President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan yesterday, telling American troops that while “Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place,” they can take pride in what they’ve accomplished. “More Afghans have hope in their future, and so much of that is because of you.” As we honor the service members who gave their lives in all of America’s wars, it’s a good time to ask how we’ll look at the longest one we’ve ever fought. By the time we wind down our mission there at the end of this year, the Afghanistan war will have lasted over 13 years.
Here’s a prediction, one I make with no pleasure: when we pull most of our troops out of the country later this year, most Americans will quickly try to forget Afghanistan even exists.
Consider this: How much have you thought about Iraq lately? When the last U.S. troops left there in December 2011 after nearly nine years of war, the public was relieved that we could finally wash our hands of what was probably the worst foreign policy disaster in American history, with over 4,000 Americans dead (not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis) and a couple of trillion dollars spent, all for a war sold on false pretenses. But unless you’ve been paying attention to the stories on the inside pages, you may not have noticed that Iraq is not exactly the thriving, peaceful democracy we hoped we would leave behind. The country is beset by factional violence; according to the United Nations, 7,818 Iraqi civilians were killed in attacks in 2013. No country in the world saw more terrorism.
I’m not arguing that there’s much we can do about it now, or that we should have stayed. But as far as Americans are concerned, Iraq’s problems are now Iraq’s to solve, and most of us would rather just not think about it.
We’ll be keeping troops in Afghanistan after the end of this year, to do targeted counterterrorism and training of Afghan forces. The number hasn’t yet been determined, but it will be small enough that we can say we’re no longer at war there. And for all we know today, things could turn out great. Perhaps the Afghan government will manage to clear itself of the corruption with which it has been infected, and perhaps the country will not be riven by factional violence. Perhaps we will leave behind a state with enough strength and legitimacy to hold the country together. But if those things don’t happen, most Americans won’t want to hear about it.
Afghanistan will get put in the same corner of our minds we now place Iraq. So many misguided decisions from those at the top, so much sacrifice from those on the ground, and for what? The answer is too painful to contemplate, so we’ll prefer to thank the veterans for their service and not spend too much time thinking about the larger questions of what the war meant.
* ISLA VISTA VICTIM’S FATHER BLAMES NRA, POLITICIANS: The father of one of the victims of the rampage in California held a press conference and put the blame for the shooting on those who work to keep guns freely available:
In a tearful speech Saturday outside Santa Barbara County sheriff’s headquarters, Richard Martinez said he never thought his son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, would become a victim of a deadly shooting. Michaels-Martinez was at a local deli when he was shot and killed Friday night by 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, according to authorities, who said he also killed five others. The shooting suspect also died that night, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“Why did Chris die?” Martinez said during the emotional plea. “Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’ right to live?”
* IOWA REPUBLICANS CONCERNED ABOUT EFFECT OF PRIMARY ON GENERAL ELECTION: Joni Ernst may have rushed to the front of the Republican pack with ads showing her blasting away down at the gun range, but in this swing state the contested Senate primary is giving GOP leaders worries:
Ernst mentioned her self-described “exciting ads” to a round of applause at a meeting of supporters Wednesday in Waukee. But some Republicans say it could turn off swing-voting women, a group Republicans in Iowa and other closely contested states have lost in recent presidential elections.
Fewer than 20 percent of Iowa adults, across party lines, supported relaxed gun restrictions, according to The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll in February 2013.
“The gun ad is a problem for her, if she wins, in the fall with suburban women,” said Des Moines Republican fundraiser Doug Gross, who supports Jacobs.
In some states, Republican candidates can run as far to the right as they like in the primaries and still feel confident of a victory in the fall. Iowa is not one of them.
* IRS RULES AGAINST EMPLOYERS PUSHING WORKERS ONTO EXCHANGES: The IRS has ruled that employers may not make tax-free payments to employees to enable them to buy private insurance on the health exchanges in lieu of offering insurance themselves. The ruling is significant, because some employers were contemplating dropping their insurance plans and giving their employees such payments instead. But according to the ruling, such payments wouldn’t be tax-free, and larger companies would still have to comply with the employer mandate once it goes into effect or pay a penalty.
* BIPARTISAN ANGER OVER VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION: Republicans and Democrats trooped to the Sunday shows to express their dismay over delays in getting care for veterans. “You’ve got an entrenched bureaucracy that exists out there that is not held accountable, that is shooting for goals, goals that are not helping the veterans,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, chair of the House committee on veterans affairs. It should be noted that private hospitals never publish data on how long patients have to wait to get an appointment, but the VA does. That’s why we know there’s a problem, and, as Rep. Miller pointed out, it may be at the root of the book-cooking that went on, as officials tried to make the data look better than it was.
* PRO-EUROPE CANDIDATE WINS ELECTION IN UKRAINE: Petro Poroshenko, described variously as “candy tycoon” or a “chocolate tycoon,” won a majority of the vote in the Ukrainian election yesterday, avoiding a runoff. Russian president Vladimir Putin has said he will respect the results of the election.