I’ve just emerged after a week in Afghanistan, traveling through the country–especially in the volatile south–with a military delegation from NATO. I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the print edition of the magazine this week. But it’s hard not to be both impressed and depressed by the effort. Impressed by the serious new thinking about the struggle and the sacrifices being made by U.S. troops and some of our allies–during my two days in Regional Command-South, three Canadians and two Danish soldiers were killed in action, and two British soldiers were severely wounded. It is also difficult not to be infuriated, once again, by the lethal strategic carelessness of the Bush Administration’s Afghanistan policy, its lack of attention to detail, its coddling of an “ally”–Pakistan–that harbors the terrorists killing our troops and of another “ally,” President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, whose corrupt administration seems as concerned about reaping the profits of the poppy harvest as it does about protecting and providing services for its people. But don’t get me started…as I said, more to come.
For the moment, though, I’m hopeful that the Obama Administration will prove far more responsible–and attentive–to the difficult situations in Afghanistan, Iraq and all the other places where our troops will be serving dusty, dangerous holidays this month. Another excellent sign–a moment of high symbolism and justice–comes today with the announcement of retired General Eric Shinseki as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki, you will recall, was the Army Chief of Staff who warned that Donald Rumsfeld was underestimating the troops needed and the difficulty of the struggle to come in Iraq. For that, he was humiliated by Rumsfeld and, especially, by Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and forced to retire from the military.
It should give none of us great pleasure that Shinseki has now been called back into service to administer the system that is too full of the casualties of Bush and Rumsfeld’s folly. It is hard not to be infuriated by the loss of life and limb that the Bush Administration caused with its arrogance. But it is good to know that General Shinseki–a man whose past service honors the wounded he will now serve–will be part of the new Administration, and especially good to know that Barack Obama has the wisdom and sensitivity to understand how important this appointment is, symbolically and practically, to those who wear the uniform on this anniversary of the second most deadly attack on our nation.