The accelerating media feeding frenzy over the alleged killings of twenty-four Iraqi civilians in Haditha by US Marines last November is about to overwhelm American politics. Propelled by their most irresponsible war critics, the left will try use Haditha as it used My Lai thirty years ago: as a political tool to take apart America's support for the war and to shatter the legitimacy of our cause and the morale of our troops.“The Left” doesn’t need to “use Haditha” to shatter the legitimacy of our cause in Iraq. The legitimacy of our cause was undermined from day fucking one when the administration cooked up our cause from cherry-picked intelligence. Even if we are to acknowledge the oft-cited defense of the intelligence issued by the Right—that everyone from Clinton to the bloody French also believed that Saddam had WMDs, so it was an “error,” as opposed to a rationale built out of whole cloth—the urgency with which we were told we must go to war, and the carelessness we took in doing so, are both the sole responsibility of the Bush administration. And once the WMD cause had been fundamentally subverted and exposed as false, the cause of a humanitarian intervention was tacked on as an afterthought. When all that remained was the idea of liberating the Iraqi people, the liberators allegedly going on a murderous rampage shatters any shred of legitimacy predicated on a humanitarian cause more thoroughly than anything the Left could ever make of the incident thereafter.
Why does something like the massacre at Haditha happen? A few bad apples is the conventional wisdom, but were those apples rotten before they got to Iraq—or have extended tours, dreadful conditions, insufficient troops and resources, and no end in sight taken their toll, causing some of the troops to snap? Smart money’s on the latter, which certainly doesn’t excuse what happened, but ought to be judiciously considered when trying to explain it, particularly as it suggests that troop morale is already shattered, at least in some quarters, and for reasons having nothing to do with what the Left makes of Haditha.
First, the left will use every tool at their disposal to ensure that the Haditha incident becomes synonymous with the entire Iraq war. Abu Ghraib proved a propaganda bonanza for the terrorists and nations such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia that want us to withdraw from Iraq in defeat. Haditha - regardless of what the facts may turn out to be - will be used ceaselessly and purposefully to eliminate American support for the Iraq war and to demonize anyone who still supports it.The only “tool” the Left would need to “ensure” that Haditha becomes synonymous with the entire Iraq war is logic—and anyone with an ounce of it will therefore draw the logical conclusion, propelled by the Left or not. Considering the incident was precipitated by a marine being killed by an insurgency that was never predicted nor thusly properly planned for by the administration, which has unknowably lengthened the conflict, contributing to the conditions which drive soldiers to madness, and considering that the incident was covered up not once, but twice, prompting a separate investigation into the malfeasance of leadership, it’s hard to see precisely how one could avoid Haditha’s being seen as synonymous with the entire Iraq war.
There’s a reason that events like My Lai, Abu Ghraib, and Haditha become enduring images of wars—and it’s not because the Left is so eager to use them to make a case about any particular war. It’s because there are a lot of people who find it incredibly easy to support a war in the abstract, when it’s all promises of rose petals and sweets, six months and a reconstruction that will pay for itself, set against the pressure of patriotism and a backdrop of fear that our very way of life will be forever changed if we don’t send the troops off to protect us. Eventually, perspective begins to creep back in, replacing visceral fear and blind nationalism. Long before Haditha, Americans were beginning to question this war, to doubt its architects and wonder if it had really been such a good idea after all. It’s was taking a lot longer than expected; it wasn’t going as planned; it was costing more than promised. All abstractions, but nonetheless real concerns. Casualties started to rise. Not so abstract anymore. Stories of soldiers doing things they weren’t meant to do at Abu Ghraib and Haditha made the realities of the true costs of war suddenly unavoidable. When abstract concerns crash headlong into images of the ugliness of war, people get uneasy. Support for the war isn’t then so easy, either.
War supporters know this. They know it isn’t really the devious machinations of the Left that undermines war, but reminders about how brutal war really is. It’s why they don’t like the media reporting on anything “negative,” why they hide soldiers’ caskets, why they relentlessly classify anything as innocuous as the reading of fallen soldiers’ names as antiwar. They know they must hide the reality of war in order to sustain support for it. They complain that there isn’t enough coverage of the good things happening in Iraq, but the belief that all the stories about hospitals being built or schools reopened will somehow persuade people it’s worth the tragedy necessitates a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature. Most people don’t work that way. They don’t offer praise for things you’re supposed to be doing. Making sure Iraqis have electricity isn’t impressive—it isn’t above and beyond; it’s the bare minimum. That people see it that way isn’t cruel or irrational; it’s a perfectly reasonable expectation that those things will be done. What people care about is what fails to meet their expectations, what surprises them. And a betrayal of the people we’re meant to be protecting is surprising indeed. You can’t hang the Left with the responsibility for human nature.
Haditha will become the Orwellian centerpiece of the Democrats' claim that they support the troops. "They've been there too long," Murtha and his ilk will cry. "We have to bring them home before they kill more babies." And then the Dems, feigning concern for our soldiers, will offer them psychological counseling when they return. The political fallout will be enormous, and it will damage both the ongoing war efforts and our troops' morale.Feigning concern. I am sick and bloody tired of being accused of feigning concern for our troops. I understand that the only acceptable displays of troop support among war supporters are never questioning the war, bearing a yellow ribbon bumper sticker, and sending care packages to soldiers, and I accept that they genuinely believe that those are the best ways to show support, even though I disagree. I don’t believe that everyone who supports the war doesn’t hold a genuine concern for our troops; certainly there may be some who never stop to think concretely about the men and women who fight in Iraq, just as there may be some on the Left. But generally, I believe quite firmly that most war supporters have respect and concern for the troops. And I wish they would give me the same benefit of the doubt in return.
I support the troops by not wanting to send them to war when it’s avoidable. I support the troops by advocating for an appropriate number of troops who are properly armed and protected to complete the mission. I support veterans by demanding the VA be properly funded—including, yes, money for psychologists who can provide much-needed counseling to returning soldiers. I support the troops by taking a long look at their mission and being critical of it if they are, in its execution, left exposed, vulnerable, exhausted, overwhelmed, struggling against futility. When I criticize the war, it is because I support the troops, and care about their lives—not the opposite.
I am mindful of what war can do to a person. I have spoken to Iraqi veterans with the thousand-yard stare; I have worked with Vietnam veterans who are homeless 30 years after returning broken and dysfunctional from war. I am more grateful to, more admiring of, the men and women who put their lives on the line for my freedom than I can possibly convey. And, to a man, every last one of them has assured me without hesitation that my right to criticize any war is one of the many freedoms for which they were fighting. Not a single veteran to whom I have ever spoken has accused me of not supporting the troops, even those who support the Iraq war. Yet the war supporters on the Right cannot refrain from hurling accusations no veteran has ever come close to making to me in conversation.
The author of this piece is not some random rightwing nut. Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, and he is a contributing editor to The American Spectator. These attacks on the Left come from the architects of the conservative movement, and it is to them that I direct my solemn admonishment: Your failure to treat our differences as a legitimate disagreement, instead casting the Left as traitors, are not helping us win the war. In fact, they are not useful in any way aside from laying the groundwork to put the blame for the Iraq war failure at the feet of its opponents. But if you do sincerely care about the troops, with which I have credited you, then you will refrain from resorting, once again, to these tired claims of stab-in-the-backism and authentically address the failures of this administration, so we may prevent such inequity from befalling our troops ever again.