Talking about Iraq is getting harder and harder. Not in the way that talking about Israel is getting harder; there are no forces maumauing dissenters into lockstep. Indeed, the political leadership is lagging the public’s desire to see an end to the occupation of Iraq.
What’s hard to talk about is the agony and suffering being inflicted not just on the Iraqi people, but on our citizens who go to fight there. On one hand, you have soldiers injured in combat being sent back before they heal:
“This is not right,” said Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. …
As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.
On the other hand, lax security and official sexism are combining to allow – perhaps even encourage – soldiers to rape other soldiers.
Spranger and several other women told me the military climate is so severe on whistle-blowers that even they regarded the women who reported rape as incapable traitors. You have to handle it on your own and shut up, is how they saw it. Only on their return home, with time and distance, did they become outraged at how much sexual persecution of women goes on.
Several soldiers I interviewed told me that if a commander won’t tolerate the mistreatment of women, it will not happen, and studies back this up. Jennifer Hogg, 25, who was a sergeant in the Army’s National Guard, said her company treated her well because she had a commander who wouldn’t permit the mistreatment of women. But another National Guard soldier, Demond Mullins, 25, who served with the infantry in Iraq for a year from 2004-05, told me that a commander in his camp turned a blind eye to rape all the time.
“Rapes were happening every night,” he said. “One time a woman was taking a shower late, and guys went and held the door closed so she couldn’t get out, while the others went in to rape her. Married men were doing it, everyone.”
The article also describes women dying of dehydration because they were trying not to have to go to the bathroom late at night. Bathrooms are often poorly lit and placed near noisy generators, so screams can’t be heard.
The appalling conditions at Walter Reed, the mistreatment of soldiers with psychological damage from their experiences in Iraq, all these things combine to make it impossible to even talk about what should be done for the troops.
Of course, our mismanagement hasn’t just affected the soldiers we send to Iraq. The failure of our leaders to plan for this occupation, or to competently execute what plans may have existed, has forced Iraq closer and closer to a civil war. Militias have taken over government ministries, and are being used for explicitly sectarian purposes.
Imagine if every city that voted for John Kerry or Al Gore had been destroyed like New Orleans was, but not by a force of nature mixed with institutional neglect, but by roving gangs led by Karl Rove. Imagine having to wonder whether there was a bomb underneath every soda can or piece of garbage on the road leading to Whole Foods or a Nascar rally. Imagine if the scalps Bill Donohue harvested weren’t just figurative.
We did that to Iraq, and we make it worse every minute we stay there. In a world of competent leadership, there would probably be many wiser courses of action than withdrawing troops, but we don’t live in that world. Congress cannot micromanage the tactics employed by troops in the field. It can put limits on what units are deployed, for instance by requiring that troops only be deployed if they have had adequate time back home, are adequately equipped, and are medically fit. But that is a band-aid on a wound. The wound won’t heal until we take out the knife.