Thursday thunderbolts

What is happening in Afghanistan is awful, but it is not a surprise. The Taliban taking over was bound to happen no matter when the allies pulled out. Truly, the only surprise is the haste of the change. Afghanistan has long been called the “graveyard of empires” because no invading nation has ever been successful.

The US failed to heed that lesson, even after a reminder of the USSR failure in the 1980s. The opposing force is too distributed and the terrain too mountainous and arid-like. And, the Taliban carries through on its threats against locals who favor the enemy. As a result, the locals are scared to cross them.

Sadly, this failure falls on many presidents, even dating back to Ronald Reagan when Congressman Charlie Wilson helped secretly fund and supply the Mujahideen to drive out the Soviets in the 1980s. What we failed to do is help the country after the Soviets left and the US became more mistrusted and things deteriorated.

But, with George W. Bush authoring the invasion after 9/11, Barack Obama’s continuing push, Donald Trump’s acquiescence to the Taliban and Joe Biden’s decision to honor the agreement to leave, we have shown an inability to solve problems, leaving behind more. Since we dove in, leaving entirely should not have been the answer, as it is like the husband leaving the wife when times got hard. They needed to stay together to make it work. So, now our trustworthiness is even lower than if we never invaded.

Yet, this is not the only problem we let fester because of lack of focus or courage to analyze, discuss and try to solve problems. Reasonable immigration efforts have moved forward on a bipartisan basis, but they fell flat. A pretty good bill passed the Senate in 2013 under the tutelage of a “Gang of Eight,” but the House would not take it up. This led to the Obama DACA executive order which is not the way to govern hard issues.

Both parties talk about the debt and deficit when they are not in the White House, but show little appetite to do things when their party gets there. George W. Bush was actually handed a balanced budget by Bill Clinton and he proceeded to make a tax cut that his Treasury Secretary adamantly said was unneeded (and was fired). Outside of a sequestration approach (which said if we don’t make changes, these cuts will go in place), nothing substantive has come out of Congress to deal with the deficit and debt since Clinton. The debt will soar past $40 trillion by the end of the decade.

Then there is climate change. The naysaying mandate pushed by the fossil fuel industry which has known for several decades about the climate change risks, is appalling. Many do not realize that Dick Cheney, the second Bush VP, came out of the oil industry. Cheney and his old colleagues wrote key language in the 2005 Energy Act to give frackers a hall pass on scrutiny by the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act. In my view, we lost twelve years of more demonstrative action in the past twenty years.

We have other big problems that we have let fester under multiple presidents. But, the above shows what happens when we do not address them. They do not go away. They just build steam like a pressure cooker. We need to do something before they explode.

War is old men talking and young men (and women) fighting

The following was written about nine years ago, but it still has merit. I repeat it to honor our Veterans on Memorial Day and Flag Day.

The above title is a paraphrased line from the movie “Troy” and while I cannot find it among any of the quotes from Homer’s “Iliad” it still resonates with me. Achilles is highly frustrated with Agamemnon and the other kings celebrating the day’s victory in battle, which none of them fought in. He is counseled with these words. You know what war is all about – “war is old men talking and young men fighting.” I use this quote today to honor our men and women who have fought in battles. They are the ones who put their lives in harm’s way and it is they who should be commended.

If you fought for your country, whether the cause was justified or not, you deserve to be honored. When you are lying in the mud or a foxhole and are being shot at, whether we went into a war without good cause is moot. You are there doing your job in the direst of circumstances. Our country learned that lesson from Vietnam where returning veterans did not get treated with the proper respect. This war dragged on and people asked why are we sending our teenagers and young adults to die over there? The Pentagon Papers revealed later our leaders were not very forthcoming as to the reasons, knowing the war was unwinnable.

We have similar kind of war going on which began in Iraq and has continued into Afghanistan. We have been doing this for over ten years. The reason for being there has now been called into question, yet there we still sit. However, the lesson we learned from Vietnam has at least helped Americans treat our troops better. They did not pick the fight with Iraq or Afghanistan, yet they are there to fight it our battles for us.

And, there is one other similarity to Vietnam and the gulf wars which makes it so tough on our troops and causes even more PTSD. The enemy combatants are hiding among the civilians. Our troops have to be on their guard even more, as they do not want to kill innocent people, yet the innocents don’t have a “red jersey” on like a quarterback in practice which says don’t hit me. This has to create a greater stress level to an already stressed situation.

What I don’t care for is when old men get together to discuss sending young people in harm’s way without doing their due diligence. Let’s just bomb Iran and get it over with you will hear some old men say. Or, let’s just invade Syria as some members of Congress and Senate have stated. This may be the reason I hold Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in lesser regard as they sent Americans to die under false pretenses in Iraq. My thesis is before you commit Americans to die, do our country, soldiers and their families the duty of making damn sure we have exhausted every other means. And, when we do commit Americans to fight, define what success will look like. If we cannot do that, then maybe we should not be fighting.

So, let’s honor our Veterans. They have done our country a great service and some have paid the dearest price with their lives, minds and bodies. Let’s honor them by doing our homework to avoid conflict whenever possible and taking care of them when they return. We have too many veterans wandering the streets when they get back and too many waiting in line for disability and medical help. We need to fight less and serve them more. Thanks for your service.