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“How to Truly Support our Troops”

“How to Truly Support our Troops”  by Alex Epstein,  published by ARI  January 15, 2007.  Republished with minor changes to the first paragraph as  “Who Really Supports Our Troops?”  September 27, 2007).

The above article should be seen as part three in a series, part one being  “Honoring Virtue”  by Andrew Bernstein and part two  “What We Owe Our Soldiers”  by Alex Epstein.

American soldiers invaded Iraq right after the bombing of Baghdad in March 2003. In this third article Mr. Epstein tells us  “what is truly necessary to protect America and its soldiers.”  This coupling of America with its soldiers might seem odd. America is where it always was, then its soldiers traveled six or seven thousand miles to where they need protecting. According to Mr. Epstein, as we shall see, America also needs protecting from Iraqis. Protect American soldiers in Iraq and you protect America as well, that is the logic behind his phrasing.

Mr. Epstein helped send American soldiers to Iraq in the first place. Not long after 9-11 he began promoting the Iraq War like any neoconservative or Bush administration hack:

The Betrayal of the Bush Doctrine – Sept. 11, 2002.
“Saddam Hussein ... has chemical and biological weapons and is eagerly developing nuclear weapons. ... when American lives hang in the balance, patience in disposing of our would-be murderers is an unmitigated vice.”  [Note the anniversary publication date, insinuating that Iraq was part of 9-11.]

Thinking It Alone – Oct. 8, 2002.
America can  “overwhelm Iraq, or any other nation that threatens us with terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.” ... “If our leaders are to fulfill their obligation to defend our country, they must – starting with Iraq – reject the poison of ‘multilateralism’ and replace it with the virtue of independent, rational judgment.”

The Epistemology of Preemption – Nov. 2002.
“The future of America’s national security depends on whether President Bush decides to invade Iraq and overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein.”  This would prevent  “a future chemical, biological, or nuclear attack launched by the Iraqi tyrant.”

Peacenik Warmongers – Dec. 9, 2002.
“If dropping bombs won’t work, what should the United States do to obtain a peaceful relationship with the numerous hostile regimes, including Iraq, that seek to harm us with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction?”

All this was eyewash, and at the time recognized as such by those with authentic  “independent, rational judgment.”  The Ayn Rand Institute published article after article like the above right up to the day of the invasion on March 20, 2003.

Though the regime of Saddam Hussein was quickly overthrown, four years later that is not enough for Mr. Epstein. In this essay he refers to U.S. troops in Iraq as  “the brave men and women who risk their lives to defend America”  and he would keep them there for a while still. But there is a problem defending America from Iraqis on the other side of the earth  (emphasis his):

“... for our government to truly support our troops, it must do far more than help them do their jobs; it must give them the right jobs to do – the jobs that will effectively defend America while minimizing the risk to their lives.”
And what are the right jobs?  (Note the plural.)
“If liberals were truly concerned with [that is, about] our troops in Iraq and the freedom our soldiers should be fighting for, they would call for our soldiers to smash the insurgency [men in Iraq opposing the U.S. occupation] and move on to defeat our other enemies.”
That last, as will become clear shortly, hints at the real message of Mr. Epstein’s essay:  On to Iran.  A subsidiary message:  Invading Iraq was the right thing to do, there’s a problem in the implementation is all, easily fixed.
“... neither liberals nor conservatives truly support the brave men and women who risk their lives to defend America. For both, [their] ‘support our troops’ is a cheap, undeserved claim to patriotism – one that obscures their unwillingness to do what is truly necessary to protect America and its soldiers.”
Then Mr. Epstein chastises the Bush administration for having  “imposed crippling  ‘rules of engagement’ ”  on U.S. soldiers which prevent them from  “smash[ing] a militarily puny insurgency.”  The troops are, he says,  “hamstrung.”

He leaves to your imagination what the rules of engagement are, so let’s take a look at them. There follow a few quotes from the Coalition Forces Land Component Command Rules of Engagement  (CFLCC  ROE)  distributed to all U.S. Army and Marine personnel in Iraq early in the war  (emphasis mine):

“Civilians ... Hospitals, mosques, ...”  are not to be targeted or struck  “except in self-defense to protect yourself, your unit, friendly forces, and designated persons or property under your control.”

“Do not fire into civilian populated areas or buildings unless the enemy is using them for military purposes or if necessary for your self-defense.”

“Do not target enemy infrastructure ... unless necessary for self-defense or if ordered by your commander.”

“The use of force, including deadly force, is authorized to protect the following”  the first of which is  “Yourself, your unit, and friendly forces.” [1]

The above is the lip-service, with exceptions rendering it almost without content. Mercenaries, who make up about half the U.S. presence in Iraq, are even less restrained. Whatever the official  ROE, U.S. troops do not act hamstrung considering, for example, that they virtually razed the town of Fallujah – and did it with the help of phosphorous bombs. [2]

Though the Iraqi opposition Mr. Epstein would  “smash”  may be puny it is pervasive, and the insurgents are in their own country. The war is not the cakewalk Cheney predicted and Mr. Epstein in 2007 still maintained it could be. [3]

Mr. Epstein says   “Our government must place soldiers’ lives at risk only when American freedom is threatened ... .”  We could all agree with that except that Mr. Epstein speaks in double-talk. Even at the late date of 2007 he claims that Iraq is a threat to America, not only physically but to our very freedom: [4]

“If liberals were truly concerned with our troops in Iraq and the freedom our soldiers should be fighting for, they would call for our soldiers to smash the insurgency and move on to defeat our other enemies. Instead, they call for a self-effacing retreat from Iraq ... .”
In fact retreat was the only self-asserting act the U.S. ever performed during the Vietnam war.  The Iraq war was no different in that regard:  both were wars the U.S. should never have entered.

Mr. Epstein goes on to accuse those who  “oppose the Iraq war and other wars”  of doing so because they  “oppose our soldiers mounting an uncompromising, self-assertive defense of America.”  Once again this jingoist claims that Iraqis threaten America. Jingoist? No, even a jingoist loves his country after a fashion and places it number one even if through a mindless outlook. ARI writers on the other hand place Israel number one, and sacrifice Americans to Israel.  (See  This is Our Ally?  on this website.)

“We must adopt a foreign policy of self-interest and commit to defend ourselves using our full, unmatched military might.”
Again we could all agree with that, properly construed. And again Mr. Epstein speaks in double-talk. ARI’s “foreign policy of self-interest” means destroying Israel’s enemies qua Israel’s enemies while giving the destruction a gloss of self-interest.

Mr. Epstein’s  “and other wars”  and his earlier  “and move on to defeat our other enemies”  sound like hints, and indeed he makes it clear that he means invading Iran. He places Iran among our  “committed enemies,”  and derides diplomacy, which must be  “bribery, appeasement, and inaction” – sounding like John Dewey promoting entry into World War I.

Mr. Epstein concludes by claiming that Iraq War critics  “end up sacrificing our troops and our freedom”  when that is precisely what he and ARI had been doing for the last five years.

Like the Marxists of yesteryear Mr. Epstein has a way of accusing others of the very thing he is doing:

“One does not support our troops by sending them to fight wars of self-sacrifice and then thanking their corpses. The conservatives’ call to ‘stay the course’ in Iraq ... is harmful to America and its troops because the mission has been conceived and conducted in defiance of American interests.”
All this is very true, with conservatives replaced with neoconservatives. But consider:

1.  ARI’s intellectual alliance with those same neoconservatives during the run-up to the Iraq invasion.  ARI promoted neoconservative propaganda never once criticizing their aims or methods until after they both got their invasion.

2.  ARI’s idea of  “American interests.”  It is to keep American soldiers in Iraq, not to “stay the course” but to be yet more brutal – and then go on to Iran.

Considering this, Mr. Epstein’s self-righteousness turns into the hypocritical horror we’ve come to expect from ARI.

In the midst of Mr. Epstein’s essay one paragraph stands out:

“One does not support our troops by keeping them home when their and our freedom requires military action. Our soldiers did not join the military to sit on their hands while Iran prepares for nuclear jihad.”
Very possibly some of “our” soldiers did not join the military to get killed following emotionalist claptrap like the above.

Mr. Epstein’s article is one in a chorus of ARI articles calling for the invasion of Iran, see  Relentless Propaganda: Redux for Iran  on this website.

1  “Rules of Engagement for U.S. Military Forces in Iraq”

The ROE in action:
“How to Control the Story, Pentagon-Style”
by Dahr Jamail and Tom Engelhardt, 27 November 2007

“Rules of Engagement ‘Thrown Out the Window’ ”
by Dahr Jamail, 15 March 2008

2  See also
“Vets Tell True Stories of the Terror War ”
American Sniper
the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a Navy Seals sniper in Iraq who boasts making 255 “kills” of which 160 are confirmed. On page 79 he describes the Rules of Engagement his unit followed at Shatt al-Arab, a river on the Iraq-Iran border (emphasis in the original):  “Our ROEs when the war kicked off were pretty simple: If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ‘em.  Kill every male you see.  That wasn’t the official language, but that was the idea.”

3  That the U.S. began to fund Sunni militias indicates how desperate the Bush administration became.
“American-backed killer militias strut across Iraq”
The Sunday Times  25 November 2007
“Annals of Liberation”
by Chris Floyd,  25 November 2007

4  One distinction between the two alleged threats (physical and political), which Mr. Epstein never makes, is that the first is foreign, the second entirely domestic. He claims (at the time he wrote the article) that Iraq physically threatens America, and also that – somehow because of Iraq – our own government must enslave us. Either that, or he means that hordes of healthy, well-fed, massively-armed Iraqis will somehow come over here and somehow enslave us.