jeudi, septembre 14, 2006

True Patriots?

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of corresponding with a retired Army officer. I have few acquaintances who have served in the Army (as contrasted with the Guard) so when I stumble across one and can strike up a conversation, I ask a lot of questions. What did he think of President Bush? How about President Clinton? What should we do in Iraq? My penpal, now a landscape painter living in Virginia and staying in touch with his uniformed friends, had the terse mien of a military man, even through email. But his answers echoed those of many military men and women interviewed in the newspapers on these subjects-they were careful, nuanced, and a heck of a lot more objective than the knee-jerk platitudes of fire-breathing dragonettes on the conservative or liberal fringes. Bush treated the military with a lot more respect than Bill Clinton and his wife (now New York Senator) Hillary Clinton or daughter Chelsea ever had, said my VA friend. We weren't doing well in Iraq-in fact we had possibly created more problems, including a strengthened insurgency. But just pulling out as fast as we could wasn't a solution, either. For a point of view that many civilians may not have considered, see the commentary by Seth Moulton, a former Marine infantry officer, in Friday's Times ( ) My pal Jay brought a dispassionate, or perhaps a less biased perspective to political and military issues that was, frankly refreshing in a country where partisans so often seem hoist on the petard of their moralistic fury at those who dare to challenge them. How telling it is then, for our President to be confronted with military officers, including Colin Powell, who have challenged his desire to reintepret the Article 3 of the Geneva Convention on the ground that it might endanger the lives of American servicemen and women. What is more, General Powell (who, of course, may have some subjective reasons, as the former head of the State Department, for taking on the White House ) walked boldly into an arena n which the President had tried to hold sway-that of moral authority. Here's a quote from a piece in today's New York Times: "Mr. Bush said after conferring with Republican House members that he had "reminded them that the most important job of government is to protect the homeland." As part of his plan, the president wants Congress to enact legislation that would authorize tougher interrogations of suspected terrorists. And that is what Congress must not do, said Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state. 'The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,' Mr. Powell said in a letter to Senator John McCain of Arizona, one of the Republicans who differ with Mr. Bush's policies." In this superheated atmosphere, just after the fifth anniversary of 9/11, to question the President's moral authority makes Powell seem almost a profile in courage. The cynic in me questions whether it is a mark of the President's own diminished status as a moral agent that Powell and Senators with military backgrounds, like Arizona's John McCain and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, so openly stand up to him. In this case, I choose not to be cynical-there's enough of that going around. I would guess that these men had probably just had enough of the bully pulpit and bullying kind of patriotism so beloved by this Administration. That being said, it is still both welcome and significant that the officers who have defended our country in times of war and in peacetime are now speaking up. As remarkable a sight as this is, given the military's historical deference to civilian elected leadership, it is also a milestone that tells us how far we have strayed-and gives us a hint of the way back. Sometimes the most moral stance is the pragmatic one: to tune in to those who have the most to lose. If we are indeed at war, isn't it time that we listened to the voices of the warriors?

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