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Last Words Worth Acting Upon

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Last words say a lot about the people who speak them. Final utterances can range from regrets for a life not fully lived or satisfaction for a job well-done. Some shed light on the true nature of the individual. The consummate entrepreneur/entertainer P.T. Barnum’s last gasp asked, “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?” Comedian Lou Costello said, “That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted,” before breathing his last.

Sometimes last words are worth acting upon. So are the last words of Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat, who died in December. Holbrooke was in the middle of a mission to pave the way for America’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan when a torn aorta brought about his demise. According to his family, just before being wheeled into surgery to attempt a repair to his heart, Holbrooke told his doctors, “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.” Of course, within hours of his last words becoming public, official Washington rebutted Holbrooke’s deathbed request as mere “painful banter just before surgery.” In other words, he didn’t mean it – it was simply the words of a man who was out of his mind in pain.

Now, I would not be so arrogant as to interpret for the rest of us the meaning of Holbrooke’s last words. I’ll leave that to the know-it-alls in our nation’s capital. What is important is that Holbrooke’s final plea should be acted upon. Clearly, nine years later fighting this protracted war in Afghanistan has apparently not made us any safer. If it did we wouldn’t be constantly reminded by Uncle Sam that the next Al Qaeda attack is just around the corner. We wouldn’t be told that full body scanners and sexual assaults by TSA agents at the airport are necessary to keep our airways safe.

Look, on my way back to the United States from Qatar for Christmas, my family and I had to endure additional security searches at the airport in Doha all because we were traveling directly to the U.S.. Travelers flying between other countries don’t have to submit to longer lines and more intimate searches of bags and person. When we flew to Egypt and Jordan earlier in the year we were not subject to these added security measures. Let’s consider that the difference is that our government is not doing enough to keep us safe – and that includes ending wars that produce resentment and hatred of Americans.

But, our Military Industrial Complex,” “Security” agencies, and their accompanying apparatchik are not interested in ending the wars. They care nothing about getting at the root causes of terrorism. All they want to do is continue to take our liberties away, deploy more agents of death on the ground, and launch more weapons of human destruction in an effort to eradicate terrorism.

Take Homeland Security Advisory Board member Frances Townsend for instance. When asked by Texas Congressman Ron Paul, “Why do they (terrorists) want to come after us?” on CNN’s Situation Room, Townsend abruptly answered, “I don’t really care why; if I am flying on a plane, I want to be safe.” The problem is that folks like Townsend have it both ways. They fly on airplanes safely and make a living out of scaring the rest of us, violating our constitutional rights, and perpetrating wars and imprisonments indefinitely.

And according to retired Admiral Dennis Blair and more recently President Obama, our detention of “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay is a “rallying cry for terrorist recruitment.” So, why don’t we expedite a solution to the problem of closing Guantanamo and take a bite out of terrorism?

The actions of the Homeland Security industry are similar to those of the parent who repeatedly punishes a child for the same misbehavior without ever attempting to find out what is causing the misbehavior in the first place. Reasonable parents would try to get at the root causes of the problem to save themselves and their child a lot of agony.

The problem is that Homeland Security is like every other federal agency that mooches off the federal treasury. It receives ever larger budgets over its lifespan and never fulfills its mission. Why should it? Its gravy train would come to an end.

And that brings us back to the last words of Richard Holbrooke and the twisting of what he meant by official Washington. Knowing that he faced the grim reaper, Holbrooke was likely expressing his true feelings that ending the war in Afghanistan would make America safer. So the question is, whom do we believe – an intelligent man with intimate knowledge of the issues who was on the brink of death or an industry that has a vested financial interest in the status quo? I believe the former and that is why his last words are worth acting upon.


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About Kenn Jacobine

  • Kenn Jacobine

    I had no problem going in as revenge for 911. However, it now appears that Al Qaeda has won by engaging us in war of attrition. We are bleeding people, money, and our rights in an effort to fight an inexhausable foe. What is the point if at the end of the day we have lost America as we knew it?

  • Arch Conservative

    Unless I am mistaken I do not recall a 24-7 decade long marathon of Dancing with the Stars during the 1980’s. Therefore SOMEONE in this country must have glimpsed what was going on with the Russians in Afghanistan.

    We should have known not to go in the first place long before Richard Holbrooke aka “Captain Obvious” showed up on the scene with his sage words.

  • Kenn, while I personally disagreed with the vast majority of Holbrooke’s ideas with regards to foreign policy, he was nonetheless a man who stood by his word and, for the most part, delivered on what he promised. Sadly, this is a very rare quality amongst most bureaucrats of today, though he was a shining exception to the rule. That being said, the U.S. military leaving Afghanistan now would be a horrific ac as its presence has led to a stabilization of sorts in many provinces over the last few months. Now that we are on a path to at least moderate success, throwing in the towel would be nothing short of shameful.

    As far as the typical, and rather annoying, libertarian-esque rants of a “security” or “police” state are concerned, one must consider that we live in a world in which the most demanding of measures must be taken to thwart potential acts of violence. If this needs to be achieved under certain auspices of the PATRIOT Act, one of the most positive developments in American national security history, in my opinion, then I cannot imagine any realist being opposed to such things as federal wiretapping or the suspension of habeas corpus, should either of these actions become a necessity. We must be pragmatic and cunning as a nation to defeat our sworn enemies both at home and abroad.

  • zingzing

    people were making a big thing about his words. but if those weren’t his words, or they were uttered in a different context, it’s only right for them to put it right. it’s a soundbite. is it suddenly nefarious to put a soundbite in context? if so, why?

    and how did they get from “possibly practic[ing] revisionist history” to suddenly being guilty of distorting and revising? seems like you’re making it seem they’re guilty of even bigger crimes than the one you’re not sure they committed in the first place… is that sound legally or logically? i think not.

    come on now, kenn… you’re better than that. you ran with something that’s probably not true and put it deeper in the dramatic nonsense territory with the “grim reaper” stuff. in all likelihood, he didn’t say the words, he didn’t think he was dying, the administration isn’t hiding anything and you’re getting your witch hunt hat on.

    as far as i can tell, obama has no earthly self-interest in keeping this war going. it is a quagmire. we can’t leave without afghanistan descending into chaos and creating an environment that again lends itself to terrorism against us, and we can’t stay without endangering american lives and risking possible future attack.

    welcome to afghanistan, eh? history should have taught us this lesson before we stuck an army in there. you fight terrorism with precision, not brute force.

  • Kenn Jacobine

    Instead of just saying Holbrooke was a great diplomat and the Administration will work hard to complete his mission in Afghanistan, they possibly practice revisionist history. And this is a relatively minor incident to do it with. What other larger issues are they distorting or revising?

  • zingzing

    “I think the point is that Holbrooke spoke a truth and that needs to be embraced in Washington ASAP.”

    well, i think we all (including holbrooke) know it’s more complicated than that. nobody’s over there having any fun. (i can’t even figure out who’s making any money… it certainly isn’t us. or is it?)

  • zingzing

    i don’t know how they really did that. they put their opinion out there, which they are free to do, but they are quoting what the doctor (or nurse, i don’t recall,) told them (supposedly). it’s right there for you to see. if those are the real words, the tone is clear to me, but you are free to interpret the words however you’d like.

    and so you did. even though they might have been the wrong words, possibly viewed through the wrong lens (i’m not convinced he knew he was dying).

    if you are able to form and put forth an opinion, how is it scary that the white house might? you obviously weren’t swayed by theirs or stopped from forming yours.

  • Kenn Jacobine

    Yes, Victor, that was the point of the article.

  • I think the point is that Holbrooke spoke a truth and that needs to be embraced in Washington ASAP.

  • Kenn Jacobine

    I honestly don’t know how to interpret his words. The scary part is that the Washington Establishment (which wasn’t there) show it necessary to interpret the words for the rest of us.

  • zingzing

    or, indeed, if either of them are correct…

  • zingzing

    also, according to another source, it’s not “And [Holbrooke] said, ‘Yeah, see if you can take care of that,’ including ending the war.”

    the “including ending the war” should be included in holbrooke’s words rather than existing outside of them.

    not that i’m sure which one is correct at this point.

  • zingzing

    according to doctors at the texas heart institute, “In the best of hands, the risk of dying with the surgery is from 10 to 30 percent.”

    so… “Knowing that he faced the grim reaper, Holbrooke was likely expressing his true feelings” might be an overstatement, although “ending the war in Afghanistan would make America safer” is most likely true, depending upon a few things.

  • zingzing

    not that i don’t agree with the sentiment, but it supposedly wasn’t “simply the words of a man who was out of his mind in pain,” it was a jokey bit of banter between a worried man (about surgery, about afghanistan, apparently about pakistan,) and his doctors.

    here, supposedly, is the full conversation, which doesn’t include the words he initially was quoted as saying:

    ““At one point, the medical team said, ‘You’ve got to relax,’ And Richard said, ‘I can’t relax, I’m worrying about Afghanistan and Pakistan.’ After some additional exchanges … finally [Holbrooke’s doctor] said, ‘Tell you what, we’ll try to fix this challenge while you’re in surgery.’ And [Holbrooke] said, ‘Yeah, see if you can take care of that,’ including ending the war.”

    now if he really did say “you’ve got to stop this war in afghanistan,” i can see why the white house would want to downplay that at the current time. i’m sure he did want to end the war, but i doubt it was some sort of “out of afghanistan now!” thing.

    and if the white house’s version of events is true, it’s obvious from the tone (“yeah, see if you can take care of that,”) that it’s a jokey response rather than an honest plea for a doctor (or nurse or whatever) to end the war in afghanistan, or to spread the word of his dying wish (did he know he was dying?) or anything like that.

    that said, whatever he meant, whatever the tone, i’m sure he looked forward to the end of the war, as we all do. just how it ends, and if our departure really is the end of it, is the question we have to answer.

  • Kenn Jacobine

    Dr. D.

    Remember libertarians are loathed by the right because of positions just like the one espoused in this article.

  • It’s a good thing you self-identify as being on the right side of the political spectrum, Kenn. Whenever any of us left-leaning BCers give voice to the notion that we should try to understand why terrorists want to turn Americans into sushi, we are instantly accused of being moral relativists, which apparently is a Horrid Thing to Be.