You ask why war drives our public policy?

An American soldier after an IED blast in Kabul on January 17, 2009. We must support the mission, whatever it is. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

In his Thanksgiving message today the President says:

“As long as many of our sons and daughters and husbands and wives are at war, we’ve got to support their mission and honor their service.”

So much for differing opinions or dissent. We’ve “got” to support their mission. This is unlike the Thanksgiving message of a different president during war time.

I suppose we “got” to support the mission even when we haven’t the slightest idea what the mission is. And even when the war leaders don’t either.

Or when the leaders are incompetent or corrupt.

Or where the mission is misguided or is not worth the cost.

Once “the Mission” is decided on (or, like the ones now, takes place without a decision) then we “got” to support it.

So much for our devotion to the Founding Fathers too. The contempt which the American revolutionaries had for standing armies was such that it formed an item in the bill of particulars in the Declaration of Independence:

“He has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislature.”

The next item describes why Mr Obama’s Thanksgiving greeting is profoundly un-American:

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”

Once independence was secured the Founders wrote into the Constitution provisions to protect against standing armies outside of civilian control. First, they provided that only Congress had the power to declare wars. (When was the last time any of our Executives gave a fig about that technicality?)  Then they provided that only Congress (with bills originating in the “people’s chamber”: the House of Representatives) had the power “[t]o raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years …” (Art. I § 8.)

The Founders knew that Executives love Standing Armies and that a Standing Army leads to “Missions” and that “Missions” without goal or time table or cost-benefit analysis ruins governments and corrupts the people. Of course we have long since given up on drawing the line at standing armies.  The question now is how to reign in the never-ending Mission. When you decide that the military is the tool to solve world problems, you end up always on a Mission. Remember the Chairmain of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, waxing eloquently on how our military is a flexible and efficient tool in a complex world?

“The first [of three things he learned about dealing with Al-Qaida in two administrations] is that military power should not – maybe cannot – be the last resort of the state.  Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools to policymakers.  We can, merely by our presence, help alter certain behavior.  Before a shot is even fired, we can bolster a diplomatic argument, support a friend or deter an enemy.  We can assist rapidly in disaster-relief efforts, as we did in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake.  We can help gather intelligence, support reconnaissance and provide security.

“And we can do so on little or no notice.  That ease of use is critical for deterrence.  An expeditionary force that provides immediate, tangible effects.  It is also vital when innocent lives are at risk.  So yes, the military may be the best and sometimes the first tool; it should never be the only tool.”

(If that were Douglas MacArthur, how do you think Truman would respond? But in those days we had a Democratic President.)

Admiral Mullen sounds like a modern Pitt the Younger. What does that make Mr Obama?

We have created a society that believes in the Mission. It is taught in our schools, where they blindly celebrate American militarism. Politicians worship the soldier, even while sending him to death or maiming or trauma. No one dare denigrate the Mission.  The Senate (that bastion of bloated, preening bombast) tut-tutted Elaine Kagan in her confirmation hearings for having denied military recruiters the opportunity to recruit at Harvard Law School. Where was the Mission to get the Ivy League Lawyers it needed to justify the Mission? The future Supreme Court Justice dutifully accepted the criticism: she was mistaken, she acknowledged. Even the mindless commentators on professional football routinely pay tribute to “our soldiers overseas.” After all the Marines, the Navy and the Army are major sponsors of televised football in this country. The Mission is as American as the I-formation. The Mission is so mainstream that a once well-thought of columnist for a once important newspaper suggested that war was a possible tool for economic policy that the President might avail himself of to stimulate the economy to get re-elected.

Afghan boy killed in NATO raid. "He has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People." Our Founders said this of George III. (Photo: AFP/Massoud Hossaini)

In short, we have become the country that the Founders revolted from. The country that raised their armies and navies however they could to be sent on “missions” that only the ministry and King had any say in. The ministry there too had to look to a legislative assembly for funds for war. But if that assembly got too recalcitrant then war whoops would be let loose, the masses stirred up, and if all else failed Sedition Laws would be enforced.

We haven’t in the latest series of adventures invoked the courts to prosecute dissenters or sent the National Guard to shoot college students. That’s because we have been lulled into apathy about the entire affair. The President doesn’t appear eager to engage in any national conversation about the wars. He also is relying on the day’s tryptophan. Remember: we must support the mission. Whatever it is.

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