A proud Army parent believes Bush misled us about Iraq war

April 15, 2004|By DAN RODRICKS

I STEPPED briefly into a discussion between a father in suburban Baltimore and his only son, stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. The discussion took place by e-mail, cell phone and Nextel. The subject was war in Iraq. It was a surprising e-mail from the dad -- "The proud parent of a member of the elite 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army" -- that got things started.

"I hate to call the president of the United States a liar," the father said, but that's exactly what David Robinette thinks of George W. Bush. He thinks Bush deceived us on the reasons for war and that the mission there is terribly flawed. He's not voting for Bush again in November.

The son, Spc. Daniel Robinette, doesn't go there; he won't state a political view or a judgment about his commander in chief. "I have opinions," he says, "and I'm sure a lot of people in the military had negative opinions about the war when we went over there. But it's not my job [to question the reasons for the war]. When they say, `Go up the hill,' it's, `Roger,' and up the hill."

But the son will give this much -- he thinks U.S. combat troops no longer belong in Iraq; what's needed is a peacekeeping force.

"If we're trying to get everyone on board over there with peace, what we need is a peacekeeper force, not a combat force," says 22-year-old Daniel from Fort Bragg, where he returned with the 82nd Airborne in January after taking part in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. "Most of the units over there, the Marines, are not trained to be police [for a peacekeeping mission]. They're combat units."

So maybe a multinational force, maybe one with blue helmets, should take over.

Which means we couldn't "stay the course," as President Bush keeps saying, but would need to let someone else -- the very international community we dissed when the whole thing started -- take the point.

That doesn't appear to be in the offing, however. The president sounded stubborn, in his stumbling way -- "One of my hardest parts of my job is to console the family members who have lost their life" -- Tuesday night, and escalated the stakes in Iraq from security for the United States and a quest for WMD to "freedom for the world."

Soon-to-be-Sergeant Robinette's father, meanwhile, isn't buying it anymore.

"It is clear that the president lied to us -- to Americans and also to the world community of nations," says the dad, a retired police officer, from his home in Pasadena, south of Baltimore. "Worst of all, he lied to our troops."

The father expressed his strong views in an e-mail to this columnist last week.

"I want to assure you that it is not un-American, and definitely not disrespectful of military members or families, to question the government's decision to prosecute a war on foreign soil," David Robinette wrote. "In fact, it is your duty as a citizen to do exactly that. The citizens of this country are entitled to some answers about the war."

Nobody, including Robinette's son, "joins the Armed Forces of the United States for the purpose of dying for his country.

"The only thing the men and women who fight or support the fighters on the ground want is a clear, obtainable objective, and the tools needed to achieve it. If you give them those two things, they will win -- every time. You can bet your life on it.

"America's all-volunteer military ... thought they had that in Iraq.

"My son listened as General Tommy Franks told the troops assembled in Kuwait in February, 2003: `The road home goes right through Baghdad.' So did 150,000 other soldiers and Marines. Then, they went out and drove straight into Baghdad, took it in three days, and established American military quarters in Saddam Hussein's palaces.

"But like everyone else in America and the world, General Franks had been misled. Now the results of that are evident.

"I am no `bleeding-heart liberal' by any stretch," Robinette added, referring to the cliche that's been used to describe Americans who, among other things, worked to end the country's last misguided war. "But I thought my generation had forever ended the ability of any American president to assume that he alone could wage war without the consent and support of a majority of American citizens. I thought Vietnam had ended that notion.

"I thought that the military doctrine that came to be known as the `Powell Doctrine' of war-fighting had taken permanent root in the Pentagon. I thought that, in Robert McNamara, we had seen the last defense secretary who presumed that he knew more about war-fighting than his generals. ...

"If the members of the Congress could set aside politics for just one moment, and simply represent the people who elected them, they would impeach the president and remove him from office. They would end funding for this occupation."

Of course, it's an election year. No need to raise impeachment when everyone gets to vote in November.

"At least this year," David Robinette closed, "I will have a new experience in my old life. For the first time, I will vote for the Democrat candidate for president of the United States. And if the current president is taking for granted the votes of the military community, he just may wake up on November 3 as a lame duck."

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