Mom would have appreciated events of the last few days
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, May 5, 2011

Though my mother has been gone since November 2001, I still think of calling her whenever some major political event happens.

I'd have phoned her this week to make sure she'd heard the welcome news that Osama bin Laden was dead. And I'd have shared the information that we reverently prepared and buried the body at sea within the 24 hours required by Islamic law.

I inherited or absorbed my mother's indignation, her sometimes amused outrage at the absurd. I can hear her now: "We what? After Americans he murdered were scattered in the rubble?"

I'd have called back later with the reassuring news that apparently bin Laden would have preferred to be buried in the earth with his head facing Mecca. My Catholic mother would have noted that, regardless of the burial spot, his soul is in hell. Mother was more into justice than mercy. In this case, I doubt my more easy-going father would have disagreed.

So, if we can believe anything our government tells us, bin Laden had been hiding out comfortably in Pakistan, not dying slowly of kidney disease in a musty cave near the AfPak border as we'd once heard.

I use the word "AfPak" because that's what the war arena is called in Bob Woodward's 2010 book, "Obama's Wars," which I just finished. At one point, someone suggested that the arena be renamed PakAf, so it would be more clear that the real problem is in Pakistan, where terrorists are actually hiding and being trained as they were in Afghanistan before 9/11. This idea was rejected because Pakistan didn't like it.

This is one main plot of the book how to wage war without upsetting Pakistan which deals with the period between the inauguration of President Obama and mid-2010, when his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan was finally made. It covers meetings between and among the military command, various advisers, and the major players in the Obama administration.

"Obama's Wars" should be out in paperback by the July 2011 date by which they finally all agreed, sort of, that withdrawal would begin. Yes, two months from now U.S. troops are supposed to be replaced by the Afghan counterparts they've trained.

Woodward's book is a must-read while you're holding your breath.

A friend lent me the book, which I expected to be tedious. Couldn't have been more wrong; it was hard to put down. And every few pages I laughed out loud. Not because it was funny, but because it was laughingly familiar to anyone who spent time observing the military brass in action, as I did during the Vietnam era as a Navy wife, or who rolled on the floor watching the movie "M*A*S*H" in 1970.

The process of fighting an undeclared war was traditionally called SNAFU. In Woodward's book, the operative acronym, using the military alphabet, is Whisky Tango Foxtrot "the universal outburst of astonishment and anger."

He begins with a determination to get to know the players, collect their ongoing thoughts through their notes and recollections, and objectively show us how important life-and-death decisions are made by the teams of military and civilian experts. As you read, you note the subtle tone of disbelief that enters the author's observations as the months go by and the basic questions, asked of the military by the civilians, are never answered.

I was gratified to learn that they are the same questions I asked in my June 2010 column about the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, after he and his staff made public disparaging comments about administration officials. I wrote: "What are we doing in Afghanistan? Why are Americans dying there? What is the mission?"

It's one thing for us ordinary citizens to ask these questions; and quite another for some of those involved in making the decisions to ask, while others avoid answering them, which happens throughout the entire book.

To his credit, it's primarily Vice President Joe Biden who keeps asking.

During one meeting on the size of a new troop commitment, they continue an ongoing discussion about corruption in the Afghan government. Biden asks: "If the government's a criminal syndicate a year from now, how will (more) troops make a difference?"

Woodward writes: "No one recorded an answer in their notes."

Biden tries again: "What's the best-guess estimate for getting things headed in the right direction?"

Woodward records: "No answer."

One retired military adviser concludes that with fighters pouring across the Pakistan border, "You can't win."

I recognize many of the officials being quoted in this week's news reports. One of my favorites, counterterrorism specialist John Brennen, is telling reporters that bin Laden probably had some support in Pakistan.

In the book he argues against a large troop increase in Afghanistan: "What are we trying to achieve? ... using terminology like 'success,' like 'victory' and 'win,' complicates our task." He prefers to just train the Afghan army and police and focus our efforts on al-Qaida in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Well, the additional troops were sent anyhow, but there was enough focus on Pakistan to achieve one major goal. Happy Mother's Day in heaven, mother. You won't be seeing Osama bin Laden there.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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