(CCU Faculty) Consider the following two quotes summarizing two polls, one from October of 2006 and the other from October 2010. Both polls concerned American’s level of support for the war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The latest poll from CNN and Opinion Research Corporation found only 37% of all Americans favor the war, 52% say the war in Afghanistan has turned into a Vietnam.” --October 2010
“Pew's latest nationwide survey finds 58% of the public saying that the U.S. military effort in Iraq is not going well, and a 47% plurality believes the war in Iraq is hurting, not helping, the war on terrorism.” --October 2006
What is the big difference between campaign 2006 and campaign 2010? It was the use (in the case of 2010, the absence of such use) by the challenging party to manipulate negative public sentiment of the war effort for temporary political gain. Before going on, it is acknowledged that Republicans have indeed used the war for political gain and are as guilty as those Democrats who did the same. Republicans who questioned the patriotism of those Democrats who earnestly and honestly opposed the Iraq war effort are just as guilty of degrading our nation’s politics.
Having said that, our concern here is with how the Democrats used our country’s struggles in the midst of the war effort for political gain, using it as the central platform of their 2006 campaign. This specifically concerns Democrats who originally supported the war effort when it was politically expedient, then changed their positions when public opinion turned. These are the folks who clamored: “Bush Lied,” after earlier stating publicly that Saddam Hussein did indeed have WMD. These are the folks who voted “for the war, before voting against the war.” These are the folks who decided to use the issue for campaign advantage when public support for the war had dropped to its lowest point in 2006 and who are silent today, when their party is controlling the White House.
Every war effort experiences numerous “ups and downs.” Especially during the “downs,” it is essential for a nation to maintain morale in order to realize ultimate success. The stories of Washington rallying his troops when many were ready to quit; of Lincoln’s famous July 4th speech before a joint session of Congress on why it was essential to preserve the Union; and of Roosevelt’s frequent communications to the nation on why we must win the Second World War, are examples of why it is essential to unify a nation during a time of war. Without maintaining the morale of the troops, the support of the political leadership and the confidence of the citizenry, no war effort can be successful in America’s representative system of government. The example of Vietnam is of course the best example as to what happens when this support is lost.
When the war effort in Iraq turned from early successes to frequent struggles, the willingness of Democrats to use it as a wedge issue in an effort to divide the country for temporary political gain was both disturbing and telling. At the time when maintaining support was most critical, many Democrats, and certainly the party leaders (Pelosi, Reid, Obama, Clinton, Kennedy, etc.) were the first to turn against the war effort. Of course, they always equivocated with: “support for the troops,” while refusing to support the Commander in Chief and the decision to use force (even though most originally did!).
Jump forward four years, when we find President Obama in the midst of his own “surge” in the Afghan war. In recent months, we have seen struggles similar to those experienced by American troops four years earlier in Iraq. American and ally casualties are at all-time monthly highs and public opinion about the war is at an all-time low.
Republicans who originally supported the war are not using the issue to divide the country, as the Democrats did in 2006. It would be easy to lay blame for our current struggles solely at the feet of the Commander in Chief. It would be hypocritical for those who voted for the use of force in Afghanistan to now turn and rally public sentiment against the war, merely for their own political gain. If only the Democrats of 2006 had shown the same character as the Republicans are showing today.