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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/29/10

Obama's Afghanistan War: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and the Captain Says Push On

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Obama's Afghanistan War: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and the Captain Says Push On

By Ann Wright (with all respect to Pete Seeger)

On the eve of the beginning of the tenth year (October 7) of the U.S war in Afghanistan, Bob Woodward's new book "Obama's War" about presidential decision making on the war in Afghanistan is pretty scary reading. It sounds to me like folk singer Peter Seeger's song about the Vietnam war "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," describes the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

The song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," tells about an Army platoon slogging through a Louisiana river during field exercises in 1942. The Captain of the platoon ignores the platoon sergeant's advice about the depth of the river and commands the platoon to continue on until the platoon members are up to their necks in swirling water. The Captain orders the platoon to "push on" and disappears underwater to drown. The Sergeant immediately orders the platoon to turn around and head out of the deep water.

Pete Seeger sang "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" at anti-war rallies in 1967 and 1968 during President Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the U.S. military in Vietnam. The verse in which the Captain calls the sergeant a "Nervous Nelly" reflects President Johnson's attitude toward critics of the Vietnam war. The song touched a raw nerve in the White House which was transmitted to the CBS TV network when it refused to broadcast Pete Seeger singing it on the Smother Brothers TV show because of the song's "political tone." (

Would Sergeant Obama Challenge the Captains of War?

I had hoped that when Obama became President he would have been the Sergeant challenging the "Captains" of the Department of Defense and the U.S. military, the architects of the Afghanistan and Iraq war policies, on the depth of the water of the wars he had inherited.

But Sergeant Obama has not said "turn around." Instead, Sergeant Obama gave himself a field commission to Captain and joined the Captains of the military and the Captains of industry who are leading the platoon into the deep waters of Afghanistan. How did Captain/President Obama decide to head us for deeper water?

In his book "Obama's War," Bob Woodward recounts that "At critical points in the review, the ghosts of Vietnam hovered. Some participants openly worried that they were on the verge of replaying that history, allowing the military to dictate the force levels. While Obama sought to build an exit plan into the strategy, the military leadership stuck to its open-ended proposal, which the Office of Management and Budget estimated would cost $889 billion over a decade. Obama brought the OMB memo to one meeting and said the expense was "not in the national interest."

For two exhausting months, he had been asking military advisers to give him a range of options for the war in Afghanistan. Instead, he felt that they were steering him toward one outcome and thwarting his search for an exit plan. He would later tell his White House aides that military leaders were "really cooking this thing in the direction they wanted."

He was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out. His top three military advisers were unrelenting advocates for 40,000 more troops and an expanded mission that seemed to have no clear end. When his national security team gathered in the White House Situation Room on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2009, for its eighth strategy review session, the president erupted.

"So what's my option? You have given me one option," Obama said, directly challenging the military leadership at the table, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and Army General David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command.

"We were going to meet here today to talk about three options," Obama said sternly. "You agreed to go back and work those up."

Mullen protested. "I think what we've tried to do here is present a range of options."

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Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran, a retired United States Army colonel and retired U.S. State Department official, known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She received the State Department Award for Heroism in 1997, after helping to evacuate several thousand (more...)
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