Genesis 32 tells the story of Jacob, who wrestled all night with an angel and then received the new name of Israel.
The word “Israel” literally means the man who “wrestles with an angel.”
One of the most unique things about being Jewish is the fact that we are not afraid to “wrestle” with very difficult questions. The question I want to ask is whether the United States should still be committing forces to Afghanistan.
When we wrestled with the Vietnam War, it felt deeply personal for me. I had a low draft number. American Jews were quite vocal in their opposition to that war. Now without a draft and fewer Jewish young men in the armed forces, it seems to me that our voices are conspicuously silent.
First a little background. Our congregation has had several members who have served in Afghanistan. Two of them have been previously deployed in Iraq.
One recently told me that in addition to being hot and having lousy living conditions, the security situation in Afghanistan was much worse than in Iraq and that the level of personal danger to U.S. soldiers was quite high.
He also expressed some reservation that the current government would ever be able to control the country.
A year ago, after Gen. Stanley McChrystal made statements that eventually led to his being relieved of command, it became clearer to me that President Obama had listened to the wrong military voices: ones calling for escalation.
One year later, both Republicans and Democrats want to reconsider American involvement in Afghanistan.
This past month, 31 American soldiers died in Afghanistan. At our services, we read the names of all 31of these men and women. I feel so much for their families and I truly appreciate their loyalty and service to our country. To me, they are heroes. Each one represented a world unto himself or herself.
Nearly 10 years have passed since the war in Afghanistan began. This is the longest running war in U.S. history, with an estimated monthly price tag of $10 billion.
Now that Osama bin Laden has been killed, many American politicians on both sides of the aisle are asking whether the United States should keep troops in Afghanistan, especially when federal and state governments are cutting health care and education.
In addition, it seems to me that the U.S. war in Afghanistan has paralyzed and distorted U.S. foreign policy in two far more crucial areas of the world.
First, over the last decade, the coalition of forces led by the United States has been preoccupied first with Iraq and now with Afghanistan. While this has occurred, the present Iranian government has pursued nuclear technology.
Despite the fact that Iran has repeatedly asserted that this is aimed at civilian nuclear energy, most observers have found much evidence to suggest that Iran is indeed pursuing a nuclear weapon.
I feel that without the foreign policy preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan, our efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear development could have been different and possibly more effective.
Second, these wars prevented a more robust U.S. effort at civil society building in the Arab world.
The so-called “Arab Spring” in Egypt and elsewhere illustrates how very important such an effort could have been. As dictators have fallen, leaving behind no structures for civil society, an opportunity has emerged for radical and anti-Western Islamic factions to create radical Islamic governments.
So here is my point: Why are we being so silent about this war?
Cannot the $120 billion we spend yearly in Afghanistan be used much more wisely both at home and abroad? Do we really support continued American involvement in Afghanistan?
Is it really fair to ask the men and women in our armed forces, some of whom have served more than three tours of duty, to continue such service?
We owe it to our armed services and to ourselves to “wrestle” with these most serious questions. We owe it to our country to consider whether now is the time to expeditiously bring our troops home.
In Jewish law, a principle maintains that a nonbiblical rule that is not working, is not accepted or is not successful in meeting its goal should be changed.
Is now the time for such a change?
Fred Guttman is rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.