Has War Become A Second Class Citizen?by Michael Patrick Brewer on Oct. 31, 2010, under Veterans Benefits
It never ceases to amaze myself and my combat veteran pals, how we as a nation have become so adept at marginalizing and distancing ourselves from war during mid-term elections. It is as if there are parallel nations. The machinations of the Tea Party are serving as a marvelous distraction from the real reason we have such deficit spending…. it is called war folks.
Please note that I have no commentary on the necessity of the use of our Armed Forces. I simply want to drive home the point that speaking of budget deficits and blaming political parties is like sending a pregnant woman to weight watchers. Lets start to get real after this election. Lets get as real as war, and stop all campaigning and use the the money to solve some intractable problems, like re-tooling for a global economy and designing an economic model that is not dictated by the greed of Wall Street. That would be the “real” way to support the troops. Give them something to come home to other than a nation overpaid lobbyists and professional whiners. The soldiers want a democracy not an auction. MB
Mr. Wood is one of the best journalists out there lending real perspective sans the spins.
In its coming session, Congress will decide whether to pay for another year of military operations in Afghanistan — with likely casualties of a thousand or more American battle dead — or cut war funding to force President Obama to start withdrawing troops.
Congress will decide how much treatment soldiers will get for blast injury and whether they deserve a pay raise. It will decide how many protective armored trucks the troops will get, and the quality of their body armor. It will repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” or let the courts decide. It will judge how much compensation and other benefits a double-amputee veteran will receive. It will have to reconcile all this spending with its campaign promises to cut government and the deficit.
If there’s a major terror attack on the United States, the president may order retaliation or other actions. But Congress will decide whether to sustain military operations if they are ordered against, say, Iran, or inside Pakistan.
As the nation goes about selecting its next Congress, are voters and the candidates (and their annoying campaign ads) pretty much ignoring all these issues?
Did the little piggy cry wee wee wee all the way home?
In the midst of hot conflicts engaging more than 150,000 deployed military personnel and simmering military crises in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, nearly everybody’s giving war a big yawn.
Those yellow-ribbon car magnets boasting of support for the troops have faded. Fewer soldiers and Marines trudging home through airports get thanked for their service these days, and when they do get thanked, the troops say it’s just an awkward encounter they’d prefer to avoid.
Even the Code Pink protesters who used to disrupt war hearings on Capitol Hill have turned elsewhere, most recently to the Gulf oil spill.
One reason is that most of the public hasn’t had a personal stake in the war. Less than 1 percent of Americans agree to active-duty service and far fewer than that have actually seen combat.
No major war in American history has been fought with a smaller percentage of Americans in uniform. And less than a dozen members of Congress, at last count, had children serving in the military.
“For most Americans the wars remain an abstraction,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates mused recently. He said war has become “a distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally,” and he added with a touch of bitterness that military service is seen as “something for other people to do.”
Ordinarily, though, at least some Americans get passionate about war and register their emotions on Election Day. In 1916 a strong antiwar movement, together with the suffragettes, isolationists and others, forced President Wilson to campaign on the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.”
Wilson won, but his victory may have laid the foundations for today’s massive cynicism about elections: Within 90 days of his re-election as an antiwar president, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war, and the United States leapt into the jaws of World War I. Of the 4.7 million Americans who served, 53,000 were killed in battle and 200,000 came home wounded (not counting those with post-traumatic stress syndrome, or as they dismissed it then, “shell shock.”)
Midterm elections generally turn more on domestic issues than on war. One exception was 1954. With Republicans in power, the country, weary of the Korean war which ended a year earlier, voted in the Democrats who seized both the House and Senate and held on for decades, relinquishing the House only in 1994. During the most heated antiwar passions of the Vietnam conflict, Republicans gained in the midterms of 1966 and Democrats did so in 1970, but the war ground on with little congressional interference. (Even the conventional wisdom that Congress eventually cut off funding for the war, abandoning the South Vietnamese to its enemies, has been exposed as a myth.)
This year, issues of war have been “swamped” by voter concerns about jobs, debt and health care, observed Richard Kohn, professor of history, peace, war and defense at the University of North Carolina. And those are domestic issues in which Congress has a more obvious role anyway, he added.
Where war makes itself felt in this midterm is “in the dog that didn’t bark,” Kohn said. President Obama’s West Point speech last December essentially plotted a withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan, with a temporary “surge” of forces in Afghanistan and a date to begin the withdrawal of troops.
“That satisfied both the right, that said you’ve got to prosecute the war — and the base of his party, which wants to withdraw,” Kohn said.
True enough: conservative columnist Fred Barnes, who can rarely find even a mild epithet for Democrats, sent Obama a “love bomb” in the Weekly Standard after the West Point speech, and even Sarah Palin endorsed the president’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. Liberals were slightly disappointed but supportive.
So thoroughly did Obama’s Afghanistan war strategy preempt protest that the GOP’s Pledge to America, which attacks the administration from every conceivable angle, fails to mention either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Finally, of course, most Americans seem to have given up on Afghanistan. Why get passionate about it if the war is a lost cause?
However invisible the war is for now, it may explode once the campaign is over and the winners begin to take their seats. Awaiting House members and senators is the $700 billion Pentagon budget bill, which may come up as early as the lame duck session in November (three new senators will be seated immediately because they are filling vacancies in Illinois, Delaware and West Virginia).
That will be the first test of the determination of many candidates actually to cut the federal budget, eliminate waste and reduce the budget deficit, as they have promised. But even among the budget-cutters there is disagreement: On one end of that spectrum is Rand Paul, GOP Senate candidate from Kentucky, a libertarian skeptic of foreign involvement who believes the great threat is on the U.S. borders. On the other: Sen. John McCain and other traditional Republicans who support a strong U.S. presence in the world and consistently vote to appropriate the money to support it.
Later next year Congress likely will grapple with potential troop reductions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. All American military personnel in Iraq are due to be withdrawn at the end of 2011, unless a joint U.S.-Iraq agreement is modified — a step Congress surely would want to review. In Afghanistan, Obama is likely to begin withdrawing some troops in July.
In both cases the decision belongs to the White House, but Congress could interfere, for instance, by tampering with the flow of money.
Either way, there’s no indication in this election year that the new Congress will take such an activist role, said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World, a liberal think tank in Washington.
“The mood on military issues is ambivalence,” he said. “I don’t think the public cares.”