Good article in The Guardian this morning about the toll that the Iraq "surge" is taking on our troops. They are completely exhausted, worn out, and stretched to the breaking point. It is further proof, as if it was needed, that George W. Bush's prosecution of the Iraq War borders on the criminally negligent.
The root of the problem is that we never had anywhere close to sufficient resources to pay for the ambitions of Bush and his neocon pals. To fight the kind of war they want to fight absolutely requires a draft to obtain the manpower necessary. But they have never had the guts to admit this fact publicly because they know perfectly well that what little support there is for the war would instantly collapse to near zero.
It has long surprised me how little even the those on the left appreciate to what extent Bush's prosecution of the Iraq War with a professional army has contained opposition to the war. The fact is that every single American soldier in Iraq is there because they volunteered. They may have gotten a lot more than they expected, but at least they weren't conscripted the way many of those who died in Vietnam were. And certainly anyone who joined the army since 2003 has known with virtual certainty that they would end up in Iraq.
I say this not to diminish their sacrifice, but rather to explain why the political reaction to Iraq has been so different than the reaction to Vietnam. The draft made the prospect of being killed in some far off jungle very real for every draft-age male and their families. It was tantamount to murder to put many of these poorly trained, poorly equipped, ill-conditioned, and undereducated young men into the field in Vietnam (the well educated, of course, had college deferments). It's hard to convey just how pervasive the fear was that being drafted in those days was the equivalent of a death sentence. No wonder the protests against the war were so large and intense.
At least today's professionals fighting in Iraq are far better trained and equipped. They have things like body armor that didn't exist in Vietnam that have saved the lives of many that would have died in that war. While they are often tragically maimed, they still have their lives. This has held down the number of funerals at Arlington Cemetery to a level that has been to a large extent politically tolerable.
But the cost has been that we must work our soldiers into the ground, with extended tours, minimal time off, and all of the psychological and physical degradation that goes with it. Although it probably cannot be estimated, there is no doubt that a large and growing number of casualties must result from exhaustion, lack of sleep, stress and other pressures resulting from excessive time in the field.
The honest thing for Bush to have done would have been to ask for reinstatement of the draft to provide the manpower to pursue his ambition. Obviously, this would have made clear that we cannot afford the cost of the Iraq War and undoubtedly put irresistible pressure on him to end this folly. I consider it an act of cowardice that Bush has refused to accept the logic or consequences of his policy in this way.
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