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Friday, May 11, 2007

Cheney at sea: the rhetoric of retreat

Hidden in the midst of this significant article by Graham Bowley in the New York Times today was this quote from the Vice President:

“I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat,” Mr. Cheney said. “We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and then we want to return home with honor.”


What's important to note here is what the VP is doing with this rhetorical triple whammy.

First Cheney is claiming to speak for the American people while putting a phrase in our mouths few of us would really use or endorse to describe what's next in Iraq: "a policy of retreat." Second, we've gotten used to the Vice President lying and obfuscating, but when it comes to public opinion on Iraq, he's just plain wrong here on the facts.

Finally, Cheney defines "returning home with honor" as completing the mission and getting it done right. What is the mission specifically, we might ask, Mr. Vice President? What are the metrics for knowing that we are getting it done right in Iraq? Missions and metrics, leadership and direction, these are not how we judge the honor of our troops, these yardsticks are how we judge the competence and leadership of those who sent them on thier mission. And, finally, why in god's name is Dick Cheney now standing on a battleship and talking about going into Iran when the rest of the country, including many in his own party, is talking about getting out of Iraq? These are valid questions, but I think one further implication of the Vice President's statement merits some thought.

The Vice President is implying that the troops can't come home with honor if they retreat. With that, he is playing the worst kind of politics; if withdrawal = dishonor for our troops, then advocating withdrawal is dishonoring our troops. This statement is a partisan slam; it's a shot across the political bow made at the expense of our troops.

Rhetorically, this is important.

We honor our troops for their service to our nation, period. If the politicians who control our civilian-governed military decide it is in our best interest to leave Somalia or Lebanon or Viet Nam or North Korea, there is no dishonor cast on those troops returning home upon completing that order. They are simply doing their job. Our Armed Forces are judged by how they execute the will of the civilian government and how they follow thier code of conduct. Retreat is a strategy decided by generals and politicians. There is no dishonor to it in the least. As a matter of fact and history sometimes "a policy of retreat" is called for. Sometimes retreat is, in fact, in our national interest. And, yes, the American people have supported retreats, or, the withdrawal of our forces and the cessation of hostilities, at various times in our history and honored those troops who returned home as a result.

It is Dick Cheney who casts dishonor on our troops for suggesting that the only way they can return to our shores with honor is if they complete their mission. That is false. He is the only person in America saying that. If the Armed Forces of the United States redeploy to fulfill the mission objectives given to them by the President and authorized and funded under laws passed by Congress that IS completing thier mission.

What is most nefarious, is that with this statement to the troops themselves it is Vice President Cheney who is holding them hostage to his own failed policies, leadership and strategy in Iraq. That is what his sleight of hand hides: four years of this Adminstration's failed policies in Iraq and the Middle East with no end in sight and no real measurements of its success.

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