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.

Monday, January 08, 2007

ATTENTION: War supporters - your country needs you

(updated below - updated again - updated again with responses)

One of the two principal architects of the "surge" strategy about to be adopted by the President is Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute. He recently appeared at an AEI event with the other surge architect, Ret. Gen. Jack Keane (along with surge advocates Sens. McCain and Lieberman), to detail and defend his plan. Kagan thereafter issued an "Executive Summary" to accompany a report detailing what the "surge" plan requires in order to succeed (h/t Chasm).

Kagan makes it absolutely clear that an increase in the number of available troops and American military volunteers is critical to the success of the surge specifically, and for "victory" in the war in Iraq generally, and he therefore emphasizes how urgent it is for more Americans to enlist in the military if we are to Win:

Victory in Iraq is still possible at an acceptable level of effort. We must adopt a new approach to the war and implement it quickly and decisively. . . . This approach requires a national commitment to victory in Iraq:
. . .

The president must request a substantial increase in ground forces end strength. This increase is vital to sustaining the morale of the combat forces by ensuring that relief is on the way. The president must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this generation.

The reason for Kagan's plea for more Americans to enlist is clear. We simply do not have the available troops to sustain the glorious Churchillian war plans for those who want to take a resolute, militaristic stance against Islamofacism. In fact -- according to the U.S. military itself -- we do not even have close to enough troops to sustain Kagan's "surge" plan, let alone the broader regional war which our great domestic warriors are urging:

CBS’s David Martin has learned military commanders told the President they could execute a ‘troop surge’ of 9,000 soldiers and Marines into Iraq, with another 10,000 on alert in Kuwait and the U.S.

Regardless of disputes over specific numbers, Kagan is making clear that "Victory" in Iraq requires that more American volunteers to fight. According to Kagan and Keane's Washington Post Op-Ed advocating their surge plan:

We need to cut through the confusion. Bringing security to Baghdad -- the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development -- is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.

According to the surge planners, a failure to provide at least 30,000 troops will doom the U.S. to defeat in Iraq, but we do not have the troops to send. Both this Op-Ed, as well as Kagan's new report, leave no doubt that a shortage of willing warriors is a real impediment to American War Victory, and that Victory over the Terrorists -- as this worldview sees it -- requires that more "young Americans" volunteer to fight.

As I've pointed out before, I don't personally subscribe to the view, expressed as a general proposition, that there is something immoral or illogical about supporting a war that you don't volunteer to fight in yourself. As the overwhelming support for the invasion of Afghanistan demonstrates, that is a standard to which most Americans do not adhere (since most supported that invasion without volunteering to fight). Broad support for military action in Kosovo under the Clinton administration demonstrates the same proposition.

It is true that where there is an amply stocked volunteer military, it is natural and inevitable that many citizens will support a war in ways other than by enlisting. No additional troops were needed, for instance, at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan (or during the action in Kosovo), and there was thus no tension between supporting those wars and not fighting.

But the current situation is completely different. Even according to the war's remaining advocates -- particularly those who want to escalate in Iraq -- there is a serious and harmful shortage of willing volunteers to fight in Iraq and to enable a more aggressive application of U.S. military force generally. So we do now have a situation where those who are cheering on more war and escalation really are needed not at the computer screen but on the battlefield, in combat. And their refusal to fight is actually impeding the plans of those on whom the President is relying for "Victory."

As a result, it is now morally indefensible for those who are physically able to do so to advocate a "surge," or even ongoing war in Iraq, without either volunteering to fight or offering a good reason why they are not doing so. One of the war's key architects is sending out a desperate plea for volunteers in order to enable the U.S. to achieve "Victory" in Iraq. How can those who believe in the premise and cheer it on -- all the while depicting themselves as strong and resolute -- possibly justify not taking the necessary action to enable the U.S. to "win"? As Kagan put it:

The president must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this generation.

In light of the current troop shortages impeding Kagan's plans -- to say nothing of plans for confronting other countries and Terrorists beyond Iraq -- how can those who strut around as Churchillian defenders of American greatness in the face of Evil possibly justify their ongoing refusal of this call? The World War II values they are constantly invoking in order to justify endless war weren't defined by war cheerleaders but by war fighters.

UPDATE: Following these premises, it seems one could construct a univerally applicable (and self-evidently reasonable) definition of "cowardice" as follows:

A "coward" is someone who (a) fails to fight (b) in a war they consider to be necessary and just (c) notwithstanding their country's need for more fighters and (d) in the absence of a unique and compelling excuse for doing so.

What basis exists for objecting to that definition? As I indicated, the fact that the war options of the U.S. are now clearly limited by troop shortages renders most of the standard responses to the "chicken hawk" claim inapplicable.

And just to be clear: the term "unique and compelling excuse" most assuredly does not include "justifications" such as this one infamously offered by one youngish, prominent public warrior (who, to his credit, at least addressed the issue, unlike most of his fellow war cheerleaders): "I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter." There is nothing "unique" about that excuse since most people who have volunteered undoubtedly have people at home who would be better off with them some place other than a war zone in Iraq. A "unique and compelling excuse" would be, for instance, physical incapacity.

One true test for whether a war is justified and necessary is whether the citizens of a country are willing to sacrifice for the war. The fact that so few people seem willing to do so for Iraq (let alone into Iran, Syria and Beyond) is compelling evidence (not conclusive, but certainly persuasive) that this war is neither.

UPDATE II: The Bush family itself really is a perfect microcosm of this whole dynamic. As Jay Ackroyd points out, the President's father fought in World War II despite being the son of a wealthy and powerful U.S. Senator. Yet none of the multiple Bush family members who are of prime fighting age are fighting in our Epic War of Civilizations against Islamofascism. That includes not only the President's two children, but also Jeb Bush's three children -- "Jebby," 22, Noelle, 29, and George P., 31.

In particular, George P. has been marketed as the next great Republican Bush leader. He was glorified by Men's Vogue as being a "container of JFK Jr. charisma and machismo." To highlight the "machismo" part, he posed in a denim jacket, riding a horse on a Texas ranch. But George P., who envisions a political career for himself (the Vogue article touted him as "the Heir Apparent"), certainly meets all of the criteria set forth above for "cowardice," as does most, if not all, of the Bush family members of his generation.

Why is his "machismo" being applied to Vogue photo shoots rather than the "surge" in Baghdad -- a key part of what Kagan calls "the decisive conflict of this generation" (JFK's "machismo" was, of course, applied heroically to World War II)? Again, the troop shortage we face makes that question far more urgent than ever before -- not as applied to George P. specifically, but to all able-bodied, non-volunteering war advocates.

UPDATE III: In Comments, Diana Powe underscores the paramont point here: "I think the most important point to be made in all this for opponents of the war is not to label this or that war advocate as a coward, but to throw into absolutely sharp relief the fact that the war advocates simply don't believe their own arguments for why Iraq and Afghanistan are the 'decisive conflict of this generation.'" That is particularly true of those who perceive and want "the war" to extend beyond Afghanistan and Iraq.

She also observes: "It will be quite interesting to see how President Bush speaks to this issue of volunteerism and sacrifice given his own questionable credentials in this area." That is a difficult problem to navigate. Incidentally, John McCain shares Kagan's view that more volunteers are needed for the U.S. to grasp Victory in the War.

UPDATE IV: Via James Raven, this cartoon by Tom Tomorrow yet again provides the perfect illustration of this sad dynamic.

Relatedly, it appears that Fred Kagan himself (who graduated college in 1991), along with his equally pro-war brother Robert, are both young enough to enlist. It's particularly confounding to listen to Kagan's demand that others sacrifice by enlisting while he does not do so himself. By contrast, and to his credit, McCain's call for more troops may very well result in his own son being deployed to Baghdad.

UPDATE V: Despite my best efforts to make clear that I am not advancing the standard, generic "chicken hawk" argument here (but rather am predicating the argument on Kagan's emphasis that a shortage of American volunteers may very well cause America to lose the "war" -- both in Iraq and more broadly), both James Joyner and McQ posted responses which treated the argument as such. They each raise the same response, via analogies which are all similar to Joyner's argument that "one can simultaneously and without hypocrisy want fires put out without becoming a firefighter." McQ makes the same argument using those who support education but do not become teachers (this blogger also makes the same argument).

That response would be valid if I had asserted the generic "chicken hawk" claim as they describe it -- that, as a general proposition, anyone who supports the war must fight in it. Not only did I not argue that, but I expressly repudiated that view. That makes their analogies plainly inapplicable, because in the cases they describe, nobody is arguing that the fate of the Republic is threatened by a shortage of people willing to do those jobs.

By stark contrast, Kagan and many others are claiming that America's ability to win "the war" is now threatened by the failure of more Americans to volunteer for military service. Thus, for those who believe that "victory" in the "war" (in Iraq or against "Islamofacism") is necessary for America to survive as we know it, a shortage of volunteers is threatening America's ability to exist -- or, as some of the even more shrill hysterics claim, Western civilization itself. That creates an entirely different set of imperatives than the mundane analogies they raise.

That is the whole point. To take Joyner's fireman example, if a person: (a) were arguing vociferously that the threat of unmanaged fires posed a danger to the Republic's existence and to civilization as we knew it, and containing them therefore outweighed all other issues, and (b) experts accepted as such by that person urgently warned that the fires have become impossible to contain -- and that the fate of our country is therefore seriously threatened -- due to a severe shortage of willing fire fighters, then, self-evidently, it would be natural and entirely legitimate to demand of that person a response as to why he himself is not acting to confront the fire threat, given that he himself characterizes that threat as civilization-endangering and more important than all others.

Under those circumstances, it would be reasonable -- one might even say necessary (in the absence of a compelling excuse) -- to conclude that such a person was either (a) too afraid to fight fires or (b) disingenuous about his claimed belief that the failure to contain the fires really has the urgency for civilization that he claims it has. After all, if he really believed that Western civilization or freedom or the fate of the country depended upon a successful outcome, then it would be expected that he himself would sacrifice in order to succeed, particularly where a volunteer shortage is likely to lead to defeat. And if he did not do so, cowardice or a lack of authentic belief in the goal's supreme importance would be the most likely -- probably the only -- coherent explanations.

My Ecosystem Details