Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From critic of one ‘shameful’ war to booster of another

Express Staff Writer

Which well-known American said this, when and about what:

"It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn't support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay."

The unlikely statement was made by Sen. John McCain in a foreword to David Halberstam's 1972 book, "The Best and the Brightest," a searing account of arrogant, overreaching Kennedy and Johnson administration decisions to flood more U.S. troops into Vietnam, mindlessly believing that more GIs, more time and more money would add up to victory and a resulting new tough-guy image for Democratic presidents.

Although McCain, a POW of the Vietnamese, was unambiguously critical of Vietnam presidential strategies that led to so many military casualties, foolhardy spending and military defeat, he and others have reverted to endorsing the dubious strategy of more troops, more time and more spending on the Afghanistan war.

The Iraq war has chalked up $2.3 trillion in costs, according to the Center for Defense Information. Afghanistan, $740 billion. Total: $3.04 trillion—nearly four times the $800 billion cost of the Wall Street bailout.


There's more. A new Pentagon estimate projects Afghanistan operations are becoming costlier—$5.5 billion per month in Iraq and $6.76 billion per month in Afghanistan, totaling $147 billion per year and growing.

Of U.S. wars, the Iraq-Afghan war costs are second only to those of World War II.

Although citizens' approval/disapproval of the war see-saws, a new Washington Post-ABC poll finds 56 percent of independents don't believe costs are worth it, while 66 percent of Democrats also are opposed. Republicans by 69 percent support the war.

The Pentagon detects another trend—U.S. soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan are younger and are dying at a higher rate.

So, conditions that McCain so roundly denounced about Vietnam are emerging in Afghanistan—a cause not backed by the public, increasingly costly in lives and money and involving an enemy far from subdued.

World War II lasted three years and nine months for Americans. The Korean War, three years, one month. Vietnam, eight years. Afghanistan war, now nine years and counting.

Almost an eerie echo of the swaggering Lyndon Johnson's "light at the end of the tunnel" optimism about Vietnam, McCain's flip-flop has led him to say, "If we stay the course, we can succeed in Afghanistan."

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