"IT'S TOUCHING that you're so concerned about the military in Iraq," a reader in Wyoming e-mails in response to one of my columns on the war. "But I have a suspicion you're a phony. So tell me, what's your combat record? Ever serve?"
You hear a fair amount of that from the antiwar crowd if, like me, you support a war but have never seen combat yourself. That makes you a "chicken hawk" -- one of those, as Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, defending John Kerry from his critics, put it during the 2004 presidential campaign, who "shriek like a hawk, but have the backbone of a chicken." Kerry himself often played that card. "I'd like to know what it is Republicans who didn't serve in Vietnam have against those of us who did," he would sniff, casting himself as the victim of unmanly hypocrites who never wore the uniform, yet had the gall to criticize him, a decorated veteran, for his stance on the war.
"Chicken hawk" isn't an argument. It is a slur -- a dishonest and incoherent slur. It is dishonest because those who invoke it don't really mean what they imply -- that only those with combat experience have the moral authority or the necessary understanding to advocate military force. After all, US foreign policy would be more hawkish, not less, if decisions about war and peace were left up to members of the armed forces. Soldiers tend to be politically conservative, hard-nosed about national security, and confident that American arms make the world safer and freer. On the question of Iraq -- stay-the-course or bring-the-troops-home? -- I would be willing to trust their judgment. Would Cindy Sheehan and Howard Dean? . . .