Don’t Use the “D” Word
How badly have Bush and Rumsfeld botched the planning for our troop needs in Iraq, you ask?
The answer is, worse than you think (and that’s probably saying something, I know). Joe Dailey sent me an article today from the Weekly Standard — yes, that noted bastion of liberal Bush-hatred — that reports that the Army is so short of troops to send to Iraq that they have decided to send elements of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the 509th Infantry Regiment.
The reason why this is a Big Deal is that these two units are not just any units. They are OPFOR — the permanent “Opposing Force” that other units train against in combat exercises. Their entire mission is to take on those other units on the training field and teach them all the tricks of how to survive. (You saw “Top Gun”, right? Think of them as the Army version.)
Now the Army is apparently so short of troops that it is going to take its highly skilled instructors — the men and women who keep the rest of the Army combat-ready — and throw them into the cauldron of Iraq. Leaving nobody to pass along these vital lessons to green units as they pass through the system.
Look. I know it’s an election year. And I know President Bush doesn’t want to do this. But it’s past time for him to explain once and for all how our armed forces are going to continue to shoulder the burdens he’s piled onto them without (a) significant economic sacrifice on the home front to pay for military expansion, and/or (b) a draft. I know that’s not a conversation he wants to have going into November — but if he has an ounce of integrity in him, he goddamn well owes it to the people of this country after getting us into this mess.
But no, he wants to avoid that conversation at any cost — so he’s willing to cut the Army’s heart out to put it off. Of course, the human cost of that postponement will be huge, as undertrained soldiers in future conflicts die needlessly. But at least George W. Bush won’t have to suffer a political risk. I guess that’s what passes for “Mission Accomplished” these days.
Let me tell you a story. Back during the Democratic primaries, I used to go to Howard Dean’s Meetups, and a regular feature of these events was a kind of “open floor” where anyone could ask questions or make statements to the group — even if they were critical of Dean. One night, a man stood up who looked to be about my age, and he introduced himself as a Captain in the Army who was home on leave from a tour in Iraq.
We braced ourselves for a chewing-out. But instead, he told us that he had come that night to ask us to do whatever we could to get Bush out of the White House. He told us about deploying to Iraq without body armor, and having to ask family members to raise money so his soldiers could buy it on their own. He told us about watching the steady progression of friends being killed and maimed in soft-skinned Humvees hit by improvised explosive devices or RPGs. And finally, he referred to a comment someone else had made earlier about how the Administration had seized the symbols of patriotism, like the flag, and tainted them by association with the war.
“You all go get yourselves a flag,” said this soldier, “the biggest one you can find, and fly it when you meet. Because what you’re doing here has a hell of a lot more to do with the flag than what they’re doing. And if anyone tells you that you shouldn’t be flying that flag, you tell them that a U.S. soldier told you to!”
From what he told us, that soldier’s leave ended a few days after that meeting. I’ve wondered more than once if he’s been among the ones who have fallen between that evening and today.
The Washington Post ran a story a while back talking about this growing trend of disillusionment in the ranks. There’s a quote in there from an anonymous general that seems more relevant every day:
“Like a lot of senior Army guys, I’m quite angry” with Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration, the young general said. He listed two reasons. “One is, I think they are going to break the Army.” But what really incites him, he said, is, “I don’t think they care.”
Decisions like throwing away OPFOR tell us that they are indeed going to break the Army (if they haven’t already). It remains to be seen whether or not they care.