The Iraq Quagmire and Resistance in the U.S. Military

Revolutionary Worker #1257, October 31, 2004, posted at

A recent incident involving a refusal by a U.S. Army unit to follow orders is a sign of big problems for the U.S. military in Iraq.

Eighteen soldiers from the 343rd Quartermaster platoon refused an order to deliver fuel from a base in southern Iraq to Taji, north of Baghdad. These troops had just returned from a 10-hour mission to deliver jet fuel to another army base. But the fuel was rejected because it was contaminated. After driving back to the base in southern Iraq, these soldiers were ordered to take the same contaminated fuel 220 miles to Taji. The group told their commanding officers that their vehicles were unsafe for the trip. But they were ordered to head out the next morning anyway.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the troops learned that they would not be receiving military backup for this very dangerous trip. At this point, according to reports in the mainstream press, the group refused. The troops are now facing different degrees of disciplinary action.

According some family members, the 18 soldiers acted because they felt they were being sent out on a "suicide mission." While this refusal was apparently not based on conscious objection to the war, the bourgeois media worried about what the incident reveals about overall morale within the military, given the increasing resistance to U.S. occupation. One military officer quoted in Newsweek said, "What everyone wonders, of course, is whether this is an isolated incident or the pebble which starts the avalanche."

At the same time, this incident is being used to push the argument that what is needed is more money, more military hardware, and more troops for the U.S. war in Iraq. This is mainly put forward by bourgeois politicians, but other forces also get caught up in this argument—including many military families, who have become increasingly outspoken. This is part of the view that says that even if you oppose the war, you must "support the troops." But people who put forward this argument have to ask themselves—what about the crimes that these troops are carrying out against the people in Iraq, and what will these troops be doing if they were "better equipped"?

Big Questions Among the Troops

The U.S. quagmire in Iraq is raising big questions among many occupying U.S. troops. Whole sections of the military are questioning what the invasion of Iraq has to do with "fighting terrorism." Troops have expressed anger at the huge profits being made by private U.S. companies and the big salaries being paid to private security and military forces in Iraq.

One of the most stinging indictments of this war has been the exposure of the lies about the "weapons of mass destruction" —the main reason Bush gave for invading Iraq. This has led to undermining the convictions and morale of large sections of U.S. troops. Some U.S. soldiers have openly refused to be part of the empire-building atrocities of the U.S. in Iraq. Meanwhile, many others are increasingly questioning the mission and why they are there.

Add to this the intensifying resistance to the occupation by different forces in Iraq. Major areas like Falluja remain out of U.S. control. Other areas like Samara, Ramadi and Baghdad are hotbeds anti-U.S. sentiment and scenes of regular attacks on U.S. forces. The New York Times reported that in a recent 30-day period there were 2,368 recorded attacks by resistance forces—an average of nearly 80 attacks per day. The promise of a quick, easy victory has evaporated. At the same time, the U.S. military’s "stop loss" policy has prevented soldiers who have served their time from returning home.

What GI’s Are Saying

Michael Moore’s latest book, Will They Ever Trust Us Again?,gives a sense of the complex frustration of U.S. troops. This book contains letters written to him by U.S. troops, mainly after the release of his film Fahrenheit 9/11.

One letter tells of treatment of Iraqi workers: ".I was on the Iraqi escort detail again. We had received a bunch of housing units for the base that day and the Iraqis finished up for the day at sunset. The problem here was that the truck drivers were contracted out from Jordan, and their trucks were low on fuel. The same staff sergeant refused to give them any of our fuel on the base, and told them they had to use the Iraqi fuel station down the highway. That was not very appealing to the drivers since the insurgents did not just attack the troops, they went after anyone who was working for us. So the drivers asked if they could stay on the base till morning, and the staff sergeant said, `No.’ So as we sat there and watched them leave the base, unarmed, unescorted, with fear and dread written all over their faces, I could only think that if this is the way America does business with others, no wonder they want to put bombs on the side of the road for us.

"This went on for eight months while I was in Iraq, and going through it told me that we were not there for their freedom, we were not there for WMD. We had no idea what we were fighting for anymore."

Another letter in Moore’s book raises serious questions about the U.S. role in Iraq: "Where are the WMD’s? Why are we really over in Iraq? Why the hell are our troops dying? Mr. Bush, how are we safer now than we were before you stole office? There are a lot of people I saw when I was deployed in the desert whose spirits were down, and a lot wondered why the heck we were even in Iraq. You don’t know friend from foe, and a country that DID NOT have any terrorist training camps is now thriving with them. Iraq will never be stable, another Vietnam in the making. Hope you are proud of that one, Mr. Bush, because I know I am not."

In an interview with the Chicago Revolutionary Writers and Artist Collective, a GI who was home on leave said: "This is what is called a dog-and-pony show. The reason we are there is to show the power of the United States, not necessarily to liberate Iraq. We are definitely not there for weapons of mass destruction. It is mass destruction when we drop 3,000-pound bombs destroying entire cities. I think we are there to show that this is the power of the US. Bush has us there to show us off. Our job is to show that we’re the big dogs. It sucks; I do not know why we’re there. We will never win. You cannot conquer a people."

Such quotes from GIs illustrate the contradictory sentiments and potential fissures within the U.S. military. There is much resentment of the Bush administration for the lies and manipulation surrounding the war in Iraq. At the same time, much of the sentiment, at this point, is put within the context of "supporting the troops" and concern about the safety of the troops—rather than seeing the whole role this imperialist military is playing in the process of building up the U.S. empire, what this means for the Iraqi people, and on this basis refusing to be a part of it.

Supporting the Troops Who Resist

There have been some U.S. soldiers who have expressed conscious opposition to the war-like Stephen Funk and Camilo Mejia, who did time in jail for their refusal to be part of this imperialist war. Or those like Brandon Huey and Jeremy Hinzman who escaped to Canada. They have all spoken out or continue to speak out against the war.

Then there is Marine Staff Sargent Jimmy Massey who, after 12 years on active duty, told his superiors, "Thank you sergeant major, I don’t want your money anymore. I don’t want your benefits. You killed some civilians, and you’re gonna have to live with it partner, and I’m gonna tell the truth." He also said, "I’m not going to kill innocent civilians for no government... I was taught and raised by parents and relatives that there are certain things you don’t do, and killing innocent civilians is one of them."

There are a number of other troops, not as well known, who have sought refuge in Canada rather than go to or return to Iraq. Some have chosen jail time rather than go. There are hundreds who are currently AWOL from the military. The Associated Press reported that the Armyadmits that more than 800 former soldiers with the Individual Ready Reserve have failed to comply with Army orders to get back in uniform and report for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. This represents more than one-third of the total who were told to report to a mobilization station by Oct. 17.

There is more to be learned about the situation amont U.S. troops, and the potential for greater fissures within the U.S. military as the war and resistance develop in Iraq.

Bob Avakian speaks to the question of "support the troops" in his talk "Elections, Democracy and Dictatorship, Resistance and Revolution"
(the talk is available online at

"The slogan has often been raised `support the troops, not the war.’ What about this? To give an extreme example and pose very sharply what is wrong with this, what if we were to raise a slogan in the context of a rape, `support the rapist not the rape.’ Whether you support someone or don’t support them depends on the content of what they are doing. As long as they are a part of the U.S. armed forces and acting as the instrument of the system that that armed force is the expression of, they cannot be supported in that context and in that way. We can encourage them and should encourage them to resist and to rebel, to act out of conscience in refusing to carry out crimes against humanity, and we should build massive support whenever and wherever soldiers do that. And we should popularize examples from the Vietnam War and similar situations where that has been done. But you cannot `support the troops’ without supporting what it is that they are doing right now. Just as you cannot `support a rapist’ without supporting the rape— which is exactly what these armed forces of the U.S. are carrying out metaphorically as well as literally right now."