For most Americans, Afghan war is already over

NOTE: This includes material posted earlier. It is published here as the electronic version of today’s AJC column.

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Gen. Stanley McChrystal had to go.

“I welcome debate among my team, but I won’t tolerate division,” President Obama explained. And if you had any doubt about the gravity of McChrystal’s mistake, well, most Republican leaders applauded Obama’s decision. These days, that says a lot.

In his remarks, Obama also took time to address an even more important question: Should America stay or should we go? On that point, he was equally adamant: The personnel may change, but the policy in Afghanistan remains the same. We stay.

“We have a clear goal,” Obama said. “We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on Al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same.”

As if to reinforce that message, Obama appointed Gen. David Petraeus to replace McChrystal. That too was widely applauded. The general’s standing will reassure leaders in Afghanistan and in NATO capitols while minimizing the chaos that is inevitable in a change of command. It also gives Obama’s strategy the best possible chance of succeeding. If Petraeus can’t pull it off, no one can.

That said, however, success looks more and more difficult. The change of strategy and influx of troops have so far not produced the expected effects, as McChrystal himself admitted before he committed career suicide. If that remains the case, a decision looms that will test the character of those involved. It will also test civilian control far more profoundly than McChrystal has.

When Obama announced his change of strategy, he set a deadline of December 2010 to gauge its progress and July 2011 to begin to transition U.S. forces out of the fight. But lately, with progress difficult to discern, Petraeus, McChrystal and others have tried to downplay those deadlines.

“I would not want to overplay the significance of this (December) review,” Petraeus told Congress just last week. “We would not make too much out of that.”

Over the past few days, we’ve been debating the Afghanistan situation in my AJC blog, which is populated by at least as many conservatives as liberals. I pointed out that in the Rolling Stone article that led to McChrystal’s demise, his staff suggested that rather than withdraw, they might request even more U.S. troops.

So I twice posed a question: Who believes such a step would be appropriate? Who believes that we need to deploy more troops to Afghanistan and recommit to a long fight?

In several hundred comments, not a single person, right or left, responded in favor of such an approach. Not one. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that a blog is not a scientifically sound survey, but that astonished me. Here in red state Georgia, most respondents — liberal and conservative — wanted to begin bringing our troops home immediately.

What we’re seeing, I fear, is a breach not between the Obama administration and parts of the U.S. military, but between the American people and its military. It is not by any means a breach of affection or respect, but instead of perspective.

The military comprises people who by instinct and training are fighters who refuse to lose. They never want to be pulled from the fight having failed to achieve their objective. If one approach isn’t working, they are always willing to believe that another approach will. That’s how they ought to be; that’s how we need them to be. Those are the kind of people you want defending your country.

But that’s also why civilian control is so important, and why the ultimate decision cannot be theirs, but ours. I fear we have reached the point when our respect for and in some cases deference to military leadership is causing us to betray them. We are letting them continue to fight and die for us not because we believe in their mission, but because we lack the heart to tell them to stop and find a better way.

In the Rolling Stone article, Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, McChrystal’s chief of operations, offered a succinct analysis of how this will end. “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win,” he said. “This is going to end in an argument.”

For most Americans, I think the argument is over. Washington just doesn’t know it yet.

12 comments Add your comment

Normal

June 25th, 2010
7:48 am

Good morning, y’all. Happy friday to you!

I took the day off, slept in and now I’m rarin’ to go. Mrs. Normal is having a “Girls night” tonight and I’m designated chef. Get to try new recipes out. Before that, though, we are going to finish the bedroom my Mama will use if she has to come here to stay for awhile. Have a great day, and I’ll try to check in for the music.

As to the troops…bring them home and let them be themselves. Life’s too short, especially in the Military…especially today.

Normal

June 25th, 2010
7:48 am

First…on a dead thread…

Normal

June 25th, 2010
7:50 am

Jay, there’s just got to be a tee shirt for that!

Towelly Ban

June 25th, 2010
8:23 am

I hope the collect up all the good heroin before they leave.

N-GA

June 25th, 2010
8:42 am

Iraq – Shoulda never gone there….the BIG lie
Afghanistan – Go in, blow them up, destroy all the power generating plants, dams, etc. Make sure the population knows that we will return if they put another terrorist-supporting government in power. Then leave. Anything else is too expensive and has no good last Act.

For what we’ve spent on these two wars, Americans could have had free medical care for who knows how many years……or a tax cut for the wealthy.

Scout

June 25th, 2010
9:24 am

All that remains is how many American names will be on the “Afghanistan Wall” when we do leave.

Glen Lillquist

June 25th, 2010
9:36 am

Good article: did we win in Korea? Vietnam? Winning in the current 9 year wars is a state of mind, not reality. USA and our allies need to GET OUT AND GET OVER IT. Our troops “conquer” a tough objective only to have it reoccupied. We go back in only to be blown to bits and pieces by IEDs etc. INSANITY. Let Sharia, Fundamentalists, Tribal leaders go their way…we will not change them until we GET OUT, and let them do as they please. A Republic, a Democracy cannot exist in some cultures.GET OUT AND GET OVER IT. “Stupid is as stupid does” thank you Forest.

Scout

June 25th, 2010
9:40 am

Glen Lillquist :

………….. and what makes it worse than Korea or Vietnam is that it is a “religious war” !

Fred

June 25th, 2010
9:43 am

“The military comprises people who by instinct and training are fighters who refuse to lose. They never want to be pulled from the fight having failed to achieve their objective. If one approach isn’t working, they are always willing to believe that another approach will. That’s how they ought to be; that’s how we need them to be. Those are the kind of people you want defending your country.”

Wow Jay. I have never seen that put any better. What a great description and tribute to our military.

Unfortunately, you also nailed it here, “I fear we have reached the point when our respect for and in some cases deference to military leadership is causing us to betray them. We are letting them continue to fight and die for us not because we believe in their mission, but because we lack the heart to tell them to stop and find a better way.”

We can’t “win’ over there. I mean what exactly is our objective anyway? We ignored the lesson the French learned in Viet Nam and now we are ignoring the lesson the Russians learned in Afghanistan.

It’s time to come home.

Mike

June 25th, 2010
10:33 am

Our goal in this conflict is not to play world cop this time; it’s about our own security. If we don’t remove from both Afghanistan and Pakistan the source of the attacks on us on 9/11 before we leave we will face another serious attack soon afterward. We’ll also be unable to pose a credible threat to anyone else that decides to hurt us.

Shock and awe should have been our approach to Afghanistan as soon as we knew that this was the place in which the attacks were planned. Had we at that time unleashed a true horror-show we would not have had any further problems with Sadaam nor would we have had the subsequent problems with North Korea. It’s much too late to do that now.

I don’t know what we do to fix this, but it is vital that we do fix it. Coming home in frustration won’t fix anything.

Towelly Ban

June 25th, 2010
11:25 am

Our goal in this conflict is not to play world cop this time; it’s about our own security. If we don’t remove from both Afghanistan and Pakistan the source of the attacks on us on 9/11 before we leave we will face another serious attack soon afterward.

Great point. And when we get done there we are going to insure our own security by removing the sources of 9/11 in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Nigeria and Libya!

Brilliant thinking, Mike!

Mike

June 25th, 2010
5:07 pm

TB, the worst attack we’ve experienced in my lifetime (and maybe yours) did not come from any of those other countries. Not only did the attack come from Afghanistan, coordinated by a former ally of ours (Bin Laden), but the planners were being supported and kept safe by the then government of the country (the Taliban).

Yes, we have enemies in lots of places, and it’s unlikely that we can clean them all up. I think, though, that we would have provided more incentive to local authorities to clean up their own messes if we had been less gradual and less civil about our approach to Al Queda in its birthplace. I think that the next time a truly similar situation does arise, we have to be more punitive.

TB, what do you suggest? Do we just do nothing? Do we just intercept the mindless drones when they get here (if we’re lucky enough to be able to do it)? How do we go about removing the head(s) from the snake? If you know, please share.