Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Troop morale falling?

An article in Tuesday's London Independent throws some disturbing news about the morale of British troops in Iraq. Among other things, the article compares the experience of the soldiers there to that of UK forces serving in Northern Ireland when IRA bombers were assassinating them.

Writes the paper's Ian Herbert:
The incidents are symptomatic of a general malaise. One corporal said: " This has been a hard, hard tour. I would be glad not to be back in Iraq for a while." Another NCO added: "Mr Blair keeps on saying that everything is getting better here. Perhaps he would care to come and see for himself. He is pretty good at sending other peoples' sons to Iraq." (Read the entire article.)
The article goes on:
Paul Beaver, a defence analyst with close links to senior staff, said: "There's obviously a disappointment that things have not gone better. But the main difference between army morale now and 12 months ago is that there is a resignation among the soldiers that they are in it for the long haul. There is also recognition that some of the elements [the Iraqi police] that they trusted can no longer be trusted and that they must fall back on their own resources."
Perhaps this is why George W. Bush had to stage an upbeat-sounding teleconference with U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Most smaller newspapers didn't report that story here, but what happened was: The soldiers were handpicked, the questions were fed to them, and the entire affair was choreographed like a (post-Janet Jackson) Super Bowl halftime show.

Writes Cox News Service's Bob Dean:

Just before the event began, a Pentagon spokeswoman conferred from Washington with military officials at the site in Tikrit, over how to choreograph the event.

"Who are we going to give that [question] to?" asked Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication. (Read the entire article; free subscription required.)

Dean reported that at times, the Q&A process seemed almost amateurish:

In some cases — as in many of the president's own press conferences — the answers seemed only obliquely related to the questions, suggesting a scripted quality.

"Can you give us a sense for the reception of the people there in Tikrit toward coalition forces, as well as the Iraqi units that they encounter?" Bush asked at one point.

"Sir, in North Central Iraq, voter registration is up 17 percent," came the ready reply from Capt. David Williams of Los Angeles. "That's 400,000 new voters in North Central Iraq and 100,000 new voters in the Al Salahuddin province. The Iraqi people are ready and eager to vote in this referendum."

Editor & Publisher, the trade journal of the media industry, weighed in with this analysis:

Contrary to early accounts, President Bush's question-and-answer session with U.S. troops in Iraq tied to Saturday's vote on the new constitution now seems far from spontaneous. Subsequent reports from journalists on the scene revealed quite a bit of choreography in Thursday's teleconference with the president in Washington.

The official pool report, in fact, painted this scene: "The soldiers, nine U.S. men and one U.S. woman, plus an Iraqi, had been tipped off in advance about the questions in the highly-scripted event. Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication, could be heard asking one soldier before the start of the event, 'Who are we going to give that [question] to?' " (Read the entire article.)
The article goes on to say that Scott McClellan, Bush's press secretary, went out of his way to tie
into knots one reporter's questions about the staged nature of the conference.

For a more complete narration of how the conference was staged, read Deb Riechmann's thorough report for AP here.

How is the morale of U.S. troops in Iraq? Here in the wilderness we don't have the slightest idea. But thanks to the blogoverse, dissident opinions such as this one have begun to be revealed. A very complete spectrum can be found at Operation Truth; not all the bloggers are antiwar.

Or better yet: If you know someone who's recently served in Iraq, ask him or her. Obviously, we can't depend on what's being said in public.


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