Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who's Really Supporting the Troops?

As public sentiment against the war grows, war hawks have escalated their assertion that protesting the war is tantamount to disrespecting our troops. They claim that our soldiers are disheartened that so many people believe they have failed. This is a cowardly tactic employed by the shameless people who have engaged this country in an unjust war.

If the soldiers feel that the public has lost faith in them it is only because these same people are telling them as much…Lying to them. Unlike Vietnam, where public resentment was projected on the men and women who served, those who oppose this war have been extraordinarily cautious in their rhetoric. Nobody wants our troops to feel disrespected.

Some of the Democrats in Congress clamored to cut funding for the war but the Bush Administration quickly characterized that as an attack on the troops. The idea of cutting funding was intended to give Bush no other option but to bring our forces home. Even though that intent was clearly explained, war hawks immediately began waving yellow ribbons. Talk about disrespectful.

Those opposed to the war haven’t lied to the American people. They didn’t stage the Jessica Lynch rescue nor did they make a mockery of Pat Tillman’s death. It’s the war hawks who have attacked individuals, like Cindy Sheehan, and made matters personal.

There are soldiers, active and retired, who are convinced that victory is the only option. They insist that withdrawing now means that the terrorists won but withdrawing forces now is not really surrendering. Sometimes withdrawing from a bad course of action to regroup and develop a more efficient plan is how to win a war. There’s a difference between battles and wars.

The notion that we can’t abandon what can only be described as a bad decision is the same imperialistic philosophy that made it possible for Colonial forces to upset the superior British military. British commanders refused to concede failure in their plan and eventually lost the war. They were trained to fight big, so the Colonists made themselves small.

Like Britain, the US has spread itself too thin to manage an unconventional war on an unfamiliar battlefield. During the Revolutionary War, Britain bolstered its forces with mercenaries from Germany known as Hessians. These soldiers were effective in traditional warfare, but as the battle wore on the Hessians lacked the passion to finish the job. They were there for the money.

In Iraq, the Bush Administration has contracted its own Hessians in the form of international security companies that employ mercenaries. Many of the mercenaries are former US soldiers who get paid 10 times the salary our regular troops receive. Furthermore, these mercenaries happily convey the disparity to our soldiers in order to help these security forms recruit more talent. That damages morale far more than people at home demanding an exit strategy.

Iraq is and, aside from the 15 years Saddam held sway, has always been a chaotic mess. The problem is the nomadic nature of the culture. Even though the tiny tribes have consolidated their power into larger units, Iraq is a fractured culture. In addition to the religious conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims you also have disputes between Arabs, Persians, Kurds and Turks. Even if the religious issue is resolved, the ethnic clashes will continue. And yet, we’re still supposed to believe that victory is attainable.

Of course victory has not even been defined. Bush seems intent on fighting until we win but he has never addressed how we will know when we’ve won. Even the most passionate soldier has to be discouraged by the intangibility of Bush’s goal. As difficult as any mission would be in an area as complex as Iraq, victory anywhere is impossible if it is not specifically defined. Technically speaking, we aren’t even fighting a war right now. We aren’t even certain who are enemy is.

The public is aware of this. An Iraqi government has been installed but it clearly has no power. Extremists from all sides are able to undermine any authority the government has which makes it seem likely that this government wasn’t really approved by the people so much as it was favored by US officials. Bush has indicated that the US will stand down when the Iraqi government stands up but we have no idea when that will happen or if it is possible. The government is secular, as any government most be if it will successfully serve people of different creeds, but most of the country wants a theocracy. The problem is that those who want a theocracy can’t agree. War isn’t the answer. The fundamentalists feed on war and chaos. War frightens people and drives them to extremism.

It’s unfortunate that Bush and his cronies didn’t heed the advice of his own father. Removing a tyrant like Saddam without understanding the complicated issues haunting Iraq was a terrible idea. Many of the war hawks are resigned to agree. However, they insist that we can’t turn back the clock and our only option it to stay the course and see this thing through.

That’s ridiculous. You don’t keep paddling full force down a river if you think there might be a waterfall ahead. You don’t keep driving down the highway when you realize you’re heading into oncoming traffic. Successful military leaders throughout history have been known to withdraw from hopeless battles rather than incur too many losses, but giving up a battle doesn’t concede the war. Great leaders aren’t afraid to retreat, revise and redeploy. Unfortunately our military doesn’t promote great leaders. Advancement in our military is based on one’s ability to say yes.

Recruitment figures are down. The military has been forced to extended tours and exploit all sorts of little fine print tricks to force people into servitude. Stop loss measures have been enacted that prevent weary troops from being discharged and the inactive ready reserve has been called into action, surprising many people who had long since been discharged. National Guard forces have been thrown into heavy combat situations with inadequate training, outmoded equipment and a half-baked plan of action.

That’s where the lack of support is. Lies, half truths and sneaky contracts undermine the resolve of our soldiers. The people calling for an end to this war want to bring them home safe and sound. Unfortunately the soldiers are being told that we think they’re failures. That’s not true. The soldiers didn’t let anybody down. They failure begins and ends with the Bush Administration. Everybody else is a victim of a combination of incompetence and treachery.

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