White House Is Ambushed By Criticism From America's Military
By Andrew Gumbel, The Independent - UK
Sept. 20, 2003
LOS ANGELES -- George Bush probably owes his presidency to
the absentee military voters who nudged his tally in Florida decisively
past Al Gore's. But now, with Iraq in chaos and the reasons for going to
war there mired in controversy, an increasingly disgruntled military poses
perhaps the gravest immediate threat to his political future, just one year
before the presidential elections.
From Vietnam veterans to fresh young recruits, from seasoned officers to
anxious mothers worried about their sons' safety on the streets of Baghdad
and Fallujah, the military community is growing ever more vocal in its opposition
to the White House.
"I once believed that I served for a cause: 'To uphold and defend the
Constitution of the United States'. Now I no longer believe that,"
Tim Predmore, a member of the 101st Airborne Division serving near Mosul,
wrote in a blistering opinion piece this week for his home newspaper, the
Peoria Journal Star in Illinois. "I can no longer justify my service
for what I believe to be half-truths and bold lies."
The dissenters - many of whom have risked deep disapproval from the military
establishment to voice their opinions - have set up websites with names
such as Bring Them Home Now. They have cried foul at administration plans
to cut veterans' benefits and scale back combat pay for troops still in
Iraq. They were furious at President Bush for reacting to military deaths
in Iraq with the phrase "bring 'em on".
And they have given politically embarrassing prominence to such issues as
the inefficiency of civilian contractors hired to provide shelter, water
and food - many of them contributors to the Bush campaign coffers - and
a mystery outbreak of respiratory illnesses that many soldiers, despite
official denials, believe is related to the use of depleted uranium munitions.
"It is time to speak out because our troops are still dying and our
government is still lying," Candace Robison, a 27-year-old mother of
two from Krum, Texas, and a politically active serviceman's wife, told a
recent protest outside President Bush's Texas ranch. "Morale is at
an all-time low and our heroes feel like they've been forgotten."
How deep the anti-Bush sentiment runs is not yet clear, but there is no
doubt about its breadth. Charlie Richardson, co-founder of a group called
Military Families Speak Out, said: "Our supporters range from pacifists
to people from long military traditions who have supported every war this
country has ever fought - until this one.
"Many people supported this war at the beginning because they believed
the threat from weapons of mass destruction and accepted the link between
Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida ... Now they realise their beliefs were built
on quicksand. They are very angry with the administration and feel they've
Most of the disgruntlement expressed in the field has of necessity been
anonymous, so Tim Predmore's counterblast in the Peoria Journal Star felt
particularly powerful. Having been in the army for five years, he is just
finishing his tour of duty in Iraq. He wrote that he now believes the Iraq
war was about oil, not freedom, "an act not of justice but of hypocrisy.
"We have all faced death in Iraq without reason or justification,"
he added. "How many more must die? How many more tears must be shed
before Americans awake and demand the return of the men and women whose
job it is to protect them rather than their leader's interest?"
Less visible, but no less passionate, has been the ongoing voicing of grievances
over the internet. A prominent military affairs specialist, David Hackworth,
keeps a website filled with angry reflections on conditions in Iraq for
both the military and the local civilian population, and the government
that put the troops there. "Imagine this bastard getting away with
such crap if we had a draftee army," runs one typically scabrous anti-Bush
line from Mr Hackworth.
More considered analysis is also available online, such as this reflection
from a 23-year-old serving in the US Air Force, who wonders what the Iraq
mess is going to do to the future of the US military: "The powers that
be are destroying our military from the inside, especially our Army.
"How many of these people that are 'stranded' (for lack of a better
term) in Iraq are going to re-enlist? How many that haven't deployed are
going to re-enlist ... how many families are going to be destroyed?"
One big rallying point for the critics is the Pentagon's budget plan, which
proposes cutting $1.8 billion (£1.1bn) from veterans' health benefits
and reducing combat pay from the current $225 a month to $150, which is
where it stood until the Iraq war began in the spring. The budget will not
be finalised until later this month, and the White House - embarrassed by
editorials in the Army Times and by news stories in the mainstream press
throughout America - says it won't insist on the combat pay cutback.
Another rallying point is the lack of official explanation for more than
100 cases of respiratory illness in the Middle East. According to the Pentagon,
19 soldiers have required mechanical ventilation and two have died. Military
personnel believe the use of depleted uranium may have played a part in
this mystery illness.
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