Afghanistan is a local issue because some of our neighbors served there and because each of us is responsible in small ways for what we did or did not do during the last two decades in that country.

I’m going to preface each thing I say with comments by Dr. Paul Roach who served two tours of duty as a Navy surgeon in Afghanistan.

Commitment to allies

Are our promises ethical or transactional? 

Roach: “The president/my president,” Paul wrote in an email, “speaks of ending the war, but he didn’t mention ending the partnership we’d forged. … Regardless of whether it was a good initial idea or not to do that, after 20 years we were partners … and then we dumped them.” 

I’ve been able to get to know a lot of business owners in town by being a member of our Chamber of Commerce for 30 years now. Many are ethical folks who keep their promises even when doing so hurts their bottom line.

But others, when I bring up the subject of ethics, respond by saying, “It’s business, Tom. Ethics are not a part of the game. It’s just business.”

You see the analogy to foreign policy. One definition of realpolitik is “a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.”

Why does keeping promises apply to my marriage, my friendships, my faith community, my part-time job with the Review, but suddenly ethics apply to neither business nor foreign policy?

Or, is moral behavior possible between people who have to face-to-face relationships but is impossible between corporations or nations that are, in a sense, abstractions? 

Nation building

“After 20 years,” Roach argues, “we were partners because we’d brought a great many of the 38,000,000 Afghans into a modern existence. One entire new generation as well, and we brought many of them a long distance toward a belief that the West was good. We taught girls they could and should be educated. We taught women they had rights … and then we just dumped them.”

Before my son was born, I attended Lamaze classes which trained fathers how to be present while their wives were in labor. They kept saying to us/me, “You were interested enough to be there for conception, and you’d better also be there for labor and delivery.”

Polls show that most Americans do not want one more son or daughter killed in Afghanistan. I concur with that wish. However, the website Fact Check reported that in the last six years 100 military personnel were killed there. That’s 17 a year. Compare that with the statistic reported on the Officer Down Memorial Page, which revealed so far this year 287 police officers died in this country in the line of duty in the last nine months.

You be the judge. Is 16 deaths a year a price too high to help a nation of 38,000,000 keep the same freedoms we prize so highly, especially when we made a promise to do so?

Incompetent leaders

Dr. Roach contends, “I feel that the thing was screwed up from the start; not at the lower levels, but up high, at the highest strategy level.” 

My dad hated war, but when he was drafted he did his duty. He flew 50 missions in a B26 bomber in the Korean conflict. I think he would do the same in Afghanistan if he were 25 years old today and called to serve.

Check out this quote from the History website regarding the Vietnam War. “Though each president [from Truman to Ford] expressed doubts in private about American involvement, none wanted to be blamed for losing Vietnam to the communists.”

Mayor Hoskins has to make decisions all the time that are never universally supported by all residents. Mayor Hoskins and Tony Calderone and Lorraine Popelka before him never made decisions that cost Forest Parkers their lives or trillions of dollars. Most of us are able to see that they were trying to balance competing interests and we therefore give them a break at election time. In other words, they did not betray our basic trust in government.

But in my lifetime, so many leaders at higher levels — Illinois governors, U.S. presidents, Catholic bishops and even popes — have failed to lead with character and competence.

Soul searching

So Dr. Roach as well as many commentators are calling for a season of “soul searching.” I agree, and my next question is “whose soul needs to be searched and who needs to do the searching?”

I’ve just started searching my own soul and here is a report regarding what I’ve found. First, I want my government to behave as ethically as I do. It’s not “just business” and it’s not “just politics.” That I do not always behave ethically is not the issue. Ethics should always be part of our evaluation behavior, on a personal level and a corporate level.

Second, we have an obligation to help build up other nations. God is not an American. From God’s perspective, America First is a very questionable point of view. From a practical point of view as well. To paraphrase the Golden Rule: Love the other countries in the world as you love America.

And finally, incompetent leaders are an issue, but in a representative democracy we are the ones who elect our leaders. Voting is the bare minimum. As we search our souls, we need to blame ourselves first because we are the ones who vote those leaders into office.