Nearly a year ago, while already undergoing cancer treatment, Sen. John McCain decided to make a bold move:
“We must face facts: we are losing in Afghanistan and time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide.”
He laid out a strategy for America‘s longest war; a plan that meant more manpower, more money, and more time.
A year later, Sen. McCain lies in state ahead of the Labor Day holiday – finally at earthly rest – in a place he frequently and firmly exercised his labor of love. And perhaps, as a way to honor his service, we can take a moment to learn more about why one of his final legislative efforts addressed Afghanistan, a place where he said directly, “America is adrift.”
Often referred to as a “maverick”, Sen. McCain frequently challenged established ideas – a theme found in this week’s news. From our most basic routines and habits, college traditions to major trade deals, we find ourselves at a point where “the way we’ve done it” no longer provides the comfort or influence it once did. We also see ways innovation sparks change, locally and globally. And that’s what Sen. McCain advocated for in Afghanistan – change.
Sen. McCain challenged the status quo by arguing for a politically unpopular idea – instead of withdrawing from Afghanistan, he believed we should bring the fight harder, stronger and longer. A message even more impactful because of who delivered it. As a former POW who lost close friends during wartime, and father to sons who serve in the military, Sen. McCain made this proposal knowing the ultimate costs. A year later, we see reason to re-examine his strategy as headlines clearly show al-Qaeda, and other terrorists organizations, remain a swirling storm in Afghanistan, and beyond, with no break in sight.
The coverage of Sen. McCain’s funeral services reminds me of something that I so firmly believe for SmartHER News: News is personal. It isn’t just headlines – it’s the story of our lives. This is why we must care for the news responsibly and honestly, as we would ideally care for each other.
I spent the past few days with a family I learned about initially in the headlines but who I now consider dear friends, Travis and Kelsey Mills. While on patrol during his third deployment to Afghanistan, Travis lost both of his legs and both arms during an IED explosion; he remains one of the few surviving quadruple amputees in American history. I interviewed Travis for the first time by phone in 2012 while he received treatment at Walter Reed; his wife Kelsey and his daughter Chloe, an infant at the time, a constant presence by his side. Now, he lives in his own home in Maine, owns several different businesses, started a foundation and built a retreat for veterans.
To spend time with Travis is like being around the most popular guy in high school and a living miracle; he’s incredibly intelligent, hysterically funny, and sort of a wonder, in the way he moves and functions. I see less of his injuries now, and more of just Travis; I found myself chatting with him about work, or playing with his 1-year-old son, and forgetting he’s an amputee. But I was thinking of Travis as I researched Sen. McCain’s plan for Afghanistan. Travis and I seldom talk about policy. He once told me in preparation for one of our interviews it’s because he never wanted to be a critical voice on either side while so many still serve. Travis was injured 6 years ago. We have approximately 10,000 soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan and an American soldier was killed in action just a few weeks ago.
On Sept 12, 2001, when Travis was just a teenager, Sen. McCain said: “these (terrorist) organizations could not flourish effectively unless they had the help and assistance and safe harbor of these nations. And it isn’t just Afghanistan — we’re talking about Syria, Iraq, Iran, perhaps North Korea, Libya and others.” So many years later, a week seldom passes when we don’t cover a news story about at least one of these countries on SmartHERNews.com.
As I’m writing this newsletter, my son naps on the couch in front of me. In another 17 years, he will be 21. Travis’ son will be 18. What will the years ahead bring and what leaders will emerge? As we ask these questions, America’s longest war only gets longer. There’s no way of knowing with any certainty if Sen. McCain’s strategy in Afghanistan would’ve work, but the question we leave you with this weekend: What have we not tried?
Wishes for a lovely Labor Day and thank you for supporting our own labor of love,