Its logic, if taken seriously, actually would boost the hawks. If only members of the military — who are overwhelmingly conservative — were considered competent to decide the nation’s posture on matters of war and peace, we would have an even more forward-leaning foreign policy. I’m comfortable letting the 82nd Airborne decide what we do about anti-American rogue states. Are opponents of the war? I’m guessing that even if you let only mothers of fallen soldiers in Iraq direct our Iraq policy, the result would be stay-the-course rather than the immediate pullout favored by Sheehan.
By the same token, we could say to proponents of leaving Saddam Hussein in power: “That’s an illegitimate position unless you yourself are willing to move to Tikrit to live for the duration of Saddam’s regime.” Or to supporters of “containing” Saddam: “You’re a hypocrite until you go help patrol the no-fly zone.” Or to advocates of inspections: “You can’t support them unless you don a baby-blue cap and sniff around his suspected chemical-weapons sites yourself.”
Why should this line of argument be limited to Iraq? “You think we should help fight AIDS in Africa? Well, go work in a clinic in Lavumisa, Swaziland.” “You oppose land mines? Go clear them from the Korean DMZ.”...“Support jobless benefits? Become a clerk at an unemployment office.”
Alas, the argument only swings one way. A few radical antiwar groups, including Code Pink and Veterans for Peace, have released a statement supporting the Iraqi insurgency. But no one is badgering its members about whether they are going to go set off roadside bombs in Baquba. Jihad is so easy when it’s someone else’s son or daughter doing all the suicide bombing!
The chicken-hawk argument is, of course, made in bad faith. If anyone should be — and usually has been — in favor of rigorous civilian control of the military, it is the left. Since when do liberals favor government on the model of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, with the military running amok since civilians don’t have the standing to direct it? Maybe Harry Truman was wrong to fire Douglas MacArthur after all. Maybe no one should have contradicted Curtis LeMay when he offered to bomb North Vietnam back into the Stone Age.
The Iraq war was arrived at through the democratic deliberation of the American public, who — this is how it works — get to decide all sort of questions, even if they are not experts or don’t have personal experience with whatever is at issue. The anti-war movement would have a better chance of convincing the public of its position if it weren’t so fond of arguments that are juvenile, opportunistic and irrelevant.