by Tom Driscoll
It’s foggy till noon most mornings lately. Seems like it’s like this every August as warm moist days collide with cool dry nights and condense at dawn. Beautiful how fog airbrushes one shape into the next and thumb-rubs hues together much the way pastels are applied to rice paper, until the artist’s hands are covered in colored chalk. What’s so insane about the fog that envelops everything you look at, is that you end up looking at the fog itself.
Ran into an acquaintance in the Post Office parking lot yesterday about the time the sun had melted blue sky through the fog. Quite voluntarily, he said, “These are bad times. I don’t know if Obama can pull it off.”
Assuming he meant health care reform, the political carnival of summer-2009, I grimaced and groaned and yelled at my dog Mona to stop barking through the open truck window at anyone who broached the subject.
“You know,” said my friend, “Obama could turn this around right now.” Whipped his arm and snapped his fingers. “Bring the troops home from Iraq and get out of Afghanistan.”
In July, as U.S. forces withdrew from most Iraqi cities, 15,000 additional Marines were deployed in Afghanistan.
Looking at casualty figures for Afghanistan, it appears that May-to-October is the main fighting season. U.S. deaths have more-or-less doubled in July and August this year over last year. Since 2003, American soldiers killed in Afghanistan have steadily, sharply risen. (From 2-in-July-03 to 30-last-July and 76 in midsummer during the first year of the Obama Presidency.
It is also General Stanley McChrystal’s first year as commander of U.S. and NATO forces. McChrystal is charged with taking the fight to the enemy in rugged, inhospitably hot and remote Helmand and Kandahar provinces, taking the fight to Taliban “insurgents”, poppy-growers, heroin-traffickers.
The LA Times reported just today that despite the escalation of hostilities, civilian deaths are down during the past 8-weeks from earlier in the year due in part to General McChrystal’s leadership. “We must fight the insurgents," the General directed his commanders in June, “But we will not win based on the number of Taliban we kill, but instead on our ability to separate insurgents from the center of gravity, the people. We must respect and protect the population.”
The good-news bad-news of Obama’s war has many of his staunchest supporters concerned that perhaps a thickening fog has begun to settle over the White House. At a recent fundraiser for First District Congressman Tim Walz, which I attended both as a Walz supporter and a journalist, Afghanistan war policy rivaled health care reform as a priority among DFL faithful. I assert this not because of any polling, but because people in attendance were talking among themselves, to Walz and to me about Afghanistan.
Where does the Congressman stand on the issue? Well, as I queued up to speak to him about health care, he told a man in line ahead of me, “I don’t know if the Obama Administration is any better at managing this war than Bush was in Iraq.”
Those were strong words. When I floated them back past Richard Carlbom, the Congressman’s 2010 campaign manager, I got this official statement: “The situation in Afghanistan must be monitored closely. That is why I joined my colleagues in submitting legislation asking that President Obama’s Administration provides Congress with an exit strategy by the end of the year.”
Walz, who addressed the American Legion convention in Lexington, Kentucky last Wednesday – telling them, among other things, “We will not rest for a minute until those who perpetrated the attacks on 911 are brought to justice!” – is out of the country right now. When he returns, assuming he doesn’t get socked-in on some remote airfield because of fog, perhaps he will address U.S. escalation of hostilities in Afghanistan with even greater clarity.
* For more on Congressman Walz’s summer vacation and his address to the American Legion convention, read Congressman Walz’s Vacation Part 2 at Small of America.
* And read The Young Who Serve, the story of a female Airman in Iraq whose grandfather enlisted in the Navy at age-14 and fought at the Battle of Midway in WWII.
Minnesota writer Tom Driscoll reports on politics, economic development and life in rural America at The Small of America.