Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day 2009

As the calendar would have it, Veterans’ Day (Armistice Day in Europe) in 2008 fell one week after the U.S. electorate selected the person who would become the nation’s 44th president beginning January 20, 2009.

Together with the electoral success of the Democratic Party in the Senate and House of Representatives, many commentators predicted that the election of Barack Obama would mark a definitive change in the war-driven foreign policies of the soon-to-be-gone administration of George W. Bush.

Indeed, candidate Obama had pledged that among his first actions as president would be to order the Pentagon to curtail offensive operations in Iraq; to initiate the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq; to close the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency’s illegal prison at Guantanamo Bay as well as the CIA’s secret “black” prison system in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other “friendly countries”; and to reevaluate the status of the coalition efforts to shore up the government of Afghanistan.

We have come once again to November 11 only to find that, despite promises from the campaign speeches, the reality of these wars is little changed. Obviously, we have a new commander-in-chief, the second time since the Second World War that a president has had no military experience. Conversely, the nation’s war experience stretches for more than nine years, within which soldiers have been deployed three, four, even five times with no end in sight. Not since 1969 has any other president entered the Oval Office with U.S. troops engaged daily in active combat. He may also become the first president since Richard Nixon to undertake a re-escalation of armed conflict on the false premise that the escalation of fatalities inflicted on any country, ethnic group, or sectarian faction will be justified as preserving a “vital U.S. interest.”

Not even the murder of 13 Americans by an Army officer November 5 at Fort Hood seems to have enervated or “touched” the nation’s emotional core. Yet it is this incapacity that has often puzzled me in trying to mobilize public sentiment to oppose the temptation to go to war that seems to pervade decisions by presidents and prime ministers. Obviously, the experience of war can have an effect on the pace of the march to the next war, but after a time going to war to hopefully prevent a future war becomes so illogical that it fails completely the “common sense” test.

And at this juncture, all that remains is to count the cost.

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