Monday, February 19, 2007

"I supported the troops before I cut the legs out from under them"

On "Face the Nation" yesterday, Tony Snow made what seems to me to be an eminently reasonable request:

What I would say to members of Congress is: Calm down and take a look at what's going on, and ask yourself a simple question: If you support the troops, would you deny them the reinforcements they think are necessary to complete the mission?

What does this business of "supporting the troops" actually mean, anyway? Most of the time, I'm afraid, it's empty rhetoric. And exceedingly condescending empty rhetoric, at that.

"Support" is a nice,touchy-feely word, vague enough to mean almost anything. Here are some definitions, however, for those more inclined towards precision:

# the activity of providing for or maintaining by supplying with money or necessities; "his support kept the family together"; "they gave him emotional support during difficult times"
# give moral or psychological support, aid, or courage to; "She supported him during the illness"; "Her children always backed her up"
# aiding the cause or policy or interests of; "the president no longer had the support of his own party"; "they developed a scheme of mutual support"
# support materially or financially; "he does not support his natural children"; "The scholarship supported me when I was in college"
# something providing immaterial assistance to a person or cause or interest; "the policy found little public support"; "his faith was all the support he needed"; "the team enjoyed the support of their fans"
# back: be behind; approve of; "He plumped for the Labor Party"; "I backed Kennedy in 1960"
# a military operation (often involving new supplies of men and materiel) to strengthen a military force or aid in the performance of its mission; "they called for artillery support"
# hold: be the physical support of; carry the weight of; "The beam holds up the roof"; "He supported me with one hand while I balanced on the beam"; "What's holding that mirror?"
# documentation: documentary validation; "his documentation of the results was excellent"; "the strongest support for this view is the work of Jones"
# confirm: establish or strengthen as with new evidence or facts; "his story confirmed my doubts"; "The evidence supports the defendant"
# subscribe: adopt as a belief; "I subscribe to your view on abortion"
# the financial means whereby one lives; "each child was expected to pay for their keep"; "he applied to the state for support"; "he could no longer earn his own livelihood"
# supporting structure that holds up or provides a foundation; "the statue stood on a marble support"
# corroborate: support with evidence or authority or make more certain or confirm; "The stories and claims were born out by the evidence"
# defend: argue or speak in defense of; "She supported the motion to strike"
# the act of bearing the weight of or strengthening; "he leaned against the wall for support"
# accompaniment: a subordinate musical part; provides background for more important parts
# play a subordinate role to (another performer); "Olivier supported Gielgud beautifully in the second act"
# patronize: be a regular customer or client of; "We patronize this store"; "Our sponsor kept our art studio going for as long as he could"
# any device that bears the weight of another thing; "there was no place to attach supports for a shelf"
# digest: put up with something or somebody unpleasant; "I cannot bear his constant criticism"; "The new secretary had to endure a lot of unprofessional remarks"; "he learned to tolerate the heat"; "She stuck out two years in a miserable marriage"
# financial resources provided to make some project possible; "the foundation provided support for the experiment"

Hard to see the current "slow-bleed" activities of Congress as "support" under any of these definitions: they provide neither money, psychological encouragement, aid to the cause, backup, approval, corroboration, weight-bearing, nor defense of the troops (although I suppose it could be argued that--for the 20,000 troops that would be included in any "surge"--they "defend" those particular troops by preventing them from going to Iraq and risking their lives--even if it is the wish of many of them to do so).

The phrase "we support the troops" uttered by antiwar activists and Congressional leaders is meant to deflect the sort of charges that became commonplace during the Vietnam War, when the conflict over that war was personalized into disrespect towards those who had served in the military. Most of those who declare support for the troops while hating the war are careful not to insult the troops directly, and certainly not to their faces.

But it's often the subtext of their message. And others are not so careful: witness the enormous (and well-earned) flap created by Washington Post "blogger" William M. Arkin's column characterizing our troops as a "mercenary" force who should be grateful to the American people for supporting them. (Please read the comments after his post, as well; many are far more interesting--and intelligent--than Arkin's original piece.)

How can the troops be said to be supported by the "slow bleed" envisioned by the Democratic leadership? One doesn't necessarily have to be a complete Jacksonian in order to see that wars should be waged competently or not at all. The Democrats and their seven Republican supporters refuse to go out on a political limb and cut off funding for the war. The fact that they are allowing troops to remain in harms' way there, and yet refusing to give them the support (actual support, not symbolic and empty words) that commanders think would help the mission, protect the troops, and ultimately help the Iraqis as well, is profoundly hypocritical and short-sighted.

The idea of the troops as naive (Arkin's word), exploited, poor, misguided, and stupid saps is a meme that won't die, despite demographic evidence to the contrary. But if one continues to promulgate (and possibly even to believe) these things, then the term "support" becomes translated into something other than "support what they are doing and what their commanders feel is needed." It becomes "support them by telling the poor misguided little ones what the truth is in order to protect them from their own ignorant perceptions." And what's that truth? "It's what we understand it to be."

The condescension is thick. Here's Arkin again, in a follow-up post:

In the middle of all of this are the troops, the pawns in political battles at home as much as they are on the real battlefield. We unquestioningly "support" these troops for the very reasons that they are pawns. We give them what we can to be successful, and we have a contract with them, because they are our sons and daughters and a part of us, not to place them in an impossible spot.

And yet, strangely enough, one can easily say (and I hereby say it) that those Democrats (and the seven Republicans) who voted for the recent resolution are guilty of using the troops as political pawns and of doing their best to "place them in an impossible spot."

Their condescension is especially misplaced in regards to an all-volunteer military. With a draft, there's a better argument to be made for the reluctance or naivete of troops. Volunteers are presumed to know what they're getting into: they have a choice, and they've chosen the military. That's why Arkin and others have fallen into the "mercenary" charge; it's the best one they can muster to counter the fact of an all-volunteer military, besmirching the motives of those who serve and reducing them to a desire for money.

Of course, being a volunteer in the military doesn't mean a person who serves has chosen this particular war. Although it's also a well-known fact that the majority of the military tend to vote Republican, there's also no question that some who serve would--and will-- vote for Democrats, and would prefer not to go to Iraq. But that's by no means a universal point of view, and reenlistment statistics--as well as interviews with military personnel such as the one that sparked the original Arkin article--certainly tell a different tale.

I'll close with the incomparable Steyn on the entire subject:

So "the Murtha plan" is to deny the president the possibility of victory while making sure Democrats don't have to share the blame for the defeat. But of course he's a great American! He's a patriot! He supports the troops! He doesn't support them in the mission, but he'd like them to continue failing at it for a couple more years. As John Kerry wondered during Vietnam, how do you ask a soldier to be the last man to die for a mistake? By nominally "fully funding" a war you don't believe in but "limiting his ability to use the money." Or as the endearingly honest anti-war group put it, in an e-mail preview of an exclusive interview with the wise old Murtha:

"Chairman Murtha will describe his strategy for not only limiting the deployment of troops to Iraq but undermining other aspects of the president's foreign and national security policy."

And I'll offer a rather simple definition of the word "undermine": it's the opposite of "support."

Powered by Blogger