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Support Our Troops

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American politics are at a tipping point. Since the Reagan era, Republicans have claimed to be the national security Party, labeled Democrats "liberal pacifists," and garnered the votes of most of America's military. At long last, public perception is changing. The debate over Iraq gives Democrats a golden opportunity to take back the mantle of national security. The pivotal issue is which Party truly supports our troops. After 9/11, believing the US was at war, Americans pledged allegiance to the Commander-in-chief. There was a shift away from democratic process towards authoritarian rule: President Bush was both popular and above the law. However, four years of a tragically mismanaged occupation, accompanied by continued evidence of the President's domestic incompetence, changed America's perception of Bush and his Party. As Americans lost confidence in George Bush's leadership, they also stopped trusting Republicans on national security and stopped believing they've kept the US safe. The November 7th elections were a referendum on Bush's Administration, as well as his complacent Republican House and Senate. Now the Democratically-controlled Congress has begun to reassert its authority to oversee conduct of the Iraq war. Central to this debate is Bush's judgement: whether he conducted the campaign in a sensible manner, made wise decisions that honor the lives and safety of our troops. It's too simplistic to characterize the adversaries in this debate as Republicans and Democrats. Rather the argument is between those who advocate blind allegiance to the White House-Lieberman and McCain-and those who maintain Congress must ensure that our troops are fully supported-Hagel, Murtha, and Pelosi. Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade famously laments:
Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do and die: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
In every war there's tension between supporting the judgement of military commanders and the safety of troops: When is it appropriate to question the judgement of wartime leaders? When is it proper to "reason why"? In his memorable response to Bush's State-of-the-Union address, Senator Jim Webb addressed this issue: "[Armed forces personnel] trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way... We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us - sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it." Marine Corps veteran Webb argued that President Bush had shown poor judgement and, as a result, "The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military." Nonetheless, the Lieberman-McCain faction in Congress maintains total confidence in President Bush's judgement. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman views Iraq as the lynchpin in Bush's "war" against terrorism and argues that any expression of disapproval of Bush's escalation of the war, "will discourage our troops, hearten our enemies, and showcase our disunity." Arizona Senator John McCain blasts critics of Bush's escalation philosophy and calls their resolution "A vote of no confidence in both the mission and the troops who are going over there." Lieberman, McCain and a congressional minority believe President Bush deserves the unswerving allegiance of all Americans: Our's not to reason why, our's but to do and die. The Lieberman-McCain clique do not rely upon democratic process, but rather on authoritarianism by taking the position that it is un-American to question authority in times of national crisis. This is morally wrong. And, it jeopardizes the safety of our troops. For Americans unwilling to wait until the next President takes office for a change in Bush's disastrous national security policy, the only hope is Congress. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi mapped out a course of action that began with the February 16th passage of the resolution of disapproval of Bush's escalation. The next steps have a common theme: support for our troops. Pelosi's point man in these initiatives is Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha . Murtha favors placing four common-sense restrictions on Bush's use of troops in Iraq: "The Pentagon would have to certify that troops being sent to Iraq are 'fully combat ready' with training and equipment; troops must have at least one year at home between combat deployments; combat assignments could not be extended beyond one year, and a 'stop-loss' program forcing soldiers to extend their enlistment periods would be prohibited." Murtha and Pelosi believe that these restrictions will win Congressional approval because they focus on the wellbeing of our troops. Whether or not these congressional measures win approval, or change Presidential behavior, Democrats have managed a remarkable political recovery: they've retaken the high ground of national security. Once again convinced Americans that Democrats support our troops.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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