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Notes From the Boonies

By Paul Wisovaty

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Tim Johnson wants us out of Afghanistan now. OK, there are probably a couple of hundred guys named Tim Johnson who want us out of Afghanistan. But only one of them is my US Congressman from east central Illinois. As an old sage once observed, therein hangs a tale.

Tim is a rock solid Republican, which doesn't automatically make him a bad guy. (This disclaimer is important, as I do not wish to offend the three or four readers of this column who may claim allegiance to the party of Abraham Lincoln. The Veteran is a non-partisan publication.) But I have to give the guy some credit. About five years ago, he accepted an invitation from our Champaign County ACLU steering committee to jawbone with us about some current political issues. Tim knew, going in that night, there was not one person in the room who would vote for him on the proverbial coldest day in hell. But he showed up, was entirely honest with us about his opposition to most of the things we stood for, and I applaud him for having done that. He could have spent the evening hanging out in a men's room with Larry Craig or flying to Argentina with the Governor of South Carolina to find his soul mate, but he chose to spend that evening with the American Civil Liberties Union. Quite honestly, if I were a Republican, that's the last place on the planet where you would have found me.

The story now takes its first turn. About three or four years ago, several local anti-war groups, including the Champaign VVAW and IVAW chapters, held a community forum in which we asked Congressman Johnson to reconsider his support for the invasion of Iraq. There were several speakers at the event, including me, and, of course, we invited Tim to join us. We had a chair set up on the stage with an attractive sign labeled "Congressman Johnson," so that he would have privileged seating. As you might guess, he never showed up, presumably because 1) he didn't agree with us, and 2) he guessed, correctly, that a few of the speakers would say unkind things about him. I really don't blame the guy. If I got invited to a Tea Party I'm sure I'd skip it and spend the evening at the Tuscola Moose Lodge.

So flash forward to September 21, 2009. Congressman Johnson appeared at a town hall meeting in Gibson City, Illinois (population 2,500) and, as expected, was roundly applauded for his opposition to the President's health care reform plan. But then he did one of those unexpected Tim things: he called for an immediate pull-out of US troops from Afghanistan. Specifically, he said that "I'm suggesting to you that there is no end game. I believe that our men and women are there in a mission that is ill-defined. I think we're losing people by the day, with no even indirect relationship to our national security." He finished by saying that, "We've had a succession from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan, and the net result has been thousands of lives lost, and very little progress made."

I should add that Mr. Johnson also opposed George Bush's "surge" in 2007, presumably among a small minority of Republican Congressmen who did so. I don't often agree with the guy, but I have to give him credit for having an independent streak. He ended the town hall meeting by telling the citizens of Gibson City that he is "going to be looking at legislation and issuing a definitive statement on my position on Afghanistan which would call for our withdrawal of troops forthwith."

I should point out that Tim Johnson gets re-elected regularly with a significant cushion. He could probably call for an invasion of Mars - or sponsor legislation asking us to pull our troops out of Mars - and still be a shoe-in for re-election. Folks in east central Illinois really love this guy.

Obviously confused and needing direction, I asked Dr. Joe Miller what to make of all of the above. Joe simply wondered whether Tim would be as desirous of pulling out of Afghanistan if George Bush or John McCain or (I have to say it) Sarah Palin were President. I don't know. I'm sure that Congressman Johnson knows, but probably the least effective way to find the answer to that question would be to ask him. I am also not suggesting that that observation renders him noticeably different from the rest of his Capitol Hill colleagues.

But, like the rest of us, sometimes I just have to sit back and say to myself, "Afghanistan? Afghanistan??" As one US commander there observed, walking around that country is like taking a stroll through the Old Testament. I mean those poor goat herders and poppy growers no disrespect, Allah love them, but what do we expect to accomplish there? Are we willing to commit what may realistically necessitate upwards of a hundred thousand troops into that country in order to pacify it? Didn't we learn anything from the Russians?

On an unexpectedly serious note, I do take these Al-Qaida folks seriously. They scare me almost as much as Ann Coulter. I'm just trying to figure out the connection which the President and the Defense Department make, between Al-Qaida's very real wish to destroy us and our military escalation in a place that makes Vietnam look almost winnable.

Is it really possible - God I hate to say this - that rock-solid Republican Tim Johnson has a better grasp on reality than the guy I voted for in the last Presidential election?

Paul Wisovaty is a member of VVAW.
He lives in Tuscola, Illinois, where he works as a probation officer.
He was in Vietnam with the US Army 9th Division in 1968.

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