What It Really Means To Support The Troops

February 9th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: What It Really Means To Support The Troops

February 19, 2007 In The Arena

By Joe Klein
When Lieut. General David Petraeus appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee a few weeks ago, he was subjected to a curious line of questioning by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. The questions seemed substantive, but they weren't really. They were intended to lure the general into the Senate's political debate over a nonbinding resolution of disapproval of the President's so-called surge policy in Iraq. In the manner of a friendly prosecutor, Lieberman steered Petraeus toward his objective--a clear statement from the general that such a resolution would hurt the morale of our troops in Iraq and give the enemy "encouragement." Petraeus, clearly uncomfortable with this line of questioning, refused to give a direct answer: "A commander in such an endeavor would obviously like the enemy to feel there was no hope."
In the initial debate on Iraq war resolutions last week, Lieberman was at it again. The notably mild Warner-Levin resolution of disapproval would "discourage our troops and hearten our enemies," he said. A day later, I asked Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska about politicians--not Lieberman specifically--who made such statements. "They're despicable," he said, in a decidedly unsenatorial tone. "Those sorts of statements are the last refuge of a scoundrel. They suggest a lack of patriotism on the part of people like me and John Warner and Carl Levin. They hurt our democracy."
Lieberman's honorable, if mistaken, support for the war has curdled into demagoguery. Senator John McCain has taken a similar path, calling those who would vote for the resolution "intellectually dishonest." He suggests the "honest" path for surge opponents would be to go ahead and cut off funds for the war. But the Senators who favor Warner-Levin are pointedly opposed to immediate withdrawal from Iraq. So who's being intellectually dishonest here? It is sad to see McCain and Lieberman disgracing themselves this way. It is tempting to say, "Shame on you," and leave it at that. But I had a conversation with two colonels last week--very smart guys, very much aware of the dire situation in Iraq--and their attitude was much the same as McCain's and Lieberman's: the politicians were undermining the mission.
Mission is a sacred word in the military. When you are given a mission, you are trained to complete it, to keep on trying new tactics until the objective is achieved. It is a matter of duty and honor. And so, when politicians criticize a mission, the reflexive military reaction is to assume they are acting dishonorably, putting politics above duty. This is a common attitude in the uniformed military, and it deserves a serious response.
And my response is that politicians have sacred missions too. Their duty is threefold: to be judicious about sending the troops off to war, to give the military everything it needs to complete the mission and, if it appears the mission is futile or compromised, to change it or end it. "You have to ask who is really undermining this mission?" says Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a West Point graduate. "Didn't the Bush Administration undermine it from the start by going to war without sufficient cause, without sufficient planning, without sufficient equipment for our troops? Even now, I would argue that the Bush Administration is undermining this surge by focusing merely on the military part of the mission, ignoring the need to reform the Iraqi government, to find a regional diplomatic solution and, of course, ignoring the real facts on the ground."
The facts on the ground are dismal. The near impossibility of the mission is already apparent. The Iraqis promised three additional brigades to help secure Baghdad, but military sources tell me that two of those brigades are Kurdish, and there is a question how many will actually show up. Even if they do arrive in numbers, Kurds a) don't speak Arabic and b) don't like Arabs very much, which may, well, undermine the mission. There was a coordinated series of seven bombs detonated in the northern city of Kirkuk last week, which may be a sign that the long-feared battle between Kurds and Arabs for control of that oil-rich region is about to begin. That makes it doubly unlikely that the Kurdish brigades will deploy to Baghdad. Furthermore, whack-a-mole happens: there are indications the Shi'ite militias are going to ground or leaving Baghdad to fight elsewhere, perhaps in places like Kirkuk, which means, Senator Reed says, "we'll be doing their job for them, fighting the Sunnis in Baghdad."
"We're on the brink of a decisive battle for Baghdad," Lieberman said on the Senate floor. But that was wrong too: the counterinsurgency tactics General Petraeus will use are gradual, not "decisive" in the traditional military sense. We are not on the brink of anything except a long hard slog. I suspect Lieberman understands this but is hyping the mission for dramatic effect. If so, he is raising unfair expectations for the troops and the nation. I'd say that comes pretty damn close to undermining the mission.

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