Friday, August 3, 2012

Afghanistan: the Forgotten War

The WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes the point that Messrs Obama and Romney have all but ignored the war in Afghanistan:

There are still almost 80,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and each month brings a few dozen home in coffins — more than 2,000 since 2001. Hundreds more arrive on medical evacuation flights, many of them without a limb. The war will cost taxpayers more than $100 billion this year. The Taliban, which enjoys sanctuary in nuclear-armed Pakistan, continues to conduct devastating attacks on the Afghan government and the civilian population.

But you wouldn’t know any of it from listening to President Obama and Mitt Romney on the campaign trail. They may not agree on much, but when it comes to the decade-old conflict, they have adopted the same strategy on the stump: Say as little as possible — sometimes not a word — and quickly change the subject.

Romney rarely mentions the war in his speeches at public campaign events and fundraisers. When he does, his comments usually are devoid of specifics. At a Republican National Committee event in Arizona in April, he said that Obama has made “a number of errors in the way he managed our relationship there,” but he did not provide details or say what he would do differently.

The president is almost as taciturn. In remarks to supporters and donors, he often cites the war, but usually in just one sentence that emphasizes how he is seeking to scale back U.S. involvement. (His two favored versions of that sentence: “We’re transitioning out of Afghanistan” and “We’re winding down the war in Afghanistan.”)

He rarely tries to make the case that his troop surge succeeded, that the more than 50,000 troops he sent over in 2009 and 2010 have pummeled the Taliban and increased the Afghan government’s chances of holding onto large swaths of the country.

The candidates have a shared reason for ignoring Afghanistan. It has stretched into the longest war in U.S. history, and Americans are tired of it. With an anemic economy on the home front, pollsters say that voters want to hear a substantive discussion about jobs, taxes, government spending and health care — not about a murky conflict half a world away.

But even if voters wanted to confront the war, each candidate would still have his own motives to run from it.

And so on . . .  but doesn't this reintroduce that famous question posed by John Kerry those decades ago, as the war in Vietnam was winding down:

Who wants to be the last man to die in a lost war?

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