The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


A 12-year war?

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, said it may take as long as 12 years to defeat the insurgents. He said Iraq's security forces will have to finish the job because American and foreign troops will have left the country by then. ... Rumsfeld said he is bracing for even more violence. "We're not going to win against the insurgency. The Iraqi people are going to win against the insurgency. That insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years," Rumsfeld told "Fox News Sunday." [Emphasis courtesy of DailyKos]

What is the probability that the US will be able to train Iraqis to fight on their own? An e-history of the collapse of the South Vietnamese government in 1975 blames a number of purely military problems, but also mentions:

The ability of the North Vietnamese to wage a revolutionary war, which purported to offer the chance for a change in the political order as it existed, was extremely effective in mobilizing the population in the South to support its war effort. By contrast, the South Vietnamese government's inability to offer its people a similar change through the ideals of democracy and economic growth insured a lack of support for the Thieu government, especially during the crisis days of early 1975. The people and soldiers simply had no reason to fight for a government which failed to meet their needs. It matters little that the North's government was just as corrupt and more repressive, as evidenced by the conditions existing in Vietnam today; it matters only that the North Vietnamese and PRG were more effective in offering the people a definite change in the political order as it existed in South Vietnam in 1975.

Because Thieu could not effectively eliminate corruption within his regime, the enticing, ideological arguments offered by the North Vietnamese were able to drive a divisive wedge between the people of South Vietnam and their government. In summary, I intend to show that the collapse of the RVNAF had not occurred suddenly in 1975, nor was the collapse due to any one single factor. Instead, the reasons were many: low morale, uncontrolled corruption, incompetent leadership, and the cutoff of U.S. military aid and air support. However, unless the government of South Vietnam could solve its own political problems, it was condemned to, not only losing the support of its own people, but the support of the American public and Congress as well. The Vietnam War was for the South Vietnamese to win. However, the U.S. could only provide aid to buy time for the government of South Vietnam to make significant reforms and rally the support of its own people to win the war against North Vietnam.

One can argue that the current government of Iraq has no need to "change the political order" as it's supposed to be an improvement on the political order in the first place. The fact that, yes there are many civilian targets of the insurgents in Iraq, but the US troops occupying the country are by far the main target for them, means that the current government of Iraq has a long, long way to go to be self-sustaining. As the insurgents are already self-sustaining in the absence of any clearly visible outside support and in the absence of a unifying political figure, the US-supported government of Iraq has to play catch-up. Is there any serious reason to believe that it wil last any longer than Thieu's government did after the North Vietnamese offensive of 1975 began?

It doesn't seem as though a 12-year struggle is in the cards, with or without American troops occupying Iraq for that whole period. America's support for the war is rapidly drying up and it doesn't appear likely that a self-sustaining government can be created under any circumstances, with any amount of material support.


US opens negotiations with Iraqi military resistance

We learn from a British newspaper (Why can't American newspapers break these big stories?) that the Bush Administration has been "negotiating with terrorists" in Iraq. Of course, it's not quite as simple as that:

The Americans were then said to have launched into a lengthy session of questioning about the structure of the insurgency, which is far from a unified entity.

The links between these groups remain murky and the American team began to irritate the Iraqis with what some saw as a crude attempt to gather intelligence. They asked questions about the “hierarchy and logistics of the groups, how they functioned, how orders were dispatched, how they divide their work and so on”, the Iraqi source said.

“It was a boring line of questioning that indicated an attempt to discover more about their enemy than about finding solutions,” one of the sources added. “We told the translator to inform them that if they persisted with this line we would all walk out of the meeting.”

In any event, the story shows that, once again, as has been proven time and again since Ronald Reagan took office back in 1981, that "no negotiations with terrorists" simply is not, never was and never will be a workable strategy.

Also, the sharp-eyed reader might notice that in an earlier post, I described how silly it was that Bush keeps talking about the armed opposition as though he could "see into their souls" and all that happy horse manure. Quite obviously, if negotiators were making a "crude attempt to gather intelligence" into basic and fundamental matters such as the command structure of the armed opposition, then Bush had absolutely NO basis whatsoever for pretending that he had all this deep, subtle, intricate knowledge about their thoughts and feelings and motivations.

UPDATE: Billmon comments on the confusion caused in conservative/Republican ranks by the switchover from "never negotiate with terrorists" to "well, it's okay to negotiate with some of them some of the time."


Republicans telegraph weakness

Karl Rove demonstrated with an over-the-top speech that Republicans simply have no answer to the question of moderate politicians: "How much time, treasure and blood is it going to take to obtain victory in Iraq?"

More to the point, Karl when you say, “Conservatives saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and prepared for war,” what exactly did you do to prepare for your war? Did your preparations include: sound intelligence to warrant your actions; a reasonable entry and exit strategy coupled with a coherent plan to carry out that strategy; the proper training and equipment for the troops you were sending in to fight your war? Did you follow the advice of experts such as General Shinseki who correctly advised you about the troop levels needed to actually succeed in Iraq? No, you didn't.

It has always been America's policy that you only place soldiers' lives in harm's way when it is absolutely necessary and the absolute last resort. When you send troops into combat you support those troops by providing them with proper equipment and training. Why didn't you do that with the troops that you sent into Iraq? Why weren't their vehicles armored? Why didn't they have protective vests? Why weren't they properly trained about the rules of interrogation? And Karl, when our troops come home – be it tragically in body bags or with missing limbs – you should honor and acknowledge their service to their country. You shouldn't hide them by bringing them home in the dark of night. Most importantly, you should take care of them for the long haul by giving them substantial veteran's benefits and care. To me, that is being patriotic. To me, that is how you support our troops. To me, that is how you show that you know the value of a human life given for its country.

In short, Karl Rove is saying that liberals took an intellectual approach, seeking to understand why America was attacked on 9/11. Conservatives were “manly men” who went off and attacked. As Kristen Breitweiser points out here however, it's not like Republicans have succeeded in their war. It appeared for a short time in early 2003 that they did, but by summertime it was clear to less enthusiastic Americans that the war was far from over. People have pointed out that if 9/11 can be compared to Pearl Harbor and if late 2001 can be compared to late 1941, mid-2005 doesn't seem to bear any relation to mid-1945. By mid-1945, the Allies had already begun standing down and demobilizing from World War II. Staff members had long since begun planning for how to bring our victorious soldiers back home. In sharp contrast, America is still stumbling through a very long, dark tunnel in mid-2005 with no light visibile.
By going on the attack and seeking to blame liberals for their loss, Rove is making it clear that conservatives are completely lost and have no clue as to what to do next.


Bush's radio speech

The Comics Journal once did a review of a standard, basic, not-very-prominent comic. They tore it up. The author was absolutely furious with them. Their explanation went roughly: "Every now and then, we choose a really bad example of the state of the art in comics today and take it out and flog it." In that spirit, let's take a look at Bush's latest justifications for the Iraq War.

As we work to deliver opportunity at home, we're also keeping you safe from threats from abroad.

Bush couldn't point out much in the way of opportunities he had made available to Americans. He never even mentioned the employment picture, the single most important measure of opportunity.

We went to war because we were attacked,

???? When? By whom? What was the attack that prompted the war with Iraq? Oh, I get it, that flea-bitten old dog that's been used to justify everything from here to Timbuktu, 9/11! Back in the 1870s, when people used the Civil War to justify everything, other people called it "Waving the bloody shirt". Well, here's our only president, "waving the bloody shirt" of 9/11. Set aside the fact that there's a great deal of evidence that many, many people within the US and the Bush Administration appear to have been aware that 9/11 was about to occur, there has never been a smidgen of evidence that Iraq had anything whatsoever to do with it.

and we are at war today because there are still people out there who want to harm our country and hurt our citizens.

But there have been no attacks since 9/11. Oh, you mean the people who are fighting US troops in Iraq? That's quite different, of course. Defending one's country (Over 95% of the armed resistance to the US occupation is native Iraqi.) has always been the right of any person and always will be. Protesting that our intentions are good has precisely nothing to do with the issue.

Some may disagree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but all of us can agree that the world's terrorists have now made Iraq a central front in the war on terror.

I'm not so sure about that. Seems to me there's a big fight taking place there, but to be a "central front", there needs to be solidarity among Arabs. The Arab countries as a whole have to feel that the US is out to get them and that it's a matter of stopping the American offensive in Iraq or waiting for it to come to them. There are many neo-conservatives who feel the war there is just the beginning and many more Arabs believe it today than believed it in February 2003, but this is far from a general feeling. There is indeed an equivalent of America's "Lincoln Brigade" (Spanish Civil War) fighting in Iraq, but it has no official sponsorship of any discernible kind and there is no evidence that it's centrally directed.

These foreign terrorists violently oppose the rise of a free and democratic Iraq, because they know that when we replace despair and hatred with liberty and hope, they lose their recruiting grounds for terror.

Miss Manners instructed us in her column never to try and peer into the murky depths of someone else's soul. If we don't draw conclusions strictly from someone's words and actions, we're sure to make errors and misjudgments. I believe it's a mistake to try and guess what the ultimate goals and motivations of the Iraqis battling the American occupation are. The President is entirely correct however, when he points out that causing hatred in foreign lands is a really good way to provoke violence. Too bad he doesn't appear to understand that occupying an Arab country while giving the impression that he'll never leave is part of the problem. Iraqis long since concluded that America is an occupying power and that the label "liberators" stopped applying a long, long time ago.

Our troops are fighting these terrorists in Iraq so you will not have to face them here at home.

Wow! I sure hope Iraqis don't hear that. I don't think they'd appreciate being the sacrificial beasts for America's safety and security. How would Americans feel if China invades and then claims that it has to keep fighting a war that's expensive in US lives because they're trying to save Chinese lives at our expense? Bloggers discussed this "Flypaper" theory back a year or so ago and concluded it was a completely idiotic notion. There is no fixed or solid "lump of terrorism" and never will be. The number of people engaged in terroristic tactics depends on many, many factors that have very little to do with purely military responses.

We mourn every one of these brave men and women who have given his or her life for our liberty.

Very nice statement, but what does the Iraq War have to do with "our liberty"?

The terrorists know they cannot defeat our troops, so they seek to weaken our nation's resolve.

This strikes me as an accurate reading.

They know there is no room for them in a free and democratic Middle East, so the terrorists and insurgents are trying to get us to retreat. Their goal is to get us to leave before Iraqis have had a chance to show the region what a government that is elected and truly accountable to its citizens can do for its people.

Again, much too much mind-reading here. Bush is reading far too much about the goals and motivations of our armed opponents into what can discern from their actions. Accountability is a sick joke when one considers that "contractors" (i.e. mercenaries) are accountable to neither the American military chain of command nor to the Iraqi government. The CPA was never in control enough to do anything with them either. If an Iraqi gets roughed up or killed by a mercenary? Too bad, so sad.

Time and again, the Iraqi people have defied the skeptics who claim they are not up to the job of building a free society. Nearly a year ago, Iraqis showed they were ready to resume sovereignty. A few months ago, Iraqis showed they could hold free elections. This week, Iraqis have worked on an agreement to expand their constitutional drafting committee to ensure that all communities are represented in the process. I am confident that Iraqis will continue to defy the skeptics as they build a new Iraq that represents the diversity of their nation and assumes greater responsibility for their own security.

People in the right wing may have claimed that Iraqis aren't up to the task of being free. Bush has been suggesting for years that the left doesn't have any such faith. He's never supplied a shred of evidence.

And when they do, our troops can come home with the honor they have earned.

Senator John Kerry pointed out late in the campaign of 2004 that the US was building bases that looked awfully permanent to his eyes. I'll consider Bush's promise a lie until I see evidence to the contrary.

This mission isn't easy, and it will not be accomplished overnight.

What exactly IS the mission? Having some idea of what the US is trying to achieve there would help. It's impossible to gauge how long the mission will be if no one has any idea what the endpoint looks like.

We're fighting a ruthless enemy that relishes the killing of innocent men, women, and children.

What turns them on even more is hastening the end of the American occupation of their country. The killing of innocents has always been part of the war over there, but the great majority of attacks have taken place against soldiers. Do they "relish" killing innocents? Again, this is mind-reading. Bush is trying to tell at a distance of 6,000+ miles what is in their souls.

By making their stand in Iraq, the terrorists have made Iraq a vital test for the future security of our country and the free world. We will settle for nothing less than victory.

"We" white man? I don't see you or anyone you know giving their sons or daughters to the fight. Far as we can see, conservatives have "other priorities". Awfully nice of Bush to make a commitment in our name while refusing to call upon right-wingers to enlist or urging his political allies to sign people up.


More news on the unsuitability of Bolton for any federal position

Obsidian Wings relates how John Bolton obstructed progress on securing nuclear materials in Russia. It seems that Russia had 68 tons of weapons-grade plutonium that it was willing to move to secure quarters, but Bolton held up progress for two years because he wanted to ensure that US contractors were not held liable for anything that happened on their watch.
Thus, the world lost two years in which more nuclear material could have been secured because the US had an incompetent hack (That's the nice interpretation) in charge of arms control.


Thomas Friedman's idea on how to win in Iraq

Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, comments on Thomas Friedman's idea of doubling US troop strength in Iraq to 260,000:

It is an index of how desperate the US political class is that impractical ideas are put forward by major journalists in newspapers of record that have already reported on their impracticality.

Cole's criticism is that Friedman suggestion fails to take into account many rather basic facts. The first of those involves the question of “How desperate is the US to fill the ranks?”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an estimated 15,000 "private security agents" are currently operating in Iraq.

Another estimate is that:

There are currently 130,000 US soldiers, 9000 British, and 15,000 other coalition soldiers operating in Iraq. With estimates of more than 30,000 private 'security experts,' mercenaries now compose the second largest military force in the country.

The US is already paying an arm and a leg to hire mercenaries from the US, India, South Africa and Chile. Obviously, the US wouldn't need to do that if people back home were stampeding into the recruiter's offices. Well, actually they are, but not in the way recruiters would like. Instead, angry parents are storming into recruiters offices to complain about recruiters pressuring their kids to sign up. Republicans are no help as no one on the right-wing side of the fence is putting out the call to join up.

Remember, the War Preachers, War Politicians, War Pundits and 101st Fighting Keyboardists refuse to call for enlistment. They refuse to fight themselves. And no one else wants to fight their war.

President Bush made a whole series of college commencement addresses in May, NONE of which included a call for college graduates to sign up for military service. As has been pointed out many times, most notably by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11, virtually none of the Congressmen who support the war in Iraq have sons or daughters serving there. Nor do many members of the Bush Administration have any experience with war (Bush failed to complete his Texas Air National Guard service, Rumsfeld served as a fighter pilot, Powell was Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that's about it.) and very few have sons or daughters serving in Iraq. Bush's two daughters are both college graduates, making them eligible for Officer Candidate School, yet despite the fact that neither one has found a job a full year after graduation, neither one has shown any interest in signing up.

So it remains quite difficult to see where Friedman gets the idea that 130,000 soldiers could be added to the US Army.


Timmerman on Jon Stewart's Daily Show

On June 16, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart featured a talk with the author of "Countdown to Crisis," Kenneth Timmerman. Timmerman was of the opinion that Iranians would welcome a forcible “Regime Change” on the part of the US and would basically, as people predicted for Iraq a few years back, greet invading US troops with flowers and kisses.

One of ANSWER's local members is an Iranian who had visited his relatives over there a few months back. He briefed the rest of us at a recent meeting. Yes, the revolution that deposed the Shah was way back in 1979 and, quite understandably, people's enthusiasm has faded over time and Iranians are getting a bit uncomfortable and feeling a bit restricted. Is Iran a dictatorship? Not exactly. The president was properly elected by any criteria one might wish to apply, but he does not control all of his agencies. The religious authorities maintain quite a bit of control over national security agencies and areas touching on religion. There are avenues where Iranians are free to express themselves. Iran is neither a complete dictatorship nor is it a full-fledged democracy. Our speaker and I are in full agreement that Iran could certainly liberalize more and that Iranians would like to loosen the reins a bit.

But no, Iranians are not at all enthusiastic about being invaded by American troops. Yes, they are fully aware of the situation next door and feel that it is an unmitigated disaster. They have zero desire to repeat the experience. I believe Jon was entirely correct to express skepticism about Timmerman's rosy outlook on a possible American invasion of that country. My own understanding is that Iran would react to an invasion by first setting off bombs and launching small-scale guerrilla attacks all over the Mideast and then by adopting Russia's classic tactics against invaders, i.e. draw the enemy troops in and attack them when their supply lines get too stretched out and they're too deep inside the country to effectively withdraw or get relieved.

Seems to me that an invasion of Iran would be a very quick and effective way to annihilate what's left of America's armed forces after the disaster in Iraq.


Comparing AI's charges to descriptions of same

Amnesty International (AI) is raked over the coals by the author of Gulag. Anne Applebaum, who wrote about the Soviet gulag (The Gulag Archipelago was a name made famous by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the mid-1970s when he made his way to the US and published a book by that name.) that referred to truly horrible camps in which 18 million Soviet citizens were forced to do hard manual labor and in which millions perished. They were quite extensive and were rooted in Soviet ideology and the Soviet state.
Amnesty International summarizes in their Americas section (emphasis theirs) :

Regional overview 2004

Respect for human rights remained an illusion for many as governments across the Americas failed to comply with their commitments to uphold fundamental human rights. Widespread torture, unlawful killings by police and arbitrary detention persisted. The US-led “war on terror” continued to undermine human rights in the name of security, despite growing international outrage at evidence of US war crimes, including torture, against detainees.
National security and the ‘war on terror’

The blatant disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law in the “war on terror” continued to make a mockery of President George Bush’s claims that the USA was the global champion of human rights. Images of detainees in US custody tortured in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shocked the world. War crimes in Iraq, and mounting evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody in other countries, sent an unequivocal message to the world that human rights may be sacrificed ostensibly in the name of security.

President Bush’s refusal to apply the Geneva Conventions to those captured during the international armed conflict in Afghanistan and transferred to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was challenged by a judicial decision in November. The ruling resulted in the suspension of trials by military commission in Guantánamo, and the government immediately lodged an appeal. The US administration’s treatment of detainees in the “war on terror” continued to display a marked ambivalence to the opinion of expert bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and even of its own highest judicial body. Six months after the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the Guantánamo detainees, none had appeared in court. Detainees reportedly considered of high intelligence value remained in secret detention in undisclosed locations. In some cases their situation amounted to “disappearance”.

The AI Secretary General then made the comment that has attracted so much furious denunciation:

In 1973 AI published its first report on torture. It found that: “torture thrives on secrecy and impunity. Torture rears its head when the legal barriers against it are barred. Torture feeds on discrimination and fear. Torture gains ground when official condemnation of it is less than absolute.” The pictures of detainees in US custody in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, show that what was true 30 years ago remains true today.

Despite the near-universal outrage generated by the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib, and the evidence suggesting that such practices are being applied to other prisoners held by the USA in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and elsewhere, neither the US administration nor the US Congress has called for a full and independent investigation.

Instead, the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to “re-define” torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding “ghost detainees” (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the "rendering" or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practice torture. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process.

The USA, as the unrivaled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behavior worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a license to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and “counter-terrorism”.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made it clear that he disapproved. (emphasis FoxNews)

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended the military's handling of detained terror suspects Wednesday while acknowledging that some have been mistreated, "sometimes grievously."

Rumsfeld said the U.S. military has done more than any other force to liberate oppressed people and has gone to great lengths to ensure that detainees are free to practice their religion.

"Indeed, that's why the recent allegation that the U.S. military is running a gulag at Guantanamo Bay is so reprehensible," he said.

Note that the AI charges are considerably reduced from "restrict[ing] the application of the Geneva Conventions" to initiating "the practice of holding 'ghost detainees' ” to setting a bad example, thereby causing bad practices to spread throughout the rest of the world by Rumsfeld to a complaint about how AIs wording of the issue is "reprehensible". We then got the WaPo Op-Ed from Applebaum about how AI has supposedly overstated the issue.

Amnesty, in other words, was an organization that once knew the meaning of the word "gulag." Amnesty also once knew the importance of political neutrality. On its Web site, the organization still describes itself as "independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion." In the Cold War era, this neutrality was important, since it prevented the organization's publications, whether on prison food or prison deaths, from being seen as propaganda for one side or another.

I don't know when Amnesty ceased to be politically neutral or at what point its leaders' views morphed into ordinary anti-Americanism. But surely Amnesty's recent misuse of the word "gulag" marks some kind of turning point. In the past few days, not only has Amnesty's secretary general, Irene Khan, called the U.S. prison for enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "the gulag of our times," but Amnesty's U.S. director, William Schulz, has agreed that U.S. prisons for enemy combatants are "similar at least in character, if not in size, to what happened in the gulag." In an interview, Schulz also said that foreign governments should prosecute U.S. officials, as if they were the equivalent of the Soviet Union's criminal leadership.

Again, the very serious issues that AI presents are reduced to a quibble over wording. Applebaum then goes into flights of fancy:

Thus Guantanamo is the gulag, President Bush is Generalissimo Stalin, and the United States, in Khan's words, is a "hyper-power" that "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights" just like the Soviet Union. In part, I find this comparison infuriating because in the Soviet Union it would have been impossible for the Supreme Court to order the administration to change its policies in Guantanamo Bay, as it has done, or for the media to investigate Abu Ghraib, as they has done, or for Irene Khan to publish an independent report about anything at all.

First of all, as AI points out, yes "the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the Guantánamo detainees," BUT "none had appeared in court". Yes, it's marvelous that the Supreme Court "order[ed] the administration to change its policies", but it's hardly a cause for celebration that its ruling has yet to be enforced. AI did not make a comparison between Bush and Stalin, but it's hardly a stretch to suggest that the Bush Administration "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights", that is, it's not a stretch IF one takes AI's whole list of charges seriously. If one, as Rumsfeld does, reduces the charges to quibbles over wording and whether the US respects the religion of detainees, then one might reasonably suspect AI of overstating its case.
Applebaum disputes the "gulag" charge "because our detention centers are not intrinsic to our political system, and because they are therefore not 'similar in character' to the gulag at all." This is a truly silly complaint that trivializes the issue at hand. Yes, it's entirely true that the "Gulag" was central to the Soviet system and was deeply rooted in Soviet ideology, but AI said nothing about how Guantanamo related to American political ideology. AI was simply comparing how prisoners were treated under the two systems. The answer is that they are treated in a manner much too similar for Americans to feel good about the comparison. Americans had this debate when Abu Ghraib first came to our collective attention. Liberals recoiled in complete disgust when conservatives were reduced to arguing that Americans behaved slightly better than had the regime of Saddam Hussein. We were like "Dude, if THAT's the best argument you can come up with...".

As I've said before, America once compared itself to a "city on a hill". Once, America set itself up as something that all Mankind could look to for an example as to how Mankind could govern itself. Once, America stood for something more than just grubby self-interest and immediate advantage.

BTW, Liberal Oasis points out that the charges are starting to stick. And yes, I'm interpreting the word "Mankind" to refer to ALL human beings.


Army recruitment down

On June 10th (A Friday, generally a day to do a document dump for unwanted news that the government would rather keep quiet.), the government will release armed services recruitment figures for May. The figure released for April were disappointing to the government for two reasons: 1. It was low by absolute standards (42% below target, only 3821 recruits versus an expected 6600) and 2. it was low considering that schools are just letting out, freeing up many thousands of graduates to join the service. As there's a war on in Iraq and as a guerrilla war requires an extremely heavy reliance on infantry, this is an absolutely horrible time to be experiencing a shortfall.

Looking at President Bush's speeches given at graduation commencements over the last month, he gave no sign that he was at all concerned about the drop in recruitment. At Grand Rapids, he asked graduates to consider community service and did not mention the military option. He gave no indication as to exactly how terrorism will be defeated by students going into community service, but suggested that there might be a connection.

Possible reasons for potential recruits to be avoiding military service:

  1. The war in Iraq is an unusually fierce one. The armed resistance appears to have a solid backbone of former Iraqi Army personnel. ABC News recently reprinted details from a sniper's online manual posted from Iraq. The instructions were well-written and contained many detailed tips for snipers that only an experienced Iraq Army officer or non-com would have thought of.
  2. The incident of al Qa-qaa came to light shortly before the 2004 presidential election and briefly became an issue in that campaign. When US troops were advancing towards Baghdad in early 2003, they didn't have enough troops to both secure the various ammunition dumps and to continue their advance. The choice was made to continue on to Baghdad. Al Qa-qaa was a three-square-mile dump that contained hundreds of tons of very high-intensity plastic explosives. TV cameras had taken pictures of the ammunition dump where the plastic explosives were stored and their UN arms inspector seals were intact. Because the US could not provide enough troops to guard the dump, the seals were later found broken and all of the explosives missing. The result has been that the armed resistance in Iraq is extremely well-armed.
  3. Furthermore, Iraq is a society where being armed with at least an AK-47 is not at all unusual. US solders confiscated quite a few weapons held by private individuals before realizing this.
  4. The capacity of the armed resistance takes a real toll. The road between the Baghdad Airport and the Green Zone is probably the single most important road in the entire country and it costs $5,000 to hire the men and vehicles necessary to transit the road.
  5. Unlike Vietnam, where there were quiet areas and various adult recreations (See the movie Full Metal Jacket) available, there are no quiet areas in Iraq where soldiers can have any down time and relax. Being a Muslim country means that soldiers must make do with more family-friendly-type activities then they are accustomed to.
  6. The resistance has long contained foreign jihadists from around the Arab world, but it has been noted that foreigners have never formed more than about 5% of the forces opposing the US presence in Iraq. At the latest Veterans for Peace annual dinner, a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War testified that he had been in Baghdad for a full year and never once clashed with anyone who was not a native Iraqi. As his tour of duty was in the very beginning of the war, the situation might very well have changed, but it's a serious stretch to claim that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has much to do with the struggle there. This creates a very serious troop morale/PR problem as colonial wars have never been popular in the US. The war in the Philippines from 1899 to 1913 is largely forgotten today, most likely because it uncomfortably reminds Americans of their own struggles against Great Britain from 1775 to 1783 and from 1812 to 1815.
  7. The most critical part of the whole Abu Ghraib scandal as far as morale goes is that the American leadership demonstrated that it does not hold itself accountable for what happens on it's watch. Seymour Hersh has pointed out that:
    Three days later the army began an investigation. But it is what was not done that is significant. There is no evidence that President Bush, upon learning of the devastating conduct at Abu Ghraib, asked any hard questions of Rumsfeld and his own aides in the White House; no evidence that they took any significant steps, upon learning in mid-January of the abuses, to review and modify the military's policy toward prisoners. I was told by a high-level former intelligence official that within days of the first reports the judicial system was programmed to begin prosecuting the enlisted men and women in the photos and to go no further up the chain of command.
    Despite Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo - not to mention Iraq and the failure of intelligence - and the various roles they played in what went wrong, Rumsfeld kept his job; Rice was promoted to secretary of state; Alberto Gonzales, who commissioned the memos justifying torture, became attorney general; deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz was nominated to the presidency of the World Bank; and Stephen Cambone, under-secretary of defence for intelligence and one of those most directly involved in the policies on prisoners, was still one of Rumsfeld's closest confidants. President Bush, asked about accountability, told the Washington Post before his second inauguration that the American people had supplied all the accountability needed - by re-electing him. Only seven enlisted men and women have been charged or pleaded guilty to offences relating to Abu Ghraib. No officer is facing criminal proceedings.
    The basic problem here is that low-ranking American soldiers are still at risk for war crimes trials even though the people in charge have acted with impunity. If a Sergeant or a Corporal gets caught, they alone suffer the consequences.
  8. If an American soldier perishes or is wounded, he or she will be returned to America in the dead of the night, hidden as though they were a shameful secret or an embarrassment.
  9. The right wing as a whole is not calling on anybody to join up. "Remember, the War Preachers, War Politicians, War Pundits and 101st Fighting Keyboardists refuse to call for enlistment. They refuse to fight themselves. And no one else wants to fight their war."