The real electoral insanity is ignoring the Afghan war

Aqua Buddha. “Man up.” Obamacare. Same-sex marriage. No new taxes. Deficit spending. Ground Zero mosque. Christian nation. Or not. What’s … Continued

Aqua Buddha. “Man up.” Obamacare. Same-sex marriage. No new taxes. Deficit spending. Ground Zero mosque. Christian nation. Or not. What’s missing from this snapshot of snarling candidates and voters? Could it be–shall I whisper it–war? The only bipartisanship in campaign 2010 is the silence about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have cost more than a trillion dollars, killed some 5000 and wounded more than 30,000 American soldiers (forget, as we prefer to do, about Iraqi and Afghan deaths), and placed this country in the morally untenable position of expecting the working poor to risk their sons’ and daughters’ lives while the governing class is exempt. Is anyone at this weekend’s Rally to Restore Sanity going to talk about the war? That would certainly be a step toward the restoration of sanity.

I woke up Tuesday morning to read, on the front page of The New York Times, that our loyal ally, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, had admitted that his government was receiving foreign aid from Iran in the form of regular bags of cash amounting to millions of dollars. “They do give us bags of money. . . yes, yes, it is done,” Karazai said. “We are grateful to the Iranians for this.”

Does this corrupt satrap, now engaged in sorry wheeling-and-dealing with the Taliban to keep himself in power and money by, among other means, selling out Afghan women, actually think he will last a day if American troops leave? When I turned to read the rest of the story on the inside, I noticed a small, black-bordered box with the most recently released names of dead soldiers. They are Staff Sgt. Kenneth K. McAninch, 28, and Specialist Ronnie Pallares, 19. Where are the 19-year-old sons and daughters of the Republican and Democratic legislators who approved the money for this war? Where will President Obama’s beloved daughters be when they’re 19? In college, that’s where. Nothing wrong with that, but there is something very wrong not only with the governing class but with a public that lauds military service–just as long as the troops are kids from Appalachia whose job applications have been turned down by Wal-Mart or kids from Harlem looking for the only way to raise money for a college education.

How can the candidates get away with not talking about this? It’s easy. Although public opinion polls show that Americans are about evenly split on the war, it’s not an issue on the top of anyone’s list of concerns–except, of course, families with children in the service. Washington is broken? I’d say the moral compass of the American public is broken.

There is no real upside to taking any position on the war. Democrats don’t want to talk about it because it simply enrages those on the party’s left. And there are also rumblings of discontent with the war among far-right Republicans of the tea party persuasion. They’re all hot and bothered about the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t mean they want to be taxed to pay for a war to bring the blessings of liberty to Afghans. They’d rather talk about cutting Social Security benefits and hunting down illegal immigrants said to be taking American jobs than about what the nine years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the federal deficit.

As horrified as I am about what the triumph of the Tabliban (again) will mean for Afghan women, I know there is no way that America can remake a this distant society by continuing an openended war there. But we can do something about the moral issue at home– the continuation of a war that is being fought by the less privileged classes of our society. As Tom Brokaw notes, “The all-vounteer armed services now represent less than 1 percent of the American population, but they’re carrying 100 percent of the battle…If this is an election about a new direction for the country, why doesn’t some candidate speak up for equal sacrifice on the home front as well as the front lines.”

This is truly a moral issue–a canker at the heart of our society–that transcends political parties, as it does religion and atheism. And it is perfectly easy to understand why no candidate speaks up for sacrifice. If the military burden were to be shared equally, the draft would have to be reinstated. Can you imagine a surer route to defeat at the ballot box? Some Americans are quite willing to impose their ideas of morality on gays, or women who have abortions, or people who want to smoke marijuana legally. But they don’t want to hear a candidate question the morality of waging war with the blood of other people’s children. The candidates are just telling people what they want to hear–and not telling them what they don’t want to hear.

How can any of us look in the mirror? Oh, I forgot. The mirror is very, very broken.


  • WmarkW

    There are quite a few 800 pound gorillas that haven’t exited the room yet:Old age entitlement reformThese are all examples of how Congress has spent a human lifetime “compromising” by agreeing to tax the people too young to vote (i.e. run deficits). That’s one reason I hope some Tea Party candidates win — some politicians have to start saying “NO” a lot louder.

  • timmy2

    What can the American people do? They have already voted into power the only political option that might end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the Democrats aren’t going to do it, it’s not going to get done. At the start of the Afghan war, most people felt that it was a necessary war. The question is, at what point was it time to admit defeat and get out? At what time was it prudent to turn the Afghans back over to the Taliban? It’s not an easy call, unless you are a journalist playing armchair president from the comfort of your home office. Te decision to leave Afghanistan will cause much human suffering. It will be a defeat for the armed forces of the United States. It will mean that those who have died thus far have died in vain. I’m no fan of war. But the decision to leave Afghanistan is not an easy call. It’s not a no brainer.

  • Jihadist

    Transparency International 2010 report on corruption stated countries that are poor and countries having armed conflicts are high on corruption. No surprise on Afghanistan and Iraq’s rankings as countries and societies in armed conflicts are in obvious financial, ethical disorder and moral limbo for survival. As for the States, hard to say whether it is ethical and moral flux by various left and right, conservative and liberal actions and notions of it that leads to the “culture war” or cause the “culture war”. Those who grew up, came of age, live through the sixties in the States with the Vietnam War, the “sexual revolution” etc may have a clearer understanding on what is happening in the US on the divisive moral and ethical battles on armed wars undertaken off the homeland, and the culture war in the homeland. Granted, there is no consistent and sustained mass protest or rallies against wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the States, but does it give any American a sense of deja of the sixties? Or is it now something different and yet similar, such as, in the sixties it was “liberalisation” against conservative values, and now it is “consevatism” in reaction to “liberal” mores, ethics and values?

  • armandduncan83

    According to their obituaries on, Kenneth McAninch was from Monticello, Indiana, and Ronnie Pallares was from southern California. According to the obituary, McAninch joined the military because his father was a soldier and he wanted to follow in his footsteps. So they weren’t just desperate boys from Appalachia and Harlem looking for money to go to college. I might also say that, whatever you might think about the war and its lack of attention by our sterling political parties, your sneering generalizations about the motives and social background of the armed forces really only distract from your argument. I would also note that this column would hardly work to boost the morale of any soldier who happened to read it. I personally am acquainted with several people who are in the army, and they are neither from working class backgrounds, nor or did they join out of desperation for a job. Not everyone dreams of becoming a journalist when they grow up. For someone who constantly – and rightfully – complains about the dumbing down of public debate, you’re awfully vitriolic, and it really detracts from the potential impact your columns might have on otherwise sympathetic readers.

  • areyousaying

    Americans have become so accustomed to America’s addiction to endless war that it has no shock or outrage value any more.It’s simply not one of Rove’s divisive wedge issues Fox News is incessantly squealing about.

  • Susan_Jacoby

    I was not “sneering” at the background of people in the armed forces. What would make anyone think it is a “sneer” to say that a great many people who enlist do so because it’s the only way they can pay for college? That there are some soldiers, especially career military, who have very different backgrounds is true. But the unwillingness of the upper middle class in this country to face up to the fact that our military depends largely on working-class people with limited choices is the main reason the public does not care about this war. A volunteer army is incompatible with democracy. That people whose own children will never have to serve want things to stay the way they are is the moral issue.

  • timmy2

    Susan,”That people whose own children will never have to serve want things to stay the way they are is the moral issue”No one’s children “have to serve.”The word “voluntary” means that no one has to serve. You are making it sound as though being poor takes away some of your choice to serve or not to serve. It does not. The choice is yours whether you are poor or rich. I’d be willing to bet that there are more children of Republican voters serving than there are children of Democrats.

  • Jihadist

    So, the draft, on top of the voluntary recruits in the army for the Vietnam War makes it a middle-class issue and opposition to the war. Unless one can afford to go to college etc due qualifications and have the financial means (including scholarship) to do so. If there be a draft for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there will be concern.

  • Susan_Jacoby

    The military, which was having trouble meeting its recruitment targets earlier in the decade, is no longer having trouble. The reason is the economic condition of this country. Anyone who doesn’t think that has everything to do with the unemployment rate among the young is kidding himself. I understand that it is much more comfortable for the upper middle class, including the governing class, to think that a volunteer army is purely voluntary. I have no idea whether there are more children of Republicans serving in the military than children of Democrats (although you certainly couldn’t prove that by looking at the children of senators and congressmen who are serving), and that is not the point. I’m saying that there is an inherent hypocrisy in supporting wars that people don’t back up with more than their mouths. The children of hedge fund managers, university professors (liberal or conservative), government officials, journalists (liberal or conservative), CEOs, and heads of foundations are not the people fighting this war. Nothing is more disgusting than the spectacle of Americans pretending that economic class doesn’t matter when it comes to “volunteering” for a dangerous job that the American public doesn’t even consider worthy of discussion in a campaign.

  • timmy2

    Susan,”I understand that it is much more comfortable for the upper middle class, including the governing class, to think that a volunteer army is purely voluntary”It has nothing to do with comfort. It’s a fact. Service is purely voluntary. No one has to join the armed forces. No one. What you are trying to say is that not being able to afford college or get a job leaves one with no choice but to join the army. This is simply not true. There are as many poor people who support these wars as there are rich people.

  • lynnlm

    My grandparents were Christians in Northern Ireland. She was Protestant, and he was Catholic. They had to flee after death threats. When I became of age, I volunteered and joined the Army, and I served as an 11B Infantryman. Most of my time in the field was in squad or platoon size operations. We would have discussions about what we were fighting for. It always came back to the “Bill of Rights”. To me the most important was “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

  • lynnlm

    “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

  • EddietheInfidel

    If we leave tomorrow or if we leave in 20 years, the result in Afghanistan will essentially be the same. This “country” will revert to the same corruption, tribal warlord feudalism and embrace of 7th century islamic barbarism that has defined it’s history for the last 1400 years.No wonder no Congressional candidate wants to speak of it.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    The Appointment in SamarraDeath speaks: There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. W. Somerset Maugham (1933)

  • mrbradwii

    Pursuing war is one of the few powers the constitution gives to the president. More important than signing or not signing the nonsense that comes across the executive desk from the US Congress.The last 4 presidents have wanted us at war for various reasons. The current president even got the Nobel Peace prize for waging war.The Afghan war will soon turn into a covert war in Pakistan. North and South Korea are still in a shooting war. The US and Mexico are barely able to avoid war. Saudi Arabia wages war by prox.All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing — Or for good men to wage war — Or for any man to swear allegiance to God, or Allah, or the Devil.When we leave Afghanistan and the new United States of Iran appears, the cold war will be back with a new Iron Curtain a new policy of containment and a tense, but relative peace compared with the current chaos.

  • armandduncan83

    You should devote a column to arguing that an all-volunteer military is incompatible with democracy.

  • PSolus

    WmarkW,”BTW, did you notice how White the rally was.”No, but I’m not surprised that you did.”I thought Glenn Beck had established that any overwhelmingly white rally was automatically racist.”Again, I hadn’t noticed; exactly when did Glenn Beck establish that?

  • ZZim

    “and placed this country in the morally untenable position of expecting the working poor to risk their sons’ and daughters’ lives while the governing class is exempt. “Susan, this is factually incorrect. The average American service member grew up in a middle-class family earning above the national median income.You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. .

  • ZZim

    “there is something very wrong not only with the governing class but with a public that lauds military service–just as long as the troops are kids from Appalachia whose job applications have been turned down by Wal-Mart or kids from Harlem looking for the only way to raise money for a college education.”Are you aware that 75% of American youths simply aren’t good enough to get into the all-volunteer military?It’s a HELUVALOT more likely that some guy is working at Wal-Mart because the Marines rejected him than it is for a guy to be a Marine because Wal-Mart rejected him.Anyone good enough to get into the military has a LOT of options in the civilian world.Stop trying to infantilize people. If we choose to join, we choose to go. All your crying and hand-wringing means nothing.

  • Jihadist

    Susan, this is factually incorrect. The average American service member grew up in a middle-class family earning above the national median income.- ZZIM*******************************************SJ is talking about the majority of American servicemen impolitely called “grunts” and more politely “GIs”.The United States is not unique in most of them are from lower income groups and largely from those who may not have options of other jobs based on school qualifications – you only have to be of certain height, weight and state of healthiness in most cases. Those of officer ranks are different, and mostly by choice of occupation and largely from better educated groups and higher income families generally. There are relatively better off families where serving in the military is a family tradition spaning two or three generations. In countries such as Singapore where national military service is mandatory for a specific time, it cuts through all classes. Of course, the American “better offs” in terms of finance, schooling and “networking” are not unique as per other countries in lauding and admiring those in military as doing their nation and people a great patriotic service, but they themself would not, for it is a “hard” and “harsh” life.

  • WmarkW

    Looks like we’re not getting a new Susan column today, so I’ll register my predictions here:Rs win enough seats in both houses that they would capture them… except they also lose enough that their NET pickup isn’t enough to take either one. That’s the difference vs. 1994; they didn’t lose a single seat that year.Other prediction… pollsters surprized that D’s do better than expected, and that pollsters need better methods to capture cellphone-only users.

  • WmarkW

    So much for my predictions…Apparently the most likely cell-only demographics didn’t turn out. News stories I saw said that young and minority voting was way down vs 08. Looks to me like half the House change is simply due to the composition of the electorate, and only half due to individual voters changing sides.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    Hi Susan,Hope you’re okay. We miss hearing from you.Farnaz

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