The famously tough GI Joes and Janes in Iraq can’t take it anymore. Stories about morale problems are trickling in and in them they carry explosive seeds of domestic politics. Overworked, undersupplied and angry at the apparent calm of their quip-from-the-hip boss Donald Rumsfeld, they are breaking the code of silence and complaining. Mostly by e-mails to family and letters to those who can broadcast their message.
Angry outbursts are filling mailboxes of ex-army generals who occasionally take on the Rummy-Cheney-Wolfie club on talk shows and drill some reality in. Apart from the usual complaints about leathery meals-ready-to-eat and boiling hot drinking water, griping GIs have health issues and supply problems. Relatives are responding by sending "care packages" and volunteers are collecting canned food and mosquito repellents.
They are in sniper alley but many of their vehicles are broken, spare parts are long in coming and the meltdown rate for Bradley tyres in the desert has restricted movement. The entire Michelin tyre factory has been redirected to produce only for the US military, not for civilians. The troops want out, they want rotation, anything to cool off from this endless adventure.
Here is an assessment from Retd. Col. David Hackworth, America’s most decorated soldier and now an enthusiastic disseminator of samizdat literature from the underground in Iraq.
"We’ve tasked half the force we had in 1991 with twice the number of missions. More than 500,000 GI Joes and Janes are deployed in 120 countries. And a chunk of rubber or a military force can only be stretched so far before it snaps. That’s what the troops are trying to tell us – that they’re getting to the breaking point."
By all realistic barometers, it is now a guerrilla war where occupied Iraqis, Baathist sympathizers and assorted bands of Shia-Sunni troublemakers are shooting US troops at a slow, creepy rate. The battlefield is complicated and the tech-dependent Pentagon at a loss. With water and power lines still not fully restored, the occupation grows uglier every day and the Iraqis angrier every minute.
Given the horrible scenario, one might assume the Bush Administration would seriously try to spread the risk, get friends and allies to share the burden even if it means a bit of compromise. Like going back to the United Nations. India and Pakistan, the two battle-hardened countries which can actually relieve the stress on US troops by sending significant numbers, want a clear UN mandate before committing their men.
Whether India should ask for what New Delhi has openly called a "cover" before going to protect its interests, diaspora and trading zone is another debate altogether. But why the Americans won’t swallow a bit of pride and go back to the United Nations is puzzling -- when their soldiers are near rebellion, Democratic presidential candidates are raising questions and the American media is finally wondering about the faulty intelligence and shifting objectives.
But the Cheney-Rummy-Wolfie crowd is hell-bent on keeping full control in Iraq and any talk of a compromise UN resolution is taboo. Ideology and score-settling are more important to this hubris-plagued set than accommodation. And nursing grudges from the past when other countries dared to disagree. Paul Wolfowitz, Rummy’s no. 2 and the brain behind the war, told senators that while he would "welcome" any resolution to make it easier for others to send troops, he would be "very concerned" about "limitations" on their top man Paul Bremer in Iraq.
So there you have it. Currently, Bremer rules supreme and they like it that way. So what if the troops are tired -- they signed up for the job, didn’t they?
A new resolution, by definition, would diminish Pentagon’s authority in Iraq. France and Germany, of course, will extract their pound of flesh -- a UN lead in peacekeeping, control over the development funds for Iraq and open bidding for reconstruction contracts. They also want a clear time frame for when the Iraqis would be allowed to govern themselves.
The score-settling hasn’t even begun and one can only imagine the blood-letting in the UN corridors when America’s lonely diplomat Colin Powell actually goes to rally others. When Powell broached the subject early August with trial balloons about a second resolution, there was audible cheering from Britain, France and Germany. Tony Blair wants nothing more than to prove to fellow Europeans there are detectable strains of internationalism in the Bush Administration. But Blair can’t get a concession to speak of, all his high oratory sounding hollow in this town of neo-con supremacists.
Kofi Annan, the increasingly tired UN secretary general, made his pitch to Washington recently and revealed that even the Arab League was willing to send forces but under the UN command. The legitimacy the UN offers is important to many, hard as it may be for the American leadership to understand. In UN terms, the current resolution merely "appeals to countries to contribute" troops but doesn’t "authorise" the contribution.
Hidden in this fine distinction are matters of command and control, funds and who controls what. Almost every country wants America to twist in the winds a bit; but if some accommodation is made, they are willing to come around because too much is at stake. France’s maximalist demand of a clear, UN-mandated force can be toned down with some deft diplomacy but the question is: Does Washington want to make the effort? The crowd in control here is closed to anything smelling like a good idea.
As Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said of the baffling scenario: "What are we giving up? Are we giving up the right to get shot alone?"
Meanwhile, the GI s anxiously wait for the jawans to come to their rescue.