Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Supporting the troops - and the "support the troops" slogan

The San Francisco Chronicle had a good editorial this past Sunday on the "support the troops" = "cheer for the administration's war policy" line that the Republicans are pushing, more and more frantically as time goes on, it seems, To honor the troops 03/18/07:

So what does it really mean to "support the troops?" In the administration's view, an echo of the reasoning that sent us deeper into the quagmire of Vietnam, withdrawing from a war somehow discredits the sacrifices of the soldiers who risked, and in some cases lost, their lives in the war. That rationale for continuing a war was nonsensical then - and it is nonsensical now.

A nation's support for its troops is not measured by its willingness to send soldiers into battle, but what it does for them when they get there - and what it does for them when they return home with the psychic and physical wounds of their duty.
"Support the troops" involves much more than putting a bumper sticker on the car or sending packages of cookies to the soldiers. It means giving them the armament and strategy to succeed in their mission. It means giving the wounded the highest quality care. It means acknowledging, with dignity and decorum, the sacrifice of those who died.

In too many ways, the Bush administration has not given our troops the support they deserve in this war. Even setting aside the question of the necessity of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the troops have not been well served by their commanders in Washington.
(my emphasis)
I've been reading a couple of the essays in a 1976 book edited by Anthony Lake, The Vietnam Legacy: The War, American Society and the Future of American Foreign Policy. After more than three decades of conservative re-imagining the history of the Vietnam War, it can be suprising to see what people were actually saying about in in real time, or in the immediate aftermath.

In an essay on "The War and the American Military", Adam Yarmolinsky talked about the officer corps' view of the war, civilian-military relations and the challenges they saw facing them at that time. One of the things he said is a real reminder about the way this idea developed that anyone who isn't cheering for our infallible generals and pretending to believe them even when they're obviously lying in our faces is somehow failing to "support the troops" or "honor the troops", etc. He wrote that, in addition to the general mood of skepticism and critical thinking toward the military that was widespread at the time:

A secondary effect on the military's relations with society is the extraordinary defensiveness of their spokesmen toward civilian audiences. Their rhetoric about the U.S. military may be the same as the rhetoric of the 1960s, but the tone is different. Criticism is anticipated even when it is not forthcoming. Even with an Administration [the Nixon-Ford administration] that is significantly less critical of the military than were the Kennedy or Johnson Administrations iwhich sharply attacked organizational practices and procedures even while increasing military budgets), the defensiveness has been intensified. It is as if military leaders see themselves being held responsible for all the shortcomings of American society.
In other words, there was quite a bit of just plain whining going on along these lines. This mood among so much of the officer corps was an important part of why the loss in the Vietnam War did not receive the amount of honest critical reflection that it deserved.

Yarmolinsky's description of the questioning of military claims and military authorities in that time is a reminder that a critical attitude in those matters is a very healthy thing:

The principal effect of Vietnam on the military's relations with society was to lower its prestige, at the same time that its size and potential influence were significantly increased. Nobody talked about a military-industrial complex in World War II or in the Korean War, and the phrase coined by General Eisenhower at the very end of his Administration only acquired general currency as the Vietnam crisis deepened.

The general identification of the military-industrial complex as a major factor in American society coincided with the development of an increasingly critical attitude toward the military, even within the congressional committees that had been the military's principal defenders. The criticism became skepticism and doubt, extending from the Vietnam involvement to the wisdom of particular military research and development efforts.
We shouldn't confuse "supporting the troops" with falling for budget boondoggle being promoted by amibitious generals or greedy Halliburton lobbyists.

Congress certainly needs to take a look at the failures, misdeeds and crimes on the part of civilian officials in the course of the Iraq War. But the military itself merits some real criticism, too, in connection with this disaster. William Arkin gave his own summary of some of those problems that need to be addressed in
It's Time to See the Army like FEMA Early Warning blog 03/12/07:

Here's the Army, within its own share of responsibilities:

• Doing essentially nothing between the 1991 Gulf War and Sept. 11 to boost the number of Arabic speakers and increase cultural understanding of the Middle East, and doing nothing to understand Iraq and its internal culture up to the 2003 war.

• Not taking charge of post-war planning in the pre-war period, what had become the traditional Army mission with its 1990's Peacekeeping Institutes and its "experience" in Bosnia and elsewhere, and the shortchanging the effort with inadequate resources.

• Not understanding the Iraqi Army - their own military opponent - well enough to believe, as the politicos did, that they would remain in their barracks and resume their work for whatever Iraqi national government emerged. Chalabi and company might have served Kool Aid to Rumsfeld regarding how American would be greeted with flowers, but the Army didn't even understand the Iraqi Army and what it was.

• Garrisoning itself and slowly removing itself from the Iraqi street except to "patrol" and move goods and services around to the garrisons, the sure development of a moving target for IEDs and a practice now being reversed with forward operating bases and combat outposts

• Not equippingsoldiers at the basic and personal level, necessitating - as the mountain of letters I've received attest to - that soldier's families' ship to them often expensive goods, gear that has become essential for the war the Army couldn't anticipate.

Underestimating and then taking too long to recognize the post-war security challenges and the growing insurgency, even years into the occupation, and then not adjusting strategies, tactics, and deployments until it was too late.

• Developing the wrong military command structure for Iraq, taking too long to transform V Corps into a Joint Task Force, taking too long to develop training and detainee commands of substance and authority. As current Iraq commander Gen. David H. Petraeus said in his own confirmation hearings, "We took too long to develop the concepts and structures needed to build effective Iraqi Security Forces..."

The "we" here is the Army. These are Army decisions. ... Again and again, they [senior Army officers] demonstrated that they were more interested in tomorrow's budget and Washington lunches than soldier resources and hot meals. (my emphasis)
He also has some very useful thoughts about the political seductions of the air power enthusiasts' boosterism in Shock and Awe Worked, God Help Us Early Warning blog 03/19/07. The role of air power in the Iraq War and in planning for the future is something that Congress needs to take a serious and critical look at. Arkin writes:

If there is one thing that defines American military technology, one thing that floats seductively suggesting engagement without true commitment, it is airpower.

Airpower was the boost of confidence we needed in 2003 to travel on our own highway of death [into the Iraq War]. Given the current ground quagmire in Iraq, airpower will be even more our downfall in the future.
Air power didn't live up to its hype in the Iraq War - just as it has failed to do in every war from the Second World War on. At some point, Congress and the public need to start catching on to that. And making decisions accordingly.

, , , , , ,

No comments: