When Is An Issue Not An Issue? Monday, Nov 8 2010 

Let  me  show my age by revealing that I grew up in a time when there was no penalty for face-masking in football  because there  were no face masks;  when people rode in vehicles called streetcars to baseball games that were played in daylight;   when characters in movies could smoke but not curse;  and when the  ­Number One issue in any election held while Americans were fighting and dying overseas was that Americans were fighting and dying overseas.

That said, please tell this relic of the 20th century how the most heated, divisive mid-term election in a generation could take place with candidates venting their feelings over health care, bailouts, taxes, deficits, immigration, but with no question raised over a decade-old war in which young Americans are fighting and dying.

What’s more, fighting and dying with no clear objective and, as the man in charge of the war, General David Petraeus, tells us, no end in sight. This, says Petraeus, is a war our children will inherit, the same view held by that great sage of the Vietnam era, Henry Kissinger, who warns that Americans “must be prepared for a long struggle.”

Read now, as quoted by Andrew J. Bacevich in “The New American Militarism:  How Americans are Seduced by War,” what another sage observer once said about long struggles: (more…)

Who’s in Charge Here? Saturday, Oct 23 2010 

A news report on why Thomas Donilon was appointed White House national security advisor informs us that Donilon is skeptical about the prospect of winning the war in Afghanistan and “Obama wants another ally in the coming bureaucratic knife fight”  over withdrawal.

Question:  Since when does a President of the United States need an “ally” to get his way in a policy dispute with the Pentagon?  Or is it too much to ask that the Commander-in-Chief show the same willingness to face up to opposition in the Situation Room as the Campaigner-in-Chief does at political rallies?

What Did Hegel Know? Wednesday, Sep 15 2010 

From the Washington Post, 9/10/10 :  “After nearly nine years of nation-building in Afghanistan, experts said, the U. S.  faces mounting evidence that it has helped assemble one of the most corrupt governments in the world.”

Speaking of advice that presidents fail to heed, consider:  Britain failed to win a war in Afghanistan, then the Russians repeated that mistake. Hegel advised that history repeated once is tragedy,  twice a farce.  But what did Hegel know?  He hadn’t read General Petraeus’ book on counter-insurgency.

Tale of Two Kerrys Monday, Aug 2 2010 

That rumble we’re hearing — some would call it a surge — is the sound of a growing anti-war movement in search of a leader. Michael Steele? I doubt it.  Give the RNC chairman credit for speaking out, but it’s hard to see him filling that role. (Besides, he’s been muzzled by Sarah and her grizzly offspring on the Republican National Committee.)

Who then? Logic would tell us a natural leader would spring from a wartime veteran who experienced first-hand the bitter lesson learned the last time American lives were lost in a tribal war in which “winning the hearts and minds of the people” was the primary rule of engagement.

Someone, say, with the passion of the young Vietnam veteran who appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April, 1971, to decry the callous passivity of the country’s political leaders in sustaining a war in which “men charged up hills because a General said a hill had to be taken and after losing one or two platoons they marched away, only to see the hill retaken by the enemy.”

Yet the fighting and dying went on, said young John Kerry, because “we couldn’t retreat and …it didn’t matter how many American bodies were lost to  prove that point.”

“We found,” testified the impassioned Kerry, “that most of the people on whose behalf American troops were fighting and dying practiced the art of survival by siding with whatever military force was present at a particular time”;  and that “all too often, Americans were dying . . . from want of support from their allies.”

Sound familiar? The same words could be applied to what’s going in Afghanistan today.  (July registered the largest number of American deaths  in the Afghan-Pakistan war since its beginning nearly a decade ago.)

But there’s still more to hear from young John Kerry:  How, he asked those Senate elders in April, 1971, how could they “ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Fast-forward four decades to the same John Kerry, the subject of a Washington Post feature the day after the Afghan WikiLeaks papers were published. In flattering detail the Post describes Kerry as being passionate  about an issue he’s devoted full time to for the past year. Is the issue young Americans dying overseas “for a mistake”?  Guess again. It’s . . . climate change!

Not that Kerry, now himself chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has nothing to say about the Afghanistan war. In a separate story on the WikiLeaks papers he’s quoted as saying, “These documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”

To repeat that passionate statement: “These documents may very well underscore the stakes” . . .  Oh, what the hell.  What else should we expect from the man who famously said that he was “for that bill before I was against it”?