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Cowards Hiding Behind the Honor of Soldiers

November 19th, 2003

A few weeks ago, there was an anniversary that many people did not notice–the 20th anniversary of the barracks bombing in Lebanon that killed 241 U.S. Marines based there. With American forces withdrawing from that country a year later, it was a precursor to Somalia–though hopefully not to Iraq, not in the same way, at least.

For me, it was a bit of a political awakening. I had never approved of Ronald Reagan, but something he said soon after the tragedy made me feel physically ill. I recall it quite clearly. A reporter had asked Reagan about his responsibility in placing those Marines in danger, and the questionability of his political motives in sending them there and his lack of an exit strategy or even an overall strategy for them to act on. This was a legitimate question: if Reagan had placed those Marines in danger so he could look good politically, with no tangible goal or exit strategy, then he should damn well be answerable regarding his actions.

Reagan, however, took the coward’s course: instead of taking responsibility for his actions, he accused the reporter of suggesting that the Marines had died in vain, and then beat the reporter about the head with that. That response is what made me ill, made me enraged. What kind of a gutless coward would use the honor and sacrifice of 241 honorable men that he sent to a war zone for his political reasons, to protect his own miserable political hide? Worse, Reagan ordered other troops to invade Grenada just two days after the Lebanon disaster–leaving no doubt whatsoever that he was willing to put our soldiers’ lives in danger so he could control the news cycle to his advantage. Make a mini-series about that.

And yet it has happened many times, always with Republicans at the helm, and George W. Bush has now become the master of using the honor of soldiers he sent to die as a cover for his political PR appearance. How many times now have we heard that the president and his policies should never be questioned or criticized while the soldiers are out dying in the field? The same men and women whose returning remains are hidden and their funerals muted to keep the president’s poll numbers high.

And there is hypocrisy at play here, too–the Republicans never hesitated to scorch Bill Clinton while our troops were in the field. They did it repeatedly, constantly–and to his credit, Clinton never used the “troops in the field” defense card.

Now, I have not always been certain of Wesley Clark since he entered the race–he has said things which resonate strongly with me, but his past support for Bush and the Iraq war was possibly troubling, depending on where it came from within him. But in a recent interview with a snotty Fox newscaster, his responses to the issue of using troops as a human shield raised my esteem for him quite a few notches.

Fox reporter David Asman interviewed Clark (see Windows Media streams: 56 Kbps or 300 Kbps; reset options to get Real Media version), and true to Fox’s conservative tone, Asman tried to do a smear job on him. He first condescended by asking if he had gotten Bill Clinton’s permission to run (a surefire way to bring someone down in front of Fox’s audience), and then came in with his main guns.

“One thing that you must be sick of by now, but I gotta play the game too…” (yeah, I bet he’s just heartbroken that he “has” to bring this up) “… bringing up statements that you made in the past, you’re not a politician at heart, therefore you’ve made some more mistakes than other people have, so people throw ‘em back at you. One of them, though, was just yesterday, maybe it wasn’t a mistake, but it caught our attention. On ‘Meet the Press,’ you said something about Iraq. You said, ‘President Bush has said the war in Iraq is the centerpiece for the war on terror; it isn’t, it’s a sideshow [emphasis Asman's]. It’s simply their easiest means of access to attack American soldiers, that’s all it is.’ You really think Iraq is only a sideshow?”

It’s important to pay attention to the question, because it was obviously a direct criticism of Clark–particularly the emphasis on “sideshow” in the quote, and the emphasis on “only” in Asman’s direct question. It could not have been more clear that Asman was accusing Clark of belittling the efforts of the troops overseas. Later, Asman shows he’s a spineless chicken by claiming, and I quote, “I’m just repeating your own words to you… I just read back your own statement to you, General.” What a gutless coward–and representative of recent prominent conservatives, defending themselves and attacking their opponents by exploiting the armed forces to their advantage.

Well, Asman miscalculated on this one–Clark did not take it sitting down. At first, Clark tried to ignore the barb and answer in a civil way to simply state his position, making a lengthy statement about Bush’s huge tactical error in ignoring bin Laden and going into Iraq. Asman came back and tried to poke him with it again, asking “while our men and women are dying in Iraq, is it proper to call it a sideshow?” That is supposed to be “just repeating his own words to him”? Bullsh*t. He was now directly accusing Clark of impropriety on behalf of the soldiers. But he tried to smear the wrong man–and Clark proceeded to take his head off:

“Our men and women in Iraq are doing a fabulous job. They’re doing a great job, I love them, I respect them, and I honor them. My problem is with the president of the United States. He’s the man who is responsible for this, as he told us–he was going to make the decision when to go to war, and he did. Our men and women are doing everything their country has asked them to do. But for the war on terror, it is not the right thing that we should ask them to do. Don’t you dare twist words into disrespect for the men and women in uniform. I love those men and women, I gave thirty-four years of my life to them, you better take my words the right way!”

That’s what I want to see him say to George W. Bush in a debate. And that’s probably why Bush will chicken out and either not agree to debate or keep it down to one with no direct speaking between candidates.

And I’m that much closer to moving my full support to Clark.

The relevant part of the interview, mostly quoted above, is here: 560KB WAV file, 3:23 runtime. Listen to the wording, the emphasis, the way the words are spoken.

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  1. Riverun
    November 21st, 2003 at 09:08 | #1

    I, too, was glad Clark stood up to that dreadful Foxie. But I was a little disappointed with the way he did it. He would have come off much better if he had calmed down and responded with logic rather than anger. In particular, when the Foxie came back with, “But General, I was just quoting your own words,” Clark should have said something like, “I stand by my own words. What part of ‘sideshow’ don’t you understand? Are you saying our men and women in uniform ought to be dying in a sideshow?”

    Or something like that. Instead, he let it get into little more than a shouting match and came off as somewhat petulant, rather than the cool-headed general in command of every situation.

    As John Garside said on the DAJ list, his debating skills could have been better. In that sense, Dean seems quicker on his feet and better equipped to respond to the wiles of media hacks.

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