Written by Joshua Patton
Looking at the media coverage of the current US political situation it feels like the season-arc of a television drama, with the lame-duck session of Congress being the spectacular season-finale. Shows like LOST would do this all the time, stretch out the drama over an entire season and in the last two episodes everything miraculously comes together. Only now, in Congress, the Others are in charge and they have a much different idea about how to run the Island then the Castaways (e.g. the Democrats). But back in the real world, one wonders if the Republicans’ enmity for the White House will affect the war efforts, a subplot practically forgotten about last year. They drew a line in the sand for those tax breaks and set up an excellent political situation for themselves in 2012. While everyone is still enjoying their tax cuts the unemployed will have been nine months without extended benefits if the economy has not significantly improved. They fought the President’s domestic agenda, but where will they line up when the time comes to focus on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Republican strategy over the past two years has been to turn every legislative action into a dogfight in a quagmire. But throughout the election and the domestic victories that closed out this season of Who’s Smarter Than A Congressman?, talk of the war has been noticeably absent from the discussion. Both sides of the proverbial aisle have taken stands that call for maneuvering the wars to an end. No one mentions Bin Laden anymore. The Democrats have for a long time yelled and whimpered about ending the wars. They have threatened to hold back funding, balking because such a move would hurt the troops. They opposed the surge in Iraq, which ironically has set the stage for the “set in stone” withdrawal from Iraq. Although Prime Minister Malaki’s insistence that we leave is both unexpected and disconcerting, it could either be saving face – America did not dump us, we dumped them!—or evidence that they are falling prey to influences of which America may not approve – Iran, etc. In both cases, the effectiveness of the surge and the adherence to self-imposed withdrawal, the Iraqis have shown themselves as a people that want their country to work again. They are tired of having no power or reliable access to water. They are invested in their own autonomy and our bets have seemingly paid off.
The same is not so true in Afghanistan. During the 2008 election, this war was painted as the “good” war. It was neglected because of Iraq and then-Candidate Obama promised to turn his full attention to this forgotten war. Yet, the first two years of his administration were mired with the real-world problems of trying to win a war in Afghanistan. Yet, signs of a similar war-weariness are beginning to show in Afghanistan. The US and NATO are investing a record-high amount of money in Afghan security forces this year that they hope translates into a 25% higher number of forces than currently expected. While some think they want tanks and impressive military equipment, more for image than for firepower, the need for security in the region is paramount. Another promising sign is the reintegration of Taliban fighters that have surrendered to Coalition forces into their hometowns. This is the result of agreements reached with the residents of sections of the Helmand provinces of Afghanistan, such as the recent agreement in Sangin, where local leaders and fighters agree to stop the insurgency and expel foreign militants. These reintegrated fighters, if deemed as not dangerous by the vetting process, are even allowed to join the local police forces to provide security for their own neighborhoods.
What remains to be seen is how the government handles all of this here in the States. The strategy for the Republicans seems to still be aimed at domestic issues. That the war has been out of the media narrative may be a good thing, politically-speaking. The Republicans, Democrats, and White House can work silently toward the mutual goal of ending these wars, without having the taint of compromise or bipartisanship thrust on them by the media. If the war does become a major political news topic again, will the Republicans want to stick to form and double down with an aggressive military policy? If so, how will the gibe with their new stance on fiscal responsibility? Would the Democrats straddle the line between dove and hawk like they typically do? If Republicans come out in favor of working to end the war, would the Democrats sabotage it or go in the other direction just so they would have something to argue about? However it plays out here, the real importance is how it plays out for the Iraqi and Afghan people. Either America will be seen as leaving them to govern themselves or as sneaking away like a dog in the night.
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