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The Daily Tar Heel

Gen Y is witness to history’s repeat

Generation Y. You were the tireless foot soldiers in the campaign that elevated the junior senator from Illinois to the White House. You ushered in an era in which America would reclaim its stature abroad, a stature tarnished during the Bush neocons’ reign of arrogance.

A year later you’re witness to a winding down of George Bush’s war in Iraq in accordance with a treaty he negotiated before he left office. And last night, the president of Hope and Change spoke to the nation about what will henceforth be known as Obama’s War.

By ordering the insertion of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, the president has handed Generation Y a 21st century analog to the Baby Boomer’s Vietnam.

During the escalation of the Vietnam War, presidents Johnson and Nixon’s cadre of best-and-brightest military and foreign policy advisors advanced a host of strategic underpinnings for escalating the war. Most notable was the domino effect rooted in the belief that if South Vietnam fell to North, a cascade of other southeast Asian countries would fall to communist regimes. The only regime that fell was the South. The dominoes remained upright.

Last night President Obama stressed the strategic necessity to stabilize Afghanistan as part of a broader regional security compact. Assurances about timelines and metrics and increased corruption oversight. Assurances to Afghans that we’d be their guests for a short while yet ensure their safety for a lifetime. A president anguished over his decision to send young Americans to war yet comforted by months of study and review and consultation — just like presidents Johnson and Nixon.

Despite the president being a fellow Baby Boomer, I see an Afghanistan that conjures up a sobering sense of redux. Despite all rhetorical flourish, all the strategic assessments, all the political appeasement to the left and right, and the carefully-chosen backdrop of the storied West Point as his pulpit, the fact remains that the president believes he can conquer an amorphous enemy on a battlefield which has swallowed the British thrice and the Russians once over the last century and a half.

A country teeming with corruption, lacking a central government, ruled by tribal chieftains whose wealth is fueled by an economy producing 90 percent of the world’s heroin. A war theater where the president, on his short watch, has now committed half of the forces to be deployed: 50,000 troops costing $50 billion per year to maintain.

A president expanding a war in support of a fragile democracy and shady ally in neighboring Pakistan.

A Pakistan having more jihadists and nuclear weapons per square mile than any country.

A Pakistan in which the U.S. has invested more than $12 billion in military aide in return for a spike in extremist violence and a Taliban insurgency fully nested inside all major cities.

A Pakistan as the launch pad for the Mumbai terrorist attack and keeper of a nuclear arsenal of more than 80 warheads and an unknown amount of fissile material.

Take note, Gen Y. History and mankind alike bend toward repetition. America hurdles onward seeking fonts of Hope and vehicles of Change. Another president sends troops to battle an enemy who has no timeline.

Is anybody listening?

Jim Neal is a former U.S. Senate primary candidate. Contact Jim at

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