WASHINGTON -- President Obama has been doing some very interesting things lately regarding the United States and wars in the modern age. With his Memorial Day speech finally giving some respect to the long-forgotten Vietnam veterans, he seemed to be resetting history, inserting important parts that were left out the first time around.
Speaking to thousands of Vietnam vets and others before the shiny black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here, with its incised names of the dead, President Obama tried to fill in what should have been said decades ago.
"You were often blamed for a war you didn't start when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor," the president said. "You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened ..."
Asking the veterans to stand, Obama in effect presided over a belated homecoming. "Welcome home," he said. "Welcome home. Thank you."
At another commemoration on Memorial Day, this one at Arlington National Cemetery, he pledged to go to war only with a "clear mission," with the support of the nation and when "absolutely necessary." Which is where the problems arise.
It is easy, today, to praise the Vietnam vets; it is easy and it is right. They were sent to those miserable jungles by politicians just like Obama, after quick meetings in the Oval Office, and after President Kennedy had already bungled the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in 1961.
It was a draft army then, and in my stays in Vietnam in 1967, '68 and later, I never found one soldier, or even officer, who approved of such a foolish and wasteful war. These men and women deserved neither the fates they met in Saigon, Danang and all those other places on their map, nor the opprobrium heaped upon them if they were lucky enough to return home. The war's political planners went on to higher jobs, or to movies where they cried over their mistakes, or to the presidency. Talk about resentment!
We have to give President Obama abundant thanks for the ways he has dealt with the wholly unnecessary and foggy wars he inherited. He gradually pulled us out of Iraq, with little drama and high effectiveness. When "our" Iraqi government refused status-of-forces agreements with our military -- meaning that American troops who remained could be tried only by American judges -- we simply left. Most Americans probably didn't even know it.
Afghanistan is still a work in progress, but it would seem that we will, indeed, leave by 2014, as will the even-more-eager NATO troops. Just what we could possibly leave behind in such a backward and traumatized country remains to be seen; our only comfort is that it probably won't be any worse than before in its history.
But then we get to the future, which is already closing in on us rather than opening up for us. The president's "Welcome home" fell apart into tiny pieces when he talked about the U.S. embarking only upon wars that had a "clear mission" and were "absolutely necessary."
The truth is, we already are embarked upon missions mired in the fog of human nature, with robotic weapons that may relieve the threat to our human soldiers but that will cause many times more hatred toward America.
We are talking now about drone strikes, attacks by unmanned aircraft, which are devilishly capable, at their best, of hitting only carefully chosen targets. There is no question that the U.S. has used these special aircraft to kill many al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also as far away as Yemen, where al-Qaida is holding whole small cities. But now we are seeing the results.
There are new stories daily from those countries about the inaccuracy of the drones -- about how they are killing totally innocent people, whole families, men who just happened to be around the local al-Qaida chief. Pakistan is in virtual upheaval about the deaths -- and the nerve of the U.S. in sending drones to explode within their territory!
Even worse, as The Washington Post reported in a comprehensive article from Yemen this week, "an escalating campaign of U.S. drone strikes is stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaida-linked militants and driving tribesmen to join a network linked to terrorist plots against the United States."
The article reported that as many as 21 missile attacks have hit Yemen since January, "reflecting a sharp shift in a secret war carried out by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command ..."
The importance of the drone strikes cannot be overstated. The White House has called them "the only game in town," a phrase that reminded Adm. Dennis C. Blair, former director of national intelligence, of the disastrous policy of "body counts in Vietnam."
When you put all the pieces together, you get a picture of the United States under Barack Obama, the "anti-war president" to so many, but who is already leading us into a new kind of war without even waiting for the last one to end.
Moreover, we are not only implementing these new robotic weapons but are also providing them to other countries (drones are being made available to Turkey and Italy, for starters). That can serve only to make the battleground more confused, and the responsibility for using them more difficult to determine.
Imagine, for a moment, a United States of America that is not thinking constantly about the next war, but is working at the less glorified business of negotiating and peacemaking. That is the country so many expected of Barack Obama, but it is not the vision he has given us.