other places are important to us. But not Afghanistan. Time to leave according to the Monroney Formula.
The greatest obstacle to an immediate clearout is Obama's fear that he will draw fire domestically for such an action and that he will be judged less than credible by Israeli and other allies who depend on our security guarantees. But the way to calm the Israelis, of course, is to provide updated military systems they seek rather than spending U.S. lives and money on operations in irrelevant Afghanistan.
Republican presidential candidates and, notably, Sen. John McCain are all presenting themselves as stronger on national defense than Obama, as better friends of Israel, and as opponents of the reduced defense budget he has proposed to the Congress. They have all but endorsed a near-term Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilties and branded Obama's sanctions policy toward Iran as dangerously weak.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!