Has it occurred to you that all four of our most recent presidents, including the current occupant of the Oval Office, are baby boomers? Remarkably in fact, all but Barack Obama are leading-edge baby boomers, now 71 years old. So is BoomerCafé co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs, who writes from Denver that in all our years on this earth, baby boomers have seen a lot of war, but we haven’t always learned from it.
From one leading-edge baby boomer to another: President Trump, you’re wrong. You told our troops on Thanksgiving Day that we’re winning. But while I wish we were, we’re not. Not in Afghanistan, not against ISIS. At best we’re just not losing, but we are bleeding, and that’s hardly a winning formula. All your ebullient optimism and empty assertions won’t change that.
And there’s a valid reason why we’re not winning. It’s a lesson I learned covering wars around the world and first saw covering the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In fact it’s a lesson we should have absorbed even earlier in Vietnam: if you take a fight to someone else’s neighborhood, the odds are stacked against you. Especially when the people you’re fighting have tolerated pain and privation all their lives. When I saw Afghan men playing polo with the head of an enemy, I began to learn that lesson. When I saw Afghan mujahideen on mule trains dodging Soviet helicopter gunships, I knew it was true. We might sometimes knock them down, but they have the perseverance to bounce back up and hurt us again.
President Trump, born as you and I both were right after the end of World War II, we’ve each seen what I’m talking about, from a distance if not firsthand. And you ought to remember a thing or two about our nation’s leaders telling us we’re winning. And about the toll it takes when it’s a lie.
During the eight years we fought in Vietnam, from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s, first President Johnson, then President Nixon, told us we were winning … except we weren’t. We spent a treasure trove of American lives and a treasure chest of America’s fortune but Vietnam still went to the Communists.
After we invaded Iraq in 2003 we were told we were winning … except we weren’t. Remember President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished?” Trouble is, it wasn’t, and we went on to throw more American money and more American lives into a mess of a democracy, a “winner-take-all” system that left the losers to be manipulated into the mortal menace called ISIS.
And still, we’re in Afghanistan. It’s Year 17 now, our nation’s longest war — twice as long as Vietnam, nearly three times as long as WW2, four times as long as the Civil War. You told our troops, “We’re really winning.” Except we aren’t. Unless this is what “winning” looks like: according to our own government’s most recent report, the Afghan regime that we support controls only 57% of the country’s geography. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, it’s down from 72% a year earlier. By all accounts that aren’t biased toward White House policy, Afghanistan is a stalemate.
Why? Because fighting us on their turf, the Taliban are unremittingly resurgent. And they’re no longer the only terrorist threat roaming Afghan real estate. Al Qaeda has taken territory; ISIS has moved in. All of which is ironic because, if you remember the reasoning behind our invasion of Afghanistan in the first place, it was to rout the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th. It was to deprive them of that safe haven.
Big deal. These days, those terrorist groups, and their affiliates and their wannabes, have safe havens in more than two dozen nations. Safe havens in which they live and train and plot against us and our allies.
You also told the troops in your Thanksgiving calls, Mr. President, “They say we’ve made more progress against ISIS than they did in years of the previous administration.” Sorry, but more than 300 innocent Egyptians, slaughtered in the Sinai the day after Thanksgiving by barbarians with ISIS banners, might put the lie to that.
In a way though, it’s not your fault. You’re merely following in the footsteps of presidents before you. Like them, you fail to heed the well worn adage that says, Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. And the ever-present threats from terrorists. We cannot and should not put our heads in the sand. But we cannot and should not say we’re winning when we’re not.