Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Afghanistan

Obama succeeds -- when Republicans let him

President Obama in Virginia

Why is Barack Obama’s presidency a tale of two situations?

On the foreign-policy front, the administration has had a string of successes: Osama bin Laden killed; major Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen killed; and this week, of course, Moammar Kadafi killed.

And on Friday, the president announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by year’s end.

An unpopular war will be officially over for us soon.  Terrorists and terrorist groups that threaten us are dead or on the run. Libya’s longtime strongman has been overthrown, thanks in part to Obama’s policy that had the U.S. and NATO working together.

But here’s a question:  If Obama has been so successful in foreign policy, why has he been so unsuccessful on domestic issues? 

Sure, unemployment fell in California last month, but it's nothing to write home about. Joblessness, foreclosures, poverty -– you know the numbers, and they're not pretty.

Even his signature domestic achievement, healthcare reform, remains under attack by Republicans.  They vow to undo it as soon as they control the White House again.

So what’s the deal?

It isn't that he's escaped criticism on foreign policy. Republicans -- heck, even some Democrats -- have been critical of Obama's moves.   But what he's done has, in the main, worked.

No, domestically the problem is that Obama's opponents have turned criticism into obstructionism.  Unlike his foreign policies, Obama's efforts to fix the economy have been thwarted at every turn by Republicans.

Take the president's jobs bill. As The Times reported:

Republican-led opposition in the Senate blocked a key element of President Obama’s jobs plan Thursday night -- a proposal to send $35 billion to cash-strapped states to keep public school teachers, police and firefighters on the job.

That's right.  Republicans won't even agree to spend $35 billion on teachers, police and firefighters.

And why not?

Republicans are fighting the measures because they do not believe such government efforts will help businesses to create jobs in the struggling economy. They also oppose asking those earning beyond $1 million a year to pay more.

Yes, protecting people making more than $1 million a year is far more important that saving a $35,000-a-year teaching job, wouldn’t you say?

The bottom line?  It's wrong to say the president's domestic policies haven't worked when those policies haven't even been given the chance to work.

Abroad, Obama has been allowed to set policy, and those policies have been given time to work.  And, for the most part, they have.

Perhaps if Republicans gave the president that same leeway on domestic policy, we might be winning some battles at home, too.

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Photo: President Obama on Tuesday told a crowd at Greensville County High School in Emporia, Va., that Republicans were blocking his efforts to boost the economy to deal him a political setback. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Romney's worldview: Common sense and cheap shots

Romney-Foreign Policy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered his first major foreign policy address Friday, and it was a mixture of platitudes, sensible positions and some cheap shots at the Obama administration. Overall, Romney outlined a mainstream foreign policy that he promised to pursue in a more muscular fashion.

Overarching his comments was a cloying insistence on American exceptionalism. "God did not create this country to be a nation of followers," he said. "America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers."

Romney pledged himself to making sure that this was an "American century," in furtherance of which he would prosecute American foreign policy "with clarity and resolve." Yet the goals he espoused to a great extent mirrored those of the Obama administration: preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb, combatting Islamic fundamentalism and securing the border with Mexico. In the pursuit of those and other objectives, Romney expressed a preference for "soft power" over military action.

Romney offered a few novel proposals: He would increase the construction of ships for the Navy and beef up missile defense. He would strengthen the alliance with Israel, which he wrongly accused the Obama administration of treating with "ambivalence." He would enhance the deterrence against Iran by stationing aircraft carrier task forces in the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. He would appoint a czar to handle "all of our diplomatic and assistance efforts in the greater Middle East."

On Afghanistan, Romney hinted that he might slow the withdrawal of U.S. forces, saying he would "receive the best recommendation of our military commanders" about the pace of withdrawal. President Obama, Romney suggested, has allowed politics to influence his withdrawal decisions.

Despite his insistence on American exceptionalism, Romney said that the United States under his leadership would participate in multilateral organizations and alliances, a commitment not likely to endear him to tea party conservatives. (Nor will his promise to open talks with Mexico about drugs and border security.)

Inevitably, a challenger for the presidency will accuse the incumbent of ineptness or worse in the conduct of foreign policy. Romney's speech was generous with such criticism, but his differences with Obama mostly concerned execution, not policy.

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Photo: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a top GOP contender, greets cadets at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C. Credit: Richard Ellis / Getty Images

Rick Perry's pizza problem

Herman Cain

There are many truisms in politics.  Here's mine:

It's never good to lose to the pizza guy.

As The Times' Paul West reported Saturday:

In a startling embarrassment for the Republican presidential front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was tripped up by businessman Herman Cain in a straw ballot of Florida Republican activists Saturday that Perry himself had touted as an important measure of the field.

Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, got 37% of the vote, while Perry received 15%.

(Oh, and does anyone still remember that little spitfire Michele Bachmann?  She didn't actually compete in the Florida straw poll, and she got 1%. Which, to be fair, is several more votes than the Domino's delivery guy got.)

Cain, of course, couldn't wait to trumpet the victory as a signal that his message is getting through. 

And what is his message? As The Times reported Monday:  

In his television appearances, Cain credited his message, particularly his idea to throw out the existing tax code. "I feel great," he said of his victory. "The message is more powerful than money."

Cain's economic policy is based on what he calls his 9-9-9 plan: 9% tax on corporate income; 9% personal tax rate; and a 9% federal sales tax. The plan causes a split among economists and politicians. It would eliminate deductions, and it would also hit the poor and middle class hardest since the sales tax would represent a larger chunk of their income than a rich person's.

Uh, yea.  Listen, not to rain on Cain's parade, but only in the "through the looking glass" world of today's Republican Party does a candidate believe that this message --  "Vote for me: I'll tax the poor and middle class the most!" -- is resonating with voters.

And Cain's still not getting much love from the pundits. The Times' Doyle McManus, for example, wrote an entire column Sunday on the Republican race and didn't mention him once.

No, most political observers saw in Cain's victory a backlash against Perry and his subpar performance at the GOP debate in Orlando, Fla., last week.

In case you missed it, one low point for Perry came in this exchange:

Governor Perry, if you were president and you got a call at 3 a.m. telling you that Pakistan had lost control of its nuclear weapons at the hands of the Taliban, what would be your first move?

GOV. PERRY: Well, obviously, before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region. And that's one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with -- and that's the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country -- so to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States. For instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16s, we chose not to do that. We did the same thing with Taiwan. The point is our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends; we will be standing by there with them. Today we don't have those allies in that region that can assist us if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.

Reportedly, the CIA and the NSA are seeking to obtain the secret decoder ring that will tell them what Perry meant.

Doesn't matter, you say?  This election is about jobs and the economy, not foreign policy?

Well, remember, events have a way of shaping presidencies.  George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus, a world at peace and a pretty good economy.  Within months, 19 guys flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and suddenly, a knowledge of foreign affairs became pretty darn important.

For now, though, the GOP race is like a bad reality show.  In this week's episode, the pizza guy from nowhere gets to say, with a somewhat straight face, "Vote for me and I’m going to deliver."

Which, at the moment, is much better than, "Pakistan?  Where the heck is that?"

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Photo: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks to delegates before a straw poll in Orlando, Fla. Credit: John Raoux / Associated Press

 

With an ally like Pakistan, who needs enemies?

Quetta, Pakistan

Remember when Pakistan was our ally?

Neither do I.

But on Thursday, The Times' David S. Cloud, Ken Dilanian and Alex Rodriguez outlined just how lousy an ally that nation has become. (Warning: The following may be upsetting to you if you are an American taxpayer.)    

Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency communicated with Afghan insurgents who attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in central Kabul last week and appear to have provided them with equipment, according to U.S. military officers and former officials.

Communications gear used by the insurgents "implicated" the directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, Pakistan's spy service, a senior U.S. military official said Thursday. The equipment was found in a 14-story building under construction that the attackers used to lay siege to the embassy compound for 19 hours on Sept. 13, according to the official, who would not describe the equipment recovered.

Bruce Riedel, a former White House advisor on Pakistan and a retired senior CIA official, said administration officials told him that "very firm intelligence" linked the Pakistani spy agency to the embassy attack, which killed at least nine Afghans.

"There are [communications] intercepts and the attackers were in cellphone contact back to Pakistan," he said.

In a dramatic appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged that the insurgents had received "ISI support" not only for the attack on America's most prominent diplomatic and military symbols in the Afghan capital, but also for a massive truck bomb assault this month on a U.S. combat outpost in Wardak province west of Kabul that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers.

Other than that, though, Islamabad has really helped us out a lot, I guess.

Of course, the Pakistanis don't really owe us -– much.  As the story concludes:

Pakistan receives about $3.5 billion in U.S. economic and military aid each year to help revamp critical infrastructure and to battle its homegrown militancy.

That's $3.5 billion, as in, $3.5 billion we don't have to spend on oh, say, disaster relief.  You know, the money the Republicans in Congress are saying can only come from cutting other programs?

Hello, paging House Speaker John Boehner: I may have found a program you can cut from.

Oh sure, I know.  It's complicated.  This is global politics.  This is fancy foreign policy stuff. We need the Pakistanis. 

And on Friday, their reaction was pretty predictable:

Reacting to Mullen's charges, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar cautioned that if the U.S. continued airing such allegations, "you could lose an ally."

"You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan, you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people," Khar said, speaking to a Pakistani television channel from New York on Thursday. "“If you are choosing to do so and if they are choosing to do so, it will be at their [the Americans'] own cost."

Uh, Foreign Minister, exactly how much more than the $3.5 billion a year will it cost us?

And then there was this:

In Karachi, Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani told reporters that the onus was on Washington to pull back and begin mending frayed relations between the two countries.

"They can’t live with us -- they can’t live without us," Gilani said. "So, I would say to them that if they can’t live without us, they should increase contacts with us to remove misunderstandings."

Well, I'll give him points for bluntness, and for his cold-blooded assessment of the relationship.  

And it's not as if the Pakistanis haven't helped us.

After all, didn't they keep Osama bin Laden cooped up in a compound near their major military academy for years, just waiting for us to come and get him?

Yes, the Pakistanis, and many in the U.S., say it could be a lot worse if we were to break ties.

Which, oddly, reminds me of the scene in Monty Python's "Life of Brian" in which a man is about to be stoned for uttering the word "Jehovah."  Explaining his action, he repeats the word "Jehovah," at which point the judge shouts: "You're only making it worse for yourself!"

And the man, sanely, replies: "Making it worse!  How can it be worse?"

The moral? When your "ally" is helping your "enemy" kill your troops -– well, it's time to consider just what  "worse" really means.

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Photo: Quetta, Pakistan. Credit: Banaras Khan / AFP/Getty Images



Another loss from Sept. 11 -- missed opportunity

911-Flags

The extra sorrow of 9/11 was what didn’t happen on 9/12.

So many layers of sadness pile onto this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. For me, one wound that may never heal is the desperately tragic lost opportunity of 9/12.

Once those towers came down, once that plane plowed into the Pentagon and that other plane went down in Pennsylvania at the hands of Americans who looked the enemy in the eye and fought him back, Americans wanted to do something.

The tremendous and untrammeled spirit of accomplishment was waiting to be harnessed. If this was our Pearl Harbor, then we wanted a job, a goal. Not everyone could, or should enlist. Task the rest of us with something unifying, something purposeful, something to strengthen our spirit and resilience and resolve.

The answer from our leaders? A resounding  ... nothing. So much had failed before 9/11, and thereafter, our leadership failed.

Nobody asked us to rally, to become real citizens once more, aware and engaged. Our civic equity -- the opportunity to be Americans, together -- was squandered. Our chance to be called upon to be the next ''greatest generation'' vanished. Our leaders only asked us to be consumers.

At the juncture of the most important public event in our lives, our leadership wanted us to be spectators, not participants. Passive. Complaisant. No war bonds or war stamps, no tax increases or rationing. No plea to go back to school, to college, to learn new skills and new ideas for this new world. No sacrifices.

Here is the column I wrote comparing the nation on the one-year anniversary of 9/11 to the nation one year after Pearl Harbor:

After 9/11, people recollect that President Bush told us to go shopping. He didn’t use that word. But he pitched his appeals to the mercantile side of us. Here is what he said over the course of the days after the attacks.

"I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy."

"Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before Sept. 11, and they are our strengths today."

But it wasn’t just the economy that had been hit. It was the very essence of being American –- the daily liberties of life, life itself. As allied bombers hammered the mountains of Afghanistan within earshot, Osama bin Laden told a Pakistani interviewer, "This place may be bombed and we will be killed. We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us."

Commerce is part of life, but life is not commerce. "Get on board" airplanes, is what the president said instead. "Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed."

Spend, use your credit card -- just as the administration was about to do to "buy" two wars that would beggar us. Just as Osama bin Laden had hoped.

It was a global war on terror –- everywhere except here. We weren’t even asked, as Americans were in World War I and especially World War II, to save on expensive and vital supplies, from meat to fuel.

Collecting scrap metal and saving aluminum foil would not have been the home-front battles of 2001, but there were equivalents. In 2001, the White House did not mention trying to save on gas and oil; don’t let us concern ourselves about the national Achilles’ heel of energy dependence, which had led us into so many overseas misadventures already.

Four months before 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney, formulating the administration’s energy policy, said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

Well, it sure helped during World War II, when "personal virtue" became a national virtue. Where did that go?

I guess the administration got one part right. Flag sales went through the roof.

Anyone can buy a flag. What we needed after 9/11 was a leadership to rally us to find a way to live up to that flag.

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Photo: Ruth Gillespie carries a flag to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Credit: David Tulis / Associated Press.

9/11 and Al Qaeda: The price of victory

Rewardposter

Is Al Qaeda finished? 

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears, it would certainly be welcome news that the organization that carried out those attacks has been defeated.

On Sunday, The Times reported that Al Qaeda's reputed second in command, Atiyah Abdul Rahman, had been killed in Pakistan, probably in a strike by a U.S. drone:

A few weeks after [Osama] bin Laden was killed in Pakistan during a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs, some analysts suggested that Rahman, a Libyan, had emerged as Al Qaeda's leader. That didn't turn out to be the case -- the leadership spot went to Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri -- but it underscored how central a role Rahman has played.

And what's the big picture? As the story says:

Rahman's death is likely to lend credence to a view in some U.S. policymaking circles that Al Qaeda's defeat is within reach.

Recent events "hold the prospect of a strategic defeat, if you will, a strategic dismantling of Al Qaeda," incoming CIA Director David H. Petraeus said last month.

Also in July, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, who oversees Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy at the National Security Council, said the U.S. was "doubling down" on its strategy of covert targeted missile strikes in Pakistan since Bin Laden's death, believing that Al Qaeda is susceptible to a decisive blow.

"I think there are three to five senior leaders that, if they're removed from the battlefield, would jeopardize Al Qaeda's capacity to regenerate," Lute said. He declined to name them, other than Zawahiri. But clearly Rahman would have been on that list.

Of course, it's been a hugely expensive effort to dismantle the terrorist organization, and to protect the United States. 

For example, The Times also reported Sunday on spending for domestic antiterrorism efforts:

A decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, federal and state governments are spending about $75 billion a year on domestic security, setting up sophisticated radio networks, upgrading emergency medical response equipment, installing surveillance cameras and bombproof walls, and outfitting airport screeners to detect an ever-evolving list of mobile explosives.

Which has some questioning whether that is money well spent:  

"The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It's basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year," said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.

"So if your chance of being killed by a terrorist in the United States is 1 in 3.5 million, the question is, how much do you want to spend to get that down to 1 in 4.5 million?" he said.

On the other hand, just from an economic standpoint, the effort has been a plus:

One effect is certain: Homeland Security spending has been a pump-primer for local governments starved by the recession, and has dramatically improved emergency response networks across the country.

An entire industry has sprung up to sell an array of products, including high-tech motion sensors and fully outfitted emergency operations trailers. The market is expected to grow to $31 billion by 2014.

So, is Al Qaeda finished? Of course not. For example, on Saturday in Iraq a suicide bomber killed at least 28 worshipers at a mosque in Baghdad, and at least one official blamed the Iraqi affiliate of Al Qaeda.

But it's also possible that Al Qaeda has been so crippled that it's no longer capable of carrying out a spectacular attack on the U.S. 

And the price for that?  Well, there are the permanent changes in the way Americans now live. As The Times story on domestic security spending says:

Like the military-industrial complex that became a permanent and powerful part of the American landscape during the Cold War, the vast network of Homeland Security spyware, concrete barricades and high-tech identity screening is here to stay. The Department of Homeland Security, a collection of agencies ranging from border control to airport security sewn quickly together after Sept. 11, is the third-largest Cabinet department and -- with almost no lawmaker willing to render the U.S. less prepared for a terrorist attack -- one of those least to fall victim to budget cuts.

But when I think of the cost, what I see are the faces of our soldiers. Go here, to The Times' obituaries for California’s war dead and read their stories.

If we're safer today -- and if Al Qaeda is crippled --  we have these young men and women to thank.

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Photo: The Justice Department's Rewards for Justice website gives information about Atiyah Abdul Rahman. Credit: Rewardsforjustice.net

War in Afghanistan: We're training poodles in a land of pit bulls

Kabulhotel Mark Twain said it best: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."

So true. But I think it means the U.S. is going to need a new dog in Afghanistan.

Why? From The Times' story Thursday describing a Taliban assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul:

Nazeer Amiri, an ex-cop out for a leisurely late dinner with friends at a hilltop hotel, could hardly believe his eyes.

Insurgents had burst into the lushly landscaped complex in Kabul, spraying bullets and setting off bombs. Amiri had already seen several bloodied diners crumple to the ground. Afghan police arrived, and he frantically shouted at them to shoot the assailants.

They ran away and left us there!" he recounted, still incredulous after the nearly all-night siege ended early Wednesday, leaving at least 19 attackers and victims dead. "I saw some of the security forces flee with their weapons. I was begging them to give me their guns, so I could shoot back."

Great. In a land full of pit bulls, we're training French poodles.

I mean, I know the tactics in Afghanistan have been described as "unconventional warfare." I just didn't know that meant that when the shooting starts, the strategy is to run away.

And it's not like the guests were a wedding party from Bakersfield at a Motel 6. As the story says:

Among the guests at the hotel on a warm June night were foreign and Afghan officials planning to attend a conference on the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces.

But the assault provided a reminder of Afghan forces' continuing reliance on the firepower of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Elite New Zealand troops helped quell the attack, New Zealand defense officials said, and helicopter-borne snipers killed three insurgents who had taken refuge on the hotel roof.

First of all, I didn't even know New Zealand had elite troops. Why does New Zealand need special forces? Are they afraid Australia is going to invade and try to steal all their sheep?

And second, how come every time we fight one of these wars (see Vietnam), our local allies are seemingly the ones with more quit than fight?

You read the history books and you'd think every man in Afghanistan (and plenty of the women) are savage fighters.  So why is it that a handful of insurgents fight to the death, while our local troops run away and let the foreign cavalry ride to the rescue?

The answer:  The insurgents are fighting for a cause; the local forces are fighting for a paycheck.

This strategy of turning the fight over the local forces didn't work in Vietnam, and it won't work in Afghanistan. All it's going to do is get more Americans killed. 

Withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops by next summer

How about we withdraw all American troops by next summer, and wish the Afghans good luck?

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Smoke and flames rise from the Intercontinental Hotel during a battle between NATO-led forces and Taliban insurgents. Credit: Reuters

Afghanistan: Getting out while the gettin's good

Troops-Ft. Drum

Stay tuned: Doyle McManus joins Gwen Ifill for a "Washington Week" round-table discussion. This week's topic: Afghanistan. In his most recent Op-Ed, McManus provided analysis on President Obama's decision to start bringing our troops home:  

Troop-Levels-AfghanistanObama's decision is a gamble, but so are many decisions in war. If Afghans on both sides conclude that the United States is leaving the battlefield, and the Taliban resurges, the president's choice this week won't look brilliant. But if the U.S. military's assessments of the Taliban are accurate, that's not likely to happen.

So yes, it's a pivot point, both in U.S. strategy and in the politics of the war at home. From now until election day in 2102, Obama can (and doubtless will) cast our progress in Afghanistan in a new, more hopeful narrative. The late Sen. Aiken would have recognized the approach: We've redefined our goals, we're winning, and we're getting out.

The program airs Friday evening. You can watch the program online here.

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Photo: President Obama greets troops at Ft. Drum in northern New York. Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images

Graphic: Robert Burns / Los Angeles Times

Support our troops -- by employing them when they return home

photo: U.S. soldiers in eastern Afghanistan on June 19, 2011. Credit: Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty Images. A recent editorialabout how L.A.'s homeless veterans deserve more support from the Veterans Administration pointed to a staggering statistic:  “Veterans are 50% more likely to become homeless than the average American.” Now, add to that our dismal economic climate and it's hard not to worry about the 33,000 U.S. troops who'll return home from Afghanistan by the end of next summer to high unemployment levels. What will they do? Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has an idea. On Thursday’s "PBS NewsHour," he told Jim Lehrer:

Robert Gates[W]hat I've been trying to do and what Mrs. Biden and Mrs. Obama and the chairman and his wife -- all these folks, are trying to do is to -- is to try and get that other 99 percent [of people not serving in the military] to -- they all say they support the troops, but it's not just enough to say it. Go out and find one of them and give them a job. If they need some repairs on their house, do that. Mow the grass. Find some action you can take as a citizen who appreciates our military to help those families and particularly the families of those who are deployed. Every town in America has somebody from the National Guard who's probably deployed. So there's somebody out there that they can help. And actions always speak louder than words.

Former President Clinton has a few ideas for how to get the 14 million unemployed Americans back to work too. And he's not talking about the phony "job-creation" schemes exposed by This American Life either.

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Top photo: U.S. soldiers in eastern Afghanistan on June 19, 2011. Credit: Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty Images. Bottom photo: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

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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