Saturday, June 3, 2006

A supporting-the-soldiers" equals "supporting Bush's war policies" argument

I hate to give hack arguments more attention than they're worth.  But this particular set of hack arguments are ones that we are likely to hear over and over and over again, now and years after the US has withdrawn our forces from Iraq.

Via the conservative Althouse blog 05/29/06, we have The Troops Have Moved On by Owen West New York Times 05/29/06.  West is the founder of Vets for Freedom, although from his op-ed they probably would be more accurately named Vets for Bush's War Policies.  The core of West's argument is this:

America's conscience is one of its greatest strengths. But self-flagellation, especially in the early stages of a war against an enemy whose worldview is uncompromising, is absolutely hazardous. Three years gone and Iraq's most famous soldiers are Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England, a victim and a criminal, respectively. Abu Ghraib remains the most famous battle of the war.

Soldiers are sick of apologizing for a sliver of malcontents who are not at all representative of the new breed. But they are also sick of being pitied. Our warriors are the hunters, not the hunted, and we should celebrate them as we did in the past, for while our tastes have changed, warfare - and the need to cultivate national guardians - has not. As Kipling wrote, "The strength of the pack is the wolf."

Let's see.  No member of Congress apparently can simply refer to "our soldiers" in a public speech or statement.  It has to be something more along the lines of "our brave men and women in uniform".  Our "press corps" has mostly bent over backwards to ignore evidences of misconduct and abuses, until foreign reporting and the number of incidents became overwhelming.  Even war critics often go out of their way more often than not to praise the soldiers; not surprising, since so many war critics are veterans and serving soldiers.  (Remember the poll that showed 70%+ of US soldiers serving in Iraq favoring a pullout within one year.)  The entire Republican noise machine, from the White House to the Republican Party and its various front groups and affiliated bodies to FOX News and OxyContin radio, has been greeting every report of possible misconduct by repeating its favorite slogans like, "But, but, them A-rabs, they cutoff people's haids!!!"

So just who the [Cheney] is it that West thinks is demanding that US soldiers "apologize" for "a sliver of malcontents"?  For that matter, who's worrying about "malcontents"?  To the extent that criticism has fallen on ordinary soldiers at all in the public debate, it's been specifically about those who broke the law as in the Abu Ghuraib torture scandal.  Not about "malcontents", whatever that may mean in the vocabulary of the Vets for Bush's War Policies organization.  Was Jessica Lynch, who he mentions specifically, a "malcontent"?  Has anyone been asked to "apologize" for her bravery?

This Pentagon press release plays on this theme, and more than a little cynically:  Haditha Investigation Doesn't Reflect Majority of Troops, General Says by Sgt. Sara Wood,American Forces Press Service 06/02/06.  She "reports":

Alleged incidents of misconduct, such as those surrounding the Nov. 19 deaths of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, do not reflect the honorable service of the overwhelming majority of coalition forces in Iraq, a U.S. general in Iraq said today.

"Almost without exception, the dedicated men and women who serve as part of Multinational Corps Iraq perform their duties in an exemplary manner every day," Army Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell, chief of staff of Multinational Corps Iraq, said via satellite in a Pentagon news briefing. "In the face of difficult and often dangerous circumstances, they demonstrate the discipline, sound judgment and high moral standards that are hallmarks of the military profession."

While 99.9 percent of servicemembers in Iraq perform honorably, a small percentage takes the wrong path due to combat stresses, fear, isolation or other factors, Campbell said.  ...

"Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are facing a hostile and terrorist threat that refuses to abide by established rules of decency and laws of armed conflict," he continued. "Their mission is difficult, and they daily place their lives at risk to protect the people of Iraq. We should take great pride in the hundreds of thousands of servicemembers who honor us daily with their courage, their competence and their sacrifice."  (my emphasis)

Rummy struck exactly the same note (Rumsfeld defends troops' training, conduct by Lolita Baldor AP 06/02/06):

"We know that 99.9 percent of our forces conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. We also know that in conflicts things that shouldn't happen, do happen," [Rummy] said.   (my emphasis)

Let's call this what it is: making excuses for murder and other atrocities.  As I said in my previous post, the only people who are equating the soldiers in general with the literal baby-killers of this case are those who try to alibi the perpetrators by saying that they were just being good soldiers.

But this posturing about how 99.9% of the soldiers aren't involved serves two purposes: minimizing the crimes like those in Haditha, and setting up a straw man for the supporters of murder and torture to posture behind:  Why, most soldiers are good, how dare anyone suggest otherwise?

The FOXists will process this more-or-less immediately as, "the antiwar critics are comparing our soldiers to baby-killer!"

To repeat, the only people who are equating the soldiers in general with the literal baby-killers of this case are those who try to alibi the perpetrators by saying that they were just being good soldiers.

Think about crime in the domestic context.  If we hear about a mass murder in Los Angeles where several people are killed, do the mayor of Los Angeles and the Governor of California make public statement about how "99.9% of the people in Los Angeles are not mass murderers"?

Of course not.  Because criminals are the people who commit crimes.  And nobody in their right minds assumes that because someone lives in the same city where a murder occurred that they are more likely than not to also be a murderer.  It's absurd.

But our diligent press corps will not let such things go by unchallenged, right?  (Sorry, I couldn't resist a little joke there.)  John Koopman in Aftermath of the Haditha Incident San Francisco Chronicle 06/02/06 gave retired Marine Maj. Gen. Mike Myatt, a shameless perpetrator of vapid war propaganda, the chance to repeat the same song as Rummy and his boys.  And Koopman adds, helpfully for those who want to perpetrate the stab-in-the-back myth:

Haditha has been the talk of the Internet, on blogs and forums of every type. There are condemnations by some and justifications by others. The main thread, however, deals with the repercussions that Haditha will have on the mission in Iraq and the reputation of the United States around the world.

Some writers of blogs and forum items have gone so far as to suggest that U.S. troops be chastised upon their return, as were soldiers and Marines who returned from Vietnam.

"Is it time to bring back the term 'Baby Killer'?" one blogger wrote.

I love that: "Some writers of blogs..."  None of whom are named.  That's pretty much like the FOX News standard, "Some people say ..."  (short verion: "Some say ...") Why is that quote sourced only to "one blogger"?  Presumably if somebody has it out there on a public blog, the source can't be considered confidential.  Was it maybe one of Fred Phelps' followers, the punks who have been picketing soldiers funerals and cheering for the deaths of American soldiers because they say God is punishing American for tolerating homosexuals?

As Atrios might say, time for another blogger ethics panel!

That's so pitiful.  If Koopman were to stumble across this blog post, I'll give him a tiny bit of help.  And, hey, I hereby give him my permission to use my name and the blog's name, too.  Just please put OLD HICKORY'S WEBLOG in all caps, okay?  Because Justin Raimondo, the Old Right isolationist war opponent who often manages to come up with very perceptive analyses of events, did say something close to that in The Meaning of Haditha: Murderous depravity and empire-building go hand-in-hand 06/02/06.  Writing what otherwise is a fairly perceptive look at the danger that imperial-type wars like that one in Iraq all-but-inevitably create the kinds of pressures and attitudes that produce atrocities, he foolishly writes:

"A few sadists" – or a nation of sadists? That's what this whole question boils down to: have we become so corrupted by ambition and blinded by self-righteousness that we have spawned an army of baby-killers? And are we going to make weak excuses for them – by crying over the amount of "stress" the poor dears have to endure – or will we face the truth, about ourselves as well as them?

This is another reason, among several, why I feel so unconfortable with the Old Right isolationist viewpoint.  Raimondo, as I said, is often veryperceptive, and his Web site provides a refreshingly wide range of viewpoints and news about our current foreign policy.  But in tossing a paragraph like this out there, he's snatching the bait that the Rummy's Pentagon is tossing out there, as I described above.  That's real amateur-hour stuff.  War fans will be happy to spin the "a nation of sadists" line as anti-Americanism, as well.

The fact remains, though, that pretty much anyone who is capable of making the most minimal moral and rational distinctions  are distiguishing between normal soldiers and the American soldiers inIraq as a group, on the one hand, and those who are accused of being literal baby-killers in this case, on the other.  Even our "press corps" can usually manage that.

What is true - and to give credit where it's due, Raimondo's article articulates this fairly well - Bush, Dick Cheney and Rummy have created a climate in which atrocity-producing situations would inevitably arise, and frequently.  Discipline in the Army and Marines has not broken down entirely in Iraq because of the integrity of the soldiers and field commanders there.  But they had to resist the poisonous environment created by those three top officials and all their accomplices, like John Yoo and Attorney General Abu Gonzales.  And there are disturbing indications that Haditha is far from the only case where discipline did break down in a serious way.

See also The Hidden Toll of the War in Iraq by Stephen Robinson, Center for American Progress, Sept. 2004.

The second main point of West's article is along the lines of Bush's complaint that criticism of the war hurts the morale of soldiers in the field.  West doesn't quite go that far, but the point is clear:

This confusion [resulting from criticism of Bush's war policies], in turn, affects our warriors, who are frustrated by the country's lack of cohesion and the depiction of their war. Iraq hasn't been easy on the military, either. But the strength of our warriors is their ability to adapt.

But Rummy and Gen. Pace, the JCS Chairman, appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee in May, the subject of war criticism and soldiers' morale came up, specifically in connection with the high-profile criticism of the war and Rummy's management by several retired generals:  Rumsfeld defends use of Guard on borders by Robert Burns Seattle Post-Intelligencer/AP 05/17/06.  Burns reported:

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., asked Rumsfeld and Pace whether the generals' criticism had a negative affect on the troops.

"As far as morale of the force, no impact, sir," Pace said.

"I haven't noticed anything," Rumsfeld said.

Of course, we're unlikely to ever here Rummy or any of our infallible generals actually say that morale is being damaged in any specific situations, even one as abstract as that posed by Sen. Spector.  For one thing, no commander is going to want to admit publicly his subordinates are inadequately motivated.  For another, the Republicans, especially the Christian Right, have been idolizing and sentimentalizing soldiers for so long that they can't really afford to sound like they are "dishonoring the troops" by actually accusing soldiers in the field in any particular situation of having their morale damaged by war criticism.

Plus, there is reality, too, in which unit cohesion and the role of immediate leadership plays the critical roles in combat morale.  If 70%+ of the US soldiers in Iraq are in favor of withdrawal within a year, that means a huge majority of the soldiers in Iraq are opposed to Bush's particular war policies.  But we haven't so far seen mass desertions or units fleeing in panic in combat situations.

I don't doubt, however, that criticism of Bush's war policies is quite damaging to the morale of Republican politicians running for re-election in November.

The rest of West's op-ed is pretty much the standard rightwing whine, with some pro forma mild criticism of Bush tossed in: the public are wussies for not being more enthusiastic over the war; the Liberal Press is reporting things in a way that undermines homefront morale and aids The Terrorists; it's a Long War; gosh, those Democrats shouldn't be so critical; Bush good, war good, yadda, yadda, yadda.

We're clearly into the stage now where whining and sneering are pretty much the the main arguments that war fans have for continuing the Iraq War.

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