Spc. Amber McClenny’s voice on the answering machine was emphatic and no doubt more than a little panicked, early Thursday morning, as she relayed the latest news from Iraq to her mother:
“Hey, Mom. This is Amber. Real, real big emergency. I need you to contact someone. I mean, raise pure hell. We had broken down trucks. No armored vehicles. Get somebody on this. I need you now, Mom. I need you so bad. Just please, please help me. It’s urgent. They are holding us against our will. We are now prisoners.”
Nineteen members of a supply platoon, part of the 343rd Quartermaster Company based in Rock Hill, South Carolina, refused to go on a convoy mission because their unarmored vehicles were unsafe. One soldier described the mission – a 200-mile journey in a convoy of unarmored vehicles going 40 miles per hour, in which they had a 75 percent chance of being hit—as a “death sentence.” Furthermore, “The fuel was contaminated for the helicopters,” said the grandfather of one of the detained soldiers. “It would have caused them to crash. That’s why they refused to deliver the fuel. They saved lives.” They took a vote – hey, there’s democracy in Iraq for you! – and unanimously decided to decline the mission.
This could not have come at a worse time for the U.S. government, as the Potemkin village of “liberated” Iraq comes down all around them. They’re already downplaying it as “an isolated incident.” As a Coalition spokesman in Baghdad put it:
“A small number of the soldiers involved chose to express their concerns in an inappropriate manner, causing a temporary breakdown in discipline.”
There’s nothing temporary, however, about the conditions that brought this on.
Jacqueline Butler of Jackson, Miss., told reporters that her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Butler, would not have refused to carry out an order unless his own life and the lives of his fellow soldiers were gratuitously put at risk:
“I know that for him to take that drastic measure, they put him in a no-win situation. I know he ain’t going to jeopardize (his years of service) unless it was dangerous to his life, a suicide mission.”
But that’s what the war against the Iraqi insurgency amounts to: a suicide mission. I predicted in this space that our troops in Iraq would be sitting ducks once the real war, the war of occupation, commenced, but there is no satisfaction in being right. We are engaged in a grinding, ultimately futile war of attrition, a Sisyphean struggle in which the best we can do is maintain our tenuous position. But lately we are even unable to do that. This mutiny is the latest signal that we are headed for a major meltdown: the mighty U.S. military is staring defeat straight in the face.
The frequency and severity of attacks on U.S. troops has increased, quadrupling from 700 in March to 2,700 in August, and the insurgents are getting bolder. The recent attacks in the heart of the Green Zone, the epicenter of the U.S. command structure and the main headquarters of the Allawi government, have underscored the vulnerability of the American position and the growing power and reach of the insurrectionists, who can apparently attack the occupiers with impunity.
While the military authorities are claiming that “no soldier has been arrested, charged, confined or detained as a result of this incident,” eyewitnesses say that the Rock Hill 19 were held in a tent at gunpoint. That’s how we’re going to have to fight this war: with guns pointed not only at the insurgents, but at our own soldiers.
With a back door draft in force as a result of extended tours of duty, and the original rationale for the invasion thoroughly debunked in the public consciousness, the troops are beginning to realize that they’ve been had, along with the rest of the country. They came as liberators, and are being treated like occupiers – while the insurgents use them for target practice and they have to buy their own body armor. I’m surprised they haven’t mutinied, the whole lot of them, long before this.
But with tens of billions being shoveled into Iraq hand over fist, how is it that our soldiers don’t have body armor, don’t have armored vehicles, and don’t merit an armed escort when convoying supplies through enemy-held territory?
The reason is the “transformation” of the American military to its new post-9/11 “light and flexible” mode, designed for maximum speed and aggressive offensive action. In short, Rumsfeld & Co. are creating an army designed to suit an ultra-interventionist foreign policy. The neoconservatives who ginned up this war convinced themselves that they could do it with less than a hundred thousand troops: all it would take was a core force of some 50,000 or so, they claimed early on, because the Iraqi people themselves would rise up and hail us as their benefactors. It was supposed to be a “cakewalk.” When General Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, told them it would take easily 150,000-plus to police occupied Iraq, they attacked him in public, and handed him his walking papers, forcing him into retirement.
As Seymour Hersh points out in his new book, Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib:
“According to a dozen or so military men I spoke to, Rumsfeld simply failed to anticipate the consequences of protracted warfare. He put Army and Marine units in the field with few reserves and an insufficient number of tanks and other armored vehicles. (The military men said that the vehicles they did have had been pushed too far and were malfunctioning.)”
In the rush to war, Rumsfeld and his neoconservative advisors were committed to their “light and lean” model of “flexible” military force for purely political reasons: it was necessary to get the attack force in position before the flimsy case for war burst apart at the seams. The lies they told were so tenuous, the rationale for war so tentative, that it was necessary to move quickly – there was no time to build up the kind of invasion force that was up to a protracted struggle against an indigenous rebellion.
Our elites are still intoxicated by their post-cold war triumphalism, still chattering about building an American imperium on the British model: the U.S., they aver, is a “global hegemon,” and the world is now “unipolar,” with Washington, D.C., the New Rome, the epicenter of the mightiest empire the world has ever seen.
Blinded by their own conceit, the neoconservative ideologues who turned Iraq into our version of the West Bank are so far removed from reality that they’re still touting the “unknown successes” of this war, which the “liberal” news media is supposedly too “biased” to publicize.
This is not only a futile war, it is a criminal war, as Abu Ghraib and the revelations about its origins detailed by Seymour Hersh have revealed. The idea was not to “liberate” Iraq, or to democratize it, but to destroy it, to literally break it apart and reduce it to rubble.
In that, the administration has “succeeded.”
Our soldiers are mutinying in Iraq – when will we join them? When will the American people say “Basta!” “Enough!”? There’s no way to know. But one thing I do know: if so much as a single one of those refusenik soldiers is prosecuted – and they are being “investigated” for possible charges of insubordination, or worse – the American people will rise up as one to defend them.
If Rumsfeld is smart, he’ll let this one drop, and the memory of it fade away – unless, of course, this is only the beginning of something much bigger. In which case he’s in a lot more trouble than he and his civilian “chickenhawk” advisors ever thought possible.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
In response to my jeremiads against both President Bush and John Kerry, I have received many letters asking me whom I intend to vote for. My answer appears in the current [November 8] issue of The American Conservative.
I want to note for the record, however, that Antiwar.com does not endorse candidates for office: my views are my own, and should not be construed as a reflection of our editorial policy.