Sowing Dragon’s Teeth

David Lucas’s op-ed
in the Knoxville News-Sentinel combines with this story about active-duty military personnel criticizing Edward
Kennedy and Dick Durbin’s “gulag” rhetoric about Guantanamo Bay to suggest something interesting about the long-term political impact of the Iraq War.

Historically, one of the major byproducts of American wars is politicians. While it’s rare for a career military man to carve out a successful political career as Dwight Eisenhower did, there’s a strong pattern of non-career junior officers serving in combat returning to civilian life to become successful politicians. John Kerry, though he failed to win the presidency, has had a successful enough political career to count as one of the most recent examples.

I expect the Iraq war will produce a bumper crop of future politicians from its junior officer corps — men like David Lucas who are already making public names for themselves. So it’s worth asking what these people believe, and how the lessons they’re learning in Iraq will affect the attitude they bring to careers in civilian politics.

Recent surveys showing that 80% of the serving military officer corps voted Republican in 2004 combine with exceptionally high in-theater re-enlistment rates and op-eds like Lucas’s to paint a picture of a military that believes very strongly in the rightness of the Iraq war — a belief which appears to be strong not just among careerists but among short-timers who expect to return to civilian life as well. A related piece of evidence is negative but almost equally strong; the anti-war wing of U.S. politics has failed to discover or produce any returning veterans of Iraq who are both able to denounce the war effectively in public and willing to do so.

We already know, because they’re telling us themselves in mil-blogs, that the military serving in Iraq has developed a bitter contempt for the mainstream media. Biased, shoddy, and selective reporting with a heavy sensationalist and anti-war slant has had consequences; it has played well among bicoastal liberals in the U.S. but angered and alienated the troops on the ground. They know that reality there is greatly different from what’s being reported, and increasingly they’re willing to say so.

The Washington Times story shows that anti-war posturing by leading Democrats is angering and alienating the serving military as well. An increasing number seem to think they are seeing what is in effect a conspiracy between the mainstream media and the Democrats to make a just war unwinnable in order to score domestic political points. In the longer run, this is a disaster in the making for Democrats. It means that this war’s crop of successful politicians and influence leaders probably going to trend Republican and conservative to an unprecedented degree.

This is not a prospect that fills me with glee. Given their military background, the political children of the Iraq war seem more
likely to reinforce the authoritarian/cultural-conservative side of the Republican split personality than the small-government/libertarian one. In the worst case, military resentment of the Democrats could fracture the strong unwritten tradition that keeps the serving military out of civilian politics. That could be very bad.

I think that worst case is still quite unlikely. But if it happens, the Democrats and the mainstream media will have nobody but themselves to blame. Their irresponsible and destructive political games have sown dragon’s teeth; let’s hope we don’t all come to regret the harvest.

22 thoughts on “Sowing Dragon’s Teeth

  1. We already know, because they’re telling us themselves in mil-blogs, that the military serving in Iraq has developed a bitter contempt for the mainstream media.

    That would be what statisticians call a self-selected sample there. I think the type of ex-military politicians you get back from Iraq is going to depend quite a lot on how successfully it plays out, though the librul meeja harping on about a mere few dozen carbombing deaths a day may well leave some lingering resentment, who knows. Early days yet. And I’m not surprised that returning veterans aren’t willing to publically criticise what’s going on, either. The “Support the Troops” meme is still running pretty strong AFAICT.

  2. There are a few things to consider in order to understand the inability to find articulate veterans of this current war who are willing to speak out against it.

    1) As has been previously stated, the rallying cry of “Support our Troops” (which really means “support our leaders” since they are the public face that everyone is standing behind) is still going strong. I find it ironic that most of the people who stand behind that concept haven’t served in the armed forces and don’t want their children to.

    2) Unlike most recent wars (Viet Nam, Korea, etc), there hasn’t been a draft. In effect, this means that most of the people serving there actually chose to do so. This makes it a little more difficult to find detractors.

    3) The “anti-terrorism” sentiment is much like the anti-communism sentiment which we, as a nation, experienced in the past. This means that it can be a very dangerous thing (politically and even personally) to speak out against the war or leaders behind it.

    These three things are very hard to work against at the moment. Given time, the popular attitude toward the war may change just as the anti-communism sentiment did. However, at the moment, it would be committing political suicide to speak out against it even if the recent veterans wanted to and, in the worse case, could theoretically even have you classified as an enemy combatant if you really struck a raw nerve (and before you say that would never happen, think about what happened to the Japanese-Americans during WW2).

  3. I wonder about where James lives. ‘Round here, any soldier coming back from Iraq telling Vietnam-esque tales of the horror of serving in the US military would be an instant celebrity. He’d have to beat off the media with a stick. Civilian jobs would be readily forthcoming. I can’t speak for how his military friends would react, but even if they all deserted him, he’d have a ready supply of replacements. Nor do I imagine that someone who’d be receiving that much attention could be quietly disappeared, even if the worst suspicions about the unconstitutional powers of the current administration are all true.

    Might not be true in the South…but it’s definitely true in Chicago, and I suspect it’s true in New York and Boston too. And, contrary to stereotypes, our troops do also come from such places.

    That none have done so says something, I think.

  4. James, How many returning vets have you talked to? I’ve talked with scores, in ranks from E1-E8 and O2&O3. Everyone has had some point to criticize, or gripe about, and most are willing to unburden themselves if they don’t think your going to blow it out of proportion. In most cases the gripes are not due to systemic problems (with the exception of logistics, but that has always been, and most likely will always be), but with details like brass with slow ooda loops, stupid Joes that don’t learn, and nasty weather. With the exception of one all supported the war, but had ideas on how to run it better (The one exception wanted to nuke em all). I think my little sample supports esr’s thesis well, as the base of all politics is running government better than the next guy.

  5. I agree with Eric’s ongoing posts about the direness of confronting Islamic extremism square on. How does Iraq fit though? Hussein ran a secular state. Many professionals there are (or were) women.

    If we invaded Iraq because of WMD, the mission was obviously ill conceived. If we invaded Iraq to depose a tyrant and promote democracy, our results appear mixed. We deposed the tyrant, but in doing so empowered the Shia majority. It is imposing Sharia via the constitution. Women are losing their rights. Education suffers. Iraq is cozying with Iran. What could be worse for our national security than another Islamic state?

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but that’s how it seems to me.

  6. It’s not at all obvious that invading Iraq because of WMD was ill-conceived. Hussein had nerve-gassed his own people en masse and we’ve found the botulin toxin his labs were cooking up. I suspect that anyone pinning his or her political hopes on “no WMD” is going to get a rude shock if and when we find out what was in all those Iraqi trucks that slipped over the Syrian border just before Baghdad fell.

    Nor is Shari’a being imposed on Iraq. Go read PubliusPundit’s leaked drafts of the constitution. It’s going better than I for one really hoped it could at the beginning of the process. And as for Iraq cozying with Iran…nonsense. Even the Shi’as don’t seem to be moved thataway, and if they were the Kurds (who have actually got the
    upper hand in the provisonal government) would put an oar in.

    In fact, the Kurds are an interesting canary in this particular coal mine. I think I’ll blog about this.

  7. Wowa, partly we invaded Iraq because of WMD. He did have some, some where found in shells used in IEDs. We also invaded because of his staunch support of terrorism and his cosy relationship with BinLaden. Do you remember what Hussein and OBL did after Cliton tried and failed to get him with missles. They started talking about how Saddam could help OBL git back at us. Not to mention Abu Nidal, rewards for families of terrorists in Isreal, and other actions and stances.

    Not to mention the 91 war never really ended. We were helping protect the kurds from Hussien and his terrorist allies. If not for invading we would have had to abandon them eventually, and their democracy that was the envy of most of the Arab and Iraqi world.

    I really don’t understand most Democrats any more. I would have thought that toppling Saddam would be among the things they wanted. Guess not.

  8. re: wmd

    We know Saddam gassed the Kurds. We know that prior to the Bush administration’s military action in Iraq, prominent Dems have been decrying Saddam’s possession and use of WMDs (and rightly so). We go in, we find no WMDs. So he either had them and got rid of them, or he hid them.

    This point was raised to me a while ago: If Saddam had wmds and got rid of them, where are the furnaces he would have had to have used to burninate the toxic chemicals he used? It takes special equipment and real high-temp furnaces to properly dispose of chemical weapons so the toxins break down into less harmful substances. We haven’t found any.

    So did the Saddam regime have WMDs at their disposal when we invaded? The answer is WE DON’T KNOW. Nobody knows for sure, what he had or when he had it. Anyone who says otherwise is talking out his ass.The evidence we have to hand suggests he hid them, perhaps smuggling them to Syria. But there is not yet a smoking gun says he did, nor a smoking gun says he didn’t.

    As far as I’m concerned, time will tell whether action in Iraq was justified…

  9. David Kay, the man chosen by Bush to search for WMD in Iraq, said, “it turns out that we were all wrong.” How is that ambiguous? Google for it if you don’t believe me.

    I’ve seen several mentions in the news, eg the AP, that the provisional Iraqi constitution embraces Islam. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

    Iraqi president Jaafari recently visited the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini and placed a wreath on it. Look it up on the internet. They had talks about cooperation between the two nations. Iran made all sorts of aid pledges.

    15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, zero were Iraqis. Bin Laden’s family owns Saudi Arabia. Iraq was a secular nation under Hussein. I don’t see that we are engaging the enemy by attacking Iraq.

    I’d love to engage Islamofascism militarily. It seems to me that at best we’ve substituted one national security issue for another with our Iraq endeavor. Incidentally I’m not a Democrat.

  10. @James: “I find it ironic that most of the people who stand behind that concept haven’t served in the armed forces and don’t want their children to.”
    Interesting assertion. Any data to back it up? No? Let’s start the sample shall we? I have a “Support the Troops” ribbon on my car. I did 6 years in the ’80s. You’re 0 for 1 so far.

  11. What people like Hal refuse to accept is that when Bush was discussing the invasion of Iraq WMD WAS NOT the only reason given. Iraq has been in violation of the GW1 armistice for close to twelve years; had been very active in supporting, training and financing terrorists (including proven links with Al Quaeda- check Power Line), had provided government-owned safe houses for wanted terrorists including Abu Nidal, had used WMD on its own people, was a continuous drain on our military budget for enforcing the ‘no-fly’ zone, and was an ongoing human-rights disaster area- none of which reasons were obviated by the ‘missing WMD’ canard.
    What Hal ALSO does not want to remember is that EVERY intelligence agency we discussed the issue with- the French, the German, the Russian, and the English- supported and confirmed the idea that Baghdad had ready-to-go bio/chem weapons.
    Hal’s position can only be supported with a massive amount of memory-elimination.

  12. Okay, I’m going to handle this in order. Most of my respondents seem to either not have read what I actually wrote or just chose to ignore it in order to make it read what they wanted.

    Having said that, I’m going to try to keep things to the point since I’m tired of arguing with people who aren’t, apparently, even having the same conversation that I am.

    @Matt
    I’m in Ohio, so I am neither in New York nor in the south. Being covered by the media does not stop you from committing political suicide. A civilian job does not a political career make. Also consider that media attention doesn’t last and that it doesn’t stop “independent citizens” from acting on their own (again, much like the red scare of yesteryear).

    @Puff
    I’ve talked to several. You’ll find complaints about minor details among even the most staunch supporters of *anything*. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t still supporters. If you had actually bothered to read what I wrote, I covered that in point number 2 – “Unlike most recent wars (Viet Nam, Korea, etc), there hasn’t been a draft. In effect, this means that most of the people serving there actually chose to do so. This makes it a little more difficult to find detractors.” (minor criticism is not opposition)

    @JustMe
    One counterexample doesn’t prove your argument either. This isn’t a proof. As for where my data to back that up is, from personal experience I’ve encountered 2 or 3 people with the support our troops stickers who did not serve and do not want their children to serve for every one that either did serve or has a kid in service and is supportive of that.

    I also have to say that most of the people I know who served in either Viet Nam or Korea don’t support this war. There are a few who do, but most of them think it’s a bad, not to mention poorly executed, move.

  13. Interesting assertion. Any data to back it up? No? Let’s start the sample shall we? I have a “Support the Troops” ribbon on my car. I did 6 years in the ’80s. You’re 0 for 1 so far.

    I think he means US politicians, who aren’t signing their children up to serve in large numbers AFAIK. It would be strange if he meant “most of the people posting on this particular righty-libertarian blog”

  14. DaveP:

    WMD was overwhelmingly the main argument. How can you not remember all the news about the inspections, Colin Powell’s presentation, the aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds, unmanned airplanes, the UN resolution, etc? The distant #2 was that Hussein was bloody tyrant.

    Hussein and Bin Laden were enemies. Bin Laden is an Islamic reactionary. Hussein doesn’t give much of a damn about religion. The ties between Al Qaeda and Hussein were minimal. Again, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, zero were Iraqis.

    “What Hal ALSO does not want to remember is that EVERY intelligence agency we discussed the issue with- the French, the German, the Russian, and the English- supported and confirmed the idea that Baghdad had ready-to-go bio/chem weapons.” Okay, assume this is true. It supports my point the the invasion was a fuck-up. We started an unnecessary war just when we need to root out the Islamofascists. You blame anybody you want, in my book “the buck stops here”.

    Ongoing human rights disaster? Gassed his own people? Sure, those are terrible. I’d like to live in a world where we have the luxury of fixing these things. AFTER we get the Islamofascists. “Continuous drain on our military budget for enforcing the ‘no-fly’ zone?” You’re saying this about an invasion which has cost tens of billions?

    “People like Hal”? I make up my own mind. Do people like you?

  15. James: where do you get the idea that most owho support the troops have never served? I think you’re pulling this out of your hat. I can tell you for a fact that I served in the Marines for four years, and it is incredibly hard to believe that most of my forver colleagues would refuse to support the current Marines. In trying to paint all of us as chicke hawks, you have really just shown yourselves to be chicken doves and conscious liars.

    You are, however, right that the volunteer nature of today’s military means that there are relatively few “veterans against the war.” You would expect, also, that the volunteer nature would cause less support for our troops; after all, they got themselves into it, didn’t they? Wouldn’t you expect people to be as concerned about the dead truckers killed on the highways as they are for the military who have made their fateful and fatal choice?

    And yet people still support them, so much so that Durbin folds like a cheap suit when criticized by them. It shows that chicken doves like yourselves are genuinely out of touch with the American people, and that those who serve–even though they are partly responsible for their own deaths–are not.

    Checkmate.

  16. Ken:
    Far from checkmate.

    If, as you assert, volunteering for service would make you less supported by the public, then why were the returning veterans of Viet Nam so hated? They were almost all drafted, which means that they should have been loved.

    You misunderstand something very important. It’s the war that is loved or hated, not the troops. The troops are just a visible, physical representation of the war. The troops themselves will be loved (for the most part) as long as the war is supported by the people, and the people will support the war as long as they think it is in their best interests (whether it actually is or not). The opposite is also true – if the people hate the war, they will tend to hate the troops too.

    Your problem is that you feel far too much on this issue and let that rule what you think. Strategy and seeing the reasons behind the actions of politicians requires quite a lot of detachment and objectivity.

    As far as your assertions that I am a chicken or a peacemonger, you’re basing an awful lot on comments on this war which do not show which way I feel. Do I think that Hussein needed to be dealt with? Yes. Do I think that the way it was done was well-executed? No, for several reasons including the fact that we had no exit strategy. Do I believe that the reasons given for going to war were valid or even the real reasons? Hell no – they were given to get public support. The real reasons, among other things, were Dubya wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps and make a name for himself and Cheney wanting to throw his constituents a rather large bone. There are other reasons as well (some positive, some negative) but those are two of the big ones.

    As far as the accusation that I am a peacemonger and/or afraid of fighting, nothing could be farther from the truth. I just don’t agree with quite a few things about this particular fight.

    And, for the comment about being out of touch with the American people, the majority isn’t always right. Mob mentality goes a long way in things like this. Get a large group of people worked up about something, and they will keep themselves going for quite a while. That doesn’t mean that they’re right about it. In this case, they were whipped up by political grandstanding concerning things which had a basis in reality, but not nearly of the scale which people were lead to believe and then taken in a direction other than the source of the problem.

    Learning to question and see past the given reasons is a damned valuable skill. Unfortunately, it’s one that the public at large doesn’t tend to have as they trust in authority figures too much.

  17. The people who “hated” the Vietnam War weren’t the public at large. My mother canvassed for Nixon in 1972, and out of several dozen households, only one couple supported McGovern, and one leaned toward Nixon but couldn’t bring himself to vote for a Republican (so he didn’t vote at all). The people who hated the war–that is, who actually believed that the Viet Cong deserved to win and that the US deserved to lose–were the same people who oppose this war: pampered rich kids who are afraid to fight. In fact, although public opinion for the Vietnam War briefly showed a plurality opposing it at the height of the Tet offenseve, PO polls showed a renewel of support later that ultimately led to Nixon’s landslide reelection in 1972, weak supporter of the war that he was.

    The reason that the troops were eventually treated so badly was that the media–WHICH AT THAT TIME HAD A MONOPOLY–ultimately had its way. The average working American had hours upon hours of Walter Cronkite telling him that our troops were low-life murderers, and a few press conferences in which Nixon or Agnew would say differently. Since he knew in his heart that his own kids weren’t monsters, the Nixon/Agnew speeches would carry the day with him–that is, until their own misdeeds brought their downfall. It was the Watergate controversy, NOT the Vietnam War, that brought about the collapse in public faith in America in the mid-Seventies. Once people saw that Nixon was crooked, the dam burst and they could no longer trust their own faith in their own beliefs. Had a more honorable man held the torch for the Vietnam War, South Vietnam would be free today, and our troops would have come home treated, if not as heroes like the WWII vets, at least with quiet acceptance like the veterans from Korea. Even so, the actual people who persecuted Vietnam vets were a small minority on the extreme left; the reason they seemed so prominent is that the people in the political center had lost the will to stand up for the vets against those people.

    As for “learning to question,” give me a break. You don’t have to learn to question jack shit to have a leftist view. You just have to zone out in front of the nightly news. Even Fox News watchers have to pay their cable bills, but the real people who are actually sifting through the facts go to sites like this one, and they trend to the right (although not as far right as me).

  18. I think he means US politicians, who aren’t signing their children up to serve in large numbers AFAIK.

    The US military does not accept children, even if their parents are willing to sign them up. As for people of military age from the families of US politicians, there are a non-trivial number serving. Among the first casualties in Iraq was a ‘coptor pilot descended from US Presidents.

  19. It doesn’t matter whether Saddam really had WMD. All that matters is that:

    1) He acted as though he did (and his generals all thought he did).

    2) He talked and acted as though he would build many more as soon as sanctions were lifted.

  20. Ken:
    Far from checkmate.

    If, as you assert, volunteering for service would make you less supported by the public, then why were the returning veterans of Viet Nam so hated? They were almost all drafted, which means that they should have been loved.

    Actually Ken 75% of those that served in Vietnam volunteered for the service.
    You might argue that many of those volunteers joined because they were about to get drafted anyway. That is probably true.
    I was drafted and sent to Vietnam long after it was evident the USA had no intention of winning. I was put in the Infantry and survived my tour in I Corps.
    I returned to a country that had decided to shun me and hate me .It’s almost like it must have been to be black in the 50s in the south, the difference being I could hide. Thank you America.

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