Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Okay, Let's Put It This Way: You Can't Support the War and Also Support National Security

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Spencer Ackerman writes in the Washington Monthly that Democrats are hurting themselves politically by arguing that ending the Iraq war is the best way to support the troops:

The uncomfortable reality is this: nothing in Iraq worth fighting for remains achievable, and nothing achievable in Iraq remains worth fighting for. Democrats have made the decision—-rightly, I think-—that withdrawing from Iraq is the least bad of many bad options. But they shouldn’t kid themselves into thinking that a majority of the troops doing the fighting agree with them. For soldiers like Lieutenant Wellman, this will be hard to accept. As he told me of war doubters back home, “I don’t want them to just support the troops. I want them to support the mission.” This matters, because pretending that in ending the war they’re doing the troops a favor hurts Democrats politically. They risk looking condescending, and, worse, oblivious—which has the broader effect of undermining public trust in the Democrats to handle national security. More basically, it does a disservice to those who serve. For soldiers who are optimistic, being told that the war can’t be won is bad enough. But to be told that politicians are doing them a favor by extricating them from a mission they believe in is downright insulting.

Democrats would do much better to speak honestly: to acknowledge that many fighting men and women want to stay in the battle and would be willing to do so for years longer. There’s nothing wrong with saying that, nor in emphasizing that this is part of what makes us so proud of our military. We wouldn’t want soldiers who were unwilling to fight to the bitter end. Elected officials, however, have to judge what they believe to be in the national interest, and that means calling an end to the occupation of Iraq. Soldiers like Wellman won’t agree, but if Democrats can at least signal that they acknowledge and respect his point of view, they’ll have a better chance at getting Wellman to respect their own. And meeting partway is a lot better than not meeting at all.

Kevin Drum agrees:

This is God's own truth. Ditto for the Democratic obsession with using better body armor, higher GI pay, or the quality of military medical care as proxies for "supporting the troops." As with leaving Iraq, these are all good things to support. But they're good things on their own terms, not because anyone in uniform will be fooled into thinking that voting for them means you support the military. It's the equivalent of Democrats who thought that John Kerry had automatic credibility on national security just because he was a Vietnam vet.

Telling the truth, as usual, is better: we need to leave Iraq not because we think the troops need rescuing, but because we think that leaving is what's best for our national security. And in the future? Our message should be that we'll support the troops by making sure that we send them into war only with proper leadership, proper planning, and when the national security of the United States is genuinely at risk. On all these counts both the civilian and uniformed leadership of the military has let down the troops in Iraq. We need to promise that we won't do the same on our watch.

Dale Franks jumps in:
... One of the more frustrating memes to me has been "the best way to protect our troops is to bring them home". Having been a 'troop' I have to tell you that I wasn't there to be "protected". On the contrary, as I understood the job, it was me who was doing the protecting.

Secondly, I agree with Ackerman that for the majority of the troops there, they want to win this fight. That doesn't mean they aren't going to bitch about being there, how long they are there, how hot it is, how poorly they're led, how bad the chow is or where they'd rather be. As the old saying goes, if they aren't bitching, its is [sic] really time to start worrying.

But, as Ackerman hints, Democrats have really painted themselves in a corner with their "we support the troops" meme. And all of their efforts to end the war have run smack dab up against that meme.

Ackerman's point, and Kevin's gloss on that point, are reasonable. That said, it takes a lot of chutzpah for a right-wing blogger like Franks to nod sagely in agreement and lecture the Democrats for "painting themselves into a corner with their 'we support the troops' meme" -- after four-plus years of screaming that any Democrat who did not "support the mission" or who criticized the war was unpatriotic, sympathetic to terrorists, and even treasonous.


Bruce said...

Actually I wrote the post on QandO and I don't refer to those who disagree with me as traitors, treasonous or unpatriotic.

So put your broad brush away.


Dale said...

Huh. Yeah. The thing is, I didn't write that. Good to see you're still holding the fact-check standard high, though.

Kathy said...

Hmmm. I must admit, that's odd. I can't even figure out where I saw the post linked, because QandO isn't a blog I read regularly. I saw the article linked -- I thought from Memeorandum -- but I can't find it on Memeorandum River now. I do see a post by Dale about June 6: D-Day, and maybe I mentally attached Dale's name from that post onto the post by McQ that I commented on here.

At any rate, I do apologize for attributing the wrong contributor's name to the Democrats/Support the Troops/Support the Mission post.