One of the most memorable Iraq war images was President Bush's May 1, 2003, speech from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. As Bush announced, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," framed by the banner, "Mission Accomplished," he was surrounded by hundreds of cheering troops. At the time, it would have been hard to predict that three years later major combat operations would not have ended, the mission would not be accomplished, and Bush would be losing the support of the military.
How did George Bush manage to lose the backing of our armed forces, which at one time was highly supportive of his Administration?
Four factors contributed to this change: First, the occupation of Iraq was botched. Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's recent book, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq argues the Administration "committed five grievous errors" during the planning and execution of the invasion: "They underestimated their opponent and failed to understand the welter of ethnic groups and tribes that is Iraq." "They did not bring the right tools to the fight and put too much confidence in technology." "They failed to adapt to developments on the ground;" did not recognize the rise of the insurgency. "They presided over a system in which differing military and political perspectives were discouraged." Finally, "they turned their backs on... nation-building."
Second, the Bush Administration's failure to "bring the right tools to the fight" directly impacted rank-and-file troops. Particularly in the early days of the occupation, most had inadequate equipment. A recent poll indicated that 42 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans "said their equipment was below the military standard of being 90 percent operational."
Third, the longer our troops stayed in Iraq the more they became aware that most Iraqis didn't want them there. A recent poll indicated that 71 percent of Iraqis want occupation forces to leave within a year. Further, 60 percent supported attacks on US-led forces.
increasing numbers of retired Army and Marine generals began to express opposition to the war. (It's a violation of the Uniform code of Military Justice for an active-duty officer to criticize the President or anyone in the chain of military command.)
The Administration attempted to keep a lid on this discontent. As a result, there have been very few surveys that asked active-duty troops how they felt about the war. The most recent poll indicated that 72 percent of active-duty personnel believed the war should end in 2006. A more recent survey indicated that 53 percent "did not always know who the enemy was."
Increasing numbers of soldiers have gone AWOL or asked for Conscientious Objector status. In October, military personnel began adding their names to a web-based petition calling for withdrawal from Iraq. Active duty troops have begun to speak against the war.
The most notable recent comment came from Kevin Tillman on October 19th. Kevin is the brother of former pro football star, Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan on April 22. 2004. Both brothers enlisted after September 11, 2001, and initially served in Iraq; then they were trained as Army Rangers and sent to Afghanistan. Kevin said, "Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground."
One of the reasons the military has turned on the Bush Administration is the increasing number of wounded troops. There have been more than 21,000 such casualties, in addition to the more than 2800 deaths. The Bush Administration prohibits pictures of coffins returning from Iraq. They've also told the Department of Veteran's Affairs to not give out the names of the wounded. Democratic Congressman John Murtha noted that in addition to the soldiers' grievous physical injuries,"50,000 will suffer from what I call battle fatigue." In July 2004, the PBS News Hour reported, "about one-sixth of troops returning from Iraq showed symptoms of mental health problems but many are not receiving treatment." ( A recent study indicated these injuries will cost the US more than $1 trillion.)
Of course, Active-duty troops are being required to spend multiple tours of duty in Iraq. This has increased their financial and psychological problems. Recently, Stars and Stripes reported the divorce rate for Iraqi veterans jumped from 9 to 15 percent and alcohol abuse rose from 13 percent to 21 percent.
Last year, decorated combat veteran John Murtha came out against the war in Iraq. One of his reasons was the damage the occupation is doing to the military. Murtha spoke movingly of his visits with returning veterans. He concluded, "Our military is suffering."
It is this suffering, the consequences of an ill conceived and tragically mishandled war, that cost the Bush Administration the support of our troops.