June 6, 2015 (D-Day plus 71)
“We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.”
— Sen. Marco Rubio, who never saw a day in combat, borrowing from the movie “Taken” to describe how he would deal with the Islamic State.
It’s lines like that that make you wonder what Marco Rubio is going to do in life when he grows old enough to get a driver’s license. For sheer fatuity in a presidential candidate, it beats even Lindsey Graham’s offering, “I am running because the world is falling apart.”
Graham, best known for his role playing Sancho Panza to John McCain’s Don Quixote, also sees the Islamic State as “a threat to the homeland.” But where Rubio sees Liam Neeson as the answer, the South Carolina senator prefers more American boots-on-the-ground. And not just a handful, but — direct quote here — “thousands.”
All right, let’s suppose — to take a real-life rather than video-game perspective of our national interest — we had those “thousands” on the ground a few weeks back, during the ISIS siege of the city of Palmyra, Syria: Whose side would Graham have them aligned with? ISIS or the government troops of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad? You know, the Assad who gasses civilians rather than, like ISIS, beheading or burying them alive?
Obviously the answer to our national security needs in the Middle East isn’t as obvious as the boots-on-the-ground brigade would have us believe. Remember their calls a few years back for a more “muscular” U.S. approach to getting rid of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi? That Mission Accomplished gave us tribal warfare in Libya and, out of that, the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Not that the lessons of Benghazi or Palmyra register on Rubio, Lindsey and their warhawk allies. When drum-beating demagogues run up against outcomes that belie their rhetoric, they simply turn up the volume. Another setback? That’s because we don’t have enough boots-on-the-ground.
Question to be asked at the first Republican presidential debate (if not before): Where are those “thousands” of boots going to come from? A decade-and-a-half fighting in the Middle East has brought us 7,000 dead, 52,000 wounded, and a volunteer army so stretched that soldiers are being sent into war zones for four, five, and in some cases as many as 10 tours of duty.
It’s a war, in other words, that calls for sacrifice on the part of only 1 percent of the American people, while 99 percent — you, me, and the comfortably insulated warhawks on Capitol Hill — live peacetime lives, expressing our “support” for the troops with ribbon stickers on our cars and stand-up applause for combat veterans at sports events.
But wait: On further review, it turns out there is one member, out of 537 in the U.S. Senate and House, who has a real rather than rhetorical answer to the “thousands of boots” question. Not that we’ll be hearing from him in any of those Republican presidential debates since he’s a Democrat — and a liberal one at that.
Say what you will about Congressman Charles Rangel’s fundraising ethics, when the issue is American lives on the battlefield, he speaks with authority — the authority lacking in all but a few of his Capitol Hill colleagues. A decorated veteran of the Korean War, he’s introduced a bill in the House to restore the military draft — actually reintroduced, since he’s put it before the Congress every session for the past decade — arguing, “If war is truly necessary, we must all come together to support and defend our nation. The 3.3 million military households have become a virtual military class, unfairly shouldering the brunt of war.”
You haven’t heard of Rangel’s draft bill? No mystery there. It’s because the chief warhawk of the House, Speaker John Boehner, hasn’t deigned to push it through committee and bring it to the floor for a vote. Why not? Because, for those millennials too young to remember, the draft was ended in 1973 because of demonstrations against an unpopular war — just as our current war in the Middle East, according to public opinion polls, is unpopular.
“It would take a lot of courage for people (in Congress) to vote on this,” said Rangel on introducing his latest draft bill. “We wouldn’t be in this mess we’re in if people knew their kids might be drafted.”
No we wouldn’t. But don’t expect the boots-on-the-ground brigade — would-be commanders-in-chief like Marco Rubio or Lindsey Graham — to admit it. They’re too busy, between campaign fundraisers, picking up on Liam Neeson lines or chasing down Super Glue to hold the world together.
Sound bite to remember
“They say women talk too much. If you have worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men.”
— Clare Boothe Luce