Questions about war can't be brushed aside

December 12, 2004|By G. Jefferson Price III

THE ARROGANCE of the Bush administration in so much of what it says and does is supposed to be a factor in the feelings of distrust and outright hatred that many foreigners have for America these days.

But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demonstrated last week that arrogance isn't just for foreigners like those Old Europeans. Mr. Rumsfeld can dish it out to his own troops serving in the fraudulently ordered, misguided and mismanaged war and occupation in Iraq.

The secretary got a little taste of American freedom of expression Wednesday when he visited some of those U.S. troops in Kuwait, where they were waiting to serve in Iraq. And he didn't seem to like it.

According to press reports, soldiers complained about the need for better armor for their vehicles and about the unexpected lengthening of tours in the military in Iraq, which is now nearly half Reservists.

"You go to war with the Army you have," Mr. Rumsfeld replied.

You go to war with the Army you have?

Who on earth does Donald Rumsfeld think is responsible for the condition of the Army we have if it isn't the secretary of defense? He had a war in Iraq in mind practically from the moment he was put in charge of the Pentagon, and the Army we have is what he knew we had when he directed the invasion. But it turned out he didn't expect to fight a real war. The flowery welcome he expected from Iraqis turned into a prolonged nightmare.

Lack of armor for the vehicles being used by American forces in Iraq has been blamed for many of the nearly 1,300 U.S. combat deaths and nine times as many injuries in Iraq since the invasion. Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, a Tennessee National Guardsman, wanted to know why the problem hasn't been fixed.

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" he asked, according to press reports.

The question aroused cheers from the 2,300 soldiers who had come to meet Mr. Rumsfeld. Those cheers were not coming from Old Europeans; they were from Mr. Rumsfeld's own soldiers.

Later, according to a New York Times account of the encounter, an Idaho National Guardsman asked what Mr. Rumsfeld and the Army were doing "to address shortages and antiquated equipment." The soldiers grew restless as Mr. Rumsfeld hesitated over the question.

"Now settle down, settle down," the secretary pleaded. "Hell, I'm an old man. It's early in the morning and I'm gathering my thoughts here."

It's not early in the morning; it's late in the day for America in Iraq. Old Man Rumsfeld should have better gathered his thoughts about the Iraq war long ago.

The soldiers he met in Kuwait have gathered theirs, and they're unhappy. Too many of them are Reservists called up to duty and extended in an arrangement that has many feeling tricked.

But Mr. Rumsfeld is not new to trickery. He was a leader in the cabal that tricked us into Iraq in the first place - that tricked America into thinking that Iraq and Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the security of the United States and that he was Osama bin Laden's accomplice in 9/11. And while Mr. Rumsfeld and President Bush continue to assert that the Iraq war was worth it, and that the mission - whatever it really was - will be a success, evidence that it won't is overwhelming.

That America has spent billions upon billions of dollars on the war and the occupation and hasn't even managed to provide sufficient armor to protect its own soldiers is a metaphor for the failure of the whole operation.

While Mr. Bush preens over the capture of Fallujah and promises there definitely will be an election in Iraq on schedule next month, intelligence from Iraq predicts continuing instability and a range of possibilities that includes civil war and violence beyond the control of the American-installed Iraqi government or the coalition forces.

Army Specialist Wilson wants to know why he is being sent to Iraq without sufficient armor to save his life. I want to know why Specialist Wilson is going to Iraq at all. And notwithstanding the results of the last election, Americans eventually will demand an accounting for this sordid adventure.

If the discontent that Mr. Rumsfeld heard in that hangar in Kuwait last week is any sign, the most forceful demand may come from the very soldiers he sent there.

They can't be fooled. They know too much.

G. Jefferson Price III is a former editor and foreign correspondent for The Sun. His column appears Sundays.

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