A Memorial Day without war

By May 27, 2011

The issue: It is not naively optimistic that one May soon, that may be different

Memorial Day famously honors America’s war dead. At first, it was the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers of the Civil War. But now it recognizes a long line of patriots stretching back to Lexington and Concord and continuing to this day with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

THIS WEEKEND will mark the ninth consecutive Memorial Day when our nation has been at war after being forcibly wrenched into combat by the events of 9/11, concocted by violent religious fanatics operating with the permission of Afghanistan’s Taliban government.

In an impressive feat of arms, U.S. and coalition forces entered Afghanistan in October 2001, and a few months later al-Qaida and the Taliban had been run out of the country’s major cities and their leaders were fleeing to Pakistan, where they remain to this day.

But it was not the kind of war that would bring about a quick or clean ending. Last June, with a duration of 104 months, it surpassed Vietnam as America’s longest war. But the dynamics of the war changed dramatically when Navy SEALS, again in an impressive feat of arms, flew deep into foreign territory earlier this month and killed al-Qaida’s leader and binding icon, Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban do not have al-Qaida’s deep religious and philosophical loathing of the West or its grandiose vision of an Islamic caliphate stretching from south Asia to the Atlantic. Their grievances are tribal and local, and negotiations are not out of the question.

PRESIDENT Barack Obama plans to go forward with a vague commitment to begin troop withdrawals beginning this July and continuing a “conditions-based” pullout lasting into 2014, when the Afghan security forces will be responsible for the entire country.

With the death of bin Laden, pressure from Congress and the public to accelerate that pace will grow. Something like 60 percent of the country believes the war is no longer worth the cost.

In Iraq, which we invaded in March 2003, and disposed of the Iraqi regular army in less than six weeks, the last of the 47,000 troops are due to be out by the end of the year, leaving a small residual force behind, largely as trainers for the Iraqis.

Regardless of where one stands on these wars, there is no denying the courage, skill and resolve of the professional, volunteer military that fought them — and at some cost, currently 4,421 dead in Iraq and 1,471 in Afghanistan.

WE SHOULD especially honor them this Memorial Day, and reflect on the fact that it is not naively optimistic that one May soon we will have a Memorial Day without a war.

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