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.