The media salivation over military mother Cindy Sheehan has renewed talk of a “chickenhawk” contingent controlling American foreign policy. According to the left, which has latched onto Sheehan more tightly than a barnacle latches onto a whale, the only people qualified to speak about American foreign policy are pacifists, military members who have served in combat and direct relatives of those slain in combat or in acts of terrorism. Everyone else must shut up.
Sheehan’s political allies have thrown the fallacious and dishonest “chickenhawk” slur at President Bush in order to discredit the war in Iraq. Richard Bradley, one of the many cynical Sheehan-users over at Arianna Huffington’s website, expresses the “chickenhawk” argument this way: “Thanks in large part to Cindy Sheehan, people are starting to raise the issue of why Jenna and Barbara Bush aren’t serving in the military. It’s a tough question, but I think it’s a fair one.”
This isn’t a fair question – in fact, it’s an un-American question. Those who do not serve in the military have just as much of a right to speak out about foreign policy as those who do. Last week, I explained why the “chickenhawk” argument undermines fundamental values of representative democracy, as well as the constitutional idea of civilian control over the military. Representative democracy requires people to vote on foreign policy, whether or not they have served in the military, just as it requires people to vote on police policy whether or not they have served on the police force. The Constitution grants the president power as commander in chief, whether or not he has served in the military, and grants Congress power over the purse strings, whether or not any member has served in the military. Our system is built on the foundational idea that all Americans have a common stake in defining foreign policy – foreign policy isn’t the exclusive domain of military members.
Of course, despite their multitudinous statements about how military men and women know the costs of war best, the last thing in the world the left wants is for the military to control foreign policy. Despite the left’s implicit assumption that any soldier who sees live fire immediately transforms into Mahatma Gandhi, military members, by and large, are hawks. A Military Times poll in late 2003 showed that 57 percent of those surveyed considered themselves Republicans, and only 13 percent considered themselves Democrats. Among officers, the numbers were even more disparate: 66 percent Republican, and 9 percent Democrat. Certain Democrats in 2000 attempted to block the votes of thousands of military members in Florida. Despite all of John Kerry’s posturing, military members and their families trusted President Bush by a 69-24 margin, according to an October 2004 poll by National Annenberg Election Survey.
In truth, the left would regard military control of foreign policy as an unmitigated disaster. In the view of those like Michael Moore, the only good American soldiers are those who are unemployed or dead. Soldiers are only good if they aren’t fighting, since America’s wars are always wrong and America’s soldiers are war criminals. (An added side benefit: If those soldiers never see combat, they, too, can never be foreign policy hawks – service in non-active combat roles doesn’t count in the leftist view.) Dead American soldiers are good since they can be used as pawns by foreign-policy doves: body bag pictures and grieving mothers – all of it undermines American morale and support for strong foreign policy. Dead soldiers can be cast as “victims,” and their corpses cynically used as clubs against America’s foreign policy.
In holding itself up as the great defender of victimized military members, the left denigrates the courageous choices made by military members every day. Deciding to enter the armed services isn’t a choice the left understands, but it is a choice – an honorable, brave, praiseworthy choice. The leftist claim that soldiers are victims means that they are boobs and ignoramuses, incapable of choosing a lifestyle that risks death in defense of American freedoms.
Implicitly, then, the “chickenhawk” argument rejects all options aside from civilian pacifist control of American foreign policy. If all soldiers are victims, too stupid or ignorant to make up their own minds about joining the military, how can we trust them with foreign policy? And according to the “chickenhawk” argument, civilian hawks cannot control foreign policy. The only ones left are complete pacifist loons like Michael Moore and Arianna Huffington. How convenient!
And convenience is what the “chickenhawk” argument is really about. Pacifists don’t want to discuss real foreign policy issues – they want to call names. If you can’t win over the populace at large, the only solution left is to stifle the argument. That’s what “chickenhawk” is about. At the end of the day, “chickenhawk” is morally and intellectually chicken.