Every time Bush stands up to speak about the war, how we have to stick it out, how we have to stand up against evil, how our nation is being called to do its historic duty, I have the same thought: and what are you doing besides making this stupid speech? Presidents speak as if they somehow embody the will of the nation, and so the courage shown by the troops is their courage, the determination of the commanders on the ground is their determination too, and the strong will of the people to fork over to fund this ghastly war is their strong will too. They might even believe it.
But this has nothing to do with reality. The people who are ordering this war to be fought are not actually doing the fighting. The politicians are not dying by the dozens per day. Senators aren’t getting their arms and legs blown off or their faces disfigured. Executive branch bureaucrats are not fearing for their lives every minute, facing extreme psychological stress, suffering from every manner of sleep deprivation or physical malady. Nor do politicians live with the ever-lasting guilt that comes with killing in cold blood people who are merely trying to secure the independence of their country.
Indeed, politicians try to stay as far away from the real action of war as possible. When Bush encounters enlisted soldiers, it is only within carefully scripted parameters. His handlers make sure that he hears cheers, not hisses. All the politicians spend more time watching poll numbers than body counts. For them, most of the death associated with this war is an abstraction. If any of them were forced to witness first hand the scene of a suicide bomb that kills 20 in an instant, sleep in the bunkers with the troops and hear of their fears and struggles, to personally deliver the news of a dead husband to a young wife and children, matters would be different indeed.
But does that make them any less guilty? Not according to the Bush administration’s own moral theory of culpability. They claim that Osama bin Laden bears the primary guilt for the crime of 9-11. He didn’t fly the planes into buildings. They say that he sponsored the hijackers’ training, planted the idea, and gave the orders. That makes him a war criminal and deserving of death. But then so too have Bush and the political class sponsored the training of the soldiers who are killing and being killed daily. They gave the commanders the notion that it would be a good idea to demolish a country and a people. Bush and those he hired have given the orders. And unlike the case of Osama, there is no doubt about the paper trail that leads directly to the White House.
All these years later, after hundreds of thousands of dead, after unthinkable evil perpetuated and unleashed on Iraq, we are starting to see a growth in the opposition based on partisan concerns. The Democrats watch polls, and they observe that the war is wildly unpopular and increasingly so all the time. So there is a movement growing within the party not to back down when faced with Bush’s preposterous rhetoric that cutting the flow of funds would harm the troops and bring about a victory for terrorism.
What’s sad here, even disgusting, is that it has taken a strong movement in the polls and the prospect of an election to finally light a fire under the Democrats. Rivers of blood and the destruction of a country — even massive evidence that the administration lied us into war — haven’t prompted an effort to stop the war. But a change in the polls seems to have made a difference.
What does this tell us about political motivation? Across the country, politicians are telling audiences: we care about you. We care about your real problems such as health care and education. We seek the well-being of you and your family, and we have a plan to assist you in every respect. But one only needs to look at this war to see how much these people truly care about human well-being. If they did, they wouldn’t have to wait for poll shifts to stop the killing. They would act even if the decision were unpopular.
To use the old public-choice language concerning this war, the costs are diffuse and spread thinly but the benefits are direct. The Democrats too benefit from war booty. They have merchants of death in their districts that get the cash. They benefit from the huge spike in "homeland security" funds, and so have every incentive to keep the level of war hysteria high and growing. They are part of the state apparatus, and war is the health of the state. They too have much to lose from ending the war and much to gain from keeping some form of the war going.
So do they really care about human well-being? It’s an abstraction to them. So how to fix the problem? One solution is suggested by a visit that Democratic leader Harry Reid made to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He met with gravely wounded troops. He also called survivors of the dead and spoke to them about their problems. All evidence indicates that he was deeply touched. He is, after all, a human being, and anyone who wouldn’t be touched by such contact with human suffering would have to be morally blind or a demon possessed. It was this experience that has prompted him to work for an end to the war. Though one must note that no such trip was required for Ron Paul to oppose this war from the beginning.
Is there not some antiwar group that could arrange for the non-Ron Paul political class to make similar phone calls and pay visits to those who suffer? Such experiences could help create an intellectual link between their political decisions and the suffering they bring about. We need ever more such visits. Even better would be to sponsor field trips by the political class to actually walk in the steps of the troops in Iraq. That would be enough to dispel the impression that ending the war amounts to a failure to support the troops.