There's a lot to say about the relationship between the Bush Administration and the US military.
We now know that all the 2004 election bluster about George Bush being "decisive" was an admission of insecurity:
Time and again, Bush has either not had the know-how to make the right decision (like breaking up the Iraqi military and foisting elections on a populace focused on religious-ethnic difference) or out-and-out denied the truth (lack of connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida, lack of "weapons of mass destruction"). I'm also reminded of his self-description as a "gut player," which, like so many of his self-referential statements, which I would term supremely unpresidential, are peurile, infantile formulations.
Whether the President was told about Abu Ghraib in January (when e-mails informed the Pentagon of the seriousness of the abuses and of the existence of photographs) or in March (when Taguba filed his report), Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reëvaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career.
George W. Bush is a small man, in the terms of Joseph Conrad. But he's acted like he thinks himself a "great man," with enough integrity to not only bend the rules, but fully disregard them. His "dead or alive" utterance in 2001 applies here.
Bush has posed as if he's some kind of warrior outside the law, which is for "normal" people and the "bad guys." The examples here are his authorization of illegal wire-tapping, his politicization of well-nigh every department with political hacks ("heckuva job" Michael Brown).
But most negative might be how the Karl Rove "character assassination" has played out in the military. Has there been a civilian leadership ever to so weaken the national forces? Don Rumsfeld (Rumsfled?) loved to talk about his "military transformation," but I think the legacy of the Iraq War will be a combination of a loss of US diplomatic leadership with a military that will take decades to recover, just like after Vietnam. And the PTSD-sufferers and the limbless will be around for all of my lifetime.
In all seriousness, can we really doubt that we are in Iraq for any other reason than because of George W. Bush's vision for himself as a conquering "war president"?
Sorry folks, only a fool or a desperate person would volunteer to be in the US Army right now. This is George Bush's war.
I remember with some wistfulness how, in 2004, I overheard a recruit say, "Well, the way they're talking, we won't even be over in a few months" (emphasis added). How's that 18-month deployment working for you?
The term "Friedman unit" aptly describes the notion of "progress" in Iraq; it comes from how every six months, Tom Friedman of the NYTimes would write, "the next six months in Iraq are critical." The US General in Iraq, David Petraeus, has beautifully picked up on the "F.U." -- I just heard him on the radio say, "By September we'll know whether the surge is working."
Okay, the "surge" is no longer as surge if it's this old. And Petraeus is proving himself to be a Republican political hack lite by saying he'll speak the truth in his "assessment."
The issue is difficult. Of course, the first casualty of war is the truth. And you don't want your compatriots to have died in vain. But they did, and they still are, dying in vain. And so are the Iraqi civilians.
Let me hazard a basic assessment of our military operation in Iraq. With ~200,000 troops, we are in a country of 22 million, although the Iraqi exodus is in full swing. So, let's say there's 19 million left. 19m/200,000 = 95, or one soldier for every 95 Iraqis. In New York City, there is 8.2 million people, and 37,000 cops. So, a cop for every 221 people. So in the war zone, we've only got a ratio two and a third times bigger than your average peacetime American city.
Given this, there has to be motivation and political consensus on the part of the local population. No check on that. Add to that that our US Army is not trained as a "peacekeeping" force. And that the US has no "nation-building" or "colonial" tradition, where technocrats are sorely needed. The civilian leadership has made bungling decision after bungling decision in Washington, and their representatives are ensconced in the Green Zone. The military brass are not in the front lines, but instead in Central Command or the Green Zone.
After over four years of "hot" fighting, the troops are depleted, their replacements are young people that may have criminal records or who have not bothered to get a GED or graduate high school. I can only imagine how much animus and anger there is toward the local Iraqi population from a near-illiterate 18-year-old kid who just had his friend killed by an IED.
Sy Hersh's article shows how Bush is willing to sell both high-level and low-level people down the river. There's "slam dunk" George Tenet, formerly ethos-heavy Colin Powell, three US Generals (Shinseki, Batiste, Kashilisvili (sp.?) and Lt. Gen. Sanchez), and Lynndie England and Charles Graner, the Abu Ghraib "nobodies." Who else? Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill. Too many to remember.
Oh, what about Valerie Plame? Her outing as an undercover CIA agent to get back at Joe Wilson was an act of treason by Karl Rove and those above him in stature who approved the outing.
Anyway, we're FUBAR in Iraq. I can't imagine much morale being left. Heck, there's National Guardsmen there without the right equipment. Our military establishment doesn't know how to deal with both an occupation where we are the ones keeping order and a hot insurgency and a hot civil war.
Here's what Hersh says about Bush's reaction to Abu Ghraib:
When I think of Bush, and America, I think of the word "drift." Where are we going? I don't know, but it's the wrong direction.
The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career.
As for getting out of Iraq, look at Sen. Joe Biden's five point plan for Iraq, the only serious thinking on this elephant-in-the-room issue I've seen.