Mideast Notebook: Little thought of war's politics
March 2, 2003
Back home everyone is following the latest moves in the worldwide chess game over Iraq: What have the U.N. inspectors found? Where is Saddam hiding his bombs? Which countries are lining up with the United States? How many people are protesting the war? Will the Security Council pass a new resolution?
But what do soldiers on the front lines in Kuwait think about the politics of this conflict?
The short answer is: They think about it little and talk about it even less.
The average soldier here is only faintly aware what is happening on the political front. There is no Internet access or e-mail. Stars and Stripes is hard to find and rarely makes it outside the command posts. A couple of the MWR tents do have televisions connected to AFN’s news channel, but most are too busy to watch. Many are in their late teens or early 20s, an age at which news commands less interest than music, dating and parties.
The Army has plenty of political conservatives, people who like President Bush a lot. A few soldiers in Germany will admit, over coffee and off the record, they think he ought to tone it down a little and listen to U.S. allies.
In Kuwait, though, matters at hand are so much more important than all that gaming. Soldiers here spend most of their time thinking about fixing helicopters, keeping sand out of truck engines, cleaning rifles. In their free time, they play cards and computer games, things that help them forget about work. They look forward to their next meal.
“You’ll hear a lot more about whether you get jalapeno cheese in your MRE than whether the French have undermined us in the U.N.,” said Lt. Col. Scott Thompson, commander of the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, based in Illesheim, Germany.
To the extent the troops think about the political situation, it is to consider how politics might affect them if an attack begins. Almost all of them would like things to start as soon as possible, if they’re going to start.
That is not because they are warmongers or want to kill someone. It is because they have spent lots of time and sweat learning how to be good soldiers. This is one of the few chances they have to prove it on a real battlefield. Then they want to get home to their families as fast as possible.
Some of the older ones — especially the veterans of Kosovo, Somalia, Desert Storm, Panama and Vietnam — don’t mind too much if this crisis goes away without a fight. They need no proof of their prowess.
And they know the real purpose of a strong military is not to fight, but to be so strong that the enemy doesn’t want to fight.
“Everyone here is involved in planning for the worst-case scenario,” Thompson said, “which is packing up, heading north, and kicking Saddam’s ass.”
Until they are called home, they plan to keep training hard. They miss their families, but one of the pluses to a long stay in a remote place is that soldiers can focus on their work without thinking of anything else. That’s why almost everyone here seems content, even cheerful, in spite of cramped living quarters and long chow lines.
Leave the politics to someone else. This is a soldier’s life.