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May 1, 2012

War not worth gambling with lives of soldiers

Are you not tired of our war in Afghanistan? It had a point, once, after 9/11. Bush couldn't distinguish his myopic personal agendas from the nation's needs and let Osama escape, dropping the ball entirely, causing many deaths.

We had actively connived with Iraq before going to war there. Distraction with Iraq let the real issues in the region get lost, along with thousands and thousands of lives, and millions and millions of dollars.

Congress must declare a war. It seems quite sad how something so costly and solemn gets organized by flapping gums and clacking rhetoric.

We left Iraq dissolved and disordered, with the same factions fighting among themselves. It wasn't more stable or integrated, and we stepped away on tip-toes as one who has stepped into the muck of a cow pasture.

Just how was our national security improved by trying to clean out that basement cupboard of our world?

These sidebar efforts do become urgent when we have plunged in, and cannot just let go. Did anyone give two hoots about whether the regime of the South Vietnam government survived? It was an artifact of French colonialism.

Has the world shifted on its axis since the communists have been in power there? Our enemy Ho Chi Minh was the "father of his country." We staged the spark that started the war, and how many thousands died in Vietnam for those murky motives, now essentially irrelevant.

But back to Afghanistan _ it is not an integrated nation, never has been, and the enemy there is much more a function of that fact than of our national interest.

Wars feed upon themselves _ some people make money, others take advantage, or take power. The people as a whole, who are various regional and tribal entities, do not profit from the profitable efforts intended to aid them. The helpers do. The word boondoggle applies, over and over. But money justifies itself and, of course, so do those who spend it.

There are a lot of people who love to thump their chests and beat the drums of military strength. Don't mess with Uncle Sam. Support the troops. What rubbish!

Unless you go back to World War II, the troops have not been tasked with the actual defense of the country. What is defended are political policies, geo-political gambits and ideological orthodoxies, such as the "domino theory."

We put thousands of young people on the line because of that theory and covered their coffins with patriotism.

Afghanistan is such a corrupt country. And corruption has become more deeply entrenched there during our efforts to praise Afghan President Hamid Karzai into worthiness.

We are, in effect, even subsidizing the Taliban, and the country's present stability is now conditional on our presence. It is not something we are creating or protecting, but are enforcing in alliance with various vested interests.

It is alarming how many business interests purport to provide development services, but most are thrown into the caldron of unaccountable bureaucratic posturing.

It is like laying down plastic mats of grass in place of establishing real lawns. That is what we do, because there is so little water there.

Actually, we are drilling many new wells. But the water reached is apparently 20,000-year-old water, in aquifers that are not renewing. Where will they be, when these wells run low.

These kind of endeavors represent the American zeal for a one-size-fits-all solution to problems _ spending money. We think we can buy solutions, seldom seeing the new problems that succeed our efforts.

War is the tar baby of American politics. We love to win, to be strong, and to throw our weight around. Once engaged in a conflict, however, it becomes a self-justifying effort.

No president can withdraw from a war without it becoming a defeat.

Maybe the idea that launched the war is defeated, but the war must always be "won." Or our troops have died for nothing. That can never admitted, even when absolutely true. This war is not even an election issue.

Even our great soldier-statesman, Dwight Eisenhower, saw fit at the end of his presidency to offer a belated warning about the momentum of the military-industrial complex. It has its own energy, and in this poker game, it is always willing to play stack after stack of patriotism chips.

It becomes an economic momentum, a self-justifying effort, and politics is dominated by those players with deep pockets filled with such chips. The only real gamble is with the lives of young people who must act out our all too real charades of pride.

William Masters can be reached at wmasters@thedailystar.com. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.

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