Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Should We Do, America?

It's been a long time since we painted military trucks in green-gray camouflage colors. Once they were only painted olive drab. The jungle wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand brought new disguises.

Now when people think of camo colors, they think of beige and tan. The colors of deserts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The color of dust and sandstorms. That's how long it's been since our focus was on hiding in dense growth.

Iraq has largely dropped off our radar screens as citizens. Reluctantly, we are back to Afghanistan. President Obama replaced General McKiernan with General McChrystal. He's taking his time deciding on a strategy and how to support it, seriously dithering according to former VP Dick Cheney. There is validity to that criticism. Meanwhile, a doubtlessly fraudulent Afghan election has taken place. It has taken two months to decide--only to have the opponent drop out of a runoff because it would be hopelessly rigged and flawed also.

Hamid Karzai's government has been criticized as among the most corrupt on earth. Right now and for the foreseeable future it is all we have and all we will have. So now it's time for President Obama to do his business or get off the pot. Pakistan is watching. So is Iran. So is India. So are Russia and China. So are the pundits in America. But how many Americans?

But I want to ask this question of my fellow Americans of all stripes, especially people of faith: When is it finally time for Americans to decide what to do and get it done? Do we double or triple the size of our forces there? Do we just up and abandon the place? Do we muddle along with a grindingly inadequate force because we won't actually support more than that? Do we abandon military strategies entirely but go with a Marshall Plan style humanitarian effort such as we have never seen?

General McChrystal would like 80,000 more troops but might settle for 44K. Probably enough to fail but surely not enough to succeed in stabilizing a country far larger and terrain-wise far more formidable than Iraq. But General M. will be lucky to get 20K. I'm betting the number will be closer to 12K.

But America, whom should we send? Are we willing to send our own flesh and blood? Shall we implement a draft and send only fresh troops who haven't already been deployed to Afghanistan once and to Iraq twice? Are we willing to cough up an income tax surcharge to pay for it all? Are we willing to buy war bonds?

What should we DO, America?

And is attempting a military solution to all of this in direct conflict with our faith? Haven't the true saints been those who have risked everything to: 1) love God above all things (Deut. 6:4-5); and 2) love their neighbors as themselves (Lev. 19:18)? Haven't they been like the wise teacher of the Torah who responded to Jesus that living in conformance with 1 & 2 was above any ritual sacrifice and burnt offering? Didn't Jesus say that the teacher's interpretation was a very close approximation of the kingdom of God (Mark 12)?

Have you ever known a nation that was bold enough to take Jesus at his word? Do you know any churches and faith leaders who do? Have we ever honestly tried the way of Christ?

Our choices in Afghanistan are very limited, thanks in part to so much misguided and failed American involvement in the Middle East and Central Asia over the past 60 years. What is it that we could do following the lead of saints like Greg Mortenson who had the courage to act on their convictions? What is it that we could do that would eventually turn every weapon, instrument and vehicle of war into a relic collecting spiderwebs and overgrown with weeds?

Read the two pieces by Nicholas Kristof, and listen to the two recent interviews on Fresh Air. Then formulate a plan in you own mind. It's our reponsibility as a citizens in this free land. It's being done in our name with our (children's) money and it will profoundly shape the world of the next two decades. It may even have something to do with whether the USA eventually defaults on its massive load of debt.

When asked what most struck her about returning to America from Iraq, former Oregon National Guardsman Rebekkah Mae Bruns remarked, "What stuck me was that the military was at war but America wasn't." Maybe it's time we were.

BTW, Nick Kristof grew up on a sheep and cherry farm near Yamhill, OR just west of Portland. He went to high school with a good friend of mine. Unlike so many columnists and pundits, he has actually spent much of his life traveling and living in the poorest and most troubled areas on earth. He knows the poverty, lack of sanitation, clean water and medical care in Africa. He knows the modern global human slave trade. He knows the plagues of malaria, river blindness and the AK-47. He knows the religious and ethnic chasms of the places we are involved in. He has some ideas.

Do any of the rest of us?


Charles Sennott:

Greg Jaffe:

So, what should we DO, America?


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