"The Democrat goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq. -- Bush at Georgia rally, October 30, 2006
I spend weekends helping my wife sell her paintings at craft shows. One thing about crafters, they are a friendly generous bunch. Millennium gypsies, one fellow crafter said about the way they migrate through fairs and flea markets around the country. I struck up a conversation with a crafter with long blond hair spilling out underneath one of those Navy veterans caps.
I told the fellow that I wasn't a soldier, just an old hippie. He answered that most folks mistake him for a hippie, though he had served for twenty-some years in the Navy after he returned from Vietnam. He told me that he had gone to college when he got back and had done a term paper on post-traumatic stress disorder, and was struck by how many different way it affected the soldiers who had returned. He told me of a friend who had taken a gun and shot up the town when he got home and had ended up in military prison. Another friend had come to him and suggested that they go break him out.
"How do you propose we do that?" he asked his normally straight, buttoned-down pal.
"Well," the friend had told him, "we'll just go get him."
"You mean, break him out?"
"What will we do with him then?" he asked his buddy.
"I figured we could go hide out in Montana or something."
"Montana," the Vet laughed. "This fellow was serious, and seriously deluded."
This long-haired veteran then looked up at me and said, "You know, I realized some time back that war affects all of those who fight, in many different ways, even myself." I buttoned up and crouched down in the dirt, looking up at him as he started to recall his own tour in Vietnam.
"I was in Kai son. I don't know if you know anything about Vietnam," he said, "but, there were these attack helicopters that harassed us day and night, pretty fierce battle there. Ever since I got back I had been afraid of helicopters flying overhead. It didn't matter that the war was over, I just couldn't get over the sight and sound of helicopters. Well, one day I got a call from a buddy of mine who served with me, and he had organized a monument up in West Virginia honoring the fallen soldiers and he invited me to come to an opening ceremony where they were honoring a Medal of Honor recipient. I had never even been to the Wall downtown, not to this day. I just couldn't bring myself to go, but this was my good friend and I agreed to attend. I didn't expect there to be anyone there. I thought my buddy was going to be disappointed and that no one would show up so I went to give him some support. But, I was surprised to see when I got there that nearly a thousand folks had shown up. Well, they had arranged, without me knowing, to fly the veteran who had received the Medal of Honor to the event aboard a Huey helicopter. So, here came this copter, bap bap bap, over the trees, and I ducked underneath the pavilion there like I had in the jungle: We always took cover when we heard that sound. It landed and I could see that Medal of Honor around the Veteran's neck, gleaming in the sun and, right then, I lost my fear of helicopters. I haven't had any fear of them since that day," he said.
"I never could understand why we fought that war," I said clumsily. "I never saw what the purpose was."
He quickly corrected me, "We did," he said "We thought we would go in, kick some tail, roll back communism and come home."
"I just couldn't see what we who we were trying to help. They didn't want us over there." I fumbled again with my rhetoric.
He corrected me again: "The thing that got to most of us was that we lost that war." he said. "We lost. That was the hardest thing to deal with."
I thought about the encounter with that vet today as I watched an interview with a soldier, broadcast from Afghanistan, who was expressing the same sentiments about 'winning' before our troops were withdrawn. We need to stay in Afghanistan, he said, because leaving before we win would mean our troops had died in vain. There was no attempt by the soldier to spell out what he thought his 'mission' was, or how he would be able to tell when we had won that mission.
That's been the rub with these invasions and occupations that Bush chose for our soldiers after the 9-11 attacks. These 'isms' that Nixon and Bush both saw fit to take our nation to war against using the full force of our military, are illusive states of mind which can't be caught and defeated on a battlefield. Nixon was battling Vietnamese resisters to stifle the reach and influence of Soviet sponsored communism, and Bush is waging what he calls a "ideological struggle" in Iraq with the bulk of our nation's defenses against 'terrorism' influenced by the defiance of thugs he let escape into the mountains of Afghanistan.
The original 9-11 'attackers' had perished in the planes that were crashed into the buildings and in that Pennsylvania field, and the accused orchestrators of those attacks knew no permanent base of operations outside of their opportunistic alliance with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Although it would be hard to argue with the decision to direct our forces to take out whoever provided safe harbor for the individuals determined responsible for the attacks, here we are, five years later, and those individuals are still at large. The 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan have spent more time trying to destroy those groups who defiantly declare allegiance with al-Qaeda than they have in actually looking for the original suspects.
That strategy may have been fine at the outset of the pursuit, but, after five years of occupying Afghanistan, the 'mission' there had devolved into a historical folly as our forces concentrate their energy and resources around the capital of the new regime they helped install. Our soldiers have been left to fight and die in defense of the 'Mayor of Kabal' instead of in defense of any remote vestige of national security. The leaders in Washington, and the leaders of those in resistance to our occupation of Afghanistan who are identified as Taliban, are throwing their followers at each other in their vain mission to 'win' whatever they eventually decide they were fighting for.
Are these soldiers being made to sacrifice their lives and livelihoods in defense of territory? Are they being directed to fight and die in defense of the lives lost in the battle? Or, is there a larger goal that can be achieved by just fighting on? When does that mission become compromised by staying and fighting?
Our nation, our leaders, and our soldiers were left to answer similar questions after the decision was finally made to withdraw our forces from Vietnam. We know who our soldiers were defending themselves against. They were defending themselves against whoever was firing on them, threatening their lives as they pushed forward in their ordered aggression. But, they could have battled themselves and every Vietnamese citizen to the ground and still not have won anything worth the lives lost.
Bush told the crowd at the Georgia republican rally Monday the same thing he's been telling the nation: Iraq is the "center" of his "war on terror", because, "bin-Laden says so."
"When you listen to this debate -- and it's raging across the country, this debate on Iraq -- if you listen carefully for a Democrat plan for success, they don't have one. Iraq is the central front for the war on terror. Yet they don't have a plan for victory . . . Sometimes they say the idea that we're going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong . . . However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses."
How many times did Nixon try to convince Americans that he could 'win' in Vietnam? Nixon, like Bush, tried to deflect responsibility for his own escalation of his war by reminding Americans about Johnson's role. He called his own military muckraking, "winning the peace." The White House is desperate to hold on in Iraq. There's a driving obsession, from Cheney and Rumsfeld on down, with re-fighting the Vietnam war in Iraq and to re-pursue the myth that we could have won the conflict if we had just applied more force and not withdrawn.
But, what is the 'mission' in Iraq that our soldiers are being made to fight and die for? The 'terrorists' who were determined responsible for the 9-11 attacks are running free; even farther away from the 140,000 troops Bush has deployed in Iraq than they are from the 20,000 troops Bush has chosen to station in Afghanistan. If our soldiers are merely defending territory in Iraq, as Bush has explained, to keep al-Qaeda from setting up shop there, then they have failed. The overwhelming force of our nation's defenses has had a counter effect, outlined in Bush's own National Security Estimate, of generating even more folks who are willing to take on the moniker of al-Qaeda as they violently resist our occupation. Cynicism knows no bounds as Bush diverts the bulk of our forces away from the pursuit of the terrorists responsible for the original attacks on our nation, retreats to Iraq for five years, and fosters chaos there that he now wants our soldiers to manage and defend.
There would be no need to 'protect' Iraq from al-Qaeda if Bush had kept to the initial pursuit. There's still a 'mission' left undone as bin-Laden and his associates have survived Bush's 2001 vow to apprehend them "dead or alive." Maybe that's what the soldier meant when he said he wanted to 'win' in Afghanistan. What became of the original mission mandated by our representatives in Congress to apprehend the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks on our nation, spelled out in the 'authorization to use military force' resolution that Bush uses as justification for his grabs for power? Bush has retreated from the mission in Afghanistan just to "draw a line in the sand in Iraq," far away from the original 'terrorists'.
"The Democrat goal is to get out of Iraq," Bush said. "The Republican goal is to win in Iraq." On that point, Bush is entirely correct; and, on that point, ultimately defeated.