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Tilting at Windmills

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June 3, 2008
By: Eric Martin

NOT A MOTHER JOKE...Brandon Friedman (who I make a habit of reading on a regular basis) discusses the recent emergence of some less than ethical means that the US Army is using to bolster its sagging numbers. The latest measures involve using thinly veiled threats and intimidation to coerce inactive soldiers to reenlist (Along the lines of: "If you don't reenlist now with me, you could be more likely to get deployed in a combat situation..."). There is no merit to the assertions and insinuations, of course.

Keep in mind, Army recruiters are turning to these dubious methods after test standards have been lowered to dangerous levels, moral waivers have been issued with greater leniency, past misconduct has been increasingly overlooked, injuries/physical limitations discounted, bonuses raised and a host of other measures have been adopted to counter the effects of the Iraq war on enlistment/retention.

Remarkably, many war supporters elide the enormous strains on our military - to near breaking points for certain segments (Reserves, National Guard) - when discussing the "pros" of maintaining a rather large troop presence in Iraq for the next decade to 100 years. It is as if they view Iraq through a cost/benefit prism where the concrete and knowable costs (crippling at that) can be treated as non-existent in the pursuit of hoped for benefits that are, at best, highly improbable, and in an effort to stave off negative outcomes that are speculative.

Captain Brandon Friedman recently became personally acquainted with this new recruitment/retention method. Actually, it wasn't Friedman himself that was on the receiving end of these strong-arm tactics, but his mom. Amazing. We can do better.

Eric Martin 11:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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I hear they're setting up recruiting offices on prison ships.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on June 3, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

It is as if they view Iraq through a cost/benefit prism where the concrete and knowable costs (crippling at that) can be treated as non-existent in the pursuit of hoped for benefits that are, at best, highly improbable, and in an effort to stave off negative outcomes that are speculative.

This is consistent with their bizarre and continued support for voodoo economics. Imaginary gains, imaginary pitfalls, crippling costs go bye-bye in the haze of a fantasy world.

I suggest medication.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on June 3, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

I suggest medication.

I'm game. What have you got?

Posted by: Eric Martin on June 3, 2008 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Firedman's story is appalling. I share Eric Martin's outrage.

He claims that we're recruiting people who shouldn't serve. Maybe so, but IMHO the conduct to date of our troops in Iraq has been outstanding. (Yes, there have been instances of terrible misconduct, as in Abu Graib, but overall they have excelled.)

The question of whether our military is being overstrained by Iraq is important, but it's not a reason to withdraw. Withdrawal should be evaluated on its own merits. If Iraq isn't in our interest, we should withdraw even if our military isn't overstrained. If Iraq is in our interest, we should get the size military necessary to fight there.

Posted by: David on June 3, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

We cannot do captitalist imperialism better because it is a contradiction of humane and democratic values. Exploiting people to fight wars of natural resource acquisition for the benefit of the wealthiest 1% cannot be accomplished by only offering economic and social rewards. Coercion must be used to manipulate people into sacrificing their lives for the benefit of their masters.

Posted by: Brojo on June 3, 2008 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

If Iraq is in our interest, we should get the size military necessary to fight there.

How? Are you in favor of a draft? If not, what do you think the military could be doing to increase its size that it's not doing now just to tread water (with minor increases)?

Also: Do we have the time to wait for new measures to kick in at this point?

Posted by: Eric Martin on June 3, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

In WWII, when my father enlisted, the recruiter assured him that he could pick the branch of service he wanted. He wanted to be in the Air Force with his brother, but instead was assigned to Infantry, and was in the third wave in the Phillipines. Had he been first or second, I would not be typing this now. Recruiters have never been honest fellows.

Posted by: jame on June 3, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Although, Oh! My! God! the Gays! We can't have those in the military. Because that would be bad for moral or honesty or something. Apparently us gays are a step below the mentally diminished and out and out thugs in the eyes of Pentagon brass. Neat!

Posted by: Christopher on June 3, 2008 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

I have to second what Jame said; in fact, I believe that there has been graffiti found at Pompeii saying "the recruiter lied."

Posted by: y81 on June 3, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

I recently observed a recruiter in a thrift store.

Later he moved on to the vegetable department at a nearby grocery, where he buttonholed one of the tender young men tending apples.

Later I saw the recruiter cruising the aisles for other likely store clerks, stockers, what-have-you.

Posted by: on June 3, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

They told me if I re-upped I wouldn't have to go to Troy.

Posted by: thersites on June 3, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

The guest posters on Washington Monthly write a little too wordily. They throw out a million-dollar-word or a turn of phrase in just about every single sentence, and it makes their writing sound like a middle-school student who is trying to sound impressive.

Just thought I'd give some feedback.

Posted by: Swan on June 3, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

I considered joining the Army or Marines upon graduating from college in 2003. Despite a 99 percentile score on their entrance test, good college grades and good physical fitness, I could not get into Officer Candidate School because of a couple possession-of-beer charges from high school that had nonetheless been expunged from my record. They have to differentiate between a lot of applicants, and I don't agree with my being excluded, but I understand it.

Things got really weird when I considered enlisting. First, the Marine recruiter decided to make up an elaborate story about being involved in a covert operation in Afghanistan...on the night of September 12, 2001. I don't know if they get some training about the method of selling service to recruits based on their motivations, but I was certainly galvanized by 9/11, and he rightly got my motivation and then tried to sell sexy service and patriotism. Problem is, I read the newspaper and also understand the logistics of getting people to Afghanistan.

Worst, though, was the insistence that I lie about having childhood asthma. I don't need medication; I don't have breathing difficulty even after crazy exercise. At the time, I was running a 5:15 mile and regularly competing in longish races. Still, they wanted me to lie about it, and they prepared me for the numerous times recruits were pressured to admit stuff they'd lied about during the recruitment process while in basic training.

Posted by: Mike on June 3, 2008 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Swan:
Briliant!!! We need more comments like yours. Keep up the good work!
Snark Off

Posted by: dilbert dogbert on June 3, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

If Iraq is in our interest, we should get the size military necessary to fight there.

Resource monopolists and war planners have decided Iraq's acquistion is in their best interests. Monopolists seek high prices for Iraq's seized oil and war planners require Iraq's oil to fight more wars. Their problem is convincing people to sacrifice themselves for these goals. Without coercive conscription to fill the jack boots on the ground, they must find other ways to force people into 'serving.' One such way is to limit the economic benefits of labor, reducing the value of labor in order to make the benefits of serving the war machine acceptable to supposedly rational economic beings. Combining the small economic benefits of military service with the honor of patriotism, insulates those who have indentured themselves to military service from recognizing the violence they commit is wrong and to criticism of it by the few who seek to prevent or end the violence. In this way the coercion of imperialist capitalism extends throughout our society, convincing some to serve and most others to muzzle their discontent for fear of being called treasonous or worse.

Posted by: Brojo on June 3, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

It doesn't take a genius to realize that the Iraq war has been devestating to our armed forces. Not only has it drained those who are already serving, but it has decreased the desire of new people to enlist.

Pretty soon we are going to be doing what the Romans did and start giving criminals the option of military service in lieu of prison time. Would definitely allievate prison overcrowding!

Posted by: mfw13 on June 3, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Swan: The guest posters on Washington Monthly write a little too wordily.

File this one under I for Irony.

Posted by: thersites on June 3, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

People who have been to Iraq say the Marines are the more professional service by far. Most of the problems on the government side are with the Army, especially the National Guard.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on June 3, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo,

Excellent. How have I missed your writings?

After Vietnam our military took a long time to rebuild. The same thing is happening now.

If history is repeating itself I'm gonna shut my eyes and wake me up in the 2020s.

Posted by: Tripp on June 3, 2008 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Brandon wrote at the end of his article: "Those of us who've served multiple tours in combat are, frankly, tired of carrying the load for a largely ungrateful nation."

He's right. I can't summon up gratitude for sacrifices that are not helping our nation or the people of Iraq. It feels like someone showing me the burns they got when they set a house on fire to protect me from the rats that lived in it. Not only was it the worst possible solution to the problem, it was the wrong damn house! I opposed the action and have been proven right to oppose it. Of course the poor soldiers aren't to blame that a moron ordered them to burn that house down. But my emotion is pity rather than gratitude. And I'm sure that's not what a soldier wants, but that's what I feel.

I do not understand why anyone is enlisting in any of the armed forces at this time. My heart breaks for those trapped by a commitment made when they believed that their sacrifice would not be misused. But if they believed this after the debacle of Vietnam, they were not looking at reality.

Posted by: cowalker on June 3, 2008 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

mfw13 says that the Iraq war has been devestating to our armed forces. S/He may or may not be right, but that comment illustrates what I was arguing against. The armed forces are there to fight wars, not the other way round.

Eric Martin, I'm quite opposed to a draft. Getting a bigger armed forces (if such were needed) would be a matter of setting higher goals and using whatever pay, benefits, enlistment methods, etc. are needed to get that size military. However, I don't believe we need a bigger military at this time.

Incidentally, one way in which the Iraq War strenthened our military is is military leaders have learned more effective ways to fight a a guerrilla war against terrorists. IMHO it's not a coincidence that Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which which looked almost hopeless, are now near success. A similar stratgy is working in both places.

Posted by: David on June 3, 2008 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

This came up in a little box without the linkbar, so..

Commentary No. 234, June 1, 2008

"How the War Will End in Iraq"

All eyes are on the U.S. presidential campaign, in which the candidates have taken quite different positions concerning the war in Iraq. This is the wrong place to look. I believe it is fairly certain that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States. And his views of the war in Iraq are almost the polar opposite of those of his rival, John McCain. Obama was opposed to the U.S. invasion from the outset. He believes continuing the war is harmful to everyone - to the United States, to Iraq, to the rest of the world. And he says he will seek to withdraw all U.S. troops in sixteen months.

Once in office, Obama will no doubt find that the definition of withdrawing troops will be a matter of great controversy in the United States, and that it will be less easy than he claims to achieve his objective, were it a matter only of the internal politics of the United States. However, ending the war in Iraq will not be up to Obama, or up to the United States. The key to ending the war in Iraq is what happens in Iraqi politics, not in U.S. politics.

I shall make the rash prediction that sometime in 2009 (or 2010 at the very latest), the Prime Minister of Iraq will be Muqtada al-Sadr, and that al-Sadr will bring the war to an end. Here is what is most likely to happen. The world media remind us each day of what are now seen as definitive cleavages in the Iraqi body politic. There are three main ethnic groups - the Shi'a, the Sunni Arabs, and the Kurds. Each of them is primarily located in a specific geographic zone. The main exception is the capital city of Baghdad, which has mixed Sunni-Shi'a population, although even here they are geographically concentrated in specific parts of the city.

In addition, as we all seem to know by now, each of these zones has internal divisions. There are multiple Shi'a parties, who each seem to have a militia at its disposal, and have long-standing antagonisms. The two principal ones are the group led by al-Sadr and the one known as SCIRI, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. The Sunni areas have a less clearcut picture. There are the sheikhs and the ex-Baathists, connected with various politicians in the Iraqi legislature. And there is also a small but important group of jihadists, largely non-Iraqi, linked somehow to al-Qaeda. And in the Kurdish zone, there are two competing parties, plus Christian and Turkmen minorities.

Actually, this kind of complicated array is no more diverse than one finds in many countries all around the world. Think of how one would describe the array of groups involved in U.S. politics. So, if we are to understand what is likely to happen in Iraq, we have to cut through this diversity to get at the most salient issue or issues.

It seems to me that the most salient issue in Iraq today for Iraqis is whether or not Iraq will survive as a unified state and as one that will be able to recover its strong position, economically and geopolitically, in the region. Who is against this? Actually, there are only two groups who are seriously hostile to a renewed and revivified Iraqi nationalism - the Kurds and the Shi'a forces led by al-Hakim. The latter dream of an autonomous, indeed independent, southern Iraq, which they would dominate and within which there are rich oil resources. They want to cut all ties to the Sunni regions. And they want to weaken seriously the al-Sadr camp which, although it is strong in that region, is virtually uncontested in Baghdad. Were Baghdad cut off from that region, the al-Hakim camp believe they could eventually destroy the al-Sadr camp.

The Kurds of course dream of an independent Kurdish state. But they are eminently pragmatic people. They know that a landlocked Kurdish state would find it hard to survive. Turkey would probably invade, and so might Iran. The United States would probably do very little, and would be quite embarrassed by it all. And Israel would be irrelevant. So the Kurds are clearly ready to settle for continuing de facto autonomy within a unified Iraq. To be sure, they are still quarreling with the others over who would control Kirkuk. I doubt that they will get Kirkuk, and I suspect that the most that they will do about it is to grumble loudly.

Now let us look at the others. The Sunni Arab forces are also, by and large, quite realistic. They realize that it is impossible to return to an Iraq that they govern unilaterally. What they really want now is their fair share of the state political machinery and of its resources (since their zone has virtually no oil, at least up to now). While they cannot hope to have a Sunni-dominated Iraq, they can hope to have an Iraq restored to its former prominent role in the Arab world, and they would clearly benefit, individually and collectively, from such a restoration.

So, in the end, the key group is the Shi'a. Muqtada al-Sadr has been quite clear from the beginning that he wants a unified Iraq. For one thing, this is the only way his people in Baghdad can survive and flourish. For another, he believes in Iraq. To be sure, he and his followers suffered mightily under the Baathists. But he is open to dealing with reformed and much weakened Baathists. And he has demonstrated this clearly over the last two years. He gave moral support to the people of Falluja when they were under assault by the U.S. forces two years ago. And they reciprocated in the recent fighting in Baghdad, when his forces were under assault by the same U.S. forces.

That leaves one major player, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most important spiritual leader of the Shi'a in Iraq. Al-Sistani has played a careful political game ever since the U.S. invasion. His priority has been to hold the Shi'a together. Most of the time he says nothing. But at crucial moments he is ready to intervene. When the U.S. proconsul of yesteryear, L. Paul Bremer, wanted to create an Iraqi government more or less by his fiat, al-Sistani insisted on elections, and the United States had to back down. As a result, he got a government dominated by the Shi'a. When too much fighting occurred between the al-Hakim camp and the al-Sadr camp, he brokered a calm.

What does al-Sistani want? Theologically, he wants Najaf, his site, to become once again the theological center of the Shi'a religious world, as opposed to Qom in Iran, which has come to assume this role, especially since the Iranian revolution of 1979. Geopolitically, this requires a strong Iraq, capable of relating to Iran as an equal. And to get a strong Iraq, he needs a united Iraq, and essentially one that gets the U.S. invaders out.

Currently, the United States is trying to get Iraq to sign a long-term military accord that would guarantee U.S. bases indefinitely. The current prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, is trying to maneuver this without a vote even by parliament. Muqtada al-Sadr is calling for a referendum. And so, it seems, is al-Sistani. A referendum, of course, guarantees a defeat for the accord.

So, in 2009, it would seem logical that al-Sadr, al-Sistani, the Sunni, and even the Kurds will come together on a plank of national unity and U.S. total withdrawal without long-term bases. Muqtada al-Sadr will implement this as Prime Minister. Al-Hakim will be unhappy, but kept in line by al-Sistani. The Iranians will be ambivalent. The U.S. public and pundits will be amazed at the relative calm in Iraq. And President Obama and the Pentagon won't have too much choice. They will graciously assent. They may even proclaim "victory."

by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact: rights@agenceglobal.com, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: immanuel.wallerstein@yale.edu.

Posted by: John Merryman on June 3, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

"The U.S. public and pundits will be amazed at the relative calm in Iraq. And President Obama and the Pentagon won't have too much choice. They will graciously assent. They may even proclaim 'victory.'"
______________

That's because it will be victory.

Posted by: trashhauler on June 3, 2008 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

Eric Martin, I'm quite opposed to a draft. Getting a bigger armed forces (if such were needed) would be a matter of setting higher goals and using whatever pay, benefits, enlistment methods, etc. are needed to get that size military.

My point is that they're trying to increase the size now, and they're barely able to keep up the current level despite trying severl of the measures you listed.

Eventually, they could offer enough money to increase the size, but those costs would be prohibitive. They've already increased financial incentives considerably.

Posted by: Eric Martin on June 3, 2008 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent post.

Posted by: chuck on June 3, 2008 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

The blinding glare of victory is from the white phosphorus bombs used on the civilians of Fallujah.

Posted by: Brojo on June 4, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK
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