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November 10, 2006
Troops Fear The Loss Of Rumsfeld

American troops concerned with the loss of Donald Rumsfeld spoke to Martin Fletcher of the Times of London, worried that the new Secretary of Defense would pull them out of Iraq before they could complete the mission:

Half of America and the upper echelons of the US military may be cheering Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation from the post of Defence Secretary, but there was no rejoicing yesterday among those most directly affected by his decisions: the frontline soldiers in Iraq.

Troops expressed little pleasure at the departure of the man responsible for their protracted deployment to a hostile country where 2,839 of their comrades have died.

Indeed, some members of the 101st Airborne Division and other troops approached by The Times as they prepared to fly home from Baghdad airport yesterday expressed concern that Robert Gates, Mr Rumsfeld’s successor, and the Democrat-controlled Congress, might seek to wind down their mission before it was finished.

Mr Rumsfeld “made decisions, he stuck with them and he did what he thought was right, whether people agreed with it, liked it, or not”, Staff Sergeant Frank Notaro said. He insisted that Iraq was better off now than before the war.

Staff Sergeant Michael Howard said: “It’s a blow to the military. He was a good Secretary of Defence. He kept us focused. He kept the leaders focused. It’s going to be hard to fill his shoes.”

The American troops believe in the mission they serve. Interestingly, the Times -- which does not back the Iraq war -- gives an extended forum for these men to express their support for their mission and the man who sent them there to complete it. They want to see Iraq succeed, and even now want to stay until it happens.

It's an interesting point of view, and one that may surprise many who claim that the best way to support the troops is to have them retreat. Will that "support" turn to scorn when they realize the troops want to stay? After all, these men will have openly endorsed the policy of forward engagement that critics find so objectionable.

Fletcher reports that the troops also fear the impact of the new Democratic Congress on the war. They see the elections and the sudden departure of Rumsfeld as an ominous turn in domestic support, not without reason. Many of these men have built relationships with Iraqis, especially in the new security units, and will have bonds of friendship with the Iraqis that will be left in the lurch in the event of a precipitous withdrawal.

It seems to me that any effort to "support the troops" ought to at least involve their input. If they do not see Iraq as a lost cause, then they are right to wonder why so many Americans back home do. While the military will and should remain under civilian leadership, the fact is that the perspective of the soldiers and Marines on the lines have been woefully underreported in the American media, and it's somewhat embarrassing that we have to turn to a British newspaper to discover this unease at the change in Pentagon leadership.

Case in point: The New York Times, which decided to go the full John Kerry and depict the Marines in Iraq as ignorant and intellectually lazy:

The sergeant went upstairs to tell his marines, just as he had informed them the day before that the Republican Party had lost control of the House of Representatives and that Congress was in the midst of sweeping change. Mr. Menti had told them that, too.

“Rumsfeld’s out,” he said to five marines sprawled with rifles on the cold floor.

Lance Cpl. James L. Davis Jr. looked up from his cigarette. “Who’s Rumsfeld?” he asked.

If history is any guide, many of the young men who endure the severest hardships and assume the greatest risks in the war in Iraq will become interested in politics and politicians later, when they are older and look back on their combat tours.

Read both articles, and you tell me which one you believe depicts American fighting men more realistically -- the one that shows them as involved, informed, and concerned about their mission, or the one that depicts them as apathetic and uninformed. To me, it appears that the British newspaper manages to overcome its own editorial position much better to deliver truth rather than spin.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 10, 2006 12:11 AM

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