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It's Time to Toughen Up, Unify, and Rally the Home Front:
Why We Should Be Willing to Accept the Costs of A Difficult War, Including Substantial Numbers of Casualties


Saturday, Mar. 29, 2003

George W. Bush is deadly serious about protecting America from terrorists and the rogue regimes that support them. Indeed, he took an oath, under the Constitution, to do just that - protect America.

The President invoked that oath when he gave a 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein: "The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security. That duty falls to me as Commander in Chief by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep."

But the President cannot fulfill his duty unless the American public fulfills its duty: to support him. Unfortunately, some indications suggest Americans may be inclined to shirk or question that duty.

We Need to Accept that This War Will Not Be Like the Gulf War

As Former Vietnam POW, and now Senator, John McCain has reminded us, Americans have not seen war casualties in 12 years - since the Gulf War, when casualties were relatively few. Moreover, Americans have not experienced large numbers of war casualties in 30 years - since the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile, with unprecedented, "real time" media of the Iraq war, each American casualty and POW has been exhaustively covered - impressing the war's costs indelibly and repeatedly onto the public mind. For instance, within hours of Iraqi television's exploiting video of executed soldiers and injured POWs, U.S. television programs were exploiting the soldiers' shocked, grieving family members with "how does it feel?" interviews.

Of course, each casualty and POW deserves our profound honor, respect, and attention. But so do the benefits of war.

Currently, the coverage of casualties and POWs is dwarfing coverage of the reasons we went to war in the first place - the risk of Saddam Hussein's having, and using, weapons of mass destruction, and the oppression he has inflicted on the Iraqi people. It is also overshadowing the fact that Coalition forces have had remarkable success thus far in the Iraqi liberation effort

No wonder, then, that the prospect of large numbers of Coalition casualties in the war on Iraq makes some Americans pause. But it's important to stress that the number of Coalition casualties in the Gulf War was unusually modest - generally, war has a substantial blood cost, and this war is likely to be no different than most. In addition, the duration of the Gulf War was unusually brief.

For these reasons, the Gulf War is no model - or standard - for this war. Rather, the home front, and especially the media, must toughen up to accept U.S. casualties and prisoners of war. We must also understand that the war will be long, and the Battle for Baghdad will be difficult It will certainly bring increased Coalition losses and unavoidable Iraqi civilian casualties, as well. Indeed, these costs may be profound if Saddam Hussein uses chemical weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction.

The President's Need to Draw on the American People's "Common Strength

Our founders wisely vested all national executive authority - domestic and foreign - in a single person. Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution provides that "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America."

This focusing of power presents a paradox: On one hand, the President is the nation's most powerful person by far. He (or she) embodies, in a sense, an entire branch of government. On the other hand, the President is nothing without the American people's support. And this principle is nowhere more true than in time of war.

As Alexander Hamilton stated in Federalist No. 74: "Of all the cares or concerns of government, the direction of war ... distinguish[es] the exercise of power by a single hand. The direction of war implies the direction of the common strength; and the power of directing and employing the common strength, forms a usual and essential part in the definition of the executive authority."

Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrates that President Bush fully embraces his constitutional charge to employ and direct our "common strength." But for him to be able to do so, the strength of Americans must be behind him.

We Can Have the Right to Dissent and Critique, But Still Decide Not to Do So

In the eighteen months since September 11, 2001, President Bush has consistently charged the world either to "be for us or against us."

In a sense, that is his challenge to the American people as well. It's time for the American public to support the President in his campaign - especially since not all of America's purported allies have done so.

Longtime allies have repaid American blood sacrifice with worse-than-expected cowardice. The new Germany seems to have learned the old French art of surrender-before-engagement, and France, too, is running true to historical form. And sadly, our new potential ally, Russia, has added insult to injury by continuing to lie about the sale of sophisticated military technology to Hussein's terrorist regime.

When allies betray and disappoint, we should be able to count on the American people to be loyal and true. Mostly, that is the case. But some dissenting voices have marred our unity.

With American soldiers already in harm's way, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle recklessly charged that George Bush had "failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war." As Senator Rick Santorum responded, "I think Senator Daschle clearly articulated the French position."

Of course, Daschle has a right to his views, and a right to express them - he speaks for his Party in the Senate. But attacking a President when he most needs support shows, among other things, strange judgment.

Meanwhile, Daschle is not alone. Thirty-two House Democrats shockingly refused to vote for a simple support resolution for U.S. troops. So much for "common strength." Even those who do not support the war ought at least to support the men and women who risk their lives for the rest of us.

The Democrats' dissent has only emboldened and encouraged others in their anti-war protests. Flags are desecrated as Coalition troops die to bring freedom and liberty to the Iraqi people - and to ensure the security of the nations of the Coalition.

The Importance Of Seeing War's Benefits, Not Just Its Costs

Democrats and antiwar protesters have also complained about the financial cost of war. When the Bush Administration formally offered Congress a war and homeland security budget supplement of $ 75 billion, antiwar critics quickly labeled the projected costs an unacceptable, staggering burden.

Of course, it is a significant expenditure. But, in our constitutional order, isn't national security the primary reason that we finance a national government? Security is the foundation for everything else we spend money on - the foundation, indeed, for society itself. Security is fundamental.

Moreover, security is far from the war's only benefit. There is also the benefit of liberty for the Iraqi people, and for others in the Middle East who will no longer have to contend with the threat of a brutal neighboring dictatorship armed with weapons of mass destruction. As the President has noted, while the costs of war are high, its benefits are "immeasurable - how do you measure the benefit of freedom?"

War will bring with it responsibility. Just as we proudly pay the price for war, we should also gladly sponsor our share of aid, as we endeavor to rebuild Iraq and foster the creation of liberal democracy there, and throughout the Middle East.

As Alexander Hamilton foresaw, our ultimate victory in war will only come from full employment of our "common strength." Dissenters who are quick to complain, and loath to express support, need to think about whether they are merely detracting from that needed strength. And media entities whose coverage plays into antiwar arguments, without considering strong pro-war rationales, should consider the same question.

Victor Williams teaches, and is Director of the Lawyering Skills Program, at the Catholic University 's School of Law in Washington, D.C. He holds a J.D. from the University of California--Hastings and LL.M. from the Columbia University Law School. He is currently completing advanced coursework in Law & Economics at George Mason University's School of Law. Mr. Williams can be reached at

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