In Memory of Thirty Warriors Lost in an Afghan Wasteland

In the August 6, 2011, darkness of an Afghan night, a large contingent of elite U.S. warriors flew into the proverbial valley of the shadow of death. While the details of this particular mission remain murky and confusing, it is reported that 22 Navy SEALs, three Air Force special operations ground controllers, and five Army helicopter crew members along with seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter were heading into a region southwest of Kabul to engage Taliban insurgents. During the mission, their CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down by enemy forces. None of the men on board survived.

Twenty days later, on August 26, many were laid to rest in a solemn ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. America is a poorer country today because of their deaths; but not just theirs. Every life lost in this now-god-forsaken effort is a tragedy solely because the current American commander in chief and his political allies in Congress don’t care enough about the mission to justify further sacrifice.

Of course, who can forget those halcyon campaign days when Afghanistan was Obama’s “good war,” the war he claimed we could not afford to lose, the war he accused President Bush (with some arguable legitimacy) of ignoring while the latter remained focused in Iraq?  Yet today, even with all its lingering uncertainty, the Bush-led outcome in Iraq more closely resembles VJ Day than it does the all-but-certain debacle looming just over the horizon in Afghanistan.  When thinking about Obama and Afghanistan, "abandonment to a ruthless enemy" is the phrase that most frequently comes to mind.  To continue sending our troops each day into harm’s way, while never fully committing to the defeat of the Taliban, is all but criminal in the eyes of most Americans, irrespective of their political stripes.

The sad unvarnished truth is this: Though we, and our NATO and Afghan allies, face an almost incomprehensibly evil enemy, America’s president offers no agenda for defeating them.  His heart simply isn’t in it.  So, today, despite the heroism of our fighting men, the war in Afghanistan has disintegrated into little more than a series of needlessly deadly training exercises, conducted in a desolate and faraway land Obama is desperate to leave.  Unlike the steel-tempered character of the men ordered to carry out the most perilous missions in Afghanistan, Obama’s constant derogation of American exceptionalism makes plain that America’s warrior class possesses a devotion to duty, honor, and country their commander in chief finds impossible to summon.

To be fair, the president is not entirely to blame for his inadequacy.  His limited personal experience prior to his election provided no basis upon which the country could expect him to appreciate the life-and-death seriousness of war.  While not disqualifying, Obama never wore our nation’s uniform.  In fact, one can barely imagine a man with Obama’s ultra-thin veneer surviving the standard humiliation endured during basic training by every recruit, officer ,and enlisted alike.  Had he done so, even in a peacetime setting, it would have served him well. Yet, like so much else that speaks to his inexperience, he lacks the most critical experience necessary for a man who now commands American troops simultaneously engaged in three armed conflicts around the world.

It is now evident to the world that Obama’s carefully scripted, teleprompter-delivered 2008 campaign promises regarding the “good war” in Afghanistan were nothing more than political theater. The weakness he has displayed after a scant two and one half years in office -- which becomes more pronounced with each passing day -- is painful to observe. His robust campaign rhetoric never matched his command decisions since he assumed the office.

In Afghanistan, alone, the examples are legion:(a) His undeniable dithering on the “troop surge” recommended by America’s combat-hardened generals, David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal; (b) Obama’s eventual decision to reduce, significantly, the troop levels sought by our nation’s most trusted military advisors; and (c) his inexplicable decision to accompany the smaller-than-requested surge force with his bizarre -- many would say militarily irresponsible -- decision to publicly announce a date certain for its withdrawal. One is hard-pressed to imagine a more foolish and naïve action than Obama’s decision to telegraph to our enemies his intention to begin recalling troops within a matter of months after the surge had barely been completed.

What also is painfully clear is that making life-and-death decisions based solely on what is in America’s best interests -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya -- plays a de minimis role in this president’s calculus.  His decisions to send men into harm’s way -- with the one notable but easily distinguishable exception involving the mission to kill Osama bin Laden -- have always come across as oddly unserious, almost whimsical.  They seem to rest on poll-driven political considerations rather than any deep principle that would justify the continued sacrifice of precious American blood.

Were a different person serving in the role of commander in chief, offering a clear rationale for why we must win this war, such sacrifices -- those of the past as well as into the foreseeable future -- might well be worth the cost.  But not with this man at the helm.

Each of our lost warriors deserves our eternal gratitude, and the loved ones each left behind, our prayers.

As for the commander in chief?  He deserves a pink slip.