I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Following through on warmongering rhetoric

Those who melodramatically compare Islamic jihadists to the Nazi threat and who insist that we are engaged in some World War II-like, epic existential struggle are not just hysterical and misguided but also incredibly insincere. Their chest-beating rhetoric is virtually never accompanied by any actual sacrifice or risk -- not just personal/physical risk but even political risk or even economic sacrifice.

All of these warmongers who have been dominating our political dialogue and our foreign policy over the last five years believe that our current occupation of Iraq is only a small fraction of the military commitments we ought to be making. They harbor dreams of military confrontation with Iran and Syria, at a minimum, and the most hawkish among them -- the John McCains and Bill Kristols -- want far more troop commitments in Iraq alone. And there is a consensus of military and intelligence officials that far more military resources are needed simply to avoid a complete collapse of Afghanistan. We clearly cannot sustain our military aspirations with the current size of armed forces that we have.

Our military is spread so thin that it is on the verge of collapsing and they not only want to maintain our current commitments but also drastically expand them -- not just in Iraq, but in many other places. With all those premises assembled, what possible rationale is there for their opposition to a draft, other than (a) a desire that only other people (but never them or their families and friends) are subjected to the dangers required by their grand military schemes and/or (b) a cowardly desire to avoid the political risks of advocating unpopular measures which their chest-beating policies demand?

The bombastic analogy most frequently invoked by our non-fighting warmongers is World War II. In this vision, war advocates are the Churchill/FDR equivalent, Democrats are Neville Chamberlain, and the wandering bands of Islamic jihadists are the all-powerful Nazi military bent on world domination (and every new Islamic leader is the New Adolph Hitler). But unlike the play-acting, self-absorbed war advocates with which our country is currently saddled, Americans during World War II actually believed that fighting and winning that war was a matter of grave national urgency -- i.e., they actually believed what they were saying -- and for that reason followed through on their rhetoric by accepting a military draft.

Here is what Franklin Roosevelt, an actual "War President" -- as opposed to one who plays that role for political profit and personal fulfillment -- said when he accepted the Democratic nomination to run for President again in 1940. He expressly ran on a platform of re-instating the draft :

Just as a system of national defense based on man power alone, without the mechanized equipment of modern warfare, is totally insufficient for adequate national defense, so also planes and guns and tanks are wholly insufficient unless they are implemented by the power of men trained to use them.

Such man power consists not only of pilots and gunners and infantry and those who operate tanks. For every individual in actual combat service, it is necessary for adequate defense that we have ready at hand at least four or five other trained individuals organized for non-combat services.

Because of the millions of citizens involved in the conduct of defense, most right thinking persons are agreed that some form of selection by draft is as necessary and fair today as it was in 1917 and 1918.

Nearly every American is willing to do his share or her share to defend the United States. It is neither just nor efficient to permit that task to fall upon any one section or any one group. For every section and every group depend for their existence upon the survival of the nation as a whole.

Lying awake, as I have, on many nights, I have asked myself whether I have the right, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to call on men and women to serve their country or to train themselves to serve and, at the same time, decline to serve my country in my own personal capacity, if I am called upon to do so by the
people of my country.

In times like these-in times of great tension, of great crisis-the compass of the world narrows to a single fact. The fact which dominates our world is the fact of armed aggression, the fact of successful armed aggression, aimed at the form of Government, the kind of society that we in the United States have chosen and established for ourselves. It is a fact which no one longer doubts -which no one is longer able to ignore.

It is not an ordinary war. It is a revolution imposed by force of arms, which threatens all men everywhere. It is a revolution which proposes not to set men free but to reduce them to slavery-to reduce them to slavery in the interest of a dictatorship which has already shown the nature and the extent of the advantage which it hopes to obtain. . . .

It is the continuance of civilization as we know it versus the ultimate destruction of all that we have held dear-religion against godlessness; the ideal of justice against the practice of force; moral decency versus the firing squad; courage to speak out, and to act, versus the false lullaby of appeasement.

But it has been well said that a selfish and greedy people cannot be free.

The American people must decide whether these things are worth making sacrifices of money, of energy, and of self.

Anyone who wanted to join in that chest-beating rhetoric did so only carefully and with great thought, because they knew that doing so -- as Roosevelt made clear -- would mean that they would personally bear the burden of the war they were supporting and would be making great personal sacrifices for it of every kind. It makes no sense to claim that a country is facing some Epic Struggle for Its Very Existence but then be afraid to do what is necessary to fuel it -- whether that be tax increases to pay for it or conscripting those who are needed to fight it.

Over at Talk Left, Big Tent Democrat has the video of an MSNBC Joe Scarborough panel last night sitting around oh-so-self-approvingly recognizing that the "elite" which sends our country to war has no connection to the military. The panel, which includes the pro-war The New Republic's Michael Crowley -- all youthful and fresh-faced and un-fighting -- all lament the fact that the media and political figures who cheer on our wars have no real vested interest in avoiding wars because no sacrifice from them is required.

There is a reason why, pursuant to the Constitution, wars in the U.S. cannot be declared by the President, but instead require the consent of the American people through their Congress. As John Jay explained in Federalist 4, requiring that the American people approve of wars is essential for avoiding unnecessary wars, because Presidents will start wars that are unnecessary i.e., for their own benefit, but the people are much less likely to do so:

It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.

That is the real test for whether one really believes that a war is justifiable and necessary -- are you willing to risk your own life or the lives of your loved ones in that war? Is there any doubt at all -- literally any -- that if their war advocacy in Iraq and saber-rattling towards Iran and Syria meant that Jonah Goldberg, Glenn Reynolds, Rich Lowry, Hugh Hewitt, Bill Kristol, and all the tough guys in the House and Senate and/or their families would actually have to do the fighting -- rather than cheering for it from a safe distance -- that they would be more careful about advocating wars?

That is so self-evident that it requires no discussion. And just ponder how much better off our country would be if that increased level of caution prevailed prior to our invasion of Iraq, caution that would have existed had they known that their war advocacy meant that they very well might do the fighting.

Personally, I don't think a draft is needed because I don't think the U.S. ought to be engaging in massive military confrontations around the world. But there are many who do think that we need to be doing exactly that, and there is just no justification for such people to fail to follow their premises to their logical conclusions -- particularly as they pompously compare themselves to FDR and Churchill and can never get enough of praising their own "resolve" and "strength."

If we are going to continue on this warmongering path -- one war after the next, using military threats and even force as our principal "diplomatic" weapon -- then it is hard not to become more receptive to the idea of a draft. But these warmongers are not only afraid of fighting the wars they advocate, but even more pathetically, are even afraid of the political risks of following through fully on their claimed beliefs.

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