Jenna? Barbara? Your war is waiting

The Iraq war used to have plenty of supporters. Why aren't more of them signing up to fight?

Published June 22, 2005 7:40AM (EDT)

Remember those pro-choice bumper stickers, the ones that said, "Against abortion? Then don't have one"? There's a variation on the theme building around the country now, and it goes like this: "Support the war? Then volunteer to fight in it."

It's been rumbling around the blogosphere for months now, getting stronger with each new report about the military's inability to find the warm bodies it needs to keep fighting in Iraq. We all piled on the National Review's fighting-age Jonah Goldberg for supporting the war but just not enough to enlist, and Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas Zuniga -- a veteran himself -- has been both leading and chronicling efforts to shame Republicans into joining up. But as Moulitsas noted yesterday, the movement crossed a threshold of some sort this week when Scott McClellan was asked at a White House press briefing whether any members of the Bush family are currently serving in the Armed Forces.

McClellan didn't know the answer, but unless the White House can drag up some previously unknown second cousin twice removed -- and stranger things have happened -- we're betting that we do. First daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush seem to have plenty of time on their hands, but they haven't seen fit to enlist just yet. Jeb Bush's handsome young son, George P., would like fine in desert camouflage, but he hasn't signed on. As for Jeb's daughter, Noelle Bush? She might have a hard time getting through even the pretty lax standards enforced by some Army recruiters today.

So far as we can tell, Bush hasn't once encouraged young Americans to join the armed forces, at least not since the war in Iraq began. Moulitsas says the reason is obvious: As soon as Bush starts asking moms and dads to send their kids to war, somebody's going to ask him why he hasn't sent his own. Other Republicans are apparently beginning to feel some sensitivity on the issue, too. When the bloggers at Crooks and Liars tried to place an ad encouraging enlistment in the program of an upcoming national convention for College Republicans, the Republicans refused it, saying that "the tone" of the message was "too negative." So much for supporting the troops.

Even the religious right has felt the need to weigh in on the issue of military recruiting -- if only to make sure that the military's shortage of fighting men won't lead it to start letting in men who are open about loving other men. Lifting "Don't ask, don't tell" and allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the armed forces would only exacerbate the current recruiting crisis, Focus on the Family warns on one of its Web sites, because "the heartland of America ... just isn't ready to put its sons and daughters into close quarters with those who admit to same-sex attraction."

So what is that metaphorical heartland of America ready to do? It seems to us that those who supported an unnecessary war and then re-elected the president who delivered it have a special obligation to put their own lives on the front line. If the 50.74 percent of Americans who voted for Bush in 2004 -- or even the 39 percent who say they favor the war today -- would all march a kid or two down to the local recruiting station, the military's personnel problems would disappear faster than you can slap a yellow ribbon on the back of the family car.

But it's not going to happen. Even for many in that ever-shrinking group that still backs Bush on Iraq, the war might seem like a good idea, but not a good enough one to warrant risking the life of a family member. And in that sense, we've come a long way. "Mothers don't want their children to join the military," Eleanor Clift wrote the other day. "Who would have thought," Clift asked, "that not even four years after 9/11 and the biggest surge of patriotism the country had seen in at least a generation, the military would be having trouble getting people to enlist." Clift called it Bush's legacy -- he started a war "that we dont know how to win and cant afford to lose," and now people aren't signing on for the "hard work" ahead.

The question for Bush and his supporters now: Who should fight in the war you wanted, your kids or ours? We know what our answer is. Jenna? Barbara? There's an Army recruiting station in the Franklin Court building just a few blocks from the White House. The doors should be open until around 5 tonight, leaving plenty of time for a few last hurrahs before the kind of "accountability moment" that will actually mean something.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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