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June 5, 2005 - Are Our Leaders Slyly Anti-War?

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We have enough troops in Iraq?

Paul Krugman in the New York Times ticked off a lot of Bush supporters with a column on Monday, May 30 - Too few, yet too many - that opened with this:


One of the more bizarre aspects of the Iraq war has been President George W. Bush's repeated insistence that his generals tell him they have enough troops. Even more bizarrely, it may be true - I mean, that his generals tell him that they have enough troops, not that they actually have enough. An article in Sunday's Baltimore Sun explains why.

The article tells the tale of John Riggs, a former U.S. Army commander, who "publicly contradicted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by arguing that the army was overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan" - then abruptly found himself forced into retirement at a reduced rank, which normally only happens as a result of a major scandal.

The truth, of course, is that there aren't nearly enough troops. "Basically, we've got all the toys, but not enough boys," a Marine major in Anbar Province told The Los Angeles Times.


Oddly enough, having a close family member serving is Mosul (see his photos of Mosul here) one does tend to follow such items in the press.

Krugman cites a CBO (Congressional Budget Office) report from September of 2003 saying we had better start reducing the number of troops in Iraq soon.  Why?  We need to "maintain training and readiness levels, limit family separation and involuntary mobilization, and retain high-quality personnel."  The CBO has this idea that the rule of thumb is this: no more than one third of the full-time forces overseas - except during emergencies.

What we have now?


… the Bush administration, which was ready neither to look for a way out of Iraq nor to admit that staying there would require a much bigger army, simply threw out the rulebook. Regular soldiers are spending a lot more than a third of their time overseas, and many reservists are finding their civilian lives destroyed by repeated, long-term call-ups.


Yes, and there is, as Krugman notes, the foot-dragging on armoring Humvees and the apparent policy of denying long-term disability payments to as many of the wounded as possible.  He suggests these guys "seem almost pathologically determined to nickel-and-dime those who put their lives on the line for their country."

Well, calling the president and his subordinates pathological is not the way to effect change, as we all know.  Calling people names just gets them to harden their positions.

So is this just one more liberal Times guy sputtering at the administration?

Tom Lasseter of Knight-Ridder Newspapers reports this two days later - U.S. Army officers in northwest Iraq say they don't have enough troops - and offers these details:


U.S. Army officers in northwest Iraq, near the Syrian border, say they don't have enough troops to hold the ground they take from insurgents in this transit point for weapons, money and foreign fighters.

From last October to the end of April, there were about 400 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division patrolling the northwest region, which covers about 10,000 square miles, an area about the size of Maryland.

"Resources are everything in combat ... there's no way 400 people can cover that much ground," said Maj. John Wilwerding, of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), which is responsible for the tract that includes Tal Afar.

"Because there weren't enough troops on the ground to do what you needed to do, the (insurgency) was able to get a toehold." said Wilwerding, 37, of Chaska, Minn.

During the past two months, Army commanders, trying to pacify the area, have had to move in some 4,000 Iraqi soldiers; about 2,000 more are on the way. About 3,500 troops from the 3rd ACR took control of the area this month, but officers said they were still understaffed for the mission.

"There's simply not enough forces here," said a high-ranking U.S. officer with knowledge of the 3rd ACR. "There are not enough to do anything right; everybody's got their finger in a dike."


Of course that officer spoke on the condition of anonymity.  He said he was concerned he'd be reprimanded for questioning military policy.  Yes, Bush’s generals tell him they have enough troops.

Who is going to say different?

For the record, we learn this –


… three battalions of Marines are stationed in the western part of the province, down from four a few months ago. Marine officials in western Anbar say each of those battalions is smaller by one company than last year, meaning there are approximately 2,100 Marines there now, compared with about 3,600 last year.

Some U.S. military officers in Anbar province say commanders in Baghdad and the Pentagon have denied their repeated requests for more troops.

"(Commanders) can't use the word, but we're withdrawing," said one U.S. military official in Anbar province, who asked not to be identified because it is the Pentagon that usually speaks publicly about troop levels. "Slowly, that's what we're doing."


So?  Don’t use the word.

Krugman in the Times sees a pathology – insisting we have enough troop and punishing those who disagree.  Knight-Ridder and the Los Angeles Times try to report from the ground.

Last weekend in Press Notes (see Acknowledging the Dispute) we noted the growing conservative claims that the press was, on the whole, anti-military, and by extension anti-American, and by extension on the side of the enemy, and then by extension treasonous.  Is that is what is going on here?  Anti-American reporters in the field hunting down unhappy low-level commanders and getting them to say these things?  Or just making it all up?

Maybe. Who are you to believe?

But we are facing some real shortages.  Note that the Financial Times manages here to get the head of Army recruiting to say that "by the end of April the army had attracted only 35,926 soldiers towards its goal of 80,000 for the year ending in October," and then blame it on low unemployment – and on the war too.

Something is amiss – and in the June 2 Washington Post you’ll find what comes next - After 30 Years, Draft Fears Rise: Some Youths and Parents Worry Despite Government's Assurances.

Hey, folks aren’t dumb.  We have a problem.

But defining the problem is tricky.

And here is one part of it – we get good people to join and stay – but not perverts –


Wounded Gay Soldier Discharged From Army
Sergeant Wounded in Iraq Who Wanted to Remain in Army As Openly Gay Soldier Is Discharged
The Associated Press - May 31, 2005

An Army sergeant from Ohio who was wounded in Iraq and wanted to remain in the military as an openly gay soldier was officially discharged Tuesday, according to an advocacy group.

Sgt. Robert Stout, 23, was awarded the Purple Heart after a grenade sent shrapnel into his arm, face and legs while he was using a machine gun on a Humvee in May 2004.

Stout, of Utica in central Ohio, told The Associated Press in April that he wanted to remain in the military and be openly gay, but that would conflict with the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

… "I know a ton of gay men that would be more than willing to stay in the Army if they could just be open," Stout said in April.

Stout said he was openly gay among most of his 26-member platoon, part of the 9th Engineer Battalion based in Germany.

Army officials at the Pentagon could not immediately confirm the discharge. The Army declined to comment earlier on the case other than to say that soldiers discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" typically receive honorable discharges.


Okay, no comments on pathology.  The Army Times covered the story earlier here.  And we’ve let go of a lot of translators for the same reason, even if they were fluent in Arabic and other useful languages (see this from November of 2002, the first of many such actions).

We may be in trouble – but if we go down it will be with straight guys, not queers?  Okay, no comments on pathology.

But there may be a bigger problem – a conceptual one.  This has to do with Rumsfeld and his efforts to transform our Armed Services into a force of very few actual people and whole lots of whiz-bang technology.

James Wolcott puts in vividly in One-Man Wrecking Crew


Donald Rumsfeld, whose Steely Resolve more and more resembles aluminum siding, is a man unafraid of confronting the full spectrum of America's enemies from Al Qaeda to Amnesty International. Some say he is too zealous in defending our freedom. Too candid. Too cocksure. Too unwilling to accept counsel and criticism. Too wedded to his overriding vision of military transformation.

Those some sayers are right.

His retirement as Secretary of Defense will leave a trail of ruination as its legacy that will stretch forward into the indeterminate future.


And Wolcott points to this from William Lind on June 2 –


When Rumsfeld leaves office, what will his successor inherit?

A volunteer military without volunteers. The Army missed its active-duty recruiting goal in April by almost half. Guard and Reserve recruiting are collapsing. Retention will do the same as "stop loss" orders are lifted. The reason, obviously, is the war in Iraq. Parents don't want to be the first one on their block to have their kid come home in a box.

The world's largest pile of wrecked and worn-out military equipment (maybe second-largest if we remember the old Soviet Navy). I'm talking about basic stuff here: trucks, Humvees, personnel carriers, crew-served weapons, etc. This is gear the Rumsfeld Pentagon hates to spend money on, because it does not represent 'transformation' to the hi-tech, video-game warfare it wrongly sees as the future. So far, deploying units have made up their deficiencies by robbing units that are not deploying, often National Guard outfits. But that stock has about run out, and some of the stripped units are now facing deployment themselves, minus their gear.

A military tied down in a strategically meaningless backwater, Iraq, to the point where it can't do much else...

Commitments to hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of future weapons programs that are militarily as useful as Zeppelins but less fun to watch...

A world wary of U.S. intentions and skeptical of any American claims about anything. In business, good will is considered a tangible asset. In true 'wreck it and run' fashion, Rumsfeld & Co. have reduced the value of that asset to near zero. A recent survey of the German public found Russia was considered a better friend than the United States.

Finally, the equivalent of an unfavorable ruling by a bankruptcy judge in the form of a lost war. We will be lucky if we can get out of Iraq with anything less than a total loss.


Could it be that bad?

Maybe.  Consider this from ABC News –


The Pentagon on Wednesday postponed by more than a week the release of military recruiting figures for May, as the Army and Marine Corps struggle to attract new troops amid the Iraq war.

The military services had routinely provided most recruiting statistics for a given month on the first business day of the next month.

Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the May numbers for the active-duty and reserve components of the all-volunteer military will be released on June 10.

"Military recruiting is instrumental to our readiness and merits the earliest release of data. But at the same time, this information must be reasonably scrutinized and explained to the public, which deserves the fullest insight into military performance in this important area," Krenke said.


There’s some explaining to do?  Got to put some lipstick on this particular pig – and note June 10 is a Friday.  Releasing bad news late in the day on Friday is an old Washington tradition – you keep it out of the main news cycles.  [See the footnote below for the Friday’s example.]

Too you could consider this from Defense Tech


Air Combat Command (ACC), the primary provider of combat airpower, is cutting 32,000 flying hours to help compensate for its $825 million operations and maintenance shortfall.

The cuts come as Air Force aircrews are heavily worked, flying missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and over some U.S. cities in an attempt to prevent another terrorist attack.

"Starting early this summer, units may have aviators unable to get required training to maintain full combat-ready status," Col. Jim Dunn, deputy director of flight operations for ACC, said in a written statement. "Overall effectiveness will become a growing challenge."

With this cut, the command now has 21,000 flying hours left of the original 53,000-plus hours programmed for the rest of this fiscal year -- a 60 percent reduction.

… Retired Gen. Hal Hornburg, former ACC commander, said the cuts are "a big deal" and show the military's grim financial situation.

"They're not cutting fat, they're cutting to the bone," Hornburg said, noting the Pentagon has taken large sums of money away from the Air Force to pay for the Army in Iraq.


Well, even to some of us on the anti-war left, this all seems like madness.  We may not think this war was a good idea, and see that it has damaged the nation severely in too many ways to count.  But to destroy the Army and other services in a slow train-wreck of bad decisions, driven by fear of gay men and a lust for high-tech gizmos, and a refusal to listen to the worries of the guys on the ground? 


No.  We used to chant War is Not the Answer – but we didn’t have this in mind.


Related items of interest –

We won't solve the military manpower crisis by retaining our worst soldiers.
By Phillip Carter and Owen West - Thursday, June 2, 2005, at 3:54 PM PT

This is a discussion of a new Army directive that attempts to alleviate the personnel crunch by retaining soldiers who are earmarked for early discharge during their first term of enlistment because of alcohol or drug abuse, unsatisfactory performance, or being overweight, among other reasons.  "By retaining these soldiers, the Army lowers the quality of its force and places a heavy burden on commanders who have to take the poor performers into harm's way. This is a quick fix that may create more problems than it solves."

It's the Manpower, Stupid
The president's recent speech about "military transformation" makes no sense.
By Fred Kaplan - Thursday, June 2, 2005, at 2:51 PM PT

"… transformation and high-tech weaponry are no substitutes for manpower. In fact, they require more manpower—especially better-educated, more highly skilled manpower. The new synergy between smart bombs, satellite intelligence, and computerized communications worked as well as it did during the first phase of the Iraq war precisely because the American troops were so highly skilled and educated. About 95 percent of the U.S. military's recruits had graduated from high school. They also scored much higher on aptitude tests than their civilian counterparts. The deterioration of these standards is what the military's real crisis is all about. Even if transformation were really the driving force behind Pentagon planning and spending—even if the weapons envisioned actually existed and worked, even if the concept were wise to begin with—none of it would matter unless the manpower crisis, the military's real crisis, were solved first."



The Pentagon on Wednesday postponed by more than a week the release of military recruiting figures for May and said they would release them Friday, June 10.  Releasing bad news late in the day on Friday is an old Washington tradition – you keep it out of the main news cycles.

Case in point –

Pentagon Confirms Quran Incident at Gitmo
Robert Burns, Associated Press Military Writer
Friday, June 03, 2005 4:20 pm Pacific Time


The Pentagon on Friday confirmed for the first time that a U.S. soldier deliberately kicked a Guantanamo Bay prisoner's Muslim holy book in violation of the military's rules for handling the Quran.

In other confirmed incidents, prison guards threw water balloons in a cell block, causing an unspecified number of Qurans to get wet; a guard's urine splashed on a detainee and his Quran; an interrogator stepped on a Quran during an interrogation; and a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Quran.

The findings are among the results of an investigation last month by Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, the commander of the detention center in Cuba, that was triggered by a Newsweek magazine report — later retracted — that a U.S. soldier had flushed one Guantanamo Bay detainee's Quran down a toilet.

… Last week, Hood disclosed that he had confirmed five cases of mishandling of the Quran, but he refused to provide details. Allegations of Quran desecration at Guantanamo Bay have led to anti-American passions in many Muslim nations, although Pentagon officials have insisted that the problems were relatively minor and that U.S. commanders have gone to great lengths to enable detainees to practice their religion in captivity.




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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