September 21, 2012

Eleven years ago the shock, outrage, and grief of 9-11 had our country united and we were out to hunt down Osama bin Laden…then reported to be hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan.

I vaguely remember the announcement of war in October, 2011.  I was with friends enjoying the Fall Colors in Taylors Falls.  Our immediate reaction was YES!  We’ve been exonerated.  We did not stand by and take it.  This time, bin Laden will be sorry.  We will make him pay – for sure.

Faintly, I remember discussing a nagging concern…do we know how to fight them?  Remember the Russians and years and years of war with the Afghans that did little but drain money and manpower from the Soviet Union with minimal impact on the situation?  What about the arms provided by the US to the Afghans to help them withstand the Russian attacks – will those arms now be used against us?

But in the wake of our generation’s “Pearl Harbor”, in the end, we united behind our country and welcomed the war as a bold and righteous move.

And quickly, we learned how little we understood tribal wars and how to conduct them.  After seven years under Bush, three years ago the Obama administration altered the approach, ultimately set a goal to be out of Afghanistan by 2014 “with or without” bin Laden.

Separate from the war, but aided by “friends” made in that war, we found and killed bin Laden last year in Pakistan.  However, we remain in Afghanistan to “train” locals to protect their own country.  And this week, after those people we have been trying to train have now killed 51 western NATO troops, NATO has announced patrol training will end – ensuring our 2013-14 withdrawal will  be rougher than anticipated.

As I read the update yesterday, I wondered for a minute what would be different – if anything- today had we not chosen war in 2001, but had focused on the hunt for Osama bin Laden using diplomacy, stealth, and CIA infiltrations to find him.  After all, we had no issue with Afghanistan other than we thought bin Laden was there…he did not create the terror that culminated in 9-11 as an Afghan for goodness sakes.

One will never know the answer to that question, but a Viet Nam and an Afghanistan should signal war as we knew it in the 19th and half of the 20th century is no more.  Wars since Korea are different – long, messy, costly and without opportunity to rally and celebrate interim battles in a journey towards victory.

And for sure, wars to spread democracy are not a sure thing.  The most we can do is share a working model of success and support efforts for grass roots movements.

Perhaps more than any issue in this current presidential election, this change is the single greatest issue for me.  I am sure that is because my stand on the economy and jobs reflects the reset and long recovery theory and thus diminishes what immediate impact either side has for a “wave a magical wand” fix to get people back to work.  However I do know 19th-20th century wars as our defense strategy is a dangerous position.  There will not be a second American century unless we collaborate to plot a NEW COURSE together instead of continuing to argue about who is doing the best job using 100 year old tactics.

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