December 8, 2005
for the Troops
If, as Samuel Johnson said, ``patriotism is the last refuge of a
scoundrel,'' then ``support our troops'' is very close by. It is
being used to deflect criticism of the war in Iraq, or to rebut
those who call for a pullout or question how incompetents seized
control of the government in a coup by ideologues. In the lexicon
of some, the only way to support our troops is to ensure that more
of them die.
tastelessness of this approach was on display Tuesday when Vice
President Cheney spoke to the 10th Mountain Division and the National
Guard's 42nd Infantry Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. These are storied
outfits. The Mountain Division is Bob Dole's own, and those of
us who followed him as he campaigned for the presidency in 1996
will never forget the day in New Hampshire when some of the division's
World War II veterans gathered to hear from their old colleague.
There was Dole, trying as ever to be stoical, but that day his
voice cracked and emotion rocked him and, along the wall of the
hall, a mighty cynical press corps fought hard to hold back the
As for the
42nd Division, it is my own. Its famous Rainbow Patch -- Douglas
MacArthur said ``the 42nd Division stretches like a rainbow from
one end of America to the other'' -- is among my mementos. I make
no great claim to military service -- I was a reluctant Vietnam-era
enlistee in the National Guard -- but I have trained at Fort Drum,
worn the Rainbow Patch and keep it to this day on the bulletin
board in my office. By accident and happenstance, it's my outfit.
Somehow, it matters.
So I don't
need any cheap reminders about supporting the troops. On the contrary,
it's the other way around. It is the reminders who need reminding
that they owe the troops the highest level of respect. That means,
among other things, explaining clearly and honestly why they are
being sent into harm's way. If that cannot be done -- if you cannot
tell soldiers why they might die -- then you cannot send them.
At the very least, you must stick to the strictest truth.
was not strictly truthful. He turned the war in Iraq into a war
against terrorism, when it is only partly that. The Sunni insurgents
have no designs on America. And to say, as Cheney did, that terrorists
``believe that by controlling an entire country, they will be
able to ... establish a radical Islamic empire that encompasses
a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle East
and South Asia, all the way to Indonesia'' is to give credence
to the fantasies of Islamic nut cases. This may or may not be
the goal of certain terrorists, but it is clearly beyond their
reach -- and no reason to fight in Iraq.
Cheney once again implied a link between the terrorist attacks
of Sept. 11, 2001, and Saddam Hussein. His words were slippery,
but his meaning was clear: ``Some have suggested that by liberating
Iraq ... we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a
fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq ... and the terrorists hit
us anyway.'' Yes, and the crowing of the rooster makes the sun
come up. Cause and effect is being mocked here.
As I recently
wrote, I do not favor an immediate pullout of Iraq -- not yet
anyway. The arguments advanced for staying make sense to me --
and Cheney mentioned some of them in his speech. There is reason
to fear civil war in Iraq, the country's dissolution, the creation
of a haven for terrorists and the precipitous loss of American
prestige, which could encourage even more terrorism.
But I do
not fear the emergence of a vast, radically Islamic empire stretching
from Granada to Jakarta, and neither do I believe that toppling
Saddam dealt a blow to terrorists or made the United States one
iota safer. Soon enough we will exceed in military deaths the
number of civilians killed on 9/11 -- and the culprits, including
Osama bin Laden, are still on the loose, still posing a threat.
This is a policy that collapsed of its own stupidity.
of heroic effort, the Bush administration long ago lost any credibility.
But if we are going to stay in Iraq -- if additional Americans
are going to be asked to die -- then Bush, Cheney and others should
avoid emotionally compelling, but intellectually fatuous, arguments.
As far as the troops are concerned, pay them the ultimate respect
for their ultimate sacrifice: stick to the truth.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group