Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Cost of Victory

On the first anniversary of the day that Usama bin Laden was killed, the President made a surprise trip to Afghanistan where he signed a historic treaty with that nation. Please note that this was an agreement and not a 'treaty', in spite of the fact that as that "defines a new kind of relationship between our nations" (according to the Fox News transcript).  Now normally such an Agreement between nations would have required Senate approval before having any legal meaning, but let's set that aside to consider the subject at hand.  

From Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the President spoke both to the troops assembled, to the world at large, and just as prime in the US began; saying that, "The goal that I set – to defeat Al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild – is within reach." 

He went on to say, "In coordination with the Afghan government, my Administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban. We have made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with Al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws. Many members of the Taliban – from foot soldiers to leaders – have indicated an interest in reconciliation. A path to peace is now set before them."  

And continued later with, "The Iraq War is over. The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to Al Qaeda."

If in fact all of this is an honest assessment of the world situation in the fight against Terrorism (and I am willing to concede, at least for the sake of argument, that the President is better informed on such things than I am), then this means that for all intents and purposes, the War on Terror is all but over.  

While I have been thus far willing to concede points, my concession speech is now over, and I must say that all of this one gives me pause for doubts.  Nevertheless, if we are to believe that this is true and not just a political stunt pulled in an election year to win votes (a practice which all first term Presidents are certainly capable of), I for one have a few questions for this Administration:

  • Why are we still permitting the draconian (and mostly failed) procedures and methods of the TSA to provide what passes for Airport Security in this nation?  If tensions are in fact easing, why are we still doing pat downs on 80 year-old women in wheel chairs, aggressive pat downs of seven year-old girls with cerebral palsy, and four year-old girls who run to their grandmothers?  Don't these practices contradict the statements being made on the international stage?
  • Why do we need the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which suspends the right of habeus corpus (something of questionable Constitutional authority which has only been done previously during periods of war), and permits the government to indefinitely detain suspects without charges or trial, even if they are American citizens?  The president himself stated that he was reluctant to sign the bill in the first place.  Why then can't we see one of those famous 'executive orders' rescinding the Constitutionally questionable portions of legislation which shouldn't have been passed in the first place?
  • Why must we continue to cede to the government the use of National Security Letters, which permit the FBI to do wire taps, searches of telephone and financial records, and email history without a court order, through the renewed provisions of The Patriot Act passed just under a year ago?  If this battle is winding down, surely this nation no longer requires the extreme and again Constitutionally questionable practices ceding the basic rights of its citizens guaranteed in the Bill of Rights to the government
  • Why are we still discussing the deployment of unmanned (and at least according to the government unarmed) drones to perform what must in light of these changing circumstances, be considered little more than an unnecessary bit of 'routine surveillance' of the civilian population in this country?  If tensions are in fact easing, surely we don't need Big Brother watching over us quite so closely (and probably illegally) any longer?
The cynic in me cries out at the curious coincidence of timing in such an announcement so close to the November elections (like Leroy Jethro Gibbs, I don't believe in coincidence).  Certainly we expect there to be the usual amount of grandstanding, selective fact recognition, and creative story telling this time of year. The safety of this nation is not a game to be played or something to be trifled with for the sake of two, four, or six more years (depending on which office you're running for); and woe betide the politicians who attempt to play fast and loose in doing so. 

The political pundit in me is likewise suspicious of events which turn the public's attention away from critical domestic issues and towards the nonsense of a non-treaty treaty; one which in turn will be followed by another non-treaty treaty that will come later in Chicago. Such events often prove to be media events staged more for political ends than real agreements of regional peace; especially in an area that has not seen such a thing for thousands of years.

We knew going into the War on Terror that the price of failure would be a heavy one indeed, both in terms of the potential loss of life and that of damage to this nation.  The lesson of 9/11 taught both of those lessons to us the hard way. We knew going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan would likewise take their toll on this nation in lives and treasure, and we were not wrong.  We may have some idea of the financial burden we incurred, but it will be many decades before we learn what the real human cost of these conflicts are in the shattered lives and shattered families that we are only now beginning to count.

What none of us forecast over ten years ago however, is what the 'Cost of Victory' would be.  Oh sure, we recognized that putting this country on a domestic war footing with an enemy that was more than willing to bring the battle to our soil was going to have a financial cost; most of it in terms of bureaucracy created to deal with this new world we were confronted with.  Few if any however, recognized the price that we would be paying in personal freedom; or in the aggressive power-seeking mentality that we were creating in government.  Few indeed foresaw the runaway train of government growth, fed by a mind-set that was apparently perfectly willing to sacrifice the liberty that's at the foundation of this country for a illusory security that never existed before and never will.

I sometimes fear that the cost of this victory has already been a far greater one than we ever realized, and one that we may not be prepared to bear in the years ahead.


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