Wednesday, May 23, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Keith Burris


Lessons learned in Toledo and abroad



It’s pretty tough to avoid the subjects of Bowe Bergdahl and Eric Cantor.

Those are big water cooler topics.

And they make me think of composting in Toledo.

Yes, composting.

Mr. Bergdahl is the American soldier the President traded five alleged terrorists to get home.

Mr. Cantor is the U.S. House Republican floor leader who, for the last two years, has had a “lean and hungry look.” The question was always when he would take out the more moderate, traditional speaker of the House — Rep. John Boehner. Instead, a man called Dave Brat took out Mr. Cantor. (I think Charles Dickens is providing God with these names.)

I don’t think I have read a single bit of analysis of what the Cantor defeat “means” though many have been written. We have seen many like him come and go haven’t we? He got his comeuppance. But it is sad that control of the once-great Republican Party is now a fight between people at various points on the nihilism spectrum. No builders like Jim Rhodes, Nelson Rockefeller, or William Scranton are in sight.

I want to see how the Bergdahl story comes out, though. We still know little. But even with the little we do know, it’s a mixed bag. Maybe he deserted. Maybe he freaked out. He didn’t turn terrorist. It seems that he was a pretty serious and dedicated soldier at one point. What happened? Could we get the story before we judge?

And should the President not have made the swap? Not brought this soldier home? I’m not a big Hillary Clinton fan, but I think she said something true the other day: It doesn’t matter. Whether he was a hero, a deserter, or a nut case: We bring our people home.

Not every soldier is a hero.

That’s not human nature.

But maybe the country should treat every soldier who goes to war as a hero.

I didn’t go over there. Did you?

My sons, thank God, did not go. Did yours?

Maybe, unless you or your son went to Afghanistan, you have no right to judge Bowe Bergdahl or his father.

Mayor Mike Collins pointed out the other day that something like 3 percent of U.S. citizens serve in the military. The rest of us never had to face the folly and carnage of the stupid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How is that right?

As I write this, Iraq has again erupted into full-scale civil war. And the President who opposed U.S. instigation of the first Iraq war says we cannot turn our backs on the re-igniting of this bonfire.

He says that because he is a responsible adult and the Commander In Chief. What a job he has. I feel for anyone in that job, including Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. George H.W. Bush, a great man, won a war and knew when to stop. We kicked him out after one term. I hear people say: “If only he [Mr. Obama] were more like Bill Clinton.” Mr. Clinton got two years. After that it was a Republican Congress, gridlock, and the second term was scandal and impeachment. “If only he were more like LBJ.” Lyndon Johnson, our greatest civil rights president, was destroyed by a war he too inherited and tried to end in a way he thought was responsible.

Isn’t the real scandal endless war without plan or purpose?

Can anyone tell me what Iraq and Afghanistan were about?

Or why we are still in both places?

What impresses me is how often we get the story wrong. Eric Cantor thought he knew how his narrative would triumphantly unfold. The national media and the right wing thought the Sergeant Bergdahl story was one thing and then its opposite. It may be neither. When the Iraq war started (remember “shock and awe?”) I got a briefing from a congressman and a CIA desk man. They told me: “We are doing this because it is a quick, easy win.”

How’s that working out for us?

I loved what the mayor and Toledo City Council did about composting the other day: They admitted they should not have fired the city’s composting provider and bought their own composting machine. (We don’t know dirt.) They resolved to sell the machine and rehire the contractor. The mayor said: Let’s call it a lesson learned and move on.

This might be government at its best: admitting error and undoing a mistake.

When is the lesson-learned moment on Afghanistan and Iraq?

There are still two U.S. citizens, one Canadian, and possibly one American baby, held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Their stories are not straightforward and pure either. To me it would be worth 15 bad guys to get them back. Or 20. Let the terrorists fight it out with each other in the deserts and mountains of their far-way world, as they have for centuries. If they regroup and aim for us, send the SEALs, the CIA, the Air Force. And if the Republic — not the “homeland,” the Republic — is truly at risk at some point, we all fight.

Call it a lesson learned, and move on.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.

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