In recent days, the Obama administration has been scrambling to hand off management of our latest war- this one in Libya – to someone (anyone) else.
The message coming out of the Pentagon has been that this will be a “limited” engagement, low-risk, low-investment. In a word: Easy.
I’m not a pacifist. I believe that war is an occasionally necessary tool.
But any time a politician or a general tells you that a violent conflict will be easy, or limited, or someone else’s job to finish, hide your sons and daughters under the stairs.
It was this kind of rhetoric — and not the lack of WMDs — that most infuriated me about the war in Iraq. We were promised a surgical conflict, a made-for-TV campaign of shock and awe and toppling statues.
A decade later, we’re still sorting out the toll in lives lost, and tax dollars expended.
When confronted with the inadequacy of war planning, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered that timeless self-justification:
“You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
He might have added that you come home from war not with the young people you might want or wish to have at a later time, but with men and women forced to pay a terrible physical, moral and emotional price.
The suicides, the divorces, the substance abuse, the PTSD, the head trauma. We’re only beginning to understand what the last decade of perpetual war has meant to American society.
Our news media have been largely downplaying the recent revelation in a German magazine called Der Spiegel that a group of our soldiers were caught photographing themselves with the corpses of dead Afghan civilians.
Those soldiers are accused of murdering their victims in cold blood. This from the English-language version of the article.
The suspected perpetrators are part of a group of US soldiers accused of several killings. Their court martials are expected to start soon.
The photos, the army statement said, stand “in stark contrast to the discipline, professionalism and respect that have characterized our soldiers’ performance during nearly 10 years of sustained operations.”
That training and discipline are admirable. We know the vast majority of our soldiers at Fort Drum and our reservists from the North Country are exemplary soldiers.
But you can’t send tens of thousands of young men and women into a war zone and expect moral clarity, or simplicity, or tidy endings.
If President Barack Obama thinks this latest fight in Libya is worth risking American lives and American values to take on, he should talk about those challenges and risks bluntly and honestly.