Setting the Record Straight

July 22, 2008

When Losing a War Is Okay

Declare Victory if You Must, Just Leave
          John McCain keeps belaboring a couple of ideas about Iraq that U.S. conservatives, and probably also many liberals, need to begin giving serious thought to changing.
          The first is McCain’s insistence that because Barack Obama has “no military experience whatsoever” that somehow he is not qualified to be president, a position that also makes the office holder commander-in- chief of the military.
          If he and others keep harping on that idea, they need to explain just what it is about military experience that helps someone not only be president in general, but commander of the military in particular. The founding fathers were clear they wanted a civilian to be the ultimate commander of the military. That was an extremely wise decision.
          What good has military experience in a president done for us since World War II? Franklin Roosevelt did not have it, but Dwight Eisen- hower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and the first George Bush did. We won World War II and have not won a significant war, “conflict,” what- have-you since.
          We did push Iraq back out of Kuwait and were successful in using our military power in bringing peace to the former Yugoslavia—the former under a president with military experience, the latter under one with none. And the one with none, Bill Clinton, was commander over probably one of the most intelligent decisions by a U.S. commander-in- chief, a decision we could have used several times in the past six decades.
          And that brings us to the other idea McCain chose to speak to while Obama was on his maiden trip to Afghanistan and Iraq.
          McCain said that if Obama had been president and opposed sending more troops to Iraq, “we would have lost.” McCain also sup- posedly wrote in an op-ed piece submitted to the New York Times, which chose not to run it as presented, that Obama only talks about ending the war in Iraq, but never about winning it. McCain said, “When you win wars, the troops come home.”
          Yes, everyone would rather the United States win any war it enters. Sup- posedly so would citizens of any other country and its wars.
          But, how about someone in the leadership doing as Clinton sup- posedly did after sending troops into Somalia. The sortie fell apart, and Clinton pulled the United States out, saving who knows how many U.S. and local lives. We made a try and lost.
          We fought the Korean “conflict” under the most militarily experi- enced president. We fought to a draw; the U.S. did not win or lose and we’ve been stuck with a large number of troops in South Korea ever since. Eisenhower decided to claim a draw and quit fighting.
          Our first military presence in Vietnam was sent by Eisenhower, with additions ordered by Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson, with no military experience, used a phony claim to justify turning Vietnam into a full- scale war we most clearly lost 10 years and 58,000 U.S. lives later.
          In between that fiasco and the first, but limited Iraq invasion under a presi-dent with military experience, we actually won some battles, all under presidents with no military experience. Those battles were easy of course, because they were fought in backwater places such as Grenada and Panama.
          It is time we had leaders in the White House who understand that when our military decisions go wrong, we should be willing to walk away from them. Declare victory if you wish; sometimes, such as in the Iraq fiasco, a lie like that pales by comparison with the lies that got us involved.
          We need presidents willing to swallow a loss when victory is not likely or the cost would be more than the American people are willing to pay.
          We survived the ignominy involved in all of our six decades of military losses, and we will survive the current one begun by a president with no military experience, and whose military policies are endorsed by the candidate with military experience.





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