Flip-flop? I think not

I was passed this link by a reader: Aid and Comfort. He wrote:

Is the American Legion providing aid and comfort to our enemies?

This is a valid question, I guess, since the link notes this story about the American Legion voting unanimously to “stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples”. Then we see a letter written to the President with a list of four points that the American Legion feels must be met before using military force and this admonishment:

It is the opinion of The American Legion, which I am sure is shared by the majority of Americans, that three of the above listed conditions have not been met

after beginning with

The American Legion, a wartime veterans organization of nearly three-million members, urges the immediate withdrawal of American troops

Quite a contradiction, no?

Well, yes and no.

You see, the letter to the President was written in 1999 regarding Operation “Allied Force” in the Yugoslav region. So while these two positions taken by the American Legion may appear to be contradictory IF VIEWED IN AN UTTER AND COMPLETE VACUUM, I humbly suggest that perhaps a thing or two has changed in the world since 1999.

(Yes, there will be those who maintain that 9/11 didn’t “change the world” but only “changed America’s view of the world”, but you gotta admit that changing America’s view of the world changes the world.)

Another difference between 1999 and 2005 is the fact that providing “aid and comfort” to our enemies today in Iraq runs the very real risk of endangering our people due to the nature of our presence on the ground among the population. In 1999 our fighter and bomber pilots were not nearly as exposed to backlash from locals or at risk from enemy militants aided by a potentially-hostile citizenry.

Regarding previous military action between Desert Storm and 9/11, I was just talking recently about how I had been opposed to the use of US Marines in Somalia when deployed there by the first President Bush in 1992. I saw it as an African problem and not worth our time, money, effort, or lives. I didn’t see how, had it been the mission or indeed even possible, that a stable and friendly Somalia really helped us in any way. But as I became more aware of what was really going on there, I began to see that “with great power comes great responsibility” and that sometimes you need to help people simply because they cannot help themselves.

By the time of the Battle of Mogadishu, I was firmly on the side of using our strength to do right for those who were weak. And I stood slack-jawed as we retreated after the street brawl.

I was skeptical of some things about the whole Kosovo/Yugoslavia/Bosnia/Wherever situation, but I fully supported the removal of Milosevic and peace-keeping missions in various places. Although some of the “wag the dog” arguments seemed compelling, I never put a whole lot of stock in them. I figure it was hyping something that was real to draw attention away from other more unsavory news, not creating a situation out of thin air.

As far as Haiti and the ever-unpopular nation building exercises in various places, I wanted at the time to have military-ish types of organizations to do that sort of work, not front-line combat troops. I think we’re seeing the value of that approach as we struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan to accomplish what we’ve set out to do. I was never against “nation building” as such, and I also noted some remarks by Michael Kinsley of Slate in September of 2003. Kinsley had wanted to know when Bush was going to apologize about his disparaging remarks regarding “nation building” during the 2000 election campaign. I cut and pasted a remark I had made earlier that year, and I’ll do so again this time:

But in 2000, remember, we were all looking back at Haiti, at Kosovo, and at a humiliating withdrawal from Somalia after many lost the stomach to win. We weren’t looking ahead toward four hijacked airliners and thousands of dead American citizens in September of 2001. President Bush, and the rest of America, has learned some hard lessons in the past year and a half, and our eyes are opened to the possibilities, even the probabilities, of more terror in the years to come. Bush would probably have used different words if he had known then what he knows now. Regardless, the question doesn’t explain anyone’s opposition to the war in Iraq. It’s merely partisan, which is just politics, and petty, which is just pedestrian.

The world has changed a lot. Even since September of 2003. It continues to change and won’t ever stop.

So while pointing out this apparent flip-flop by the American Legion is certainly fun for pundits and wanna-bes, I guess I just don’t see how it really applies to what’s going on today.


  1. So when CAN we expect people to be consistent? All someone has to do is say ‘things are different’ and they will no longer be held to account for everything they’ve previously said? Sounds easy. Have you said anything about Mrs. Sheehan having already had her chance to talk with Bush? Well, she had some time to reflect and now things are different. You give yourself room to change your mind about things in hindsight. Do you think the UN deserves the same right? Clinton? I don’t wannabe a blogger, either.

  2. First, the ‘wanna-be’ comment was not directed to you. My apologies if it appeared that way. I correct the record here. (I’m a ‘wanna-be’, though…) Anyway, you can’t just ‘say ‘things are different”. They actually have to BE different. 1) Here’s an example related to another of my posts today: I’m opposed to the ACLU’s attempt to strip the power of ‘no-fly’ lists. (That’s an over-simplification of their postion, to be sure…) If tomorrow I up and say that I changed my mind and I now support their lawsuits, I’ve contradicted myself. If the no-fly lists suddenly begin barring 25% of flyers for no apparent reason and airport officials begin exercising personal authority using the no-fly lists as a personal weapon, I’m also likely to change my view and throw my support behind the ACLU. But that’s not really contradictory to what I say today about the issue. 2) For the record, I HAVE changed my position on Cindy Sheehan. I initially thought she was being manipulated by the media and anti-war groups. Now, after she has published many additional op-eds and made many additional public appearances it seems clear that she’s a very willing participant and very clear about what she’s doing. So while I think something different today than I did before and you can dig up quotes proving it, if you look at the whole picture you will quickly realize that there is a valid reason for the switch and that I’m not just using ‘things are different’…they really are different. 3) In the fifth inning, down 3-1, a sports announcer says the home team’s batting looks pathetic. Then they hit three home runs and score seven during the sixth inning and he says ‘Wow! The offense is just too much for the opposing pitcher!’. Has he contradicted himself? 4) Along these lines, I beleive that digging up quotes from 1998 and 1999 by Democrat politicians about the danger of Iraq’s WMD programs are a very valid ‘gotcha’ because nothing really changed (at least as far as anyone anywhere could tell) between that time and late 2002. That would be saying ‘things are different’ when nothing’s really all that different. As far as reflecting and hindsight goes…that’s exactly what I was getting at when I noted the deployment of US forces to Somalia and how my view on that changed over the course of the mission. And I was contradicting myself and it’s a fair cop to say so. That puts the burden on me to explain why I’ve changed my stance, and I beleive that I did so in the post. It won’t convince everyone, of course. But I’ve tried to be clear and have demonstrated a reason for my change. So the burden is on Cindy Sheehan to explain her contradiction of her earlier statements, but I have yet to see anything even remotely convincing. Well, besides hearing about how she’s since learned that it’s all about the oooiiil and the Joooooos…

  3. I agree that the context is important, but the rules need to be the same all the way around. I think that the burden is on the American Legion to explain why their opinions are different and it has to be convincing to me. Are you concerned about the apparent inconsistency from this administration on whether bin Laden is important or not? I’ve not heard any good explanations on that. Regarding Ms. Sheehan, are you sure you are not furthering an incorrect quote attributed to her regarding ‘the Jooooos’? In the interest of journalistic integrity you should source that quote and also note that she claims it is not correct. I think you are also disregarding the main question she has been trying to ask: what are the troops dying for over there? Not in ambiguous amber waves of platitudes about freedom and democracy, but in real, plain-speaking practical terms. You at least have the courage to admit that you think it is worth it for the permanent bases. I disagree with that, but respect your honesty. I’ve not heard that kind of courage from anyone in the administration. Tangential: Does it give you pause that the rhetoric has been that we’re over in afghanistan and Iraq so that we don’t have to fight in NYC or London, yet al Qaeda (it is presumed) attacked London?

  4. I think the administration has been clear on more than one occasion when asked why the shift in position on ‘nation building.’ The President’s answered the question directly, more than once. Yes, his short answer is ‘9/11 changed everything,’ and that’s quite true. Many of us say the same thing. But he’s given the longer answer too–that we can’t afford to ignore the breeding grounds of terrorism and we need to change the conditions that allow terrorists to prosper. Asking the President’s critics the same question seems utterly fair to my mind: this is what you were saying then, why have you changed your tune now? Possibly this has been done and I’ve missed it–if so just let me know. Part of this may be that for some of us, we had the EXACT same change of heart that Murdoc described, and we didn’t need lengthy explanations–we understood it perfectly. My change of heart occurred after 9/11–I was still against almost all foreign interventionism until then. I’d opposed the first gulf war. I’d opposed Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, all of it. ZIP POW. Within a short time after 9/11, I changed my mind about all of it. Clinton was right. Poppa Bush was right too, his only mistake being selling out the Iraqi people by encouraging a revolt and not supporting one. I understand why he did it but it was still wrong. But pretty much *all* the Clinton interventions were good ideas, even if some of them were poorly executed. (And they wre NOT all poorly executed by the way, just some of them.)

  5. [[Poppa Bush was right too, his only mistake being selling out the Iraqi people by encouraging a revolt and not supporting one. I understand why he did it but it was still wrong.]] Wow. I am with you 100%. 110%, even. [[But pretty much *all* the Clinton interventions were good ideas, even if some of them were poorly executed. (And they wre NOT all poorly executed by the way, just some of them.)]] Grumble grumble..yeah…you’re right…grumble grumble…

  6. Although I was 110% behind Desert Fox at the time. Generally, to be honest, I was behind almost all of the interventions at the time…I just thought we were doing it wrong or too lightly in most cases. Always been a bit of a warmonger, I guess…

  7. ++I think that the burden is on the American Legion to explain why their opinions are different and it has to be convincing to me.++ Yep. I agree. To be honest, I think it’s readily apparent for the reasons I’ve already given. But it would be a fair quest

  8. (And regarding Sheehan I might be totally barking up the wrong tree. I think I’ve read about two blog posts on the issue, and those were only in the very early days of the story. Everything I know about the story (which isn’t much) has been from a couple of mainstream media stories with transcripts of TV appearances or right from her op-ed written at some point which I pointed out at the time. What I’ve read, though, seems to make it very clear that she’s lost it. That’s not really fair to say, though, since I have so little knowledge. I really don’t have any interest, which is why I haven’t written about it. I still don’t think it’s a real story.)

  9. Bosnia I thought at one time was Clinton’s worst mistake, and it turns out to have been his greatest triumph. Mind you the place still has its problems, but it is materially light years ahead of where it was, and we haven’t taken a single casualty there in years. And while it’s 40% muslim, no one thinks of it as a breeding ground for terrorists–because it isn’t.

  10. Wow, I have to say, I respect Murdoc and (most of) the commenters on this site. Of all the media sites/blogs I’ve read, this is pretty much the only one with people who are actually using their brains and being sensible. It’s not just ‘Bush sucks!’ ‘No, Clinton sucks!’ like 99% of the others. I may not agree with everything everyone says but at least there’s reasoning and logic behind it :)

  11. Upon re-reading it occurs to me that I neglected to mention what had been my original thought upon first reading the note. The reader gave the message a subject line of ‘Is the American Legion providing aid and comfort to our enemies?’ when in fact it should have been (from his point of view) ‘WAS the American Legion providing aid and comfort to our enemies?’ I think I’ve made pretty clear why the change in the American Legion’s attitude between 1999 and 2005 is not the contradiction that some may hope to see, but EVEN IF IT WAS the burden would then fall on critics to explain why the ‘aid and comfort’ provided by the AL in 1999 matters today and what it means about today’s American Legion. If this were the case, it seems to me that the easy out would be to say ‘Yep. They were probably wrong in 1999. But they’re right today.’

  12. Surely (may I call you Shirley?) the Whiskey bar post was clipped to try to highlight the stuff he thought most made his case against the AL. And the AL logo with Jane Fonda is bizarre. The post merely brought the topic to attention. And in my mind it brought attention to whether the AL was in the business of supporting the troops, or a political party. I think an argument can be made that maybe the AL got it then. Their demands: That there be a clear statement by the President of why it is in our vital national interests to be engaged in hostilities; Guidelines be established for the mission, including a clear exit strategy; That there be support of the mission by the U.S. Congress and the American people;… These sound like the critics of the current war, don’t they? I’m not entirely convinced that the event that changed things was the 9/11 attacks rather than the change in administration from Democrat to Republican. It is also possible that the leadership of the AL changed, of course.