Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Another Newspaper Column

Here's my latest column in our local newspaper. I think I like it.

Like “closure” as applies to the loss of a loved one, and “accident” as applies to a child getting hold of a gun and killing himself or someone else, the term “boots on the ground” should be excised from public discourse. How sterile, how easy to swallow. Boots. How painless, how undisturbing of sleep. Not soldiers, sons and daughters, spouses and parents. Boots. How about blood on the ground? Or boots on the ground with feet still in them, attached to nothing else? Bits of brain, leaking memories into the hot sand. When we send people off to war, it’s a lot more than boots. If it’s sometimes necessary, so is the recognition of what it means, free of whitewash. 
Our president feels that ordering soldiers into combat is a last resort. Which, to our Republican friends, the most vocal of whom found ways to avoid it (I didn’t) for themselves and their kids, means weakness. Rudy “9/11 and not much else” Giuliani would have us believe it means he doesn’t love America. The latest to speak from the other side of the edge is Congressman Lamar Smith, of (surprise!) Texas, who says President Obama is doing “nothing” to combat ISIS; he even managed to toss in the lie-till-the-Foxified-believe-it-which-usually-takes-only-once classic that it’s because he “doesn’t believe America is exceptional.” He also claimed Egypt and Jordan are doing more. Let’s consider ways in which this is as bogus as Bill O’Reilly’s claims of combat experience and his JFK assassination-related lie. (I’m not gonna defend Brian Williams, by the way, but at least he actually was in a combat zone.) 
We’ve been bombing ISIS for months. When other countries have done so, it’s with US air cover and coordination. We have “advisors” (I’m thinking special forces) there. The president has asked for an extended AUMF against ISIS. And, although the claim that other countries are doing more is as false as Foxian fairness and balance, why shouldn’t they be? If ground forces are needed, why must it be ours? The most immediate threat of ISIS is to the countries in which it’s operating; and, for the most part, to Muslims there, whom it’s been killing wholesale, along with only a few non-Muslims. 
Which brings us to another object of right-wing perseveration: Because Obama doesn’t use the term “radical Islam,” he either doesn’t understand the threat or, as many screamers would have it, is actually the power behind it. President Bush, one might recall -- if, unlike Jeb, one were into revisiting those times -- took pains to point out we weren’t at war with Islam. There’s a reason, and both presidents since 9/11 have recognized it: the ultimate solution to terrorism (if there is one) will require that the countries in which terrorists operate decide enough is enough. One of the most powerful recruiting tools Islamic radicals have is convincing others that the US is, in fact, at war with Islam, and that they are Islam’s true defenders. 
I’m not convinced that uttering the words “radical Islam” is dispositive in either direction; but it’s not hard to understand the difficulties of getting Muslim countries in the region, who split along Sunni/Shia lines and who have eons of internecine animosities among them, to cooperate in efforts against such groups as ISIS and al Qaeda. If it’s perceived by those involved in the process that sensitive souls are offended when US leaders use the term and that avoiding it is useful, I won’t argue; likewise when the president makes the evidently-too-subtle distinction between the religion of Islam and those who pervert it to justify brutal, horrifying acts. I don’t suppose it’s especially helpful when Americans burn mosques, either. 
The ways in which President Obama has spoken of “American exceptionalism” (a term making its way up my opening list) and love of country, and in which he’s acknowledged the grave dangers of radicalism and terrorism, are many. (List provided on request.) Meanwhile, I disagree but am fine with people arguing Obama should wage war differently, or with our troops instead of the ones there. But let’s stop the “he’s doing nothing” and the “he doesn’t love America” bilge. People who say that are embarrassing themselves. And our country.
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