Manpower Meltdown

U.S. Soldiers over a flag of US and map of Iraq and explosion
This column was written by Matthew Yglesias.
Cindy Sheehan's protest outside the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, raises many questions, but perhaps none so fundamental as the issue of whether anyone can, in good faith, argue to today's young people that volunteering for a form of military service is a good idea. Judging by the members of the stay-the-course school of thought I know -- overwhelmingly liberals and critics of the Bush administration to one degree or another -- the answer is no.

The war party's elite -- a group including administration officials, think tankers, members of Congress and senators, congressional staff, pundits, Democrats, and Republicans -- is composed of "chicken hawks," those who think that continuing the war is an excellent idea but that fighting it personally (or having their own children fight it, or those of their friends and colleagues) isn't so bright. The simple cry of, "If you like the war so much, why don't you fight it?" has become as disreputable among the pundit class as it is popular in the liberal blogosphere.

"One of the most common (and strongest) liberal indictments of the Iraq war," wrote Jonathan Chait in Friday's Los Angeles Times, "is that it diverted troops that could have been deployed against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Are liberals who make that case, yet failed to enlist themselves, chicken hawks too?"

Chait has me nailed. As a matter of logic, the chicken-hawk argument is weak. It's weak because it's a species of hypocrisy charge, a tempting rhetorical ploy that in practice proves almost nothing. I know a guy who maintains that it was a bad idea to drive drunk. Yet from time to time he is known to get drunk and then drive his car. He is, in other words, a hypocrite. But this hardly shows that he is wrong about drunk driving. The problem is that he is right and that he fails to take his own good advice. That in the struggle over how long to continue the war those who urge an open-ended military commitment to Iraq's burgeoning ayatollah-cracy refuse to put their money where their mouth is proves absolutely nothing.