In his op-ed in the New York Times, Tom Brokaw, special correspondent for NBC News, points out that there’s no shortage of discussion about some large issues facing the country: the role and nature of the federal government in America’s future, public debt, jobs, health care, the influence of special interests, and the role of populist movements like the Tea Party. “In nearly every Congressional and Senate race, these are the issues that explode into attack ads, score points in debates and light up cable talk shows. In poll after poll, these are the issues that voters say are most important to them this year,” Brokaw writes. “Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?”
Brokaw proceeds to answer his own question:
How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they’re returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.
In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans’ health care. And the end is not in sight.
So why aren’t the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?
Notice anything missing from the description of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?
How about something positive they have achieved — the end of two of the most malevolent regimes in modern history; a crucial defeat for al-Qaeda on a battleground of its own choosing (in Iraq); and the installation of representative governments in lands where such a thing has been alien, just for starters. In Iraq, you could add the toppling of and eventual death sentence administered to a man, Saddam Hussein, responsible for the deaths of more than a million Muslims. And in Afghanistan, you could add unprecedented rights for women.
Now, some of these gains remain tentative, and they many even prove to be temporary. We simply don’t know at this juncture. But to frame the Afghanistan and Iraq wars only in terms of their costs in American lives and treasure and to leave out any of the honorable and important achievements of the wars is irresponsible. It’s also revealing of the attitude of many contemporary liberals, who view the wars only through the lens of suffering and sacrifice.
I would add something else as well: one reason Iraq is a virtual non-issue in the 2010 election is precisely because things have improved so much from the dark days in 2006 and 2007, when Iraq, then on the edge of civil war, dominated American politics. The fact that it has dropped off the radar screen is an indication of the very progress Brokaw himself cannot seem to acknowledge.
There is no denying that there has been plenty of suffering as a result of these wars, as there are in all wars. But there have also been encouraging and heartening achievements by our troops, to which they themselves are eager to testify. The fact that Brokaw would see the sacrifice this nation and its warriors have made and yet pay no tribute to the many good things that have come to pass as a result of those sacrifices is a shame. Our troops don’t want or need to be treated as pitiable figures who have suffered in vain; most of them simply want to be treated as what they are: brave and honorable individuals who have achieved remarkable, and maybe historic, things.