Adam Ash

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

US Diary: partner of Iraq vet questions morale of US troops in Iraq

President Bush's Words Ring Hollow to Soldiers' Loved Ones -- by Elizabeth Frederick

As the partner of an Iraq War veteran, I pay attention to the news. I watched the president's State of the Union address Tuesday night hoping to hear some good news. Instead, most of what I heard made me frustrated and angry.

I trusted President Bush to make sound decisions, moral decisions that would not needlessly put my loved one in harm's way. I trusted him, as commander in chief, to have respect for the military as an institution, for the soldiers who serve and for their families who make sacrifices in the name of ideals and values more important than their personal wants and needs.

When Mr. Bush decided to wage war on Iraq, he lost my trust. As he continued to make speeches about the progress in Iraq and high morale of our troops, I heard an entirely different story from my own soldier, who was deployed in northern Iraq for most of 2005. I heard his stories of Iraqi citizens who had nothing but disdain for U.S. soldiers. I heard him tell me that morale was low, that he and others had no idea what their mission was and that their only concern was for each other and making it home alive.

I heard him express frustration that for every insurgent they arrested, two more were there to take the detainee's place. Soldiers rebuilt the same roads time and again because they kept being blown up. Troops were spending thousands of dollars of their own money on armor and equipment because it wasn't being supplied. I heard him tell me private contractors were benefiting from this war, not the Iraqi people.

Above all, I heard him tell me the military had become political, something he had never seen happen before, and that those in charge were more concerned with themselves and profiting from this war than with the soldiers whose lives they were entrusted with.

He is a soldier, not an activist. He went to Iraq thinking it was a noble cause and he could do some good. It did not take long for him to start saying that the cause was neither noble nor just. He did not believe he was doing any good in Iraq, and he began to say the troops should get out of there. For these words and stories to come from him, an experienced combat veteran who, at 26, has spent the better part of a decade in the military, said more to me than all of Mr. Bush's speeches combined.

Mr. Bush said Tuesday that there was nothing honorable about retreat. I say there is nothing honorable about waging wars of choice. There is nothing honorable about refusing to admit mistakes and covering up lies. Invading Iraq was wrong; moreover, it was immoral and irresponsible.

Rather than admit that and commit to bringing the troops home now, he calls those who disagree with him defeatists and isolationists. There is a big difference between isolationism and advocating for responsible foreign policy, a difference Mr. Bush does not seem to acknowledge. Refusing to wage unnecessary wars is not isolationism, it is common sense.

Mr. Bush also said military families have made great sacrifices. I do not need the president to remind me of this. Every day for a year, I waited and wondered if my soldier would be the next person to be killed or wounded in a war that should not have begun. Every day, I watched the news in tears and prayed that another family would not have to shoulder the burden of loss. I prayed selfishly, hoping it was not my soldier. Every day, I lived with the knowledge that I could lose the man I love in a war of choice and that his service and sacrifice to this country were being wasted and abused by this administration.

I never needed the president to tell me I had made sacrifices before, and I do not need him to now. His family is safe and sound; he never had those experiences, never made those sacrifices himself and is in no position to console me.

I am a member of Military Families Speak Out, and what I and the more than 3,000 other military families in our group need is responsible leadership - if not from the president, then from Congress. What the other families and I need is a plan to bring the troops home now.

Mr. Bush seems to think that if he continues to insult his detractors by calling them defeatists, we will go away. But he is mistaken. The longer he continues to "stay the course" in Iraq, the louder we will speak. We will stay our course, because it is a moral one.

As much as the president may wish people to forget his actions, we will not. We have earned the right, and we have the obligation to speak out against the president, to say that this war is wrong because we and our soldiers have experienced it firsthand.

Our soldiers are not putting spin on the situation in Iraq. They are simply telling loved ones honest stories about what is happening. When responsible leaders start understanding this, then we can begin picking up the pieces and paving a better path for this country.

(Elizabeth Frederick is a staff assistant at American University, where she is a graduate student in public policy. Her e-mail is


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