Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

This Is Not About Charlie Sheen

March 10, 2011

FLASHPOINT: America’s wars continue, even as we ignore them

TERRE HAUTE — “Master, master, old news! And such news as you never heard of!” — William Shakespeare

It’s the same old, same old when I read the newspaper. Republicans believe (or pretend to believe) that the 7 percent of union members in America’s workforce caused the Bush Depression. Charlie Sheen again demonstrates which part of “Two and Half Men” he is. And college sports scandals continue to blossom and smell stronger than the sweat in a crowded locker room or the money in a big booster’s off-shore bank account.

Not getting as much attention is the same old news on America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I guess the expiration date on interest in these costly wars (trillions and counting) and deadly (thousands and counting) has run out.

So in case you aren’t current with the same old news in regard to Iraq and Afghanistan, here are a few items sitting in the “Let’s just forget about it” bin  from last month’s reports.

In Iraq, the citizens of this American-assisted “democracy” project are upset about the lack of jobs, electricity and clean water, better pensions and medical care. The “Days of Rage” demonstrations took place across the country, starting as peaceful gatherings and ending with 19 dead as the “elected” government’s security forces used tear gas, water cannons, sound bombs and at times live bullets to disperse the crowds.

We have 47,000 American troops in Iraq. Remember when presidential candidate John McCain speculated that the United States might be in Iraq for maybe a hundred  years?

Who buys and reads the books by the Bush war architects and cheerleaders?  Trying to paper over his role in the tragedy that is Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld is out plugging his just released  memoir, “Known and Unknown.” The book might as well be titled “Forgetting and Dissembling.” For a guy who is good at numbers he tries mightily to squirm away from a blood and treasure cost analysis of the war he did so much to push us into. This is old, old news.

Another new book out last month knows what Rumsfeld ignores and General Petraeus and President Obama refuse to acknowledge. Bing West, an infantry officer and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, decided at age 70 to spend time, a lot of time, embedded with American troops in Afghanistan. He saw and studied  the war there up close — in Garmsir, Marja and Nawa in Helmand Province; Barge Matal in Nuristan; and the Korengal Valley in Kunar. The title of his book doesn’t say it all, but it has a forthright ring to it that is missing in Rumsfled’s trip down a rabbit hole. Thank you Bing West for your “THE WRONG WAR, Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan.”

Here’s an old story from West’s book. “For three years, the provincial reconstruction team had lived in a compound a few blocks from the scene of the tragedy [a grenade blew up a truck in Asadabad in 2009 killing a number of civilians]. The P.R.T. had paid over $10 million to hire locals, who smiled in appreciation. Every time a platoon from 1-32 patrolled through town, they stopped to chat with storekeepers and to buy trinkets and candy to give to the street urchins. Yet the locals had turned on the soldiers in an instant.” … “‘Kill the Americans!’ the Afghans shouted. ‘Protect Islam!’ Only later did a videotape of the incident show clearly that an Afghan had tossed the grenade.”

West’s recounting of this old story fits perfectly with a mid-February shift in troop deployments. Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan, ordered  the withdrawal of Americans from the Pech Valley, an area previously described as “central” in the fight against the Taliban. Over 100 American soldiers have died there. “I don’t want [to give] the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.” General Campbell said. As troops who fought hard and died hard in the Pech were leaving, General Campbell put a nice double-speak spin on the withdrawal: “I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people.”

In a moment of candor, someone familiar with the withdrawal decision with stars or bars on his helmet [in a not-for-attribution comment] offered this assessment:  “What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren’t anti-U.S. or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone. Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.” This conclusion is painfully old news to those who have been opposing the war for nine years.

Then there was this from our current Secretary of Defense. “… Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.” I doubt if Gates will be reading Rumsfeld’s “Known and Unknown” but he seems to know Bing’s “The Wrong War.”

Finally we have the new old news of brave Americans paying the ultimate price in these wars. The Defense Department reported that CARPENTER, Andrew P., 27, Lance Cpl., Marines; Columbia, Tenn.; Second Marine Division; HIDALGO, Daren M., 24, First Lt., Army; Waukesha, Wis.; Third Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment; and SISSON, Robert C. Jr., 29, Sgt., Army; Aliquippa, Pa.; Fourth Infantry Division, died in Afghanistan sometime in February.

To date, 1,467 American service members have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations; 4,439 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. The seriously wounded  exceeds 40,000.

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