Sunday, September 19, 2004

Bush Policies Weakening U.S. National Security

U.S. military morale continues to head down the shitter (audio), and things will not get any better - at least until after the election is over. If Bush wins, he'll be free to do whatever he wants, no matter how politically unpopular. Kerry would at least bring sanity to the White House. But the peace has already been lost, so there's not much either guy could do now but withdraw, anyways.

This WaPo article indicates more than what I consider to be typical soldier complaints. This is most of it, but you should really read the whole thing (bold mine):

The 635 soldiers of a battalion of the South Carolina National Guard scheduled to depart Sunday for a year or more in Iraq have spent their off-duty hours under a disciplinary lockdown in their barracks for the last two weeks.

The trouble began Labor Day weekend, when 13 members of the 1st Battalion of the 178th Field Artillery Regiment went AWOL, mainly to see their families again before shipping out. Then there was an ugly confrontation between members of the battalion's Alpha and Charlie batteries -- the term artillery units use instead of "companies" -- that threatened to turn into a brawl involving three dozen soldiers, and required the base police to intervene.

That prompted a barracks inspection that uncovered alcohol, resulting in the lockdown that kept soldiers in their rooms except for drills, barred even from stepping outside for a smoke, a restriction that continued with some exceptions until Sunday's scheduled deployment.

This Guard unit was put on an accelerated training schedule -- giving the soldiers about 36 hours of leave over the past two months -- because the Army needs to get fresh troops to Iraq, and there are not enough active-duty or "regular" troops to go around. Preparation has been especially intense because the Army is short-handed on military police units, so these artillerymen are being quickly re-trained to provide desperately needed security for convoys. And to fully man the unit, scores of soldiers were pulled in from different Guard outfits, some voluntarily, some on orders.

As members of the unit looked toward their tour, some said they were angry, or reluctant to go, or both. Many more are bone-tired. Overall, some of them fear, the unit lacks strong cohesion -- the glue that holds units together in combat.

"Our morale isn't high enough for us to be away for 18 months," said Pfc. Joshua Garman, 20, who, in civilian life, works in a National Guard recruiting office. "I think a lot of guys will break down in Iraq." Asked if he is happy that he volunteered for the deployment, Garman said, "Negative. No time off? I definitely would not have volunteered."

A series of high-level decisions at the Pentagon has come together to make life tough for soldiers and commanders in this battalion and others. The decisions include the Bush administration's reluctance to sharply increase the size of the U.S. Army. Instead, the Pentagon is relying on the National Guard and Reserves, which provide 40 percent of the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Also, the top brass has concluded that more military police are needed as security deteriorates and the violent insurgency flares in ways that were not predicted by Pentagon planners.

The drilling to prepare this artillery unit for that new role has been intense. Except for a brief spell during Labor Day weekend, soldiers have been confined to post and prevented from wearing civilian clothes when off duty. The lockdown was loosened to allow soldiers out of the barracks in off hours to go to the PX, the gym and a few other places, if they sign out and move in groups.

"There's a federal prison at Fort Dix, and a lot of us feel the people in there have more rights than we do," said Spec. Michael Chapman, 31, a construction worker from near Greenville, S.C.

Sgt. Kelvin Richardson, 38, a machinist from Summerville, S.C., volunteered for this mission but says he now wishes he had not and has misgivings about the unit's readiness. Richardson is a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which he served with the 1st Cavalry Division, an active-duty "regular" unit. This battalion "doesn't come close" to that division, he said. "Active-duty, they take care of the soldiers."


"I think before we deploy we should be allowed to go home and see our families for five days, because some of us might not come back," said Spec. Wendell McLeod, 40, a steelworker from Cheraw, S.C. "Morale is pretty low. . . . It's leading to fights and stuff. That's really all I got to say."

The chaotic situation created for these soldiers readying for combat in Iraq has been directly caused by Bush's overstretching our military in every conceivable way. Bush's refusal to increase troop strength, or to force Dumsfeld to do it, is just another sign of his lack of leadership. The failed Iraq aftermath is getting multiple soldiers killed daily. The figure of 7,000+ injuries thus far in Iraq seems to have been cut by at least 50% of what the actual number is - at the direction of Dumsfeld. It is generally believed that the actual number of injuries is 17,000+, some number of which, maybe 50%, may be severe enough that the injured soldiers cannot return to combat duty.

The public is turning against this Iraq bullshit. The war never made sense. The invasion was illegal. The occupation is illegal. The soldiers don't know what they're there for. They don't want to be there. Their nerves are shot. The commanders don't have enough men. The troops are not trained properly. They lack equipment. They're short on bullets. Guerilla attacks are wearing our soldiers down faster than we can recuperate them. The serious injuries to our GI's are literally destroying our military's fighting power. A soldier with only one leg, one eye, one arm, or severe PTSD cannot be redeployed. That means we need to recruit more soldiers. It's getting tougher all the time. Big signing bonuses are the norm now (up to $20,000; other benefits can include college tuition benefits, advanced rank, expedited U.S. citizenship).

Soldiers leaving for Iraq know they might not come back. But more than that, some of them are starting to realize that coming back alive is only part of the battle. Coming back with all of your limbs is no longer guaranteed. And coming back with your brain and nerves in tact is yet another challenge - an especially scary one given the incredibly strong and debilitating stigma associated with mental breakdown. And many soldiers are likely to face severe mental duress because they're constantly dodging 360-degree guerrilla attacks. Can you imagine what it is like to not know whether you're going to be attacks from the front, back, side, top, or underneath?! Frickin-a. I can't imagine that a person could endure more than a month or two of that before falling off the sanity wagon.

Many of our 'volunteer' soldiers have now been enslaved by the U.S. government via stop/loss orders - requiring them to stay in the military until Uncle Sam decides they're no longer needed. have been threatened with deployment to the worst hotspots in Iraq if they don't re-enlist for a three-year stint.

Some troops volunteered. Some regret it now. The mission is in trouble. The mission, in fact, has already failed, but since there's a self-declared Republican in the White House, most of this country's self-declared Republicans won't think about voting against their party's guy - regardless of his endangering our troops and our nation.

  • When the only people willing to give a positive assessment of troop morale are officers, not enlisted men, you know your mission is in trouble.

  • When the troops are going AWOL to avoid being shot up in Iraq, you know your mission is in trouble.

  • When female troops are getting knocked up on the battlefield just to get a free trip away from the battlezone, you know your mission is in trouble.

  • When your troops turn to torturing innocent civilians for fun, or revenge, or out of frustration/fear/anxiety/anger/boredom/sadism, you know your mission is in trouble.

  • When your command-in-chief has never served in a combat zone and he talks tough like a cowboy, but he's afraid of horses, you know your mission is in trouble.

The 'all volunteer' label of the U.S. military is a joke. As Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 pointed out, the military gets most of its recruits from towns where the graduating high school seniors have no chance of a decent job. The new recruits enlist in the military as a way out of their jobless hometowns - not so they can donate a limb to Bush's imperial war for oil and hegemony. So technically, the new recruits my have volunteered to enlist, but did they really have much of a choice?

You start to wonder what these GI's would say if they weren't under orders to keep their mouths shut.

On the political tip, what can Kerry do to expose Bush's failed policies? He has to get direct, and he has to be brutal. The truth is brutal enough - no need to embellish. Looks like that's starting to happen already, and will continue.

I have a feeling Kerry won't ratchet up the rhetoric to where it needs to go - or, at least, to where I want it to be, but I'd be happy with any show of cajones at this point. Kerry needs to get angry - or at least pretend to be angry. Feigned outrage is a great political tool. His base (me) feels it, that's for sure. And it'll sell to undecides. So, I guess we'll just have to see what happens over the next couple of weeks. National polls are showing a dead heat. What happens as Iraq continues to escalate out of control? Kerry's team needs to be smart about this.

And I still don't understand why Kerry has not addressed his vote on the $87 billion Iraq appropriations bill. They continue to duck it, and there's no need. It's a more complicated issue than the dunce American people can fathom in one sitting, but he's gotta pay the price sooner or later - and it should have been sooner - 8 months ago. But hey, what do I know?

UPDATE: Britain is cutting and running.

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