Bush Envies Afghanistan Troops

President Bush said he was envious of our troops in Afghanistan and would love to be there if he were only younger and not otherwise engaged being president.

In a videoconference, Bush heard from U.S. military and civilian personnel about the challenges ranging from fighting local government and police corruption to persuading farmers to abandon a lucrative poppy drug trade for other crops.

Bush heard tales of all-night tea drinking sessions to coax local residents into cooperating, and of tribesmen crossing mountains to attend government meetings seen as building blocks for the country’s democracy-in-the-making.

“I must say, I’m a little envious,” Bush said. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.”

“It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks,” Bush said.

My immediate, cynical reaction was that this it is an easy thing to say, if not insulting to those enduring great hardship and danger. Certainly, it’s an impolitic thing to say, since it will immediately raise questions about his actions when he was young and free to go off to war. Some of the soldiers and Marines — and probably all of the civilians — likely had the same reaction.

Having been in the military as a young man, and knowing quite a few who are still serving, though, my guess is that the remarks had the intended impact of bolstering morale and pride. As jaded as most of us become as we get older, there is a great sense of adventure among young volunteer soldiers. And much less cynicism about such lines as “helping this young democracy succeed.”

When Operation Just Cause started in late 1989, I was just a few weeks into my first assignment as a platoon leader in Germany. To a man, we lieutenants were upset at “missing out” on a mission that others “got” to participate in. Similarly, when we deployed for Desert Shield in 1990, most of us were excited about the prospect.

As a grad student a couple of years later, we were questioning the need for the Panama invasion, which we dubbed “Operation Just ’cause” and assessing the diplomatic moves that might have been done to prevent Desert Shield from morphing into Desert Storm. But that’s a civilian mindset. Soldiers don’t want war but when their country is at war, they want to be part of it. It is, after all, what they’ve trained for.

Of course, things are different now than when I served. The battalion commander who took us to southwest Asia had spent the first seventeen years of his career in a peacetime Army. We’ve now had substantial military operations going on since the early 1990s and two major regional conflicts going on for over five years. The troops are tired and less eager, certainly. And the older ones, especially those with families whose lives are being disrupted, are less gung ho still.

Even so, most of the soldiers I’ve worked with and talked to (mostly mid-career and senior officers) are still remarkably optimistic about their missions. Afghanistan more so than Iraq, understandably, but even Iraq. The ones who stay in and make a career of military service are remarkably less cynical and more cheerful than their civilian cohorts. While older and wiser, they still maintain much of the sunny outlook of their younger selves.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. LaurenceB says:

    You knew this was coming. Here it is:

    “Every so often, he would take off work to fly with the National Guard. His entree to the Guard had come through Ben Barnes, then the lieutenant governor of Texas, who has said that he helped get Mr. Bush, among other well-connected young men, a slot at the request of a Bush family friend. When Mr. Bush applied, in 1968, one of the forms he filled out asked if he would volunteer for overseas duty; he checked “I ‘do not’ volunteer for overseas.”

    – NYTimes, 9-20-2004

    Sorry to bring up old wounds. I personally don’t have anything against someone who tried to avoid the Vietnam War – including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. But I think once you’ve had a chance to volunteer, and chosen not to, you forfeit the right to pretend you would volunteer now, if only you could.

    That just seems like common sense.

  2. Beldar says:

    I think one has to be very cynical indeed to see anything in this statement other than admiration for the job our military personnel are doing.

    But as the first commenter has already demonstrated, there are some who insist on distorting the most innocuous statements from Pres. Bush in order to support their views about him, whether fair and factually well founded or not. (I’m going to resist the temptation to provide a bit of counter context right now.)

  3. Anderson says:

    As commander in chief, I’m sure Bush can make an exception for himself, and I would encourage him to do so.

  4. jay k. says:

    as is so typical of this guy, his actions speak much louder than his words. when he had a chance to fight for his country he pulled every string not too. now he just thinks about how cool he looked with that top-gun cod-piece. what a pussy this guy is. despicable.

  5. grampagravy says:

    I think one has to be very cynical indeed to see anything in this statement other than admiration for the job our military personnel are doing.

    Accurately identifying and labeling B.S. as B.S. is not cynicism, it’s reality.

  6. mike says:

    James – I am guessing that you speak to mostly mid/senior officers at the Pentagon and surrounding parts who are optimistic. I rarely come across another company grade officer who has something good to say about Iraq (though there is a lot of optimism about Afghan). At best people just roll their eyes and at worst a lot of profanity is used to describe the situation, leadership etc… There is still no real support for a pullout due to what will happen, but there is clearly no optimism.

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    Is my memory faulty? I could have swore the people of the United States considered the Vietnam war an unjust war, a war with no clear objective and a war some didn’t want to fight 100%. Given the way the war was viewed is it possible many in the armed services during that time didn’t want to go if given a choice?

    The Afghan war is now viewed as a noble war, a war we should be fighting, a war against some of the most brutal people in the world. Would not most soldiers be more inclined to fight in such a just war?

    There’s a real difference here to those who open their eyes and look beyond the politics.

  8. James Joyner says:

    you speak to mostly mid/senior officers at the Pentagon and surrounding parts who are optimistic

    They’re my peer group. Those commissioned with me in 1988 are putting in their retirement papers.

    But I’ve certainly talked to plenty of majors and lieutenant colonels who’ve done tours in Iraq who are optimistic and can-do. That doesn’t mean that they think things are going swimmingly, just that they blame problems on politicians here and there. Even in Vietnam, most officers thought the problem was that they weren’t being given the tools to do their job, not the job itself.

  9. jay k. says:

    so steve…
    you are saying that bush avoided the draft because he felt it was an unjust war? should the half of the troops that think iraq is fubar just opt out?

  10. Martin says:

    And a few days ago at the Gridiron dinner, Bush sang a “funny” tune to an adoring audience about pardoning Scooter Libby and about Dick Cheney shredding documents and losing emails.

    Earlier that day, 8 American soldiers lost their lives in Iraq. And this guy is in Washington hamming it up about what a political hack he is.

  11. Warpublican says:

    “Given the way the war was viewed is it possible many in the armed services during that time didn’t want to go if given a choice?”

    Nice try – many many young men went to fight in Vietnam voluntarily – to suggest that Bush would’ve gone – had the war only played better in Peoria, is a far more cynical statement and PURE political cover. If there’s one major difference betwen our war in ‘Nam and the one in Afghanistan, is that Vietnam was very dangerous and unpleasant, and Afghanistan is a cake walk – uder 500 war deaths in 7 years – it’s safer than driving on a US Highway!

  12. AreBe says:

    That anyone (Beldar) would think that the Bush remarks were anything other than the delusional mental wanderings of the ultimate cowardly bully, is simply incredible.
    To the young raised to believe that defending (under fire) the nation is the highest honor in life, participation in a war is both exciting and romantic. I know this as in 1968, I was invited to serve. I made the choice to serve in the USAF. By 1969, the romantic war images that I grew up with came up against accounts of vets returning from Viet Nam and I volunteered to go. Bush had the same opportunity that I did at the time, when he was both young and “excited”. He did everything he could (quite successfully) to avoid the excitement and romance of his day, and now he has the audacity to say how nice it would be. . .
    How nice it must be to give into romantic thoughts of combat when 60 years and the might of the planets sole superpower stand between you and actual jeopardy.
    A creature beneath contempt slips lower.

  13. cian says:

    I could have swore the people of the United States considered the Vietnam war an unjust war,

    If Steve can provide us with a quote from Bush claiming the Vietnam war was an unjust war, then maybe he has a point. Otherwise its just the usual head in the sand and ass in the air stance taken by die hard Bush supporters (what is it now, 25% or something?)

  14. wmforr says:

    Perhaps after totally mismanaging a war on two fronts and destroying the VA hospital system, Butch should give the same speech to patients at Walter Reed, telling them how romantic he thinks their missing limbs and PTSS are.

  15. davod says:

    I prefer to think that Bush was being entirely honest.

    However, and considering the response to this entry, I could be entirely wrong.

    Bush was actually tweaking the Bush Derangement Syndrome crowd so they can have an unproductive weekend bashing their foreheads against each other.

    Then again, maybe this was just his way of giving back to the American Psychiatric Association for all the campaign donations over the years.

  16. ibfamous says:

    maybe i missed the point, but this enty seemed to be less about george and more about those who serve and as such i found it to be positive and much as i remember my time in service.

  17. davod says:

    I prefer to think that Bush was praising the troops for their work. However, and considering the response to this entry, I could be entirely wrong.

    Bush was actually tweaking the Bush Derangement Syndrome crowd so they can have an unproductive weekend bashing their foreheads against each other.

    Then agian, maybe this was just his way of giving back to the American Psychiatric Association for all the campaign donations over the years.

  18. jay k. says:

    the only bush derangment syndrome is inherent in those who support him.

  19. deadhorse1066 says:

    Bush is a gutless coward. Just like the majority of his supporters. Always willing to let someone else die for their stupidity and greed. I will re-enlist if I can goad Bush and Cheney up the hill with my bayonet.

  20. anjin-san says:

    Bush is a guy who talks about how much ass “we” are kicking in Iraq, while he sitting at a desk surrounded by elite bodyguards. Could the man be a bigger joke? The only problem is that it is not funny, just tragic…

  21. Bruce Moomaw says:

    I must say that I rather admire Joyner’s and Beldar’s ingenuity in trying to make Bush’s comment out as anything other than disgusting.

  22. Bruce Moomaw says:

    As for Beldar’s denial that LaurenceB’s statement is “factually well founded”: well, let’s just drag out, once again, that famous quote from the #1 Source himself. Bush to the Dallas Morning News (2-25-90): “I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I decided to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes.”

    Now, how can you possibly doubt the patriotic fervor of a man like that? As for his latest statement, I see that Fred Kaplan finds it as repulsive (and bizarre) as I do, and for the same obvious reasons: http://www.slate.com/id/2186554/ .

  23. davod says:

    To follow up on my earlier post, and in response to the later posters, the psychiatrists will be happy on Monday with all the walk-ins.

  24. bob dobbs says:

    Let’s see, John Kerry volunteered for 2 hitches in Nam, was wounded twice and won a bronze star, and was excoriated by the neo-cons as somehow not having served honorably and your boy bush had his rich daddy get him into the champagne squadron which he went awol from and then deserted. And now he insults the troops and gets yet another free pass. Perhaps he could send his daughters for a little romantic adventure.

  25. davod says:

    He is not my Bush. I just think it is a pity that the BDSers have so little left in their lives that they eagerly pounce on the most innocuous statements. Come January 2009, there will be a severe depression across the country, and I do not mean economic. Sign up in advance for counseling because the rates will go up.

    As for neo-cons condemning Senator Kerry. I seem to remember the main proponents of Kerry’s Vietnam War problems were Vietnam era members of his USN boat squadron. Some of whom were life long Democrats.

    Never forget that some of those critical of kerry were prisoners of the North Vietnamese. Prisoners who were on the receiving end of the North Vietnamese response to his testimony to Congress in 1971, when Kerry asserted that the US troops “raped, cut off ears, cut off heads . . . razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.”

  26. Beldar says:

    The point of Bush’s comments was to commend our armed forces.

    One way of commending someone is to say: “I wish I could do what you’re doing.” A closely equivalent sentence would be: “Anyone who share these values would have grounds to be proud of himself if he were doing what you’re doing.” Stated either way, the object of the observation is the person from our armed forces being referenced.

    Critics are reading this statement as though Bush’s focus were on himself, and his intention were to laud himself, i.e., as if he had said: “I’m as praise-worthy as you members of our armed forces because I’d be doing the same thing you’re doing if only circumstances permitted.” You’re reading his statement of praise for others as being a statement of personal boasting, because only then can you belittle the supposed boaster.

    I do genuinely pity those many of you who are filled with corrosive hatred, whether it’s for George W. Bush or anyone else.

  27. Beldar says:

    Mr. Dobbs: Kerry claims to have been wounded not twice, but three times (it was his three Purple Hearts that let him abort his one-year Swift Boats command after only a few weeks), and he received not only the Bronze Star but the Silver Star. Some of us who paid much closer attention than you did to the specifics of his record ended up being much less impressed. (For example: None of his three wounds required more than a band-aid, one was admittedly accidentally self-inflicted (the grenade in the rice pile), and one of the others occurred with a suspicious absence of required documentation that it was the result of enemy action.) But that’s not the issue.

    Bush never ran as a war hero, and he, for one, was quick to give credit to those who served in combat, including Kerry. He wasn’t boasting here, but rather, once again, was praising our troops in combat.

  28. Robert in BA says:

    Bush is never honest.
    If he were, he’d have said “You soldiers are the best pawns a guy could ever have.”

  29. Beldar says:

    Why am I not surprised to see from Technorati that this post was linked from Salon.com?

    Talk about your vectors of blogospheric BDS pathology ….

  30. James Joyner says:

    Why am I not surprised to see from Technorati that this post was linked from Salon.com?

    I’m linked pretty regularly on their “Blog Report” (formerly “Daou Report”) which rounds up 8-10 posts from the Left and 8-10 posts from the Right every day. I’m atop the Right list for yesterday: “http://blogreport.salon.com//” (not permalinked, so I’ll drop off on the next update)

  31. Some time’s we all think in that way of thinking and when it come to doing the right thing’s in this world of having ideas on which way a person go to,but the point that need to be make is that Mr Bush is one of the better president we have have in the last few year.

  32. Alan says:

    I would have considerably more respect for Mr. Bush if he would in fact volunteer for a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan in some more or less front-line capacity, effective January 2009. After all the sacrifices our troops have made, and will continue to make, this would represent a profound gesture on his part and silence his critics. However, if he is not willing to make any personal sacrifices for what he claims to believe in, then he should stop pretending to be a hero.

  33. Lisa says:

    I find it hilarious that a wingnut who, by definition, suffers from deep rooted Clinton Derangement Syndrome would even DARE to say that someone has Bush Derangement Syndrome. Maybe some folks do find him so odious that they are deranged. But I just find him, and those who admire him to be rather amusing.

    When Bush loathers successfully launch a thousand craptacular books: “exposes” about Bush and his illegitimate secret black children, rapes, supposedly murdered friends, and supposedly shrieking harridan of a spouse, then we will talk about derangement.

    I mean come on, all you have to do is read anything published by Regenry in the last 15 years to see true, spittle flecked, wild-eyed derangement.