Charlie Rangel is angry about the Iraq war, the one that Henry Kissinger has told us we can't win. Thanks, Henry, but most Americans figured that out before you did. Rangel saw combat in Korea. Kissinger has only seen combat on TV. That might have something to do with why Kissinger thinks our troops should stay in Iraq even though we can't win.
Kissinger says that if we leave now, all hell will break loose and Iraq will never achieve stability. Never mind that all hell has already broken loose. Never mind that Kissinger said the same thing would happen if we left Vietnam--all hell would break loose and Vietnam would never achieve stability. Vietnam has become so stable that Presidents Clinton and Bush, both combat cowards during the Vietnam war, have made well publicized, utterly safe visits to the country Kissinger used to think didn't have a chance without us.
In my one conversation with Kissinger, which occurred on TV, I asked him if he knew anyone who got killed in Vietnam. He was completely thrown. He doesn't go on TV to be asked such small-minded questions, he goes on TV to pontificate and TV interviewers are happy to let him do it. Kissinger sputtered and ran away from the question, leaving the distinct impression that he did not know anyone who was killed in the war he managed. His memoir of the period does not mention a single casualty. If you have ever stood at the Vietnam Memorial and run your hand over the name of a relative on the wall, as my mother and I did last month, you can get as angry as Charlie Rangel does about people like Kissinger deciding how long our soldiers should be exposed to enemy fire in a war we know we can't win.
Rangel announced on Sunday that he wants to reinstate the draft. He said the same thing a few years ago but quickly let on that he wasn't serious. He's playing it straight this time and has already introduced a bill. Local New York TV news has given Rangel saturation coverage. You can see his anger and frustration building each time he answers another reporter's question about the draft. The point he keeps repeating is: "There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way."
Rangel could never get such attention to that message without introducing his bill. Nancy Pelosi should let it come to a vote. She should let the House debate the draft. Let the Republicans give speeches listing all the good reasons why we should have a volunteer Army. But let's hear Rangel's speech about how the burden of war is not fairly shared in this country. Let's get America thinking about exactly who is being left in the line of fire in the war Americans have turned against and know we can't win. Let's get America thinking about John Kerry's line about Vietnam--who is going to be the last soldier to die for a mistake? A real debate on the draft will do that. Don't worry, the bill has no chance of passing.
Well over 95% of Americans, including Congress and White House staff, have no personal connection to this war--no relative or friend serving in Iraq. Over 99% of us have made no sacrifice for this war--we have not paid one more penny of taxes nor shed a drop of family blood. One of my military relatives thinks of it this way: "The American military is at war, but America is not at war."
Advocating war is easier when you and your family are not endangered by it. I've reached a Rangel-like breaking point with my TV pundit colleagues who championed the Iraq war and now say we can't leave even if we went there for the wrong reasons. For every one of them, I have a simple question: Why aren't you in Iraq? Or why did you avoid combat in your generation's war? The one unifying characteristic that all of us men in make-up on political chat shows share is fear of combat. Every one of us has done everything we can to avoid combat or even being fitted for a military uniform. Just like George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Dick Cheney, we are all combat cowards. It takes a very special kind of combat coward to advocate combat for others. It's the kind of thing that can get you as angry as Charlie Rangel.
Lawrence O'Donnell is the Executive Producer of "The West Wing", a panelist at "The McLaughlin Group", and former Chief of Staff for the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.