"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?" – Mahatma Ghandi –
A few days after President Obama ordered the extra-judicial execution of Osama bin Laden by a Navy Seal Team in Abbottabad – not too far from the headquarters of the elite Pakistan Military Academy for young cadets and a short trip to the country's capital, Islamabad – I sat in the green room of a local television station, Fox 61, pondering what I would say about bin Laden's death while waiting to tape an appearance on the Stan Simpson Show.
The other guest for the show was a retired U.S. Army Colonel, and former CIA Operations Officer and Republican U.S. Congressman from Connecticut, Rob Simmons. Even though Simmons and I disagreed on most things we discussed while waiting in the green room – such as, whether to release a graphic "bullet to the head" photo of bin Laden – to my surprise, the one thing we agreed on was that it was time for the U.S. to pull out of these wars.
While we did not discuss a timetable for withdrawal, we both were in agreement that it's time to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and bring the troops home.
I believe that we need to move swiftly and deliberately to bring these wars to an end.
My belief in the need for an immediate withdrawal, however, is not a very popular view among many Democrats or among some of the President's staunchest supporters, defenders of Obama in the black community.
Nonetheless, it's time to end these conflicts.
Many supporters of Obama say that the President inherited these wars from George W. Bush and should not be held accountable if it looks like we are stuck in a quagmire and cannot get out soon. They also claim that the President actually lacks the power to pull us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The reason Obama cannot pull the nation out of these wars is because too many powerful interests in Washington – the Congress, the military industrial complex, the media – favor these wars and that the President's hands are tied and that without a strong anti-war movement to back him, he would be foolish to challenge them.
Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan prematurely, it is also argued, would prove disastrous for our allies in those regions (in essence, we would be abandoning them in their time of need), and could lead to the toppling of fragile American (and Western Europe) friendly regimes by anti-Western extremists, or radical Islamists like Osama bin Laden.
The President is also cautioned by his friends and supporters to not withdraw the troops too quickly because it could undermine his ambition to be reelected President in 2012 and that a hasty "retreat" would cripple the ability of Democrats to retake the Congress next year.
Mentioned less frequently as an argument to continue these wars are our strategic interests in both of these regions. Afghanistan is not as important as its neighbor Pakistan – the second largest Muslim country in the world and the recipient of nearly $20 billion of U.S. aid since 9/11. Pakistan is a fragile democracy with a military willing to intercede in the affairs of state to protect its interests when it feels it has too. Like Afghanistan, it is at war with its own homegrown version of radical Islam.
Most significantly, Pakistan possesses over 100 nuclear bombs, and shares borders with China, Iran, and India. And, along its border with Afghanistan, it is the steward of a largely ungovernable mountainous tribal region that contains more than 40 million nationalists Pashtuns (this is the place where the Bush and Obama Administrations originally suspected bin Laden was hiding and where Afghani Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters frequently go to find a place to hide from American military forces).
Iraq floats on oil; Americans are addicted to their automobiles and want cheap, reliable, sources of oil to quench that appetite. Enough said!
President Obama is the Commander in Chief (Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution). Ever since WW II, the President has operated with a free hand in the area of foreign policy; that is, he has been able to commit troops to battle without consulting the Congress. Logic follows that he can bring them home without Congressional approval. Nothing is stopping him. Please quit believing he can't end these wars.
If the time is not right to end these wars, when will it be more convenient to do so? Do we need another 2 years? What about four years? Supporters of the President usually do not have an answer.
Some say, we should stay until we "get the job done." What does that mean? If we stay longer, what is our goal? Are we there to hunt down and kill ALL of our enemies? Are we trying to build stable, secular, Islamic Republics with vibrant civil societies? Those goals may take a generation to accomplish.
If we are interested in protecting our strategic interests in Pakistan and Iraq, do we need such a heavy troop presence to get the job done? Moreover, a strong case can be made that our presence is fueling a lot of the violence in the regions. One of bin Laden's most effective recruitment pitches was to point at the U.S. presence in countries like Saudi Arabia as proof of the desecration of Muslim (Arab) lands by foreign "Crusaders."
One thing that I've concluded about these wars and the lack of urgency to extricate ourselves from them is that we don't feel it at a personal level. If we had a draft and our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, and parents either left limbs on the battlefield or were coming home in coffins, we would want out sooner and care less about "the conditions we leave behind." There is a reason why our leaders tell us too much is at stake to pull out and sanitize war for us by not showing it to us with all of its horror. It allows them to keep doing what they are doing and it spares us from being upset while we are eating dinner.
We need an anti-war movement on the scale of the protest against the Vietnam War to convince the President, Congress, military leaders and media elites that drone attacks, extra-judicial executions, and the squandering of billions of dollars is not the way to bring about peace; rather, this path will lead inevitably toward just more death and destruction.