Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mixing up the Message

Mixing up the Message
President Bush has tried to show the American public that he's focused on Iraq by focusing on his message: "You can embolden the enemy by sending a mixed message. You can dispirit the Iraqi people by sending mixed messages," he said in a news conference last week. But what about the ill effects of refusing to create a workable plan and misleading everyone on the lack of progress.

Merely sitting tall in the saddle (or in the cab of a pickup truck, as it were) appears to be the "accomplishment" President Bush is most proud of during his tenure. He's stayed strong, gotten tough, bore down, put his game face on, or whatever other tired sport cliché any high school coach uses during a speech to rally his team.

But here's the difference: Even the worst high school coach knows that strategic adjustments sometimes must be made to ensure victory. As another old cliché goes: Talk is cheap.

It's the Bush administration's miscalculations that have been costly. A new report conducted by a private security company has found that the pattern of violence in Iraq is far more widespread and serious than Iraqi government officials have acknowledged. "If you look at incident data and you put incident data on the map, it's not a few provinces," said Adam Collins, a security expert and the chief intelligence official in Iraq for Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group, Inc.

Over the course of the last month, there have been over 2,300 attacks by insurgents against both military and civilian targets; attacks that have included car bombs, time bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, small-arms fire, mortar attacks and land mines.

Meanwhile, a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that the Pentagon could conceivably run out of reserve forces if current deployment rates continue. More than 40 percent of the troops in Iraq are reservists, and that number is expected to climb over 50 percent in the coming months.

"There are already indications that some portions of the force are being stressed. For example, the Army National Guard failed to meet its recruiting goal during 14 of 20 months from October 2002 to May 2004 and ended fiscal 2003 approximately 7,800 soldiers below its recruiting goal," the GAO report said.

Want a sense of just how stretched our forces are? Take a look at these statistics presented in the Navy Times:

"[T]he Navy and Marine Corps have mobilized 60 percent and 100 percent of their reserve enlisted law enforcement specialists and 48 percent and 100 percent of their intelligence officers, respectively. The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve mobilized 64 percent and 93 percent of their enlisted law enforcement specialists and 71 and 86 percent of their installation security personnel, respectively."

At the same time, retention rates in some skill fields are dropping precipitously. For example, retention rates for Army National Guard members with aviation skills hovered at 80 percent in 2000. Just two years later, that number had dropped to about 30 percent.

President Bush shouldn't worry about sending a mixed message by acknowledging this mess – he should worry about sending the wrong one by continuing to do nothing about it.