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Wait! First A Good Argument About Afghanistan

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This press release was just issued by the US military in Afghanistan:

KABUL, Afghanistan (October 27) - Eight U.S. service members and an Afghan civilian working with ISAF were killed today in multiple complex IED attacks in southern Afghanistan. Additionally, several service members were wounded in these incidents and were transported to a regional medical facility for treatment.

And I ask myself, why are we in Afghanistan? What is our goal there? If our troops remain in that increasingly violent country, do we need more US troops? Do we need less US troops? Maybe we have the correct number? What should be their mission? What is the mission of our country and military in the world? As you can see, I'm confused. The Taliban did not kill Americans, so why are we fighting them? They did help al Qaeda, right? I'm becoming more confused. Yet, I shouldn't be confused.

Recently I spent five long grueling months in Afghanistan. I studied the country up-close, traveled all over the rugged terrain, met Taliban and lots of US Marines and soldiers and civilans, and I wrote about the conflict. Still, I'm confused.

So I ask, where is the debate here at home? The national discussion leading to insights and understanding about the situation in Afghanistan and what the US role should be in that bloody country? Instead, all I hear are angry screams and empty words. All I see is a heavy fog that blankets the question: more, less, or same number of troops?

Our country has either lost or never possessed the capability to conduct a national discussion. With the current debate to increase or not increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan, one side is demanding we immediately make the decision and the Obama Administration is saying - well, nothing actually. Nothing in public, that is. They are doing all their real talking behind closed doors.

Some Americans are leaning in one or another direction but maintain an open mind, others are perplexed why we are in Afghanistan, still others are annoyed our mission has changed in Afghanistan -- they feel it has changed. Still, most Americans are pretty much in the dark, and being in the dark, are unable to make a real decision. A decision they are really comfortable with making.

What we need is an intense, comprehensive national discussion without the stupid screaming to hurry up and make the decision and without the reassuring words from Washington that they will make the right decision. We need a genuine public debate!

We need the national dialogue our Founding Fathers wrote was crucial for a democracy. A vigorous debate in the marketplace of ideas that every guardian of the "people's will" insists is crucial. Instead, our media only gives us screams from the political right and reassuring words from the administration; that we are looking weak and that they will make the correct decision. Not good enough, by a long way.

When our grand experiment in democracy was launched in the 18th century, delay in decision-making was considered crucial. Big mistakes happen when decisions are made too quickly. Checks and balances were built into the heart of the system. Different branches were constructed to slow down the time-table for making decisions. Media as a forum for national debate was written into the Constitution. Slow, public discussion was considered imperative.

Today, if those who demand an instant decision believe democracy is no longer practical in the modern era, they should come out and say that only dictatorship or oligarchy is practical in the modern era. But these critics of our Founding Fathers refuse to say democracy is obsolete. Instead we hear shouts for a quick decision and vague words we will make the correct decision.

Leaving the Constitution Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government the delegates were creating for the new country. He is reported to have said: "A Republic -- if you can keep it!" True, if we can keep it.

Those who want to take away democracy come in all shapes and colors. As believers of autocratic governments who hide behind the shield of national emergencies ... as democrats who believe the democratic process is obsolete ... as freedom-screamers in a mad rush to give freedom away ... as idealists insisting regular citizens cannot decide important matters of state ... as elitists insisting only they can make the decisions. And of course, the media, which only reports the shouts from the political right and the reassuring words from the administration.

If Afghanistan is in such dire straits that we have to rush over more troops -- I don't believe the prior increase in troops have all arrived in-country -- then it may be time to activate the military draft and impose a war tax on Americans and American business. If we had a real debate in America, these and other issues would be under the spotlight instead of off the table. If we had a forceful, healthy national debate worthy of a strong democracy.

This is what democracy is all about. Not quick decisions. Not decisions behind closed doors. But a thorough national debate that leads to a national decision. Anything less, in this situation, will leave our combat troops vulnerable. They could be wounded or killed for a bad cause, or for a good cause with a deficient strategy. And it will leave our democracy vulnerable. Increasingly vulnerable to being circumvented and warped and eventually killed.

There is a time to talk and there is a time to act. Right now it is time to talk about what we are doing in Afghanistan and what we should do. It will be talk that is not sexy, not flashy, not decisive, but talk that is crucial for a functioning democracy. Then we need to act with the conviction of our solid understanding. One month, maybe a couple of months of discussion, and the fog of confusion should have dissipated. And then we can act.

This is how our democratic system was designed. And this is what our troops in Afghanistan deserve.