politics, history and the war on terror
Sunday, May 02, 2004
Problems and Apologies 

Paul Rieckhoff, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and former Lieutenant in the US Army, gave today's Weekly Democratic Radio Address. The theme of this radio address was to point out that President Bush has failed to plan for Iraq, provide the necessary supplies for American soldiers and will not live up to his mistakes. Excerpted are portions of the address.

Lt. Rieckhoff states the U.S. Army is poorly supplied, and repeats now debunked rumors about bottled water and flack vests:

But when we got to Baghdad, we soon found out that the people who planned this war were not ready for us. There were not enough vehicles, not enough ammunition, not enough medical supplies, not enough water. Many days, we patrolled the streets of Baghdad in 120 degree heat with only one bottle of water per soldier. There was not enough body armor, leaving my men to dodge bullets with Vietnam-era flak vests. We had to write home and ask for batteries to be included in our care packages. Our soldiers deserved better.

If there is one thing you can depend on about soldiers, it is they will never have enough supplies, and they will gripe about it. Good soldiers make due with what they have, and do not complain about this outside ot the ranks. Excellent soldiers are very creative. Soldiers have received care packages from home to make up for the shortfall in supplies since soldiering became a profession. The myth about the water shortage has been disproved many times over, such as here in the First Armored Division's newpaper:

As for Brown's assertion that drinking water is in short supply in Iraq, the Defense Department has repeatedly asserted that while bottled water, which is expensive to transport, may be rationed in Iraq, there has never been a shortage of potable, purified water for troops.

Lt. Rieckhoff is crying over Evian when potable water is available. No soldier died from lack of water in Iraq. The lack of body armor for soldiers is serious, but is due to a lack of supply, not a lack money (also from the First Armored Division's paper):

DOD officials have said that the manufacturer of the new vests is producing the armor as rapidly as possible, and that the new vests are priority shipped to the Middle East.

Supply lags are nothing new to the military as well. He describes his mission Iraq as a waiting game:

When Baghdad fell, we soon found out that the people who planned this war were not ready for that day either. Adamiyah, the area in Baghdad we had been assigned to, was certainly not stable. The Iraqi people continued to suffer. And we dealt with shootings, killings, kidnappings, and robberies for most of the spring. We waited for troops to fill the city and military police to line the streets. We waited for foreign aid to start streaming in by the truckload. We waited for interpreters to show up and supply lines to get fixed. We waited for more water. We waited and we waited and the attacks on my men continued…and increased. With too little support and too little planning, Iraq had become our problem.

What exactly did he expect after the defeat of Saddam's regime? Insta-peace? Iraq was a nation under a ruthless leader for over thirty years, its problems are systemic and will take years to fix. Who exactly did he expect to fix the problems: The French, Russian and Germans? American waged war on Iraq, and if he did not realize that we are ultimately responsible for the situation in Iraq, he was not thinking very clearly. He appears to have wanted everyone else but his unit to address the problems he witnessed.

One year ago today, our President had declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over. We heard of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, and we heard him say that "Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home."

The mission President Bush referred to was the overthrow of Saddam's regime, not the end of the struggle in Iraq. In that same speech, President Bush recognized early on the challenges America faced in restoring order and rebuilding Iraq:

We have difficult work to do in Iraq……. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done and then we will leave and we will leave behind a free Iraq.

But those statements by the President not would fit into the narrative that the Bush administration was unprepared for the problems in Iraq. Continuing with Lt. Rieckhoff's radio address:

But three days before we were supposed to leave, we were told that our stay in Iraq would be extended, indefinitely

He should have prepared his troops for this possibility, especially if the situation on the ground was as bad as he stated. Doesn't that fact that his unit was ordered to stay long discount the theories that the Bush administration did not recognize problems and showed a willingness to adapt?

Our platoon had been away from their families for seven months. Two babies had been born. Three wives had filed for divorce and a fiancée sent a ring back to a kid in Baghdad. 39 men missed their homes. And they wouldn't see their homes for another eight months.

This is the hardship every soldier faces. No other profession that asks more in terms of family sacrifice than the military. Ours is a volunteer service, and soldiers understand the risk and sacrifice they may face during times of war. During World War II, many soldiers did not return home to see their families for four years.

I don't expect an easy solution to the situation in Iraq, I do expect an admission that there are serious problems that need serious solutions. I don't expect our leaders to be free of mistakes, I expect our leaders to own up to them.

What do Lt. Rieckhoff, the media and the Democratic leadership expect an apology will accomplish, other than provide ammunition for the Kerry campaign during a hotly contested political season? During his last press conference, President Bush was barraged by numerous questions about his mistakes and failures, but he refused to take the bait. Lt. Rieckhoff's knowledge of history is sorely lacking. Did President Lincoln apologize for Bull Run, Antitem or Gettysburg? Did President Roosevelt apologize for Pearl Harbor, the opening failures of the African campaign or the initial setbacks in the Battle of the Bulge? Did President Truman apologize for American troops almost being driven out of Korea after failing to predict the involvement of the Chinese? Did President Kennedy apologize for the Bay of Pigs? These presidents had wars to fight, and apologies would not have impact the outcome of a war; they would only provide the enemy with propaganda to show their efforts are succeeding.

The radio address is the standard fare of the Democratic party: claim President Bush was shortsighted in planning the Iraq war, unable to involve international partners, and incapable of adapting to unforeseen problems. War is chaotic and risky by nature; your enemy rarely fights the way you expect him to fight. Given the progress in Iraq one year later and the incredibly low casualties by historic standards for an operation so large, it is difficult to argue the Bush administration has not performed well. Not perfect, as mistakes have and will be made, but as well as can be expected. The American public does not expect perfection from its leaders, but it does expect clarity and resolve. The constant carping by Senator Kerry without offering alternative solutions, other than involving an unwilling United Nations, is neither clear nor resolute.

Posted by bill roggio @ 12:10 AM