In view of the ongoing debacle that is the war in Iraq, and the widespread recognition that the war was sold to the American public on a false platform connecting Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and WMDs, one might wonder why Americans have been so consistent and steadfast in their support of the troops. What exactly are we supporting?
One argument that could be made is that we are supporting the norm of civilian control of the military. Although we may think the war unjustified, we accept the power of the president to command the troops. Moreover, we recognize the danger to our liberty and security, and ultimately to our democracy, in openly calling for disobedience on the part of the military. So we stand behind our troops, who are standing behind their civilian commanders. In this way, to support the troops is to support the norm of civilian control of the military, even though we distrust the current form of that control.
So why do we support the troops, and not those whom the troops are supporting, such as the Bush Administration's policies? If we suppose that many alert American citizens recognize that whatever degree of liberty and security they enjoy can only be the outcome of a steady recognition and pursuit of the public good of defending our "homeland" against terrorists, then our support of the troops is based on the recognition of the necessity of helping to forward the common defense so we can hope in turn to avoid a state of insecurity and tyranny. However, since we also recognize that the pursuit of liberty and security also depends on preventing the agents of the state — e.g., Bush, Rumsfeld, et. al. — from coercing the American people into serving their private ends, we have become deeply suspicious and afraid of our own government, as it has become more opaque and has built up private forces to circumvent public participation and oversight. So while we support our troops to protect us from external threats, our cries to support the troops also seem to be directed against the powerful internal threat that is our government. I suggest we say, then, "support our troops, because only through their success can we hope to maintain our freedom and security against the actions of our own government."