Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hail the deserter-in-chief

Here is the full text of Guardian CiF on US desertions and Bush

Desertions are rising in the US army - and so are prosecutions. Maybe George Bush should be reminded about his own personal exit strategy.
Ian Williams

April 18, 2007

A working definition of chutzpah: a Bush administration prosecuting deserters.

Bill Clinton spent two terms of his presidency on the defensive because he had, in typical Clintonian fashion, prevaricated between his ethics and his political future on whether or not to register for the draft during Vietnam. In the end, he registered but was not called up.

It is interesting that people like the newly recess-appointed US Ambassador to Belgium, Sam Fox, spent so much time and money examining the military careers of people like Kerry, but are so uninterested in the eloquent lack of a military career for George Bush. But he won his ambassadorship the same way that Bush won his exemption - with cash and connections.

Back in the day, during the Vietnam war that he supported, young George Bush, "Googen" to his family, abused his family ties to join the Texas Air National Guard, which in those halcyon days guaranteed a free pass from the draft and deployment to Indo-China. He had to do that because President Lyndon Baines Johnson had abolished the graduate student deferment that so many other members of the Bush cabinet had already abused.

Towards the end of his five-year term, young W went missing, and failed to turn up for the occasional duties demanded. The technical term for someone absent without leave for such an extended period is desertion. But Texans are great believers in redemption - at least for sons of important political families - and the local establishment covered up his desertion.

He is now commander-in-chief of the most disastrous war since, well ... Vietnam. Things have changed. Congressmen's sons do not get protection any more. They do not need it since none of them are in the forces. National Guards are posted overseas in Iraq - over and over again. They and regular army recruits have discovered the small print in their contracts that says that they can't leave when they thought they could.

Now George Bush rarely misses a chance to turn up at a military base or a veterans gathering donning some item of military attire. Thankfully, he has not been seen in his Navy fliers outfit since the day he landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to proclaim "Mission Accomplished" - four years ago.

The Pentagon, struggling to cope with neocon dreams of global military hegemony, has steadily reduced its recruitment standards. It has tried to recycle the medically unfit back into the war.

But while many of the military seemed to accept that a war-dodging hawk deserved their loyalty, increasing numbers of them are discovering that they have been lied to about the war - and about the gratitude of the government that sent them as the war wounded discovered in the Walter Reed hospital. It will not help that this week Washington announced that it was lengthening tours of duty in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months.

Consequently desertions are rising - as are prosecutions. In the last five years desertions trebled compared with the previous five years - and they are still rising.

Last year the army reported 3,196 soldiers deserted, compared with 2,357 in 2004. It may be more. Some units reportedly try to cover up as much as possible so the figures may be under-reported.

So what can they do? In fact, several hundred have rediscovered Canada, to the profound embarrassment of Bush ally Stephen Harper. Canadians were against the war even before their southern neighbours saw the light, so it cannot send them back. Once they have registered as political refugees they get full Canadian benefits, work rights, and free healthcare that is a cut above what the Veterans Administration would offer them back home. Ottawa is wriggling. Their cases are going through the system until they meet the embarrassing precedent: Canadian judges granted asylum to a deserter from the Iraqi army because he had been ordered to take part in an illegal war against Kuwait. Ottawa does not want to see Kofi Annan in a witness stand testifying to the legality of Bush's war.

In fact, even if W's own personal exit strategy no longer applies, Bill Clinton has left a legacy for dissatisfied GI's. Bullied by the Pentagon over his own war record, Clinton acquiesced in its shameless prejudice that gay people like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and the like were unfit to be soldiers. He introduced the "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy. Any GI having a change of heart about the great crusade for democracy simply has to tell the commanding officer that he or she is gay or lesbian to get an automatic honourable discharge. To be derided as a "fag" or to be disenfranchised as a felon. A no-brainer, I'd have thought.

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