Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No Water's Edge

Politics have by tradition stopped at the water's edge.

Supporters of the war in Iraq argue that the full-throated "dissent" carried out by the anti-war side undermines our war effort by encouraging the enemy.

Yet under our system, dissenters are free to express their opinions.

And dissent during war is nothing new. The Philippine Insurrection provoked domestic dissent just as strong as today.

The War of 1812 saw rumblings from New England to leave our new country to protest a war they believed hurt them.

Plenty of German-Americans and Irish-Americans were less than thrilled that America went to war in 1917 against Germany and on the side of the British.

And even in World War II, a quarter of our population did not support the war.

So our dissent today is hardly unique.

But what is different is how far that dissent carries. In the past, enemies would hear very little of our dissent. All they would see was our military fighting them with a silent monolith of America behind them, supplying them with weapons and sending more troops to fight our enemies. Our enemies were hard pressed to draw comfort and encouragment from our silent (to them) dissent. Politics stopped at the water's edge out of practical limits of broadcasting more than any common view that politics should stop at the water's edge.

Yet that apparent monolith as viewed from abroad was from here a seething cauldron of argument and dissent.

Sure, Vietnam with television provided a hint of this leakage of our dissent to the outside world, but that dissent did not prevent us from fighting through 8 years (1964 to 1972) and nearly 60,000 dead before we had to pull out of combat. But that was just the beginning of the problem.

Today, every bit of dissent is immediately broadcast worldwide. And this dissent is seen and heard 24/7. Some of it is so over the top that our enemies repeat the arguments as their own (think Michael Moore, here).

With this unprecedented view of a nation at war, is it any wonder that our enemies can think they can overcome our power? Instead of a monolith sending forth well-equipped and well-trained troops who win in battle with incredible skill and precision, the enemy sees a military that appears to lack the support of the people and politicians back home.

We need to bring back the water's edge.

This doesn't mean that we eliminate dissent. We need responsible dissent to improve our war effort. And we need to endure responsible dissent even when it doesn't because we are free. As long as it isn't treason, such speech must be endured.

But what we must learn to do is keep our squabbles inside our borders. We must dissent in ways that don't encourage the enemy by giving them talking points and hope that we will falter. We must lower the heat of the rhetoric. Hitler comparisons should go. And charges of lying should be reserved for actual lies. Surely, if most Americans want victory rather than defeat, it would be possible to argue without aiding the enemy unintentionally. Our dissenters strongly disagree with the idea they help our enemies, so they must not really want to help them.

I must say, however, that I honestly doubt we can recreate the water's edge.

The only thing we might be able to do is increase the volume of dissent visible from the enemy side to equalize the problem. If their dissenters are as loud and obnoxious as our dissenters, we'd have a better chance. Think of it as a level playing field.

If they have a bongo or two, so much the better.

Until we can address this problem, we will suffer great handicaps in fighting.