"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Will somebody find us some leaders worthy of our troops?

A resolution is about to hit Congress, concocted by Senators Biden, Levin, and Hagel (and as of this morning, Olympia Snowe as well), proclaiming that "It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating U.S. troop presence in Iraq." The resolution is nonbinding, offers no suggestions or alternatives, and as an effort to make Congress "more assertive" in the Iraq war, of dubious constitutional legitimacy. I think NRO's characterization of it says it all: “The U.S. Senate has no confidence that you can possibly accomplish your mission. Carry on!”

What does this accomplish? Does it bring us any closer to winning in Iraq? Not nearly as much as something concrete like, oh, say, more troops to secure Baghdad, aggressive rules of engagement, and a general who literally wrote the book on modern counterinsurgency. Even the Iraq Study Group report, itself hardly a serious document, offered counsel and guidance.

It's hard to stomach the fatuousness of bromides like, "a military solution is no longer feasible." Certainly, the military campaign will go nowhere without a corresponding political offensive from Iraq's leaders. But it is pure self-deception to dismiss it out of hand. And it's not accurate to say that the military option has been tried, and failed; rather, it's been half-tried, never truly given the attention to detail, the tools, and the leadership it needed. Well, it's about to get the tools and leadership it needs. So why condemn it to failure before it's had a chance to take off?

Why? Because, even in the majority, the Democratic leadership would rather use to the Iraq war as a club to beat over Bush's head, to destroy the man they hate so much, than address it as a serious national security issue affecting this entire country. They could afford to get away with it when they were the opposition; but even now, when they have the power to offer constructive criticism and help shape our foreign policy, they'd rather watch the president bleed to death by lacerating him with a thousand cuts. Hey, at least we know right off the bat what to expect from the House of Pelosi. And as always, our warfighters can take confidence in knowing just how much you've got their backs. Thanks.

Then there's the Commander in Chief. I was underwhelmed, to put it mildly, by the delivery of his speech on his 'new course' in Iraq, but I felt that its content, if implemented without reservation, could turn affairs around over there. At last, it seemed like he was serious about getting involved and winning this global war on terror with more than tired quotes about how bad our enemy is. And then I came across this excerpt from an interview with Jim Lehrer (it's long, so bear with me):

  • Lehrer: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you've just said--and you've said it many times--as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it's that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military--the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They're the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point.
    Bush: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.
    Now, here in Washington when I say, "What do you mean by that?," they say, "Well, why don't you raise their taxes; that'll cause there to be a sacrifice." I strongly oppose that. If that's the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I'm not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy. And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life's moving on, that they're able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table. And you know, I am interested and open-minded to the suggestion, but this is going to be--
    Lehrer: Well--
    Bush:---this is like saying why don't you make sacrifices in the Cold War? I mean, Iraq is only a part of a larger ideological struggle. But it's a totally different kind of war, than ones we're used to.
    Lehrer: Well, for instance, Mr. President, some people have asked why--and I would ask you about--have you considered some kind of national service program, that would be civilian as well as military, that would involve more people in the effort to--not just militarily, but you talk about ideology, all this sort of stuff--in other words, to kind of muster the support of young Americans, and other Americans, in this struggle that you say is so monumental and so important.
    Bush: Yeah, I have considered whether it ought to be compulsory, non-military service, I guess is the best way to put it. I'm not for compulsory military service, by the way. I think the volunteer army is working and we got to keep it strong.
    I made the decision early on to set up what's--something called the USA Freedom Corps, which could encourage volunteerism; call people to take time out of their lives to serve our country with compassionate acts. And by the way, volunteerism is high in America.
    But no, you know, I thought through compulsory national service and thought that the route that we picked was the best route.

I pulled this off the WSJ's "Best of the Web", which criticizes Lehrer for seeking to impose hardship on others rather than call for genuine selfless sacrifice, and argues that we have made sacrifices (like tighter airline security). I would agree that tighter (and thereby more annoying) airline security is a shared sacrifice; but the point is that it doesn't feel that way, and the President has done a horrendous job of matching calls for sacrifice to his rhetoric about this ideological struggle. And it seems the man running this struggle is still missing the point (as noted by his almost farcical suggestion that we sacrifice "peace of mind" when we see images of war on TV. Wow. Who knew that we didn't need Rosie the Riveter, just lots and lots of psychiatrists).

The point is not about imposing sacrifices from the top down; it's that the top has never asked anything from the masses at the bottom or provided opportunities for sacrifice to those who want to but don't know how. It's a topic I've hit before and it's very disturbing that we have to keep coming back to it, but there it is. After 9/11, calls went out to donate to the Red Cross, to give money to the families who'd lost loved ones in the attacks; and America resoundingly responded. After Katrina, Americans were again called upon to support disaster relief agencies with money or manpower; and they did. Yet, to support the war effort in the great ideological fight of our time, Americans have been asked: nothing. They were told to go back to work like nothing had happened. I can't even begin to describe how much of a wasted opportunity that was.

It's not like we need to raise taxes or draft new legions. But why haven't we offered something like war bonds that could be used to raise quick cash to buy extra body armor for our troops? Why has there been complete silence from the administration about relief groups like Spirit of America who are trying to do material good for civilians in the war zones? And comparisons of this war to the Cold War as ideological battles only outlines one huge discrepancy: this is a shooting war. In a shooting war, you need guns, bullets, troops, and money to win. Hell, we didn't win the Cold War just by talking about how bad the bad guys were. We won by backing up our talk with the credible threat of overwhelming destruction if the bad guys crossed the line. The Soviets knew that in an all-out conflict, every resource of our nation would be turned into instruments for their annihilation. Clearly, the scale of this war is smaller, and we don't need to gear up for total war. But we haven't geared up at all, and that is a travesty. The failure to mobilize this country will stand out as one of the great mistakes in Bush's conduct in this conflict, whatever legacy history bestows on him.

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