No matter how many jihadists are dead, nothing serves al-Qaida’s maniacal cause like the United States occupying Iraq. As for our cause there, and making the case to sign up to fight and die for it: Even with five years to do it, our leaders have failed in defining it.
Barack Obama’s election isn’t the only reason why military recruitment is up. The sagging economy is No. 1. But Obama’s pledge to draw down forces in Iraq is a factor, too, a recruiter told USA Today.
And the pitiable appeal last week by al-Qaida’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he indirectly called Obama a “house negro,” signals that bin Laden’s boys are losing their mojo in the face of a new foe. Indeed, the “negro” slur drew widespread denunciations by Muslims. Not good for holy warriors.
Ultimately Americans started to ask, in the words of one U.S. leader, “How many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is not very damned many.” That leader: Dick Cheney, 1992. (I wonder if he calculated Iraqi casualties, as well.)
The invasion 11 years later was framed at first in terms of protecting Americans. Then it became “freedom on the march,” then “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” It would have been fascinating to see George W. Bush try either, equally spurious, auxiliary pitch to Congress in 2003. It was unnecessary, though, since lies about WMD carried the day.
Since then, I’ve found my myself, someone born into military culture and a Navy retiree as well, refusing to recognize the agency that occupies the Pentagon as the Department of Defense. It’s been the Department of Elective Military Options, or the Department of Acting Preemptively on Our Hunches or The Deartment of Right Wing Talking Points.
It hasn’t been about forging national consensus or drawing out an imperative to which the leaders making the case for war would commit their own children. It’s been a volunteer military serving in the role of global pest exterminator. Why invade Iraq? Not because our lives depended on it, but because we could. Now, in equal parts because the Iraqis and American voters want us out, we are headed that way. And troops are headed in the direction of the Afghan hills.
As reflexive as it is to talk of Afghanistan as the “right war,” we need to ponder the limitations on a large occupying army. Gen. David Petraeus has. It can inflame the marginalized. It can martyrize insurgents. Ask the Russians.
While continuing to hunt bin Laden, a job for special forces, we must find ways to start minimizing our footprint and let Afghans be Afghans. That means talking with the Taliban. That means an international force supporting the Afghan government. That means a broader coalition than Bush’s “shoot em when you see the whites of their eyes” diplomacy could ever muster. Iraqis must defend themselves and police their streets. So must Afghans. If we’re there by the thousands, we’re in the way of that.
Obama is right about taking out bin Laden wherever we can find him. But that’s not a job for armored columns and occupying forces. Let’s turn a corner. Get back to where the Pentagon isn’t the Department of Nation Building or the Department of Occupation. Let’s find our way back to the Department of Defense.
My thanks to John Young at the Waco Tribune. He said my thoughts better than I could this time. firstname.lastname@example.org