Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Turning a New Corner

After much hinting, there's no confirmation: we're upping the number of troops in Iraq. Sort of.

According to the article, most of the increase will come from extended deployments of units already in Iraq - meaning some troops will have served 14 month tours. The primary reason given for the increase is preserving stability for the upcoming (they're still upcoming, right?) elections. But:

Other military experts, however, said the escalation reflects the more intense nature of the war after the U.S.-led assault on the rebellious Sunni city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

"The ferocity with which the war is being waged by both sides is escalating," said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It is not just that the number of incidents are increasing. The war looks to be changing in character."

Retired Army Col. Ralph Hallenbeck, who worked in Iraq with the U.S. occupation authority last year, said he is worried that the move represents a setback for the basic U.S. strategy of placing a greater burden on Iraqi security forces to control the country and deal with the insurgency. "I fear that it signals a re-Americanization . . . of our strategy in Iraq," he said.

Indeed, adding troops at this point is the opposite of what senior Pentagon officials expected when the war began in March 2003.

Before the invasion, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz dismissed an estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to occupy Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government. "I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators," Wolfowitz told a congressional committee, "and that will help us to keep requirements down."
Famous last words, eh? None of this sounds like good news to me. I'm sure someone in the White House can spin it better than it sounds here - though I hope the bare bones truth gets through to people first.

Lately, a lot of comments here have dealt with military families, and how best to serve them when making decisions on base closures and locations.

To digress momentarily, but on a related note, I attended a chamber of commerce breakfast this morning (I'll be posting about it later) during which I listened to a presentation on - of all things - efforts to save LA AFB. One statistic I heard was that the current plan is to downsize the military not just by a number of dollars or bases, but by 218,000 members as well. Make sense to you? Doesn't to me, either.

Let me loop that back into this discussion: the article notes that this is the 3d time the military has ordered troops to serve longer tours than expected. Initially, such extentions (rightly) "provoked anguish among family members who had been counting the days until the return of their deployed soldiers."

Since extentions have become more common, "the troops, their wives, and their children have become more accustomed to them."

I find that terribly sad.

And no, I'm not feeling sorry for military families. This is just another thing they shouldn't have to get used to. Imagine a 14 month deployment. That's a whole long time. Imagine having your heart set on a loved one's return date. Imagine serving and setting your sights on the goal line. Think of the consequences to morale. Then remember how little mental health support is being provided to service men and women returning home.

You might want to note, as well, the mention that our presence in Iraq could extend for 5 to 10 years. And what else might come up during that time?

Veterans benefits cut. Inadequate mental health resources. Extended deployments. All approved by guys who got us into war on false pretenses, conflation of enemies, none of whom served, most of whom had "other priorities."

Yes, active duty troops volunteered to go. But our responsibility is still to make sure we aren't asking too much or the wrong thing of those willing to sacrifice potentially everything so that I can sit here and blog safely.

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