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"Victory Means Exit Strategy" | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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"Victory Means Exit Strategy"

It's anti-war quiz time.

Who made the following statement:

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now."

A.) Cindy Sheehan?

B.) Phil Donahue?

C.) Michael Moore?

D.) A prominent politician who was not afraid to dissent in a time of war.

Answer: D.) A prominent politician who was not afraid to dissent in a time of war.

Defenders of the occupation of Iraq will, before the weekend is done, have some choice words for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are marching and rallying for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from that Middle Eastern nation.

They will pull out all the deliberate misreads of intelligence and paranoid fantasies that were employed by George Bush in his relentless campaign to win support for the invasion of Iraq. But, above all, they will peddle the lie that since the beginning of this misguided war has been their favorite: The suggestion that those who oppose the war are somehow harming the troops.

A marketing campaign, launched shortly after the war began and continued to this day, has sought to link support for the men and women serving in this country's military forces with support for even the most foolhardy and dangerous of the president's policies. There are even bumper stickers that declare: "Support President Bush and the Troops."

But this is just political gamesmanship, nothing more.

How do we know?

Because House Majority Leader Tom DeLay tells us so.

Back in 1999, after then-President Bill Clinton had ordered U.S. forces to begin a massive bombing campaign and missile strikes against Yugoslavia, the House of Representatives considered a resolution supporting the mission. The leading opponent of the resolution was DeLay, who dismissed the notion that opposing the war was in any way an affront to the troops. In a visceral floor statement delivered in March of that year, DeLay declared, "Bombing a sovereign nation for ill-defined reasons with vague objectives undermines the American stature in the world. The international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly. We must stop giving the appearance that our foreign policy is formulated by the Unabomber." As the war progressed, DeLay condemned "(President Clinton's) war," and grumbled in April, 1999, that, "There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today."

To those who dared suggest that such aggressive language might be dispiriting to the troops who were engaged in the mission, DeLay told USA Today, "It's very simple. The president is not supported by the House, and the military is supported by the House."

DeLay's sentiments were echoed in the Senate by Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, who explained that, "My job as majority leader is be supportive of our troops, try to have input as decisions are made and to look at those decisions after they're made ... not to march in lock step with everything the president decides to do."

DeLay and Lott has allies in the media who were, if anything, even more passionate in their criticism of the war. Anticipating the current comments of Cindy Sheehan and other family members who have lost loved ones in Iraq, they framed their anti-war arguments as a plea to save the lives of U.S. troops who had been put in harm's way as part of a fool's mission. Sean Hannity growled into his Fox New microphone about how supporters of the war should be forced to: "Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life." Hannity was an "out now" man: "No goal, no objective, not until we have those things and a compelling case is made, then I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That's why I'm against it," he argued. Hannity's fellow peacenik, conservative commentator Tony Snow, even went so far as to make quagmire comparisons, suggesting on a March 24, 1999, Fox program: "You think Vietnam was bad? Vietnam is nothing next to Kosovo."

The commander-in-chief's critics found an ally in a candidate in the 2000 contest to replace Clinton. Sounding an awfully lot like U.S. Sen Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, who in August suggested that it was time to set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Texas Governor George W. Bush told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on June 5, 1999: "I think it's also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long (U.S. troops) will be involved and when they will be withdrawn."

What about "stay the course"?

No way, said Bush the candidate. "Victory means exit strategy," he told the Houston Chronicle on April 9, 1999, "and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is."

Critics of this weekend's anti-war marchers will surely dust off the claim that the protesters are merely recycling the slogans of the 1960s. Fair enough. No more: "Make Love, Not War." Instead, why not recycle an anti-war slogan from the 1990s? Something catchy, like: "Victory means exit strategy." And while they're at it, foes of the Iraq occupation might want to recycle some of the better rhetoric of that decade, like the line: "I cannot support a failed foreign policy." Just be sure to credit the prominent politician who was not afraid to dissent in a time of war -- even if it meant criticizing the commander-in-chief: Tom DeLay.

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