A recent edition of USA Today detailed the disturbing story about how 35,000 “stop-loss” soldiers—more than half of those effected by the policy—have yet to receive the bonuses they had been promised when the Bush administration extended their enlistments to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan; the alleged reason for this was the Pentagon could not “locate” them. The odd part about this is why the soldiers were not paid their bonuses either during their involuntary extensions or upon completion of their extended enlistments. It is likely that the Pentagon didn’t want to “find” them, because it would save a considerable amount of money. But it is just another example of how the Bush administration and military commanders—outside the “hu-ah” chest-thumping—just saw soldiers as colored pins on a corkboard. We don’t need to rehash all the myths that were used to justify the deaths of over 4,000 U.S. service members in Iraq, or the countless number of Iraqi civilians; once U.S. troops leave Iraq for good, Muqtada al-Sadr—recently returned from Iran—will be free to re-deploy his Mahdi Army, with the help of his Shiite sympathizers in the Iraqi security forces, to cause more Iranian-inspired “mischief.” Then we can ask again “So why were we there?”
I can remember when I was in the service, people started counting down the days at the six-months left period. If you were between stations, the best place to be was between the place you were leaving and the place you were going. But for the “stop-loss” soldiers who had done their active duty time, life was about to become more dangerous—not to protect this country’s freedoms, but to restore the Bush’s “family honor.” The Bush people remembered how “easy” the Gulf War was, except that 500,000 troops were involved in that effort, which was extremely limited in its aims: Drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and weaken—but not destroy—Saddam Hussein, because a potential power vacuum could easily be filled by Iran. This time, Bush the Younger claimed to have something more ambitious in mind: He gave us the fairy-tale story that not only was he going to “win” the war—meaning ousting Saddam altogether—but occupy all of Iraq and remake the country, an effort that had last been attempted on a country this size since the Marshall Plan after World War II. Naturally, it was only a coincidence that Iraq was an oil-rich country that could benefit from friendly control. Unfortunately, because there was little support for this idea in the UN, far fewer troops would be available while simultaneously trying to flush out Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. U.S. troop strength has been in decline for decades in an effort to cut personnel costs, and military planners justified this by telling us that we could bomb the hell out of the enemy, and we only needed a token number of boots on the ground to “mop-up.” The problem with that theory is that it has never proved true over an extended period of time. But the Bush administration and Pentagon planners made a great many false assumptions about a country (Iraq) with a volatile of mix of groups who did not like each other and were itching to wreak vengeance on one other, as well as U.S. soldiers who got in the way. Given time, these people were not going to lay down and play nice while the U.S. was taking its sweet time “reconstructing” the country’s government and infrastructure—while just barely aware that the situation in Afghanistan was becoming increasingly out-of-control.
Of course, U.S. combat troops in general have had other problems besides being the victims of Bush’s fantasy about being great war leader (when not accused of being murderers and serial sexual assaulters by political advocacy groups and the media); besides many not receiving the pay, health and education benefits due them, an internal Defense Department study last year found that 20 percent of all soldiers—and a higher percent of combat veterans—were on various psychotropic drugs like antidepressants, antipsychotics and sedative hypnotics. Wounded or traumatized soldiers have been routinely sent back into combat, using anti-anxiety drugs like propranolol; doctors and mental health professional have been pressured to under-diagnose their patients in order to return them to combat. All this has either been swept under the rug or ignored when reporting on aberrant behavior by some upon their return from combat duty.