Ross is right that it is undesirable to have dueling groups of pro– and antiwar soldiers wielding some outsized political authority over this or any other debate. However, it occurs to me that we have already gone through several rounds of this politicisation of the military since the war began, and it has accelerated since February 2006 (right around the time everything in Iraq began to get really bad). Of course, it was always appropriate to acknowledge that senior generals, such as Gens. Zinni and Shinseki, either advised against the war or recommended much larger numbers of soldiers to fight it, but antiwar enthusiasm for disaffected military men, usually retired officers speaking out against the planning and execution of the war, has been the flip side of this sometimes worrisome deference to the opinion of military officers.
Some antiwar writers were thrilled by last year’s “revolt of the generals,” when it always seemed to me that most of these generals (with the exception of Gen. Newbold) just wanted to fight the war more effectively and were undermining the chances of ending the war sooner. It was amusing to watch war supporters mutter darkly about mutiny and conspiracy and threats to civilian control of the military and then, as if by magic, discover that Gen. Petraeus was endowed with superhuman abilities and foresight. Trust in Petraeus–this was the new mantra, and it has been dutifully embraced by war supporters. It was one thing to ridicule Mr. Bush, but any policy endorsed by Petraeus suddenly acquired an aura of untouchable genius. Now we have groups of soldiers publicly taking this or that side of the debate, and before long I expect we will see bloggers on both sides running up tallies to see which side has more declared military personnel. This cannot lead anywhere good.
It is telling that the NYT ran the op-ed by the seven Iraq veterans as a not-so-subtle counterbalance to the O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed that it had run earlier in the month. Rather than finding someone, anyone, from the foreign policy community that could offer a rebuttal to O’Hanlon and Pollack, they went for the more symbolically charged contribution of war veterans.