The “surge” is George Bush’s last cast of the dice. He is throwing his final reinforcements into the battle for Iraq. If this effort fails, he has nothing left to rush into the fight unless he strips every Army post here and abroad, leaving the nation with no reserves for any kind of contingency.
As he takes this gamble, worries grow about the underlying condition of the Army: its equipment shortages, its exhausted regulars, its increasingly overused and unready National Guard. Concerns intensify about the well-being of the expeditionary force after years of chasing up and down Iraq, avoiding ambushes and taking casualties with little to show but perplexity.
“Of the Army’s 650,000 soldiers who have been to Iraq so far, about 170,000 have served more than one tour, according to the Army,” the Christian Science Monitor reports. “The incidence of post-battle stress goes up by over 50 percent for the second tour, Army surveys show. Moreover, battlefield dangers are ubiquitous: 76 percent of soldiers know someone who has been killed or seriously injured, and 55 percent have experienced a nearby explosion of an improvised bomb.
Outgoing Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker told Congress on December 15 that the existing deployment policy is “untenable in the long term unless the Army can add a massive number of soldiers or get access to more reservists to relieve active-duty troops.”
Even in the not so long term the signs are troubling. Although most reports have it that the morale of the American expeditionary force in Iraq remains high, many soldiers show signs of turning skeptical about what it is doing, doubtful about their Commander in Chief and dubious about the likelihood of coming out of Iraq ahead of the other side.
Military Times, the unofficial but authoritative journal covering the defense establishment, has published its year-end poll of what the boots on the ground think of their mission. All those answering the poll’s questions are on active duty; two-thirds of them have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. These are the men and women in whom the success of American intentions reside.
In answer to the question “Should the U.S. have gone to war in Iraq?” only 41 percent said yes as contrasted to a year ago, when 56 percent said yes. A startling 37 percent said no, with 11 percent deciding not to answer, which sounds like a “no, but I don’t want to be recorded as saying so.”
On that question the Military Times says, “As in the previous two years, Military Times Poll respondents were reluctant to express opinions, even anonymously, about the commander-in-chief or his policies. About one in five refused to say whether they approved of the president’s performance on Iraq or overall.