Sam Nunn: No more U.S. ground troops in Muslim conflicts

Forty years ago this spring, a virus disguised as a campaign jingle began boring its way into the frontal lobes of Georgia voters.

“Sam Nunn is tough, Sam Nunn is young, put Sam Nunn in Washington….”

What can I say? We were a simpler people in 1972. The owl-eyed, state Democratic lawmaker was elected to the U.S. Senate that year, ultimately becoming one of Washington’s foremost military experts. He retired from the Senate in 1997 –– but even now, he can startle you on matters from nukes to Afghanistan.

Although they both had roots in rural Georgia, Nunn was not particularly close to Jimmy Carter, who had followed him to Washington four years later. But in retirement, the two Georgians now have much in common: Both have created spectacular post-public careers.

Carter’s retirement can be tracked by the books he churns out year after year. Twenty-two at last count. By contrast, the first published –– but still partial –– account of Nunn’s life hit the bookstores only last month.

“The Partnership” (HarperCollins, $30) by Philip Taubman, the former New York Times reporter, is an account of the ongoing push by five elder American statesmen from the Cold War era –– Nunn at 73 is the youngest –– for a long-term, worldwide ban on nuclear weapons.

Nukes in an era of superpowers is one thing. Nukes in an era of technically adept, religious-based terrorism is quite another. “I think he took a difficult, complicated subject and made it understandable,” Nunn said of Taubman. “I’m pretty high on it.”

Anything penned by Nunn himself will have to wait. “I started a couple times on an effort to write a book. I didn’t get very far, though,” Nunn said. “I either had to look backward or forward. I couldn’t do both at the same time.”

Nunn had phoned from New York. It was tempting to talk about the launch of his first campaign on the Ides of March, four decades ago. Taubman’s publisher would have preferred a discussion of “loose nukes” and Nunn’s role as co-chairman and CEO of the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative. But you also have to remember that as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Nunn also saw himself as a champion of America’s conventional forces.

The recent murders of U.S. troops by Afghanistan allies, the murders of Afghanistan innocents by a U.S. soldier, Newt Gingrich’s assertion that it might be time to bug out, all made a discussion of the U.S. effort in that country imperative.

“I do believe we’ve got to get out of there more thoughtfully than some people would indicate,” Nunn began. “I think that the course we’re on now is very difficult.” It’s hard to negotiate with the enemy when you’ve already announced an exit date, he explained.

Nunn endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. I asked him to grade the president on three years of Afghanistan policy. He demurred. “The test was so difficult, there were really no right answers,” the former senator said.

“We went into Afghanistan for a good reason, and a pretty clear reason. And that was 9/11 and the al-Qaeda presence there. Somewhere along the way, this became a war against the Taliban. They had been the hosts, but they were natives. That means you were engaging in a civil war,” Nunn said. “Superpowers engaged in civil wars –– they’re not treated very well in history.

“Obviously, you’d like to leave Afghanistan with them being a Jeffersonian democracy and everyone accorded full civil rights, including women. But that’s not the culture. It’d take a long time to get to that culture. And a lot of this is something they’ve got to sort out themselves,” he said.

What was truly bothering Nunn was the impact that Afghanistan –– and Iraq –– has had on U.S. fighting forces.

“The volunteer force was not designed to fight two10-year wars. It was designed to be a peace-time force that could be expanded in wartime,” he said. “And we haven’t expanded it. So you’ve had extraordinary pressure on the same people, over and over and over again.”

Too much of a burden has been placed on too few.

“Our nation, while we have been fighting two wars, has basically sacrificed by having two massive tax cuts and an unfunded prescription drug bill,” said Nunn, who is not often given to sarcasm. “That’s the sacrifice we’ve made here at home. And I think that’s a serious problem for a democracy.”

Last week, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said he supports a gradual draw-down in Afghanistan, yet would recommend a small but permanent U.S. force in the country -– and nearby.

After Iraq and Afghanistan, Nunn has come to a different conclusion. Future conflicts in Muslim countries should include no ground troops, he said.

“There’s going to be 20, 30 years of this. [Muslims] are going through profound debates in their own religion and society, and that’s going to last for decades. We’ve got to have a much more thoughtful and sustainable approach to that,” Nunn said.

“America certainly is going be involved, but I don’t think it ought to be on the ground. There may be exceptions, but our young men and women –– they’re not trained in this culture, or in the language. The on-the-ground role to me is not a thoughtful or careful role. Basically, over the long haul, it’s not fair to the men and women we ask to perform that mission,” he said.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see victory parades coming at the end of our Afghanistan engagement. But I do think we’ve had enormous sacrifice by an awful lot of folks that need to be treated with tremendous care and respect,” Nunn said.

Note on sound clip above: A participant in the 1972 campaign, long-time Nunn spokesman Roland McElroy, said the jingle was developed by an Atlanta public relations firm that was focused on Nunn’s lack of recognition. Hence the constant repetition of the state House member’s name. The 1977 photo shows Nunn, at right, with an intern — a future, well-compensated columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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131 comments Add your comment

Independent voter

March 17th, 2012
9:18 am

Sam Nunn.. a great American.. knows what he’s talking about !!!!

claytondawg

March 17th, 2012
9:29 am

One of the brightest minds in American history, and STILL is. Get out of Afghanistan; Senator Nunn is absolutely correct: we are in an area of a totally different culture of which we will never understand. His other idea: Superpowers should not get involved in civil wars. One case of many… Vietnam.

George Hills

March 17th, 2012
9:45 am

> America certainly is going be involved

Americans are worried about the wrong thing. They need to set their own house in order. Banning Chinese-manufactured imports would be a good start.

Bob Loblaw

March 17th, 2012
9:48 am

Wow. This guy is so thoughtful, shows so much foresight and understanding of the many different variables at play in these situations. I just wish he was presdient. Think if we didn’t have two ten-year wars? I wonder what his solution would have been for Afghanistan? Would we have just nuked them on 9/14 and cut the head off the snake?

Native Atlantan

March 17th, 2012
10:15 am

I miss Sam Nunn. We need someone with his deep knowledge, overall intelligence and temperament to lead our great nation.

Father A. Long

March 17th, 2012
10:24 am

Tweedle Dee

March 17th, 2012
10:27 am

I always thought that Sam Nunn was thoughtful and smart. Seems like now he just regurgitates the Dems platform and rhetoric.
1. Do the American people realize we have been in one war a decade since WWII? There have been no victory parades since then.
2. “Our nation, while we have been fighting two wars, has basically sacrificed by having two massive tax cuts and an unfunded prescription drug bill.” Yeah, Dems arguements but no mention of Obamacare.
3. Worldwide ban on nuclear weapons. Sorta like the gun control issue in this country. Now only the criminals will have guns. How naive to think that everyone will play nice.

Rabbit

March 17th, 2012
10:45 am

Longing for men of his stature today.

Kay

March 17th, 2012
10:45 am

Sam Nunn has/had more common sense than anyone I can think of either still in Congressl or has been in Congress – - period/paragraph.
He has always given the deepest thoughtful consideration of world events.
What a great president he would have made – but he chose not to because frankly he would have to had compromised his integrity.

InAtl

March 17th, 2012
10:47 am

I’ve always admired Sam Nunn. I seriously wonder if he’d endorse Obama again. I have my doubts.

n

March 17th, 2012
10:49 am

The sweet voice of reason.

jim8307

March 17th, 2012
10:51 am

Sincerely wish Sam Nunn would consider running for President.

Ol' Timer

March 17th, 2012
10:53 am

@Tweedle Dee — Two unfunded Ten Year Wars at $10 billion per month and the tax cuts are facts, not Democrat rhetoiric.

Never in the history of our country have we engaged in a war without a “shared sacrifice” tax to pay for it. To ignore this fact is ludicrous.

And, my thinking is if there is justification for war, the draft ought to be instituted with very strict provisions for exemptions so that the entire country participates in the sacrifice necessary to sustain the war.

the truth...

March 17th, 2012
10:53 am

I loved old Sam “then”…..but the truth is with all his wisdom, experience and resolute good old fashioned sound thinking and analysis….

…..like us all, he has his flaws…………..

to wit………….Barak Obama…..

were it for that, I’d have more respect for him today. But alas old Sam HAS compromised his values, just by supporting a radical inexperienced community organizer; friend of radicals and total incompetant.

What did ANYONE with half a brain think of Obama after seeing the hate filled rants from Rev. Wright? So tell me folks…..

where was Old Sam then?

I’ll tell you where, he was carrying water for the Democratic machine and NOT FOR THE INTERESTS of the US….

marshall tucker

March 17th, 2012
10:54 am

A very wise man

MrLiberty

March 17th, 2012
10:58 am

Here’s a novel thought. How about no troops PERIOD. None of these wars have been about defending america. They have ALL been about furthering the political and economic interests of Israel, the oil companies, the military industrial complex, and the global banking cartels. That’s right troops, you have been risking your lives for absolutely NOTHING related to the defense of the US. We are simply killing innocent brown people to line the pockets of the elites who run the world. Nothing we have been doing has made america any safer, and in fact, as 9-11 clearly shows, it has all made us less safe (yes, history began before 9-11 as did our murderous and destructive behavior in the middle east.

It may seem cleaner and more politically paletable to just drop bombs on innocent men, women, and children in far away lands that do not threaten us rather than sending over ground troops to murder them, but the moral outrage internationally and in the victim country will be the same -as will be the blowback.

Time to bring ALL the troops home, mind our own business, and let Israel and the neocons do their own fighting if they so desire.

double

March 17th, 2012
11:00 am

Our nation, while we have been fighting two wars, has basically sacrificed by having two massive tax cuts and an unfunded prescription drug bill,” said Nunn, who is not often given to sarcasm. “That’s the sacrifice we’ve made here at home. And I think that’s a serious problem for a democracy.”

These wars were created wars.What did we gain? Lost lives,injured,more hatred.And he didn’t even mention Obamacare,something that could help most Americans.Love these poor people when they are fighting a war.Let them fall on hard times.Then to H with them.Like or dislike Obama I feel he is the best choice we now have.

Frederick Douglass

March 17th, 2012
11:05 am

InAtl @ 10:47

“I seriously wonder if he’d endorse Obama again. I have my doubts”.

Sam Nunn’s a practical, measured individual, what he says and does is tempered by intelligence, the guy probably doesn’t view the world, and the president through the same clouded prism as so many of the extremists seem to do. One thing about being smart, and introspective, is that Nunn probably sees and understands the negative effects that eight years of George W. Bush had on this country. You’ve got to ask yourself, do people in the know sit around and delude themselves, and exist as if 2000-2008 never happened?

carlosgvv

March 17th, 2012
11:08 am

So who will our bought and paid for politicians listen to? Sam Nunn or The Military-Industrial-Complex?

The real truth

March 17th, 2012
11:08 am

It was the folly of an inept, brain dead fmr. gov of Texas who lied us into a war, ignored warnings of 9/11 and bowed to the wishes of the neo-cons, who have thrown trillions into the coffers of the military industrial complex. Blood is on W’s hands and all those who voted for him.

MrLiberty

March 17th, 2012
11:18 am

Why are internation news organizations now saying that Afghan investigative teams now believe that as many as 20 troops were involved in the massacre but not a single US media outlet is willing to cover this possible serious revelation? Further there may have been sexual assaults, etc.

Here is just one web example:
http://rt.com/news/massacre-kandahar-soldier-american-705/

Newtewt.

March 17th, 2012
11:18 am

This country desperately needs the wisdom and leadership of Sam Nunn.

Phlegm Lattimore

March 17th, 2012
11:20 am

Sam Nunn . . . one of Georgia’s brightest stars.

MrLiberty

March 17th, 2012
11:21 am

The real truth – Obama is commander in chief. With the stroke of a pen he could have pulled every single troop out of both wars. Yes, Bush is a war criminal for starting them, but so is Obama for not ending them. Both parties are equally owned by the military industrial/banking complex and both need to be replaced by parties that actually care about america and the constitution.

My Two Cents

March 17th, 2012
11:21 am

We need to take care of our business here before we spend another dime on war or helping any other country. The countries we help hate us …let’s save ourselves first and boot any politician who does not think likewise.

the truth...

March 17th, 2012
11:22 am

It’s pretty obvious that this blog is so laden with mindless, egg sucking dog liberals this morning…. must be Bookman “think-a-likes” I guess…..

Sounds like the Demiocratic left mindset …blame Bush, blame Bush, blame Bush……..
The only success Obama has had is when he followed the example of Bush and pursued the enemy…..

Forgert about the trillions and trillions that Obama is directly responsible for….forget about that….

…enough to ruin a beautiful Spring day….I should have known better than to do anything on this Leftist rag other than following the local sports teams….anything above the sports page is “outhouse paper”….when it was actually on paper….

KB

March 17th, 2012
11:24 am

It is an error to limit your offense in advance of a conflict. Each situation needs to be evaluated on its own merits. A blanket statemtent such as no ground troops in Muslin wars is naive at best. We are under attack from the extemist Muslins in the Middle East. Bill Clinton ignored the warning signs of what was to come after the first bombing of the World Trade Center, the bombing of our embassy in Sudan, and the Cole attack. 9/11 was more his fault than Bush’s. Clinton enpowered Ben Laden by being weak through inaction. Now Iran is a threat. Taking options off the table will only empower Iranian militants.

liberalefty

March 17th, 2012
11:25 am

if DUBYA wasnt the most incompetent president in history then hes pretty close…couldnt stop OSAMA, took a surplus and turned it into a deficit, bombed and butchered IRAQI’S by the thousands to soothe his fragile ego after OSAMA made a fool of him…thank god hes gone

liberalefty

March 17th, 2012
11:26 am

kb

nope 9/11 happened because DUBYA was to incompetent to stop it…duh

Grave Robber

March 17th, 2012
11:30 am

Nunn of the above.

Tweedle Dee

March 17th, 2012
11:30 am

@Frederick Douglas and @The real truth
You can’t blame Bush for our current mess in Afghanistan. That war is entirely on Obama. Go listen to the sound bites during his first year in office. So, he is no better than any other Pres that got us into a foreign war.

And, @Ol’ Timer, My point is that we should have not been in those wars to begin with. We have no business telling other people how to live their lives. If they have a dictator and are oppressed, it is not our responsibility to remove the dictator. Look what happened after removing Saddam. The whole middle east balance of power was destroyed and now we have to do what, make war on Iran? Frankly, Saddam was the only thing keeping them in check and while I don’t miss Saddam, I certainly don’t want another foreign war.

keith fleming

March 17th, 2012
11:30 am

why didn’t sam accept the defense sec. position?

AU83

March 17th, 2012
11:31 am

Oh! that God would put an end in the world to all wars between nations, as well as all strifes between individuals (C.H. Spurgeon,“The Fruits of Grace,” January 21, 1872, Metropolitan Tabernacle).

Michael

March 17th, 2012
11:32 am

Forget everything else, Sam Nunn! Run for President. The country needs YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

detritusUSA

March 17th, 2012
11:34 am

The all volunteer Army was a huge mistake. Only 0.5% of the U. S. population has served in the military during the 21st century wars. The people who support these wars and cheer on the troops are little more than arm-chair patriots. No participation, or fear of participation, no sacrifice, not even a tax increase to pay for these wars.

Maybe some of you are profiting through ownership of stock in corporations that manufacture the things that our military need to fight these wars; maybe stock in the mercenary companies who call themselves private contractors. War profiteers!

We need to return to congress having to declare war before we fight anyone. Return to the draft so that all Americans have a vested interest in whether we fight or not. A war tax to pay for any military adventures.

Mr Nunn would do well to use his prestige and expertise to lead this nation in the direction that I’ve previously mentioned.

osama

March 17th, 2012
11:39 am

SAM NUNN is like everybody else; he has all the answers now that hes not in the position to implement them….hindsight is 50-50

liberalefty

March 17th, 2012
11:47 am

SAM NUNN wouldnt win georgia if hev ran as a democrat…

luckysnap

March 17th, 2012
11:49 am

Sam Nunn said “Iraq has the third largest standing army in the world, if we attack them we will lose over 100,000 soldiers” . Obviously this was very wrong. He ain’t no intelligence or military expert.

KB

March 17th, 2012
11:51 am

@Liberalefty
If Clinton hadn’t put a Chinese Wall between the CIA and FBI, may be his administration or Bush’s could have stopped the 9/11 attack. Unfortunately for our country, it was in place and our intelligence community failed to connect the dots. Clinton and Bush apparently knew that Ben Laden had planned the attack immediately upon hearing about it. Clinton never warned the country of the threat that Ben Laden posed to the US. History will not be as kind to Clinton as you appear to be.

markmjtx

March 17th, 2012
11:52 am

Nunn is missed badly in Washington and unfortunately there is no one like him in either party right now.

Tweedle Dee

March 17th, 2012
11:55 am

You know, the older I get the better I was…..

Travis McGee

March 17th, 2012
11:56 am

I really don’t see how the Republican Party can effectively deal with the problems facing the country when it can’t even select a viable candidate for the job.

As George Will said, “Conservatives define themselves by what they oppose.” And, don’t have a clue about governing.

Uninformed liberalefty

March 17th, 2012
11:56 am

SURPLUS? I will bet you everything you have, and being the sucker you are I doubt you have anything, that the US hasn’t had a SURPLUS in your or my lifetime. bring that on please.
2 sure facts in life……..
Nobody runs to their CPA faster than a liberal
and
Nobody eats up BS political lies faster than a liberal.
Surplus, thats funny.
Now bring me all your money anbd don’t be using any of that leftist accounting BS that obama
used us obamacare and every damn thing else he and his gang of liars use in their political bankrupting of America.

liberalefty

March 17th, 2012
11:57 am

@kb

if this happened on OBAMAS watch u repubs would lose your minds calling him weak…yet it happened on DUMB DUBYAS watch and you give him a pass…priceless..history will not be kind to the incompetent DUBYA…HE looked weak and pathetic which is why the repub candidates havent mentioned his name

bart

March 17th, 2012
11:58 am

Sam Nunn would be great President. It’s a real shame he never ran nor will he run. He realizes the current political climate is just too toxic to get anything of any consequence accomplished. He has more sense in his little finger than any of today’s so-called leaders have in their whole body.

liberalefty

March 17th, 2012
11:59 am

2 wars that costs us TRILLIONS and what have we won….NOTHING…THANKS DUBYA..

liberalefty

March 17th, 2012
12:00 pm

BART

yeah he has all the answers now that hes a private citizen

John from Cobb

March 17th, 2012
12:04 pm

The article seems to have selective quotes. I am sure what Sam N really said is in a democracy everyone should sacrafice not just a few–instead what we get is a political editorial about republican policy—two tax cuts and a drug program–two things he probably included in his comments but probably as a part of his overall point. I agree with SN all should serve, all should participate, but my advocation rings hollow as I have done neither and I am over 50. Jim please try to be more balanced, your position is too obvious and as a member of the 4th pillar of democracy you are accountable to both sides.

liberalefty

March 17th, 2012
12:05 pm

why should we vote republican ?..2 wars and thousands of american soldiers dead,cripple,blind,limbs missing…thanks DUMB DUBYA ,THE MOST PATHETIC PRESIDENT IN HISTORY…A phony tough talkin cowboy…lol

KB

March 17th, 2012
12:07 pm

@liberalefty
Your lack of deductive reasoning makes your arguments weak. No where have I stated my political affiliation, yet you assume you know it. You furthermore fail to come up with a counter arguement to the fact that the Clinton administration screwed up our intelligence community and that led to the greatest failure in intelligence since Pearl Harbor. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It was a philosophical distrust of intelligence agencies that lead to Clinton’s cutting them down at their knees.