Skip to comments.Andrew Sullivan: No Show (The Bush military funeral canard - fisked)
Posted on 12/03/2003 7:46:03 AM PST by Pokey78
There's a growing anti-Bush meme, pioneered in part by Maureen Dowd and The New York Times, that holds that president Bush is a heartless chicken-hawk who wages war recklessly and cares not a whit for the welfare of the soldiers under his command. The evidence? That he hasn't attended any military funerals related to the Iraq war. This particular indictment works rhetorically because it manages to sum up a criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy while adding the extra ingredient of damning Bush personally. (Indeed, one blogger has documented the meme's increased popularity on antiwar websites.) But it also happens to defy logic, not to mention a basic understanding of history.
The New York Times' Andy Rosenthal wrote an early but typical piece along these lines. Here's his column with my comments.
As the toll [from the Iraq war and occupation] nears 400, the casualties remain largely invisible. Apart from a flurry of ceremonies on Veterans Day, this White House has done everything it can to keep Mr. Bush away from the families of the dead, at least when there might be a camera around.
The wounded, thousands of them, are even more carefully screened from the public. And the Pentagon has continued its ban on media coverage of the return of flag-draped coffins to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, denying the dead soldiers and their loved ones even that simple public recognition of sacrifice. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained rather lamely that the ban had been in place since 1991--when another President Bush wanted to avoid the juxtaposition of his face and words with pictures of soldiers' coffins.
Why is this a "rather lame" explanation? It's hard to blame the current administration for a regulation that has been in force for twelve years--one that the Clinton administration didn't revoke. And there's a particularly good reason for this ruling at this moment in time. When you're at war with a guerrilla enemy that has no ability to defeat the U.S. militarily, the war takes on a different form. The goal of the Baathists in Iraq is not to remove the coalition forces by military means, but to so weaken Western morale that the American and British publics decide to throw in the towel. A critical part of the enemy's calculation is the lesson it took from Beirut and Somalia: that the American public cannot tolerate any casualties. So broadcasting every funeral plays directly into the hands of the Baathists. It's what they want. Why does it honor soldiers killed by these thugs to give the enemy an easy propaganda victory?
In a free country, no one is forbidding coverage of casualties or difficulties or setbacks in Iraq. Nor should these things be covered up. One of a democracy's advantages in waging war is its capacity for internal criticism, readjustment, and debate. But when the government has control over a particular event, such as the return of military coffins, it has no obligation to offer up coverage that will only serve to buttress the enemy, and potentially weaken U.S. morale. This is a war. Morale matters. No government intent on winning would seek to make the enormously difficult task in Iraq even harder.
This is not a matter of callousness. Every military casualty in Iraq is a tragedy. But, as Charles Krauthammer points out in this week's Time:
"That is the enemy's entire war objective: to inflict pain. And that is why it would be a strategic error to amplify and broadcast that pain by making great public shows of sorrow presided over by the President himself. In the midst of an ongoing war, a guerrilla war, a war that will be won and lost as a contest of wills, the Commander in Chief--despite what he feels in his heart--must not permit himself to show that he bleeds. He is required to show, yes, a certain callousness. He must appear that way to the insurgents, who will otherwise be encouraged to think their strategy is succeeding and therefore have yet more incentive to keep killing Americans until it does. And he must appear that way to ordinary Iraqis, who will not help us in this fight unless they are sure that the pain of our losses will not drive us out and leave them to the tender mercies of the Saddamites."
That is the war of will that we are currently waging. It is a war in which the president cannot afford to blink.
Some Republicans say it would take up too much of the president's time to attend military funerals or meet the coffins returning from Iraq. "They're coming back continually," the conservative commentator Bay Buchanan said on CNN on Tuesday. "The president cannot be flying up there every single week."
But someone of rank from the White House could and should be at each and every military funeral. Ideally, Mr. Bush would shake the hand of someone who loved every person who dies in uniform--a small demand on his time in a war in which the casualties are still relatively small. And he has more than enough advisers, cabinet secretaries and other officials so attending funerals should not be such an inconvenience.
At least this suggestion makes more practical sense than the idea that the president should attend every single funeral himself. But it still reeks of an attitude that somehow the leading officials in our government should now be therapists-in-chief. Yes, it's a good idea for some officials to attend some funerals when they can. Yes, the president should write every grief-stricken family (as he does). But the main job of government officials should be fighting the war so that fewer casualties result and victory comes sooner rather than later. This is the real way of honoring the fallen: ensuring that their sacrifice is not in vain.
The White House talks about preserving the privacy and dignity of the families of the war dead. But if this was really about the families, the president or Vice President Dick Cheney or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would be handing flags to widows and mothers in the time-honored way.
This reference to the "time-honored way" does not, unfortunately, stand up under scrutiny. The History News Network provided a recent, helpful study of what the precise presidential tradition is in this regard.
They find no evidence that FDR attended military funerals, although, like Bush, he spoke of his empathy for those who had lost their lives and their families. Lyndon Johnson attended two funerals out of tens of thousands under his watch in Vietnam. Richard Nixon attended none. Jimmy Carter attended none--but he was present at a memorial service for those who were killed in his aborted mission to free the Iran hostages. The first president Bush attended no military funerals. Neither did president Clinton. Yes, they attended some memorial services--but so, of course, has the current president, most notably after 9/11. There is, then, no "time-honored way" in which presidents have gone to funerals for individual service members.
As to the notion that president Bush does not care about the service members under his command, perhaps the best argument in his defense was the tear running down his cheek in Baghdad last week. Yes, some of these photo-ops might benefit him politically. You don't have to be a cynic to acknowledge that. But it is excessive cynicism that wants to argue that this president doesn't care; or that he treats military casualties cavalierly. There's simply no evidence for it. And the attempt to create such an impression is more a function of an opposition seized by personal animosity than clear-eyed criticism of the president's strategy as a whole. It doesn't work; and it reflects poorly on the opposition. If they had any sense, they'd quit. But they won't, will they?
Andrew Sullivan is a senior editor at TNR.
There's someone who actually uses this failed attempt to coin a phrase?
It's a complete load of crap. As much as I despise Hillary, I have never understood why O'Reilly and others wanted to criticize her for not going to funerals of 9/11 victims. Hello?! If you had just lost a spouse, would you want Hillary Clinton showing up at the funeral with the Secret Service for a friggin' photo op? Bush should be avoiding funerals for the same reason -- respect for the families.
Rules are rules, after all.
an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture
Sounds like perfect usage to me.
I posted this on several threads:
"He never wants to elevate or diminish one sacrifice made over another," said Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director. Or, as another White House official put it: "If you're the brother or mother of a soldier who was killed on Saturday, and nothing was said, and then the president says something on Sunday? Unless the president starts saying it for all of them, he can't do it."
So, for now, Bush is continuing to refer as generically as possible to the sacrifice of all, as he did when reporters asked him on Tuesday in California to comment directly on the helicopter attack. "I am saddened any time that there's a loss of life," Bush replied, then added that the soldiers had died "for a cause greater than themselves," which he said was the campaign against terrorism.
Bartlett would not discuss how much concern comments like Wilson's had created at the White House. "The president writes a letter to every family of a fallen soldier, and meets privately with families of soldiers at military bases," Bartlett said. "He grieves with them, he understands. I'm not going to judge anybody's comments made in such a difficult period. People say a lot of things."
People close to the president say that another reason Bush has not been more willing to express more public sympathy for individual soldiers killed in Iraq is his determination to let families have their privacy. Bush was offended, his friends say, about what he saw at times as President Bill Clinton's exploitation of the public's grief for political gain.
You can win, and our President is winning. All he had to do was change the rules of the game.
As Ann Coulter pointed out so well in her book Treason the left has no concept of actually trying to win a war rather than using the military to distract the public from domestic problems. It is by this "out-of-the-box" thinking that Bush changed the rules of political engagement and left both the press and the left in a tailspin.
Although it goes without saying that I'd rather look at her picture than Maureen Dowd's any day.
And, you are wrong. It isn't really used properly by Sullivan, but that is not my point or quibble.
Sullivan is absolutley 100% right about how these specious arguments get passed around. I often will tune to network radio news specificially to hear what the new spin will be.
But using the term meme is like saying "groovy" or some such.
Using such a fake made up term makes him seem like a smarmy rube.
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