In my tryptophan-induced coma last week I missed a post by tristero at Digby's in which he wrestles with the question of whether one must themselves fight in a war they support.
Jose Chung and DavidByron both seem to believe (and I'm sure they'll correct me if I'm wrong!) that the chickenhawk issue really is about whether only those with military service are qualified to opine on the subject of war. But that's not quite right. Of course, military service, or the lack of, has no genuine importance to the worth of an argument pro or con the Bush/Iraq war.* The real issue is the total cluelessness of a particular group of war advocates whose drooling enthusiasm for war isn't grounded in reality.
I tried to make it clear in my post - but it wasn't clear enough, apparently - that the hostile question, "well, if you support the war so much, why doncha serve?" is no query at all, but an angry, exasperated, assertion amounting to saying, "You don't know a damn thing about what you're talking about, or you wouldn't talk about Bush/Iraq in such a foolish, callous way." So yes, as DavidByron says, the question is a nasty, sarcastic, ad hominem attack. What makes it appropriate is that the reasoning of the chickenhawks was beyond serious discussion. Thomas Friedman's insistence that even if Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 or had WMD's, "we" still oughta whack him because "we" can. George Packer's utterly naive kumbaya-save-the-world attitude. John Podhoretz' floating the suggestion that maybe US forces should have killed more young Iraqi males at the beginning of the invasion. And, of course, the 101st Keyboarders who talk as if Mr. Kurtz's "Exterminate all of the brutes" doesn't go far enough by half.
I've been tossing this question of whether or not one is qualified to speak on military matters if one has never worn the uniform of the United States military. Obviously from a purely pedantic standpoint the answer is in the affirmative. Citizens make decisions on the use of military in broad strokes through support of platforms advocated by individual candidates at the ballot box. Support of specific military action (such as that in Kosovo or Iraq) generally takes the form of arguing the necessity of the action with their fellow citizens and bumper stickers. Speech and franchise are constitutionally protected with no caveat of prior military service necessary.
Ultimately the chickenhawk issue is really a question of personal morality. There's a whole series of questions that those of us practicing realpolitik work through before deciding to lend their support to specific military action. Is this action necessary for the security of the Untied States an it's allies? Does it meet the long term strategic interests of the United States? Have we exhausted all diplomatic and alternative means of solving the problem? Does it meet the Powell Doctrine and, if not, would I be willing to send me an mine to fight?
Chickenhawks aren't just people who avoided service but are today glib about sending others to fight in wars they advocate. Chickhawks are people who refuse to ask themselves any of all of those moral questions before advocating military conflict. They chose not to expose themselves to the moral ambiguity of war when they were younger and choose today not to expose themselves to the moral ambiguities of war by not facing and coming to terms with them today. They are both physical and moral cowards.