Greencastle, Ind. – Imagine that you watched the president’s speech on Iraq on Tuesday night because your son or daughter was among the 740 soldiers in uniform at Fort Bragg preparing to deploy to Iraq or already stationed in the war zone, or you have a recent high school graduate who is receiving weekly calls from recruiters.
These Americans pay closer attention to the war than those of us who with no immediate personal stake in Iraq. Advance reviews of the speech said President Bush would explain how he sees a “clear path to victory” and that would be good because there has been some confusion coming out of the administration lately.
Weeks ago Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the remaining insurgents were just a bunch of “dead enders.” More recently Vice President Dick Cheney said the insurgency is on its last legs. Then, last week, a top military commanders in Iraq told Congress the opposite, that the insurgency is growing in strength, using more sophisticated weapons and tactics, attracting foreign volunteers from across the borders. And finally, just the day before the president’s speech, the defense secretary was back in the news again, making headlines nationwide, including this one in The Star: “Rumsfeld: Insurgency could last up to 12 years.”
Just how bad things are going in Iraq can be tracked daily if you have the stomach for it. The sub-headline under Rumsfeld’s gloomy prediction: “At least 47 die in grisly day of violence in Iraq.” Last week there were 15 car bombs set off, one of which ambushed an American convoy, killing two and wounding 11 American women soldiers.
Because we have not secured the borders, the CIA now says that Iraq is the central training ground for al-Qaida worldwide. We can’t even secure the road from downtown Baghdad to the airport. The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq is 1,739, not counting the thousands more who have been maimed by car and suicide bombs. Roadside bombs have caused 70 percent of U.S. casualties in Iraq. The Army has not solved the problem of inadequately armored combat vehicles, and recent reports indicate that the insurgents have now assembled a motor pool of bomb-rigged cars.
That is the discouraging backdrop against which Bush outlined our road to victory at Fort Bragg. Our strategy: “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” The administration claims there are now 160,000 Iraqi security forces trained and equipped, but will not reveal the number of these who, as Bush put it, “are not yet ready.” Because they are supporting the U.S. occupation, Iraqi police and military are special targets of the insurgency. When the president described our strategy to partner our soldiers with Iraqi units and embed U.S. “transition teams” inside Iraqi units, the parents of soldiers must have shuddered.
The president said nothing new about America’s strategy. We are in Iraq as long as we are needed, and there can be no timetable for withdrawal. It was advertised that he would give a pitch for military service, but all he said was that if any of those watching were considering a military career, “There is no higher calling.”
That will be of little help to the Army recruiters who are becoming desperate in their efforts to meet their quota of enlistments. Stories are legion of recruiters violating military guidelines, hiding police records and medical histories of potential recruits, showing one young man how to falsify a high school diploma and clear illegal drugs from his system. Parents are organizing to keep military recruiters off high school and college campuses, complaining that they are hustling youngsters with free iPods and video games and making exaggerated promises about bonuses, education and jobs. The most frequent complaint is that recruiters are making the false promise that new enlistees will not be sent to Iraq.
How we populate the military for America’s open-ended stay in Iraq is becoming more and more problematic. The Army hasn’t made its recruitment quota since January even with relaxed requirements on age and education. Of the 3,900 former soldiers ordered to mobilize, one-third resisted their call-ups. Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the man in charge of Army recruiting, says that less than 10 percent of the 80,000 new active-duty soldiers the Army needs next year will actually be in the pipeline.
Americans are losing their appetite for this war in Iraq. Think about all this. Especially if you have draft age children.