Why Chickenhawks Matter

By Alterman, Eric | The Nation, December 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Why Chickenhawks Matter


Alterman, Eric, The Nation


During the run-up to the Iraq war, it was impossible not to notice that those most gung-ho for the adventure were, by and large, virgins when it came to the actual battlefield. George W. ("I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes") Bush; Dick ("I had other priorities") Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Tom DeLay, Elliott Abrams--to a man, all found better things to do than join the armed forces during Vietnam, a war most of them supported.

During the war debate, this issue was confused by the casual tossing of the epithet "chickenhawk." This discussion was actually promoted by the war party itself--together with its punditocracy cheerleaders--as it allowed its members to wrap themselves in the flag of free speech. It also appealed to the media, few of whose denizens had seen the inside of a military uniform either. But the point was not--or should not have been--to question the right of those who never served in the military to make military policy, which, after all, is intelligently enshrined in the Constitution. Rather it was a matter of judgment: Knowing nothing of war from firsthand experience, these men (and women) were more likely to have a romantic view of what war could accomplish.

The results of this foolish faith are all around us. While Bush prefers to avoid the many unpleasant aspects of the war--allowing no photographing of returning coffins and attending no funerals of fallen soldiers--he waxes rhapsodic about the alleged democratic benefits the Arab world will one day reap from this botched operation. Meanwhile, as Don Van Natta Jr. and Desmond Butler reported in the New York Times, "Across Europe and the Middle East, young militant Muslim men are answering a call issued by Osama bin Laden and other extremists, and leaving home to join the fight against the American-led occupation in Iraq." The net result, according to Uri Dromi, director of International Outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, is that Iraq appears to be turning into America's "Lebanon." In that conflict, in which Israel attempted to address a political problem with blunt force, it succeeded only in bleeding itself dry, creating more hatred and hence more terrorism, and ultimately decreasing the security of its citizens before leaving in ignominy and humiliation.

What makes this catastrophe all the more infuriating is how predictable it was--except, of course, by those blinded by ideology and unwilling to listen to more experienced voices. If only the Administration had not turned a deaf ear when those former military men not under "color" contract to the networks spoke candidly about the proposed war. None did so with greater force or credibility than Maj. Gen. Anthony Zinni, who headed the US Central Command from 1997 to 2000 and was later George W. Bush's special envoy to the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations.

Just over a year ago, Zinni gave talks, one to the Middle East Institute in Washington, in which he predicted many problems now facing US occupation authorities. Among Zinni's warnings:

The war party itself: "It's pretty interesting that all the generals see it the same way, and all the others, who have never fired a shot and are hot to go to war, see it another. …

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