The War Lobby Abandons the Troops

A majority of the governing party in Congress voted to repudiate the commander-in-chief in war. The Senate Minority Leader complained that the proposed resolution opposing the mission while supporting the troops sent “a dangerous, duplicitous message.” A leading supporter of the president declared: “to support it would be a vote in favor of cutting our troops off at the knees.” One of his colleagues argued that what the president needs “is a resolution which strongly supports the troops, strongly supports the men and women who will be going.”

No matter. A member, newly elevated to the majority party in the previous year’s election, explained:

"Mr. Speaker, this is not about peace and war. That is what is going on over there, and they are not going to stop fighting just because we go in there.

"I wholeheartedly support withholding funds … . Although it is a drastic step and ties the president’s hands, I do not feel like we have any other choice. The president has tied our hands, gone against the wishes of the American people, and this is the last best way I know how to show my respect for our American servicemen and women. They are helpless, following orders. But we, we are in a position to stop this terrible mistake before it happens.

"I know what those soldiers are feeling. I was in the military for 29 years … .

"Thirty years ago when I was sent to Vietnam in a similar situation, Vietnam started out as a peace type mission, no defined goal, no exit strategy, no idea whose side we were on, and a created incident to gain support of the Congress. A peacekeeping mission? Come on. Does this not sound just like a carbon copy? I think it is.

"What is going to happen when our guys get over there, and if the rules of engagement apply, and they get shot at, and we start shooting back, what are their people going to say when we start killing them … ? We will do it, and we will get chastised for it."

These irresponsible sentiments, evincing disunity and partisanship at home, may cripple America’s chances for victory in Iraq.

No, wait! The latter speaker was Republican Sam Johnson of Texas, who on December 13, 1995 opposed intervening in Bosnia. The members defending the president were Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle, Rep. Ike Skelton, and Rep. Norman Dicks, respectively. The House Republican caucus voted 108 to 64 to cut off funding for the Bosnia operation. Traitors! Appeasers! Cowards! Defeatists! Ingrates!

Shameless inconsistency is hardly unusual for Congress. But Rep. Johnson has turned hypocrisy into an art form. The former POW attacks a Democratic president for sending U.S. forces into a messy, ill-formed, unnecessary conflict. He attacks a Democratic Congress for attacking a Republican president for sending U.S. forces into a messy, ill-formed, unnecessary conflict. It’s not clear whose side he is on, but it doesn’t appear to be that of the troops.

Yet the pro-war caucus brays on. Everything that it said about the existence of WMDs, which supposedly made Iraq so dangerous to America, was wrong. Everything that it said about Iraq being involved in 9/11 or working with al-Qaeda was wrong.

Everything that it said about how easy the war would be was wrong. Everything that it said about how quickly American troops could come home was wrong. Everything that it said about how the war would transform the region was wrong. Everything that it said about how the war would combat terrorism was wrong.

The Bush administration and its supportive Greek chorus have been deceitful and manipulative in rhetoric, and ignorant and incompetent in operation. They turned a problem, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, into a catastrophe: continuing American casualties, massive Iraqi losses, worsening sectarian war, growing regional instability, and a cause celebre for terrorists worldwide.

But now Americans are to trust the president. Or they are traitors and appeasers, aiding and abetting terrorists, jihadists, and Islamofascists.

Naturally, the war enthusiasts use every epitaph they can think of, many unprintable, to denounce Democratic opponents of the war. Disaster in Lebanon caused conservative icon President Ronald Reagan to recognize his mistake and get America out. Disaster in Iraq, and the consequent prospect of being utterly discredited, has made the neocon caucus ever more frenzied. The armchair warriors now are on the march, more insistent than ever, demanding escalation and tagging GOP dissenters as “White Flag Republicans.”

It is not antiwar politicians who these dead-enders really hate, however. It is the antiwar American people.

Average Americans have tired of administration deceits and blunders. Average Americans voted to defenestrate the GOP from Capitol Hill. Average Americans want to get U.S. troops out of Iraq.

A new Gallup poll finds that six out of ten Americans oppose Bush’s escalation plan. Almost two-thirds of those polled want to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of next year. The majority opposes cutting off funds for forces bound for Iraq, but supports passage of a disapproval resolution; 57 percent of Americans want Congress to cap the number of troops serving in Iraq. A new Pew Research Center poll found that 53 percent of Americans want to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible. Traitors! Appeasers! Cowards! Defeatists! Ingrates!

No wonder congressional Republicans have been desperate to avoid debating Iraq. As John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) and Pete Hoekstra (R- Mich.) wrote to members of the GOP caucus: “The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.”

The sedentary samurai who seem to be the strongest hawks and the most insistent advocates of “sacrifice” are right that there no longer are any good options. Having pushed the president to plunge America into an unnecessary war, they have made it extraordinarily difficult for the country to escape. The best thing the rest of us can do is stop listening to their “advice.” As the old adage goes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

In particular, it is time to dismiss with contempt the arguments that recognizing the reality they have created is equivalent to “surrender” and that “supporting the troops” requires backing the administration’s failed policies. One does not “support the troops” by tossing servicemen and women into an unnecessary war. One does not “support the troops” by expecting them to clean up someone else’s sectarian fight. One does not “support the troops” by making them fight without adequate equipment, such as body armor and armored humvees. One does not “support the troops” by thrusting them into a conflict in which no one knows what victory is, let alone whether it is attainable.

The warhawks might be perfectly charming people. But supporting the troops is not one of their virtues.

Congress must act. It needs to do more than pass hortatory resolutions. It needs to use its power of the purse to begin paring down America’s presence in Iraq. As Rep. Johnson explained a dozen years ago: “The president has tied our hands, gone against the wishes of the American people, and this is the last best way I know how to show my respect for our American servicemen and women.”

But it’s not enough to rely on politicians to do the right thing. It’s hard to get Democrats to act responsibly. It’s even tougher to get Republicans to balk a war-minded administration – only four GOP House members voted against the original war resolution, and just two, Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn), remain in Congress. Opposing an administration bent on war is never easy. As Hermann Goering explained to psychologist Gustave Gilbert while awaiting trial at Nuremberg:

"Why, of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship…[V]oice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country"

The American people must act to prove Goering wrong.