Chickenhawk Again

Here’s the ultimate response to the (sadly not yet dead) ‘chickenhawk‘ notion. From Chief Wiggles, on his return to the U.S.:

The vast majority of the military unanimously support the president’s decision to take preemptive action against Saddam Hussein. We agree it was necessary in order to eliminate a serious threat to the stabilization of this region of the world, to free a country of people from bondage and torture, to prevent a continuation of an anti-American sentiment, for that matter anti-Western world policy, with the real potential, if not actual, to create such weapons and aid our enemies in their terrorist activities.

Why is it that the people of the US armed forces have not and are not speaking out against the president’s decision, if in fact the WMD issue was the only premise behind making such a decision to go to war? Yes, we believed all along that he had such weapons before, that he had such weapons now, or that he possessed the knowledge and the capability to use, share, or develop such weapons in the future to promote his own anti-American plans. I have said all along that Saddam’s only real weapon against us was to hide everything so well that we would never find such evidence of their existence, in hopes that by doing so he would create a back lash of political opposition for the president.

To give you my opinion, the fact of the matter is that the WMD issue has never been a major deal for any of us in the military, at least from all that I have spoken with. Yes, it was important, but not a do or die situation, as is portrayed by the president’s political rivals. Our success here in Iraq did not and has never swung on the hinge of finding or not finding the weapons of mass destruction. There are far too many other pertinent and relevant variables that make this a much too complicated scenario to lump into my nice little nutshell we call WMD.

In this convoluted, intertwined every changing world environment, we have to rely on what we consider to be reliable and trustworthy intelligence, while understanding our own human limitations to correctly gather and interpret that same intelligence. We believed they existed and believe there is evidence of an existing program, either actual or potential.

So, if you oppose the war – is this really the guy who (along with his peers) you want to make the war/no war decision?

23 thoughts on “Chickenhawk Again”

  1. If Henlein had his way, things would be no different than they are now vis-a-vis Iraq. The military isn’t the peace protestors conscript army of Vietnam. Today, its full of professional men and women who know just how dangerous the world is, and just how precious our freedoms are.

    I would like to thank Chief Wiggles, and all those in uniform, for doing something that the Leftist apologists would never had the courage to do: stand up for their beliefs with their lives. My hat is off to the Chief, and all members of the US Armed Forces.

  2. Despite being in the antiwar liberal camp, I’ve never denied that there were in fact some good reasons for the war, most of which Chief wiggles lists.

    But this statement brooks comment:
    to prevent a continuation of an anti-American sentiment

    I’ve heard similar things, though never put in exactly this wording. Can anyone in the pro-war camp provide any concrete evidence that the effect of the war has been to decrease anti-American sentiment, either in Iraq or in the region? Failing data, can anyone provide me with a good strong argument as to how the invasion will decrease anti-American sentiment? It’s always been, in my experience, stated simply as an assumption that it will. I personally find that assumption naive and contrary to both logic and historical experience, but I’d be willing to listen to a good argument.


  3. Did you see *this* though? It’s the link to Tapped, American Prospect’s blog, where Matt Yglesias has excerpts from Lawrence Korb’s article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs (not online) — a convoluted path I know.

    Korb was assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Here’s the excerpt:

    According to a recent survey of U.S. troops in Iraq by the military’s own Stars and Stripes newspaper, the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq risks doing to the AVF [All-Volunteer Force] what Vietnam did to the conscript service. After polling almost 2,000 troops, Stars and Stripes found that one-third of them thought the war against Saddam Hussein had been of little or no value and that their mission lacked clear definition. A full 40 percent said that their missions had little or nothing to do with what they had trained for. And, most ominously, about half of the soldiers surveyed indicated they will not reenlist when their tours end and the Pentagon lifts the “stop-loss order” now in place, which prevents troops from retiring or leaving the service when their enlistment contract expires.

    Were it not for this stop-loss policy, which even high-ranking officials admit is inconsistent with the principles of voluntary service, the AVF and the Total Force [i.e., heavy reliance on Guard and Reserve units for post-conflict operations] would be in severe jeopardy, lacking the peronnel to complete their missions. For example, as one infantry battallion commander deployed in Kuwait and headed for Iraq recently told The Army Times he would have lost a quarter of his unit in the coming year had it not been for the order. Through a series of such stop-loss measures, the army has prevented 24,000 active-duty troops and 16,000 reservists from leaving its ranks. Yet even with these rules in place, the Army Reserve missed its reenlistment goals for fiscal year 2003.

    Can it really be said that the American people are as enthusiastic as our civilian leadership for military commitments abroad? I mean when it comes to “putting your body where your mouth is”. I don’t think so.

  4. Yes, the term ‘chickenhawk’ is primarily used to silence argument or to score political points. A tool wielded well by both sides.

    Whether someone has served or not, is irrelevent in determining their capacity to choose when war is appropriate and when not.

  5. I think the term Chickenhawk can be applied with justice to a narrow group of individuals — we have all met them: those who loudly proclaim themselves to be of a certain character; when tasted, they tuck tail and run away. Chickenhawk is just another name for ‘coward’ — a grievous offense if the label is untrue. It says more about the insulter than the insultee, in all cases.

    That said, I think whether someone has served (and where), or not, is very relevant to their judgment of the propriety of war. You simply can’t tell a veteran that their experience meant nothing to the shape of their character after the fact. To say so, however indirectly, by dismissing the experiences they lived during their service, is deeply disrespectful — and says more about you than about them. To put it bluntly, it is, in my view, the mark of a true chickenhawk — to see the real thing and run — what is more cowardly?

  6. Perhaps you misundertood my intent.

    To judge whether a war is appropriate or not requires many things. Among them are an assessment of the risk, an assessment of the benefits, a balancing of the ramifications of inaction and action. It is a decision I am frankly glad I will never have to make.

    These skills are not gained by all who serve and are gained by some who never serve.

    That in no way disparages the character or experience of those who serve.

    Perhaps it would have been better if I had written “is not necessarily relevent” instead of the more positive “is irrelevant”.

    I assume I haven’t transgressed in posting a non-positive comment. It is still Friday here.

  7. SPF,

    “That said, I think whether someone has served (and where), or not, is very relevant to their judgment of the propriety of war….”

    I disagree, and here’s why. Military experience and expertise is essential in those who are planning the tactical and logistical levels of a battle campaign, but wars are ALWAYS fought for political reasons. Military service gives you no special expertise in the moral and political realm where the decision to fight or not is made.

  8. SPF –

    I’ve been meaning to do a counter to the Korb piece; the facts I can dig up aren’t supporting a massive decline in reenlistment (except in certain reserve categories); here is *a 2002 RAND study* that suggests that historically deployment hasn’t harmed retention, and a *CS Monitor article*. From the Monitor article:

    Moreover, although the deployments are placing unprecedented demands on the all-volunteer military, recruitment and retention are generally holding up, official statistics show. In the 2003 fiscal year, all four services met their recruiting and retention goals, with the exception of a retention shortfall in the Army reserves.

    Indeed, contrary to popular belief, deployments have historically had a positive effect on retention, at least initially.

    Some units in Iraq and Afghanistan report high retention rates. For example, mobilized Naval Reservists have a higher rate of retention than those not called up, naval reserve chief Vice Admiral John Totushek told a May 2003 hearing. At the same hearing, the Army National Guard Bureau chief, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, said he saw no evidence of a long-term recruiting or retention problem, adding, “so far … it’s been quite the opposite.”



  9. SPF –

    Other that the fact that your argument makes no sense to me (you say first that it’s a legitimate label for a coward, when in fact it’s a political label specifically targeting those who support the war but are not either a) veterans; or b) in active service – then you say that service effects character, with which I certainly agree, except that other things do as well – and then say that by dismissing ‘advantaged’ opinions on war by those who have served, one is disrespectful of them and thereby a chickenhawk. I don’t get it.), you’re flatly wrong about two things.

    First is the point made above that wars are essentially political acts, and that the polity as a whole – including those who have served – is the body who is responsible and should be responsible for making the grand decisions aabout war or peace.

    Second is the narrower notion that somehow the military are, like the other interest groups who line up to battle over polcies, simply another interest group and that issues of war and peace -which impact them the most – should therefore take them into consideration in some primary way. That’s something I dealt with in *the post* linked in the above post.

    And finally, if it were to be voted on by the military (noting that this would be an ultimate violation of what our Republic is about), based on the military people and veterans who I have met and know (and I know quite a few) – the war would have been supported overwhelmingly, which is in fact the overall point of my post.


  10. Quite obviously our political system does not grant any special weight to combat veterens in determining when and where to go to war.

    The US is an active war-fighting nation in which many people believe that the opinions of combat veterens carry special weight in debating war-making decisions. Since combat veterens have direct experience of the human cost of war, this is appropriate.

    While A.L. make a good point that war is a political tool, the cost of using that “tool” is paid with flesh and blood of our yound people who generally do not participate in the political process. Therefore, granting additional weight to the opinions of combat veterens, while not legally required, is reasonable from moral and common sense standpoints.

    Without the amplified voices of combat veterens, it may become too easy to deploy our sons and daughters with a reduced regard for the consequences.

  11. IdahoEv, in response to your question:

    The Chief said one of the purposes of the liberation was to prevent a continuation of an anti-American sentiment.

    You asked: Failing data, can anyone provide me with a good strong argument as to how the invasion will decrease anti-American sentiment?

    Simply stated, by example and word of mouth. However much it may stick in the craw of the ‘loony left,’ who apparently believe that Bush is incapable of doing a single thing right, we have done incalculable good for the Iraqi people. And, when you read the various Iraqi blogs and newspapers, it’s clear that the vast majority of them know it. The growing unrest in Iran, Libya’s and Syria’s attitude adjustments, the growing discomfort in Riyadh … all say they know it, too — and fear it.
    The only thing I would quibble with is the Chief’s wording. It won’t prevent completely the continuation of anti-American sentiment in the region. Some of that will always be there, just as there’s sentiment against any given country anywhere you go. And it won’t happen overnight — this is a boil that’s been festering for generations. It hurts when you lance it, and it will take time to drain and heal.

    Personally, the assumption I find naive (if not willfully blind) and contrary to common sense and history, is the reverse.

  12. Horst,

    Sorry, but your notion is just special interest/affirmative action politics taken to the extreme – and ultimately ill serves the nation.

    Good public policy in a democracy ideally accounts for the best interests of the nation in the broadest sense. Placing special emphasis on the perspectives of those who are responsible for implementing those policies (or at risk for directly paying the price in the case of the military) for determining those policies puts the better interests of the citizenry at risk.

    Should it be part of the decision matrix? Absolutely. Is there a moral dimension to these decisions, especially regarding war and peace? Of course. Failure to account for these is simply foolish. But when it is time to make the decision, the better interests of the nation are determinate (or, for ethical leaders and voters, should be). Democracy doesn’t give veterans (like me) any greater value to our votes than it does my non-veteran wife. We are equal to each other in the ballot box. And that is how it should be.

    Notwithstanding the obvious use of the “chicken-hawk” argument to discount the president’s policies and actions in the war on terror, do we really wish to formally run public policy on the basis of special interests? Already we see public schools run for the benefit of teachers unions rather than students and their parents; we see agricultural and trade policies run for the benefit of farmers rather than consumers. Both (and many others like them) to ill effect. Do you really want to see the national defense run by the military?

    Some believe we already do – and I recognize there is something to that argument – witness the hardly-secret Army resistance to Rumsfeld, or to Clinton’s policy in Kosovo. But the Founding Fathers were smart enough to recognize the risk posed by a military unaccountable to civilian leadership to the Republic.

    I believe your remedy would tacitly erode that critical arrangement to our detriment. And to what purpose? To help discredit George Bush now? And where would you be when a future president you support is bull-rushed into a war you oppose by a more influential military? Your notion simply leads to a “Seven Days of May” scenario. Is that really what you want?

    I don’t think so.

  13. I’m late to the party.
    The question of the invasion either increasing or decreasing anti-American sentiment is incomplete. Obviously it’s decreased anti-American sentiment among those who benefited while it increased it in those who were hurt. So what?
    The important issue is not the anti-American sentiment but that those in Iraq that harbored such sentiments no longer have the resources of a Nation at their disposal. The extent that Hussein put those resources to the service of those who would harm us is a matter for legitimate debate, I happen to believe it was considerable. What is not open for debate is that this particular source has dried up.
    My question is, what next? There are other nations putting the resources of a nation state behind our enemies. Some have changed their tunes, at least on the surface, Libya is an example. Others may have to be persuaded. That persuasion can come in many forms, the most drastic being military force. Make no mistake, though, we aren’t done with the persuasion.

  14. Horst: you may be assuming that once a person has been in combat they are more likely to oppose it–This may be a carryover from (what I believe) are misinterpreations of our Viet Nam experience. I was a professional officer and served with other professionals. We had seen combat. While I might be qualified to comment on the horrors of combat, that is a personal perspective and I feel the professionals can compartmentalize those issues.

    Tim: I think your comments are well taken. The military services are a bureaucracy like all others with resources, force structure, and general officer billets dependent on selling their particular perspective; viz: The old Strategic Air Command wanted bombers and missiles; the Tactical Air Command wanted fighter planes; the armor officers in the army want tanks; the special operations people want their resources and so on. This results in considerable bureaucratic infighting within DOD which, I believe, Sec Rumsfeld in bringing under control. Military support for going to war is, to some extent, predicated on those bureaucratic considerations (along with many other complex issues in the calculus).

  15. KevinG – I should have added more to my comments as well. In short, I agree with your last post entirely.

    Sam Barnes, I think having been in a war yourself makes you more aware of what you are getting others into. Imagine if Kerry lied to take us to war. I would find that much more grievous than if Bush did it. It would be tantamount to a personal betrayal of veterans, don’tcha think?

    AL, I’m not sure I understand your argument, so if this sounds off let me know. (Thank you for the extra enlistment/retention info by the way.)

    Wars may essentially be political acts, and the polity as a whole is responsible for making decisions about war or peace, but you’re not going to tell me that proposing to go to war is limited to this broad group of folks as well? It’s like you’re saying the president has no role at all, and even a cursory glance at history shows such a contention to be preposterous.

    Certainly no wise military commander would go to war without the support of the troops, but I don’t see what their support says about the wisdom of his/her decision.

    I agree with Horst on this one. When our nation decides to go to war, we all experience it. For some of us it is on the battlefield in a faraway foreign country, for others it is shopping at Bloomies. It is fair to say that both experiences are ‘American experiences of war’ and thus both need to be taken into account. When a future decision arises, the past is our guide.

    Some of you are speaking of ‘national interest’ as if it were a thing independent of the people who are seeing information about the US and abroad and making these war decisions. These people are interpreting information, often based on experiences they have had. Our ‘national interest’ is malleable and highly debateable, and very very often overlooked. Consider pork in Congress, to name one.

    Finally, about “chickenhawk” — I indeed said that the label was equivalent to “coward”, someone who turns tail in the face of danger/reality, though it’s perhaps a combination of this and “hypocrite”, a faker, that I meant — a chickenhawk is a “hypocritical coward” in other words.

    I do think that anyone who is not a veteran who pretends to know what other veterans have gone through enough to pass judgment on them qualifies as a hypocrite. One who will not do it to their face, but only behind the safety of the keyboard, is a coward. To assert that a veteran’s experience in war will make no difference to any decisions they may come to regarding matters of war, blithely and from the safety of one’s home, qualifies as the comment of a hypocritical coward, in my opinion. Even if it is not an advocation for war. Because it is too much of a coincidence that the one thing they are afraid of — military experience — is the one thing they are attacking. A chickenhawk.

    * To be clear, I’m not saying that those who advocated war but had no military experience are chickenhawks. Many other experiences may be valuable to making the decision as there are innumerable factors to consider. And certainly all citizens have the right to offer their opinion yea or nay. *

  16. SPF,

    No, I do not agree. If Kerry lied to the American people in order to win support for a war, I would consider that just as bad as if anyone else did so–not better, not worse. Of course, your implication that Bush’s service was somehow worthy of less respect than Kerry’s is insulting to National Guardsmen, and your implication that Bush actually lied to get us into the Iraq conflict is baseless, but smoothly presented nonetheless.

    The term “chickenhawk” is most frequently used to mean precisely “advocates of war who are not veterans or currently serving.” It’s called “moving the goalposts” to claim otherwise.

    I wouldn’t pretend to know what military service is like. I assume it is difficult, very often extremely unpleasant, and sometimes life-threatening, which is why I respect those who make this sacrifice in order to protect us all. I do not consider those difficulties relevent to the morality of any given war, however.

  17. Hi Sam Barnes, as someone who’s never been in military service, I agree with you about the hypothetical Kerry/Bush lying to get us into war — but veterans might not feel the same. Just speculatin’.

    Given the holes in Bush’s National Guard records, I would say the jury is out as to whose service is more “worthy of respect”, but come on, give me a break! Even with the rudimentry facts available, I think Kerry tops Bush, don’t you? And I don’t think saying so is insulting to National Guardsmen, especially since the National Guard has changed quite a bit since Bush and Kerry’s time. There is no comparison between what they’re doing now and what they did then.

    I don’t think people who hurl ‘chickenhawk’ at others are meaning something so dry as what you suggest. You give a factual definition as if it were not an insult to another’s character; in my opinion, not so.

    I did not mean to imply that Bush had lied.

  18. People should not confuse “reducing anti-American sentiment” with “suppressing anti-American sentiment”. Our demonstrations of military power are more likely to suppress it than actually reduce it. It may be out there, festering at a low level, but with the potential to result in a violent outbreak in the future.

    “Reducing anti-American sentiment” would imply changing peoples’ minds to either a neutral or positive opinion of the US. If it’s suppressed, it just means that pressure is being applied which makes people feel it is wiser to keep quiet. But they don’t like us any more than they did, and might like us less.

    Consider Cold War Romania. They had anti-Ceaucescu sentiment suppressed, but not reduced. Eventually, they could no longer suppress it, and that was the end of the Ceaucescus.

  19. For me, a Chickenhawk is not just someone who supports a war and avoided service, but there also has to be a certain quality to their support of a war, which suggests they think of the troops as little more than pieces in a game of RISK.

    By this, I don’t mean that everyone who avoided service behaves like that, or that everyone who didn’t serve (post-draft) thinks like that. It’s a subset of people who didn’t serve who seem almost giddy about sending troops off to war.

    Perhaps I just don’t like people who felt they were too good to serve who *also* are willing to spend the lives of current American troops cheaply, and/or for grandiose irrational schemes.

  20. National Guard service definitely should not be belittled. My unit served in Germany in WWII and in Korea. It was not called for Viet Nam although we were told to get ready. Some of my Oklahoma fellow Guardsmen have been sent to Iraq.

    I joined at the minimum age, 17 1/2 in order to serve with others from my hometown, to avoid being drafted and interrupting my education plans, and to avoid having to take ROTC in college. No thought whatsoever was given to avoiding combat. In fact, I presume we narrowly missed going to Viet Nam.

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