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But You’ll Hurt the Troops’ Feelings!

November 21st, 2007 · 2 Comments

In a response to an essay posted over the weekend at Daily Kos, The Weekly Standard‘s Dean Barnett provides a perfect example of how toxically warped up our foreign policy debate has become. Citing an article about the pullout of British troops from Basra, Kos diarist Jeffrey Feldman runs with a suggestion offered by British Maj. Gen. Graham Binns that the presence of foreign troops is itself a major source of violence, providing a target for violence and a catalyst for outraged young men to join armed groups. Barnett’s riposte:

There’s something even more problematic with Feldman’s formulation. His “reframing” suggests that our troops are the problem. Not content with the usual progressive’s role of dismissing the progress and sacrifices our military has made in Iraq, Feldman actually seems to be suggesting that they are and have been the problem all along. I don’t think any of the military people I know will have a fondness for this theory. I know Feldman would say he’s Blaming Bush (trademark pending), but those who have bled in Iraq won’t like their accomplishments being dismissed. Nor should they.

What we have here is an empirical proposition: That the presence of occupying troops is so offensive to many Iraqis that it ends up leading to more violence on net, even if the troops are doing a reasonable job suppressing violence. While I’d like this to be true—it simplifies the moral calculus tremendously, after all—I’m not convinced that it is true outside a few areas. I am, however, absolutely certain of one factor that is utterly irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of the proposition: Whether it is mean. The extent to which this counts as disparaging coalition forces should probably be weighed in light of the fact that the idea actually comes from a British general, but at some level, that too is beside the point. For any given area, the suggestion that withdrawing troops could reduce violence is either true or false, and its truth or falsity has nothing at all to do with how the troops themselves are disposed to feel about the suggestion.

Now, Barnett can object that he’s just forecasting the political impact of this argument, but he’s also poisoning the water. The new script he’s laying out is: If you suggest that any region might become less violent if coalition forces weren’t there, you are blaming our troops, disparaging their achievements, and so on. And that seems insanely counterproductive, because if there are any towns or regions where troop presence is a major catalyst for violence, then my God, why wouldn’t you want to take the win-win and get them out of that area? Perhaps it’s a measure of just how much Dean Barnett loves, respects, and admires the troops that he’s prepared to have them pointlessly blown up to prove it.

Tags: War



2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 dan // Nov 23, 2007 at 8:48 am

    The trick is to emphasize that the strategy, rather than the troops implementing it, are at fault. That’s tough to prove, though, because the visible signs of Iraqi disconnect will presumably relate to particular events. The line has to be about the fact of occupation itself, rather than, say, particular atrocities or tragedies.

  • 2 Kevin B. O'Reilly // Nov 23, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Don’t we live in a country where civilians command the military? If so, isn’t it their job to cowboy up and take orders regardless of whether their feelings are hurt?

    If our elected representatives decide that the military must remain in Iraq indefinitely, we should not want the troops to be petulant about it. So why should that not obtain in the obverse?