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August 29, 2005, 7:30 P.M.

Support Our Troops: I continue to see signs and banners and slogans that say “support our troops” or “we support our troops” and I have to admit that I don’t know what that means to most people. I think that to some people it is a euphemism for “we support the administration's policy”, whatever that is, in Iraq. Certainly to some people it means moral support, prayer and a general awareness that there are people doing the job that their government has asked them to do. To some it means organizing rallies and fund-raisers to insure that families and loved ones are taken care of. To still others it means supporting them by advocating for them to receive the supplies, the equipment and the training they need, while forcing the government to define and articulate a policy for their continued deployment and eventual withdrawal. I don’t, however, like the use of the “we support the troops” banner to suggest that those of us who don’t agree with the current occupation, or with the current administration, don’t “support the troops.” To me, supporting the troops means that Bush and the boys need to go.

Mounting US casualties in Iraq, the failure of Iraqi officials to create a constitution which the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions can agree on, and a lack of any articulable plan for continued US troop involvement are all feeding increasing public doubts about the war. Recent polls show that more than half of the people surveyed believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. The President’s approval rating continues to hover below 40% and public protests are mounting even as the Pentagon plans to sustain current troop commitment levels for at least a year. The signs all point to a prolonged, unpopular and dangerous occupation with waning support in the US.

In a recent post on his blog, WesPAC, General Wesley Clark agrees with the majority of Americans that the invasion was a mistake, he also argues that “it would also be a mistake to pull out, start pulling out, or set a date to pull out right now.” Instead, says Clark, “we need a strategy to create a stable democratizing and peaceful state in Iraq –– a strategy the Administration has failed to develop and articulate.” While I agree to some degree this assessment, I don’t see that our current government has the capacity to envision, conceive or implement such a policy, or that the cultural, religious or political realities in Iraq will ever lend themselves to an American-style democracy. There exists such a myopic worldview in the current administration that they can’t see the problem and therefore will never recognize the need for a solution.

Clark argues that “from the outset of the American post-invasion efforts, we needed a three-pronged strategy –– diplomatic, political, and military.” To me, he is simply stating the obvious. What we really needed was a realistic vision, plan and implementation strategy for a conquered Iraq, which would take into consideration the historic, religious and cultural differences of the factions in the region and that would deal realistically with the economic impact of the reorganization of Iraq on the Sunni minority. I suppose that, in order to rebuild Iraq in our image (or at least to a tolerable facsimile), we need to address all of General Clark's three prongs, but even before that strategy can be developed, there needs to be a more defined goal than “we support a free and democratic Iraq.” there also needs to be a realization that Iraq will never be a nation built in our image.

Supporting our troops should be about making soldiers, individually and as a whole, more comfortable and more safe, and about making their families more secure. But it also has to be about paying attention to what is going on in that country today. It should be about asking tough questions of the government that has put our young men and women in danger, and it should be about seeing that they are taken care of in terms of the equipment and supplies that they need to do their jobs.

Supporting our troops does not mean giving them homes away from home; it means developing a plan to bring them back to their homes. I am concerned about stories of soldiers in Iraq owning recording studios, vast DVD collections or fully furnished apartments with all the comforts of home because I’m afraid that some people believe that supporting the troops means giving them a home away from home while they sit out a prolonged occupation. As a kid I observed that the very same people who seemed most devout in their Sunday worship, and who gave most generously at the collection plate were the same ones who would run you over in the parking lot in their efforts to leave after church. They somehow felt that their acts of devotion and generosity somehow absolved them of any responsibility to live the lessons that they have supposedly learned during those once a week services. Likewise, I fear that sending money or stuff to soldiers overseas will leave some people feeling absolved of any responsibility to pay attention to what is really happening in the country we currently occupy, or to press our government to deal with us fairly and honestly, and to act only in our collective best interest.

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