The plane of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, General Martin Dempsey, was fired at on the grounds of the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the rocket attack, saying they knew exactly where the plane was. U.S. authorities deny the Taliban knew what it was shooting at. Dempsey wasn’t anywhere near the plane. He is in Baghdad now, having left Kabul after talking to Hamid Karzai as part of the outreach effort to get the Afghan president to do something about the increase in attacks on US and NATO forces by Afghan security forces, or those masquerading as such, known as green-on-blue attacks. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta even called Karzai ahead of Dempsey’s trip.
At last week’s Pentagon press briefing, Panetta tried to call attention to the war in Afghanistan, saying “it was important to remind the American people that there is a war going on.” Presumably, as a member of the cabinet Panetta has the president’s ear. Neither Obama nor Romney have made the decade-plus long war in Afghanistan a campaign issue, and for good reasons. The war remains deeply unpopular, hitting an all-time low of 25 percent in a CNN poll earlier this year. Yet the president’s latest Afghanistan timetable (remember those?) has U.S. troops in Afghanistan until at least 2024. (Dempsey, by the way, is in Baghdad talking up the U.S’s continued role in the country it invaded almost a decade ago). Mitt Romney managed to stake a position to the president’s right on the issue. They agree on most of the basics, and yesterday Romney tried to draw a contrast based on the president not having a “mission” in Afghanistan (though Romney hasn’t yet articulated his own) and not keeping the American people informed (a contrast that may not come to pass if Romney actually wins).
With Mitt Romney and Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, it’s the first election since 1944 without at least one major party presidential candidate having some sort of military experience. Back then, both men’s vice presidential running mates were World War I vets, though in the previous election none of the candidates had military experience, conditions set to be repeated this year, in the midst of a war nearly twice as long as World War II, which began before the 1940 election but didn’t officially involve the U.S. until two years later.
Nearly 1,500 of the 2,100 American war dead in Operation Enduring Freedom have come since 2009, when President Obama, who considered Afghanistan the “just war” that America needed to get right, took office. With a Republican opponent who largely agrees on the foreign policy fundamentals, it’s unlikely the president will be taken to task for his leadership on that war so far.
The impetus for the war in Afghanistan and so many other 21st century American policies, lies in 9/11 and the desire for the feeling of safety in its aftermath. ReasonTV on a Reason-Rupe survey on American feelings ten years after 9/11: