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The Honored Soldiers of a Dishonored Command

Soldiers depend on their commanders to bring them victory. That is not to say a soldier might not act decisively in battle, but that this man or woman in uniform relies on his or her commander to put them in the right place at the right time for the right reasons.

Thus, the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The Democrats have never suggested that winning this war wasn’t a good idea. Nor do Democrats fulfill the right’s fevered fantasies of peaceniks who spit on soldiers. We are patriots. We want victory in the war on terror. We want our soldiers honored for their sacrifice.

We want them honored for their willingness to sacrifice their lives. How do we honor them so? We engage them in worthwhile battles, for causes that really do help to defend our country. They die to protect us, to protect this country. If they are to risk that, we must be certain that when we put our soldiers in harms way, it is to do just that.

Logically, that means a number of things. It means we are obligated to employ them to deal with real problems and real threats. Our facts must be straight as possible- Not merely the possible as defined by the lowest common denominator excuse for an intelligence failure, but the possible according to the evidence. It's a hard standard, but war is a difficult enterprise, so why should those trying to prove its necessity get off easy?

There are those who say that in post-9/11 times to wait until one has a good case for war means waiting too long. There is that risk, but there are also the risks that come with invading the wrong country- the loss of the time, the money, the manpower and the resource to go after truer threats. Improvements in our intelligence and analysis capabilities can lower the risks from both sides.

Our president carped about Senator Kerry's criticism of the war, saying it sent mixed messages, but isn't invading the wrong country for security reasons the ultimate mixed message? It doesn't do wonders for people's faith in our motives or morality. It doesn't encourage other people to help us. Worst of all, it doesn't discourage our enemies from attacking us. In fact, it makes our soldiers easier targets for the terrorists.

In addition to the obligation to be truthful and accurate about why we are going to war, there is the obligation to carry it out soundly. Even the most moral, most necessary war can be screwed up strategically. Here, the strategic screwup was a lack of contingencies for the very real possibility in the take-over and occupation of a country of an rebellion against occupation authority. If you think about it, it's an almost logical possibility to consider. Some folks excuse the administration by saying that such a standard is too perfectionist in its character. Well, aside from appealing to people on the basis of the need for higher standards, one should consider whether it is all that perfectionist of a standard in the first place.

Is it too much to ask to prepare beforehand for the real possibility that folks might rise up against us? It is only too much to ask if what one wants is a quick, easy war where the population does your work for you. The only point at which this has been vindicated has been during the elections, but that was during a time when security was considerably greater. We can congratulate ourselves on a well run election, and rightly speak of those who voted as brave, but somebody should ask the question: would turnout have been so great under normal security conditions?

What if we had exercise this kind of control early on, when the embryonic insurgent movements were just getting their start? In war, the general rule is to try and get things up and running as fast as you can, because the chaos of war will tend to reduce your options if you let things drag on in dysfunction.

Businesses and nations would have remained in Iraq were it not for the insurgency and the lawlessness. Trying to rebuild Iraq with the country not under our full control is like trying to lay a foundation in the torrents of a storm. Throughout this insurgency our efforts to rebuild Iraq and its government have been held hostage by the insurgent's violence. Put up lines, they're blown up. Get the oil flowing, the line gets bombed.

How long could we maintain our own economy under the constant threat of such violence? It is our law and order, our stability as a country, and the recognized authority of those who govern us which allow our civilization to flourish.

Without the necessary manpower, that is a moot point. We are spread thin, and the insurgents know it. They take advantage of it, using guerilla warfare to produce threats we have to answer, and other threats to distract us when we commit ourselves to cleaning out a stronghold. We play strategical whack-a-mole, instead of having a presence wherever they chose to run.

Ah, but Bush's people had to prove their theories about light armies. Well, what they don't realize is that an invasion and occupation of a major country is not the time to enact such experiments. You play it safe. You don't assume things will go your way and not prepare for other eventualities. That gets soldiers killed, and frustrates the missions. The weight of the campaign then falls on the average grunt's shoulder, where it should be on their commander's shoulders. Soldiers get the sense that whatever the wrong occurs, they are obligated to keep quiet, lest they accelerate the downward trend of things. That, or politically motivated superiors tell them to keep quiet.

Other obligations exist as well, and the Bush administration hasn't covered itself in glory. National Guardsmen who don't have the luxury of having the armed forces as their sole career are having their stays in Iraq extended far past their original commitment. Does it honor our soldiers to impoverish their families, to keep them in harm's way until long after they were supposed to go home, pushing their luck until it runs out? Does it honor the military to institute stop loss policies, a backdoor draft, rather than admit to the American people that they are short of troops?

Does it honor our troops to fail to get them help to readjust to civilian lives, and cope with the horrors of war they experienced? Does it honor them to leave them by the wayside in society when they come back maimed and in pain for their service?

Does it honor them to lack even a tentative timetable for attaining success in this war?

For more than a generation, despite evidence to the contrary, conventional wisdom held that the Right cared more about the armed forces than those on the Left. Perhaps it's the willingness of the Right to throw out praise of the Armed forces at the drop of a hat. Perhaps it's the more conservative politics of the soldiers. The fact is, though, the Right has resisted backing up word with deed, wisdom spoken of with wisdom acted out.

I think it's time for those who love our soldiers and who wish to win this War on Terrorism to reconsider their support for the Republican Party and for President Bush, on the basis of how lousily they've support their troops. True, the causes of fighting terrorism and freeing Iraqis may be moral causes, but moral causes can be used by the careless and unscrupulous to lead those who proudly risk their lives for their country into needlessly brutal campaigns, and counterproductive wars of choice.

It does not reflect badly on those soldiers that they do and die for their country when asked, but it reflects badly on the civilians and former soldiers of this country when we do not ask the most and expect the best from those who command them. We cannot sit here safe and sound and allow such carelessness, corruption, and dishonest from their commanders. It is our obligation, being those they protect, that we keep their commanders honest and on their toes about doing right by them.

We, as a society, must not let their sacrifices be put to wasteful or careless use, nor let our leaders worm their way out of responsibility for the actions that get them killed. There is risk inherent to war, but inherent to the proper conduct of war is a management of that risk, management that brings about the decisions that need to be decided, and creates the best result for our nation's welfare that can be had. We cannot afford to fight forever and not improve the state of things, and we certainly should have more guts and integrity than to let our soldiers get chewed up in the process.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at February 25, 2005 12:30 PM