Our Dangerous, Unpopular 10-Plus-Year War
You'd think a 10 1/2 year war would be a major issue in a presidential campaign - especially a war going as badly as the one in Afghanistan. And especially in the wake of Sen. Jay Rockefeller publicly urging President Obama to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Maybe if the administration proposed funding a Planned Parenthood clinic in Kandahar, the war might get the place it deserves in the national conversation.
Our political and media establishments seem to regard being in a constant state of war as simply part of the "new normal" (to go along with over 8 percent unemployment). Things continue to go from bad to worse, yet we continue to be wedded to plans for a gradual withdrawal that will leave troops in Afghanistan until some point in 2014.
But even though our leaders don't seem to feel any sense of urgency, plenty of others here at home do - indeed, the vast majority does. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, support for the war has hit a historic low, at 23 percent, with 69 percent saying we should no longer be in Afghanistan. What is more, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 60 percent of Americans believe the war has not even been worth fighting.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's response to this turning of public sentiment against the war? "We cannot fight wars by polls," he said. "If we do that we're in deep trouble." Of course that's true, and nobody's asking him to "fight wars by polls," but what he can do is use the same common sense that underlies those polls. We're over 10 years in - these aren't snap judgments. And the fact that we're in "deep trouble" in Afghanistan has nothing to do with our leaders being overly responsive to the public's wishes.
Of course, the war was back in the news most recently because of the horrific killing of 17 Afghan civilians, allegedly by Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. This senseless and grotesque act of violence was both an aberration and not an aberration. It was an aberration in the sense that it in no way represents the behavior of the more than 2 million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. But it was not an aberration in the sense that war is indeed hell and atrocities - even by the best-trained armed forces, and ours is certainly that - are inevitable in prolonged conflict.
As Mark C. Russell, a retired U.S. Navy commander and military psychologist, wrote, the military calls atrocities "misconduct stress behaviors," which always occur in war, "even at the hands of otherwise decent people." While noting that, of course, blame should fall foremost on the perpetrator, Russell believes that the circle of responsibility should be drawn considerably wider:
"Bales and his family are just the latest of a long string of members of the warrior class that have unjustly borne the burden of fighting an 11-year war. For instance, more than 107,000 military personnel have been deployed at least three times."
But the danger is not just the odd overextended U.S. soldier breaking down. Last week an Afghan police officer shot nine of his fellow officers, then fled in a government car loaded with AK-47s and ammunition. Earlier the same week a U.S. soldier was killed by another Afghan police officer, and two British soldiers were killed by an Afghan soldier.
According to The Washington Post, the "apparent surge in such incidents" has "raised concerns about the state of the war effort." As the Independent wrote of the same incidents, "the deaths raise fresh questions" and "deepen concerns."
Over 10 years in, isn't it time we stop raising questions and deepening our concerns? How deep do the concerns have to be before we act on them? How many fresh questions have to be raised until we start responding with the obvious answers?
So, this war is not just a tragic waste of lives and money, it's also weakening our national security by strengthening the resolve of those who will stop at nothing to harm us. And it's deepening our involvement in a civil war that is never going to be resolved while we're in the mix.
"War is destructive of the human spirit," said Vietnam vet and military author Andrew Bacevich in an interview with Bill Moyers. "War compromises our humanity."
This one is now compromising our humanity, our national security, our standing in the world, and our claim to the moral high ground.
Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.(c) 2012 Arianna Huffington. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.