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Now the Troops Don’t Want to Be There, Either

May 28th, 2007

One defense of the war in Iraq from conservatives used to be that the soldiers were gung-ho about their mission, that they felt they should stay. I always felt that was a weak defense–after all, soldiers are trained to be gung-ho about their missions. Also, it plays into the idea that the soldiers themselves are somehow tied in to the decision to go into a war or stay there, which the can be twisted by politicians to say that criticizing the politicians is equal to criticizing the troops. In the end, the whole claim is an attempt to save some politician’s ass by covering it with the loyalty of the troops.

But if you still subscribe to the idea that the troops’ attitudes toward the war are a reason to stay or leave, then you should not stop paying attention to what they are saying now:

“In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place,” he said. “There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome.”

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this past February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber’s body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

“I thought, ‘What are we doing here? Why are we still here?’ ” said Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. “We’re helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us.”

His views are echoed by most of his fellow soldiers in Delta Company, renowned for its aggressiveness.

A small minority of Delta Company soldiers – the younger, more recent enlistees in particular – seem to still wholeheartedly support the war. Others are ambivalent, torn between fear of losing more friends in battle, longing for their families and a desire to complete their mission.

With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in Delta Company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.

So, should our decision to stay or not still be based upon the opinions of the soldiers on the ground? Especially the veterans, the ones who understand the mission best? You should really read the whole article, whether or not you subscribe to that point of view.

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  1. Tim Kane
    May 28th, 2007 at 22:04 | #1

    Ah yes, the banality of Bush’s politics is penentrating into the military.

    The public backlash is beggining to smolder and build. The real rendevous with the future is not in September, but in January 2009.

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