Lingle: Hope is swift, but war has way of dragging on

Photo of Brandon Lingle

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walking together on the streets of Kyiv sent a message of strength and unity.

This latest move in the battle for hearts and minds will live in history books and imaginations as Russia’s war in Ukraine drags into its second year.

The visit echoes other presidential trips to war zones, but this was different because U.S. forces aren’t fighting in Ukraine, America doesn’t control the skies and Russian missiles and drones threaten the city.

In a better world, this war would be over with a Ukraine victory, but history reminds us to temper such hopes. Presidential visits to U.S. war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan serve as reminders.

On General speaks frankly, this time about China

The words “Mission Accomplished” conjure President George W. Bush’s victory speech on the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003.

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” he said. “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Of course, that war of choice lasted another eight years. More than 4,500 U.S. military people as well as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed. The war cost more than $2.1 trillion and helped set the stage for the battle against ISIS.

“The war on terror is not over; yet it is not endless,” Bush told the sailors that day.

More and more, the so-called war on terror appears over as the nation focuses on Russia and China, and yet reminders that the U.S. is still fighting in the Middle East and other places still show up in headlines.

On Editorial: Support for Ukraine crucial in checking Putin

On Feb. 17, U.S. Central Command announced four servicemembers and a working dog were injured during a helicopter raid in northeastern Syria. The operation targeted and killed ISIS senior leader Hamza al-Homsi, but the story caught little attention and has faded.

Apparently, low-intensity conflict and counter-terror operations aren’t as intriguing in this new era when the Doomsday Clock is the closest it’s ever been to midnight and some American politicians are calling for a “national divorce,” which many hear as a euphemism for civil war.

This reality would’ve been hard for me to imagine on May 25, 2014, as I listened to President Barack Obama address 3,000 Americans in a hangar at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan was in its 12th year with the combat mission winding down. Smaller outposts across the country were closing and forces were consolidating on the larger bases. The mission was becoming murkier as more responsibility shifted to Afghan forces.

Obama made the surprise trip to visit with us and offer thanks on the eve of Memorial Day. Country artist Brad Paisley played for the crowd.

On A new Cold War emerges

“For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan. And by the end of this year, the transition will be complete and Afghans will take full responsibility for their security, and our combat mission will be over,” Obama said. “America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.”

He spoke of denying al-Qaida safe haven, reversing the Taliban’s momentum, strengthening Afghan forces and social progress such as more girls in school, increased life expectancy, public health improvements and better literacy.

“That’s your legacy. That’s what you did,” he said. “Even with all the challenges, more Afghans have hope for their future.”

The crowd cheered, but the war went on for another seven years. Another 164 U.S. military people were killed, as were thousands of Afghans.

The optimism of that night looks different in the shadow of the frenzied departure from Kabul in 2021.

Views & Voices: Editorials, columns and commentary, delivered to your inbox

In Kyiv, Biden and Zelenskyy reminded the world about the power of freedom and democracy.

“But there should be no doubt: Our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire,” he said. “President Putin’s craven lust for land and power will fail. And the Ukrainian people’s love for their country will prevail.”

The crowd cheered, and the war goes on.

“Democracies of the world will stand guard over freedom today, tomorrow, and forever,” he said. “For that’s what’s at stake here: freedom.”

Let’s hope Biden’s words hold true and his next visit to Kyiv is to celebrate victory.