Afghanistan: Does this make Obama a chickenhawk?

President Obama salutes as the transfer case of US Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin is moved at Dover Air Force Base on October 29, 2009 (Mark Wilson/Getty)

President Obama salutes as the transfer case of US Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin is moved at Dover Air Force Base on October 29, 2009 (Mark Wilson/Getty)

So it looks like President Obama is going to send at least 34,000 troops to Afghanistan, caving to the military’s pressure, as predicted. Add that to the 21,000 more he shipped off earlier in the year, we get 55,000 troops that the president will have personally deployed, about doubling the size of our effort.  Plus 47,000 from our increasingly skeptical NATO allies, and we’ll likely approach a rough total of 150,000 coalition forces in Afghanistan by next spring, 100,000 or so of them American.

A pretty major escalation of the war on Obama’s part. So does this make Obama a chickenhawk?

Let’s flashback a second to the Bush years, when it was normal for war critics to point out that, for all the wars the Bush peopled started, very few of the members of the administration actually ever fought in a war. None of the main “architects” of the war in Iraq had logged many hours in any warzone, either, even in a civilian capacity.  And along with the National Guard record of President George W. Bush and Dick “6 Deferment” Cheney, they were supported in the media by a bipartisan collection of hawks–the dweeby “keyboard commandos,” still at it to this day–whose experience of war…Well, they still don’t have any, but that’s never been an impediment to their forceful advocacy of full on, manly, virile, combat. To paraphrase Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now: Napalm smells even better in the morning if other people are smelling it for you. You can sip your coffee without the stench.

But what to make of President Obama then? He’s never worn a uniform, never heard a shot fired in anger, never been blown up or POW’d. Yet we don’t really consider him a chicken hawk, despite the fact that his position on Afghanistan has been decidedly hawkish, and his experience with war has been traditionally chickenish. I suppose he’s avoided this sobriquet because he was opposed to the war in Iraq, and doesn’t seem to get the Cialis reponse to vicarious war that we usually associate with the David Brooks school of chicken-hawking.

Another question: how much should one’s experience with war impact their credibility on matters relating to war? It seems that this experience/credibility question can cut both ways, and is most effective as a tool to back up whatever political view you already hold. For instance, President Bill Clinton–the draft dodging dope smoker–didn’t get respect about matters of war from the military because of this hippy caricature, and the military believed that he didn’t support them. President Bush, another draft dodger, remained very popular among the military, despite the fact he avoided Vietnam, because the military felt he did support them. Lincoln and FDR are often used as examples of great “war presidents” who never fought themselves. Or, if a guy like David Brooks shouldn’t be listened to because he’s for war and has not experienced it, why should we listen to an antiwar pundit who has not experienced war either? Neither know the first hand terrors of war, so does that invalidate both sets of opinions?

(Aside # 1: Perhaps the antiwar pundit gets a moral edge because he/she is saying, more or less, put your money where your mouth is? As in, I am am opposed to X war, I have not fought in any war but I believe in finding peaceful solutions first and foremost, therefore I am being consistent with my principles, not acting like a hypocrite. That it is immoral and somewhat sleazy to send others to fight and die for a cause that you wouldn’t risk your own life for? I guess I answered my own question, but perhaps Glenn Greenwald could elaborate…)

Still, we have hawks like McCain or McChrystal or Andrew Exum who know about war, and thus seem much more credible when they advocate escalation. And then we have those that disagree with the hawks–say a Max Cleland or a Chuck Hagel or a Matthew Hoh–whose words also carry extra weight because of their experience.  So it’s kind of a wash.

(An aside #2: Should I expect people take this post more seriously because I’ve spent many months in combat zones with American troops–shot at, suicide bombed, and all that good adrenaline stuff–seen the carnage that has fallen on Iraqi and Afghan civilians, suffered traumatic personal loss, and have a younger brother who served as a Bronze star winning infantry platoon leader? Maybe if you agree with me, you’ll say yes, your opinions are more credible. But if you disagree with me, you might say, good for you buddy, but your ideas are still stupid!)

The other common chickenhawk trait is that they tend to send other people’s kids off to die. This does usually seem to be true. Perhaps it’s not an accident that Vice President Biden, whose son served in Iraq, is the one pushing hardest for a policy to not send more of our troops to die protecting poppy fields in Helmand. Of course, President Obama gets a pass on this point for now, as his two kids are way too young. But, in ten or twelve years, when David Petraeus is president and we’re still limping along in some kind of low intensity conflict that Obama could have ended, will he enourage Sasha and Malia to sign up for this “war of necessity” in Afghanistan?


Perhaps we need a new definition for Obama, since chickenhawk doesn’t quite fit. How about chicken-dove? Defined as so: a person who because of their lack of military or other war related experience is actually afraid to stand up for peace.

And thus, our chicken-dove president will now send tens of thousands of more troops, other peoples kids, however reluctantly, off to Afghanistan.


About michaelhastings

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15 Responses to Afghanistan: Does this make Obama a chickenhawk?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Michael Hastings - The Hastings Report – Afghanistan: Does this make Obama a chickenhawk? - True/Slant --

  2. Michael Peck says:

    Hmmmm. It sounds like any leader who uses military force and isn’t a veteran is automatically a chickenhawk. But most Americans and Europeans don’t serve in the military nowadays, so any leader who goes to war will almost certainly be a chickenhawk. We had better declare universal peace now, or we’re going to have a lot of strange hybrid birds flying around.

    I wonder if teenagers playing video games are also chickenhawks, or at least a related barnyard species that won’t commit violence but enjoys simulating it? I have a deep interest in military history and you’ve been a war correspondent. Does that make us birds of a feather?

    • Michael Hastings says:

      I don’t think so–I think if one is refugee or something like that you also get instant war cred! But my main question is that if war critics in the past called Bush and Cheney chickenhawks, and rightly mock the pro-war neocon pundits, then shouldn’t we apply those same standards to Obama? I don’t think you need to have fought or been traumatized by a war to order mass acts of violence upon other human beings, but culturally don’t we give more credibility to those who have?

      I agree that we will have a lot of strange hybrids flying around, for sure. And we are probably birds of a feather! We’re like the football commentators on ESPN who aren’t former pros–we know the game really well, but haven’t ever had to tackle LT.

      • Michael Peck says:

        That’s what I like about you, Michael. You raise good, intellectually honest questions. My feeling is that the chickenhawk labels only confuse the issue. Once a leader takes office, he has responsibilities, of which the gravest is commander-in-chief. I don’t want Obama second-guessing himself about whether he’s a chickenhawk. I want him to do what he thinks is best for the country.

        The question is, is Obama doing what he thinks is best, or is he just following political expediency? If the latter, then he’s not being a chickenhawk. He’s being a political coward.

      • Michael Hastings says:

        Thanks, Michael, appreciate that. I think you nailed what I was trying to get at it above, what sort of sparked me thinking about this whole chickenhawk thing. It’s a question of courage, be it political or physical. Cheney et al always kind of seemed like cowards, as with the neocon pundits–hiding behind there keyboards, waving the flag. Where Obama, until this point, in my opinion, seemed to show courage–standing up against the Iraq war, talking to Iran, running for Presindent as a black man etc. But, I fear, he’s not acting very courageous with regards to Afghanistan, and as you suggest, taking the politically expedient route that will end with hundreds more Americans dead with very little to show for it.

  3. mruniteus says:

    A Chickenhawk is someone that refused to serve in the military during wartime, when duty called, and then demand that others fight during wartime. During Vietnam war many of the well connected got draft deferments, while others went in the place. John Kerry was exeption. He did serve. Famous Chikenhawks, Include Dick Cheney, Tom Tancredo, Rush Limbaugh.

    Barack Obama was 4 years old when Vietnam started,12 when Vietnam ended. When he graduated from college there was no war. He speaks proudly about role his grandparents and uncle played during Vietnam, and contemplated joining the military, himself. But since there was no war when he graduated, he chose to serve in the means streets of Chicago. Not the place where a chicken would choose to serve. He could have gone to a Wall Street and firm and msde the big bucks. He wasn’t chicken to do the politically incorrect thing and speak out against sending troops to Iraq, after 9-11. He wasn’t chicken to run for President. He received a record number of death threats during the campaign. He wasn’t chicken to take on big issues. He wasn’t chicken to say he would draw down troops in Iraq, and increase troops in Afghanistan, during the campaign. He’s wasn’t chicken to grant the lastest request until, the mission and strategy was made clear. Note know matter what the President does some is going to complain. IMO he’s a good man, a good family man, and a good President.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      Thanks for the comment. Hey, I like Obama too! I’m just saying that if he was a Republican and escalating in Afghanistan, he’d be a called a chicken hawk. And, his lack of military/war experience is being held against him by the military now in the same way it was held against Bill Clinton.

      The way chickenhawk has been applied in recent times doesn’t just mean dodging Vietnam, I don’t think, though.

  4. Mr. Hastings,

    I think the key to the “chicken-hawk” issue is more about the attitude than history. The problem with people like Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney is not that they did not serve then and want war now, the problem is that they question the patriotism of others who do not want war now. Their hypocrisy is that they have claimed to support the Vietnam War but were careful to avoid any risk of going there themselves but now deride the character of those who had questioned (and continue to question) the latest military debacles. Mr. Obama has yet to question the courage or patriotism of those who take a different position on Afghanistan so I would say that he is not yet a chicken-hawk.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      David, great answer, and thanks for the insight. Yes, chicken hawk doesn’t feel right when applied to Obama for the reasons you say. That’s why I’m sticking with chicken dove, though it doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  5. david56 says:

    The operative is “hawk”. Obama is not a dove or a hawk on Afghanistan, he is a realist reflecting a consensus among Americans and our allies, and acting to attempt to successfully complete an action in state that committed an act of aggression.

    One has to parse the Afghanistan intervention with the Iraq intervention. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, Iraq had no weapons of Mass destruction, Iraq had nothing to do with supporting Al Qeada. And the war with Iraq removed resources from the war against Al Qaeda and its supporters in Afghanistan who directly attacked us and against whom we had an actual non AstroTurfed international coalition of traditional and new allies.

    I dont see any irony, conflict, dissonance or difficulty in Obamas decision to move out of Iraq as quickly as possible while attempting to turn the tide in Afghanistan, if needed with more troops in order to attempt a successful outcome there.

    The hawk in chickhawk label has to do the general aggressiveness and resort to US troops and involvement. One must place some metric on the war itself. The Iraq war was a discretionary war, one that needed propping up by a slew of false and tenuous causus belli, and its advocates were “hawks” thereby making advocates who had not themselves sacrificed or offered to: chickenhawks. The war in Afghanistan resulted from anf act and actions by the Taliban that were in fact a causus belli not only for most Americans but for most of our allies.

    In short, the US action in Afghanistan and currently placing the necessary troops were and are not a hawkish acts.

  6. Pingback: Michael Hastings « Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton and Charles Goyette

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  8. billy37 says:

    You know I think this Afghanistan thing has got to be over with, how long do Americans have to keep dying in that godforsaken place. Here’s something I just read…

  9. brucecarson says:

    It depends on whether you favor the intervention in Afghanistan and what your opinion of Obama is.

    Words are defined by how people use them, they don’t pop out of the ether as exactly defined quantities and we do not have some institute of language which centrally decides definitions. So the most accurate definition of Chicken-hawk is:

    A person who favors more military intervention than I do and has not served in the military.

    You can see exactly that definition parroted (in many more words) in posts in this very thread. One defender of Obama states that Obama is not a chicken hawk because he favors measured policies in Afghanistan – so basically – Obama is not a chicken hawk because he favors the right amount of war. Bush and Limbaugh favor too much war, and didn’t serve, so they are chicken-hawks.

    The are some people that lack even this consistency. They don’t favor the war in Afghanistan but they don’t consider Obama a chicken-hawk, because they like Obama. These people are true loons.

    And just to make it clear, there are plenty of wars and deployments that Obama could have served in had he been so inclined. The army always has a shortage of recruits (especially of his caliber). If the army had stopped recruiting after Vietnam, then those who argue only Vietnam counts would have something going, but that argument is not based in fact.

    A few deployments Obama could have taken part in: Lebanon (82-84), Grenada (83-85), Panama (88-90), Desert Storm / Desert Shield (90-91), Kurdish Relief (91-96), Somalia “Restore Hope” (92-93), Haiti Operation “Support Democracy” (93-95), Rwanda (93-95), Vigilant Warrior in Persian Gulf (94), Somalia “United Shield” (95), Bosnia (95-96), SFOR in Bosnia (98), Desert Fox (98), Kosovo “Joint Gaurdian” (99), East Timor (99).

    There are many more, those are the major ones with at least a few thousand troops. It’s pretty clear that, despite what some might have you believe, the Iraq war was not the first war since the Vietnam war which required American’s to serve. But it is awfully convinient to say only service in Vietnam defines being a Chickenhawk, because that exempts Obama. Curious that everyone defending this definition is a fan of Obama. Must be a coincinidence.

    • brucecarson says:

      Addendum: Actually, the US military has been involved in more conflicts in the last few decades than it was in the time between WW1 and WW2. So there’s a lot more call to say Obama is a chicken-hawk than there is Truman or Roosevelt.

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