"I don't know if I have the moral authority to send troops into combat anymore," a senior American general recently told United Press International. He knows what his power means -- that on his word hundreds or thousands of young men would step into danger.The article goes on to argue (it's the only way to put it) that the war in Iraq is failing because there is no political support for "the long haul" at home.
"I'm no longer sure I can look (a soldier or a Marine) in the eye and say: 'This is something worth dying for.'"
He doesn't mean Iraq. There are plenty of bad people here to fight, and plenty of innocents worth protecting.
His moral crisis was that he had been to Washington, D.C.
Shades of Vietnam.
To many here, that political reductionism is obscene. It degrades their daily work as much as it does the loss of more than 1,900 Americans.And, of course, the fault always lies with someone else. The military's job is simply to obey orders. Which leaves them free, apparently, to bitch about who gives those orders, when the whole thing turns into a cock-up.
The good in Iraq has been hard won -- it was never a given. And the bad in all its forms -- the car bombs, the ambushes, the rockets, the innocent dead -- is the predictable product of warfare. Even putting aside the questionable post-war planning and rosy predictions, the outcome was always sure to include many, many undeserving deaths.
Once a nation decides to go to war, the consequences will be ugly.
It also interferes with their mission. One commander asked that a reporter not quote a junior officer who mentioned how thinly stretched the troops were in his area of operations. He didn't mind that it be reported there weren't enough troops -- he could do with more -- he just didn't want it connected to him.
He's not a coward and he's not a liar. He's busy.
"When people say stuff that conflicts with the politicians back home we just end up answering a lot of questions from D.C. We're going backwards," he said.
Time spent on e-mail finessing opinions that are offered in honesty with professional military judgment is time taken away from the mission at hand.
"The debate about the war is finally happening, but it is two years too late," the U.S. official said.
But the military has a permanent presence in Washington, D.C., the lion's share of the budget, and unprecedented constant access to Congress, the White House, and even popular culture (quick, name a TV show or movie in the last 5 years that displayed military culture or armaments in an unfavorable light). So excuse me if their complaints now sound more like whining than legitimate concerns. The military wasn't "misled" into this war. They were the cheerleaders for it.
They still are. Anyone who watched The Daily Show just last week would know that.
And as for the military's political analysis (read the whole article, this is practically a Pentagon press release), well, this insight could apply at home as well as abroad:
But Iraq can not afford to serve its people poorly, not while an insurgency threatens a democratic existence. Baghdad's ineffectiveness will only feed its opponents.Our government has served our people poorly (even the people acknowledge that, now). The incompetence and criminality of the leadership threatens our democracy. And the ineffectiveness of Washington abroad has only fed our opponents.
How many #3's does Al Qaeda have?
This, of course, is right:
The only way to be sure Iraq does not become the threat it was posited to be before the war, a safe haven for terrorists, is to raise the standard of living and the expectations of the people, creating a country of "haves" who don't tolerate terrorists and thugs, and who have confidence their government and security force will back them up.But since when were the Marines a construction crew? And how does one begin reconstruction of a country until order is restored? And where, in this article, does the Pentagon take responsibility for restoring security to a country they invaded?
Let's be plain: moral authority comes from taking responsibility. I don't mean to overwork the Lear metaphor, but Lear loses his moral authority when he tries to put aside his crown and the responsibilities it signifies, but maintain the authority and the privileges of the king. He only regains his moral authority at the end of the play, when he accepts responsibility for the calamity that has become his kingdom, and the death of the only daughter who truly loved him.
But shortly after that, he dies.
Which is what has me thinking of Lear so much lately. Only by accepting our responsibility for our actions, can we ever hope to begin the hard work of recovery for the disaster we have prompted. More and more, we see it as disaster; but still, still, we are unwilling, at all levels, at any level, to take responsibility.
Until we do, this not only won't end well, it won't end at all.