Archive for the 'Iraq' category

Mental Health and the Rapidly Breaking Army

It's safe to say that 2007 wasn't the best year of US Army 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside's life. She started off the year with a bullet wound to her torso that damaged, among other things, one lung, her liver, and her spleen. She ended her year as an outpatient at Walter Reed, waiting for her superiors to decide whether or not she would have to stand court-martial for inflicting that wound upon herself. In between, she had to recover from her physical wounds, learn to deal with the inner demons that led to them, she had to deal with superior officers who believed that she would be more appropriately handled as a criminal than a patient, and cope with a system that constantly threatened soldiers with mental illness with discharge and no benefits. It's not entirely clear that 2008 is going to be a better year for her. On Tuesday, the Army announced that they were dropping all charges against her. At the time of that announcement, she was in intensive care, recovering from a second failed attempt to take her own life.

In the note that she wrote before swallowing whatever pills she had around her, she said that she was "very disappointed in the Army". It's hard to find any reason for her not to be disappointed. The Army's treatment of her has been absolutely abysmal. Unfortunately, the same can be said for many other soldiers and veterans. Although the Army has been working to improve mental health care, the system is not where it needs to be, and faces no shortage of hurdles along the way.

According to the December 2, 2007 Washington Post article that first presented Lt. Whiteside's case to the public, there were a number of things that happened in Iraq that may have contributed to her mental illness and suicide attempt. I'm not going attempt to discuss that, or, for that matter, the exact actions she took in Iraq that her commanders at Walter Reed felt were so egregious as to warrant criminal prosecution. No matter what happened in Iraq, the things that happened when she returned to Walter Reed very clearly demonstrate some of the problems that the Army is having when it comes to handling mental health issues.

The problem that Lt. Whiteside's case illustrates most clearly involves the attitude that too many career combat arms officers have toward soldiers with mental health issues: they're an excuse, not an illness.

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Sanchez on Iraq: Where the hell was he last week, last month, and last year.

I am certainly no fan of the Iraq war, but I found it difficult to read the media reports about retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez's recent comments on the war without getting angry. Reading the full text of his remarks took me from anger to outrage. As good as it is to hear an unvarnished, blunt assessment of the situation from someone who, as a former commander of the forces in Iraq, is very familiar with what happens there, I'm left wondering where the hell he was before he gave his little talk.

Let's look at some of what the little pissant had to say:

Since 2003, the politics of war have been characterized by partisanship as the Republican and Democratic parties struggled for power in Washington. National efforts to date have been corrupted by partisan politics that have prevented us from devising effective, executable, supportable solutions. At times, these partisan struggles have led to political decisions that endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield. The unmistakable message was that political power had greater priority than our national security objectives. Overcoming this strategic failure is the first step toward achieving victory in Iraq - without bipartisan cooperation we are doomed to fail. There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope.

Partisan politics, according to Sanchez, have been endangering the lives of the troops since 2003. It's 2007. Why the hell didn't the man speak up before now? Where the hell has he been for the last several years? I'll tell you where: from the time he left Iraq in 2004 until he retired late last year, he was in Germany, sitting on his worthless ass behind the desk of V Corps - rear, sulking about Abu Ghraib having denied him the opportunity to get that fourth star that he believed was rightfully his. He sat on his ass in a dead-end job for two whole years, hoping that Abu Ghraib would go away and he would get that fourth shiny star, remaining silent about problems in Washington that he now says were endangering the lives of troops on the battlefield.

It's doubtful, of course, that one more voice of reason - even a voice as authoritative as his - would have kept the White House from pursuing the war. But at least he could have tried, instead of sitting there selfishly waiting for the promotion that never came.

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How much is an Iraqi life worth? According to Blackwater and the State Department, $15,000.

Oct 08 2007 Published by under Iraq, Iraq and US Politics, War and Peace

According to the LA Times, the family of an Iraqi guard killed by a Blackwater employee on Christmas Eve has not yet received any compensation for the man's death. The reason? The office of Iraq's Vice President, which employed the dead guard, doesn't think that Blackwater is offering enough compensation. They're right.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the incident, here's a quick review: off-duty and apparently intoxicated Blackwater employee gets into "confrontation" with on-duty security guard for Iraq's vice president. Blackwater employee shoots guard 3 times, killing him. Blackwater employee then flees to a security post manned by another "contractor." He tells them that he's being chased by Iraqis who were shooting at him, but is so obviously drunk that the other guards confiscate his weapon. He's fired for being drunk and in possession of a firearm, and is on his way home within 36 hours. Within 8 weeks, he's been hired by another "contractor" and is working for the US government in Kuwait.

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You Don't Need 60 Votes To Get Us Out of Iraq.

Every time I read articles (like this one, this one, this one or this one) that talk about how the Democrats are having problems getting the 60 votes in the Senate that they need to move Iraq legislation forward, or how they won't be able to get the 2/3rds of both houses that they need to beat a veto, I get angrier. And not with the Republicans who are standing in the way.

The Democrats don't need more than a majority. The President can't spend money unless Congress lets him spend money. If Congress passes a spending bill and he vetoes it, he can't spend money. If Congress fails to pass a spending bill at all, he can't spend money. All the Democrats need to do is stand their ground and refuse to pass any spending bill that doesn't require a firm timetable. That's all that they need to do.

The problem that we've got isn't overcoming Republican resistance. It's the spine of the Democratic leadership. They don't have one. They don't even have shells. I'd call them jellyfish, but even jellyfish can inflict a painful sting. No, we're talking sea cucumbers here - they've got no hard support, and if you stress one too much it reacts by expelling its internal organs all over you.

We've got to stop letting them slide. They're in the majority now, and that means that they shouldn't be able to get off the hook by claiming to be impotent in the face of the big bad Republicans. They've got the support of the public. They need to act like it if they want to retain it.

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McCain: " ought to be thrown out of this country, my friends."

Once again, John "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" McCain went and said something stupid at a campaign stop. And, once again, he got caught on video doing it. This time, he went just slightly overboard in his criticism of the now-infamous "General Betray-us" ad. Holding a blown-up, laminated copy of the ad, McCain said:

"It's disgraceful, it's got to be retracted and condemned by the Democrats and ought to be thrown out of this country, my friends."

(And if you don't believe Time Magazine, CBS has the video footage.)

Unlike the "Bomb Iran" incident, this wasn't an off-the-cuff response to a question. The Senator was holding a prop and delivering a message. It's probably not a message that what's left of his campaign staff wanted him to deliver, and it probably has most of them surreptitiously updating their resumes this morning, but it was clearly the message that he meant to convey. That makes the non-denial denial his campaign issued somewhat less than convincing:

"Senator McCain, like most Americans, is appalled by the ad. Last night he expressed his outrage in words that did not convey his intended meaning. What he meant to say was that MoveOn's smear of General Petraeus' character should have no place in the American political debate."

There's a big difference between saying that a particular statement has no place in the American political debate and saying that those who made the statement have no place in America. McCain's comment runs counter to the fundamental principles that our nation is supposed to cherish. My outrage, though, is tempered a bit by pity. McCain jumped the shark so long ago that he can't see it from where he is now. The man really needs to get out of the campaign - if not politics altogether - while he still has a few remaining shreds of dignity.

(Hat tip: Dispatches)

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They Saw Their Mission Through.

Staff Sergeant Yance T. Gray and Sergeant Omar Mora died on Monday in a vehicle crash in Baghdad on Monday, along with six other American soldiers and two "detainees." During their time in Iraq, both Gray and Mora displayed more than just the courage needed to face the enemy. They also displayed the courage needed to stand up, to face the country, and to say that the strategy in Iraq isn't working, and never will. They had the courage to say this, knowing that their opinion would not be well received by many of their superiors. And, ultimately, they had the courage and civic responsibility needed to say that while they did not agree with their mission, as soldiers they would see it through to the end.

Gray and Mora were, along with Specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, Sergeant Wesley Smith, Sergeant Jeremy Roebuck, Sergeant Edward Sandmeier, and Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, authors of the "Sergeants" op-ed that appeared in the New York Times on August 19th.

From the op-ed:

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And It's One, Two, Three, What Are We Fighting For?

Sep 12 2007 Published by under Iraq, Iraq and US Politics, War and Peace

The New York Times/CBS News poll that was released on Monday got a fair bit of media attention. Most of the attention focused on the revelation that Americans, by an overwhelming margin, trust the military leadership to resolve the war in Iraq (68%), rather than Congress (21%) or the White House (5%). The remainder of the attention went to the poll's finding that most Americans don't think the surge has made a heck of a lot of progress.

There's one question buried way in the middle of the poll - 15 pages into the pdf - that I think deserves a lot more attention. Respondents were asked the following question: "What do you think the US is fighting for in Iraq?" The results were grim.

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