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Red, white and worried

"The realization has finally taken root in this country that Iraq is a problem, that it will end up with a fair number of U.S. casualties and there is no exit strategy," says Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute research foundation.

"The sense of triumph, the exultation, the sense that we were doing something good in fighting terrorism and getting rid of Saddam will become a passing notion."
A soldier watches some pre-Independence Day fireworks on July 3, as a U.S. Humvee burns in one of Baghdad's increasingly brazen guerrilla attacks. Seventy Americans have died in Iraq since May 1. FALEH KHEIBER/REUTERS

Red, white and worried

Post-war euphoria gives way to new realities as Fourth of July finds America troubled and confused


WASHINGTON—The smoke had cleared from the last burst of fireworks, the barbecue was turned off and the final strains of "God Bless America" had drifted into the night.

But somehow, the annual outpouring of jingoism sounded hollow this year, with far more doubts on the horizon this July 4 than anyone would have foreseen a few short months ago.

Euphoria over the show of military might is evaporating and the sense of self-esteem that comes with doing the right thing is being openly questioned.

Americans are heading into the summer's heat facing some new realities.

Their troops in Iraq are facing increasingly brazen and deadly attacks and don't know when they can go home.

Since George W. Bush congratulated troops on their job well done in his infamous photo op aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier on May 1, American soldiers are facing an average of 13 ambushes and attacks per day. Seventy have died, 27 from enemy fire.

The long Independence Day weekend opened here with television images of jubilant Iraqis jumping on the roof of a burned-out U.S. Humvee and a threatening audiotape from Saddam Hussein. That wasn't supposed to be happening.

The Taliban is regrouping in Afghanistan. No one here talks much about Afghanistan any more, but the job is not finished.

Americans also appear headed to Liberia to try to halt a bloody civil war. They are busy trying to foment rebellion in Iran, where the country's nuclear capabilities cause concern.

North Korea remains a preoccupation along with Syria, where U.S. troops recently engaged in a firefight with Syrian troops.

The Middle East? It's one step forward, two steps back as Bush tries to forge a shaky peace in an overarching bid to reshape the region.

Who knows, on this Independence Day weekend, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, Saddam and his sons (now with multi-million dollar bounties on their heads in the absence of good U.S. intelligence) or weapons of mass destruction?

Also missing in action on this holiday weekend: 236,000 jobs that have disappeared this year, 30,000 last month alone, bringing U.S. unemployment to its highest rate in nine years, higher even than in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

They have vanished, along with 15 points on Bush's approval rating in the past 12 months.

Troubles? As Bush is wont to say: "Bring 'em on."

Bush travelled to Dayton, Ohio, Friday to pay tribute to the U.S. military and assure Americans they are the guardians of freedom in the world and, without their might, "the ambitions of tyrants would go unopposed."

But, he said, the nation faces challenges and remains at war.

"The enemies of America plot against us and many of our fellow citizens are still serving and sacrificing in distant places.

"Many military families are separated. Our people in uniform do not have easy duty and much depends on their success."

Without them, he said, millions would live at the mercy of terrorists.

"With America's active involvement in the world, tyrants learn fear and terrorists are on the run."

As he spoke, U.S. troops faced renewed attacks in Iraq.

"The realization has finally taken root in this country that Iraq is a problem, that it will end up with a fair number of U.S. casualties and there is no exit strategy," says Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute research foundation.

"The sense of triumph, the exultation, the sense that we were doing something good in fighting terrorism and getting rid of Saddam will become a passing notion."

As Iraq slides out of its control, the Bush administration is paying the price for pursuing unilateralism — now going cap in hand to other countries, pleading for international help for its dispirited and beleaguered troops in the country.

"Begging Poland and Ukraine and Nicaragua and Honduras to help us is rather humiliating and degrading when we are supposed to be the great power," says Clyde Prestowitz, founder of the Economic Strategic Institute and author of American Unilateralism And The Failure Of Good Intentions.

Speaking from Europe, Prestowitz saystraditional allies, whom Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the "new Europe," want no part of the chaos in Iraq and don't want to fight under American command.

"We are now paying the price of our own cynicism and the perception in Europe of an America betraying its own ideals. It may be a silent price at home, but I hear it everywhere (in Europe.)"

Yet pollsters will tell you Americans feel safer at home than they did a year ago, when the terrorist attacks were still uppermost in every mind.

Bush still commands a 61 per cent approval rating — nothing great, but higher than predecessors Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and certainly his father, in the third year of a term.

According to the Gallup organization, only one in four Americans thinks the level of U.S. casualties is too high. But still, says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief at Gallup, the numbers show an increased level of concern over the rationale for war in Iraq.

"This is an important point for the U.S. internationally," Newport says. "If the backing of the reasons for this war were to drop below 50 per cent, that would be a crucial threshold."

It's getting perilously close, with support for the war down 20 points since the March invasion.

Carroll Doherty, editor at the Pew Research Centre, says the unity Americans found in meeting the perceived Iraqi threat has dissipated. Traditional partisanship has returned to politics. That partisanship, Doherty adds, will only accelerate as the country rushes into the 2004 election season.

"This is now very much like the country it was before September, 2001, with maybe three important differences. This is a country now much more cognizant of foreign military threats, much more cognizant of terrorist threats, much more cognizant that the world is a dangerous place."

It also seems Americans are confused about where the threats are coming from.

In a University of Maryland poll released last week, one in four respondents thought Saddam was directly involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. And there is still a widespread perception in this country that the hijackers entered the U.S. from Canada.

There may be a reason for the confusion, however. It may be that the Bush administration is purposely trying to confuse people.

In the Maryland poll, 71 per cent believed Bush at least implied that Saddam and Iraq were behind the terrorist attacks.

Now, with the Liberian deployment looming, Americans are set to plunge deeper into potential danger, something U.S. presidents seeking re-election would normally seek to avoid. It also marks a departure for Bush who, while campaigning in the last election, was viewing the country from the more narrow perspective of a state governor.

In 2000, Bush promised he would not overextend the military, saying he would not even have intervened in the Rwandan genocide and he shunned nation-building exercises.

"We can't be all things to all people in the world," he said then.

Liberia would be the 10th world hotspot where American troops are deployed. Altogether, there are 15 nations in which more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed.

In his Independence Day message to troops stationed abroad, Rumsfeld said the United States is "engaged in a struggle as great as any America has faced throughout her long and honoured history." The struggle mirrors the American battle for independence in 1776, he said in a broadcast message.

"The global war on terror is far from over. While freedom has been restored to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, dangerous threats remain, in those countries and across the globe.

"The transition from tyranny to a free society will take time to accomplish. As Thomas Jefferson so aptly described it, we are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a feather bed."

But Rumsfeld is counting on the arrival in Iraq of some 20,000 peacekeeping troops from other countries by the end of the summer to provide some relief for U.S. troops — and a $3 billion (U.S.) per month bill for the occupation of Iraq.

"It can come as no surprise that if you feel you have the right to go into countries unilaterally, that you have trouble finding other countries to come in and clean up your mess," says Bandow, who served as a special assistant to Reagan.

Without such help, Prestowitz says, the American occupation in Iraq can be compared with Vietnam.

"We got into Vietnam under false pretenses, but Congress went ahead and okayed it without debate or raising any tough questions.

"We went in with no exit strategy and all of a sudden there are 52,000 names etched in black granite on the memorial on the Mall. I hope it doesn't take 52,000 in Iraq."

Even as it seeks help, it continues to flex unilateral muscles, snubbing international organizations unless they serve its needs.

Last week, for example, Washington suspended almost $50 million in military aid to 35 countries that refused to give blanket immunity to American citizens at the International Criminal Court.

The Bush administration has strongly opposed the court for fear it will be used to prosecute Americans on politically motivated charges.

As the summer plays out and Americans continue to take casualties in Iraq, the partisan shots and national debate are sure to intensify.

When Bush invited more Iraqi attacks with his "Bring 'em on" comment last week, the reaction was quicker and tougher than it would have been a few months ago.

"I've had enough of this phony, macho rhetoric (from Bush)," said Missouri Representative Dick Gephardt, who is seeking the Democratic nomination.

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who is riding anti-war sentiment to the head of the Democrat pack, said Bush showed "tremendous insensitivity" with his remark.

Even some senior Republicans want straight talk instead of rhetoric.

Last week, Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican senator who chairs the foreign relations committee, said U.S. troops will have to remain in Iraq at least five years.

"This idea that we will be in just as long as we need to and not a day more — we've got to get over that rhetoric. It is rubbish.

"We're going to be there for a long time. We must reorganize our military to be there a long time."

Bandow believes it could take seven or more years to bring order to Iraq — and young Americans will have to pay the price.

"I find that depressing," he says.

"And now, with Iraq going badly, to be moving into Liberia, I can only conclude they have lost their minds."

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Morale Low 06.Jul.2003 14:40


from the July 07, 2003 edition -  http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0707/p02s01-woiq.html

Troop morale in Iraq hits 'rock bottom'
Soldiers stress is a key concern as the Army ponders whether to send more forces.
By Ann Scott Tyson | Special to The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON - US troops facing extended deployments amid the danger, heat, and uncertainty of an Iraq occupation are suffering from low morale that has in some cases hit "rock bottom."

Even as President Bush speaks of a "massive and long-term" undertaking in rebuilding Iraq, that effort, as well as the high tempo of US military operations around the globe, is taking its toll on individual troops.

Some frustrated troops stationed in Iraq are writing letters to representatives in Congress to request their units be repatriated. "Most soldiers would empty their bank accounts just for a plane ticket home," said one recent Congressional letter written by an Army soldier now based in Iraq. The soldier requested anonymity.

In some units, there has been an increase in letters from the Red Cross stating soldiers are needed at home, as well as daily instances of female troops being sent home due to pregnancy.

"Make no mistake, the level of morale for most soldiers that I've seen has hit rock bottom," said another soldier, an officer from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.

Such open grumbling among troops comes as US commanders reevaluate the size and composition of the US-led coalition force needed to occupy Iraq. US Central Command, which is leading the occupation, is expected by mid-July to send a proposal to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on how many and what kind of troops are required, as well as on the rotation of forces there.

For soldiers, a life on the road
The rethink about troop levels comes as senior military leaders voice concern that multiple deployments around the world are already taxing the endurance of US forces, the Army in particular. Some 370,000 soldiers are now deployed overseas from an Army active-duty, guard, and reserve force of just over 1 million people, according to Army figures.

Experts warn that long, frequent deployments could lead to a rash of departures from the military. "Hordes of active-duty troops and reservists may soon leave the service rather than subject themselves to a life continually on the road," writes Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution here.

A major Army study is now under way to examine the impact of this high pace of operations on the mental health of soldiers and families. "The cumulative effect of these work hours and deployment and training are big issues, and soldiers are concerned about it," says Col. Charles Hoge, who is leading the survey of 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers for the Walter Reed Institute of Army Research.

Concern over stressed troops is not new. In the late 1990s, a shrinking of military manpower combined with a rise in overseas missions prompted Congress to call for sharp pay increases for troops deployed over a certain number of days.

"But then came September 11 and the operational tempo went off the charts" and the Congressional plan was suspended, according to Ed Bruner, an expert on ground forces at the Congressional Research Service here.

Adding manpower to the region
Despite Pentagon statements before the war that the goal of US forces was to "liberate, not occupy" Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld warned last week that the war against terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere "will not be over any time soon."

Currently, there are some 230,000 US troops serving in and around Iraq, including nearly 150,000 US troops inside Iraq and 12,000 from Britain and other countries. According to the Pentagon, the number of foreign troops is expected to rise to 20,000 by September. Fresh foreign troops began flowing into Iraq this month, part of two multinational forces led by Poland and Britain. A third multinational force is also under consideration.

A crucial factor in determining troop levels are the daily attacks that have killed more than 30 US and British servicemen in Iraq since Mr. Bush declared on May 1 that major combat operations had ended.

The unexpected degree of resistance led the Pentagon to increase US ground troops in Iraq to mount a series of ongoing raids aimed at confiscating weapons and capturing opposition forces.

A tour of duty with no end in sight
As new US troops flowed into Iraq, others already in the region for several months, such as the 20,000-strong 3rd Infantry Division were retained in Iraq.

"Faced with continued resistance, Department of Defense now plans to keep a larger force in Iraq than anticipated for a period of time," Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, explained in a statement to families a month ago. "I appreciate the turmoil and stress that a continued deployment has caused," he added.

The open-ended deployments in Iraq are lowering morale among some ground troops, who say constantly shifting time tables are reducing confidence in their leadership. "The way we have been treated and the continuous lies told to our families back home has devastated us all," a soldier in Iraq wrote in a letter to Congress.

Security threats, heat, harsh living conditions, and, for some soldiers, waiting and boredom have gradually eroded spirits. An estimated 9,000 troops from the 3rd Infantry Division - most deployed for at least six months and some for more than a year - have been waiting for several weeks, without a mission, to return to the United States, officers say.

In one Army unit, an officer described the mentality of troops. "They vent to anyone who will listen. They write letters, they cry, they yell. Many of them walk around looking visibly tired and depressed.... We feel like pawns in a game that we have no voice [in]."