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Dissent From the Front Lines

Posted on Oct 16, 2007
Arrest in Iraq
AP photo / Hamza Hendawi

A young Iraqi suspected of throwing a grenade at American troops is apprehended in Baghdad on Sept. 17.

By Robert Scheer

When will we listen to the troops?  I’m not talking about soldiers used as props for a George Bush photo op, telling reporters what Washington wants to hear.  The military is disciplined and thus accustomed, from Gen. David Petraeus on down, to toeing the official line.  But the Iraq war has also produced brilliant messages of dissent from the ranks that should cause us to stop in our tracks and reconsider what we have wrought.  First, a group of sergeants came forward, and on Tuesday it was the captains’ turn to speak out.

In “The War as We Saw It,” an eloquent Op-Ed article published in The New York Times in August, seven sergeants summarized the futility of their 15 months of fighting in Iraq:  “To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is farfetched.”  After penning that crie de cour, two of the soldiers died in Iraq and a third was severely wounded. 

On Tuesday, The Washington Post printed “The Real Iraq We Knew,” by 12 former Army captains, all of whom served in Iraq.  It begins: “Today marks five years since the authorization of military force in Iraq, setting Operation Iraqi Freedom in motion.  Five years on, the Iraq war is as undermanned and under-resourced as it was from the start.  And, five years on Iraq is in shambles.  As Army captains who served in Baghdad and beyond, we’ve seen the corruption and the sectarian division.  We understand what it’s like to be stretched too thin.  And we know when it’s time to get out.”

How come those brave veterans know it’s time to get out, but leading Democrats, who voted for the war to be authorized, are still pussyfooting about quickly removing the troops from this ever-deepening quagmire?  They’re jockeying for political advantage, knowing that drawing out the war hurts the Republicans.  It is a deeply cynical ploy that works only because with our all-volunteer military, most Americans don’t have to face the choice of sacrificing themselves or their loved ones in a futile and losing war.

Yes, it costs the taxpayers, but so do the “Halo 3” video games they are purchasing in record numbers, and for most Americans, Iraq is a make-believe war.  Even the cost seems unreal, as Bush is the first president in U.S. history to cut taxes in a time of war, with the result that more than a trillion dollars in long-term obligations will not come due while his administration has to foot the bills. 


Square, Site wide
If there was a draft, people would be in the streets demanding an end to this carnage, which now threatens to go on for decades.  That is precisely what the neocon ideologues who got us into this mess built their fantasies on:  a volunteer force, supplemented by hundreds of thousands of contractors (including 50,000 mercenary troops like those from Blackwater) and the purchase of largely irrelevant but highly profitable high-tech weaponry, although they forgot about simple armor for the troops.

The most fraudulent neocon claim was that pro-Western, even pro-Israel Iraqis, like their favorite, the now totally discredited Ahmed Chalabi, would police the country as surrogates for the U.S., and that Iraqi oil sales would pay for it all.  The 12 captains, who worked with the locals, are very clear as to the forlorn outcome of that plan: ” ... many of us witnessed the exploitation of U.S. tax dollars by Iraqi officials and military officers.  Sabotage and graft have had a particularly deleterious impact on Iraq’s oil industry which still fails to produce the revenue that Pentagon war planners hoped would pay for Iraq’s reconstruction.” 

As for that other ongoing illusion—that we are turning power over to Iraqi forces we have trained—the captains write: “Iraqi soldiers quit at will.  The police are effectively controlled by militias.  And ... corruption is debilitating.  U.S. tax dollars enrich self-serving generals and support the very elements that will battle each other after we’re gone.”

Building an empire on the cheap and by proxy doesn’t work.  If you want one, and of course most of us don’t, since only a few fat cats benefit from such imperial adventures, you need a vast conscript army. 

As the captains put it:  “There is only one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq.  To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service.  Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately.”  Enough said.

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By Bob Zimmerman, October 17, 2007 at 2:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


You bring up an interesting point. Why were the Democratic leadership asleep at the switch in 2000? In hindsight it was obvious that Bush and Cheney were telegraphing their moves and Gore did not do anything to counteract it. I think it gets back to the whole pychology of politics in the U.S. Our country tilts center right not center left, so the Democrats are at risk if they come on too strong about hawkish stances taken by the Republican party. We still have this problem. Hawkishness is perceived at being strong rather than being reckless. Most American’s don’t follow politics closely and like their answers spoonfed to them. We’re not allowed to question our leaders for fear of being branded “unpatriotic”. Even the media was not immune to this pressure and either jumped on the invade Iraq bandwagon or remained silent. If we truly had a “liberal” media, they would have been all over the idiotic “evidence” used to justify going to war. At least Al Gore finally did get around to challenging Bush about Iraq but by then it was too late, and looked at how the media jumped on Gore for daring to question Bush. This is the main reason I got so p—sed at the Democrats for criticizing Moveon was saying, don’t make the mistake twice of believing a four star general. We need leaders like RFK who took on LBJ. Sadly the current Democratic leadership are leaders in name only.

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By aafshar, October 17, 2007 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

i don’t blame president bush or vp Cheney, they are doing what they set out to do and they had told us what they are going to do. Those of us who followed the 2000 elections closely and were not blind, knew what this gang is about, we read the new American century before 2000, we knew who was advising them then, we had read their articles and opinions, we read the letter they collectively wrote to Clinton, we know what these guys are set out to do. No I don’t blame them, they told us before coming to power what they wanted to do and some of the people in this country voted for that, informed or uninformed.
I point my finger at the Democratic party and their members in the congress, at Nancy Pelosi, at Howard Dean, at everyone in the dnc for not doing what the American people asked them to do in 2006. they have the ability to stop this madness but they will not. blame them.  You are pissed off get your frustration out on them write them point your finger at them.  Next time around don’t vote for them, contribute to whoever is running against them.  You want change do something about it.

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By Louise, October 17, 2007 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

Dear Robert Scheer;

When will we listen to the troops?
Probably about the same time congress starts listening to the troops!

Prior to the war, when the lies started coming out of the White House and their respective “intelligence” agents, thousands of us spoke out. Tens of thousands of voices, no millions of voices warned what would happen if this administration and an obedient and thoroughly uninformed congress allowed an attack on Iraq!

Now we weep and wring our hands. And bury our loved ones.

And the congress, still as uninformed as ever parrots the fresh new lies coming out of the White House and their respective “intelligence” agents about Iran! As do so many of those grossly unqualified presidential wannabes!

Why hasn’t anyone been impeached?
Why hasn’t the congress issued arrest warrants following the administration ignoring subpoenas?
Why does the media give Bush obedient attention every time he opens his mouth, when even they have got to know by now how consistently this man lies?

Some blame Cheney and his associate “crazy’s.” Or “bad” intelligence. Some blame a compliant media. Or the military. Some blame those who continue to speak out. Only a few blame Bush, when they aren’t busy making jokes about him. But everyone admits “something” is wrong.

What’s wrong? An administration that more or less alternates between brutal force and complete insanity remains in place.

Bush offends. His version of himself, his VP and the gaggle of attorneys who hold them up offends. They play at war and count their profits in power. They tell themselves and each other THEY are WARRIORS! They are men of courage! Perhaps the people no longer recognize what true cowardice is. Because they see it coming out of DC and the White House every day!


Perhaps that’s become socially acceptable, the new norm. Because nobody wants to be the first to point out there is no morality in today’s ruling elite politicos. That the complete lack of any moral standard seems to be the ideal they all reach for.

Perhaps the people who don’t listen to the troops are almost as crazy as the administration they keep in place. That’s what happens when someone decides denial is safer than questioning. Accepting any lie is safer than looking at the facts. That morality is just about gays and abortions. That it’s OK that there is no standard of morality that governs those who govern them.

That in fact the governing are completely amoral.

But, in defense of the empire, if an empire is what they want, they have to be amoral. If any of those people were to suddenly develop a conscience, the ensuing guilt and self-destruction would be catastrophic.

And the confused and misled people of the nation still cant decide what they want. An empire [mini-mansion, big car, “reality” TV, cheap toys, cheap clothes, lots of “stuff”] or a free country?

When they finally realize fuel shortages, food shortages, housing shortages, growing homelessness, slave labor, a collapsing economy, a depleted military, millions of violent deaths, and the take-over of law by mercenary force are the inevitable step-children of empire, it may be too late to decide.

Even though a few in congress grudgingly admit their decision to attack Iraq was wrong, nothing changes. Everyone knows the war on terror is bogus, except the congress. Everyone knows Iran is not a nuclear threat, except the congress.

Nothing changes.

Perhaps the question you should be asking is when will congress listen to the military?

For that matter, when will congress listen to the people?

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By aafshar, October 17, 2007 at 1:28 pm Link to this comment

I like the draft too and agree that is needed even thought I have two sons. However, I like to propose before we go to a general draft, we should have a mandatory draft of all the sons, daughters and close relatives of all the people how publicly supported this war, including government officials, members of the congress, all media pundits and personalities (including Ann Coulter) and everyone else who publicly supported this war including members and supporters of AIPAC and all the think thanks which supported this war. they should lead by example and show their dedication to the cause, that should add a few thousand people and if we run out then we can have a general draft. PLEASE PRESS THE RECOMMEND if you agree with this idea,

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By vet240, October 17, 2007 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment

Recently a newly retired four-star General said that the opposition in the military reflected the current opposition of the country. That’s about 70 percent today.

If you consider that about 30 percent of the military are career soldiers you begin to see the real picture. Iraq is the career soldiers dream come true.

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By rodney, October 17, 2007 at 1:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s about time people in the military speak out against Bush and Cheney. This administration has used the military like a five dollar crack whore. Pimp Bush along with Cheney the Enforcer ran and hid when it was there time to serve in Vietnam, yet they don’t have a problem sending our soldiers off to war to die time and time and time again.They change the reasons for war as many times as they change their shit stained underwear. They lie to the American people so much that they believe their own lies, and so do the hand picked morons that they give their speeches to.  The Military and the American people have to know that any war we engage in is for the safety and security of the American people and not for the profits of Halliburton,Bechtel,Blackwater,KRB,Exxon and all of the money grubbing thieves that are looting the treasuries of the American and Iraqi people. We have murdered thousands of innocent people under the guise of tyranny, freedom and democracy when Bush and Cheney has made America the tyrants. All of the lies that led to war were told because we wanted access to the Iraqi oil that kept Saddam in power. We are now trying to do the same thing with Iran. Another reason for the war lies is to appease the American neo-con Jewish lobby. Yet not one drop of known Israeli blood has been spilled for in America’s misadventure. One day sensible men in the military will decide to lay down their arms and stop the aggression against innocent people who are dying for America’s greed instead of America’s security.

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By GrammaConcept, October 17, 2007 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment

..................war IS terrorism…...............

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By BobZ, October 17, 2007 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

The article is cut off but I got the gist of it. The two op-ed pieces by the enlisted ranks and now by the former Captain’s seem to portray what is really going on in Iraq, contrary to the rosy picture painted by General Petreaus. Down in the ranks, what is being said has been mirrored by at least half a dozen books about the Iraq occupation, including “Fiasco”, “Life in the Emerald City”, “State of Denial”, and others. What we have done to the country of Iraq and to the people of Iraq in the name of fighting terrorism will be a black mark on America for decades, regardless of how soon we get out of their. The damage has been done. All we have left to us now is basically a salvage operation in concert with a bunch of CYA’ing and finger pointing. Seven years of dealing with a “Laurel and Hardy” White House has not been very funny.

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By thomas billis, October 17, 2007 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is possible to stop using the troops on either side of this issue.These are kids.Pschologists tell us that in the male the brain is not fully developed until 25 and in our current President probably never.But I digress.We do not ask our kids to make life or death decisions for our country.That is the job of the adults.I know in the case of the Iraq war the adults have done a piss poor job but we cannot absolve of ourselves of our responsibility by asking"what do the troops think?”

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By Baldwin, October 17, 2007 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

This article appears to be cut off?  Is this sabotage, censorship or error?
Bob, love you on L,R&C;!

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By Baldwin, October 17, 2007 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

This article appears to be cut off?  Is this sabotage, censorship or error?
Bob, love you on L,R&C;!

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By aafshar, October 17, 2007 at 8:46 am Link to this comment

censorship is when you take something completly off. the podcast you are refering to is still there, but it is an old peace and you can’t keep and old potcast on front page for ever because you like it.  and i don’t get what do you mean exposiing?? what was exposed.

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By adamjohn12, October 17, 2007 at 7:54 am Link to this comment

the latest truthdig podcast, raplh nader exposing robert scheer, is not on the main page… and the link now results in nothing

congratulations censorship!!!

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By Chris Bieber, October 17, 2007 at 7:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Candidate for President that wants to STOP the EMPIRE and NATIONBUILDING and BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of wasted taxdollars(prited up worthless FedNotes and bought by Europeans and Chinese and the soon to be dumped resulting in..MELTDOWN of America) and THOUSANDS of DEATHS and HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of injured people)


is Congressman Dr. Ron Paul..

ReRegister!?!? to vote for him in the Republican Primary of your state and TELL THE ELITES OF BOTH PARTIES that you REJECT their Empire abroad and Surveillance State at home and vote FOR freedom, liberty and soveriegnty by voting FOR Ron Paul!

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By Verne Arnold, October 17, 2007 at 6:33 am Link to this comment

Well written, well spoken, and well executed.  I’m sorry to inform you, you will be ignored and you will continue to serve….carry on soldier: “your’s is not to reason why, your’s is but, to do or die”......

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By Hammo, October 17, 2007 at 6:20 am Link to this comment

Scheer is right ... the frontline troops have much insight about the situation.

Sure, they also have varied views about some aspects, but their perspectives have value.

Food for thought in the article ...

“Army and Marine Corps will retain strength and honor after Iraq occupation ends”

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By Grappa, October 17, 2007 at 5:38 am Link to this comment

There maybe a freedom of speech, but this administration will punish any person [military] who doesn’t speak Bush talk. And if your a military person in the middle east you might get some operation that is not consistent to good health. I would be interested in hearing from those grunts and groundpounders after they have been discharged, when they might be a little more apt to speak out.

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By lilmadguy, October 16, 2007 at 11:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here is the link to the article:

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By cyrena, October 16, 2007 at 11:43 pm Link to this comment

Hi Guys,

I wasn’t able to ‘link’ to the Washington Post piece, but maybe that wasn’t the intention.

Anyway, this is a link to a related sort of story.

Foreign media.

  “Many in the US Military Think Bush and Cheney Are Out of Control”
  der Spiegel Interview with Gabriel Kolko
  der Spiegel, Germany

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