It is called Obama’s war now, our current conflict in Afghanistan, and we are all better off that it is, no one more so than the young men and women who will be engaged in the battle.
I don’t listen to pundits when it comes to matters of life and death. I listen to those who have had their boots in the sands of battle, seen death close enough to taste blood and know that fighting a war takes much more than tough talk and a wave of the flag. Last night, watching a late edition of “Hardball,” I heard the words of retired General Paul D. Eaton, commander of operations to train Iraqui troops from 2003-4, refering to President Obama as a competent man surrounded by competent people as opposed to the incompetence of the last administration. “These soldiers,” he said, “are being put in harm’s way by a man who knows what he’s doing.” If you think the General was merely being a gung-ho soldier bracing young troops for a fresh battle, then you need to know a bit more about Paul Eaton.
He is the son of Col. Norman Dale Eaton an Air Force pilot shot down over Laos in 1969. The General’s dad was MIA until his remains were discovered in 2004 and he was finally buried at Arlington in 2007. He has three children, one of whom, a son, is a West Point graduate and now an infantry Captain. He cares about the young men and women who served under his command and has seen far too many of them die because of the indifference and ignorance of politicians. “Anyone who blindly endorses the Republican Party on military matters is just not a thinking American,” the General said after Obama’s speech. “The Republican Party has done more damage to the armed forces of the United States than any party in my memory.”
His anger has been simmering for some time and, as with any good soldier, when he gets a target in his sights, he hits what he aims at. In late October, when former Vice-President Dick Cheney accused the Obama administration of “dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger,” the General, from his post as senior advisor to the National Security Network, had this to say: “Dick Cheney and the Bush administration are incompetent war fighters. They ignored Afghanistan for 7 years with a crude approach to counter-insurgency warfare. 1. Deny it. 2 Ignore it. 3. Bomb it. While our intelligence agencies called the region the greatest threat to America, the Bush White House under-resourced our military efforts, shifted attention to Iraq, and failed to bring to justice the masterminds of September 11.”
General Eaton is not a lone wolf. Many in the military share his feelings. Col. Jack Jacobs, who has won three Bronze Stars, two Silver and the biggest daddy of them all, the Medal of Honor, has said of the Bush administration, “they abandoned Afghanistan. They looked only to Iraq. It will be harder going now to get rid of the bad guys.”
Retired Rear Admiral Joe Sestak, now a Congressman from the 7th congressional district in PA., has been equally as critical of the previous administration’s handling of the war and was quick to embrace President Obama’s plan.
You heard it from soldiers in the field and the rumblings out of the Pentagon, as the complaints slowly found their way to print. For far too long the signals were mixed at best, confused and incoherent at worst. There was a lot of tough talk and USA chants, but on the ground our young men and women were dying, forced into battle without proper equipment and very little direction from the highest levels of the previous administration. On the day President Bush played pretend pilot and declared Mission Accomplished, someone’s sons and daughters lay dead in the heat of Iraq.
They fought the wrong war in the wrong way, fueled only by their ignorance and outright hubris. History will be their judge, no matter how hard and how often Cheney and his ilk try to claim a victory they never had the knowledge nor ability to grasp.
Instead, now the talk is that the soldiers are getting not only the guidance they need to succeed, they are getting the equipment with which to wage that tough, grinding daily battle that still waits to be fought by young men and women so very far from home on multiple tours of duty. They now have a President who has their backs. No more jokes at home about the non-existant weapons of mass destruction. No more double-speak about nation-building and spreading the word of democracy. We are there to broker a deal with the members of the Taliban who mean us no harm so they can go out and kill the ones who do. And we are also there to wipe out Al Qaeda. No more reports about killing the third guy from the left in the photo with Bin Laden. Those cartoon days are at an end.
This time, the idea is to get all of them–the big guy himself in particular.
Now, Obama goes into the war zone. He goes equipped with a plan which, if it succeeds, will finally bring not an end, but a respite from the senseless waste of lives we have born witness to these last nine years. He opened a new front last night. The Generals watching, retired and active, got it. The 4,000 cadets in attendance picked up on it. The soldiers listening in the remote regions of Afghan and Iraq sure as hell zeroed in on it. Last night, Obama put his arm out and reached for the third rail–Pakistan. It will not be a public war, but a covert one, fought with Black Ops and drones, using a solid Pakistani intel operation already in place and a military willing and able to help.
In his speech last night, President Obama mentioned Pakistan over 30 times. He never once mentioned the President of Pakistan. Obama doesn’t need him nor trust him. Instead, he spoke directly to the Pakistani intel forces and their military and telegraphed a clear message. We now have one target and one target only, the one we should have had from September 12, 2001–Al Qaeda and Bin Laden.
He has never fought in battle. He did not protect the state of Alabama from foreign attack like the previous President. In his heart, he would much rather bring every single soldier home safely to family and friends than to send them to fight and die. The weight of the losses which are sure to mount will cause him much grief, as it does all Presidents, even those foolish enough to start a war instead of finishing one. He did not make any claims to victory, knowing victory against one terrorist group does not mean an end to the battle against terrorism.
Instead, he laid out the mission, laid out the plan, laid out the expense and even told them how long they had to get the job done. It was clear, concise and to the point.
We have always had the toughest, bravest, most honorable young men and women ready to heed the nation’s call to war.
It is comforting for them to know they now have a commander-in-chief who will do all he can to give them all they need.
That’s what a leader does.
Don’t believe me.
Believe the ones who have seen far worse than I ever will–from Col. Jack Jacobs to Admiral Joe Sestak to General Paul Eaton. They are warriors all.
They always side with the soldiers.
And now, they side with the young President who leads them.