Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Obama at West Point

December at West Point in the early mid-1960s. Normally at that time of year, I can remember the air was bitterly cold as invariably a northern wind whipped down the Hudson River, often blowing snow across the parade ground and into the shivering corps of cadets. No time was lost under such conditions once the roster was reported the formation broke as everyone sought shelter from the numbing freeze.

West Point cadets were not the first to endure such foul conditions. Two centuries earlier, Americans revolutionaries, often poorly provisioned, occupied a series of fortifications overlooking the two 90 degree turns in the river at West Point. George Washington, the commander of the Continental army, and his generals knew that as long as they controlled the river at this point, the British could not sail their vessels any further up the Hudson and thus severe New England from the rest of the colonies.

Last night, December 1, 2009, a new commander-in-chief talked to the cadets at West Point – many of whom will be going in 2011 to a cold and wintery place – to the nation, and to the world. The subject was mainly about the country and the people of Afghanistan, about a part of the world with the most rugged geography imaginable, about a people that live in small groups with little central governance beyond the clan or tribal level. For 30 years the status quo was civil war or insurrection against foreign occupation and the imposition of a draconian regime following a brutal civil war.

President Obama’s message was simple: the rulers of Afghanistan lived by a code of beliefs that most countries and cultures reject as misguided.

These so-called “Taliban” sectarians gave sanctuary to fundamental extremists to plan mass murder and then, after 3,000 innocent people died September 11, 2001, refused to surrender the conspirators to either an international judicial institution or to a third country to be tried in a court of law. This justified the United States to invade Afghanistan, to eject the rulers who defied the world, and leave the various power centers that survived the U.S. action to their own devices with little assistance to reconstitute a functioning nation-state.

Having spent more than $310 billion, lost 927 troops in “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and now about to add an additional 30,000 U.S. soldiers for another 18 months before considering any withdrawal (but sure to add to the fatalities), does the president’s announcement make anyone more secure either in their values or their belief in the inviolability of human dignity?


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