Friday, May 25, 2007

Support The Troops

Spencer Akerman, who just returned from an embed in Iraq, has a nice article on troop morale in Iraq. In essence he has found that the soldiers want to continue the fight and that they think we are winning. Akerman then cites a number of the improvements that some of the troops are anecdotally experiencing.

I don't find the improvements particularly surprising. The insurgents are, as predicted, changing tactics and attacking outside Baghdad whereas these troops were mostly part of the escalating troops in Baghdad. Plus, Iraq is a bad enough place to be stuck in. To think you're there for nothing would make it unbearable.

Akerman's point regarding the troops and the politics is this:

The uncomfortable reality is this: nothing in Iraq worth fighting for remains achievable, and nothing achievable in Iraq remains worth fighting for. Democrats have made the decision—rightly, I think—that withdrawing from Iraq is the least bad of many bad options. But they shouldn’t kid themselves into thinking that a majority of the troops doing the fighting agree with them. For soldiers like Lieutenant Wellman, this will be hard to accept. As he told me of war doubters back home, “I don’t want them to just support the troops. I want them to support the mission.” This matters, because pretending that in ending the war they’re doing the troops a favor hurts Democrats politically. They risk looking condescending, and, worse, oblivious—which has the broader effect of undermining public trust in the Democrats to handle national security. More basically, it does a disservice to those who serve. For soldiers who are optimistic, being told that the war can’t be won is bad enough. But to be told that politicians are doing them a favor by extricating them from a mission they believe in is downright insulting.

Democrats would do much better to speak honestly: to acknowledge that many fighting men and women want to stay in the battle and would be willing to do so for years longer. There’s nothing wrong with saying that, nor in emphasizing that this is part of what makes us so proud of our military. We wouldn’t want soldiers who were unwilling to fight to the bitter end. Elected officials, however, have to judge what they believe to be in the national interest, and that means calling an end to the occupation of Iraq. Soldiers like Wellman won’t agree, but if Democrats can at least signal that they acknowledge and respect his point of view, they’ll have a better chance at getting Wellman to respect their own. And meeting partway is a lot better than not meeting at all.
Yep. Soldiers are tacticians, not policy makers. We always want soldiers to support the mission ... that's there job. It's our civilian leadership's job to determine the mission and it's importance.

But I do think Akerman misses an important point. Voters don't fully grasp this concept which is why Democrats have chosen the optics of supporting the troops through withdrawal. The message is directed to voters, not to soldiers. So it may not be popular with the military, but it may be necessary in the policy discussion until and unless someone can figure out how to frame it differently.

No comments: