The other night, I watched Donald Rumsfeld talking to Larry King about the war. Good ol' Larry asked him about his response to his critics. Rummy responded with a nice little story in which he said he visited an airport for some well-wishing of an Army unit who had just come off a tour in Iraq and was now headed back to the desert for a third rotation. He said that as the soldiers boarded the plane, people in the airport broke out into applause. He liked that. He said it shows the American people support the troops.
Nice story. Sweet.
And I'm glad that most Americans do support the troops...
Of course, it has nothing to do with Rumsfeld or his policies or even the question asked of him. In fact, his little yarn begs a more terrible question that has gone unanswered: why is an Army unit deploying on a THIRD rotation to Iraq?!
Larry certainly didn't ask him.
And what has supporting the troops got to do with Rummy's response to his critics?
See, it's like a magic trick. Politicians in power screw up and when someone calls them on it, they use a bit of misdirection. Not to be confused with misinformation, which is just a lie. No, the misdirection is far more devious. Misdirection involves hiding behind an inarguable truth and suddenly, you're not debating the substance of a problem, you're arguing whether or not Saddam is bad, whether or not you like paying taxes, or whether or not you support the troops.
None of these are real arguments. They are merely a smokescreen to mask the losing argument of a real debate. When someone who screwed up war planning trots out the ol' "I support the troops" chesnut, just think of it like this: they're pretty much using troops as human shields to protect themselves from the bullets of honest criticism.
If someone screws up, it's their job to fix it. And if they can't or won't, then someone else has to. For politicians, this means either forcing them to correct their mistakes or get rid of them and replace them with someone who will. This is called accountability.
For more on responsibility, I point you to John Rogers' excellent Memorial Day post, which has been widely circulated around these here internets.
I understand why one would cling to a worldview wherein this Administration has not screwed up both this war and the fulfillment of our duty to the men and women fighting it. But that worldview is there for your comfort, to make you feel brave in demanding action, or secure in the idea that your government is competent, or noble in pursuit of higher ideals of patriotism or freedom. It is our responsibility to be clear-headed, mature, and frankly ruthless enough to discard our own emotional needs and kick the Bastards when they need kicking.
If you fail to even make that tiny effort -- hold the Bastards accountable -- to insure the troops the material, planning and care they need, then no matter what you say, what you write, or how many flags you wave, you are not supporting the troops. I am sure the pfc. with no body armor, no armored Hummer, on his third of who knows how many tours while his family goes quietly bankrupt appreciates your "support for his mission." But the other shit matters more. You are not holding our representatives accountable for their failures. You are not living up to your responsibility. You have broken the covenant. With this relationship broken, the soldiers are no longer your proxies, they are your instruments. You are treating them as tools. You may not feel that way, that characterization may fill you with rage, but how else to characterize such one-sided relationship?
There is a goddam world of difference between asking a man to risk his life to defend the nation and waste his life proving a point.
That these unquestioning war devotees will not sacrifice their lives, their comfort, their safety: that's hardly a sin in modern society. But they are not even willing to risk emotional discomfort by admitting their faith has been misplaced. That they will not even risk this, this tiny, tiny thing ... that is the sin. It is not that that you're not risking your life. It's that you are risking nothing.
One more thing I'll add. I know it's become difficult to sometimes tell the difference between the Democrats and Republicans these days. Both have become stubborn and single-minded in their arguments. But here's how you can tell the difference. Democrats are, and have always been, the party of the donkey. Republicans have become the party of jack-asses.