Mutiny Among U.S. Troops in Iraq

Another line has been crossed.

A 17-member Army Reserve platoon… deployed to Iraq is under arrest for refusing a “suicide mission” to deliver fuel, the troops’ relatives said .

The soldiers refused an order on Wednesday to go to Taji, Iraq — north of Baghdad — because their vehicles were considered “deadlined” or extremely unsafe, said Patricia McCook of Jackson, wife of Sgt. Larry O. McCook.

Sgt. McCook, a deputy at the Hinds County, Miss., Detention Center, and the 16 other members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company from Rock Hill, S.C., were read their rights and moved from the military barracks into tents, Patricia McCook said her husband told her during a panicked phone call about .

Empire Notes summarizes the troops’ worries:

Fuel convoys in the “Sunni Triangle” nearly always come under fire; one soldier reportedly claimed that the chance of being attacked was “99 percent.” ¶ The platoon considered their trucks to be extremely unsafe; some were not able to go more than 40 mph, and would be sitting ducks. They ordinarily get an escort of armed Humvees and helicopters, but an escort was not available for [this] mission.

I’m sure these troops can expect to be dealt with very harshly for their insubordination, and that they knew this when they made their decision.

While fear of attack was certainly a motivating factor, 17 soldiers (or perhaps as many as 19) are not going to up and disobey their commands like this from simple fear or cowardice.

This is something more serious — a lack of faith that what they are fighting for is at all worth fighting for. An ad by the Iraq War veteran’s group Operation Truth puts it this way:

“I was called to serve in Iraq because the government said there were weapons of mass destruction — but they weren’t there,” Spc. Robert Acosta, 21, who was an ammunitions specialist with the 1st Armored Division in Iraq, says in the thought-provoking ad. “They said Iraq had something to do with 9/11 — but the connection wasn’t there… So when people ask me where my arm went, I try to find the words, but they’re not there.” The ad ends with a shot of Acosta removing his prosthesis, revealing a stub where his right hand should be.

This rebellious platoon may very well be the tip of the iceberg, an indication of a more widespread disillusionment that “more troops” or “allies” won’t cure. There’s only so long you can stay motivated if the enemy is fighting from patriotism or revenge or religious fervor, while you’re being told:

“You’re not going to make Iraq safe for democracy,” the sergeant said. “You are going for one reason alone: oil. But you’re still going to go, because you signed a contract. And you’re going to go to bring your friends home.”

As ill equipped as the convoy may have been, they had the might, wealth and organization of the U.S. armed forces behind them — those who threatened them were probably wearing sandals. This isn’t about their relative strengths — adding armor to the Humvees or Germans to the coalition won’t help — but about motivation.

An article in the Washington Post was remarkable for showing how widespread the cynicism expressed by Marines is in one platoon:

“I feel we’re going to be here for years and years and years,” said Lance Cpl. Edward Elston, 22, of Hackettstown, N.J. “I don’t think anything is going to get better; I think it’s going to get a lot worse. It’s going to be like a Palestinian-type deal. We’re going to stop being a policing presence and then start being an occupying presence.… We’re always going to be here. We’re never going to leave.”…

“Every day you read the articles in the States where it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s getting better and better,’ ” said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder, 22, of Gettysburg, Pa. “But when you’re here, you know it’s worse every day.”…

“The reality right now is that the most dangerous opinion in the world is the opinion of a U.S. serviceman,” said Lance Cpl. Devin Kelly, 20, of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Lance Cpl. Alexander Jones, 20, of Ball Ground, Ga., agreed: “We’re basically proving out that the government is wrong,” he said. “We’re catching them in a lie.”…

An order was suddenly passed for the Marines to search all buses for insurgents or weapons. ¶ “This is what we call a dog-and-pony show,” said Kelly, the heavyset, sharp-tongued lance corporal from Fairbanks. He said the operation was essentially a performance for American reporters who were traveling with the Marines. “This is so you can write in your paper how great our response is,” he said.… ¶ “We just scared the living [expletive] out of a bunch of people,” he said. “That’s all we did.”…

Asked if he was concerned that the Marines would be punished for speaking out, [Cpl. Brandon] Autin responded: “We don’t give a crap. What are they going to do, send us to Iraq?”

Millions of Americans and others demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq in the last months before it occurred, 10 million around the world on one particular day, in what dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky described as the most significant showing of opposition to war at such an early stage in living memory. Yet all that failed to stop the war or even produce a bona fide antiwar candidate for president, at least not a major party nominee. This has discouraged many protestors, particularly among the impressive proportions of first-timers. When, they ask, will we ever have a better chance to win? If we couldn’t stop this one, what’s the use of even trying?

But award-winning sociologist and activist Francis Fox Piven says the antiwar movement may have expected too much for too little. “War-making is never determined by anything like a democratic process,” she says. “War is something that governing elites undertake, and they don’t undertake it in response to popular opinion. If that were the case, we would probably never go to war, because ordinary people pay for war with blood and with their wealth.”

“One kind of evidence for that is that candidates never campaign as war candidates. Lyndon Baynes Johnson, who kept us in Vietnam, promised not to go to war in Vietnam. You can see that again and again. Candidates always campaign as peace candidates.

“Another kind of evidence is that antiwar movements — popular opinion against wars expressed in marches and demonstrations — has rarely succeeded at the outset. It’s as the war grinds on and people become more and more angry and disillusioned with the war that popular opinion, popular resistance to the war begins to take its toll on the capacity of government to make war. So in a way the antiwar movement is being too impatient. They expect to win too easily.”

So do we just keep doing what we are doing and look forward with bated breath for that fateful day? Hardly. What the current antiwar movement has done so far, she says, is express opinion. “They marched in large numbers, they rallied, and it was a kind of voting, voting in the streets. I think a successful antiwar movement has to act in ways that throw sand in the gears of the war machine. Resistance has to be more serious.”

And here’s a cantakerous phrase or two from the left, thanks to the lovable Alexander Cockburn:

As now constituted, presidential contests, focused almost exclusively on the candidates of the two major parties, are worse than useless in furnishing any opportunity for national debate. Consider the number of issues on which there is tacit agreement between the Democratic and Republican parties, either as a matter of principle or with an expedient nod-and-wink that, beyond pro forma sloganeering, these are not matters suitable to be discussed in any public forum: the role of the Federal Reserve; trade policy; economic redistribution; the role and budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies (almost all military); nuclear disarmament; reduction of the military budget and the allocation of military procurement; roles and policies of the World Bank, IMF, WTO; crime, punishment and the prison explosion; the war on drugs; corporate welfare; energy policy; forest policy; the destruction of small farmers and ranchers; Israel; the corruption of the political system; the occupation of Iraq. The most significant outcome of the electoral process is usually imposed on prospective voters weeks or months ahead of polling day — namely, the consensus between the supposed adversaries as to what is off the agenda.