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Bill Barth
Pull over or shut up
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Them's fightin' words
A long and bloody decade
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Them's fightin' words
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No longer needed?
Why Americans are angry
Dispatch from Blizzardville
        I came of age in the Vietnam era so, like a lot of others, I’ve always had a healthy skepticism toward military conflict.
        I did not serve in Vietnam or wear the uniform — student deferment for college — but I have wept at The Wall in Washington, D.C. My brother-in-law served in Vietnam and was wounded. My oldest son did a hitch in the Air Force. Others in the family, past and present, have answered the call.
        So I’m anything but anti-military. Truth is, I regret not serving when I could have, probably when I should have. The men and women who put themselves between us and the bad guys are owed a debt we can never fully repay.
        But in light of the special-ops takedown of the villainous Osama bin Laden, my mind drifts into reflecting upon the long decade between that awful September day and the raid on the terrorist’s hide-in-plain-sight compound in Pakistan.
        Was all that has happened worth it?
        In my mind, yes and no.
        Few evil men in modern history match bin Laden’s blood lust for the innocent. Hitler. Pol Pot. Stalin.
        What kind of twisted mind orders blind followers to fly crowded airliners into “targets” filled with civilians? And then brags about it. And vows to keep killing as many more innocents as he can.
        As the rubble from the Twin Towers smoldered and the sobs of those who lost loved ones echoed through our national psyche, one thing was clear: It was time to exact harsh punishment.
Remember, all those years ago, President Bush offered a way out of war. He told the ruling Taliban to hand over their “guests,” Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida henchmen in Afghanistan, or face the consequences. Never forget, the Taliban chose war.
        And a righteous war it was. Seldom has there been stronger justification for taking up arms.
        Is it still righteous?
        The years have a way of muddling even the clearest calls, but a decade later my doubts about the conduct of the conflict and its aftermath are serious.
I believed then, and believe now, America’s intervention in Afghanistan was the right course of action. The Taliban were toppled and al-Qaida was routed. Bin Laden was on the run with a bullseye on his back. Across the region, no regime wanted to shelter him for fear of incurring the wrath of the righteously angry Uncle Sam.
        So America broke off and invaded Iraq. Vital resources were diverted from Afghanistan and the hunt for bin Laden and al-Qaida. And, just like that, a clear mission became a muddled mess.
        Mind you, there is no criticism intended or implied for the incredibly courageous and competent American fighting force that cut through Saddam Hussein’s forces like a knife through butter. The U.S. military machine has accomplished everything asked of it with competence and professionalism.
        I just don’t understand — never did — why the hunt for bin Laden and the mission to crush al-Qaida became secondary to … well, whatever we were doing in Iraq.
        What if all that professionalism, competence and firepower had been devoted to killing bin Laden, destroying al-Qaida and rebuilding Afghanistan atop the bones of the Taliban? Would thousands of Americans have been spared death or maiming? Would our focus have been sufficient to put a stop to corruption while playing midwife to a real democratic Afghanistan? Could a more concerted effort have won and kept the hearts and minds of the Afghan people?
        I don’t envy any president — Bush or Obama — who has to make such choices. I’m sure, all along the way, leaders made the decisions with good intentions.
The past decade, however, certainly has not made this Vietnam era observer any less skeptical about military interventions. When the blood runs hot, conflict is easy to get into — never easy to get out.
        As for Osama bin Laden, may he rot in Hell. I hope there is an appropriately stoked furnace tickling his feet and other tender parts at this very moment. As for those virgins, I hope they are ministering to bin Laden by pouring gas on the fire.
        A quick death surely was more than he deserved, but it serves the purpose and keeps him out of reach of eager civil liberties lawyers who might have spent years torturing Americans by delaying justice even further. A bullet above his left eye, a corpse delivered to the sea as shark bait.
         Thank you, Navy SEALs.
        Now, America, let’s do something for the SEALs’ uniformed brothers and sisters in harm’s way. Bring them home, in an orderly but expedient way.
Wisconsin wakes 'em up
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