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No, They Hate the Troops

March 22nd, 2006

How many times have you heard right-wingers twist a criticism against the president or against the war into sounding like a criticism against the troops serving in Iraq? I’ve heard it countless times. When John Kerry directly and specifically criticized Bush, RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie immediately transformed that into Kerry blaming the troops. Or when Wesley Clark criticized Bush for allowing an unnecessary war in Iraq take resources away from finding bin Laden, a Fox News anchor directly accused him of denigrating the troops. This technique is used widely and often by conservatives to deflect criticism about the war, essentially using the troops as a human shield to make Bush and the conservatives in general impervious to criticism for their massive blunders and incompetence.

The essence of this strategy is simple: conservatives say that liberals, or any critics of the president, hate the troops. Liberals want to blame the troops for everything.

The irony here is, it’s Bush who blames the troops. Take prisoner torture, for example. Bush and Gonzales advocated torture as an acceptable technique. Bush advanced the use of torture in the military hierarchy, giving the go-ahead for its use. But when we actually see the horrifying images of how prisoners were treated at Abu Ghraib, who gets blamed by the Bush administration?

The troops.

Instead of taking responsibility for their own policy, for their own commands, they use the troops the same way they use low-level staffers, as the fall guy for their own crimes. Instead of standing by the policy they engendered and enacted, they instead claim that it was the troops, and the troops alone–not even higher-ranking officials–that are guilty, that shoulder all the blame. And then they send the troops to prison. Not that the soldiers shouldn’t have rejected illegal orders, but their culpability in this matter is definitely the lesser. The administration is guilty, they set the policy, they gave the orders. And they shove all the blame on the soldiers.

And they do this without shame.

But this should not come as a surprise. Bush has never given a rat’s ass about the troops–he regards them as tools, and has never seen them as being anywhere near his elitist level. This should have been obvious from how he used his family influence to escape going to Vietnam while castigating others for dodging the draft. As president, Bush sent troops into battle without sufficient armor, without care for their immediate or long-term safety, and without any consideration for an exit plan. You can’t say that he simply didn’t know they didn’t have armor, because the problem was highlighted and told to the administration early on, and yet still long afterwards troops were forced to dig through garbage to find scraps of armor to protect themselves with. Bush has more often than not cut soldiers’ pay and benefits, while callously using them as window dressing whenever he needs a PR boost. He hides from criticism by troops both by enacting the law that threatens prison for any active soldier who speaks badly of him, and by filtering troops, sequestering away those who don’t answer correctly when asked if they support him 110%. Instead of honoring fallen troops, Bush has tried to hide them so he won’t be embarrassed, not even taking the few seconds a day to sign form letters to their families.

Liberals are the ones who care about the troops. Al Franken becomes angered to the point of tears when the troops are unfairly criticized. Wesley Clark becomes furious when troops are criticized. These people actually and actively support the troops (Franken frequently goes to Iraq with the USO), they genuinely care, while conservatives only use the troops as a prop.

Like Wes Clark said, “Republicans like weapons systems; Democrats like the soldiers.” Republicans have gotten the reputation for being pro-military only because they vote for huge Defense bills, and have co-opted the military hierarchy into Republican-izing the military and pushing their agenda within. Liberals got a bad reputation in this when some, during Vietnam, thoughtlessly chose to blame soldiers en masse alongside the administration. But today, when it comes to actually giving a damn about the people, about the troops themselves, about the men and women who serve, it’s the liberals who care, the liberals who want to protect and honor the troops. It’s the conservatives who use the soldiery and then discard them like so much trash.

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