I heard a retired Army officer, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, on the radio May 2 talking about the death of Osama bin Laden. Great news, he said, with all sincerity; now we can end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop wasting all this money, and bring the troops home.
That would nice, wouldn't it?
But don't start counting on an end to the wars, an end to the deaths of U.S. troops, or an end to an $881 billion defense budget (up from $300 billion in 1980 and $311 billion in 2000) or a significant change in our national priorities.
The truth is, Osama bin Laden wasn't a factor in the invasion of Iraq. He wasn't there; Saddam Hussein didn't like him anyway. He was probably in Afghanistan for a while, but by the time we got mired in that quagmire, he'd moved on to Pakistan, which is supposedly our ally in the war on terror. That's where he was running his operations, and that's where he died.
The invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism. The war in Afghanistan might at some point have been related, but it's not any more. The U.S. did the exact worst thing you can do in a military adventure: sent in troops with no way out.
Maybe Obama will now find the courage to say what he should have said the day he took office: we no longer have any strategic or national security interest in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. Time to cut our losses, bring the troops home, put some of that money into the civilian economy, and deal with the real threat to American democracy — the horribly uneven distribution of wealth and power in this country.
Maybe the Democrats in Washington will show some backbone and start cutting the defense budget. Let the Republicans justify a continued war that their guy, Bush the Younger, insisted was about al Qaeda. Let them explain why we have to keep troops on the ground now that the head of al Qaeda's gone. Let them explain why that's more important than Medicare and Social Security.
But I'm not placing any bets.
I was a strong supporter of Obama. But when I saw hundreds of people partying and dancing in the middle of Valencia Street on election night, I had a bad feeling that this was going to end with an ugly hangover.
So I'm not dancing in the streets about the death of Osama bin Laden. I'll save that for the day when the last American soldiers leave Iraq and Afghanistan and the military budget comes back to earth.