Iraq war a house of cards Low troop morale puts pressure on Bush

Widening reports of low morale among U.S. troops are adding to pressures on the Bush administration to find a bailout for its failed Iraq policy.

Decorated Vietnam veteran David Cline, who heads Veterans for Peace, calls discontent among the military one of the leading forces opposed to Bush today. “In combat, everyone gets fired up,” Cline told the World, noting that at the war’s outset many soldiers believed they were on a mission of liberation. “That’s all turned out to be a house of cards,” he said. “There are no weapons of mass destruction. And instead of getting flowers thrown at them, they’re getting RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and AK-47s.”

According to the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, attacks on U.S. troops have increased from an average of 25 per day to 35 a day in the last few weeks.

As it becomes evident that the administration’s case for war was built on “lies, deception, and half-truths,” active duty troops are increasingly feeling they have been manipulated, said Cline.

In a recent survey of 1,935 troops in Iraq by Stars and Stripes, a newspaper partly funded by the Pentagon, half of those questioned described their unit’s morale as low. About a third said their mission lacks clear definition and characterized the war in Iraq as of little or no value.

It is not lost on these soldiers that, while commander-in-chief Bush – who evaded active duty during Vietnam – arrogantly taunts “Bring ‘em on,” some young soldier in Fallujah is getting shot, Cline said. Cline himself was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and other medals and is disabled from the wounds he received in Vietnam.

In the Stars and Stripes survey, many soldiers, including several officers, charged that VIP visitors to Iraq “are only given hand-picked troops to meet with.” Said the newspaper, “The phrase ‘Dog and Pony Show’ is usually used.” Some troops said they had been ordered not to talk to VIPs “because leaders are afraid of what they might say.”

A top general, 3rd Corps commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, said Oct. 17 U.S. troops may have to stay in Iraq until 2006. His comments, echoing a similar statement by Sanchez, give added weight to a significant new problem for Bush: the unprecedented reliance on members of the Reserves and National Guard, who now make up about 1 in 4 of the troops serving in Iraq.

Before the Iraq war, reservists and guards left their families and jobs typically one weekend a month and some summers, for which they received about $200 per month – a little extra paycheck many families relied on, noted Cline. Now, they are being pulled into duty for up to two years.

“Basically, they drafted them,” Cline says.

In many cases, this is causing family hardship and loss of these troops’ jobs back home, with ripple effects impacting entire communities. In Iraq, reserve and guard units generally have worse conditions and are the last to get supplies, such as life-protecting armored vests.

Morale is reported lowest among reservists and guard members – of those surveyed by Stripes, 48 percent rated their morale “low” or “very low.”

Overextended militarily and facing mounting discontent at home as well as on the front lines, the White House is having rough going in the world community. The UN Security Council resolution on Iraq adopted unanimously Oct. 16 is seen by many commentators as only a paper victory for the administration. As soon as the resolution passed, several key countries — including France, Germany and Pakistan — said they would not contribute additional troops or money. Turkish officials said it was unlikely Turkey would send troops after all.

The New York Times editorialized, “Unfortunately, the real impact of ratifying the current arrangements in Iraq is to leave the burden for postwar Iraq squarely on American soldiers and taxpayers.”

Under intense pressure before an Oct. 23-24 international donors’ conference in Madrid, the Bush administration agreed to allow a new agency run by the World Bank and the UN, independent of the U.S., to control international reconstruction aid money for Iraq. The White House has bitterly fought any international control over Iraq. But other countries are unwilling to contribute to anything seen as part of the U.S. occupation.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org