President Obama’s Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery contained an odd and disturbing message.
The president proclaimed this year’s ceremony to be “especially meaningful” because “Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.” How so? “It is the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end.”
Except that it hasn’t. Certainly, nobody told the Taliban that the war “came to an end.” I hope no one will try to tell that to our Afghan allies, either, since we’re depending on them to keep fighting after we’ve bugged out. And as Obama admits later on, the war isn’t over for the 10,000 US troops that remain (for a while) on a mission to train Afghan soldiers, and who are still taking casualties.
More to the point, what’s odd about Obama’s message is that it sounds almost triumphalist. It is offered up as if he is proclaiming a new era of peace—while the peace our servicemen gave their lives to achieve is actually crumbling at an accelerating pace.
Certainly, this must be something of a bitter Memorial Day for a many of the troops who served in Iraq. The crucial victory in that war was the battle for Anbar province and its capital of Ramadi in 2007, a historic victory in one of the most successful counter-insurgency campaigns ever fought. So it must be a tough moment for veterans of that campaign to see ISIS hoisting its black flag over Ramadi.
There are good men who gave their lives, or left behind an arm or a leg, to keep Islamic terrorists from establishing a home base in Iraq. Having achieved that victory, they then had to watch as it was all thrown away.
We can argue how much of this was the fault of an administration that blew off ISIS as “junior varsity” while it began to take over the Sunni provinces of Iraq—an administration which, to this day, dismisses the loss of Ramadi as a minor setback and insists that its strategy in Iraq is still working, which sometimes makes it seem as if Baghdad Bob came to the US and got hired as the new White House spokesman. (You can make a rough guess about where I stand on that question.)
But whatever this administration’s role, it is disturbing to see the president touting the peace that we are supposedly enjoying after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have “come to an end.” That’s an appropriately passive expression, since President Obama can’t say that we’ve won those wars, only that they have “come to an end”—and only for us. I should also add: and only for now.
It’s one thing to celebrate the end of fighting when the war has been won on terms that secure a lasting peace. In that case, you are paying tribute to what our troops achieved when they risked their lives to protect us. But to applaud the fact that our men and women are out of the fight and standing on the sidelines, while the war is still raging and we’ve lost most of the strategic gains that they won, seems to imply that their deaths were unnecessary after all. They gave their lives for a strategic goal the current administration finds so unimportant that it’s not willing to take decisive action to defend it.
The worst part is that President Obama seems oblivious to the likelihood that this special Memorial Day with no US ground war will be a short-lived hiatus, that the spiraling situation in Iraq, as well as the predictable relapse in Afghanistan once we’re “down to an embassy presence by the end of next year,” will drag us back in.
What should worry us is the time frame Obama cites since the last time we didn’t have a ground war: 14 years. What was happening fourteen years ago? Yes, that’s right. We were headed into the summer of 2001 blissfully unprepared, and our leaders were already ignoring a radical Islamic state that provided a base of operations for a jihadist terror group that had launched attacks on US targets and was vowing bigger operations. Returning to those pre-9/11 conditions is hardly something to celebrate.
It’s not that anyone should enjoy the idea of sending US ground troops back into harm’s way again. We would all be better off if the administration had exercised greater caution and vigor in protecting the gains our troops had already won. What’s tragic is that the administration is so eager to proclaim wars are over just because we walked away from them for a while—and that we’ll probably have to go back in again and pay for the same real estate twice.