War fatigue in America

Paul Pillar writes:

Signs are increasing that the American people are growing tired enough over fighting two and a half (or whatever the right number is, depending on how you count what’s going on in Libya) wars for their fatigue to affect policy, especially through the actions of their elected representatives in Congress. The war in Afghanistan, now the largest and most expensive in terms of ongoing operations, and now in its tenth year of U.S. involvement, has been the subject of several expressions of impatience. Less than two weeks ago a resolution in the House of Representatives calling on the administration to accelerate a withdrawal from Afghanistan came very close to passing (the vote was 204 to 215). Now Norm Dicks (D-WA), an influential Democrat on national security matters who is the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on defense, has become an outspoken critic of the war. “I just think that there’s a war fatigue setting in up here,” says Dicks, “and I think the president is going to have to take that into account.” Skepticism about the war is increasingly being voiced by Republicans as well. Even Sarah Palin is expressing unease.

On Libya—on which Congressional dissent is fueled in part by the administration’s blatant violation of the War Powers Resolution—two resolutions of protest were put to a vote in the House of Representatives on Friday. One that was introduced by Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and called directly for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Libyan conflict was defeated but attracted 148 votes, including 87 Republicans. The other, which was proposed by Speaker John Boehner as an alternative to the Kucinich resolution and passed, called on the administration to provide a more detailed explanation of the costs and objectives of the U.S. involvement in the war.

Then, of course, there is the Iraq War. It is still by far the most expensive of the expeditions in terms of cumulative costs, with the bill now exceeding $800 billion in direct costs and with all the eventual indirect costs making it more like a three trillion dollar war. But simply adhering to existing policy and agreements will mean that an end to this nightmare is just seven months away. There is no need for new action by Congress.

In general, bowing to popular fatigue is not necessarily a very careful and effective way of formulating national security policy. And throwing into the same hopper three wars that have been fought for different reasons (whether looking at the original rationales or at objectives that later emerged, which in each case were different from the original rationales) doesn’t necessarily represent careful policy-making either. But when drawing down or terminating each of these expeditions is in the national interest—which it is—then the national war fatigue is a force for good. It can and should be harnessed to effect a change of course in Afghanistan and Libya and to resist any diversion from the course toward the exit in Iraq.

The New York Times reports:

President Obama’s national security team is contemplating troop reductions in Afghanistan that would be steeper than those discussed even a few weeks ago, with some officials arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden, which they called new “strategic considerations.”

These new considerations, along with a desire to find new ways to press the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to get more of his forces to take the lead, are combining to create a counterweight to an approach favored by the departing secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, and top military commanders in the field. They want gradual cuts that would keep American forces at a much higher combat strength well into next year, senior administration officials said.

The cost of the war and Mr. Karzai’s uneven progress in getting his forces prepared have been latent issues since Mr. Obama took office. But in recent weeks they have gained greater political potency as Mr. Obama’s newly refashioned national security team takes up the crucial decision of the size and the pace of American troop cuts, administration and military officials said. Mr. Obama is expected to address these decisions in a speech to the nation this month, they said.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former ambassador of the Taliban to Pakistan, and Hekmat Karzai, the Director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies (CAPS) in Kabul, write:

In December 2009, President Obama sent an additional 30,000 troops to confront growing violence in Afghanistan. Though the impact of the US military and diplomatic surge remains uncertain, we can nevertheless conclude that 2010 was easily the most violent year in the decade-old conflict.

The Taliban’s response, however, to this renewed attention by the international community was a surge of their own, which they launched through bold attacks and targeted assassinations of senior Afghan government officials. Their efforts have clearly made an impact on the ground.

The past three decades in Afghan history are filled with nothing but violence: cities turned into rubble; atrocities committed by countless different factions and – most importantly – generations lost to the violence.

Indeed, Afghans are now tired and just want to live in peace in a country where their children can go to school and live a normal life.

The process of reconciliation has become an important demand of Afghans and most are convinced, and will tell you, that the only way to end this bloody conflict is through a political settlement with the Taliban. Of course, there are a few voices that claim this blood bath should continue until the Taliban is “defeated”, but their arguments are divorced from the reality on the ground.

Glenn Greenwald writes:

When Dennis Kucinich earlier this month introduced a bill to compel the withdrawal of all American troops from Libya within 15 days, the leadership of both parties and the political class treated it the way they do most of Kucinich’s challenges to establishment political orthodoxy:  they ignored it except to mock its unSeriousness.  But a funny thing happened: numerous liberal House Democrats were joined by dozens of conservative GOP members to express support for his bill, and the White House and GOP House leadership became jointly alarmed that the bill could actually pass; that’s why GOP House Speaker John Boehner introduced a Resolution purporting to rebuke Obama for failing to comply with the War Powers Resolution, but which, in fact, was designed to be an utterly inconsequential act.  Its purpose was to protect Obama’s war by ensuring that Kucinich’s bill failed; the point of Boehner’s alternative was to provide a symbolic though meaningless outlet for those House members angry over Obama’s failure to get Congressional support.

Still, Kucinich’s bill attracted an extraordinary amount of support given that it would have forced the President to withdraw all troops from an ongoing war in a little over 2 weeks.  A total of 148 House members voted for it; even more notable was how bipartisan the support was:  61 Democrats and 87 Republicans.  Included among those voting for mandatory withdrawal from Libya were some of the House’s most liberal members (Grijalva, Holt, Woolsey, Barney Frank) and its most conservative members identified with the Tea Party (McClintock, Chaffetz, Bachmann).  Boehner’s amendment — demanding that Obama more fully brief Congress — ultimately passed, also with substantial bipartisan support, but most media reports ultimately recognized it for what it was:  a joint effort by the leadership of both parties and the White House to sabotage the anti-war efforts of its most liberal and most conservative members.

Senator Richard Lugar writes:

The president promised that he would act consistent with the War Powers Resolution, which requires congressional approval to continue military action beyond 60 days after it commences, and to consult closely with Congress. These commitments have gone unfulfilled. The administration even barred Defense Department officials from testifying at a public hearing and canceled a private briefing for senators by a Marine general. This disdain for Congress and constitutional principles led to Friday’s nonbinding House resolution.

Belatedly, the president and his allies are trying to establish congressional endorsement for the war through a nonbinding Senate resolution approving “the limited use of military force by the United States in Libya.” But this illustration of the president’s go-it-alone attitude would set a dangerous precedent.

These “sense of the Senate” resolutions are most often used to commemorate non-controversial events such as last month’s resolution celebrating National Train Day — not to authorize a war. The resolution would have no force of law and would not have to be passed by the House. Nonetheless, it would be touted by the administration as evidence of congressional approval for the war.

Passing this resolution would be a profound mistake that would lower the standard for congressional authorization for the use of military force and would forfeit the Senate’s own constitutional role. By setting this precedent in the interests of expediency, Congress would make it far more likely that future presidents will deem a nonbinding vote in one house as sufficient to initiate or continue a war, or marginalize Congress’s involvement in far more consequential war-making decisions than we face now in Libya.

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One thought on “War fatigue in America

  1. Norman

    All in all, the taxpayer picks up the bills, while the Generals continue their folly that they can win. Denial, sure seems to be what moves the Military today. Ever since losing Vietnam, they have been fighting the game wars, but when it comes down to actually wining, well, perhaps the simulated game wars, but not the real shooting wars. Whether the Congress will find the courage or their balls (indifference to the female members), to take the Military-Industrial-Financial cabal down, remains to be seen.

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