President Barack Obama did an excellent job, in both delivery and substance, when he addressed a joint session of Congress last week. As I listened I was reminded of my days in Congress. Before I left Congress in 1977 to serve as mayor of New York City, I attended similar addresses of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. I sat in the House Chamber, thinking how lucky I was to live in such a great country and to have been given the opportunity to represent my fellow citizens in Congress.
I recall when Johnson appeared in that chamber in January 1969 after Nixon had been elected but before he took office. As Johnson entered the chamber and walked down the aisle past me, I reached over and patted him on the shoulder. Although he was unaware of my touch, I said to myself, “I forgive you.” I was referring to the Vietnam War, the results of which caused him not to run for re-election.
Johnson had hugely increased the number of American soldiers sent to South Vietnam. His enormous good works and reputation, as a result of his civil rights legislative record and “Great Society” initiatives, were lost as he became responsible in the public’s collective conscience for the war and was blamed for the casualties, deaths, and billions of dollars spent to prop up a corrupt Vietnamese government in an ongoing civil war. The United States was ultimately required to pull out in a publicly humiliating way. As the North Vietnam troops were entering Saigon, later renamed Ho Chi Min City, we ferried American military and civilians, as well as Vietnamese civilians, by helicopter from the roof of our embassy in Saigon to our Navy ships offshore.
Many people, myself included, do not believe we can win the war in Afghanistan. The British and the Russians gave up on Afghanistan, as probably did Alexander the Great of ancient Macedonia. Even if we were to win, what would we have won? The government of Afghanistan is described by most knowledgeable observers as one of the most corrupt in the world. Indeed, the Afghan government does not have the backing of many, if not most, Afghans who are part of a tribal society run by different warlords financed by the sale of heroin and opium.
The current president, whom we support, is Hamid Karzai. He is accused of ballot stuffing by the United Nations commission having jurisdiction over monitoring the current ongoing presidential election. A recent article in The New York Times stated, “. . . the new results were severely tainted by large-scale ballot stuffing. Hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes are included in the count, they said — an amount that could prove to be the margin Mr. Karzai needs to win the election outright.”
Obama recently authorized the sending of 21,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan. We now have or will have 68,000 American troops in that country. Our current casualties from the inception of the war to Sept. 10, 2009, are 3,895 wounded and 569 killed in action. Our allies are getting ready to leave us, including Great Britain and Germany, two of our most trusted and supportive friends.
The Times reported that at a recent news conference in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain “called for an international conference to work on a plan for shifting responsibility for security in Afghanistan to the Afghan government, a proposal that they said France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, also supported.”
We have been in Afghanistan for eight years, since 2001. Last year Obama criticized President George W. Bush for invading Iraq and stated that we should have focused our military efforts on Afghanistan. Now the president’s words are coming home to haunt him. Observers opine that the war could continue at least another eight years if not more. Democrats polled in the U.S. no longer support the war. Republicans still do, but for how long?
Republican columnist George Will recently called on the president to withdraw our forces from Afghanistan and if need be continue the battle from offshore, with planes and the use of special forces, where necessary. In a recent column, Will wrote, “So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes, and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous, 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”
For political reasons, primarily to defeat Obama in his second election, the balance of the Republican leadership and their followers will gradually turn against the war in Afghanistan, as the war becomes less and less popular with Republican Party members.
Mr. President, don’t get trapped in Afghanistan. Despite what you said last year, this is truly not your war. Don’t find yourself in the position where someone in the future taps you on the shoulder at a public venue and says aloud, knowing of all your good works, “I forgive you.” Bush recognized the futility of staying on in Iraq and agreed to Iraqi demands that we leave no later than December 31, 2011, if not before. You should order an evacuation from Afghanistan before such an evacuation is imposed on you.
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