Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hiding Behind the Troops

Bush: Hiding Behind the Troops

"The one thing I really take objection to… Is politicians who try to put their political views into the mouths of soldiers."

--Senator James Webb (D-Virginia)

This quote is my favorite line from the now celebrated 15 July debate on Meet the Press between Webb and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham had, indeed, put political speech in the mouths of soldiers when he said "The soldiers are speaking, my friend, let them win," referring to the mass reenlistment held in Baghdad on July 4th. One can hardly accuse any of the nearly 600 soldiers who reenlisted of purposely creating political propaganda or doing anything other than reenlisting in a time of war, a laudable act by any judgment criteria.

But one can safely assume that the ceremony was a carefully crafted public relations stunt, designed by U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus to provide the likes of Graham the opportunity to use the troops to justify the otherwise indefensible policies and strategies of the Bush administration.

General Petraeus is hardly the first Bush liegeman to duck for cover behind the troops. From the beginning of the adventure in Iraq, pro-war pundits have, at least at a subliminal level, hammered away at the notion that it is not possible to "support the troops" without supporting the policies, and this basic propaganda arc has remained little changed in over four years.

Hiding Behind the Troops

Mr. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" event aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln was the most embarrassing example of conspicuous swagger in the history of the U.S. presidency. Still, as a case study in exploiting the troops for political purposes goes, the Lincoln episode was nothing compared to what followed. As more and more of the ugly truth about the run-up to the Iraq invasion and the incompetent handling of the war came to light, Mr. Bush came to increasingly rely on using the troops as window dressing to his reelection campaign. In the cases of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, the Rovewellians spun reality from bull feathers to create "heroes" at a time when the truth about Abu Ghraib and other scandals needed to be hidden behind a smoke screen.

We have also seen extensive use of the "soldier testimonial," in which service members, usually junior ones, tell us in their "own words" how much they believe in their mission, and how much people who don't support the mission just don't "get it." Much of this testimonial rhetoric spreads in the form of viral propaganda, supposedly genuine email letters written by troops in the field to friends and family that, just by coincidence, get forwarded to darn near anyone who might be sympathetic with the message. Generally speaking, these emails feature two tell-tale indications that they're not on the up and up: 1) all traces of the message's origin have been carefully removed and 2) however the letter starts, it eventually turns into a standard litany of "consequences of losing," "they'll follow us here" and other talking points from the pro-war playbook.

The Bush administration doesn't stop at milking political capital from active duty military types. It is also perfectly willing to co-opt so-called veterans' rights advocacy groups, the most notorious of which is the American Legion, which for all practical purposes has become a branch of the Republican National Committee and one of the most vocal supporters of Bush's Iraq policies. Granted, other veterans' groups exist that both support and oppose the war, but those groups are up front about the reason they exist, and don't pretend to be veterans' rights advocates. Outfits like the American Legion, on the other hand, are flying under false colors. (Interestingly enough, American Legion National Commander Paul Morin describes himself as a "Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Army" even though his entire military career consisted of two years of duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey in the 70s. If Morin is a Vietnam veteran, so is George W. Bush.)

Hiding Behind Skirts

I always find it amusing when the administration trots out Laura Bush to defend her husband's Iraq stance. It not only puts Bush in the position of being conspicuously protected by his wife's apron, it puts the defense of Bush's policy in the hands of the one person in Washington who actually understands less about warfare and the situation in Iran than Bush does.

Less amusing is an emerging class of pundit that I've come to think of as the "War Mommies." The Mommies are spouses and/or mothers of service members. Some of them have lost a spouse or child in Afghanistan or Iraq. They typically complain of being persecuted for their support of Bush and the war in Iraq, even as they castigate Cindy Sheehan for her condemnation of Bush and the war. One War Mommy consistently asserts that anyone who doesn't have a family member in the armed services can't understand the issues involved in our overseas military adventures. Almost all of the War Mommies are diehard Republicans. However their op-ed pieces start out, they generally devolve into a Readers' Digest version of the neoconservative manifesto that manages to blame all the Bush administration's mendacity and incompetence on the mainstream media and the Democrats.

Like everyone else, the War Mommies have a right to express their views. I wish they would do so in a more responsible manner. They add nothing to the national debate other than emotional noise that obscures the sorts of rational analyses we need to conduct in order to find our "way forward."

Hiding Behind False Main Assumptions

A lot of people won't like to hear this, but…

Ultimately, it is moot to discuss what the troops think or how they feel about a particular war they happen to be fighting because it doesn't matter what they think or feel about it. America doesn't exist to support its military. The military exists to support America. We should not engage in warfare for the sake of keeping the troops happy any more than we should avoid wars that the troops don't want to fight. The opinions of the troops--from buck private to four-star general--carry no more validity than the opinion of any civilian citizen. Today, that's true even of military strategy issues. The generals in charge of our present wars have proven themselves incapable of formulating and executing coherent strategies, and the people who have most influenced our war policies and strategies are neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan, civilians who never served a day in the military.

But the powers that be in the administration will continue to hide behind soldiers and their mommies' skirts because that keeps the issue in the realm of fear and guilt, and away from the cold light of critical analysis.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.


  1. Drivel. Is there anything you say that isn't from a Democrat briefing book?

  2. thet,

    Thanks for illustrating my point.

  3. Anonymous5:43 PM

    I'm not sure what point he's helping you to illustrate... but let me help you even further. While I won't go so far as to label your opinion drivel, at least be honest and admit to parotting the party line. I mean the sum total of your opinion amounts to little more than "Bush dumb-War bad"... and that's fine. As Thet-Shay says however, "Bush dumb-war bad" is right out of the Democrat briefing handbook. And since it appears as if you can't own up to being a shill for the Democrats, it makes me wonder "what skirt YOU'RE hiding behind".

    That said... thank you for your prior service to the country.


  4. Pretty obvious you've struck a nerve here. When in doubt and with nothing to add to the dialogue, accuse the writer of parroting party line. Even worse accuse him of being a Democrat.

    Thank you, Jeff. The country need to here more from patriots like you and Jim Webb, men with actual experience and expertise on the subject.

    These chickenhawks claim they're speaking for the soldier as these Republican Senators run to Bagdad for the daily dog and pony show.

    At best the Graham's and the rest are military jock sniffers, and a quick touchdown in the Green Zone doesn't give them a lick of credibility--No more than GWB standing in front of some soldiers gives him a CIB.

  5. Military jock sniffers. I like that, Nick.



  6. Anonymous10:00 PM

    I suspect Bush operatives are trolling the Internet looking for and attacking the issues you've brought up. Rather shallow if I may say so. If these operatives go back and read your archived analysis, they might not resort to cheap shots. MJS? I wish. They're Bush-Cheney REMF's!

    Jeff, as always, stay the course.

    Left Coast

  7. LC,

    Roger that. These guys are nothing. You should see the comments I get at!

  8. Just a thought on this post: While I agree with you that the military exists to serve the nation and not the other way around, I think the "war mommies" have a certain significance that you didn't mention.

    Lt.Col Ylingling, in his Armed Forces Journal article, "A Failure of Generalship", referenced it as 'passion', when he listed the three things necessary to take a nation to war; 'passion, probability, and policy'.

    After there were no WMD's to be found and no link to Al Qaeda, the US really had no reason to be there other than to clean up a mistake. It's hard to get excited about that.

    Both sets, the 'war mommies', and the anti-war Sheehan types, etc. are speaking to that need to define an objective that is able to muster the necessary will to move this thing forward.

    All it takes is one look at the polls to see which side is being the most effective.

    While the right has been focused almost exclusively on Cindy Sheehan, the thousands out there just like her have been busy across small town USA.

    You think recruitment sucks now, just wait. Its hard to wage wars without enough warm bodies.

    Until they get this fixed up at the source, I don't see the tide turning much.

    So, in essence I do think they serve a indirect role, because they both have an effect on policy and military readiness. And this time around, they are much more in play largely because of the vacumn left from our leadership's inability to muster the 'passion' of the citizens.

    I appreciate your blog, Commander, Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  9. The one that I pointed out recently that got me some rather nasty comments was when I stated that the terror alert level was directly tied to the Bush approval numbers...

    His numbers go down and all of a sudden we're in grave danger of being attacked here in the USA, and as Jeff and I have both pointed out on several occasions, IF we're attacked by terrorists on OUR soil, it won't be because we left Iraq and they followed us home, it will be because they are already here and in place, waiting for their orders, and the very fact that they are here is a direct failure of the Bush administration, our open borders should have been sealed a long time ago...

    A sovereign nation with no borders will not remain a sovereign nation...

    Glad to see you back Jeff... Give em hell...

  10. Marine Mom,

    Excellent point about the "passion" aspect, and the War Mommies certainly exist to provide that. But I'd say that they're doing what most of the rest of the administration's propagandists are doing--using false arguments to create false passions, and we've had just about enough of that in this war.



  11. Sorry, I got confused. I thought you were lumping everybody in one category under 'war mommies'. I should have read more carefully.
    You're right in that emotional arguments without any factual underpinnings are pretty much a waste of everyone's time.

    Take care,

  12. As a very active member of the Democratic Party, I can testify that there's no such thing as a "briefing book"--the required unity of opinion on all issues (including Iraq) simply doesn't exist.

    For those of you not in the Party, just tune in a few minutes of a Democratic Presidential Debate to get a small sampling. Note that there's also a loony fringe on the right in the party represented by the LaRoche pseudo-Democrats (who are irritatingly present at every state or national convention) as well as on the ultra-left (Rep. Kuncinich and his buddy from Alaska, (former) Sen. Gravel).

    There's also a very vicious streak operational within the Democratic Party's internal debates that the media and most persons outside the Party are not aware. This is best reflected by the reality that all of the Senators who cast votes in anyway in support of "Iraq" in the beginning have been all but written off internally. I know, I know, someone is going to cite Sen. Clinton as a counter-example, but only her rather fearsome internal reputation as a fund raiser and organizer have kept her in the game--she is not "annoitted." If she is the nominee, Chairman Dean and his ilk will insure that her campaign is just as unsuccessful as Dean's last opponent--Sen. Kerry.

    Likewise Sen. Obama is in the running only because he is considered to be "steerable." Once this proves not to be the case, he will be discarded by the established leadership (the Party at the grass roots level is another matter).

    There are reasons why the Party's attempts to change the course of Iraq policy have been less than successful. Getting those votes to line up is considerably harder in practice, and the 2/3's reality requires significant Republican participation not likely to appear until after September.

  13. Anonymous1:37 AM

    re: Hiding Behind the Troops

    WTF u tool.

    One can hardly accuse any of the nearly 600 soldiers who reenlisted of purposely creating political propaganda or doing anything other than reenlisting in a time of war, a laudable act by any judgment criteria.

    A laudable judgement by ANY criteria!!!???!??!?!


    U worthless tool. Not only are there substantial criteria to condemn these idiots...there are NO criteria to call it laudable...u damn fool.

    The war ON Iraq is a war crime. There is NO justification for it.

    Therefore, to even allow oneself to deploy to murder innocents is a warcrime.

    Thus, deciding to reenlist, while in the merder zone is in and of itself:

    1. Illegal
    2. Immoral
    3. Violates just war doctrine
    4. And just plain sick.

    Those that chose to re-enlist at this propaganda fest are simply cold blooded murders. The kind of thug that returns to the United Hates Empire's Reichland and kills his wife and children in a drunken rage.

    You disgust me sir.

  14. Anonymous,

    You're casting the wrong people in the role of villian.

    And by the way... there's little more disgusting than people who throw invective from behind the cover of anonymity.

    Jeff Huber

  15. I saw your blog on a conservative blogger's blogroll. I admire Bush. He's made mistakes, but he's committed to victory.

    God bless our troops! They protect our freedoms so we can all differ about these things.

    Good blessing to you as well! Have a great weekend!

  16. Hi Jeff,
    Somehow my last comment didn't make it. I just wanted to say I'm glad you're back from your vacation. I always appreciate you insightful comments.



  17. Jeff,

    I wish this commentary would make it over to some of the MILBLOGS. They keep wanting you to believe that its Rah Rah Rah and anyone who questions this endeavor is some kind of traitor to the United States.

    I agree with Mr Webb. My observations is that the opinions of the serving Soldiers are as varied as those of their countrymen. They are however deeply committed to obeying the oath they took to serve and to obey the orders of the President of the United States. Too many idiots feel (like your anonmyous buffoon there..) that means they agree with orders they are given.

    I'm glad your back. I need a dose of snity in the morning.

  18. Good to be back, Skippy.

  19. Does the question of a pullout merit the discussion of the independent contractors we either leave behind, pull out with us, or protect with minimal troops? The indies don't take orders from our military, haven't been held accountable by the occupiers and certainly can't hold the fort by themselves should they decide to contract to stay. Since tax payer money is paying for their no bid contracts it becomes an interesting point. Bush may throw out the humanitarian argument repeatedly that a pull out would cause huge pain and suffering on the Iraqis left unprotected, but how many will he leave behind to protect Blackwater?

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