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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.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.
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.
- 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.
- 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."