The Day After: Election Results and War Issues

June 8th, 2012

By Jan Barry

The day after Iraq war veteran Jason Castle lost his long-shot challenge in the primary election for the 5th Congressional District in New Jersey, news reports did not even mention his signature stance that it’s time to bring the troops home from Afghanistan.

In the wake of primary elections in New Jersey in which Castle got 35 percent of votes in a three-way race to challenge the incumbent, Republican Congressman Scott Garrett, a news reader could be forgiven for not having a clue as to what former Marine Sgt. Castle was about in seeking voters’ nomination to run for Congress. The winner, with 55 percent of the vote, was Adam Gussen, who ran on his record as a Teaneck Township Council member.

Meanwhile, the news from Afghanistan noted that suicide bombings and a NATO airstrike on a village made Wednesday “the deadliest day for Afghan civilians so far this year,” according to The New York Times.

Oh, and by the way, US military fatalities from a decade of fighting in Afghanistan approached or topped 2,000 this week (depending on various listings)—although that was hard to find in news reports. And, as we know from periodic reports, thousands of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unemployed, homeless, suffering from traumatic injuries. On average, 18 veterans commit suicide every day.

“More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began,” The New York Times reported in April. “One reason for veteran suicides (and crimes, which get far more attention) may be post-traumatic stress disorder, along with a related condition, traumatic brain injury…. Estimates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury vary widely, but a ballpark figure is that the problems afflict at least one in five veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. One study found that by their third or fourth tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than one-quarter of soldiers had such mental health problems.”

According to local news reports, barely 30 percent of registered Democrats voted in Bergen County, the heart of the newly redistricted 5th Congressional District. The other 70 percent presumably could care less who represents them in Congress or how things are going in a war that’s primarily kept going by Republican saber-rattling in Congress.

Yet in the neighboring 9th Congressional District, two incumbent Democratic members of Congress, competing for a newly redistricted seat, hotly debated who could push harder for a quicker end to US combat operations in Afghanistan. The Obama administration plans to hand military operations over to the Afghanistan government in 2014, while starting to withdraw a large number of troops over the next year.

“I’d like to accelerate that withdrawl,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. said during a debate last month at the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County in Teaneck. “We do need to help our own people,” he said, referring to redirecting war funds to job-creation and other issues at home. Rep. Steve Rothman countered that he recently voted for the Barbara Lee amendment to the defense bill, which would limit funding for the war in Afghanistan to “the ‘safe and orderly withdrawal’ of U.S. troops,” as CNN reported on May 17.

“Lee’s amendment to withdraw troops was defeated 113-303, but it did demonstrate the willingness, again, for a significant number of Democrats to split with the president on his war policy – over a hundred Democrats voted for it,” CNN noted.

On Tuesday, Pascrell defeated Rothman in the Democratic primary election. The stance on Afghanistan by both incumbents was, no doubt, nudged by public attitudes. Support for continuing the war tanked in the polls earlier this year.

“According to the CBS News/New York Times survey, many Americans would like to get troops home sooner. Forty-seven percent of Americans said they would like to see the timetable for the departure of U.S. troops moved up. Thirty-three percent think the schedule for withdrawal should remain as is, and 17 percent think the U.S. should stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes,” CBS noted in March.

(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)

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