Thursday, November 17, 2005

Chickenhawk patriotism

Let's do some compare and contrast, shall we?

President George W. Bush (Veterans Day): "While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decisions or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began...The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will."

Vice President Dick Cheney (yesterday): "The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone. But we're not going to sit back and let them rewrite history."

Now, listen to Senator Chuck Hagel, R-NE (two days ago): "The Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them."

Hagel also said the administration is dividing the country with its rhetorical attacks on Democrats.

So, what's the difference?

Cheney: Five Vietnam deferments.
Bush: Dubious National Guard service.
Hagel: Vietnam combat veteran.

Which brings us to other prominent critics of this war policy.

John Kerry: Vietnam combat veteran.
Bob Kerrey: Vietnam combat veteran, lost part of a leg.
Max Cleland: Vietnam combat veteran, lost three limbs.
John McCain: Vietnam combat veteran, tortured for five years in Hanoi.

Notice that the critics who the President and Vice-President dare call unpatriotic are the ones who actually fought for this country. It disgusts me that patriotism gets defined in such a narrow-minded way. Patriotism means doing the right thing for your country, and calling out this administration on its awful handling of the war is the right thing for the country.

Back in 2003, I wrote a column (can't find the link) that defended dissenters in the war run-up, even though I was supporting the war. And yes, I'll admit that in 2002, I didn't believe going to Iraq was the right thing, but the administration persuaded me with the continued case they made, a case we know now to be quite misguided, lacking in facts, relying on theory and ideology.

So much has come out in the past few weeks to show that the administration lied (and yeah, I know that isn't a cautious stance) about oil policy, about Iraq, about the veracity of sources, and the list goes on. They are in a corner with the public, and so they are attacking the attackers, and getting help from people like Glenn Reynolds, who wrote, "The president should be attacking their patriotism. Because they're acting unpatriotically," or Bill Kristol, who wrote the "anti-American left" was way off base in their criticism.

Being in a war does not mean we should shut up. Whether we agree, disagree, or aren't sure of how we feel on the war, we all have a right to our opinion, and it is Orwellian to attack the honor, the patriotism, the love of country that critics have. Critics are sometimes the best friends you have, because they are trying to show that there are alternate ways of handling things. The left isn't anti-American, and neither is the right. Each side may have a different sort of love for the country, and different ideas of what America should be, but no one should doubt that any citizen of this great nation hates it unless they shout it from the rooftops that they hate America.

When we get into criticizing patriotism and ignoring the substance of the criticism, we lose all sight of what is really important here. We went into Iraq, we turned it upside down, and somehow, we have to guide them in to a safe landing, but it has to be on their terms, not ours. Ultimately, it's not democracy if we tell them what that is supposed to be. They have to figure it out on their own, much as our own forefathers did. This debate should be over the best policy, not staying a course that has proven to be ill-conceived. What we are doing now is not working. There has got to be a better way, and our Congress and the administration should be working on that, and not sniping about patriotism. Shame on the administration for making this about love of country. Shame on Congress for not being more engaged on this issue.


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