Kevin Drum points to and comments on a piece by a fellow writer at The Washington Monthly, Spencer Ackerman, in which Ackerman says:
This matters, because pretending that in ending the war they're doing the troops a favor hurts Democrats politically. They risk looking condescending, and, worse, oblivious — which has the broader effect of undermining public trust in the Democrats to handle national security. More basically, it does a disservice to those who serve. For soldiers who are optimistic, being told that the war can't be won is bad enough. But to be told that politicians are doing them a favor by extricating them from a mission they believe in is downright insulting.
This is God's own truth. Ditto for the Democratic obsession with using better body armor, higher GI pay, or the quality of military medical care as proxies for "supporting the troops." As with leaving Iraq, these are all good things to support. But they're good things on their own terms, not because anyone in uniform will be fooled into thinking that voting for them means you support the military. It's the equivalent of Democrats who thought that John Kerry had automatic credibility on national security just because he was a Vietnam vet.
Telling the truth, as usual, is better: we need to leave Iraq not because we think the troops need rescuing, but because we think that leaving is what's best for our national security. And in the future? Our message should be that we'll support the troops by making sure that we send them into war only with proper leadership, proper planning, and when the national security of the United States is genuinely at risk. On all these counts both the civilian and uniformed leadership of the military has let down the troops in Iraq. We need to promise that we won't do the same on our watch.
Perhaps. But here's another quote from the Ackerman piece:
“Who needs chicks in bikinis when you got terrorists with AKs?” Wellman retorted. “You can get a hard-on from that.”
Here's the thing: Soldiers and professional athletes always think the 'mission' is justified, no one wants to be a quitter. Not a valid comparison, but we watched the Angels smack Twins' rookie reliever Jason Miller around for 8 runs in the eighth inning last night, an inning that seemed to last hours. Poor Miller looked like he had appendicitis, yet stayed on the mound like a mensch until his manager brought out the hook and rescued him. Bravery? Not really, more like dedication to the mission. I'm sure if he had been asked if he wanted to keep going, he would have said "Yes".
But factor into that "dedication to mission" the awful macho posturing of the quote above, and we might have an idea of what fuels some percentage of the soldiers in Iraq. Do we need to take that into account when discussing withdrawal? Absolutely not, except for acknowledging that it is probably at the core of what GWBush's dedication to the mission is all about.
In the end, I'm pretty sure the soldiers under Gen. Custer were pretty brave, and considered the 'mission' important as well.