Nuance Is a Casualty of War
When the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, heads to Capitol Hill this week to press for more congressional patience, he will run headlong into a notable change in military patois. As of last week, for instance, the term "long war" is out, by order of Adm. William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command. "One of our goals is to lessen our presence over time," noted a command spokesman." We didn't feel that the term 'long war' captured this nuance."
Nuance was not the order of the day on Capitol Hill last week as debate over timetables tied to war funding carried on. "This war is lost," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. When asked if the meeting between President Bush and congressional leaders yielded any breakthroughs, House Minority Leader John Boehner responded, simply, "No."
Extended tours. On the heels of a presidential veto, Democrats may vote to make the timetables "advisory." But it is clear that despite Bush's warnings that the congressional wrestling could delay funds and result in troop extensions, the military is already struggling mightily in the face of the increase, or "surge," of troops into Iraq. Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced that its soldiers will now spend 15 months at war, rather than a year. A Senate armed services committee hearing last week centered on an Army stretched to the breaking point. One retired general testified that the stress of constant deployments is affecting morale. Equipment is in tatters, and two thirds of regular ground force brigades are "not combat ready." It's a crisis that will take many years to fix.
Last fall Congress approved the largest bridge fund to date$70 billionfor the military. In the meantime, as debate continues, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters last week that it all might serve as a useful reminder to the Iraqi government that the American people are not among the world's most patient. "I've been pretty clear that I think the enactment of specific deadlines would be a bad mistake," he said. "But I think the debate itself... probably has had a positive impactat least I hope it has in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."
And as the Pentagon continues to warily eye recruiting and retention figures, which have generally held steady, it is also reminded that in the face of equally steady U.S. casualties and growing time away from families, the commitment of U.S. soldiers may not be open-ended, either.