By curious happenstance, the tragic news that American forces had suffered their heaviest single-day loss of life in Afghanistan since the start of the war in a helicopter crash came the very day my father, Gene Rupel, and I were attending his annual convention of Veterans for Peace in Portland.
Veterans for Peace, a national organization made up mostly of GIs one generation removed from my dad’s Navy service during World War II, is divided as to how far it should go in opposing President Barack Obama. However, there is unanimity that he is pursuing a futile course in Iraq and Afghanistan.
News last week that American troops had “taken out” Taliban forces allegedly responsible for the crash that killed 30 American personnel and eight Afghanis brings little relief. If retribution for fallen troops is going to be used as a rallying cry to enlist public support, these wars will continue so long as our soldiers suffer casualties. And that could go on indefinitely.
On the local front, Denny Heck, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the seat won by U.S. Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, deserves applause for his stand in reaction to the helicopter downing. In an email to his supporters, Heck said it has become “more apparent than ever” that it is time to bring our troops home.
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There was also encouraging word in June as U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, leading Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and a longtime hawk on defense, changed course to the point of calling for an end to both wars, which together drain the U.S. treasury to the tune of $12 billion a month.
A Rasmussen poll taken in the days following the disaster found that 59 percent of Americans surveyed now favor a withdrawal from Afghanistan immediately or within one year. This reflected an increase from 51 percent of those surveyed in June.
At last report, however, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, endorses Obama’s plan to steadily draw down forces in Afghanistan until 2014, at which point they pray that security there will miraculously stabilize.
Some 40 years ago, President Richard Nixon spoke of a similar plan which he billed as “Vietnamization.” Any veteran of that war will tell you it was a pipe dream.
Retrospect, of course, is 20-20. But it may have helped avert the recent hullabaloo over the debt ceiling had Obama, as commander-in-chief, ended the war in Iraq the day he was inaugurated. If, by his own admission, it wasn’t necessary, then why continue it a single day?
Forceful action, of course, was justified to the extent it was directed at putting Osama bin Laden, the financier of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and his cronies out of commission. That’s over and done and Obama, the CIA and the brave Navy Seals deserve credit.
Ultimately, bin Laden was apprehended not by infantry divisions, tanks or bombs – and, as Sen. John McCain so emphatically observed – certainly not by torture. It was instead the product of smart and persistent police work. To the extent the war against international terror must continue, that’s how it should be waged.
Unfortunately, Obama has embraced the failed policies of the Bush administration, which ignored any distinctions between bin Laden’s network and separate factions.
Some insurgents are engaged in the fight simply because they oppose foreign occupation. Others may have rallied to their cause in the wake of Abu Ghraib or upon hearing Americans gloat over waterboarding. I must ask myself what stake we truly have in the battle with them.
David Rupel is a retired systems consultant with the state of Washington. A member of the Olympian’s Board of Contributors, he can be reached at Davidr1949@yahoo.com.