The continual droning in Congress about the Iraq War and the need for the United States to declare defeat and impeach the judgment of President George W. Bush and our top military commanders, such as General David Petraeus, highlights a deficiency in Congress which rarely is addressed. Only 29% of current United States Senators and 23% of Representatives have served in a branch of the United States Armed Forces. These numbers are down from 1991, the height of the Persian Gulf War, when 68% of Senators and 48% of Representatives had served. After the 2008 election the proportion is likely to decrease again in view of retirements.
The low numbers for Congress are more startling when one realizes that only about ten of our elected officials in Congress have children currently serving in the military and not all these have served in Iraq.
It is true that throughout American history few of those in Congress have served, because the military has been a small and, with few exceptions, all-volunteer. While veterans rarely have represented a majority in Congress, there was, until Vietnam, a great respect for those who had served their country. Most of our Presidents have performed military service. Twelve of the 42 Presidents have been generals.
The problem is that there is no longer any respect. While those in Congress who have been a member of the Armed Forces may disagree with the Iraq War, one can assume that they have the practical experience to make an informed judgment about it or to empathize with those military leaders who must make tough decisions, even if they disagree. This is particularly true of those, like Senator John S. McCain III (R-AZ), who have served in combat. (The exception to this statement would be Representative John “Jack” Murtha (D-PA), Chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, who currently is so busy paying off his campaign donors with special earmarks that he has little time to be distracted by the Iraq War.)
The rich and powerful have long sought to avoid military service, particularly since Vietnam. But there is a disingenuousness exhibited by those now in Congress who claim to know what is best for America and her military in Iraq when they have no connection to the military and no desire to learn more about it. The mantra of “we support the troops, but not the war” is commonly used to justify policy positions that would lead, in reality, to a humiliating defeat for our men in uniform, who are aware of the attacks on them and their service in the halls of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) has declared defeat already, as if defeat were something of which to be proud.
I am not suggesting that the military has been perfect in its conduct of the War in Iraq or that there are not valid criticisms of the way the Bush Administration has handled it. But such rank hypocrisy on the part of Congressional leaders is disturbing. It fuels a growing national divide between the military and significant portions of the population.
Many Americans are patriotic and support those who are willing to serve in harm’s way and risk the ultimate sacrifice. The problem is that there is a vocal segment of the population, including many in Congress, who are willing to use the military as a political and media football, trying to score political points at the expense of our men and women in uniform.
Americans need to remember that most of these same elected officials who so often lecture us and our military leaders about the situation in Iraq have no positive idea to contribute to the debate. They never suggest alternative strategies for the military, as Senator McCain has, that may lead to both victory and an exit. Instead, they spew hatred and arrogance and preach defeat as the only strategy that will work.
A logical explanation for this, in addition to their ideology, is that they simply have no personal experience with the military and have never thought it worth their time to wear the American uniform or work with those who have.