A few years ago Afghanistan became the longest war in United States history. This month President Obama passed all other presidents for being at war longer than any other.
That sad date was May 6. Obama still has eight months left before he finishes his second term.
When he was elected in 2008, Obama had pledged to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has been able to accomplish none of it, because of Congress balking about closing Guantanamo or fighting continuing in Afghanistan. Also, the Islamic State emerged as a new enemy in Syria and Iraq, prompting more U.S. military involvement.
Obama surpasses Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, who was commander in chief during most of World War II; Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, who led the country during most of the Vietnam War; Woodrow Wilson during World War I; and Abraham Lincoln, who saw the South secede but brought the Union back together during the bloody Civil War.
This country has never had the attention span for long wars. Those that drag on tend to zap the party of the president so that the person elected next to the Oval Office is destined to be from the other party.
It’s hard to blame the public for being battle weary. Many people were behind President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which prompted the U.S. war in Afghanistan and later Iraq.
The mounting casualties, the astronomical cost, the injuries including post-traumatic stress syndrome, the suicides and the deficient treatment of veterans have caused people’s attitude to sour about the wars and U.S. involvement overseas. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to pull back.
Obama has tried for years to live up to being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 by ending the fighting. But he has been unsuccessful. He has been able to reduce the number of U.S. military personnel in war zones.
What’s telling is that people who turn age 18 this year and are eligible to enter the military and take up arms against the never-ending enemy were just 3 years old when Sept. 11 happened. Unlike people who can recall what they were doing the day the planes struck, they have no firsthand knowledge of the tragedy except from school, textbooks and the media.
Yet they will be the people inheriting the mess that the ongoing wars have created.
They could be the potential voters, deciding the direction of the United States in the next four years – whether to continue to be involved in the global conflicts or pull back to our own shores.
People graduating from college this year at age 21 and entering the job market full time were 6 years old and just starting kindergarten or first grade when terrorists flew U.S. passenger jets into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.
Their knowledge of Sept. 11 is from the media, their folks or what they learned in school.
Their knowledge will have to deepen so that they don’t make the wrong decision at the polls in November and beyond. The terrorist attacks have proved that the oceans help, but they long ago stopped being a barrier from attacks.
Lewis Diuguid is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.