This Pollyanna army
Bush will not admit that his troops are too exhausted to sustain his vengeful global missions
Thursday January 27, 2005
The most penetrating critique of the realism informing President Bush's second inaugural address, a trumpet call of imperial ambition, was made one month before it was delivered, by Lt Gen James Helmly, chief of the US Army Reserve.
In an internal memorandum, he described "the Army Reserve's inability under current policies, procedures and practices ... to meet mission requirements associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The Army Reserve is additionally in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements and is rapidly degenerating into a broken force".
These "dysfunctional" policies are producing a crisis "more acute and hurtful", as the Reserve's ability to mobilise troops is "eroding daily".
The US force in Iraq of about 150,000 troops is composed of a "volunteer" army that came into being with the end of military conscription during the Vietnam war. More than 40% are National Guard and Reserves, most having completed second tours of duty and being sent out again.
The force level has been maintained by the Pentagon only by "stop-loss" orders that coerce soldiers to remain in service after their contractual enlistment expires - a back-door draft.
Re-enlistment is collapsing, by 30% last year. The Pentagon justified this de facto conscription by telling Congress that it is merely a short-term solution that would not be necessary as Iraq quickly stabilises and an Iraqi security force fills the vacuum. But this week the Pentagon announced that the US force level would remain unchanged through 2006.
"I don't know where these troops are coming from. It's mystifying," Representative Ellen Tauscher, a ranking Democrat on the House armed services committee, told me. "There's no policy to deal with the fact we have a military in extremis."
Bush's speech calling for "ending tyranny in all the world" was of consistent abstraction uninflected by anything as specific as the actual condition of the military that would presumably be sent scurrying on various global missions.
But the speech was aflame with images of destruction and vengeance. The neoconservatives were ecstatic, perhaps as much by their influence in inserting their gnostic codewords into the speech as the dogmatism of the speech itself.
For them, Bush's rhetoric about "eternal hope that is meant to be fulfiled" was a sign of their triumph. The speech, crowed neocon William Kristol, who consulted on it, was indeed "informed by Strauss" - a reference to Leo Strauss, philosopher of obscurantist strands of absolutist thought, mentor and inspiration to some neocons who believe they fulfil his teaching by acting as tutors to politicians in need of their superior guidance.
'Informed" is hardly the precise word to account for the manipulation of Bush's impulses by cultish advisers with ulterior motives.
Even as the neocons revelled in their influence, Bush's glittering generalities, lofted on wings of hypocrisy, crashed to earth. Would we launch campaigns against tyrannical governments in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or China?
Of course, the White House briefed reporters, Bush didn't mean his rhetoric to suggest any change in strategy.
Unfortunately for Condoleezza Rice, such levels of empty abstraction could not glide her through her Senate confirmation as secretary of state without abrasion.
With implacable rigidity, she stood by every administration decision. There was no disinformation on Saddam Hussein's development of nuclear weapons of mass destruction; any suggestion that she had been misleading in the rush to war was an attack on her personal integrity. The light military force for the invasion was just right. And it was just right now.
Contrary to Senator Joseph Biden of the foreign relations committee, who stated that there are only 14,000 trained Iraqi security forces, she insisted there are 120,000. Why, secretary of defence Rumsfeld had told her so.
Then, implicitly acknowledging the failure to create a credible Iraqi army, the Pentagon announced that the US forces would remain at the same level for the next two years. Rice's Pollyanna testimony was suddenly inoperative.
The administration has no strategy for Iraq or for the coerced American army plodding endlessly across the desert.
Representative Tauscher wonders when the House armed services committee, along with the rest of the Congress, will learn anything from the Bush administration that might be considered factual: "They are never persuaded by the facts. Nobody can tell you what their plan is and they don't feel the need to have one."
On the eve of the Iraqi election, neither the president's soaring rhetoric nor the new secretary of state's fantasy numbers touch the brutal facts on the ground.
Sidney Blumethal is former senior adviser to President Clinton and author of The Clinton Wars