Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Soldiers's View

I recommend this op-ed in the Sunday NY Times by four soldiers nearing the end of 15-month deployments in Iraq. I won't quote any of it; suffice it to say that these soldiers don't have as a rosy view of Iraq as can be found on various right-wing blogs. Their assessments largely echo the assessments of various experts on Iraq, though of course these soldiers have seen the effects of our strategy up close.

Of course, other soldiers disagree. In any given article that quotes soldiers at "the front" you can find views that seem to support our continued presence in Iraq, and some that seem to be against it. John Cole picks on the right-wing bloggers who ignore the assessments of soldiers like the ones who wrote this article, in favor of soldiers who take a harder line and believe that any criticism of the war is criticism of them. But in truth, both sides do this. Liberal bloggers are just as guilty of ignoring or dismissing claims by soldiers who support the war (though I will say that those who argue against them at least do so in good faith, unlike the right-wing blogs who prefer smear tactics directed against even those serving in combat right now.)

I already argued some time ago that we must respect the viewpoint of soldiers, both those who are serving in combat and those who are not. But though we should respect them, this does not mean that we are required to agree with the soldiers simply by virtue of their experience. Not every soldier acquires a nuanced understanding of Iraq simply by serving over there, just as not every government employee acquires a nuanced understanding of politics simply by working at their desk. The views of soldiers should be approached with as much skepticism as you would approach the viewpoint of anyone with an opinion on any subject.

Of course, some soldiers equate criticism of the war with an attack on their morale. They're entitled to this viewpoint, but they're wrong. It is the right and the duty of every citizen of the country to question the appropriateness and effectiveness of war policy. The soldiers who adopt this view must understand that a repudiation of the war is not a repudiation of them. If they do not...well, the argument should not become a means by which criticism of a war is stifled, a tactic that is easily adopted by war supporters who either believe the same thing or find it to be a handy rhetorical club.

As you can probably imagine, I happen to think the soldiers who authored this op-ed are right. I think that because their understanding of their experience is self-consistent, is supported by the anecdotes they recall, and as I said above their views are matched by the views of many Iraq and Middle East experts. I think it was brave of them to author an op-ed that will probably not be very popular among their fellow soldiers (though not as unpopular as many on the right might like to believe, I suspect) and it reflects well on their commitment to their country that they're willing to say something politically inconvenient for their Commander-in-Chief and his party. It would have been easier to stay silent, or complain to fellow soldiers, family and friends, or to simply say what supporters of the war expect them to say. For this reason I think they're words deserve additional respect and consideration, though I applaud any soldier who is willing to speak out on the war even if I disagree with him or her.

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