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Coming Up Short


What will be the fallout, do you suppose, of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's Q&A in Kuwait the other day? When the very courageous Specialist Thomas Wilson asked the Secretary why his unit was so chronically short of armor and supplies, Mr Rumsfeld replied rather testily to the effect that things can't be perfect. But as anyone familiar with the planning for the Iraq war knows, the shortages referred to by Specialist Wilson are the inevitable result of Mr Rumsfeld's disregard for standard Army planning, which he thought too costly. Save dollars, lose lives. It's a grim calculus, and the sooner military families wake up to it, the sooner we'll see the end of Secretary Rumsfeld.

Or so you'd think. Although there have been isolated acts of protest - some reservists are resisting orders to return to Iraq; one or two have even sought asylum in Canada - there is as yet no general movement openly or forcefully critical of the Administration. Although the Iraq misadventure is being fought by a volunteer army, the volunteers come from the same relatively underprivileged sectors of American life that staffed our forces in Vietnam. But I sense that they do not regard the the current morass with simple patriotism. While most soldiers probably do believe that taking some kind of pre-emptive action against Saddam Hussein was necessary - they're soldiers, after all, not middle-aged eggheads living in Yorkville who are busy making blanquette de veau for a family dinner party - it's just possible that many of them see that there are good ways of prosecuting a war, and bad ways, and that the Administration has been doing almost everything wrong, from taking Ahmen Chalabi's nonsense on faith to - scrimping on armor and supplies. I hope that they're wondering why the world's most powerful military has bogged down in a war of attrition. A few of them, having spent some time on the ground in Iraq, may even have good ideas about blocking terrorism.

I haven't spent any time whatsoever among military people, and I've reason to believe that my observations might sound condescending. Let me very bluntly state that they are not meant to be. My admiration for our soldiers is quite deep, not least because they're volunteers. Being the liberal that I am, I have no objection to exploiting the military as a machine of upward mobility; after all, that's how we've staffed our airlines from the start. But although a stint in the Army exposes one to an elevated risk of death and injury, that assumption of risk doesn't justify throwing inadequately armed young people into harm's way. Forcing defenseless soldiers to choose between death from the enemy and death from the officers was Stalin's response to Hitler, and it still sounds gruesome. But Stalin could claim reasons of state that are altogether missing from the Administration's portfolio.

As Andrew Sullivan says, "This is not knee-jerk anti-war sentiment. This is knee-jerk pro-war sentiment." I disagree with Mr Sullivan about the warrant for this war, but, now that it is wearing through its second year, I can see no warrant, either, for fighting it ineptly, and at unnecessary cost to our soldiers.

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