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A Voice from Fly-Over Country
November 25, 2009

Leaving Soldiers in Harm's Way
by Robert L. Hale

MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA — On October 26, 2009, America’s Commander-In-Chief, while at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, told U. S. servicemen, “I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way. I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary.”

Yet one thing is certain. President Obama in no rush to make decisions that will save or spare American lives in Afghanistan. It has been more than 100 days since General Stanley McChrystal requested more troops.

While the President dithers, young American men are dying at a faster rate than at any time since we invaded Afghanistan. The President claims he is deliberating. But he has had time for dozens of rounds of golf, White House party after White House party, and date night out (costing taxpayers upwards of $1 million dollars per date). Still, the deliberation goes on.

The President has allowed more than $2.6 billion in funding appropriated for food, fuel, ammunition, armor, and training for our troops in Afghanistan to be diverted to pork projects at home. These projects include $20 million for the Ted Kennedy Institute and $25 million for a World War II museum at the University of New Orleans.

This comes on the heels of reports from Afghanistan that American soldiers are deeply disillusioned. Comments reported by The Washington Times; Times Online; the Forward Operating Base in Wardak Province, Afghanistan; The Washington Post; Breitbart.com; and the Associated Press, while somewhat different, all tell the same story — lack of understanding of what their purpose is, lack of stated goals by leadership, and lack of understanding what, if any, the end game may be.

“We want to believe in a cause, but we don’t know what that cause is,” explained one officer. Another said, “We’re lost — that’s how I feel. I’m not exactly sure why we’re here. I need a clear-cut purpose if I’m going to get hurt out here or if I’m going to die.” Another, when asked if the mission was worthwhile, said, “If I knew exactly what the mission was, probably so, but I don’t.” Their Commander-In-Chief is deliberating but certainly is not helping. Instead, he is dragging his feet while young Americans die — perhaps needlessly.

Although many injuries are not fatal, in some ways they are worse. One company has seen a hundred men flown home with amputations, severe burns, and other injuries causing permanent disability. While the President deliberates, more young men are killed or seriously injured; many of these brave soldiers are not replaced, and those left wonder why. They wonder why reinforcements are not sent. They wonder why no one has given them a meaningful reason why they are there or told them what their mission is.

A foreign service officer who resigned in disgust recently came forward to express his concern. Matthew Hoh, a former Marine captain, has concluded that the war “wasn’t worth the fight.” Bureaucrats Karl Eikenberry, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, and Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan, tried to entice him to remain and not go public with his opinions. Meanwhile, the Commander-In-Chief continues to dither as more Americans die and morale drops further.

It may be a clever rhetorical claim that not making a decision is a decision. However, when one has time to play, party, politic, and campaign, but not time to decide how to best lead, direct, protect, and give meaning to Americans whose lives are on the line, it is neither clever nor leadership. If I did not respect the office of the President, I would say that President Obama’s failure to act border on dereliction of duty and treason.

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A Voice from Fly-Over Country is copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Hale and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert L. Hale received his J.D. in law from Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane, Washington. He is founder and director of a non-profit public interest law firm. For more than three decades he has been involved in drafting proposed laws and counseling elected officials in ways to remove burdensome and unnecessary rules and regulations.

See a complete biographical sketch.

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