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Democrats may be swinging at Bush, but they're hitting our soldiers in the gut

The war in Iraq has, of course, been polarizing from its inception. Anti-war protests, “human shields,” and vocal recantings by formerly hawkish Democrats of the original intent of their votes to “use force” against Saddam Hussein presented, from the beginning, a divided American front in this second middle eastern war in fifteen years.

Circumstances have not improved in the four years since America and her thirty-plus allies launched an operation which successfully deposed Saddam Hussein’s regime, but which failed to foresee, and secure Iraq against, the unleashing of terrorist acts and sectarian violence which have plagued that country since. The mainstream media has helped along the image of Iraq as a nationwide “death zone” by using the 24-hour news cycle to plaster images of violence and carnage from the region all over television sets across America. The “anti-war” crowd has become more shrill than ever – amidst their still-mystifying claim that they are being shut up by a totalitarian American government which will suffer no “dissent.” Democrats in Congress have now been saying for years that they were “lied to” by the President about prewar intelligence and the reasons for Saddam’s removal (even those on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who have unfettered access to the same intelligence that the President gets), or that they didn’t think that their vote authorizing the President to use force in Iraq would actually amount to anything more than the “threat of force” (emphasis added).

Faced with a potential disaster, both politically and on the ground in Iraq, President Bush announced weeks ago that, in a vigorous attempt to right the ship in that region, he was making four fundamental adjustments to the “strategy” currently being carried out.

First, Lt. General David Petraeus, PhD, Princeton graduate, former Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), former head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (the command responsible for training Iraqi forces), and author of Army FM 23-4, “a field manual devoted exclusively to counterinsurgency operations” (emphasis added), was named Commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq, and tasked with putting his field manual into practice.

Second – and perhaps most important – the rules of engagement in Iraq were adjusted to provide for more effective targeting of insurgents and insurgent leaders (as well as forces from Iran). With this alteration in strategy, the troops on the ground can concentrate once again on rooting out and arresting or killing terrorists and insurgents, instead of having to completely restrict their operations, out of fear of upsetting the fragile Iraqi governing coalition (not to mention setting off a media firestorm, which is always a threat), to driving back and forth on the same IED-infested roads and performing the same “show of force” or security missions, day-in and day-out, with little to show for it except for more dead or wounded troops.

Third, more pressure was to be put on the Iraqi government to crack down on sectarian violence and on insurgent leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr, and to work harder and more quickly toward self-sufficience, both in governance and in security.

Fourth, in order to support the other three elements of his “new way forward in Iraq,” the President announced that a “surge” of 21,500 more troops would be sent to the Iraqi theater, both to secure Baghdad and to facilitate the implementation of LG Petraeus’s counterinsurgency, defense training, and stabilization plan.

Immediately attacked as an “escalation of the war in Iraq,” the troop surge became a hot-button issue from the moment that it was announced, and, since the advent of the 110th Congress, the situation – with regard to the surge and to the prospects for success in Iraq with what we have there already – has worsened considerably. Under new Democratic leadership (which campaigned, largely, on an anti-Iraq war platform), the House and Senate have both been increasingly vocal about their desire to derail the US efforts in Iraq. Whether out of the desire to “save the lives of future American soldiers,” or simply out of the long-held yearning defeat and disgrace the hated President Bush, attempts to hamstring current operations, and to prevent flexibility and adjustment in strategy going forward, have moved to front and center on Congressional Democrats’ agendae since taking over the legislative branch of government.

This frustratingly political – in the most pejorative sense possible – process began with the introduction, first in the Senate and then in the House, of non-binding resolutions condemning the President’s troop surge. The fact that these resolutions are non-binding has caused many defenders of Congressional Democrats to argue that there is no harm being done, either to the war effort or to troop morale (though the authors had to be forced to include language affirming that they do, in fact, “support the brave soldiers already in Iraq”), and say that these resolutions simply serve to send a message to the President that Congress disapproves of his handling of the war, and will be watching him closely from here on out.

They are correct on only one count: the resolutions do, in fact, send a message – but it’s not to the White House. The only people a non-binding resolution sends a message to are our troops and our enemies, letting the former know that the vital backing from their homeland — both in will and in finances — is on life-support, and telling the latter that the American front in this war is so fractured that our determination to keep fighting could evaporate at any time, leading not only to the sacrifice of our troops in-theater, but also to a future emboldening of this enemy that will make the heart they took from our fleeing Beirut and Mogadishu look like child’s play. Said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in one of the rare public appearances he has made since being confirmed, “It's pretty clear that a resolution that in effect says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn't have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries.” Neither our troops nor our enemies are stupid. They see, hear, and understand what is going on.

As if the previous situation was not enough, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), former Marine, longtime antagonist of the soldiers and of America’s efforts in Iraq, and chairman of the defense subcommittee of the purse string-holding House Appropriations Committee, yesterday announced that the House Democratic leaders had joined forces with several leftist “anti-war” groups (such as the “Win without war coalition,” “Americans against the escalation of the war in Iraq,” and others) in a multi-faceted – legislative action combined with a multimillion dollar ad campaign – attempt to undermine the President’s authority as Commander in Chief of the nation’s fighting forces by “limiting the administration’s options” through the passage of legislation and the inclusion of several stipulations for receipt of funding in appropriations bills. The plan is being called a “slow-bleed strategy” – an apt title, given the nature of what is being fought over in this Democrat-spurred battle of politics and of posturing.

Caught in the middle of the posturing, the politics, the debate, and the rhetoric are America’s soldiers. Those who voluntarily put their lives on the line in some of the most dangerous places in the world, and who all too frequently make the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow man or for their mission, are being sent the most dangerous of messages by these actions.

Being told that one is not supported on a dangerous mission is one thing. It is another entirely to be bled slowly into a defeat. Our young soldiers of today haven’t seen this before, but veterans of Vietnam know it well. It’s the sinking feeling that you get when you are risking your life doing something you believe can lead to victory, but the people who you are doing it for not only don’t believe in what you’re doing, but don’t believe in you, either. Obviously, the full support of a united homeland is the best possible wartime scenario. However, if it is the case that the war is nor supported, and the political leadership in question has the courage to be honest about such a stance, and to act on their conviction, then that is not the biggest problem – stop the war, by whatever means necessary, and bring the troops home. The area may dissolve into chaos the moment they leave, but more Americans won’t be killed in the immediate future, and the politicians in Washington will, at least, have been honest about their desires, and will have followed through on them.

However, the current debate, and the current strategy of so many “leaders” in Washington – most of whom are Democrats, but some of whom are, unfortunately, Republicans – does the maximum amount of damage possible. The fact that the front at home is so horribly fractured that the party in control of the legislative branch of government would seek to “slowly bleed” the war effort until it is dry of funds with which to purchase bullets, body armor, and other supplies, and until the American public is whipped into such an “anti-war,” anti-military frenzy that Iraq war veterans are as reviled as Vietnam veterans were in their day – both sadly martyred on the pyre of public opinion and of anti-American sentiment – is unconscionable to the soldier in the field, who day in and day out faces the bombs, the bullets, and the hatred of those who would kill us all were it not for our proactive action around the globe.

Imagine attempting life-or-death activities, surrounded by those who wish you dead. Difficult, isn’t it? Now imagine attempting those activities while, at home, those in charge of your equipment, your orders, your options, and, ultimately, your lives, are arguing how much of each of those should be taken away, and, for the purpose of pride and of political gain, whether one or both of your hands should be tied behind your back.

In an ideal world (as ideal as a wartime world can be), the soldier in the field has but one goal in mind, of which there are two parts: to accomplish his mission, and to see to it that the men (or women) next to him return safely. When the message that comes from the home front is a loud and clear, “your mission may not matter any more tomorrow, because you’ll all be withdrawn regardless of conditions in-theater” – or, worse, “You have to continue these missions, but you must do so knowing that we are gradually turning off the spigot of action in this war, so whatever your task is, whether you survive or not, it is not for the successful achievement of any larger goal or objective” – can the soldier possibly feel good about his situation, or about what he is being asked to risk his life to do?

Such messages are the epitome of disastrousness, not only for the message that they send to those who willingly give their lives to save ours, or to serve the higher ideal for which they are fighting, but also for the message that they send to our enemies. Any argument to the contrary of this point is laughable at best. Those who would kill us hear the same statements that our people and our soldiers do – that this war effort will be “slowly bled” to death, and that our already splintered political leadership is wavering on the edge of a total withdrawal from the region. Any who do not think that such a message emboldens the enemy – who will naturally think that an increased effort, and more dead Americans, will only hasten the surrender of the power which Osama bin Laden called a “paper tiger” with no stomach for a long fight – is not living in a reality-based world.

The message which the out-of-touch politicians in Washington most need to receive is that every bit of political posturing, every effort to undermine the President’s leadership of the war, every attempt to hamstring the administration’s (and the military leadership’s) options in a war that requires flexibility, costs American (and Iraqi) lives. These attempts to score political victories cost real lives of real people – people who, due to the enlarged, overly ambitious egos of American politicians (and due to acts carried out for the simple reason of a hatred of the President), will never again return home to their families, will never live out their lives, and will never again have an opportunity to pursue their hopes and dreams like the rest of us at home will.

Our troops voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way, and they do so because of a higher ideal which they believe is worth the price not only of their time and their comfort, but of their lives. Scoring political points at the expense of these peoples’ lives is neither honorable nor acceptable, and if people think that the soldiers we have downrange do not correctly see these actions as being exactly that, then those folks belong firmly in the John Kerry camp of troop intelligence denial.

If our political leaders lack the stomach to do what is necessary to successfully complete a war against those who wish to destabilize a region and to kill us all, then they should follow that conviction to its only possible “honorable” end, and force a withdrawal of all troops, as soon as possible. Anything else not only shows the cowardice of not fighting for what they really believe, but sends the loud and clear message that there is no real support for our troops or for their mission on the home front – a message which tells our soldiers that their lives don’t matter for anything but to serve as pawns in a political game, and which tells our enemies that they have an ally in power in this country.

President Bush’s post-9/11 words hold even more true now than they did when he first spoke them. People around the world – but especially on the home front – are, in fact, “either with us or with the terrorists.” The anti-war side of the political leadership in this country, through their “non-binding” attempts to straddle that line, are making their choice of sides crystal clear. Our soldiers, who are paying for that indecision with their lives every day, know this all too well – and the rest of us need to open our eyes and see what they are seeing, before it is too late.

Mr. Emanuel, a special operations military veteran, is a leadership fellow with the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia, where he also studies Classics. In addition, he is a contributing editor for conservative weblog, and is a columnist for the Athens, GA Banner-Herald newspaper.

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