THE MORALE DILEMMA. Is the morale among U.S. military in Iraq low or high? Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack argued for the latter case in their July New York Times op-ed piece:
Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.
So does Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Republican from Georgia, who recently wrote about his Iraq trip:
Two nights ago, I sat down in one of the base mess halls with several Georgia soldiers stationed in Iraq. Over dinner, these soldiers discussed the pride that they have in the job they are doing in Iraq. Their positive morale was a welcome change from the negativity that I hear every day in Washington. While they made it clear that they missed their families, they stressed that now was not the time to pull them out of Iraq.
I'm glad to hear that the soldiers feel so confident and cheerful. But the U.K. Observer has a very different story to tell about the morale among the American military in Iraq:
Where once the war in Iraq was defined in conversations with these men by untenable ideas -- bringing democracy or defeating al-Qaeda -- these days the war in Iraq is defined by different ways of expressing the idea of being weary. It is a theme that is endlessly reiterated as you travel around Iraq. 'The army is worn out. We are just keeping people in theatre who are exhausted,' says a soldier working for the US army public affairs office who is supposed to be telling me how well things have been going since the 'surge' in Baghdad began.
They are not supposed to talk like this. We are driving and another of the public affairs team adds bitterly: 'We should just be allowed to tell the media what is happening here. Let them know that people are worn out. So that their families know back home. But it's like we've become no more than numbers now.'
The first soldier starts in again. 'My husband was injured here. He hit an improvised explosive device. He already had a spinal injury. The blast shook out the plates. He's home now and has serious issues adapting. But I'm not allowed to go back home to see him. If I wanted to see him I'd have to take leave time (two weeks). And the army counts it.'
A week later, in the northern city of Mosul, an officer talks privately. 'We're plodding through this,' he says after another patrol and another ambush in the city centre. 'I don't know how much more plodding we've got left in us.'
When the soldiers talk like this there is resignation. There is a corrosive anger, too, that bubbles out, like the words pouring unbidden from a chaplain's assistant who has come to bless a patrol. 'Why don't you tell the truth? Why don't you journalists write that this army is exhausted?'
Perhaps the military is at the same time bone-weary and in good spirits, both eager to stay and eager to come home? That's unlikely. But what is the truth about troop morale?