[Marxism] Int'l H-T: Is Iraq destroying the "professional ['volunteer'] army?
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Dec 29 20:11:18 MST 2004
William Pfaff: An army's morale on the downswing
International Herald Tribune Wednesday, December 29, 2004
PARIS When George W. Bush was first elected president, civil-military
relations in the United States were worse than they had ever been
before. They are no better today, for more serious reasons.
The decline had begun with the Vietnam War. The less perspicacious part
of the officer corps chose to blame civilian interference for the loss
in that war.
What the military would have done in Vietnam without civilian
interference remains unclear; they never offered the government a
coherent alternative plan to the one provided by Robert McNamara,
Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. This was undoubtedly because there
wasn't one - the war was unwinnable, short of the Dresden option (an
option retested in November at Falluja in Iraq).
With the Vietnam defeat, the years of the "hollow army" began, with an
angry and alienated military leadership, unsympathetic politicians and
an amnesiac public.
A non-conscript professional army was built up. The result of
professionalization was to create an officer corps politically on the
right. This concerned academic observers and civilians sympathetic to
the military, as well as thoughtful officers themselves, aware of the
importance of defending the American tradition of an apolitical
The professional military's alienation from its civilian leadership
increased with the Clinton administration's arrival - a draft-dodger
president, with a feminist first lady and a liberal agenda. As one
military historian has written, first there was the disastrous
don't-ask, don't-tell clash over homosexuals in the service (where, as
anyone who has been in the military knows, there has always been an
underground homosexual culture, for self-evident reasons - where else
can you meet so many guys?).
Then came Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo - and the Tailhook uproar -
plus stalemate over national security policy. Colin Powell, as chairman
of the joint chiefs, actually presented the civilian government with
specific terms on which the military would agree to go to war. (These
terms - clear objective, overwhelming force, exit strategy - were
completely ignored, bizarrely enough, in going to war in Iraq, with the
fearful consequences we now see).
The new President Bush, in 2001, was another draft-dodger, in fact if
not form, but he walked and talked in a way the military liked. However,
his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was not such a likable
fellow, and he set out to reform the Pentagon and re-establish civilian
He has in considerable measure imposed himself on the uniformed
military, but in a way they now hate. Following his ideas about a small,
light and "agile" force, he has made one bad tactical and organizational
choice after another, with particularly devastating consequences for the
army, its reserve forces, the national guard, and the marines. Their
manpower resources are being exploited and wasted in a manner that could
leave the services damaged and their officers alienated for a
This has been the result of the Bush government's total misjudgment of
the Iraq situation; its refusal to enlarge the regular army; its
reliance on mobilized reserve forces on extended service in what amounts
to the draft of specialist veterans from civilian life; and, since the
Iraq occupation turned very unpleasant, "stop-loss" refusal to let
people go at the end of their contracts.
Recruiting for the reserves and the guard is now badly off, as are
regular army re-enlistments and quality recruits. A 20-year-old man, a
regular in the army, on his way back for a second tour in Iraq, says,
"What everybody is starting to know now is that this is what's going on
for the foreseeable future."
This probably is true, since nobody in the Bush administration seems
capable of changing course, and it is increasingly evident that American
policy for the so-called greater Middle East will fail.
If the failure is a traumatic one, the result is likely to resemble the
aftermath of the Vietnam War. Vietnam destroyed the American citizen
army: product of a 200-year tradition that rejected standing armies and
held temporary and egalitarian military service to be a duty and
experience of citizenship. In Vietnam, the conscript army eventually
staged a mute mutiny against the folly of its government.
However, you must not abuse even a professional army. It too can rebel,
and as in the citizen army, disaffection starts at the bottom, where the
most pain is felt.
Iraq is now destroying the professional army the United States recruited
to take the place of its citizen army. The new army was intended to
serve as the unquestioning instrument of the policies of the elected
administration. This administration's refusal to supply the manpower and
means necessary for its vast military and political ambitions is now
having its effect on that army. Its politically inspired fear of
conscription, the merciless combat rotation policy and systematic use of
involuntary extensions of duty its policies impose, are devastating to
The incoherence of its policy in the Middle East, and lack of clearly
defined objectives, is deeply disquieting to the military leadership.
America's military leaders once again find themselves victims of the
policies of appointed ideologues and elected amateurs. As in Vietnam,
they have no alternative to propose, except Dresden.
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