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Democrats trapped by "support the troops" mantra?
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Kevin Drum explores a statement made by Spencer Ackerman concerning the Democrats and Iraq. Says Ackerman:
Haunted by Vietnam, Democrats are determined to express support for the troops. This is admirable. The truth of the matter, however, is this: many troops in Iraq, perhaps even most of them, want to stay and fight.

....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.
A couple of points before we get to Drum's reaction. 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 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.

Now the obvious arguments to be made are "hey, troops don't set policy, no matter how badly they want to stay and win".

Absolutely correct. And that brings us to Drum's point:
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.
All I can say is great, I agree ... now make the argument.

Oh, I found the comments to the Drum post to be just as fascinating. Most disagreed with both Drum and Ackerman. But perhaps the most interesting and telling remarks was this one:
The all volunteer military is a bad idea. It's a mindless, obedient tool apparently. Draftees and their parents would have gotten us out of Iraq years ago.

Washington would have difficulty using a citizen army against the people in the future, but seeing how obedient the armed forces are to the chain of command in this loony war for imaginary WMD fomented by Israel loyalists makes me ruminate if they aren't too much a tool of government.

I'm sure they are a much finer fighting force than a draft army, but with 10,000 nuclear warheads, exactly who is going to attack us militarily? And to be objective, the primacy of our armed forces comes from the engineering staffs of the defense contractors (at great and unnecessary expense) and not from the cannon fodder, brave as they may be.
Its a bad idea because with a volunteer military the ability to induce dissent within its ranks is reduced to the point that activists can't stop a war they don't like? Of course the second and third paragraphs give a hint as to how clueless this individual is, but the first paragraph gives a peek into the real reason so many on the left are not at all against the draft, grand pronunciations about service to the nation for all notwithstanding. With a draft, the anti-war left has a form of leverage it is badly missing today. Today, much to their chagrin, the troops actually want to fight and win, and that attitude is one with which they can't abide.
 
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I’m sure they are a much finer fighting force than a draft army, but with 10,000 nuclear warheads, exactly who is going to attack us militarily?
Well, the people who think that we wouldn’t have the political will to use them would be one group.
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
And to be objective, the primacy of our armed forces comes from the engineering staffs of the defense contractors (at great and unnecessary expense) and not from the cannon fodder, brave as they may be.
Oh my. I hadn’t read this line.

"Cannon fodder" indeed.

Was the poster of that one Professor Erb?
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
This isn’t even a dilemma if you separate foreign policy from support for the troops. The foreign policy has to be made by consideration of national interersts and moral concerns (and there are arguments in each that could be made for both leaving Iraq and staying). The troops are irrelevant to that debate except in terms of whether or not the military is overstretched and what that means for national interest, or if there are problems like too many captains not re-enlisting.

Support the troops thus has nothing to do with the policy, but with how the troops are treated. Most important is continued mental and physical health care and support long after the conflict is over. Support the troops deals with pay, support for families of military people who are either fighting or serving somewhere away from their loved ones, and care for children who lose a parent. Just as the troops are not a relevant concern for the policy, whether or not the policy is good is not a relevant concern for how to support the troops.

 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
To amend that a bit: the "troops" are also relevant when being taken into account in terms of capacity to implement the policy (that also includes levels of military equipment, etc.) The thoughts and feelings of military people should not be taken into account in making policy unless it is information that aids in policy analysis (e.g., reporting back on anger of Iraqi people at al qaeda, or perhaps more difficulty than expected in achieving goals). But I fail to see how anyone can make an argument that the policy should be affected by anything other than national interests balanced by moral/ethical concerns. Supporting the troops must be kept separate than that, that’s what went wrong in Vietnam (people combined the ’troops’ with the policy and took out their anger against the policy on the troops — separation of the policy and the individuals in the military is good for all sides).
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
How do you support your local sports team? You want them to win. And not just win, you want them to be number one! You don’t want the other team to just be beaten by a single point - you want the other team slaughtered!

Before the game, you attend pep rallies and tell your hometown heroes how great they are. You gather in the parking lot for tail-gate parties and visit with other like minded lovers of the home team.

Before the game, when the home team is introduced, you stand up and cheer. During the game, when the "home" team scores, you stand up and cheer! When the other team scores, you gripe at the officials and then encourage your own team to "shake it off, you’ll get them" the next posession (or quarter, or half, or inning or whatever the game requires).

Now, compare that to how the Democrats "supports the home team" here. Democratic leaders like Reid calls them losers, Durkin calls them Nazis, Murtha calls them murderers, and Kerry calls them stupid.

People like Michael Moore call the "other team" terms like "minutemen" and "freedom fighters" and he and thoise like him are treated how by the Democratic Leadership? Invited to sit in a place of honor during the Democratic National Convention.

Shall I go on about how the Democrats support the troops? Give me a frigging break!
 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
The thoughts and feelings of military people should not be taken into account in making policy unless it is information that aids in policy analysis (e.g., reporting back on anger of Iraqi people at al qaeda, or perhaps more difficulty than expected in achieving goals).
I would extend that to "The thoughts and feelings of college professors should never be taken into account."
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
Scott, your analysis only makes sense if you assume a classic Westphalian approach to war. In the modern "information war" theater, the role of the troops is considerably more complex.

We are bombarded by enemy propaganda about what a disaster the war effort is, and how it’s impossible to win or even endure it. This propaganda is aimed both at those who consume it for ideological reasons (left-wing groups that idolize folks such as Cindy Sheehan), and major media.

The media no longer carefully discriminates between news and enemy propaganda. They use sources whose loyalties are clearly in question, and it’s clear that at least some of those sources are loyal to the other side in the conflict.

This problem stems from the terrorist nature of the conflict. The major media are reluctant to put their own assets on the line because the danger to them is ubiquitous and unpredictable. The end result is that the media don’t have enough first-hand exposure to the facts on the ground to properly evaluate the state of the conflict, and their own post-Watergate tendency to be confrontational to US political leaders causes them to skew their reporting into finding fault with any US effort.

The reactions of the troops to the conflict therefore become one of the prime sources of data for understanding the real state of the conflict. They’re on the ground. Their observations, while necessarily biased by their own pro-military nature, are nonetheless very important to counter enemy propaganda and media inadequacies. After all, at least with them, we know where their loyalties lie!
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Part of supporting the troops is ensuring they have the resources to complete their mission. That includes training, material, and the number of troops commanders think they need.

It may have been bad policy that got them to that mission, but, unless the mission is completely immoral, not funding the troops is setting them up for failure.

Setting the troops up for failure by not funding them is not supporting the troops. No amount of spin is going to convince me of that.

I agree, argue separately for changing the policy, or getting us out altogether. But, until such policy change happens, fund the troops with what they need right now, and in the immediate future.

Tom Scott - extend that even further to include civilians and politicians, and we’ve just excluded everyone.

Everyones thoughts and feelings, valid or not, inform the debate, to one extent or another. It would be a stretch to call for Congress to only consider the facts, and nothing but the facts, as best we know them, when drafting and debating legislation.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com/
Good points Billy...
The major media are reluctant to put their own assets on the line because the danger to them is ubiquitous and unpredictable.
And yet, there’s no lack of reporters for riots, or the latest hurricane...
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com/
And yet, there’s no lack of reporters for riots, or the latest hurricane...
That does suggest that it’s not just danger that keeps them out of "on the ground" reporting in Iraq.

Nevertheless, I’d point out that they’re not going to get kidnapped by a hurricane. And most rioters are there because they want media coverage, so they regard the media as their ally.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Ah, but the terrorists also consider the media to be their ally...

If I had the choice, I’d go to Iraq to report for a week, then go out to stand around in a class 3+ hurricane.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com/
that should be, ", rather then go out"

And it was really just a sarcastic remark about reporters.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com/
I’m just saying that we open a hornet’s nest when we treat war like a sporting event where you root for your team, as one person put it. That kind of approach to international conflict is hides the true nature and cost of warfare in lives, destruction, and the impact on civilians and the next generation.

Ultimately to Billy’s response I’d put it this way — and this may still be too Westphalian for him — the policy itself has to be what supports the national interest. To the extent that factors affect the national interest, that should be taken into account in the calculation. My second post noted that military observations and experiences should be taken into account, as they give information on the likelihood that the policy can achieve the goal without causing disadvantages outweighing the advantages. I’m not sure I agree that things are tilted towards "enemy propaganda" — indeed propaganda comes from all sides, and I don’t trust any source completely, especially if it has a clear goal in promoting a particular policy.

In a globalized world with terrorism real, national interest does have to be looked at in a kind of post-Westphalian manner. But ultimately the policy should not be continued or stopped because of a desire to support the troops. Rather, the policy has to be based on a very clear belief that the national interest is harmed by either continuing or ending/changing it, with moral concerns taken into account. Separating out "support the troops" from the policy debate (which again doesn’t mean not listening to the troops) ultimately focuses us on providing resources for the troops both during and long after the conflict ends, whatever policy is chosen.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Keith:
Tom Scott - extend that even further to include civilians and politicians, and we’ve just excluded everyone.
I was being sarcastic because Professor Erb was so quick to muzzle military voices. I wondered if he would like his opinion muffled. Perhaps you support the suggestion that the soldiers fighting and dieing in this war should not be allowed to have their opinions expressed except under certain criteria.
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
Some of the most reliable witnesses as to the progress made in Iraq are those who actually are serving there. Granted, most of them are biased in the sense that they want to be involved in a successful mission. But discounting that kind of bias, isn’t it ironic that most of the negativity is coming from those furthest from the actual scene.
 
Written By: vnjagvet
URL: http://www.yargb.blogspot.com
Is it just me, or has the rather less than euphonius singular "troop" been getting a lot of air lately?

Don’t recall it being used too often in the past.

Is this a modern coinage? Another buzzword like "buzzword" or "tipping point" or the dreadful "pro-active", or should I be feeling stupid for having referred to individuals as soldier or sailor?
 
Written By: Uncle Pinky
URL: http://
Tom you misunderstand: I’m not asking anybody’s opinions to be muffled. I am only saying that decision makers ultimately shouldn’t make choices on the basis of WHO is giving an opinion, but rather on analysis of the situation and a determination of the national interest/policy risks. You can find a lot of Iraq war vets very negative on the war as well, so opinions should be considered, but policy analysis has to take a lot more into account than what people on the ground in the line of fire say, whether they oppose the mission or support it. I’ve also seen some vicious attacks by pro-war people on those vets or officers who decide to publically oppose the war. If you’re going to listen to the troops, you have to listen to those from both sides. If we’re to trust their observations, you can’t say those who disagree with the policy lack loyalty to other soldiers or the military.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
The troops are irrelevant to that debate except in terms of whether or not the military is overstretched and what that means for national interest, or if there are problems like too many captains not re-enlisting.
So the troops may discuss minor items like re-enlistment but are irrelevant to the broader discussion. Who then, are your relevant participants?
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
...too many captains not re-enlisting.
Sigh.

Captains don’t ’re-enlist’. No officer does.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Again, Tom, you misunderstand (perhaps you answered an earlier post before getting down to my last post). There is no way anybody I know is saying that the troops should not discuss things — quite the contrary. But when decision makers decide they shouldn’t say "hmmm, how are the pundits reacting, what is the press saying, how do the troops feel about this, what is public opinion," they should say "given our analysis, what is in the national interest, and what course of action best achieves that without violating our moral/ethical principles." Public opinion matters only because some policies require public support in order to work — public opinion is otherwise irrelevant (or should be). So what I’m saying for the troops applies equally to pundits, politicians, the press, academics, and broad public opinion. Debate is fine, but if you’re a decision maker you have to be looking out for what’s best for the country.

 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
I see, McQ, you ignore me except to educate me on military procedures when I get something wrong. I appreciate very much that assistance — learning about the military side of things and the way procedures operate is one very useful aspect of this blog. But what I meant hopefully was clear, such as in this article.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Public opinion matters only because some policies require public support in order to work — public opinion is otherwise irrelevant (or should be). So what I’m saying for the troops applies equally to pundits, politicians, the press, academics, and broad public opinion.
And if enemy propaganda and only negative news is shaping public opinion...
Debate is fine, but if you’re a decision maker you have to be looking out for what’s best for the country.
While true, this is so far, in my experience, not what happens...

Most politicians are lawmakers and/or office holders, not statesmen and leaders. On to many issues, the end line is how it effects the party or themselves.

Don’t worry Scott, I think McQ would have made the same sigh for me. I don’t know what it’s called when officers extend their service in the military either...
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com/
Don’t worry Scott, I think McQ would have made the same sigh for me. I don’t know what it’s called when officers extend their service in the military either...
Its fairly simple. All officers have a basic obligation to fulfill. Once they fulfill it they either stay or they resign.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Most politicians are lawmakers and/or office holders, not statesmen and leaders. On to many issues, the end line is how it effects the party or themselves.
Not only that, but the skills it takes to win bureaucratic fights or rise to the top of electoral politics often are not what it takes to make good policy. People often wonder why I’m so fond of Condoleezza Rice even though I disagree with the policies she’s part of. The reason is I think she does understand and she does have the skills necessary to adapt and make good decisions. But Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and many decision makers really brought a different skill set to the table and treated this more like a bureaucratic politics game. I don’t think it was intentional, but that’s there career. Thus we see fights against the CIA, Rumsfeld silencing dissent at the Pentagon and what you acknowledge were best case scenarios. The won the fight with the bureaucracy, they won the political fight at home to get the war, but then reality didn’t go as they had thought it would and the result was a policy that collapsed — I know you think the surge can save it, and maybe you’re right, but clearly the administration was unprepared. Presidents are (usually) only as good as their advisors, after all.

When I look at the next Presidential race I’m going to look for character, and see who is giving the advice. The next administration, Republican or Democrat, will have to be able to recast American foreign policy in the wake of the Iraq war/aftermath with very skeptical public opinion and problems that can’t be defined in terms of an "axis of evil" or one or two bad guys that are in the way of progress.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
McQ and Dale (in response to your comments on Liberty Street):

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. Of course that still doesn’t help me with the puzzle of where I saw the link to the McQ post itself.

At any rate, I do apologize for attributing the wrong contributor’s name to the Democrats/Support the Troops/Support the Mission post.
 
Written By: Kathy
URL: http://libertystreetusa.blogspot.com/
When I say "... that I commented on here," above, I mean at Liberty Street, of course.
 
Written By: Kathy
URL: http://libertystreetusa.blogspot.com/
There’s another sense to "support the troops" and that is supporting their vocation.

As an example, I recently attempted to read a couple of books by a romance author that I’d heard of. It quickly became apparent that the people in the books were into "alternative medicine." I do not believe in homeopathy. I found it annoying to read about smart people promoting homeopathy. Now, I’m a tolerant person and I don’t dislike the *people* who believe in homeopathy. So, presumably, I could oppose homeopathy and still support the people who practice it. Right?

No, not really. I’m sure this author (who teaches it, according to her bio) is a nice lady and I wish her no ill, but I do not support her. I can’t. Supporting her would be dishonest of me since I really do think that what she does is a crock. I can wish good things for her, but that isn’t the same.

And it’s fairly clear to me that to "support" the people who are in the military one has to believe in the value of military service, has to believe in the job that they do and the value of having a military and training people in that job. That it’s a good thing to train soldiers to kill people and break things.

Someone who believes that "war never solved anything" simply can *not* support the troops, even if they want good things for people in the military (probably to get *out* of the military... hey, I’d support that author if she quit promoting homeopathy, too.)

I think that a person can "support the troops" if they believe in military service but think that this mission or this war is wrong. I don’t think that someone who (like the person claiming that no one would attack us because we have nukes) doesn’t think we *need* a military can support the troops at all.
 
Written By: Synova
URL: http://synova.blogspot.com

 
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