The waning days of the Bush administration are filled with news, good and bad, and American voters who should be watching the lame ducks with the eyes of a hawk are still absent without leave (AWOL).
In just one week these news bites have crawled across the bottom of the cable news screens:
Mullen said it would likely be needed to make up the numbers of trained troops for Iraq for another three years. Mullen asked his audience of 600 soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., how many of them had served three or more tours in combat and more than half of them raised their hands.
In our two ongoing wars there was some good news and some bad. Developments in Iraq, post-surge, have been positive. Fewer Americans are being killed and wounded there, even as 20,000 of the 30,000 surge troops head home this summer, and that's good. But police blotters all over the country continue to report a steady flow of Iraqi civilian and police deaths by bomb attacks and assassinations. Al Qaida fighters — foreigners hated as much or more than Americans by Iraqis — are a dwindling force on the run, and that's good too. Still, there's an unsettling air over the relative calm as though we wait for some Iraqi shoe to drop at a time of Iraqi choosing.
As for Afghanistan — where the Bush White House and Pentagon first learned to do the premature victory dance — the war is going south on us at a frightening and mostly overlooked pace. The 30,000 U.S. troops on the ground, with 20,000 other mostly NATO troops, are nowhere near enough to control Afghanistan. That would take some 200,000 troops on the ground and untold billions more dollars — troops and money that remain in short supply because both are being sucked up by our war of choice in Iraq.
Our relations with neighboring Pakistan sank even further this week when a cross-border U.S. airstrike killed 11 Pakistani Army troops, infuriating both the military and civilian political leadership and exacerbating the considerable divide between Pakistanis who support the Afghan Taliban insurgents and those who oppose them.
I know many Americans are worrying about whether they can afford enough gasoline to make it to the beach and a summer vacation, but there are some troublesome blips on the radar that we need to keep a sharp eye on while we are down in Margaritaville.