Steven Clemons of the Washington Note relates a conversation he had on a plane with a soldier who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of what the soldier tells Clemons is obviously wrong (there’s no way he can know, for example, that “75% of all soldiers want Bush defeated in the election and don’t care who defeats him”), but his feelings are real, and I’m sure there is enough truth there for everyone to be alarmed.
He says that 90% of the officers remain far out of harm’s way. From lietenants all the way up, there is general understanding that the officers are hiding in holes, or holding back in well-defended buildings and quite cavalier about sending troops out for assignments and errands that are frequently stupid, poorly planned, and dangerous.
Interestingly, he said that all enlisted men or officers in command positions have orders not to talk about their war experiences with the junior and fresh troops. He refuses — and tells those people under him everything he knows because he thinks it will help save their lives. When he went to Afghanistan at the beginning, basically nothing was told to them; he kept repeating “nothing.” And he said that their basic training in North Carolina was 180 degrees opposite of what they really needed to know for this kind of combat.
He said morale is very low among the troops and that they all want out — few believe in the war or Bush, and he thinks that many of these troops’ negative feelings are being transmitted back to extended family networks that have traditionally been supporters of the Republican Party, like his own family.
He shared quite a bit more, including that his military commanders are planning for at minimum an eight year deployment in Iraq, maybe longer.
There’s a lot more. The soldier says if he was under similar occupation and witness to the types of cruelty we’re doling out to civilians, he’d be fighting, too. The comments are intense, and for the most part they’re quite intelligent. While I’m skeptical of some of the points the soldier makes, I believe Clemons is telling the story fairly and accurately, and it tells me the morale problem among our troops in Iraq is far worse than most of us imagine.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.