- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

President Bush wept. The tears caught by news cameras came Thursday during a ceremony to award the Medal of Honor to the late Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham in the East Room of the White House.

Cpl. Dunham, from Scio, N.Y., threw his helmet and then his body on top of an insurgent’s grenade in 2004, saving the lives of two Marines, but losing his own eight days later as a result of his wound. His unflinching sacrifice humbles us all.

Mr. Bush is hardly alone in being moved to tears by such heroism. Many a macho man has been moved as I have been on warm summer days by a monument to another Medal of Honor winner, the late Pfc. Milton L. Olive III in a small park named after him on Chicago’s Lakefront. Pfc. Olive fell on a grenade to save four other soldiers he barely knew in 1965 in Vietnam.

Anyone who has served in the military as I have can tell you why our fighting men and women will sacrifice themselves without hesitation. In a word, it’s loyalty. You look out for your buddies as you venture into harm’s way. You do for others what you believe the others would do for you.

As loyal as our military personnel are to their country, the rest of us need to be loyal to them. Some people mistakenly think loyalty to our troops ends the debate over Iraq. In fact, that obligation only heats up the argument.

We need, for example, to remember people put into play by the president’s nationally televised Iraq policy speech last week. He announced he has “committed more than 20,000 additional American troops” over the current 132,000. The plan would not exceed the peak 160,000 in the troop buildup for the 2005 Iraqi elections. Unlike earlier troop increases, he said, this will be clearly defined and “not open ended.” Nor does it sound closed-ended.

He notably avoided the word “surge,” which surged into popular usage a few days before Christmas when White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Mr. Bush was considering a “surge” in troops in Iraq. Any upsurge in the use of a word like “surge” would be significant in an administration that, for example, insists on referring to torture as “aggressive interrogation” and “private” Social Security accounts as “personal.”

But the urge for “surge” in the White House lexicon now appears played out, much like the played-out support Americans have been showing in polls for the war. A new AP/Ipsos poll found support for Mr. Bush’s handling of the war had fallen to an all-time low of 29 percent. Many justifiably believe the best way to support our troops is to avoid sending more of them into a conflict that appears to be a lost cause.

Still, the administration is not about to accept “escalation,” the word war critics like to use, with all of its ugly echoes of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam troop buildup from 16,000 to more than 500,000.

Echoes of that war moved one Vietnam veteran, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, to challenge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Senate hearings after Mr. Bush’s speech. When she disputed the use of “escalation,” Mr. Hagel incredulously asked what she would call it and Miss Rice introduced a new word to our war vocabulary. “I would call it, senator, an augmentation,” she said, “that allows the Iraqis to deal with this very serious problem that they have in Baghdad.” If that sent you rushing to your dictionary, as it did me, suffice it to say that “augmentation” is the process of making something that is already big bigger.

As congressional Democrats ponder how to respond to Mr. Bush’s new plan, the president has cleverly framed the debate as two choices: his surge or a complete withdrawal. In fact, there are alternatives, including some on the diplomatic track Mr. Bush has resisted. He quickly cast aside the diplomatic track proposed by the Iraq study group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat. Yet, its proposal to work with Iran and Syria to defuse Iraq’s violence makes sense, despite the obvious difficulty of such negotiations, even if it runs counter to Mr. Bush’s anti-Iran sentiments.

At present, as study group insiders say, Iran fears the chaos that could bleed over and disrupt their country if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq too quickly. As a result, Iran and Syria benefit from the U.S. being tied down as we have been.

That irony gives the U.S. considerable leverage in dealing with that region. Unfortunately, the Bush administration seems more focused on armed hostilities, perhaps even with Iran, than with diplomacy. We have better ways to support our troops. Mr. Bush should try a few.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide