Pick your battles.

"Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian's fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them."
-Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Tonight's speech in front of gray shouldered West Point cadets was a stark, stuffy contrast to the speeches in which Obama has most moved me -- from a misty shoreline in Austin in February of 2007 to a wide-open stadium in Denver with confetti dripping from the skies -- but it wasn't that kind of speech. If Obama's speech was a horse, a judge would have called it "workmanlike." It got the job done, with little emotion or thrill, in a manner that was both tidy and flat. Despite all of this, sometimes in a field of distracting showboats, those horses actually win.

No one trusts the Afghanistan government. And the war that President Obama has supported since its inception -- yes, this war -- has until now escaped the attention it deserves from not only our nation but from our past administration. We've broken more than one item at Pottery Barn this past decade and continue to be paying for the damage in lives and money, despite the fact that our nation is currently short on both. This isn't and never has been Pearl Harbor and alluding to it isn't going to make anyone feel any differently.

Which leads me to the question: Why now? Obama could let us continue to flounder around in Afghanistan, blame the terrorists' evasiveness on the caves and crossing into Pakistan, and we could spend years upon years doing more of the same. The terrible timing of committing more money and troops to a war that seems so futile makes me think -- despite my utter dislike of the plan -- that it might actually work.

I use the word "work" loosely, like many people use the term "paradigm," having no idea how to define it. I don't know what would "work" at this point in Afghanistan but I do know that while Obama has always supported the Afghanistan war, he's also a bit of a control freak and a perfectionist. If he didn't think this was a battle worth fighting, and worth fighting now, then I'd like to believe -- and I think that I still have enough faith in him to do so -- that he's right.

After the speech, Texas blogger Steve Southwell, who writes Who's Playin', tweeted that his oldest son was motivated to write a letter to Obama. When I asked what his son's take on it was, Southwell replied that his son wants Obama to "'bring them home' and 'fix this war'." But despite these desires, Southwell continued to say that his son "says he wants to fly a bomber when he grows up, but not in a war."

Gently, I'd remind his son that you can't have bombers without wars. And to Americans frustrated with the situation in Afghanistan, but unhappy with the President's decision tonight, I'd remind them that we can't have peace until we've ended the wars we started.

7 Response to "Pick your battles."

  • myerman Says:

    I'm kinda on the fence too. I wish we'd had a real leader when we were attacked in 2001, so we could have dealt with this thing the first time around.

    Unfortunately, the bill is here and we have to pay it. There's just no way we can keep ordering more rounds and hoping we can slip out the back door when the waiters go on a break.

    That being said, 30,000 troops is a good start maybe, if a whole bunch of other stuff we can't possibly control (like Pakistan) falls into place.

    I don't agree vis a vis the Pearl Harbor reference -- on that day, while my wife @hopedoty was in New York City not 2 miles from the destruction, it felt to me to be just like Pearl Harbor...except instead of battleships 10 time zones away, they targeted us right here....

    Good post!

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Thanks! I guess how I feel abut Pearl Harbor is more accurately defined by saying that we were attacked then by a nation with a military force, not a terrorist group with watery geographic and political alliances. It seems unfair to the magnitude of both events to sum them up as the same thing.

  • Stacy Suits Says:

    My nephew has already pulled two duty tours in Afghanistan. Sure hope this new ramp up does not result in him having to pull a third tour. He has already done his part for God and Country.

  • skylorwilliams Says:

    Ms. Suits:

    How much is "one's part for God and country"? One tour of duty? Two tours of duty? It's like saying "Hey, I've done enough chores around this house; I took out the garbage last August. I washed the dishes last Christmas."

    I am also a veteran. I served one tour of duty in Iraq. While I empathize with the feeling that you worry about your nephew and miss him, I am bothered your comment is in the same vein as Republicans who believe they've done their part for the country because they last paid taxes in 1993. Your nephew's selflessness and patriotism are not things to be abused by any President. But please pause and consider the ways your attitude is not helpful.

  • myerman Says:


    In what you just said, I completely agree. The War on Terror has been one confounded thing after another--after decades of ignoring the threat, we then go about it like we were fighting WW2, which is pretty much ensuring that our tax dollars get deposited in Halliburton's bank account.

    Despite my cynicism, if this war is like WW2 (and yeah, I guess, there isn't just the Pearl Harbor metaphor, but others as well) then where's Berlin? Tokyo? What's the end game, besides me and you and our children and grandchildren paying for it forever?

    Is Iraq Guadalcanal? Are we trying to do there what we did in Guadalcanal--ie, stop the Japanese Empire and start building the foundation for final victory?

    If so, then is Iraq the equivalent of a forward deployment air base so we can start island-hopping and then eventually start bombing the home islands?

    So yeah, I'm receiving you. While we tie ourselves down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bad guys could move to Montana or Ghana or wherever and we'd have to shift. It *is* kinda stoopid.

    But do I have an answer. Nope.

  • M1EK Says:

    myerman, don't buy the Iraq nonsense. In the WWII analogy, Afghanistan is Germany/Japan, while Iraq is some country in South America that had nothing to do with the Axis at all.

    And as for the end-game, building a government from the bottom up in Afghanistan was the right thing to do - not a top-down national election that was nothing more than a PR op legitimizing corruption. IE, we do what we did in Germany and Japan - run the country ourselves (writing a constitution for them ourselves) while building the rule of law; then holding elections at the local level first - to see if the rule of law can hold.

  • missris Says:

    I agree with what you've eloquently laid out. I think that had we had different leadership in 2001, the country would not have been rushed into a war that has dragged on much longer than most thought it would. It was billed by President Bush as "get in, fix the problem, get out" even as he (or his handlers) probably knew it was a much more complicated and nuanced situation. I think President Obama is a much more calm, rational, controlled leader and he has surely considered all the options for withdrawal more carefully than his predecessor. This doesn't mean that I'm willing to blindly nod and smile as he goes forward with his plan but that I trust he has sound judgment and therefore, my support. If it were up to my unrealistic ideal, though, there would be no more wars, ever.