I can’t remember the last time I watched Meet the Press but I was drawn to it by the appearance of firebrand Barbara Lee who I’m not sure I’ve ever seen on a talk show. The thought of watching doorman to the powerful David Gregory for an hour was daunting but I overcame.
The first half an hour was devoted to John McCain giving his usual full-throated call for more and more war in Afghanistan. But miracle of miracles David actually asked the artist formerly known as Maverick one good question. Paraphrasing it was "Why are we having such a tough time finding recruits for the Afghan police? The Taliban aren’t having any recruiting troubles."
As a mainstream news avoider I didn’t know that training the police was our latest rationale for the war but these two seemed to agree it was. This is a meme that was also spouted frequently during the Iraq war but it always puzzled me. Our police training academies usually take about nine months to do the job. Granted not too many of our cities are at war but even where there is war why does it take 5-10 years? And why do we have soldiers doing it? Can’t we send Ray Kelly there for a while?
McCain also delivered what I suppose is conventional wisdom about us winning the war in Iraq. It’s a funny kind of win. There’s a repressive Islamic regime in charge which can’t really bring security to Sunni cities such as Mosul, there is low level fighting among numerous insurgent groups and about 4 million refugees who can’t return him. Amazingly, David didn’t ask the Senator if he’s planning a holiday in Fallujah.
The rest of the show was devoted to a panel with Ms. Lee, the writers Sebastian Junger, Wes Moore and Thomas Ricks and NBC’s go-to general Barry McCaffrey. The consensus of the gentlemen was that the deadline for starting to bring the troops home in 2011 was unworkable and that the war had to stretch into infinity or until Afghanistan was ready to host the Olympics.
To my disappointment Ms. Lee seemed to have nothing to offer beyond what sounded like a pre-digested talking point that the war had gone on too long and some in Congress were tired of it. That’s not far from we’re not winning and it would be alright if we were kicking ass but since we’re not let’s pack it in. When Ms. Lee referred to the American presence in Afghanistan as an occupation she was pounced on by Mr. Junger who pounded his chest and said when he was in Kabul in 2001 Afghans were hugging him because he was American and they were so glad to see the Taliban go. I wonder how they feel now after nine years of drone attacks, bombed wedding parties and countless other varieties of "collateral damage." Ms. Lee also was admonished by Mr. Ricks that if she wanted to see a really long war we should pull out now and see how fast and how long we would have to go back for once Al Qaeda moved in again.
Now I guess I wouldn’t expect the Congresswoman from saying that the best way to guard against future terrorist attacks would be to stop occupying Muslim countries and killing Muslims. That must be a Third Rail in American politics. But not even a peep about if we really want to take on Al Qaeda how about a ground invasion of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Or yes, it will be awful for Afghanistan if the Taliban takes full control but it will also be awful for America if we don’t stop spending billions on war and not on any of our pressing needs in this country. Everybody seems to be keenly focused on what Afghanistan will be like in five or ten years but who cares what American education or infrastructure or health care will be like in the near future if we continue to pour endless resources into war and fight like cats and dogs over every domestic expenditure.