Georgie Anne Geyer

Old Wars Are Constantly Fought Anew

WASHINGTON -- Step right up, ladies and gentlemen of America, for what is sure to be the best show since Lady Bird tried to teach LBJ table manners. We have come to a point in American history where the war-crazy Republicans are cursing two of the nation's greatest war heroes ... And who knows what the war heroes are going to do next?

On the surface, the situation about to spring on the nation involves two fine middle-aged Americans. Both have brilliantly served their country in war and in peace. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, 66, who would become President Obama's defense secretary, has two Purple Hearts and was known by everyone as a hero in Vietnam; Sen. John Kerry, 69, who was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts in that same war, is headed toward becoming secretary of state.

Both men are known for their pithy statements and actions on the war after they returned. Hagel told Vietnam Magazine: "I can't fathom that the country would allow something like that to happen, 16,000 young men killed in one year. ... The dishonesty of it was astounding -- criminal, really." Kerry dramatized his feelings of disillusion by tossing away his medals at an anti-Vietnam rally.

But when, and if, both are formally confirmed, America's two major foreign policy posts will be held by two remarkable men who deeply believe that "wars of choice," or "hypothetical wars," or "wars of first resort" are not only costly but profoundly immoral.

Their views, we can now see, perfectly mirror the president's own beliefs and, if the three of them were to carry through in power their expressed beliefs in private, then America would surely pull back rather quickly from unnecessary wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Such wars have been waged almost exclusively by Americans like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who fought only over which country to attack first.

This debate, always at the center of America's present decline in the world, will arise with a new fury this year and in 2014, because the White House has announced it is considering leaving no troops -- yes, none! -- in Afghanistan after 2014.

To the neocons whose love for the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was a mark of their bravery, this is little less than treason. Indeed, the campaign against Hagel and Kerry, while not yet as vicious as the "Swiftboat" campaign against the latter when he ran for president in 2004, is well under way.

The Wall Street Journal, always pro-war, actually had the gall to run an editorial page article by neocons Frederick W. Kagan and his wife, Kimberly, stating that "brave (my emphasis) as the Afghan soldiers are, they simply cannot stand and fight without U.S. support."

With 50 attacks on Western troops now tallied up by the Afghan troops, the couple obviously sees bravery in a different way than many of us do!

With only 2,500 American troops slated to be left in Afghanistan (the most reputable figure noted at this time), Americans could do nothing outside of Kabul. But the Taliban is poised to move from its eyries in the mountains and souks of our "friend," Pakistan, from which it is a hop, skip and few AK-47 shootouts back to Afghanistan.

There never was any way to "win" the Afghan war. Our first invasion of the country in the fall of 2001 after the 9/11 attacks might well have worked. But at that point, the Bush neocon crowd diverted huge numbers of troops to Iraq; the momentum was lost and Afghanistan was finished.

My problem with these wars (and ones that could come, God help us!) is the same one I had in Vietnam when I was a correspondent there. The Vietcong's intention was infinite -- our intention was finite. They would fight forever because it was their country and their children; we had to get home for Christmas.

But the old neocons, and some new ones, are now talking about entering the Syrian civil war -- from where and how and why, no one knows. Others talk about Iran and its nuclear plans as unquestionably the new field of battle. Meanwhile, Chuck Hagel is being criticized for suggesting that "one day" the United States could be friends with Iran. Certainly, stranger things have happened.

For now, sit back and enjoy the "discussion." I am one of the many convinced that the Vietnam War led us to our financial debts -- and our moral ones -- today. Now we have two brave men who are ready to take on that memory. I can hardly wait.

More like Georgie Anne Geyer