Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Postponing a Difficult Debate Until After Elections

Andrew Exum, a former Army captain and the author of This Man's Army, published an op-ed in the New York Times sharply critical of the "stop-loss" policy:
[T]he stop-loss policy is wrong; it runs contrary to the concept of the volunteer military set up in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Many if not most of the soldiers in this latest Iraq-bound wave are already veterans of several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have honorably completed their active duty obligations. But like draftees, they have been conscripted to meet the additional needs in Iraq.

Among them are many of my former comrades in the Second Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, I led a platoon of light infantry first to Kuwait in 2001 and then in combat in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda in 2002. My men had all enlisted before the 9/11 attacks. In Kuwait and Afghanistan, they performed flawlessly, with several earning commendations for bravery in combat.

Yet even after two deployments to Afghanistan, and with many nearing the end of their commitments, these soldiers will have to head to Iraq this summer and remain there for at least a year. I remain close with them, and as the unit received its marching orders a few called me to express their frustration. To a man, they felt a sense of hopelessness —- they know they have little say over their future until the Army releases them.

I grew angry when my former radio operator told me the Army had canceled his orders to return home to San Francisco this month to start college. Another man had been due to leave the Army just two days after the order was given, but was instead told to draw his gear and prepare for 12 months in the desert. And as stressful as these orders are for the soldiers, imagine what their families are feeling. Theirs are lives interrupted by the needs of Iraq. . . .

These soldiers have already been asked to sacrifice much and have done so proudly. Yet the military continues to keep them overseas —- because it knows that through stop-loss it can do so legally, and that it will not receive nearly as much negative publicity as it would by reinstating the draft. . . .

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld continues to claim that the military, as now structured, can meet the needs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is simply wrong, as the Pentagon's actions make clear. In addition to stop-loss, the military is now activating significant portions of the Individual Ready Reserve as part of what it is calling an "involuntary mobilization."

The individual reserve consists of troops who are no longer expected to participate even in regular training; the idea is that they are to be called up only in a catastrophic national emergency. Most are veterans recently released from active duty; others are college students on scholarship and cadets at the service academies.

So several of my former soldiers now in the individual reserve —- who have left the Army, begun new careers and have not even been serving in reserve or National Guard units —- have now been told to expect orders to return to active duty in the near future.

Stop-loss and the activation of the inactive reserve show how politics has taken priority over readiness. The Pentagon uses these policies to meet its needs in Iraq because they are expedient and ask nothing of the civilian populace on the eve of a national election. This allows us to put off what is sure to be a difficult debate: whether our volunteer military is adequate to meet our foreign policy commitments. Meanwhile, in the absence of this debate, the men and women of our armed forces languish. ("For Some Soldiers the War Never Ends," June 2, 2004)
See, also, the Occupation Watch's collection of articles on "Plight of the Occupying Troops."

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