As President Barack Obama wrestles with the request of more troops by his chief commander in Afghanistan, it presents an opportune moment to consider our continued presence there. A presence, which I believe takes away far too many of our young people.
Yet, I do not blame Gen. Stanley McChrystal for requesting 40,000 more troops. In fact, I think he was too conservative. Given that he has been charged with forcing the government to run efficiently, training a national police force, protecting civilians, reinvigorating the economy, and creating schools and infrastructure in a country devastated by 30 years of war, he should have asked for a million!
But I disagree strongly with the justifications being used to impose this impossible task on our military. Admirable as the intention may be, the belief that such a grand endeavor can be achieved through force is ridiculous. Moreover, the strategy’s underlying premise that we can only be safe at home if Afghanistan is turned into a democracy is a fraud.
After our initial rout of the Taliban, the logical thing would have been to set up a couple of fortified bases near the border with Pakistan and bring home the majority of our troops for a victory celebration. Yet why have troop numbers there have only swelled? It seems that wars of necessity today are often turned into protracted occupations by complicated interests for the benefit and profit of a few at the enormous expense of the public.
Consider that in the last decade 19 percent of the federal budget ($4.2 trillion) has gone to the military. According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, in 2008 we spent roughly the same amount on our military as every other country on the planet combined.
For an example of how effectively the industrial military interests use their influence, witness the latest battle played out in our state over the F-22 fighter jet. It came to the point that not a single military officer would endorse the expense of such a plane, overpriced and outmoded as it was. Yet it took a presidential veto threat to stop Congress from building it.
What’s more, public thinkers often peddle theories that endorse perpetual military expansion. Columnists David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer have both criticized our withdrawal from the provocative missile shield agreement in Eastern Europe. How quickly they have forgotten the damage to our credibility in 2008 when another U.S. ally on Russia’s border decided to antagonize its neighbor. Russian troops promptly walked into Georgia and President George W. Bush was powerless. Actions speak loudest in international relations and our impotence on that day did not go unnoticed.
To remedy our predicament a period of military reorganization is urgently required. Clearly our commitments are far too overstretched around the globe, and a presence without real force only invites attack. Scholar Chalmers Johnson puts the number of our bases worldwide at 737.
I’m convinced that Americans are not interested in colonizing the globe, but only in staying safe at home. And that does not require a prolonged occupation in Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq, nor the upkeep and protection of a galaxy of bases with a payroll of 2« million people.
For we must concentrate our efforts at home if we wish to perpetuate our way of life past another generation. We have a political system that has been overrun by commercial interests. Lobbyists in Washington occupy the Capitol like so many moneychangers in the temple. Our banks have perpetrated an elaborate extortion scheme on the nation and must be regulated again before they can be trusted.
Our public schools are often operated as day care centers, our universities as job training sites. Our elderly population continues to drain more of the public wealth through lavish entitlements. While the public at large escapes into debt-fueled spending and crude celebrity spectacles.
These are destructive trends, which in aggregate could end our way of life, but they can be countered. What is lacking is a broad collective, with will being starkly different from desire. The desire to improve society is rarely lacking; it is the will to take action and endure hardship that is most absent in our time.
That is why it is discouraging to see politics descend into juvenile tit-for-tat games played out on 24-hour opinion channels. The upshot is the neglect of public conversation and consensus building. Instead we have infantile rage for show.
America however, is not beyond repair, and we can step toward a better future by bringing our soldiers home for parades and celebrations. Perhaps we can all agree they deserve that.
Jesse Corn is a Gainesville native and area resident and an occasional columnist.