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Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya: Wars of choice, but who's doing the choosing?

Afghantroops When it comes to Afghanistan, it's too bad words don't win wars, or we'd be having a victory parade right now.

Even as President Obama on Wednesday night announced a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, commentators were weighing in on his strategy in the decade-long war.

On the Los Angeles Times' Op-Ed pages Thursday, columnist Doyle McManus recalled another war in a faraway land.

In 1966, as President Lyndon B. Johnson was becoming ever more enmeshed in the war in Vietnam, a Republican senator from Vermont named George D. Aiken proposed an audacious alternative strategy. The United States, Aiken said, should declare victory and withdraw.

At the time, some believed Aiken was joking, but the senator was quite serious, and his proposal was considerably more subtle than it sounded. The United States, he said, should stop seeking objectives that were beyond its reach and focus on doing whatever was necessary to reach a negotiated solution it could live with.

On Wednesday's pages, Max Boot offered his opinion in "Staying the Course in Afghanistan": 

The surge has allowed coalition commanders to roll back Taliban gains in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. But the current progress is tentative and uncertain. Pull out a substantial number of our forces now and the success of the entire war effort is thrown into jeopardy.

Which also sounds a lot like what we heard about Vietnam: The old "light at the end of the tunnel" argument -- stay a few more years, keep the troops there to protect the "gains," and all will be right in the end.  If not, our allies won't trust us, our prestige will suffer, and our enemies will be emboldened.

Except it didn't turn out that way.

Here's what we do know.  Peace-loving America is now fighting three wars: in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.  It's as if we've wandered into the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime":

You may find yourself in another part of the world …
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

No kidding.

It's probably too late to do much about these wars.  But since leaders from both parties seem incapable of keeping us out of wars, and since average Joe American is doing the fighting, how about putting "we the people" back in the process?

First, bring back the draft.

Why?  Because it would mean that all Americans would have a stake in a military intervention, not just a small percentage from the all-volunteer military.  Does anyone seriously believe George W. Bush could have won support for the invasion of Iraq if the sons and daughters of all Americans would've been exposed to combat?

Second, make the president adhere to the War Powers Act.  I don't care if both parties think it's unconstitutional. It's the law. We certainly are violating it right now with our involvement in Libya; it's time to stop such nonsense. 

Third, wars have to be paid for, through higher taxes.  No more Iraqs, in which we borrowed to fund the war while cutting taxes at home, starting the country's slide into debt.

These steps don't -- and should not -- guarantee that we won't fight.  But it's time we stop politicians alone from waging wars that average Americans pay for, in money and blood.

RELATED:

Staying the course in Afghanistan

Say what you will, it's a war in Libya

Troop withdrawal from Afghanistan must be significant

Ending the wars: Fewer guns don't mean more butter, Mr. Mayor

Doyle McManus: The West is still waiting for its Libya gamble to pay off

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: U.S. soldiers talk to a boy in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan on June 22, 2011. Credit: Ted Aljibe / AFP/Getty Images

 

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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