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The Chickenhawk Defense By: David Harsanyi
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 02, 2002


Whether or not most Americans agree, there may be a multitude of lucid reasons why the United States should avoid a preemptive military strike against Iraq. Problem is, most arguments employed by anti-war pundits these days are at best unconvincing and at worst ridiculous.

Let's concentrate on the ridiculous.

Pacifists love to identify members of the pro-war crowd as 'chickenhawks,' a term sloppily applied to those who advocate military solutions to political problems yet themselves have never served in uniform during wartime. The ubiquitous cheap shot implicates certain Washington bureaucrats and writers lacking the moral authority to advocate the deployment of US troops to oust Saddam Hussein.

Apparently, President Bush and Paul Wolfowitz are expected to have led a William Wallace-like charge against a fortified bunker otherwise forfeit all decision-making privileges regarding U.S military. In the same vain, Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol should close their laptops and discontinue writing about Iraq because they never served in Vietnam. With that sort of reasoning, we can assume Bush Sr. had more justification than Bill Clinton to utilize the military, solely because he was shot down over the north Pacific during the Second World War.

The chickenhawk charge unduly insinuates cowardice and has no relevance to the issue at hand. Nobody questions the right of Maureen Dowd or Patrick Buchanan to write their columns opposing war, despite their inability to load an M1 rifle. Nor should they.

Democrats Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt never served before their presidency, yet both sent hundreds of thousands to die for American interests worldwide. Historically, few can quarrel with their military decisions. Surely, Clinton didn't wrestle with his ethical license, despite a less-than-stellar military record, when sending soldiers to protect European interests in Serbia or to die in the alleys of Somalia. (Then again, if Clinton's morality was the impetus for action, the executive branch would have been comatose for eight years.) During the 1996 presidential campaign, consistently asserted that Bob Dole's exemplary military record meant very little when it came to foreign policy.

In his speech last week at the Economic Club in Tallahassee, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni used the 'chickenhawk' argument against his employers. Zinni disparaged the "armchair" hawks who were promoting pre-emptive military action against Iraq: "It's pretty interesting that all the generals see it the same way, and all the others who have never fired a shot and are hot to go to war see it another way."

All the generals? Unquestionably, Pentagon officials would disagree with this sweeping assessment. Suddenly, the Left is holding military accomplishment in high esteem. Salon.com's Joe Conason points out that "Zinni isn't just any general, of course. In addition to his Marine résumé, he's also the former chief of the Army's Central Command, with responsibility for the Mideast region."

With all his experience and military accomplishments, Zinni's Middle East tenure has been an abject fiasco. This general, however, is proof positive that firing a gun doesn't automatically afford you expertise on the complexities of waging war. The four-star general's impotent attempt at mediating the Israelis-Palestinian conflict has invariably led to renewed spasms of appalling violence. It has been a virtual certainty, that when Zinni boards his Tel-Aviv to Washington flight, Israel is in the midst of clearing debris away after another terrorist attack. Of course, it would be overly simplistic to blame one man for the consequences of a 50-year conflict, but Zinni certainly hasn't helped the situation. Conversely, Dennis Ross, a wimpy, bookworm bureaucrat who "never fired a shot," brought the sides to the brink of an agreement — whether you feel that agreement would have been a catastrophe for Israel is another story.

Zinni was also in command of President Clinton's 'reprisal' after the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa that killed over 80 people. The general masterminded the intricate strategy that destroyed a drug factory in Sudan, one which provided needed supplies to that impecunious nation. Zinni also launched an ineffectual missile attack against a nearly abandoned al Qaeda training camp in eastern Afghanistan, killing 20 low-level, would-be terrorists. Clinton has been quoted as saying that the missiles missed Bin Laden by mere hours. Zinni, to his credit, debunks this little legacy-building fib by pointing out that the attack had a "million-to-one shot" of hitting bin Laden.

As if on queue, Zinni also hits on another angle anti-war proponents have been advancing: "[M]ore important than Iraq right now are…the opportunities that exist for the United States to encourage a peaceful transition in Iran where young people are increasingly challenging the power of the Islamic theocracy.'"

Aping this concept is New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who in a recent column argued that the war debate has been dominated by the "hairy-chested types" (William Kristol has been described as many things, this is probably not one) and that "North Korea is more of a threat than Iraq. …North Korea has stronger connections to terrorist activity, runs a more advanced biological, chemical and nuclear weapons program, targets American military bases and is developing missiles that could reach the lower 48 states."

The Left's newfound anxiety about the Axis of Evil is only rivaled by their newfound concern for the welfare of the military. Both appear quite disingenuous. After all, aren't these guardian angels the same cabal that tried to suppress the military vote during Al Gore's failed coup attempt less than a year ago? And surely, any suggestion, even in passing, of a regime change in Pyongyang, would bring harsh criticism on the administration's jingoistic posture. Chickens or cowboys, it seems the Right can't win.


David Harsanyi is an NYC-based writer. Visit his website (http://dharsanyi.blogspot.com/) or email him at david_harsanyi@yahoo.com.


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