If, as polls show, war is "off the radar" for midterm voters, it's a non-issue for midterm candidates, too. Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, show up exactly one time apiece in the GOP Pledge to America (on one page out of 48), and merely to bolster the GOP case for sanctions against Iran. Iran "worked to harm our deployed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," the pledge notes. That's all there is about wars that have strained the military and drained the treasury for almost a decade and counting.
Maybe for once, the political class and the people are in sync. According to a New York Times poll, only 3 percent of voters consider "Afghanistan or the war" the most important issue of the day. Given the beleaguered state of the economy, that isn't too surprising. "What is surprising," the paper points out, "is that hardly any Americans cite the war in Afghanistan at all."
Why don't they? How did we grow callous to these open wounds of war? NBC's Tom Brokaw tried to answer the question in a New York Times column by citing the fact that an all-volunteer military, only a tiny fraction of the population (less than 1 percent), is "carrying 100 percent of the battle." As U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan drag into their seventh and ninth years, respectively, military society and civilian society are more divided than ever. The relative number of troops deployed remains quite small, as does the resulting strain on the unaffected population at large. Thus, the competently managed if incompetently conceived flow of blood and treasure continues. Most people can ignore it, so they do.
Still, cold statistics don't explain everything. The question remains: What causes a nation that can mass-empathize with miners trapped underground, save the whales, turn out for tea parties, and send hundreds of millions of dollars in charity around the globe to natural-disaster victims also look away from the appalling sacrifice our government sees fit, without cogent explanation, to demand of our mainly men and (often Islamically covered) women serving in war zones under recklessly restrictive rules of engagement? Somehow, what has become the plight — it seems odd to use that word but I think it fits — of our fellow citizens in uniform and the hemorrhaging of our national wealth have also become matters of indifference.
One big reason is underlying mission confusion. Our leadership, beginning with the Bush administration, has failed to carry out its core strategic responsibility after 9/11: to master the study of Islamic jihad, the enemy threat doctrine that inspired the 9/11 attacks, and craft a strategy to turn back the fruit of jihad — namely, the advance of Sharia (Islamic law) in the West. Instead, the politically correct, see-no-Islam strategy we pursue to this day ignores jihad, and simultaneously seeks, in effect, to thwart the imperatives of Sharia in the Islamic world, beginning with Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, we, the people, have failed, too, abdicating our own need to know, to probe, to question what history is already revealing to have been a gross if not also grotesque misuse of military force to carry out a failed experiment in social engineering in the Islamic sector of the Third World — not national security.
Since mum really is the word, I picked up on only one pro-war conservative rejoinder to Brokaw's recent comments. Writing online at Contentions, former Bush White House official Peter Wehner offered his explanation for radio silence on war in this election: "The fact that it (Iraq) has dropped off the radar screen is an indication of the very progress Brokaw himself cannot seem to acknowledge."
Really? "Progress"? In a week when Iraq's Nuri al-Maliki was in Tehran seeking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's favor and alliance with Moqtada al-Sadr while NATO forces were simultaneously themselves ferrying senior Taliban leaders to "peace talks " in Kabul with Afghanistan's Karzai, to invoke "progress" is to dodge failure. Maybe it's no wonder Americans look the other way. Maybe it's no wonder we don't see — or see only what we wish to see: nascent democratic bulwarks against jihad, not Sharia-supreme basket cases increasingly dominated by our openly jihadist enemies.
And that's nothing to stay silent about and ignore.
Diana West is the author of "The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization," and blogs at dianawest.net. She can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.